Tag Archive: MMO


As this post is largely about Classic WoW, I wanted to include screen shots of the original and other early expansions. Unfortunately, the multitude of pictures I took over 14 years ago have disappeared, so to illustrate this piece I’ve used a few pics I particularly like from recent expansions. One day I will remember to copy over screenshots from the WoW folder when I acquire a new machine. Really sad to lose all the memories from Classic to MoP. There were some memorable moments. I took hundreds of guild shots beside dead raid bosses, too. Irreplaceable, as many people who were in the pictures no longer play WoW. Ah well… to the post.

Blog Jun 2

You Tube is heaving with people gushing enthusiastically about Classic WoW at present. I watch plenty of videos made by people playing on the Beta for it, describing how everything takes so much longer, is so much harder, but is nevertheless so much more fun and meaningful. I seem to be in a minority, but I just don’t get that enthusiasm. I tried Classic out again when there was that brief trial a while ago and lasted 15 minutes before thinking, ‘dear gods, no! Can’t play like this now.’ There’s no way I want to play a game from so long ago that was so time-consuming and slow. Even if I was craving the original game, I just don’t have the time now that I put into WoW back then. So it would take me a long long time to level to max – given that I’ll be carrying on playing Retail as well with my much-loved family of alts.

I recall hitting level 53 on my main character in Classic and just leaving him there for a while, because it was such a grind. A new alt seemed more fun. Then a guildie chided me about it and I dug in and got the job done, finishing off in Silithus. I remember also how the moment I hit level 60, that zone lit up like a Christmas tree with lots and lots of quests. It was like stepping into a new game. I was amazed and – yes – excited about finding out what new things there were to do. But that was then. I loved Classic WoW when I first started playing because it was among the best games of its type at the time, and I really enjoyed exploring its enormous new world, but the annoyance I feel when Blizzard removes conveniences now – such as certain guild perks, and also the regular elimination of portals around the world – is nothing in comparison to how it will feel to lose every single quality of life aspect we have now and going back to the bare bones.

Vel on albino drake in Twilight Highlands

In original Classic, there was no help whatsoever in game with how to play. I remember we relied entirely on third party web sites like Thottbot so that we could actually complete some hard to find quest objectives. Back when WoW was new, we were all running around in rags, with hardly more than a stick for a weapon, for a long time. And without mounts, running felt like walking. But even when you reached level 40, when riding became available at the slowest pace, (which might’ve taken months depending on how often you could log on and for how long), you needed to earn 100 gold to buy your first mount. To put that in context, it felt about the same as it does now to buy one of the expensive gold sink mounts. But let’s not talk about gold, or lack of it. I still have burned into my memory the long evenings spent in in the Raceway area of the Thousand Needles zone (now flooded) with friends, grinding mobs to earn the rest of the gold we needed for our first mounts. (I think I had about 30-40 gold when I started on that little task at level 60.) It took weeks. We went there together whenever we could because some of the mobs dropped trash loot that could be sold for silver rather than copper. It was that great. We’d fill our tiny bags, run on foot to a vendor miles away, empty bags, go back, repeat. I didn’t enjoy it then, and I wouldn’t enjoy it now, but I really wanted a mount. The only thing that made it bearable was spending time with friends, just chatting, about which some advocates of Classic will no doubt say ‘well, that’s the point. It’s a social game’. I’d rather chat while doing something more interesting, though. As for faster riding, I didn’t even get the epic mount until Burning Crusade came out, and only then because a friend in my guild, who was far richer than me and generous, donated a large chunk towards the 1000 gold for it. He said I’d need the faster mount to escape the mobs in Outland. He wasn’t wrong!

Blog Jun 4

Another thing I remember is what a noob I was in Classic. I had no idea really how to play my class well. For most activities at the time, you could manage without an expert level of skill. A lot of day to day combat in the world was just hitting something repeatedly until it fell over, hoping you didn’t fall over first. If you ended up pulling too many mobs, you hoped you could escape in time. Often you didn’t. Swarms of Furbolgs in Ashenvale springs to mind! It wasn’t until Burning Crusade and raiding became available to our guild with Karazhan that I had to learn how to play properly. That was eye opening! But to go back now with 14 years’ experience of playing WoW will be a different matter. The slow pace was good for someone learning the ropes – not so good for a seasoned veteran. The truth is, in certain respects, we can never go back. That exciting sense of newness and discovery is long gone. Of course, this might not be the case for those who joined WoW during a later expansion. Classic will have novelty value for them, no doubt.

Some Youtubers have waxed lyrical about how you have to team up with others in Classic to get things done efficiently – which is great if you like doing that. To me, group content is raids and dungeons and pvp battlegrounds. I don’t want to have to group while levelling. I see that as a solo activity, and I enjoy it as such. I like to log on and potter about doing my own thing at my own pace, grouping up when I’m in the mood and it’s appropriate. The thought of not being able to progress because you can’t complete certain quests alone – or they’re far more difficult solo – holds no attraction for me whatsoever. There was no faction tagging in Classic WoW. If another player hit a mob first you couldn’t share the credit for killing it like you do in Retail now, and respawns were often mind-numbingly slow. You could spend hours trying to complete a single quest, even in a group of friends, simply because other players were attempting to complete the same objective as you. This hardly bred camaraderie, quite the opposite. Sometimes the sight of another player in your vicinity made your heart sink – or else filled you with murderous rage, depending on your temperament and how long you’d been trying to complete a particular quest. This is why teaming up is advocated so strongly by players in the Classic beta now, and it makes sense, but it’s not something I want to have to do every time I play.

When going solo, I can leave the computer, go make a drink, look at something on the internet, talk on the phone and so on. In a team, it’s inconsiderate to do that, which is partly why I resent having teaming forced on me. People argue that WoW is an MMO – the m’s stand for massive multiplayer after all, so we’re supposed to play together. My response to this is: I live in a town surrounded by people. It’s much better than an empty town. People help each other out in a multitude of ways. But when I go shopping, do I really want to take a bunch of people with me? I don’t want to live on a deserted street, but neither do I want the entire complement of neighbours round my house all the time just to help me carry out basic tasks I’m happy to do on my own. Everyone can get ‘peopled out’ whether in reality or in an online multi-player game. I want to choose when to interact, while still being part of a thriving populated world.

However, I am in a minority with my opinions, or at least appear to be, so Blizzard were right to bring Classic back for those who want that slower pace and greater difficulty – and also to experience the beginnings of the game that they might have missed out on. It’s a valuable curio, to be sure. I also understand totally the desire for community. If there’s one thing I miss about Classic, it’s the community of your server. People couldn’t get away with behaving like jerks – they had to be accountable for their behaviour. If they were obnoxious, rude or aggressive they earned a reputation for being an idiot, and the community was small enough for word to get about, because everyone was confined to one server. I can think of more than one individual on our realm who earned the epithet ‘server idiot’. You’d get scenarios like someone saying: ‘Oh, this person wants to join our dungeon team/guild’, and the anguished response from other guildies, ‘god, don’t invite them. That’s a server idiot.’ Another good thing was that you could make friends out in the landscape, people you’d come across again and again – I made quite a few friends in this way. But that’s not enough to make me want to play the old game again. What I would like is to have that community in modern WoW, which I doubt will ever return.

My Druid in Vashjir

I do think it’s become fashionable on YouTube to slag WoW off, or specifically Blizzard. Content creators and their followers appear united in their contempt for the company who, it can’t be denied, have done themselves no favours whatsoever in the customer relations department and have made bad decisions about the game. It’s currently regarded as cool to shun modern WoW and praise Classic, and I do think this is what’s behind a lot of the adulation at present. There’s a hint of ‘let’s show them!’, because of course Blizzard famously told the players they might think they want Classic WoW but in fact they don’t – implying rose-coloured spectacles were playing a large part in people’s desire for the older game. Calling for Classic and praising it so passionately heaps scorn by default on Battle for Azeroth and the direction of the modern game. Some players are unhappy with developer decisions recently and this how they can show it.

I myself am disappointed with certain aspects of BfA, and it’s the first time since Classic (original) I have no great interest in levelling all my alts. Levelling has been ruined unfortunately. There are too few zones, so it gets old very quickly, and the removal of character power once the legendaries from Legion have to be junked can be painful – worse for some classes than for others. I hate feeling progressively weaker as my character’s level gets higher. It makes no sense. Before max level, questing should be fun and easy in my opinion – a relaxing part of the game. Of course, I’m used to reaching max level and at that point suddenly feeling as weak as a kitten, because it’s always been like that with each expansion. End game begins by gearing your character up. It’s great to crack your knuckles and get to it, gradually becoming powerful again. But before that it should simply be pleasurable and fun to reach max level. Also, in BfA there’s far too much character maintenance involved to make it feasible to administer a huge family of alts. (And let’s face it, most veteran players will have a huge family of alts by now.) We went from the situation where players felt there wasn’t enough to do, to overload in the opposite direction, but the content isn’t fulfilling or compelling. I’m sick to death of world quests now.

Raiding has also been spoilt somewhat with the persistence of titan forging that to a large degree has rendered raid gear redundant – or at least the urge to collect it lasts nowhere near as long. This is compounded by the removal of tier sets in raids. In the past our guild team would always farm raids once they’d been completed, because there was a reason to do so, but there’s no point to it now as there’s better gear available elsewhere and no tier sets to collect. I feel people’s interest in raiding has diminished over all – at least for our guild. In the raids so far in BfA we’ve killed the end boss once – that’s all. The fun of raiding is no longer seems to be there for our guild.

Blog Jun 3

Although it’s regarded as far from cool to say so (but I’ll do so anyway), raiding has become far more complex and challenging over the years. In Classic, the headaches were different – having enough players for a start and collecting resistance gear and farming consumables. But raid bosses had a pitiful amount of abilities in comparison to modern bosses, and the mechanics were far simpler. Now, for teams with varying levels of competence among their players, raiding is gradually moving beyond their reach, not least because of shrinking guilds. It gets ever more difficult to find enough people to field a team from guild members and friends. This is ironic, because raiding was beyond people’s reach for different reasons in the past. The game has looped back, in a bizarre kind of way. The allowance for error in modern raiding is so tiny one person can wipe the entire team with an unfortunate bad move or a smack of bad luck. I used to love raiding but have become somewhat disenchanted with it. Given the experience of our core players, (most of whom have played together for at least 10 years), and the level of expertise among the best of them, we should be raiding at Heroic level, but our team as a whole struggles with that difficulty. Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of players, who’ve simply given up the game. So now we end up losing good players who want more of a challenge, making it even more difficult for those who stick with the guild because of long-established friendships; it’s a vicious circle.

WoWScrnShot_081818_144443

So, I’m not criticising WoW Classic from the position of a Retail fangirl. I have my disappointments in the game, but I’d still rather play BfA with all its downsides than what to me is the stultifyingly dull game play of Classic. I enjoy so many other aspects of the modern game – mythic plus dungeons, transmog collecting, mount hunting, all other kinds of collecting and doing old raid achievements – none of which were present in Classic. There’s plenty to keep me busy. But I do think WoW was better in the past in some respects. If I could choose one expansion to base the future game upon, it would probably be Mists of Pandaria, with the better bits of WoD and Legion thrown in. In fact, the best bits of all the expansions would make a great game. But what are the best aspects for me might not be the best for other players. It’s so subjective. I’ve levelled up some alts from scratch recently for the allied races and can honestly say the best expansion for it was WoD. I’ve really enjoyed levelling through that again on each new character. The end game lacked, (which is how it earned the reputation of the worst expansion of all), but for levelling it was top notch.

The landscapes of Azeroth become increasingly sumptuous and detailed with each new expansion. Whatever downsides BfA might present, its landscapes are beautiful, and I love roaming through them. I also like the story-telling – even if I don’t agree with all the plot decisions. The lore makes the characters of the world seem alive. You root for the ones you like, and boo at the ones you hate. The story has relevance. It’s like being part of a film or a novel. I look forward to finding out what’s going to happen next, hoping it’ll be something I like, but accepting of the fact that I’m not telling the story, so it might be something I really don’t like. Sometimes, things don’t work out how we want them to. That’s realistic. Classic had no real story arc. I didn’t know anything about the lore of Azeroth until it started being brought into the game more creatively. If I went back in time to Classic (not the new version) with all the knowledge I have now, I’d be far more intrigued about Fandral Staghelm’s behaviour in Teldrassil, for example, than I was at the time. I barely took any notice of what he was asking me to do and why. I suppose for people who came to WoW later on, when the story took on more relevance, it’ll be quite exciting to discover the back story for some of those characters hidden away in corners of the Classic world. I used to collect the herb Khadgar’s Whisker for my alchemy profession without being aware there was a lore character called Khadgar. That came as a surprise in The Burning Crusade when I met him in Shattrath. You can even find Nathanos Blightcaller in his old home (the Marris Stead) in the Eastern Plaguelands. There’s a group quest to kill him. There are lots of little clues and surprises like that dotted about the Classic landscape. So for those who came later to WoW I absolutely appreciate how Classic will be a lot of fun.

However, one thing that concerns me about this Classic adulation at present is Blizzard’s tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater – i.e. sweeping changes that junk things that are good along with things that aren’t so good. I hope they don’t look at the enthusiasm for Classic and think they need to make Retail similar – i.e. longer and more difficult to level your character, removal of quality of life aspects, and so on. Let Classic and Retail exist separately for those who want them. Some people like their levelling to be hard, so why can’t Blizzard do something to help with that, using the scaling technology they’ve developed, and bring in the choice for normal, heroic and mythic levelling? That would go a long way towards pleasing everyone.

There are some lessons that can be learned from Classic – such as class quests and a feeling of progression in respect of talent trees. Those are good things and maybe some form of them should return, but not at the expense of the quality of life aspects we enjoy now. I’ve heard some comments that all the different expansions of WoW could exist as separate games with their own continuing updates. That to me sounds splendid. There is surely room for everything. I’m interested to see what transpires after the Classic release. It could be good for everyone. Let’s hope so.

Abraxxas gets Heart

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I’ve played Battle for Azeroth for some days now, long enough to talk about my first impressions. I’ve also got my main character to top level.

First off, navigation about the world is far more user friendly than it was in Legion. Finding quest objectives in the previous expansion was sometimes so difficult the majority of our guild resorted to using an addon that helped you find where you were supposed to be. There’s a new version of it for BFA but so far I’ve not had to turn it on. There are still quest items and mobs hidden in caves, but at least the dot on the map specifying where they are in the landscape is reachable without going round the outside of a huge mountain, across a few lakes, to find a tiny hole in the ground amid dense shrubbery that’s the hidden entrance to the cave you need to be in. Now – there’s simply a pretty clear path to a cave. Short of physical sign posts along the path, it can’t get any better.


(Drustvar Mountains from the Air)

BFA’s landscape is also less vertical. While there are breathtaking mountains aplenty and beautifully realised topography, pathways up the mountainsides are clear and easy to find and lead to where you want to go without any screaming, hair pulling or frantically looking things up on the internet.

The questing itself, however, isn’t quite so user friendly. It’s clear this is because at the end of Legion we had to surrender the perks of our incredibly powerful and multi-talented artefact weapons. We were used to being amazingly strong, scything our way through foes as if they were mosquitoes. While the artefacts still work as ‘stat sticks’ until around level 115, even though their special qualities have been disabled, thereafter they’re replaced quickly by questing greens – those throwaway bits of gear you hasten to replace immediately you hit top level. Your legendary items work until 115 too, so the first half of levelling feels like you’re skipping round the beautiful landscape, singing to yourself and admiring the scenery. Then… at 115 all the special qualities of your legendary items are disabled. Bam! The mobs have scaled up as you have, but you are effectively far weaker than you were only a level ago. You’re soon replacing those legendaries with more questing greens. From thereon, questing gets slower and more onerous. We’re used to being superheroes in Legion. Now we’re back to being foot soldiers, wielding a stick with a nail in it, dressed in ragged hand me downs rather than sparkly armour.

It’s always been this way at top level in new expansions. Traditionally, the moment you get to max, you go from carefree questing to being as weak as a kitten who can’t even hit a ball of string. We expect it then. The idea is that at top level we start earning new and better gear through world quests, dungeons, raids and so on. That’s what end game’s all about. But levelling to get there wasn’t taxing or that annoying – other than (in Legion) problems with navigation.

I really hope Blizzard will do something to fix this situation, because I think the effects of the recent stat squish and scaling, coupled with the disabling of our superpowers, have been more catastrophic than they realised. I’ve read forum threads about this topic, where there are plenty of people scoffing at those complaining, claiming that levelling is supposed to be hard, not ridiculously easy. The usual smug cries of ‘learn to play, noob!’ abound. Actually, levelling is supposed to be fun. It is (or should be) the easy part of WoW. The challenging content comes in dungeons and raids, in doing mythic+ content, or the various challenges Blizzard offer to the hardcore and those who really like to be tested.

My main character was equipped with heroic raid gear from Legion, so was used to having a fairly easy time of it in the open world, but he struggled through the last few levels to 120. He died to things I’m really not used to him being killed by. The main problem is that he now doesn’t regenerate energy fast enough. He’s a Druid, and I habitually level him in his Feral cat form. Now, he doesn’t have enough of the Haste stat to regenerate energy efficiently, and if more than two foes attack, making a fight lengthy, he quickly has no resources, so I can’t use his skills and have to wait painfully for his energy bar to refill. This also has a huge impact on his instant Regrowth procs, essential for a cat whose skin is rather thin. Friends who play Rogues or Monks have also reported the same frustration. Now, after my Druid’s limped to top level, hissing furiously, I’ve had to use his bear Guardian form instead of cat. It’s going fine as his personal resource regeneration is far easier to manage in that form and the reduction in damage is more than made up for by his survivability. I’m trying to finish the quests in all the zones in order to gain reputation with the various factions, and hostile creatures in more than pairs would be lethal at top level for the cat. Mini-bosses found at the end of quest chains also seem overtuned. Some quests intended to be soloable really aren’t. I know I only have to wait to get more gear and be patient but… patience isn’t my best quality, and I do think questing shouldn’t be so burdensome.

How on earth my lesser alts will fare, especially the extremely squishy cloth-wearers, I can’t bear to imagine. All my characters capable of being a tank will certainly be one the moment they set foot in the Isles. But if things don’t improve for the more vulnerable characters, (including all classes affected by the drastic reduction in resource regeneration), I can’t see me levelling them, because the experience post level 115 won’t be fun at all. As a friend said to me today as I was complaining about the situation, this will be the worst it’ll ever be in BFA. From now on, we’ll be earning gear and getting stronger. But that won’t help my mages and priests, nervously waiting in their flimsy negligees for me to take them out to level up. (I won’t include warlocks there. They are a class unto themselves and operate outside usual WoW parameters – as any player with a lock will know!) I wish Blizzard – and all the masochists banging on about loving challenge – would just remember that a game, by its very nature, is supposed to be fun and enjoyable.

Another thing I’m really not happy about is Warmode, Blizzard’s way of (allegedly) pleasing both those who like to PvP (player versus player) against real people in the game and those who prefer their enemies to be pixelated, i.e. PvE (player versus environment). I hate world PvP, which to me seems only to give unpleasant people, who love annoying others, license to be a jerk. I’m no good at it, and don’t have the gazelle-like reflexes to cope with my characters being attacked by frenzied teenagers without dying almost immediately. So I avoid it as much as possible, doing any kind of PVP only with gritted teeth, when there’s a reward I particularly want that demands I take part in it. But with Warmode, which players can elect to ‘turn on’ in their capital cities, they can do all their questing in PvP, only seeing other players in the landscape who’ve made the same choice. So ideally all the pvpers can inconvenience each other to their hearts’ delight, leaving us pvers to get on with levelling hassle-free. Except… Blizzard has dangled an immense carrot with Warmode. Players who elect to have it on get increased experience and better quest rewards. As this is an attractive prospect to any player, regardless of their feelings about PvP, they begin to think it’s mandatory to do it. A lot of players are desperate to get to max level in any way possible because the thing they enjoy most in WoW is end game content, and levelling is just a chore they do to get there. The knock-on effect of this is that quite often I’ve been playing on my own in the landscape, never seeing other players. I can only assume this is because so many have opted for the rewards and turned on Warmode, thus making themselves invisible to me and the PvE world seems empty. This makes it difficult to find other people for group quests too. I’ve tried making my own groups, but after 15 mins of no applicants, I’ve given up.

Another downside of Warmode is that Blizzard will now see world PvP in BFA as a big success. They won’t (or will refuse to) see that the majority of players only turn it on for the rewards and swift levelling, not because they want to PvP. I read one forum thread where some PvE players were discussing the hardships of Warmode levelling. ‘You only get killed about once every 7 quests,’ someone said plaintively. ‘So it’s not as bad as it could be.’ Excuse me? Getting killed by a PvP player once every 20 quests would be too much for me and would only make me angry. I want to get on with killing mobs and picking up quest items, as well as paying attention to the story, not have to fight off aggressive players as well. The impression I’m receiving is that people are resigning themselves to Warmode in order to level faster, not that they’re enjoying it. But what they don’t seem to realise is that they’re allowing Blizzard to set a precedent. Since I started playing, it’s always seemed they’ve wanted more players to take part in PvP. They’ve often forced PvE players into it to complete important quest chains or achievements, which we’ve done with a shudder and a grimace. Now, they’ll claim Warmode is a huge triumph and clearly players have wanted it all along, which could lead to world PvP being forced on us even more. Really, I think people who hate PvP but are using Warmode for convenience are stupid and doing harm to the PvE game. Why not take a bit longer to level? Is an extra day really that bad? And for how long exactly will you keep those slightly higher ilevel questing greens? The precedent is dangerous, because once lines are crossed, it’s nigh on impossible to go back over them.

Enough griping! There is still so much to enjoy in BfA. I’ve tried out the dungeons and they’re all amazing to behold, with some interesting bosses and beautifully designed landscapes and interiors. The island expeditions for three players are also enjoyable, which you can complete either against NPC foes or in PvP mode against the other faction. These are a race against time to gather resources and stop the other team from grabbing them. We still have Warfronts and the first raid to come, adding more content to end game play. On top of that we have factions to cosy up to and increase our reputation with them, unlocking vendors who sell gear and crafting patterns.

The storylines in each zone are compelling and rather like reading a story or watching a film. You want to know what happens next, which helps offset the horror of being jumped unexpectedly by multiple mobs that slash your questing greens to ribbons. There is a main narrative thread, but also multiple sub plots found in the landscape. Drustvar did not disappoint me. I adored that zone, especially the spooky child quest line. That was genius. More of that type of thing please, Blizzard. The whole zone, with its theme of dark witchcraft and tainted families, its strange wicker effigies and creatures that are seemingly constructed from sticks and bones, PLUS the absolutely disgusting pig men – apparently humans with heads of pigs grafted onto them in some obscene magical experiments. I loved wandering through the haunted forests, and in such a setting the constant sense of threat works very well.


(Drustvar Forest)

I’ve just finished questing through Stormsong Valley too, which is more of an open landscape. The theme is sea-faring communities and – naturally – pirates. Here, the minions of the naga queen Azshara begin to make their presence felt as well. There’s something funny going on, with Lovecraftian beings appearing here and there. Evil is building in this beautiful zone. The Alliance also meet with the Tortollan, a race of humanoid turtles, who are amusing creatures saying things like ‘I’ve seen things that would scare the shell off you!’ We need to be friends with them (and as they’re a neutral race I assume it’s the same for Horde) because a lot of crafting patterns are locked behind reputation gains with the Tortollan.

From what I’ve seen of professions in BFA (and I’ve only scratched the surface so far), advancing them will be more pleasurable this time round, after the horrid mess that Legion made of crafting. The fact that each expansion will have its own crafting tier is a great idea. In BfA, we start at level 1 in each profession we have and only have to reach 150 to max out – which anyone must agree is a far better prospect than levelling up to 900 through all the expansions.

So, after nearly a week, my first impressions are mainly good with only the levelling experience and Warmode to complain about. Actually, well, the levelling experience is rather important right now, so perhaps casts a dark shadow over all the good stuff. I hope not, and that Blizzard will make a few adjustments to make the process smoother, especially once everyone’s got their main characters to top level. Take pity on the alts, Blizzard.

There is some explanation in this article for people who aren’t familiar with the story of WoW, which inevitably contains some spoilers concerning all the pre-patch events before Battle for Azeroth. Don’t read if you’ve not yet played through the Siege of Lordaeron and don’t want the surprises ruined.

Here we are at the eve of a new World of Warcraft expansion. Launch nights are always, for my guild mates and me, an exciting time. It happens once every two years or so and you really feel you’re off to discover new landscapes and races and adventures. All good. Battle for Azeroth will take us to breath-taking new lands and, having been in the Beta for it, (albeit not doing much as I don’t want to spoil the story), I can’t wait.

However, the run up to this particular expansion has been more melodramatic than usual. This is down to how the story is developing within the game. Azeroth is a huge world, with an immense amount of lore attached to it, which could give Lord of the Rings a run for its money in terms of complexity and fully realised histories of multiple nations and continents.

When you’ve played an MMO for getting on for twelve years or so, its native people feel more like friends than bunches of pixels. When I began playing WoW, back in Classic, I didn’t even notice the story and only started to become interested in it during the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. The story within The Burning Crusade, the first expansion that led WoW out of Classic into a new age in a lot of respects, didn’t engage me as much, not because it wasn’t compelling but because so much of it was hidden inside raids, and at the time my guild could only access the 10-person Karazhan and Zul Aman. The bigger raids, for hardcore players only, held the meat of the story within them. But in Wrath, you occasionally ran into the Big Bad, Arthas the Lich King, as you were doing quests and levelling, as well as in the 5-person dungeons. There were dramatic cinematics to further the story – and not this time hidden in raids that were simply for the hardcore elite. Raids – often the most spectacular part of the game – also became accessible to more players, specifically for guilds with smaller teams. Our guild loved this. Everyone felt involved.

WoW has built on this type of story-telling ever since, so that players can engage with what’s going on. You feel like you’re in a book or a film, and it’s not just a case of mindlessly killing 10 of this or collecting 10 of that for quests. What you do has more purpose. You’re busy helping oppressed races or fighting enemies that threaten the whole world. Through the story, players have changed the world of Azeroth, for better or worse.

In Battle for Azeroth, Blizzard is (initially) taking the story back to the faction divide. If anyone’s reading this who isn’t a WoW devotee, I’ll just explain that when players join the game, they choose either Alliance or Horde and begin playing their first character in that faction. Eventually, we might make characters on the other faction in order to see the story from both sides, and I imagine very few players don’t do that nowadays.

In the build up to BfA, Horde and Alliance are at each other’s throats again, in a tit for tat war. For the uninitiated, here is a very simple precis of a quite complicated story: Horde Warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner, nuked the World Tree Teldrassil, which was home of the Alliance Night Elves. A great many civilians perished, burned alive. In retaliation, the boy king Anduin Wrynn led Alliance forces against the Horde at the occupied city of Lordaeron. Here, Sylvanas decided to release the Blight, a hideous, fleshing-eating disease that killed both her own troops as well as Alliance soldiers, all of which she then raised gleefully as undead to fight for her. Despite this, she still didn’t win, thanks to the timely intervention of Jaina Proudmoore, a somewhat conflicted character herself (to put it mildly), and a very powerful Alliance mage. The leaders of both sides escaped the devastation, thus setting the stage for the launch of BfA.

Sylvanas’s actions at Lordaeron following the slaughter of civilians in Teldrassil has left a lot of Horde players feeling pretty angry. They disagree with their leader’s tactics and decisions – and it seems several non-player characters in the game feel the same, as shown in the movie-quality cinematic Blizzard released last week – The Old Soldier. In this, the veteran Orc general, Varok Saurfang, is so disgusted with the ways things are going – including perhaps how his world has changed since he was young – that he’s prepared to take off his armour and go to face the Alliance troops alone and unarmoured on the morning before the final battle. Sure suicide. But to Saurfang, honour is everything, and he feels the war he’s caught up in is dishonourable. He’s only dissuaded by a young Troll shaman who, as the dawn breaks over the mighty war engines of the Alliance surrounding Lordaeron, brings a degree of hope back to the grizzled old fighter. It was well-written, well-directed and beautifully depicted, and I found it profoundly moving. But the cinematic only highlighted the discord within the Horde itself.

I like the drama of this, and it makes me eager to discover how the story is going to play out. It’s clear Blizzard wants everyone to feel furious with Sylvanas and worried for the future, regardless of their faction, but I think the developers have got more story surprises up their sleeves. Some players are suggesting this plot is a precursor to doing away with faction divide completely – something I’d personally welcome, although a lot of players (perhaps even 50%?) would hate that. To me, faction divide is annoying in many ways. Story-wise, we’ve been teaming up to fight a common foe for over a decade. Everyone (player and fictional character alike) is older and wiser, yet even so, Horde and Alliance are now back to scrapping like school kids. It doesn’t make sense to me. Surely, a type of Cold War plot would be more convincing? I’m mainly an Alliance player, but I do have a lot of Horde characters I love just as much. Unfortunately, I can’t do end game group content with them, because all my friends play Alliance exclusively at top level. My Hordies are paupers in comparison to my rich Alliance characters, and because they’re on opposite sides, I can’t mail my Horde gold or resources, which is really galling when my Alliance have far more than they can use. Removing the divide, so that the factions could group for high level content, and otherwise communicate in all sorts of ways, would mean my Horde characters might even see a bit of raid and dungeon action, which I’d be really pleased about. But… if Blizzard does decide to sow permanent harmony between Horde and Alliance, a large proportion of the player base might have tantrums about it. We’ll have to see whether Blizzard wants to risk that. I have no gut feeling either way, because so much is up in the air story-wise at present.

There are many predictions about how the narrative will go and I enjoy being tantalised by this. It’s like beginning to read a novel in which anything could happen. But… I can’t help thinking that some of the narrative decisions that have been made since the beginning of the recent (brilliant) Legion expansion have their roots in what has become popular in genre fiction as a whole – whether in books, comics or film. I don’t think anyone can dispute that Game of Thrones has been a huge influence on story-telling. It was this show (and books) that popularised the idea of provoking (and perhaps displeasing) the audience by killing off major characters en masse, characters who normally readers/viewers would expect to be comfortably invested in. It seems a cold-hearted act, almost breaking the contract between writer and reader, to exterminate too many characters simply for the sake of being shocking. The Grimdark genre truly deserves its name. I hate the brutality of this story-telling fashion in fantasy fiction, the attention to gory detail, the gloating over torture and torment, and the constant soft porn, which is just boring. The way I see it, if someone wants to watch porn, they can go and watch it on a channel or DVD devoted to erotic titillation. I don’t see its place in mainstream entertainment. But there it is, and it’s probably not going to go away now. The demons are out of the bag, which means that me, and people like me, just can’t watch some shows, even if we otherwise like the story and setting. (For the record, I can stomach the soft porn, even if it’s dull and wastes screen time when some actual story-telling could be going on, but I simply cannot and will not watch drawn out torture, dismemberment, graphic executions and rape. What kind of person enjoys such scenes?)

I think WoW has been infected by this trend, which began in Legion with the slaughter of the human High King, Varian Wrynn, one of his veteran generals, Tyrion Fordring, the Horde Warchief Vol’jin (a much-loved Troll leader), and several others. The fact that WoW lead developer Ion Hazzikostas recently compared the Burning of Teldrassil with the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones speaks volumes. You can see it must’ve been an influence, however unconsciously and if only for its shock value. OK, the upsetting moments at the start of Legion moved the story along and created high impact drama. It set the scene for the amoral Sylvanas to become Warchief of the Horde and the young and inexperienced (and pleasingly pretty) Anduin to become the human High King. New stories to be told, new characters to invest in. And now we are facing its legacy in BfA. But I do think Blizzard might have gone a bit too far with the ‘realism’ in a game that’s essentially an escapist fantasy. I’m not sure I trust the creators (who are primarily game developers rather than fiction writers) to handle the story skilfully and convincingly. And the players want to be convinced by the story. The professional writers Blizzard do employ undoubtedly have to work to a predefined script, so can’t be held responsible, and certainly don’t deserve the threatening vitriol that’s been directed at them on social media, but quite honestly the current writers are not that great. I would like to read the WoW novels to discover all the story detail that doesn’t happen ‘in game’ but I can’t bear the hackneyed writing. I did try, I really did… But it just hurt my eyes, never mind my own creative sensibilities, to read it. As an editor as well as a writer, I couldn’t stop editing the prose in my head as I was reading. But anyway, those people are just employees, and it’s some committee, somewhere deep inside Blizzard, that calls the shots.

The good side of all this is that story has become very important – nowadays, people expect their entertainment, even in games, to have complex, mature themes, realistic characters and situations, and convincing dramatic tension. I’m delighted I’m sitting here writing about all this, because it means story-telling is alive and well, and that modern obsessions with technology, plus short attention spans, haven’t damaged it past repair. Quite the opposite, even if fiction has expanded far beyond the pages of books.

Part of The Old Soldier showed Saurfaung morosely removing his shoulder armour and throwing it to the ground. In an act of defiance against Sylvanas, (or solidarity with Saurfang, who is currently in the custody of the Alliance), some Horde players are currently choosing not to display their shoulder armour on their characters. I read that on some servers, (perhaps those devoted solely to role-playing, sadly I can’t remember), players congregated in the Horde capital of Orgrimmar to demonstrate, in a ‘Not in my Name’ kind of way. That shows how the story is affecting people, so Blizzard are doing something right. WoW is a game, yet its narrative touches people deeply. As a writer of fiction, I applaud this – and of course this is why WoW has held my attention for so long.

This evening, as midnight strikes in Europe, the islands of Kul’Tiras and Zandalar will open, and the conflict of the Horde and Alliance will be taken there. I’ve already seen the landscape, and it’s incredibly beautiful. The artwork has come on a long way since Classic WoW. One zone in particular – Drustvar – is a haunted land of dark witchcraft and supernatural strangeness. That’s the area I’m heading to as soon as I reach Kul’Tiras. From what I’ve seen it’s entirely my kind of place. I’m crossing my fingers that the story as it unfolds will be grand and surprising, and ultimately satisfying for all players. Sylvanas will definitely not be Warchief by the end of this expansion, I’m quite sure of that, but even though Saurfang seems the obvious replacement, I’m not so sure about that. Anduin will grow and change, perhaps pick up a wife along the way (the Wrynn dynasty needs continuance and Anduin could do with a strong partner to support him. There are several compelling female characters who’d make outstanding queens) – or… maybe the boy king won’t survive the story. Whatever happens, it begins tonight, like a two-year long movie or novel. I loved Legion, its story, its landscapes and its characters. But now we’re moving on to new horizons. I’m more than ready to be part of that.

As the content drought in WoW stretches towards a summer wasteland, I was interested to hear about a new MMO that’s just been released. Players in its Beta have been praising it online for ages. As I’ve virtually run out of things to do in WoW until Legion (which hopefully will be sooner rather than later) I thought I’d give this new Black Desert a go. It’s a ‘buy to play’ title, and because of the unctuous praise it’s received, I thought I might as well splash out and buy one of the launch bundles. I envisaged I’d be playing it throughout the summer. The game was advertised – and reviewed – as the ‘new generation’ of MMOs. But sadly, if that’s the case, it looks to me as if the genre is moving backward.

When I play a new MMORPG, I like to be able to pick up the basics fairly quickly. Most I’ve played share a syntax, in that components of their User Interfaces share common elements, so that you know pretty much from the start how to move your character, how to use combat skills, how to access your inventory and so on. Obviously, there are differences between games, but not generally to the extent where you can’t work things out and get into playing straight away. Usually there are good tutorials to help with that too. Whenever I’ve run into an MMO whose UI feels utterly alien to me, and/or the tutorial aspect is lacking, it’s put me off playing. I want the way I operate my characters and interact with the game to feel instinctive, not baffling. Black Desert is absolutely baffling – not just to me but to several other members of my WoW guild who are currently trying to play it.

OK, I accept my own prejudices concerning how I like to play are colouring my views of this game, and it is – I understand – typically Korean in the way it operates. Many players who are currently raving about it online are probably already familiar with that style. But to me Black Desert lacks that familiar syntax I look for in a game, which allows me to immerse myself quickly. The complication of learning completely new systems interferes with that immersion. I feel annoyed at having bought this game, purely on the recommendations of gushing reviews, most of which showed videos of characters in combat within the visually stunning world, and slavered over the character customisation. What wasn’t so obvious in these reviews was how you actually play. If I’d been in the Beta to try the game out for myself, I’d never have bought it. Usually, you can trust reviews that come out of a game’s Beta to at least warn people about the downsides. Perhaps I looked at the wrong reviews.

The default mode of character movement is to use the keyboard – I personally prefer using a mouse for that. The default mode of combat is using the keyboard too, but not through the number keys as in most other MMOs. You might have to use – for example – the F key in combination with the left or right mouse button, or with Shift as well. It often also involves memorising a longer series of ‘combo’ button pressing. I’m used to having quick and easy action bars to access combat skills, which are numbered 1 to 10 and can be activated either by a number key button or the mouse. In BD, you can, to a degree, change the UI so that you can move with the mouse, but it’s clunky. Also, you *can* have a basic action bar of 10 slots, but some skills can’t actually be put on it at all. I had to read several web pages to discover how to put *any* skills on this apparently grudgingly-provided bar, and then discovered that there is a ‘mana tax’ for using it rather than the main key combos. Another MMO I played, Aion, uses skill combos, but much more elegantly, and you learn how to get the best from them as you level and acquire new skills. The combos are baked into the key strokes and don’t require any memorising. In Black Desert you get loaded with new skills that require memorising different key sequences almost from the start. There are only two quests that teach you some basic moves, and there is a pop up video you can elect to have on screen that shows the key sequences. But having to peer repeatedly at this while fighting isn’t good. OK, you’ll learn the sequences eventually but really… why? Just seems needlessly complicated and adds nothing to the common combat mechanics found in other games. The combat system owes more to Street Fighter than to games like World of Warcraft. On top of all this, you have to use the Tab key to swap in and out of combat mode, which is often annoying when you find yourself in the wrong stance, chucking fireballs at a hapless NPC merchant. You have to hit the CTRL key to gain control of your mouse, which you need to do so you can click on elements of the UI. Normally, the mouse only swings the camera about. Again annoying when you have to keep doing it, because camera mode swings back into action constantly. You have to use R to interact with anything. I prefer to use the mouse to click on NPCs, loot, mobs, gathering nodes and so on. I don’t like that combat and interaction with the world are what amounts to different stances, and you can’t do them simultaneously. Constant swapping just becomes a tiresome chore and if you’re the kind of player who prefers always to use the keyboard to move, you’ll no doubt get sick of finding yourself flailing around wildly with your weapon instead of walking up the road.

I suppose that with determination I’d get over this unfamiliar way to play so it would become as instinctive as how I play WoW, Rift, Guild Wars, Aion, Wildstar and others. (Tera I couldn’t bear for the same reason I find BD difficult.) But for me, BD’s failings aren’t just down to combat, movement and interaction. The game simply isn’t newbie friendly. Economy and commerce are a huge part of the game, and very complex, (which will undoubtedly keep the game fresh for a long time for those who master these aspects), but it’s all gobbledegook to me. I’ve only just worked out how to get my horse in and out of a stable and to ride it. I got this mount as part of the bundle I bought, but have little idea how you get a horse otherwise, other than you have to be level 20 and then start taming them in the wild, or something. (That might be completely wrong, by the way.) The intricacies of getting more horses, then breeding them to sell, remains an impenetrable mystery, as does the whole ‘become a successful merchant’ feature. I’ve bought a house but it’s not doing anything. I seem to have bought a farm, or am at least renting it, but have no idea what to do with it now. Workers are mentioned, but I don’t know how to hire them. There are crafting professions but I’ve not found out how to learn them yet. You can apparently build boats, and have trading caravans… somehow. There are different currencies, and a core mini-game to do with earning good reputation with named NPCs, all of which again have to be studied online if you want to understand them properly. And even then, there’s a huge amount of information to take in. What tutorials do exist in game miss out important tips or else the translation to English isn’t quite right. I think lots of breadcrumb quests would have helped, that led players to learn about how to get a horse and cart and fill it with produce from their farms, and then sell it, along with a quest to find and hire workers, and so on. Nothing in this game flows naturally for me.

The developers seem to take for granted that players will be familiar with the style of play, which of course might well be the common MMO syntax in its country of origin. Other Korean games have been franchised in the West, and generally get a makeover to make them comprehensible to their intended market, but sadly I’m still in the dark about how to access most of BD’s features, and I’ve had it for about three weeks now. The difficulty of finding out what you’re supposed to do has put me off playing, so therefore I don’t play as much as I normally would with a new title, and consequently I’m not learning it. Vicious circle. Even searching online hasn’t been the greatest help. I’ve found bemused players trying to get information on forums, often to meet with that tiresome scoffing response from ‘expert’ players, who’ve been with it all the way through the Beta, and who scorn anyone who can’t get their head round the arcanery. I can’t see this MMO doing well in the West. People want to get into a game and get on with it as soon as possible, not have to try and find info online every five minutes about its most basic aspects.

Black Desert doesn’t have end game like the majority of other MMOs – there are no raids and dungeons with their enforced gear ladders. I don’t disapprove of this, and do appreciate it offers a new form of character progression – the idea apparently is that you level constantly in such things as trading, riding, farming and so on. As BD would always be my secondary game, (if I could be inspired to play it more), I don’t mind at all being free of the usual end game activities. Trading and becoming a better horse-woman sound pretty good to me for a game I’d play casually. But I can’t get round the way it works. Some people won’t mind, and will no doubt consider my criticisms trivial, if not misguided, but given the amount of other players we’ve noticed floundering around in the game, I wonder how many will feel like me and simply write off bitterly the cost of buying it.

As for the acclaimed character customisation, while you do get a lot of it in some respects, in others it’s limited. (Aion, I think, still holds the crown for having the best character creation in any MMO I’ve tried.) Classes are restricted to one gender, and one class is the obligatory Anime schoolgirl type, which, with a fair amount of tweaking on the character creation screen, you can just about change enough so she doesn’t look too disturbing. Who plays these deliberately provocative ‘little girl’ characters anyway? I always find them very creepy, if not downright perverted. One of the NPC races in the game is comprised of what look like tiny children, who may or may not really be adults – haven’t worked it out yet – but I found one with facial hair that was quite… odd. I know this sort of thing is common in Far Eastern RPGs, and it’s clearly a cultural thing, but I don’t think it translates well beyond their home countries, and I’m not the only female player who finds the idea of scantily-clad, pre-pubescent girl characters with their knickers showing somewhat repellent. But the downsides of the characters are a minor gripe in comparison to the rest of the game.

To be fair, BD does have a ton of features and activities within it, and the world itself is beautifully designed. I understand it’s huge too, although I’ve barely left the starter area. Because I spent money on it, I’ll persist with trying to learn it for a while longer. I don’t want that money to have been wasted. But I’m disappointed with the lack of guidance. Even its most newbie-hostile aspects could have been tolerable if the tutorials had been thorough and well-written. I’m not averse to trying games that do things differently, but only if I’m given clear instructions on how to play. Black Desert just doesn’t do that for me. At least it wasn’t marketed as a ‘WoW killer’ like other MMOs, because it certainly isn’t. It’s ‘buy to play’ at the moment, with a cash shop, and maybe if it goes ‘free to play’ it’d be worth giving a try. All I can say now is don’t waste your money, unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of time getting to grips with the Korean style of playing, or are already au fait with it.

While WoW is the game I play the most, I also dabble in Rift – less so since WoD as I’m kept busy in WoW with what game time I have. I’ve kept visiting Telara, the world of Rift, over the past six months; tinkering about because I do love the atmosphere of that world. Nightmare Tide, Rift’s latest xpac, came out a short while before WoD, so I played it pretty relentlessly during the weeks I was waiting for WoW’s new xpac to hit, knowing I wouldn’t be spending as much time in Telara thereafter. I didn’t manage to get a character to level cap in that time, but recently – having levelled nearly all of my 20 Nordrassil WoW characters to 100, and a bit quested out with Draenor – thought I’d grind out the last two levels on my main in Rift with the benefit of some hefty experience potions.

One thing that struck me when I went back to Rift to level was that I didn’t feel as immersed in the game world as I do in WoW. I think this is partly down to the nature of the Nightmare Tide xpac – we were carted off to the dimension of Water to help out with various calamities, but our faction leaders and familiar figures from Telara didn’t come to fight alongside us or appear constantly as such figures do in WoD. Consequently, you feel sort of isolated from the main world. In WoW, we have a lot of well known figures from Azeroth making the journey with us to Draenor – some of them lose their lives for it – but as a Defiant player in Rift, I missed those old faces, such as Asha Catari and The Faceless Man. It didn’t feel like the faction was doing anything *together*. The new races in the Plane of Water don’t appeal to me that much. The mermaids are cool, and so is the strange aquatic beast, Fenric, who isn’t quite what they appear, (that character is probably the best), but there isn’t much characterisation otherwise. Fenric is the only NPC who travels with you throughout the story, changing and growing themselves, much as Yrel does in WoD. But Fenric is a one off. The ruling class in Draumheim, the major city hub, are all bonkers, living in hallucinations and delirium, and their madness started getting on my nerves rather than amusing me. I didn’t warm to any of them. The baddies are just out and out baddies, generic RPG almost, spouting clichéd lines and lacking the nuances of the Draenor warlords, with their distinct characters.

I also missed the levelling experience of WoD. We take so much for granted in WoW. Rift sometimes seems like the retirement home of all the disaffected WoW players who complained WoW was too easy. Levelling in Rift isn’t. Yes, you can pick your way around carefully and not get into too much trouble, but much of it seems geared towards group play – even during questing. You can’t just plough in and take on multiple mobs and expect to emerge unscathed. With questing gear alone it takes a while to kill things and while mobs aren’t as sensitive as they were in earlier days of Rift, they still get annoyed with you at a fair distance. You often have to search for quest objectives that might be in difficult to reach places; constant lengthy fights with irrelevant mobs gets tiresome after a while. Even without flying (and regular readers of this blog will know my feelings on that!), levelling in WoD was – and is – fluid and satisfying. You don’t get stuck in bottlenecks of difficulty where you can’t progress alone. In a game of this type, I think that’s the way levelling should be, an interesting, colourful journey – save the hard stuff for level cap.

So, going back to Rift has made me appreciate WoW more. I realised how much of WoD I like. One thing I’m utterly satisfied with is the garrisons and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get something similar in the next xpac. But I can’t help thinking that due to the fact a lot of players seem to dislike garrisons, Blizzard might possibly jettison them, rather than tweak them carefully to iron out their weaknesses. Such is Blizzard’s usual response – go to extremes. For me, garrisons have enabled my army of alts to have purpose again. The follower missions are great for getting them gear, so it’s possible to raid with them, with premade groups, not just LFR. My warlock and mage are both around the 660 ilevel mark, with others not far behind. I like the fact that if I haven’t got time to go out farming for mats, (without flying, a vile chore), I can just send the alts round their mines and herb gardens for a while, gathering enough to support those who need mats for their professions. The only farming I tend to put off, even when it’s needed, is trapping beasts for my barns – one each on Horde and Alliance. That’s a chore, because we have to taxi to Nagrand for it, and with some classes those elite wolves must be pretty annoying, as they pack a punch. I have Hunters for both barns, which makes the job easy enough, but even so, lengthy. It’s fine for passing the time when I’m in a queue for group content, but that’s about it.

Prior to WoD, I’ve always had my two mains, a Druid healer and a Hunter, who’ve stepped in to work as our raid team required them. I’ve had a couple of tanks, who are not needed at the moment, so would, but for WoD, be languishing doing nothing. My next two characters – semi main – were the warlock and the mage, but often they didn’t get much to do, if anything. Now, with the boost of follower missions, it’s possible to have multiple characters capable of end game. I can pick and choose which ones I’ll do LFR with each week – there’s no rush after all . These occasional visits help augment their gear. If there’s ever a situation where we need one of these classes present in our raid team, I have a fairly decent character waiting in the wings, who can be brought up to scratch without too much effort. With my mains, at present I’m healing in our guild raid team exclusively, but have kept my Hunter pretty much on par, should I need to swap to him at any point. I adore this flexibility, which we’ve never had to this extent before. Other guild members have also got a couple or more characters at a decent level, which helps with team formation when members fluctuate. Blizzard have got this aspect just right. Small and medium sized guilds need this flexibility, and the ability to gear up a character to an acceptable level pretty quickly in a personnel emergency is great.

Going back to garrisons, another thing I love about them is the followers themselves. If you bother to ask one to help when you’re defending a garrison invasion, some of them have cool animations and spell effects, as well as great-looking armour and weapons. A friend of mine had the gnome warlock Ranni Flagdabble along the other night when I went to help him with a garrison invasion, and this little gnome spontaneously erupted into a huge demon form to fight. I also particularly like the priest Rorin Rivershade, and her gorgeous armour has tempted me to brave pvp so I can farm honor points for a similar set for my own priest. (There are a lot of older pvp armour sets on sale for honor at the pvp vendors on Serpent Spine wall in Pandaria, many of which are stunning.)

In a way, Rift has player housing with the dimensions, but those buildings you create, and the landscapes you can transform, are empty. There are no NPCs, so they’re like ghost towns, as if everyone has just left. Rift players who are into dimensions plead for some life in the form of critters and humanoid NPCs, but Trion don’t seem keen to devote time and resources to granting that wish. In WoW, we have life in abundance in our garrisons. When all your followers are at home, the garrisons are busy and full of residents. Nor are they just static – they appear to be getting on with their lives, talking to one another, wandering about, going for a drink in the inn… Rift dimension addicts would kill for that!

I’ll really miss my followers when we leave Draenor. They’ve become as familiar as my actual characters and I enjoy seeing them mooching about the garrison. I came across two having a row the other day, and one of them burst into tears as I passed by. I wondered what they were arguing about! I like the way Blizzard has made an effort to give these 100s of NPCs their own little character traits. I don’t want to leave mine behind, and would happily take all of them with me into whatever adventures we have next. I wouldn’t mind levelling them up again, in the same way my characters will have to level, perhaps swapping in some new team members now and again, if someone interesting pops up in the inn. But I’m more or less resigned to the fact they’ll remain in Draenor. I can see myself going back to visit them, once they no longer have to work by going out on missions and are always around the garrison.

Another thing I think Blizzard has done really well is the changes to the subsidiary professions. While the crafting professions have become a bit tiresome, Cooking, First Aid and Fishing are now easy to level. It’s possible to get all your alts to top Fishing without too much effort. That has never happened before, mainly because Fishing was such a grind and so time-consuming. Now, it’s a great thing to do (along with barn stocking) when you’re queued for a dungeon or LFR. Passes the time and is very productive (even more so when you have Nat Pagle ensconced in the Fishing Shack). The more proficient fishermen and women can provide the fish for the daily quest for alts, which awards a whopping 15 points, so you can steadily advance everyone’s Fishing level without having to pay too much attention to it. You need *something* to do while you’re queuing, after all. Cooking and First Aid are also mainly levelled by fish, so Fishing helps max them quickly too. I’m still surprised that it’s most likely all of my alts will have top Fishing by the end of the xpac. That’s unheard of! I still think Archaeology needs some work (shudder), and in the next xpac I hope Blizzard makes changes again to the crafting professions, but they shouldn’t touch the subsidiary profs now – they’re perfect as they are.

One thing that most players seem to agree on is that the levelling aspect of WoD is really good. It’s polished – no other word for it – and I really can’t see it can be improved upon. There are shaky areas in the game, which I’ve talked about on this blog, as have many others on their own blogs and on forums, but really when you look at the competition, WoW still deserves its crown. I’m fond of Telara and my characters in Rift, but if you think crafting profs are now grindy in WoW, go there for a bit. It costs a fortune to level them and they’re really fiddly. All of them. There’s no fast track method to gear up alts, even if crafting materials are easily acquired through minion missions. But those minions are just pictures on a mission Window, they’re not there with you inworld.

I’m not sure Blizzard will ever be able to perfect such aspects of the game as raiding, dailies, class changes, and pvp, since players have so many different requirements, and what pleases one lot of players greatly disgruntles many others. But the aspects that are constant Blizzard generally does well. Crafting, hmm, still needs attention – finding that balance between commitment and result without making it too fast or too slow. As for the story, whether you like the way it’s done or not, there *is* a story, a history, and people within it. It’s not just tacked on as an afterthought.

People tend to look back on earlier days of WoW as some kind of Golden Age, but the improvements to the game and quality of life changes have lifted it miles above its formative years. We just tend to forget all the bad stuff and concentrate fondly on what is perceived as good. I think it’s time we reflected on just what’s so good about WoW *now*. I can remember thinking I’d never get to see places like Black Temple and Serpentshrine Cavern, but now every raid is available to all – at different levels of difficulty. I can remember thinking I’d never be able to afford the faster ground mount in Vanilla. It took me months to grind the gold for the slowest mount. Now, gold comes easily and there is an abundance of mounts – account wide. I won’t go further with the comparisons because it’s old news, but it’s also good to remind ourselves of the changes. WoW is never going to be the perfect game we’d all like, because there are millions of visions of that perfect game. But despite its shortcomings, there’s no doubt: it’s a damn *good* game.

Coda: as Blizzard are renowned for their spectacular pendulum swings, are we looking forward to an xpac that’s flying only? 😉

No one who pays any attention to community forums in WoW could have failed to notice the hue and cry over the fact that Blizzard saw fit to plonk a new mount on the game store yesterday, right after it was announced that subs had dipped by 3 million. Many have seen this move as a cold-hearted effort by the company to claw in some dosh in the face of lost subs. I personally don’t think this is the case, since the mount itself – the Mystic Runesaber – was datamined as long ago as the last patch. It was always destined to be a store mount – simply by the look of it (and that’s another matter) – so *when* it appeared is irrelevant in a way, although it could be said that Blizzard committed a faux pas by releasing it *this* week. Still, if it was a week before or after, or even months, a lot of people would still have shouted that this was a callous attempt to milk money from the remaining player base.

I’m lucky – or some might say stupid – in that I can afford to buy the store mounts when they appear, 2 or 3 times a year. There’s no doubt that these mounts are far flashier than most that appear in the game, and those who can’t afford to buy them for real money have a legitimate reason to be annoyed, or at least disappointed, about that. The new mounts put into WoD itself are pretty poor, aside from the Poundfist (gronnling) and Rukhmar (golden dread raven) drops, which are both very rare. As many have said, why couldn’t store only mounts like the Grinning Reaver and the Iron Skyreaver have been put into the game as rewards for getting exalted with one faction or another? The mounts you currently get for such endeavours are too boring to bother grinding for. There is a precedent for cool mounts in game in the Nether Drakes of Burning Crusade, and the Flameward Hippogryph of Cataclysm. Both required lengthy quest chains and dailies to acquire, but I don’t remember a massive amount of moaning about that.

I have no problem with store mounts in principle, but it’s not good when new mounts provided in the game are so woefully inferior. I’ve often winced at the big, bulky ground mounts, such as yaks, which just scuttle along like poodles. I never ride the ones I bought because of that. The Core Hound was great in that it had a long, slower, but ground-covering stride – exactly how an elekk or yak should move. But the new boars have the undignified scuttle that spoiled many other mounts, including the camels – who should also have had a long, loping gait. In the face of a dearth of content at present, would it really have hurt Blizzard to have put a mount of the Runesaber’s calibre into the game itself – attained through a lengthy quest chain, or a slew of dailies… or something? It would have given bored players something sparkly and desirable to work for. Admittedly, the Blizzard shareholders want their dosh, and store mounts are always a golden goose for the company. However, as a business person myself, in Blizzard’s position, I would have considered providing two distinctly different colours or variations of the Runesaber – one for purchase, one for earning in game. Those with the money and the desire would most likely have bought the store mount anyway, as well as gone for the different coloured one in game. It would have been a win win situation really – those who won’t or can’t buy the store mounts would have been given a pacifier and maybe – just maybe – there would have been less ranting and dissatisfaction.

Sometimes, I’m baffled by Blizzard’s decisions. To my mind, it’s best to keep as many of your customers as happy as you can, even though it’s impossible to please everyone. I wouldn’t continue to rile customers up so much, when obvious solutions are so visible. (Well, I wouldn’t upset customers to that extent in the first place, but then I’m a *small* business, so all my customers are valuable to me.) Certain things get WoW players up in arms, and glossy store mounts is one of those things. Other things, such as changes to classes or talents, are another matter – they have grey areas – but store items are pretty black and white. The fact that Blizzard charge an awful lot for these items is also galling. I can’t help thinking that if they were more generous about the whole issue, making the store mounts cheaper, as well as offering a different but equally attractive alternative in game, it would pour a whole tanker-full of spilled oil onto troubled waters. Those who can’t afford game store mounts, or won’t buy them on principle, would still feel valued as customers, because they could work for an alternative in game. Those who don’t feel that way would buy the new mount as they always do. Mount collectors and fanatics go for all variations of a mount. I know: I’m one of them. Those who would like to buy store mounts but regard them as too expensive would most likely feel the cost was justified – and affordable – if it was £10 or so less. (These mounts are just pixels, they don’t cost much per unit to generate, if anything, beyond the initial design cost.) At a cheaper, fairer price, more store mounts would be bought, more players would find less reason to complain. Why is this such a difficult concept for Blizzard to get their heads round?

I know WoW players can exhibit a ridiculous amount of entitlement, and complain about anything, but sometimes their frustration is justified. I play other MMOs that have game stores, and their prices are far cheaper than Blizzard’s. The sad fact is that it all comes across as Blizzard having contempt for their customers. There is never any generosity. I remember one festival time in Rift – I think it was Yule – when, after an inworld ‘warning’ to alert the players, GMs spontaneously appeared in major cities on all the different servers and literally threw loot pinatas into the air for 10 minutes. Items would just appear in your inventory. People got all sorts of loot, and no one went away empty-handed. Free gifts from Trion, the developers. People were happy and excited. GMs were there among them, their characters visible to everyone, and everyone felt part of something, and valued. It was a small gesture but extremely effective. I could never see Blizzard doing anything like that. OK, their game is far bigger than Rift, and has hundreds more servers across the world, but even so… there are a host of other things they could do if they got their creative heads together and thought about it. Happy customers, who feel valued, are the most important thing to any business, and customers who feel valued will inevitably be less inclined to complain, or indeed abandon the product. Changes Blizzard have to make to the game sometimes will always cause upset, ranting and peevishness. But store items shouldn’t come into that, because ultimately they are not an important part of the game. They might be important in a monetary sense to the company, but they could have their cake and eat it, if they were more accommodating.

I’ve written this piece from the viewpoint of someone who can afford the store mounts and doesn’t object to buying them – but who also sees the downside and unfairness of them. WoW players pay a sub, not like in the free to play games that rely on game stores to exist, so why in WoW should the most shiny things be game store only? I actually felt somewhat nervous getting my new Runesaber out in game last night. I knew that some players I might pass by in Draenor would in some way see my purchase as traitorous, encouraging Blizzard’s meanness and greed, perhaps even to the extent of spitting on my character. It happened with the first store mount, the sparkle pony, which was – and still is – a great mount, but the shine of owning and riding it was diminished by the anger of players that it was a store only item. Some people were kicked from raid groups for wearing the risibly over-priced store helms that came out some time ago. It’s not just because of envy – although that must inevitably play a part – but I think it’s more down to the fact that players feel cheated, or taken for fools. Why pay £10 for a cosmetic helm, when in other games, they cost pence? I worked out that a full transmog set in Rift, including all gear slots, came out at 38 pence per item. £10 for one item? Oh, that’s simply greedy! And players see that, and conclude Blizzard must just think they’re stupid. Game stores obviously can work, but items within them should be balanced with items in game, at least in a sub game.

WoW is the biggest and most successful of MMOs – at least in the West, I can’t speak for the Far East – but the way Blizzard often behave simply comes across as them feeling unassailable, all-powerful, and having a streak of arrogance because of that. My opinion might be completely wrong, but what Blizzard spokespeople say in the face of fierce criticism rarely gives any other perspective.

So, last night, I took my new mount – which flies – out on my Horde DK, who’s only level 78, and flew around Northrend. It’s a beautiful mount, a purple glowing cat, armoured, and with spectral wings, although you’ll only see the best of it in expansions of the game earlier than WoD. I wrote my previous blog post about flying, or lack of in WoD, so I won’t go into that again, but even as I was flying around, admiring my Runesaber, I couldn’t help feeling that it should have been a game reward, not just something you slap on a credit card. How much more sense of accomplishment would I have felt if I’d known I’d just completed a long and difficult quest chain to acquire it?

My last two blog posts have been centred around aspects with which I’m dissatisfied, but I do still love the game and enjoy my time in its virtual world. I don’t want to be a constant moaner, but sometimes you have to let off steam. My next post will have a more positive tone!

I make no apology for the fact this post contains complaints. So… off we go…

As anyone who keeps an eye on the amount of WoW subscriptions will have seen, subs have dropped by 3 million this quarter. That’s with the new xpac only 6 months old or so. We often see doomsayers claiming that this or that game will be the WoW killer, but really, as other more sensible people have stated, WoW itself is the only thing that will kill it.

There was some mystery concerning the release of WoD, which was so much later than we’d been given to expect. Internal problems? Most likely. We’ll never know. But my personal feeling is that WoD was in a way written off from the start; it wasn’t what it was initially supposed to be. Some inner fraughtness within Blizzard affected its development and release – not least that the zone Fahralon (Netherstorm in Outland), is no longer a part of the xpac, which originally it was mentioned as being. There are rumours the next xpac might be as close as an Xmas release. Let’s brush the whole thing under the carpet… perhaps?

I have my own thoughts about the dip in subs so early in an expansion. First of all, (the anti-flying people will rise up and rant at this), the continued no flying is a big annoyance for a large percentage of players. Yes, we *got* the whole ‘experiencing the new world from a worm’s eye view’, and yes, most of us agreed with that, and saw the point of it – for our mains. But I’ve levelled 15 characters to 100. I have two accounts – full of Alliance and Horde on one realm – and by now, dear god, I’m sick of fighting every boring mob from point A to point B. Are hard to get to treasures even important any more? Sheesh. That is surely the only reason not to have flying. I was never a massive fan of Archaeology, as I found it fiddly and frustrating, but now… forget it. Without flying, having to ride round cliffs, and other insurmountable surfaces, while fighting off mobs who are low level and pointless, made any desire to level Archaeology fade to nil.

Also, I bought store mounts and ground (grinded?) for years for mounts in game – that fly. Most look ridiculous and too huge lumbering about on the floor. Plus, one of the most prestigious mounts in WoD is the one that drops from the world boss Rukhmar, which is a flying mount… er, for what point? The new ground mounts we’ve been given are for the most part dull, and all the variations of them are simply recolours. But Blizzard are stubborn. They won’t give in over flying. So the money we might have spent, and the long hours of grinding we might have put in, are worthless – except for any alts we might still be levelling through previous expansions. Not good enough.

I think I speak for many to say that yes – with a new expansion make it non-flying for our first time through the content, but after that – we’ve seen it, done it, let us fly again.

Flying aside, the lack of engaging content at top level was misjudged. I love my garrisons, on every alt, but I can simply log on of an evening and spend nearly all my playing time in the garrisons attending to maintenance. That’s ok, but… We were told that Blizzard wanted more people out in the world. This hasn’t happened. They could have done more with each of the garrison outposts in the various zones. After getting them, they have no point. They could have though, couldn’t they? At the very least, we could have got faction rep from dailies there…. something. We have NO faction dailies now. How many people have even bothered to level the faction reps to exalted apart from the Arrokoa, who we get some follower missions for? I’m guessing… few. The ones we can advance via the Trading Post, for Alliance and Horde, are more of a numbing grind than any before. I just can’t be bothered with each kill in Shattrath or Everbloom granting only 5 rep. Really? Even the Emperor rep in MoP, which was acknowledged as dreadful, wasn’t as bad.

Another thing is what’s happening with guilds and raiding. At the end of MoP, Blizzard introduced flex raiding, which was great for guilds like ours – mainly family and friends – who are of varying skill and experience. SoO was great for us, and we looked forward to the same in WoD. Those of us with a bit more skill could still have fun, but without the crushing experience of endless wipes. Highmaul delivered on this, but then the difficulty curve with BRF caused many guilds of our type to falter. Normal BRF is not flex as we were introduced to it in MoP, which we were told WoD Normal raiding would be. Because we have a limited amount of players, this affects us greatly. We’ve now got the situation where our more competent players are fed up and hiving off – not from our guild, (as we are still a group of good friends), but into the premade group finder, in order to progress in Normal BRF, or Heroic, as is their level. This obviously affects our usual team detrimentally. Others have simply stopped raiding altogether because of frustration. Flex was introduced for guilds like ours, but BRF is too punishing for many. So what happened to that gradated raid difficulty level? I’ve said it before – numerous times – but will say it again. Most raid teams of the ordinary calibre of guild are of varying skill level. We can’t field a constant team of cutting edge experts. Who does Blizzard get to test the raids on the Alphas and Betas of xpacs? Hardcore raiders? It seems that way. Heroic and Mythic are for the younger players who have lots of time they can devote to raiding, and that’s fine. WoW is supposed to be a game for all, the biggest and most successful of MMOs, so what happened to their accommodation for the more mature players? After 10 years, surely, a lot of players are what can be termed mature, with responsibilities and commitments outside the game that prevent rabid raiding at top level of skill. Normal raiding should be a step up from LFR in that tactics and knowledge/experience are vital, but not a guild killer. It should be tuned that the occasional brace of numpties will not mean failure for weeks.

It seems to me that Blizzard’s agenda is to try and herd all players into LFR except the elite minority, who can finish Heroic and Mythic levels of raiding. The way things are going with our guild – but for a very new, potential alliance with another guild on a different server – we’ll have to take our members into LFR if we want to raid. That’s not good. Don’t get me wrong. I love LFR for my alts, but for my mains, two of them, (healer and dps), I want proper raiding. Our guild has existed since Classic WoW. We started raiding in TBC and have kept going since then, with dips and highs, as any guild of our type experiences, but we’ve never had to abandon Normal standard raiding before. I do acknowledge that when players go into LFR, they are then less patient with ‘proper’ raiding, which requires learning, strategy and skill. LFR is a boon, but also a curse. At the very least, it breeds impatience in players, who are no longer willing to spend weeks working on a particular boss.

Another setback I’ve noticed with my army of alts is heroic dungeons. OK, everyone in my guild, (and its sister Horde guild), has got their mains, and often their second main character, through the beginning of the legendary ring quests. Now, if I want success, I have to PUG to move onwards. Dungeons that are risibly easy in PUGs are not so with guild groups, because PUGs get an advantage with the built in buff. Consequently, most guildies now elect to PUG with alts rather than do the dungeons with friends. And that’s good, how? Why should guild groups be penalised by a higher difficulty level? It seems Blizzard discourages guild mates to play together.

I’m not saying Heroic dungeons should be made easier, but when players are faced with the option of an easy run with a PUG or a potential 2 hour stint with a guild group, (happened to me several times), what are they going to opt for? Most of our players are mature people with limited time to play. It’s a no brainer for them to opt for the PUG.

All of these things are bad for guilds that might be termed casual, but which are in fact the majority. And because they’re the majority, when their members get frustrated and bored, off they go. Hence the sub dip. Blizzard has a reputation for its massive pendulum swings within the game. They always go for extremes, rather than look for what succeeds and what needs tweaking in a small way – such as dailies.

I keep an eye on the forums and have seen a lot of extremely good ideas that players have suggested in order to make end game more interesting, long-lasting and engaging, but I also know Blizzard – if they even see these posts – will take no notice. These ideas aren’t radical, or even seem expensive to implement, just ways to extend longevity within the game. It amazes me that some guild mates and I can have a chat about the state of the game and come up with tons of ideas for tweakings, yet the developers don’t even see at the start how their ideas don’t actually work too well. It’s like they don’t think things through, or maybe don’t have the time to.

I guess, ultimately, we’d all like the perfect game, and that will be different for everyone, but there are certain things that are desirable by the majority of players. These things can’t be that hard for Blizzard to accomplish.

Warlords of Draenor

Been a while since I added to my WoW blog. Not because I haven’t been playing but because I’ve been so busy with work – and playing – I haven’t had time to write in depth.

WoW had been in the doldrums for me at the end of MoP. I wasn’t just fed up with the lack of new content but somehow with the whole attitude of Blizzard towards their customers. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but since the dearth of new stuff in WoW urged me again to play Rift, the generosity of Trion towards their loyal customers in contrast to Blizzard’s meaner attitude grated a bit. OK, Trion *need* to woo players. Bizzard doesn’t have to. But even so… grated a bit.

Still, WoD lured me back totally, and I’ve loved the majority of the new content. There are some fun quests, and lots of things to explore and discover in the landscape. I’ve enjoyed the story and even though I now don’t look forward to tackling certain quests hubs for various reasons, on the whole I’ve not got sick of levelling alts. I like the end game play and want to get all my characters to it.

On Proving Grounds, Pick Up Groups and LFR

I’m no great fan of the Proving Grounds, because on some characters it does seem harder to attain the Silver level and be qualified to do heroic dungeons, than it is for others. Also, how can failing by only a couple of seconds mean you’re unfit to do a heroic dungeon? The DPS challenge is the worst. It really is a DPS race and the tasks involved barely emulate what’s required in a dungeon team. Surely, the most vital requirement is moving from the fire? While my hunters and warlock sailed through PG to silver on their first attempts, my mage took a frustratingly long time. I’ve yet to succeed with my paladin, even though my DK sailed through like the hunters. I imagine that I find it easier on certain characters because I play their class the most, but I know others in our guild have had similar complaints and that’s with their mains. But I do have to concede the Silver PG requirement appears to have improved the PUG community. In dungeons – and maybe I’m just lucky – I’ve not come across any jerkish behaviour. Often quite the opposite, as people ask whether others in the team want to complete quests or do the tasks to gain followers while in there. The atmosphere feels lightened. This might be because the standard of play is higher so people get less frustrated. Or maybe it was the lesser skilled people who were the jerks, and they’re just not there anymore.

LFR too doesn’t seem quite so fraught. I assume that the level of gear form it, plus the removal of tier pieces, has put off a lot of the wannabe elitists who often used to make the experience so miserable. LFR is still great for alts, even if the gear isn’t as shiny as it used to be. However, I do think the ease with which people can use PUGs now, plus the fact they’re not as hideous as they used to be, has been a bad thing for guilds. On my alts, if I want to do the legendary ring quests, I have to PUG the heroic dungeons for that part of the chain. Everyone in the guild is either doing their own thing, pugging themselves, or attending to garrison maintenance. We only seem to get together for group play on raid nights. That’s rather a shame because I remember that the last time we were in Draenor – or its alternate version Outland in The Burning Crusade – guild heroics were available every night. Now, it seems rare guildies get together for them. Of course there’s no reason to do them now but for the ring quests and to get a character geared enough to start raiding. No currency to gain, and mediocre gear that’s appealing only to a character who’s just dinged 100 and won’t wear it for longer than a few days. Another reason, I think, is that PUGs of course get a buff that makes the task easier. Without that, taking lesser geared or skilled players along can still make a dungeon such as Slag Mines a possible wipefest. Given the choice, I know I opt for finding a PUG myself, rather than go with a team unlikely to find easy success.

I think heroics need to offer more than a tiny window between hitting level 100, completing legendary quests and then moving on. Being able to attain reputation with various factions in them, or apexis crystals and garrison resources as rewards for completion might be good incentives.

Garrisons

Although I really enjoy maintaining my garrisons, and hope this is a feature that remains – in one form or another – in future expansions, I must say that multiple garrisons on alts are now getting a bit wearing. It takes so long to attend to them all once a day! I wish some mechanism would come into play whereby we could manage the garrisons a bit more effectively. At the very least, let a follower in the mine or herb garden actually collect those materials for us. Have you tried keeping on top of these things on 8 level 100 characters? I don’t mind the constant repetition with garrison campaign quests and Harrison Jones adventures, but please let the mine and garden be a bit quicker to maintain.

I also think we need some tweaking with the garrison followers. As we can collect so many, being allowed only 25 active ones seems a bit mean. OK I get we can’t have a horde of followers chomping at the bit to devour missions, but perhaps things could be changed so that followers working in profession buildings or the Barracks don’t count towards that 25 man total. Also, couldn’t the inactive ones still appear spontaneously as npcs in our garrisons? We’re allowed 10 mini pets to wander around, so why can’t followers be the same? When our main team are out on missions, our garrisons are sparsely populated.

Paying 250 gold to reactivate a follower you’ve put into retirement also seems a bit steep to me. If we can only have 25 active followers, I think the remaining idle ones should be swapped in and out of our active team as we please, at no cost. As it stands, on my main character I have a bank heaving with bits of gear for my followers that I can’t use, and I don’t want to swap an idle one in temporarily just to slap a couple of 615 pieces on it, then retire it again. It would be nice if it were easier to bring some lower level ones onto the team quickly and easily to level them up and provide more options for our best team. Or alternatively, let follower gear be bind to account, so that our alts can benefit from all that gear lying useless in our mains’ banks.

It’s become clear that the Dwarven Bunker and the Salvage Yard are absolute musts for our characters, especially for alts, yet the poor tailors/enchanters struggle with levelling their followers because many will opt to have the Tailoring/Enchanting buildings, at least until top level, so miss out on the Salvage Yard. Conversely, those of my characters without professions other than gathering end up with a wasted small building slot. So I do think some flexibility needs to be introduced somehow.

Travel

My only other complaint is the continuing lack of flying. On the one hand I get why flying would ruin a lot of the little features in the game, like reaching difficult treasures, but on my 9th alt heading towards 100 I’m utterly sick of fighting my way through every annoying little mob en route to objectives. I remember when flying was brought in for alts in Wrath of the Lich King, and it felt sublimely liberating. Could do with that now too. Yes, we have these odd individuals who want the game to be as hard and irritating as possible, but I imagine the majority feel as I do. Yes, we did the content at worm’s eye level, enjoyed it – even did it on a few alts – but now we would prefer convenience and speed. We’ve already seen all of what Draenor has to offer.
I also think the lack of flying has killed world boss fights. In MoP, I’d regularly log on and join a team to kill the world bosses every Friday evening. I never see that in WoD. Maybe people just do it silently on the Group Finder, but I find myself passing over those bosses continually as I’m being taxied around for quests, and no one’s fighting them. Rukhmar – who can drop an amazing mount, ironically a flying one – is always flapping around Spires of Arak unmolested. Reason? I don’t think people can gather quickly enough, so don’t even bother to try. The bosses are too spread out, but then the starting zones for Horde and Alliance are as well, so that must also contribute to the problem. In MoP, both Galleon and the Sha were very close to the home cities (or shrines) so were quick to reach. Oondasta and Nalak were a bit further away, but didn’t feel as far as the WoD bosses are, mainly because we could fly to them. When you reach Spires of Arak or Gorgrond, even if your taxi is quick, you then have to ride on the ground, around mountains and through areas thick with mobs, to reach the relevant boss. Chances are it will be dead by the time you get to it.

I absolutely understand Blizzard’s reasoning behind why flying was not allowed at the start of the expansion. Being confined to the floor did bring a lot more depth to the levelling experience, but now I truly believe it’s time for Blizzard to relent. Also, doing archaeology without flying is vile. I just don’t do it any more. Not only might you have to ride round an immense unclimbable hill or cliff to get to your next spot in a dig site, (then have to go back to where you started for the next one), it also takes far longer to reach the different sites on ground mounts. Archaeology was never fun for me in WoW – I far prefer the Rift take on it with random artifacts, like the WoD treasures, to be found in the landscape. The mechanics of archaeology are clunky. Your surveying equipment seems dysfunctional to say the least. It can direct you for a long way in one direction only to change its mind and direct you another way. Flying at least made the profession slightly less tedious.

Last Thoughts

Despite my gripes, I think WoD is a fine expansion and I’m not sick of it yet. Blizzard have brought in many quality of life changes that I think enhance the game hugely. I’m all for simplification in an ageing game that had in many areas become cumbersome. I’m glad to see the back of the overcomplicated gemming, enchanting and reforging for gear. It’s great to do a raid, win something, and be able to wear it straight away without it damaging your delicately-tuned reforging etc. I like the changes to gathering professions in that you can start them straight away, wherever you are, without having to spend days in the starter areas, picking the right herbs or whatever. Players have wanted player housing for a long time and garrisons are moving us towards such a thing. All we lack now is a customisable personal house in our garrison!

I expect an announcement from Blizzard at this year’s Blizzcon concerning the next expansion. I’m eager to discover what they’re planning for it and whether the good parts of WoD will be built upon, and the weaker areas strengthened. We still have at least one major patch for this expansion, and that too might spring some pleasant surprises on us.

I’ve not had much to say on my gaming blog for a while, not least because I’d run out of content to do in WoW. I’ve been playing Rift again over the summer, and really enjoying that, not least because of the player housing, which I’ve really got into. Well, player housing is rather a misnomer, as what you get in Rift is not exactly that. You get areas of land called dimensions, which are segments of the actual game world, some large, some fairly small, that you can build upon and transform – in some cases people have done so radically. These dimensions are instanced, but you can set them so that the public can view them, or just friends. Some amazing artwork goes down in these dimensions. I’m only a noob at it; some of the pros, who’ve been doing it for years, are amazing. Yes, you can have a house in your dimensions, which you can build and furnish yourself, but the best ones are when players do things with the landscape, or dream up incredible scenarios, illustrations from books or films, or just their own dreams. So, while WoW has been quiet, that’s been my interest – both building dimensions and spending a lot of time viewing other people’s.

Last week saw the prepatch to Warlords of Draenor arrive, so I’ve been drawn back to WoW, but at the same time (or rather this week), Rift released its new xpac, Nightmare Tide. So plenty to do now in both games. I feel I made rather a mistake abandoning Rift while I threw myself into WoW’s Mists of Pandaria, not least because I used up all the content in Mists and was left with months of nothing to do. When I went back to Rift, there was some catching up to do and I’d cancelled my sub at founder member rate, so would never again be able to have the risibly cheap 5 quid a month sub. Even though Rift is now free to play, I did resubscribe, because the privileges for ‘patrons’ (or subbers) are just too great to do without. If you can afford it, go for it. I believe it’s still a bit cheaper than a WoW sub. I cancelled one of my WoW accounts, just keeping one going so I could visit the guild now and again and meet up with friends. I think now if I’d kept both games going and had divided my time, both Mists and Rift’s xpac Storm Legion would have lasted me perfectly until the games had new content to offer. It’s my plan now to do that. I don’t play as much as I used to, so keeping steadily at both games when I have the time seems best. I enjoy both of them equally, but for different reasons.

Anyway, my thoughts on the WoD prepatch and also Nightmare Tide in Rift.

I’m happy with the changes to my classes in WoW, which in some cases are quite radical. The only one I had any trouble with when doing the new Iron Horde quest chain in Blasted Lands was my priest – but I think that’s down to the fact I don’t play him much anyway so I’m not familiar enough with the playstyle. However, that said, my shaman, who I hardly ever play, did well and seemed far hardier and more powerful than before.

There’s divided opinion over the character model revamp for WoD, which of course came in with the prepatch. I play mainly Night Elf males and Draenei females, and out of the crop these seem to have drawn the short straws with the new faces. Bodies and animations are fine but… I suppose I’ll get used to them. I’m not disgusted enough to turn off the new models and go back to the clunky versions, even though I did prefer the faces.

It’s great we can now go into raids like Firelands and Dragon Soul and zip through them quickly and easily with just a couple of players in a team. Some classes can even solo them. As the mount runs for those raids are on my list, this is a welcome innovation. I’ve done the Iron Horde quests on my main account so now just waiting for WoD to drop. Debating whether to revive the second account, but it seems a bit lavish when I’m playing Rift too.

So on to Rift’s Nightmare Tide. The xpac was delayed a couple of weeks, partly because players on the PTS (public test shards) reported on tons of bugs. I went on there myself and fell foul of a few, literally falling through the world on one occasion! But the bugs seem to have been ironed out. Playing in the first zone hasn’t yet thrown up any horrors to me. Rift’s main theme has always been interaction with the elemental planes, and NT’s theme is the Plane of Water. Those who disliked the zone Vash’jir in WoW’s Cataclysm probably won’t feel entirely comfortable in it. Not all of the zones are underwater, but there are underwater parts to them. And for those who hate the camera giddiness of 3D water combat, never mind edging yourself close to NPC’s and objectives would no doubt hate it. I don’t mind it. The first zone is beautiful, a realm of exposed coral reefs and deep dark pools and grottoes. There are several new water-themed races to encounter, one of which is mer-people, somewhat prettier than the Naga of WoW. Their realm is under attack and we’re there to help them, not least to prevent it drying out completely. (Think WoW’s BC Zangarmarsh type of scenario.) If you bother to read the quest text, the new races have some witty banter about us hairy dry skins! The game play is evenly paced, not too challenging but interesting. Rift was once a PITA for questing, sort of old fashioned in that it was often too difficult with far too much you couldn’t solo. That has changed now, and I’m glad, even if hardcore players whinge about dumbing down. When I’m questing and levelling, I just want to work alone, although it’s fun to group up with others for rifts and other world events. The only gripe I have is that a few quest objectives, such as interacting with certain objects or collecting them, aren’t plentiful enough. This has happened often in WoW too, and is especially annoying at the start of an expansion when hordes of players are about in the starting zone. However, in Rift you can ‘shard hop’, which means crossing from server to server instantly, so on the most problematical quests, I found myself an object I needed to collect/interact with and simply parked at it and shard hopped till I fulfilled the objective. Cheating a bit, but beats riding round and around and around, searching for coral polyps and such like when every other player is doing the same. I’ve really enjoyed the questing so far and annoying quests have been few. The first city you come across, an underwater one, is pretty awesome.

Another new thing in Rift is minions, which is similar to the Garrison followers that will be coming to WoW in WoD. Minions go out on missions for you, such as gathering artifacts (similar to archaeology in WoW), gathering crafting materials, earning notoriety for you (reputation) with game factions and collecting items for your dimensions. I’m only at the start of it, with low level minions who don’t have the most exotic abilities, so not sure if gear rewards come later on. Missions come in various lengths – just a minute to get minion xp, 5-15 mins for slightly better missions, then 8 hour and 10 hour ones, with the longer missions obviously giving better loot. So far it’s been great fun to claim all the rewards. Looking forward to this in WoW also. The game gives you one minion to start off with, but you can buy others in the game store – not expensive either. There’s also an NPC in the game who sells one of each elemental type for 1 platinum each, so again not expensive. Others can be picked up from quests and random drops in the game world. The idea is to match minions to all the quests that pop up in the Minion Window, which are random. You might get a quest such as gathering artifacts from a graveyard, which is a Death mission, so would be best to send an undead minion on that to get the best rewards. If you haven’t got a Death minion you can still do the mission, but a Death minion would be more likely to bring better rewards back to you. The quests and minion matches get more complex as time goes on, so that a mission might do best with – for example – a minion who gets dimension items for you, who is also fire. Some minions have the diplomacy skill so are better for sending off on missions to gain notoriety with the various factions. If the notoriety faction offered for the quest is water-based (very likely at the moment), your best option is to send a minion with both diplomacy and water affinity to complete it. I imagine the trick is to build up your minion collection to match all quest objectives to ensure you reap the fullest benefits from the quests. You start with the ability to send two minions on missions at a time, but can buy extra active minion slots from the game store. You can have as many minions as you like but if you’ve only got 2 slots for missions, only two can be out doing things for you at once. However, if you’re not impatient, two is enough to cycle through the random quests and get nice loot.

Anyway, in summary very happy with both the WoD prepatch in WoW and Rift’s new Nightmare Tide expansion. Can recommend both.

A lot of us are struggling to find things to do in WoW at the moment. I’m not at the point where I feel I have to cancel my sub, because we’ve started an alt raid, treating SoO as new with a different bunch of characters, some of us in completely new roles. And while this has injected a bit more excitement into raid nights, it’s only for a couple of evenings a week. Those of us who habitually log on most nights, if only for an hour or so, have found there’s no reason to do so. All our alts are 90 – and the few that aren’t we don’t have the enthusiasm to finish off – reputations are done, gear attended to. Transmog sets are completed, and rare mounts and pets have dropped obligingly. I have no desire to run LFR, starved now as it tends to be of competent players, in order to gear up alts I’ll never raid with properly. The ones I’ve already geared a bit will suffice for our guild alt runs, and the rest just have the odd piece here and there, plus Timeless Isle stuff, to take them into WoD leveling without too many tears. Yes, I’m ready to move on.

We’ve recently merged with another guild on our server – a bunch of great people who are much like us, being older players with busy real lives who just want a comfortable home in Azeroth and laid-back raiding. We were really lucky to join with these people, since if you hunted on your server to augment your roster by other means, I imagine it’d be nigh on impossible to find nearly a dozen or so individual players you get on with so well. But even with this influx we’re fed up with the dearth of new content in WoW. A lot of us dribbled over to Diablo to play Reaper of Souls together, but most of us have now got bored with the constant grinding to improve gear, which comes desperately slowly at top level in that game.

So, what to do? After Blizzcon last year I was convinced we’d see a Beta for WoD by January 2014 at the latest. All that buzz, that build up… the excitement. Yay! But now it’s May and not even a whiff of the Beta, and many of us are beginning to think it’s going to be the end of the year before we’ll see any new content. As a guild leader, that worries me. We’ve run out of things to do… almost. Is it feasible to run a third SoO alt team once we get to the end of it on our second? I think realistically we’ll be looking at a gradually diminishing roster until pre-patch 6.0 at the earliest. I think something went wrong with WoD, or changed drastically, and this unknown thing has caused the delay. Given the atmosphere at Blizzcon, (which I attended ‘virtually’), I’m quite sure Blizzard themselves intended for WoD to be nearer to release now than it’s turned out to be. But I doubt we’ll ever get to hear what caused this hold up. Once 6.0 hits, I expect people will be back in droves, but if that’s not till after the summer – well I’m sure many guilds and their officers are a bit concerned about the health of their guilds.

Like me, a lot of my WoW friends are reluctant to try other sub-based MMOs. Because we *are* still raiding a bit, and therefore don’t want to unsub from WoW, for many it’s not feasible to pay monthly for more than one game, and in any case, from experience I know it’s not easy to fully immerse yourself in more than one MMO – the games aren’t really designed for ultra ultra casual: you have to invest a fair bit of time to get the best out of them. But maybe… for a few months… it’s worth dabbling in another one, while we wait for WoW to be lifted out of the doldrums. Diablo was great while it lasted, but as that’s now petering out, I’m looking at other things to keep our group of friends entertained and playing together.

I’ve played a fair few of the ‘free to play’ MMOs, and most of them haven’t held my attention for very long. Some were just far too reliant on the misnomered ‘micro transactions’, which usually means you end up paying more than you would than if you paid a sub. Measly inventory and bank space, slow leveling… etc etc. In many F2P games, you have to pay real money to free yourself from such inconveniences. The best of the crop were Aion and Rift, and I know some people loved SW:ToR (although just about everyone I know who started playing it no longer do so. I never tried it myself, not being a fan of the franchise.) Aion – for me – lost its appeal when my characters reached around level 30 and I realised that PvP is forced upon you, with players of the rival faction literally dropping out of the sky to slaughter your lower level chars. No fun. End of Aion for me. Which was a pity, because I liked the way the game played and the way it looked.

I’ve dipped in and out of Rift since it was launched a few years ago. I lost interest when I reached top level in the original game because I couldn’t raid in there – not having the time to get my characters raid-worthy, or being in there enough to warrant joining an active guild. Sadly, the best of the MMOs seem to model themselves on WoW – end game is forced teaming if you want anything to do. When Rift went free to play, and their new expansion came out, I started playing again, and after a juddery start got back into it. Then there was a new content patch for WoW, and there was plenty to do again in there, so I stopped playing Rift. I’d always subbed to it, since I had a founder member’s really cheap deal, but I even cancelled that. Now, because on some nights I really feel like I want to potter around in a virtual world, I’ve gone back to Rift and taken up where I left off. It’s quiet in there. I’ve only seen a handful of other players, but then I am in the starter areas of the expansion and the majority of players will have long moved on. The original cities are full of tumbleweed, but the new one, the Dalaran of Rift, is buzzing. As all the crafting dailies are now based there too, it’s obvious why the old cities are empty. Tempest Bay is the new central hub, for players of both factions.

As it *is* now free to play, and after I’ve given it a few days to see whether my interest keeps up, I intend to tell the guild about it on our forum, and see if any of the bored people want to come and dip their toes into Telarian waters too. Yes, there is a game shop, with many enticing things in it, but it’s still possible to play the game without touching it. If you ever subbed to Rift in the past and come back, you’re given a generous amount of free tokens to spend in the shop, which could net you a mount or two, or a couple of armour sets (the transmog of Rift). The clothes department is massive, and the armour sets fairly priced. I worked out that a single piece of armour in the Rift shop works out at about 38 pence, as opposed to the £15 Blizzard tried to charge for those hats some time ago (do you *ever* see people’s characters wearing those?) There is also a very big mount store, including a great deal of the ones available in the game (not extremely rare ones, of course). However, in game they cost a fairly big chunk of platinum, yet some are sold for mere pence in the shop. As player housing is quite a big feature in Rift now, there are also lots of items to buy for your ‘dimension’, as the housing is called.

But anyway, cosmetic temptations aside, Rift is genuinely free to play. The two new continents are each around the size of Pandaria, so there is a ton of content to take you through to whenever Blizzard get their act together. While there are ‘story’ quests to reveal the ongoing plot line, just about every creature on the map has a kill quest associated with it. This means there are oodles of quests all over the place. You only need to kill one creature for a quest to pop up to kill some more of that type. So while you’re doing the regular quests, and killing mobs to get at your objectives, you’re also doing these secondary kill quests. Lots of experience, and loot to sell, or to salvage or equip. The one downside I’ve come across is that is that some of the dynamic quests, such as defending outposts from invasions, aren’t easy to do on your own, if not impossible. As few players are around in the areas I’m questing in, this means I have to ignore those quests and leave the outposts to their fates. Again, this might be down to the gear I have. I don’t do dungeons and I don’t raid in Rift, so my gear is only adequate at best, picked up from quest rewards and from crafting. Admittedly, crafting is really good and actually useful in Rift, but still not as good as gear you would get from multi-player activities.

This brings me on to something I’ve thought about concerning *all* MMOs. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s more relevant now than ever. MMOs, by their very nature, are games designed for group content. But the problem is, group content is only viable while a particular zone or patch is current. Once the players have moved on, the content needs to be soloable, otherwise it’s redundant. To a large extent, this has been addressed in WoW, concerning earlier areas of the game, but more solo content would prevent much of what we’re seeing in the game now. Just because players are offered this kind of play doesn’t mean the social side of the game will be detrimentally affected. You’re still playing in a virtual world full of people, but are free to do things on your own if you want or need to. In Diablo, for example, players still talk a lot to each other in the general chat channel, even though the majority are playing alone. In an MMO, solo content would prolong the life of a patch or an expansion, and people would still interact, either in their guilds or, as now, in General chat. If you’re restricted by needing more players to do anything interesting, and those players aren’t available, or simply don’t want to do what you want to do, then that means you’ve got nothing to do at all, so just log off. Not everyone wants to risk teaming with strangers, offered by the various tools for herding random people together. You could end up with incompetents who can’t play properly, social inadequates whose only relief in life is to insult others, or elitists who call you on your actions every moment of the way, unless you conform to their unrealistically high standards. Or – most likely of all – you could just a get a silent group who blast through the activity without any communication, so you might as well be on your own. Faced with that, I’d rather go play another game, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I don’t know why MMO developers are so hung up on forcing people together, even when it’s unreasonable or impossible. Solo dungeons, (as seen in a couple of other MMOs I’ve tried, though not in plentiful enough supply), or dungeons for two or three would be great. Yes, scenarios are for three, but there’s no loot from mobs, and once your character is geared up and you no longer need valor points, there’s no incentive to visit them again. They are, in fact, rather boring. The ultimate MMO would have group content that’s accessible to *any* size of group, whether that’s a person alone or a group of 25. Of course, the mechanics of working out that scaling in terms of loot might not be easy – I’m no game designer so can’t say – but the minute some game cracks this perennial problem of content running out, simply *because* you need other people who aren’t there, will be the game that everyone will want to try. I wonder what the result would be if, on WoW’s log in screen, every player had to answer the question of whether they would like more optional solo content or not? I’m betting the vast majority would opt for ‘yes please’.