Tag Archive: World of Warcraft


There’s been a distinct drop off in attendance in our guild over past few weeks. We’ve had to cancel raids quite a bit – exacerbated by the fact two of our prominent players have had busted computers and a tank has been moving house, so has had no internet for a while. But people have also been having breaks because they feel a bit bored.

Battle for Azeroth has had rather a shaky start. At first, the majority of players seemed happy with the new landscapes and dramatic questlines. Initially, island expeditions and warfronts were regarded favourably. But as time’s gone on, these aspects appear to have lost their shine. The ongoing fulminations over Azerite armour and its implementation hasn’t helped. I too haven’t been playing as much, mainly because I’ve been swamped with work, getting several books ready for publication in December, but also because I haven’t felt the driving need to log on every day. And you know – I think this is actually a good thing.

I’ll explain why.

In previous expansions, and especially so since mission tables became a thing in WoD, most players have felt obliged to log on every day to attend to tasks, which, if left unattended, might result in lost opportunity, gold, gear or whatever. Emissary caches felt mandatory because of the RNG rewards in them – essential mounts and so on for collectors of such things and, previously, the chance of legendaries. But I quite like the fact I don’t feel so driven by these concerns any more. When I have the time for a long run of play, I can pick and choose what world quests I want to do for their specific rewards. Gear for alts, or pet tokens or whatever else might be of use. Now I’ve got my main characters to exalted on all the factions, I don’t feel it’s necessary to get to that point with alts. It actually feels liberating not being bound to daily activities for fear of missing out somehow. Things like warfronts and island expeditions can also be dipped in and out of. You don’t feel you HAVE to do them every time they’re available, but just if you feel like it. You can raid and do mythic + dungeons, if you feel like it. You can level alts. Or you can go back and collect things from previous expansions – because you have more time for it now.

While some have complained of lack of things to do, I think it’s healthy to have a bit of a lull between patches. You can have a break, or a semi break, then return refreshed and enthusiastic for new content. Blizzard seem to be keeping to the promise they upheld in Legion of fairly regular new content. How quickly a player uses that up is down to them, but if you’re so inclined you can pace yourself to match the stream of release.

All this said, I do think Blizzard are responsible for some massive whoopsies at the start of this expansion, but with patch 8.1 some of the things that upset people are being addressed head on. I won’t go into detail about the patch, because videos and blog posts about it can be found all over the internet and I don’t need to repeat it all but suffice to say I’m happy with what’s coming.

It’s become almost a fashion to hate on Blizzard at the moment, which I don’t think is good for the game. This is spearheaded by a contingent of streamers and youtubers whose settings are set permanently to pissed off. They want to be pissed off, and people find voyeuristic pleasure in watching the rivers of woe that pour from these doomsayers. I think it’s important people talk about what’s not working in the game, and suggest how it might be improved, but an endless stream of negativity and pessimism doesn’t help anyone. Those who love WoW don’t want to see it founder. They simply want mistakes corrected, and the game to go onwards and upwards. But others seem to take delight in proclaiming WoW is dead and how terrible a game is now is. They’ve been doing that for years.

And the fact is, it’s not that terrible. Having played a little on the WoW Classic demo, I could appreciate fully how much WoW has come on since its early days. All the little quality of life features we take for granted and barely notice become huge when they’re suddenly not there. Modern WoW is flawed, yes, but can any game ever be absolutely perfect? Blizzard make what seem to be insane decisions sometimes, as if the developers don’t actually play the game themselves, for surely no player would implement some of the daft ideas we’ve had to stomach over the years. But good came with the bad and continues to do so. We’ll never have the game that’s perfect for us, because it’s doubtful any two people have the same absolute concept of what the perfect game is. Quite frankly, I think if we’re happy with three quarters of WoW and disappointed with the remaining quarter, we can’t really complain.  We’re all too different, with differing requirements and preferences, ever to have that 100% hit from one game. People’s dissatisfaction in BfA has in many cases slithered towards being disappointed with more than a quarter, but it seems the complaints have been heard. Something’s being done about it, and hopefully successfully, and there’s much to look forward to in 8.1.

It was probably revisiting WoW Classic that opened my eyes to all this. I played only for about fifteen minutes on the demo and that was enough. No, I don’t want to go back there. I do miss the old landscapes, yes, because it was where my characters grew up, but looking at them again now, they’re not quite the idyllic places I remember. They’re crude and bare in comparison to the lush, rich landscapes we frolic about in today. It really is as if we look back on Vanilla through the eyes of a child. But we can never revisit childhood, not with the same sense of wonder and newness – we can only remember what we felt like back then. The questing was often frustrating and meandering. There were no guides to point you to where you had to go. Finding a quest objective might have meant wandering around for hours looking for it. Levelling was much tougher, and if you weren’t ultra careful with your pulls, and attracted more than one mob, you were quickly dead. You had to run around on foot until level 40, and then the amount of gold required to get your first mount was punishingly high. Gold came very very very slowly in Classic. We were all paupers. I remember grinding mobs for weeks in 1000 Needles with a few friends, because the ones at the raceway dropped trash that sold for slightly more than mobs elsewhere. Weeks. Every night. We’d kill things until our relatively small bags were full, then run to the vendor to empty out before going back for more. We felt euphoric if we garnered a couple of gold each time we visited the vendor. Even at top level, I only ever saw a few players with upgraded mounts that ran faster. These beasts cost 1000 gold, which in those days felt like the 5 million needed to buy a brutosaur mount today.  I can remember that when The Burning Crusade came out, a richer friend insisted on helping me out with the gold to buy a faster mount, because you bloody well needed one sometimes to escape from mobs in the new Outland zones. A slower mount merely helped kill you.

The hunter I made on the demo felt horrible. I’d forgotten you couldn’t use your ranged weapon close to a target, never mind the inconvenience of having to know where you could buy arrows or bullets nearby so you didn’t run out of ammo. The boar I was given as a pet (no choice in the demo) was a rough bunch of blocky polygons, who wasn’t a great deal of use, because in Classic you had to go off and hunt for skills for your pets. Only by taming certain animals could you learn the skills needed for an effective companion. I quite liked that part of it at the time, because it was fun to go hunting, and there was no sense of urgency about anything back then, (for me, at least), but I’m unconvinced modern players who never experienced young WoW will feel the same. People don’t have the same amount of patience today. And one thing you needed in Classic was patience. Let’s see how things go when it’s released next year. I probably will make a character to tinker about on now and again, simply to revisit the zones as they originally were. I do miss them, because they meant something to me at the time. It’ll be cool to take a walk down Nostalgia Lane. But I think some people who are currently longing for Classic (and probably never played it) will be both shocked and disappointed. I think for most players who try it (discounting the diehard Classic fans who’ve played on private servers), it’s destined to be a curio – a kind of interactive museum it’s interesting to visit sometimes to see the past, but not an experience to replace the modern version of the game.

I think it’s better to look upon the aspects of the modern game we love, and not dwell gloomily on the parts of it we’re less happy with. It’s still WoW, most of us have been with it for a long time, and if we take a break now and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. The good thing is that there’s always new stuff to come back to.

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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.

Goodbye to WoD… Hello to Legion

I haven’t written many blog posts during the course of Warlords of Draenor – not because I haven’t wanted to or have had no interest – but I’ve been much busier the past couple of years, which has left less time for writing posts. And what free time I did have I wanted to spend playing WoW rather than writing about it.

However, as WoD is now drawing to a close and the new expansion Legion is upon us tomorrow evening, I thought I should say at least something about my experiences of WoD. A lot of people talked long and loud on forums and blogs about their disappointment in this expansion, how it was cut short, seemed rushed, lacked content, and confined people to their garrisons to slog away in the mines and fields, or send followers out on endless missions, while not doing much out in the field themselves. Some thought that players had been short-changed. While I see what they were getting at, I still think WoD had a lot going for it, and I had plenty to do in game right up until the end – mostly thanks the prepatch content. Some months ago, I had one break for a few weeks to work on my dimensions in Rift, but that was it. And after all the disappointment and shenanigans that were going on in Rift, I was grateful to return to WoW. I think if more of the complainers spent time playing other MMOs they’d see which side their bread was buttered. WoW is still the best as far as I’m concerned and whatever complaints can be made against Blizzard they seem like saints in comparison to some other developers out there.

It was clear that WoD was a victim of Blizzard’s aim to try and push expansions out quicker. Some content was cut to facilitate a speedier release, which was a shame. I’d have loved to explore the Farahlon zone (the Draenor version of Netherstorm in Outland), which didn’t make it into the final version of the expac. But it seems the developers realise now that their aim wasn’t very realistic and it’s better to keep an expansion going longer, but with regular additional content, rather than cut corners to bring out new expansions at a faster rate. That said though, the zones of WoD were all pretty amazing and the questing was perhaps the best ever in WoW. The story-line was engaging, and players interacted more fully with ‘famous’ NPCs in the game. You felt part of the story, and I found myself reading more quest text than I’ve ever done. But once all the alts were levelled and done with questing, and had been geared up either through garrison missions or doing LFR, the game began to wind down for me. I have one main raiding character in the guild team, and it wasn’t fun being stuck with him in the same raid for so long. I reached the point where the prospect of Hellfire Citadel every week filled me with weary dread. I was absolutely sick of the sight of the place, was on first name terms with all the mobs, and had a loyalty card. I thought I actually wanted to give up raiding altogether, I was so bored with it. But now I’m looking forward to new challenges and my interest has revived.

One thing that was good about the extended raiding of HFC was that our guild raid team progressed further than they ever have. We finished the raid on Heroic while it was current. That was a first for us. We’re not really a Heroic raiding guild, but were willing to give it a go, since we’d done everything else and wanted to keep our two weekly raiding nights going. Everyone got their flying moose mounts, from killing Archimonde on heroic, which we really hadn’t expected to get for the team. In fact, some of us (mount collectors) got our heroic kill with another guild who were offering free places in their team for people wanting the mount. This was quite some time ago, as we were so sure our team wouldn’t be able to kill an end boss on heroic difficulty. But happily, we were wrong.

As for the garrisons, I really enjoyed them, but by the end of the expansion I was getting tired of the compulsion to log all of my alts on every day to fulfil the irresistible gold missions. No one was forcing me to do that, but – like many other players – I felt I should make the best of all that gold while it was there, in case income in Legion isn’t anywhere near as lucrative as it’s been in WoD. However, while part of me was sad when Blizzard removed all the garrison gold missions with the prepatch for Legion, another part of me was greatly relieved. My alts were freed from the slavery of earning wages and could go out and camp rares, and generally have more fun than being cooped up in their garrisons. The idea of garrisons was great, but when you have an army of alts, as many players do now after over a decade of playing WoW, the maintenance became a huge chore. I loved the bodyguards, which protected my squishy cloth-wearing characters, and I loved all the powerful gear I could get from missions, which saw my alt army better dressed than they’ve ever been. I also liked having my own little town, watching the NPCs going about their business, interacting with each other, even sometimes falling out. I simply think the implementation needed to be slightly different, more streamlined for players who have multiple characters.

One of Blizzard’s main problems, I think, is that they feel they have to conceal truth from players. I don’t believe this is because they want to be underhand – it’s because player reactions to changes can be extreme and often hostile. Players can also fly into tantrums when things appear ‘promised’ to them, but then Blizzard – for whatever reasons – are unable to deliver. This has no doubt led to the company thinking it’s better to keep players in the dark about developments rather than risk the hue and cry that arises on forums when controversial decisions and changes are made. But the silence, and what is perceived as misinformation, can appear secretive and deceptive, as if the developers are conniving to deceive and annoy the players. For example, when adjustments to characters classes are made, in an effort to keep the game fresh and new, some players feel that Blizzard deliberately want to destroy their class, just to upset them and because they can. Change for the sake of change. This is obviously not at all the case, but the developers’ lack of transparency gives rise to these disgruntlements. I’m sure that WoD’s deficiencies weren’t just down to a rushed expansion, but also other factors – perhaps a radical change of personnel, as many people left the company round about the same time, and perhaps other factors we can’t even guess at. But it’s not sensible business policy to share sensitive inside information with customers. So players speculate, add 2 and 2 and get 5, usually a dark foreboding 5 from the dark side of reality. There’s not really any way round this. I think there’ll always be a volatile relationship between the developers and a certain segment of the player base.

One thing I do think was a huge mistake was the ‘no flying’ affair, or perhaps we should call it Flightgate. Mid-way through WoD, when we were all expecting to gain flight again near the end of the expansion, Blizzard announced they wanted to disable flying completely from WoD forward. It would still be allowed in older areas of the game, but not in new expansions. This announcement was met with a huge display of outrage from the players. I was one of the outraged players. I didn’t buy the excuse of ‘immersion’ and how it’s better to keep to the ground, even when you’ve played the whole expansion through the hard way, and fight every annoying little mob while questing, gathering materials for crafting or digging for the Archaeology profession. Neither is it fun, on your 3rd alt onwards, to have to go the slow and long way to everywhere and everything. I have no objections whatsoever to playing through the game once from a worm’s eye view, but after that it’s just annoying. Neither do I mind having to work to regain flying later in an expansion – that’s just another part of the game. But no, the decree was that flying henceforth would not be allowed. If everyone just had one character, maybe removing flying wouldn’t be as bad, but to take away such a huge quality of life facility was just insane. As I said earlier, most players have multiple alts now. I have around two dozen. Can you imagine levelling while ground-travelling everywhere on all of those? Shudder. Sometimes you have to trek a long distance to various activities in the game, and the ‘taxis’, especially in the old world, are really slow and take far too long. The world of WoW is enormous now. Players would suffer equally enormously if flying had been taken away. There’s also the fact that people had collected a lot of flying mounts, and in some cases paid real money for them. They are on the whole very beautiful mounts and it’s enjoyable to fly around on them. Fortunately, Blizzard relented over that decision. I was really relieved they did. But dear gods there were a few weeks of high drama over that issue!

Now onto the pre-patch for Legion. I think this event and what it offered players was done really well. It was great to give everyone the opportunity to level their characters’ gear up to 700 so that most would go into Legion fully equipped for their initial questing in the Broken Isles. Also, the experience gained from the demonic invasions was fantastic for levelling up any lowly alts you might have had languishing on the backwaters of your realm for years. I levelled up two new characters in a few days, one from scratch and one from level 12, and both are fully geared ready for Legion. For those who’d preordered Legion, we were given access to Demon Hunters, the new class. I made one for Horde and one for Alliance and really enjoyed their starting area and the way they play. The scenarios introducing the plot for the new expansion were dramatic and exciting. Once again you feel fully engaged with the story. THIS is immersion – not just riding around immense mountain ranges on a ground mount!

There’s no doubt that Legion will be a ‘player’s expansion’. Blizzard is giving us things we’ve wanted for years – Demon Hunters probably being the prime example. The most loved raid in the game – Karazhan – is being given a new lease of life without destroying its beloved original form. It’s to become a 5 man dungeon without being cropped or redeveloped. I was sad when, in previous expacs, old dungeons like Sunken Temple and Scholomance were gutted to become quick 5 mans, losing half of their antiquated charm. I disliked the chopping up of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman too, and think – like with Kara – Blizzard should have kept the original old raids as well as adding the new 5 mans. If only all those mangled old dungeons and raids could be brought back. A lot of players are really into WoW nostalgia, and I think few would complain if they returned.

Anyway, that’s all for now. There’s a lot more I could say but… I have a Death Knight and a Rogue who are still lacking a couple of weapons from the invasions, and I want to get those before tomorrow. Can’t wait for Legion!

Warcraft Movie Musings

Games turned into movies rarely work. The evidence is there to see, in shudderingly weak examples – ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, ‘Dragon Ball Evolution’, ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘Prince of Persia’ and so on. (‘Silent Hill’ I rather enjoyed, though.) As a long-time player of World of Warcraft – a veteran of Classic WoW in fact – I was intrigued to discover how the world of Azeroth would translate into film.

The lore of WoW is notoriously convoluted. The story-tellers at Blizzard Entertainment have shamelessly plundered a variety of mythologies over the years in order to build the history of their world. You can spot influences from Lovecraft, Norse Myth, Egyptian Myth, Native American culture, to name but a few. It goes without saying some of the races – Orcs, Dwarves and Elves, for example – can also be found in Tolkien’s work. But Tolkien didn’t invent these creatures. A lot of his ideas came from mythology too. But naturally, because Lord of the Rings is the iconic story of these mythical races – many people know more about LOTR than they do about the source material – any creative endeavour that loots the same sources will inevitably be regarded as somewhat plagiaristic. I’ve never thought this particularly fair.

The lore of WoW has always interested me, simply because it’s so well fleshed out – it’s detailed enough to rival Tolkien’s world-building, even down to the creation of languages. As a story-teller myself I enjoyed that part of the game and became immersed in it. A few of my own stories were inspired by my experiences in Azeroth. I knew that a WoW movie had long been a dream for Blizzard, and several directors had, over the years, been associated with it, but the project never took off. When I read that Duncan Jones had taken up the sword, I felt instinctively that this time it would happen. I’d enjoyed his two previous films – ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ – and when it became clear he was also a fan of WoW, who wanted to do the lore justice, my optimism increased. Was it wisely placed? For me, yes.

I cannot honestly say if people who aren’t aware of the lore will find it as satisfying as I did, but I think those who love fantasy will enjoy it regardless. The advantage the LOTR movies had was that a large percentage of viewers had read the books and were aware – at least to some degree – of Middle Earth’s history. It was part of popular culture. And while WoW is undeniably the most popular MMO ever created, its audience is somewhat niche in comparison to Tolkien’s books. I hope to go and see Warcraft again in the cinema, with friends who don’t play the game and get their opinions, but from what I’ve heard from other players, their non-WoW friends really enjoyed the film.

When I first saw ‘Fellowship of the Ring’, I became so immersed in Middle Earth that when the film was over I remained in a daze for the journey home from the cinema. I had a similar feeling with ‘Warcraft’. I was unaware of the passing of time, and was so completely in Azeroth, I was somewhat stunned when suddenly it was all over and the end credits were scrolling on screen. Part of the pleasure, of course, was seeing familiar places created, as if for real. It was like watching a film of a country in which I had spent a lot of time and remembered fondly. I had ridden down those forest paths, flown over those deserts. I had walked through the city of Stormwind and visited the keep. I had met Llane Wrynn’s son Varian, and Varian’s son Anduin, (named of course after Anduin Lothar who appears in the film). I had worked for and with the mage Khadgar, and had explored the haunted ruins of Karazhan, where once Medivh had worked his magic. I had even fought and killed Moroes, the undead steward of Karazhan, many many times. (Poor old bugger! As if he hasn’t suffered enough.)  I had lived for a couple of years in the flying city of Dalaran. I had gone back in time with Khadgar and other lore figures to an alternate Draenor and befriended Durotan and Draka and their clan, fought with them to vanquish Guldan and defeat the Iron Horde. Back in ‘real time Azeroth’, I had helped the shaman Go’el (or Thrall as he became known), the son of Durotan, fend off deadly threats. I’ve been doing these things in my leisure time for nearly twelve years. So the film was like home to me and its characters like old friends.

Another thing that worked for me was the fact that Duncan Jones told a balanced story. I had read that previous scripts shown to Blizzard had always centred on the orcs being archetypal baddies, while the humans were the white knights in shining armour, destined to vanquish their bestial enemies. I also read that Blizzard had not been happy with this kind of treatment, because it wasn’t representative of how Azeroth is. In WoW, you can choose your faction and race, and play either for the Horde (led by the orcs) or the Alliance (led by the humans). Neither faction is presented as wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘evil’, although you encounter bad ‘uns on both sides. The factions simply have a different world-view, different aspirations, religions and cultures. You could say that the ‘other side’ is often demonised because of a lack of understanding, or shallow judgements made on physical appearances. Not to be all PC, but there’s an amount of racism involved, although both factions have committed atrocities in the past. I was impressed that Jones intended not to go for the easy route of a run-of-the-mill good vs evil story. Yes, there are nasty characters who have to be overcome, but there is good and bad on both sides. What isn’t highlighted so much in the film, and which is very important in terms of plot, is that the Burning Legion are behind everything, influencing certain characters to further its destructive aims. The Burning Legion is part of the pre-history of Azeroth, interdimensional and demonic, and never up to any good. If there are further films in this series – and I sincerely hope there are – the Legion’s influence will probably become clear. (I can’t imagine the story being furthered without involving this aspect of Azerothian history.)

Because of the depth of the lore, not of all of which could be crammed into a mere couple of hours, some viewers might find the story rather rushed. You are whizzed to Dalaran for only scant minutes, for example – I wanted to see more of it. There could have been further development in the characters’ relationships, but I didn’t feel as if this aspect was sacrificed so that extra fighting scenes could be included, which is often a fault of films, and not just of the fantasy genre. (The material that was left out of ‘Prometheus’ for example, and the excessively long fight scenes – argh! And no director’s cut yet where the interesting stuff is put back in.) There just wasn’t enough time in Warcraft for everything. If there is a director’s cut – and there really should be – I’m hoping more detail will be added to flesh the story out.

As for the casting, I didn’t feel any of it was jarring. If I were to pick nits I suppose I could say Khadgar was the least how I imagine him – really didn’t like that facial hair, but that’s subjective – but the rest were spot on. (Khadgar, in the game, is probably what you’d refer to as a ‘silver fox’, but of course he had to grow into that.) I’ve read negative reviews that have scorned some of the performances, but I was never jerked out of the story by bad acting. All seemed convincing to me. The mo-cap CGI of the orc characters was particularly believable – after a few minutes I forgot they weren’t real, because they looked real to me. The landscapes were awesome too. There was humour and sadness in the tale, and the plot didn’t shy away from the consequences of war. I won’t go into the actual plot in detail because – well, just go and see the film – but the initial premise is that the orcs seek a new home after their world dies. Starving and homeless, they travel through a magically-conjured Dark Portal to Azeroth as refugees and, as we know in reality, masses of refugees turning up often initiates conflict and prejudice, never mind when they look like orcs. But even the orcs don’t know the motives that really lie behind the warlock Guldan’s choice of destination. They are soon to find out – painfully – as do the original inhabitants of Azeroth. Only through alliance can the diverse races hope to survive.

The negative reviews are disappointing, but I think a lot of them can be down to three things in particular. One, some people were determined to hate the film whatever it was like. Two, some reviewers dislike this genre of film anyway and review it dismissively without really giving it a fair chance. Three, Duncan Jones always had that mountain before him of previous film adaptations of games. Some people won’t even bother going to see Warcraft because of that. All in all, this is a great shame. Warcraft is beautifully-made, engaging and well-told, head and shoulders above other films of its kind. People who don’t like fantasy films probably won’t warm to it – I can’t see it changing their opinion of the genre. But those who enjoy being transported into fantasy worlds will be entertained. I just hope the negative reviews don’t affect the possibility of Azeroth’s story being continued. I can’t wait to see Illidan and Arthas on the big screen. I am so prepared.*

*Obligatory WoW in-joke.

 

 

Whenever I return to the subject of raiding in WoW, I’m aware there are always echoes of previous posts, concerning earlier raid tiers, if not downright broken record syndrome! Some things Blizzard get absolutely right and improve upon, but some things, even if hidden within greater things, persist as flaws.

One thing has to be said, despite what the rose-tinted goggle-wearing, Vanilla-nostalgia crowd might attest: raiding as a group activity has become progressively more difficult. Blizzard constantly has to provide exciting new fights, with mechanics rarely, if ever, seen before, to keep things interesting. Also, player skill is considerably greater than it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, so fights also have to be tailored for this, again to keep the encounters engaging and satisfying. Nobody except the dimmest LFR jockey wants raiding to be face-rollingly easy, otherwise – what’s the point? Raid bosses are puzzles designed by Blizzard developers that we, the players, set ourselves to solve. It’s as simple as that.

However, as once again our team has fetched up against an absolute wall of a boss, in this case Gorefiend in Hellfire Citadel, it’s struck me that Blizzard always does this – plonks an overtuned boss near the start of a raid. The effect this has on teams can be catastrophic. End bosses you expect to be difficult, they are the Big Bads of the raid, but surely bosses should build in difficulty, allowing teams to gear up as they progress, so they are better prepared to tackle the harder fights? I remember Horridon in Throne of Thunder – dear gods! Second boss into the raid and an absolute nightmare. Our team splintered over that. Many dropped out because of low morale and sheer frustration and boredom. Eventually, thanks to an influx of new members, we overcame Horridon, but at the time I thought he was far too difficult for a second boss, and I still think that. There have been others – Garalon in Heart of Fear being another example. Gorefiend is the same. He is the roadblock that teams have to take down to get to easier bosses deeper into the raid. It’s plain silly. You’ve got five potential farm bosses before him on which to gear up your team, but only one tier piece, since Gorefiend drops the second one. And only five bosses that players still needing the legendary ring can farm for the Tomes of Chaos they need. (Some of our players flatly refuse to partake in LFR, even for their rings.)

I’m not talking about Heroic or Mythic level of raiding – simply Normal. As with most teams who tackle this content, we can’t field a bunch of experts every raid. Even in teams that raid at higher level, you get a mixed bag of players – some excellent and some good to ok. In some teams, (more so at Normal difficulty, I assume), you even get fairly inept players, because they are friends or family, or simply because they’re a bum on a seat that means the raid can go ahead because of numbers. Gorefiend does not tolerate such players. Not only does the fight demand perfect execution against a lot of his abilities, but there is also a high amount of RNG involved – random factors that sometimes players have no control over. You can mitigate the damage from such situations by thinking ahead and using initiative learned over nearly a decade of raiding, but even so, players have to be on their toes at all times. That’s fine if you have a team of veteran raiders who are used to such things, but people newer to the game and wishing to learn suffer for it. Not to mention the teams who accommodate them.

Players do not generally learn how to raid at Heroic level or higher – they learn at Normal level. This is partly why I wonder what happened to what was once Flex mode. When this was brought in during Mists of Pandaria, it was an absolute gift to guilds like ours. One step up from LFR difficulty, and perfect for practice. Not only could we take a varying number of players, but the fights themselves were tuned forgivingly. We blithely assumed that in future we could learn fights – and train up new players – through Flex mode, and progress to what was then Heroic, giving us, in fact, more content to play through. We started doing this in Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of the expansion, and looked forward greatly to the new raids in Warlords of Draenor.

The first WOD raid, Highmaul, was fairly easy, with a middling-challenge of an end boss in Imperator Margok. He always felt ‘doable’ even when we were wiping on him. Then we hit Blackrock Foundry and met Oregorger, and the Blast Furnace… and some of their friends. The step up in difficulty seemed large to me, and it felt like we were back on the pre-Flex level of raiding. Moving into Hellfire Citadel confirmed it. While the first bosses were again fairly easy, which is what you should expect at the start of a raid, so that players can have them on farm to gear up a bit, bosses like Gorefiend are nowhere near what the bosses of Siege of Orgrimmar were like. This seems like Throne of Thunder difficulty – not the Flex which we were told is now the new Normal. It isn’t. I don’t know why Blizzard changed their minds on this. It seemed clear they wanted to encourage LFR players to learn the game properly, and Flex was introduced to help them with that, to progress from the farces that are LFR raids. But it seems to me that we’ve simply gone back to how things were pre-Flex. Difficult, then more difficult, and now, with the introduction of Mythic raiding, insanely difficult. We’ve also noticed that all fights are easier on Normal with around 15 players. If you only have 10 in the team (and this is often the case for us), it’s far tougher. While the bosses’ health pools scale in accordance with the number of players in a team, this doesn’t seem to affect positively the difficulty of the fight for a smaller team.

The officers of our guild have read forums about Gorefiend, discovering that he’s seen as a problem at all difficulties of raiding. One poster advised that no team should expect to take him down in fewer than 50 pulls. Others have gone well into the 100s in their attempts to conquer him. I think we’re at about the mid 40s in our number of attempts. We keep finding new strategies to try, and trust that eventually we’ll have the sublime ‘Eureka!’ moment that tends to happen on difficult bosses, when suddenly we can kill him, enabling us to move on within the raid. I don’t mind the puzzles, and enjoy solving them, but as a raid leader and officer, you can just sense when things are going on for too long and your players are starting to get disheartened and are losing interest. I really hope the two new techniques we’re going to try tonight will help matters. It’s not just kills that raise morale. I find that teams are happy to keep plugging away at a boss for weeks if they can only perceive progress. You can feel you’re inching towards a kill, and that’s fine – it’s what raiding is all about. But, the opposite, no progress, is vile and really bad for teams. People just feel like giving up, because they’re swamped by hopelessness.

That said, our team has made fairly steady progress on Gorefiend, depending on which players we have with us. The fact remains that when HFC began, we got 5 bosses down in about six weeks, but we’ve now been on Gorefiend for another six weeks or so. No new kill since early August. That’s not good. Our best pull on Gorefiend has got him to around 33%. Prior to that we were failing at 60% and above. But on some nights, it feels like we’re back at square one, usually because we’ve had a change in the team makeup, because some of our best players are on shift at work, and new faces come along. This lack of consistency does nothing to aid progress, but it’s a fact of life for guilds of mature players who have jobs and families. Three of our best players work shifts – and that’s a lot in a team of our size. Everyone still loves raiding, but often they don’t have the hours that a young person with fewer commitments can put in. With WoW now being ten years old, we can assume many of its players have far more commitments than they did when they first made their accounts.

To finish, I wish that Blizzard would think carefully about the raids in Legion, and once again have the different difficulties tuned for different types of teams. Perhaps they should be tested by a wider range of players than the hardcore ones who take their teams into Beta. You know, ordinary players, the majority? I don’t want faceroll raids, but neither do I want this horrible feeling of hopelessness. There is a happy medium. We once had 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? 😉

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.

With the next patch looming over the horizon – it has ships so it has to *sail* towards us – I’ve been concentrating on getting my army of alts to level 100. The experience boost potions you can now buy for garrison resources are fantastic – in fact you almost level too quickly. (There’s an npc sells them right outside your Town Hall, both factions). I’ve had to work out a strategy for completing the main quest lines in each zone that award building plans for the garrison and/or followers. This saves time and gold in the long run.

My process is this:

Starter zone – pretty much do it all, be it Shadowmoon or Frostfire, depending on faction. Get characters to next zone, Gorgrond, as quickly as possible. But completing the whole starter zone gets you started with 10 or so followers, who are then working for you and levelling up.

Once in Gorgrond, take up the main quest chain concerning your outpost building – the arena or the logging type one. I generally go for the arena, since this awards a strong temporary Gladiator npc you can call upon in emergencies. Great for the flimsier classes. Also, while questing around the arena area, you get to pick up Peckers, the cool raptor NPC for your garrison, simply by freeing him from a cage. Once free, he heads for your garrison and then acts up like a Siamese cat. If you pet him, he kicks you to the ground. Also does this to visitors. Cool.

Anyway, doing all quests in Gorgrond that lead to the Iron Docks gives you the building plans to be able to get a level two Inn. Now you can start recruiting a free follower every week, to your specifications. I’ve stopped picking up every single follower you come across while levelling, simply because there are so many cool ones to get from the inn. On Alliance, there is Clever Ashyo, Mia Linn, Rorin Rivershade, Ken Ken, Soulare of Andoral… to name but a few. Some have neat effects on their amour so are glamorous additions to your garrison, when they’re just hanging out and not on missions. On Horde, although I don’t know the names as well, I picked up a delicious female Blood Elf warlock, a half naked male Blood Elf mage (yum.. sorry), a Blacksmith called Charles (Chuck) Norris who’s Undead, and also a voodoo Troll in a top hat. It’s preferable to have different followers on all the alts so the scenery varies. I’ve been recruiting followers with the Treasure Hunting trait for the past few weeks, because this ups your gold income dramatically. Good for people with limited time to play.

Anyway, once you have Gorgrond plans, forget any other quests (assuming this is an alt you’re levelling) and head to Talador. Here, either of the outpost buildings give a good offensive buff, so choose which you prefer. Do the starter quests to get your outpost going and then follow the quest line to the Gordonni fortress. After this is completed, you get more plans, major ones, and you can build a level 2 Barracks. Now you can have a follower bodyguard, which speeds things up a lot for the flimsier characters. At the very least, you can take more risks. For clothies, I tend to use Illona on Alliance and Tormokk on Horde. (Look these up on Wowhead if you don’t know how to get them – don’t want to go into too much detail here.) The more armour and weapons you give your bodyguard when they’re level 100, the tougher and more resilient they get.

After the Gordonni part of the zone has been completed, you can choose to finish the main Shattrath story if you wish, but you’ve already got the garrison plans, and hopefully have picked up the bodyguard follower near to Auchindoun from a quest in the landscape, (available for both factions), so for alts there’s not an awful lot of point to hang around. Head to Spires of Arak.

Once in Spires, do the starter quests, and as soon as you can, take up the quest chain for your outpost there. There are two main chains to follow for plans and they are the same for Horde and Alliance. The Pinchwhistle chain grants the Salvage Yard plans – essential – and also awards the goblin girl Kimzee Pinchwhistle as a follower, who has often turned herself out in purple once I recruit her. Hello, epic chum! The other main outpost chain will also grant a small/medium building plan. While in Spires, I always pick up the cat guy Leorajh as a follower, since he’s a bodyguard. He’s a shaman, and will heal if the mood takes him, which frankly isn’t regular enough for my liking. He cares too much about his dps. Questing with him is like being in LFR! However, he’s good for Hunters or melee characters. Again, look him up on WoWhead if you don’t know where he hides.

In Spires, I tend to do the whole Arrokoa story chain as well starting in Veil Terokk, simply because doing so grants Ishaal the Arrokoa as a bodyguard follower at the end of it. He’s a shadow priest, so good for Hunters or melee classes to have as a bodyguard.

Once Spires tasks are complete, my alts are now almost at 100. I head to Nagrand and do the outpost quests to get another set of garrison plans. At 100, most players will elect to have the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent), the Salvage Yard and the Trading Post. Some alts might have to miss out on one of these in order to accommodate something like a Barn, for Savage Blood gains. But if you want to gear up your followers and get access to missions that award phat raid lewts, then you need the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or equivalent).

With this plan, I streamline my levelling, accruing important plans along the way and heading for 100 as quickly as possible. There is plenty to do thereafter. In order to do heroics, characters of course have to have 610 level gear. This can easily be attained if you’ve upgraded your Inn early and have been collecting the best followers on offer, covering all the available skills, and have also built the Salvage Yard and the Dwarven Bunker (or Horde equivalent). Gear upgrades come in thick and fast for followers and pretty soon they’re running home with fabulous gear for your character. Even as you’re levelling in Talador and beyond, you’ll get missions that award gear for your character better than quest rewards. Just get that Inn into production so you can choose an effective array of followers. The higher you gear up your followers, so the better missions are offered to them. At top level, they can raid Black Foundry for you and bring home 670 level gear. I recommend the addon Master Plan for garrison missions, which not only speeds things up but keeps you advised about which of your followers you should be gearing up as a priority.

If you keep on top of follower missions and get a level 2 Inn as soon as you can (i.e. Gorgrond), then you’ll have a mass of level 100 gear waiting for your character as soon as it dings. Chances are you can get almost, if not entirely, to the heroic 610 ilevel just by raiding your bank of all those 615 mission pieces that have been waiting there. If you’re below 610, a few quests in Nagrand will sort that, especially since the Dwarven Bunker increases the chance that quest rewards/drops will be upgraded to a blue or epic level.
So that’s my own strategy for levelling alts, making best use of the garrison. Hope it’s of use or inspiration to others.

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.