Battle for…Deadmines

Tonight our troop of Alliance debutantes headed into our first dungeon, the deadly Deadmines.

Deep beneath the mines of Moonbrook in southwestern Westfall lie the Deadmines. Despite the demise of the Defias Brotherhood’s leader Edwin VanCleef at the hands of Alliance militiamen, the Deadmines is still the Brotherhood’s most secure hideout since Cataclysm. Here the survivors of Edwin’s crew toil alongside new recruits, so that the Defias juggernaut ship can be complete and the kingdom of Stormwind can be brought to its knees. All this is happening under the vigilant eyes of “Captain” Cookie… and Vanessa VanCleef.

Going back to Deadmines raised some old memories. Way back in the day I was escorting a Guildie through Deadmines in search of a Rogue twinking chest (is twinking still a thing?), and as he was busy looting while I one shot everything in sight, my young Rogue friend coined a nice term for what I was doing: PVE Ganking. The Defias mobs had zero chance, like an 80 whacking on a freshly minted level 1 in a PVP zone. That quickly joined our other favourites – Bag Rage (need more slots!), Drop Logic (“Maybe you have to kill the tar monsters in the tar for the teeth to drop?”), and Threading (for when you move through a group of mobs without pulling a single one).

It’s a great dungeon, and a great first dungeon if you’ve never seen one. Plenty of mobs and bosses, fun mechanics, and the lovely moment when you bust through the mines and emerge into a huge cavern with a fully fledged pirate ship ahead.

It’s also pretty funny for a dungeon – most are pretty standard heroic fare, but this one has ogres wielding kobolds as weapons, goblin bosses riding ogres in turn, and a murloc boss who tosses slowly rotting food whilst sitting in a cooking pot.

Cookie crumbled

Plus that murloc boss drops a weapon that is so ridiculous that Blizzard had to make a special rule to forbid it from being used for transmog.

The full Paladin fantasy

It was a great reunion for our group of players who used to play together regularly, with plenty of laughs and ridiculous situations, especially the revelation that our new player hadn’t realised he could change his characters appearance when he was created, so he has whatever the randomiser came up with – we had wondered about the haircut choice. But he’s a real character now, a budding hero of the Alliance, so he can’t possibly be changed.

One for all

We also had a friend join from Chicago where he’d moved many years ago, which was a great reminder of the power of gaming and MMOs to bring a dispersed group together. As the freshman noted, Warcraft is almost “a weaponised banter and nostalgia machine….really if you were all spread out it would almost be mandatory to play something like this.” We are, and it almost is.

Rarified

One of the goals I’ve always had in Warcraft was to hunt down every rare – or ‘silver dragon’ – in the game. It’s a fun goal, and a great way to tour some of the more out of the way caves and bogs and mountain tops.

Edan the Howler. No relation to Eden the commenter, I hope.

Plenty of people of done it of course, and I’ve started various blogs in an attempt to screenshot each find before inevitably running out of steam. Cymre at Bubbles of Mischief has the best presented list that I’ve seen – a labour of love with screenshots and many pages of adventuring.

Hammerspine and cowering captive

With the new Alliance Guild, it’s been fun tootling around Dun Morogh searching for the four rares that patrol the zone. I’ve found and, uh, murdered three of them, but the fourth – Great Father Arctikus – seems to have some kind of pathing bug that means he’s inside the mountain stone rather than the caves below. Oh well. His time will come!

Bjarn. Note friend approaching from the right…
… seeking revenge!

One of the other reasons for this project has been it’s away of paying tribute to the friend who tempted me into WoW way back in the Burning Crusade days. We discovered rares together in the game, and I remember taking a hardcopy of a Prima Guide to photocopying shop to make an A3 print of the list of rares it contained. We took a sheet each, and planned our assault on each rare with great care. My friend is no longer with us, but hunting rares sometimes brings him back.

Legion disbanded

Day two and I haven’t managed to logon for BfA play yet, missing the launch rush completely. Which doesn’t really worry me, as like many others I plan to level nice and slowly, investigating all the nooks and crannies and getting the most out of all the little details to be found. I like BarelyReadableDiary’s turn of phrase: “taking a ‘loremaster’ style approach to levelling”. Perfect.

Along with that post, there’s been a bunch of nice reflections of highlights from Legion. One of my favourites is from my Warlords Guild leader, Navimie of Frostwolves, who asked her guildies to supply a screenshot of a special moment from Legion. Such a great way to commemorate an expansion from many different angles.

Zeriah and Cinder have also published some nice thoughts on Legion and what they’re looking forward to in BfA. I think my lists would be:

Legion moments
  1. Highmountain Tauren – competing as my favourite zone ever.
  2. Unlocking the Underlight Angler – a fairly predictable highlight!
  3. Flying – I fully support keeping us grounded as I think it really opens up the exploration game, but the sense of freedom when you can fly is also special.
BfA anticipation
  1. The story – everything about the lead up has been pretty epic, fascinated to see where it all leads.
  2. New Allied races – the Dark Iron Dwarves look fantastic. Not quite sure how I’ll manage that given they’re Alliance. Maybe that’s a good use for the 110 boost.
  3. Participating all the way through – a bugbear of mine has always been a tendency to only play at the very end of expansions, which leads to missing a lot of content and playing catchup. This time I hope to stay vaguely current throughout.

Looking forward to logging on and getting started – maybe by the weekend, and hopefully before the end of Blaugust!

On rails

I normally cycle to work each day, but today had to catch public transport. It was about 10 minutes before BfA launched when the tram pulled up, and I was greeted by an unexpected sight.

Classic. I was on it when BfA went live (the tweet storms were in full flight), so made sure I was in the right carriage too.

Anduin’s Gnomes have planted a monitoring device.

The tram was pretty full, but not nearly as busy as Brann.

Have fun everyone!

Rolling Alliance

Our Alliance Guild is planning to take on Deadmines soon, our first dungeon and the first dungeon ever for our new recruit. I’m used to running Ragefire Chasm as the the launch dungeon, so this will be a fun change. We’re planning to travel to each dungeon in order to understand the lay of the land better – it will be interesting to see how long that lasts.

It’s somewhat strange to be starting from scratch like this just when a new expac launches. It’s also somewhat typical for me – with each release I always seem to find a reason to not join the levelling rush and so end up way behind. But given we’re planning to run each dungeon at level, and only one a week, there should be plenty of time to adventure into BfA too.

I still find it very odd playing Alliance. The only race I feel comfortable with is the Dwarves, probably because they were the first race I ever played – before discovering my true home in the Horde. The Worgen are interesting though their animations seem like a missed opportunity – they’re somehow not bestial enough. I can’t tolerate a Human for more than a few levels before blanching at the…regularity of them. Maybe the Kul Tiras variant will be more interesting? The Dranei voices kill them for me (as well as their space story), and Elves, well they’re Elves. I enjoyed the Gnome animations, but along with the Goblins, their machines and environmental terrorism are too off-putting to play long term.

Who *are* these guys?

And Stormwind, ugh, I was lost in the streets for an age when I first arrived. Ironforge on the other hand is quite magnificent, the scale and majesty is amazing. I stumbled upon a place called ‘Old Ironforge’ beneath the throne room by following a cobwebbed corridor down and down and down and suddenly emerging in an ancient place, with some kind of lorekeeper tending massive tomes. I love finding this kind of stuff, just by random exploration.

Having said all that, there’s one definite plus for the Alliance – they have many cows!

Serious faces: on

Slightly more prepared

One day and eleven hours to go for BfA, as I write this. I’m not really that prepared, having looked at finishing Legion Engineering and Mining and failed, and also failing to participate in enough fishing raids to level the Underlight Angler much. Once BfA launches it will be nigh impossible for a while, until people start backfilling content.

I did finally empty out most of my bags. Where by ‘most’ I mean half – I can’t quite let go of all the special bait and fish!

After the new PC build, my addons are also mostly under control. I decided against ElvUI for the time being – it’s a nice set and forget system, but it is very hard to customise and tends to take over everything. So I’ve slowly built a passable UI using some core components: Bartender4, Shadowed Unit Frames, ThreatPlates, Adibags, and of course FishingBuddy. I’ve thrown on TitanPanel too, which is fun though I’m not sure ‘required’, though many swear they become dependent on it. Just need to find a minimap and chat fixer and we should be good to go.

The other thing I wanted to get a better handle on before launch was the lore backstories. Luckily Blizzard Watch have our backs here. Super lore-watcher Anne Stickney (why hasn’t Blizzard hired her?) fills us in on the undeath of Sylvanas, while equally knowledgable Matthew Rossi goes deep on Saurfang.

There is also a super useful BfA timeline article, that outlines the plot points and has links to all the novellas, comics, and animations that bring us to the launch. I’d missed the comics, and all three are excellent and flesh out a lot of the storyline – especially Jaina. Recommended reading!

Training wheels

Gloriaboboria recently posted some impassioned thoughts on how Warcraft could (and should) go about attracting, and more importantly retaining, new players. It’s a common problem in established MMOs, and one not easily solved:

A running theme I’ve seen among newer players giving feedback, including some I’ve introduced to the game like my own brother, is that they’re entranced by the initial portions of the game, love it, rave about it, but eventually fall off around level 20-30 and leave and don’t come back. That’s not even halfway to the level cap.

There are so many nuances and interlocking systems in an MMO that it feels like a new player has no chance. If they want to play an MMO, it seems like they’re better off jumping in on a new one where there is an entire playerbase learning the ropes and sharing knowledge.

The problem with this of course is that new MMOs struggle to gain traction. Even heavily promoted and well executed games like Wildstar floundered after launching with much fanfare. So playing one of the established games with an already strong community becomes a better choice. At which point we’re back to the problem of complexity.

One suggestion from Gloriaboboria is a mentoring system:

It seems like a monumental issue to try and tackle and yet we already have examples from other games that at least make attempts to rope new players in via mentoring systems. I’m not saying the mentoring systems in games like FFXIV and Guild Wars 2 are perfect, because they aren’t, largely because they aren’t monitored in any way. But at least they EXIST. Take a page from their notebooks and set up a basic mentoring system in WoW.

I agree this would be sensible – whenever I’ve logged onto GW2, I’ve noticed specially designated players who have been granted some kind of mentor role. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but it seems like a smart idea that rewards your dedicated players with an enhanced in game role and also helps new starters.

Warcraft has done well by streamlining the gameplay experience, making it as seamless as they can despite the ancient code base and massive history. The class trials seem like a good idea too, though throwing someone into a level 100 scenario for a test drive is more for experienced players than new. But there are still mysteries for the new player that are nigh impossible to unravel without help. How does a guild bank work? Why is the bag UI so bad? What’s a Beastmaster Hunter compared to a Survival Hunter compared to a Marksmanship Hunter??

And perhaps the greatest problem of all – how to Dungeon? How to Raid? The two pinnacles of content are also the two things that have the greatest barrier to entry, and are the most likely places to suffer a crushing experience that will make you leave the game and never come back.

I’ve long considered starting a guild that is for mentoring dungeon and raid groups. A few level locked tanks and healers, with an open policy to guide and help new players learn the ropes when it comes to coordinated group play. It wouldn’t take long to get new players comfortable with the concepts, and give them the confidence to get out there in Dungeon Finder and LFR to enjoy the high level content.

The problem is there are no good in game tools to support such a concept. Using the forums is hardly effective, and in game advertising is more or less limited to general chat and the broken find-a-guild systems. Blizzard seem to have acknowledged some of the problem in creating their new Communities system in BfA, but it still seems to focus mainly on existing players and friends.

Maybe one day I’ll give it a try using the tools available, but it feels like there should be more systems in game to support the mentoring role. Then again Blizzard are probably not too worried about recruiting and retention at the moment given the huge reaction to the BfA preamble. Only a few days to go!

Sylvanas Lannister

(Spoileriffic if you haven’t finished the pre-BfA scenarios!)

The Battle for Lordaeron scenario is really great, probably the best in game story telling I’ve experienced. There is a real sense of urgency and panic, plus it’s the first time the scale of the Horde and Alliance battle has really sunk home. This is no skirmish, this is a real war.

There are a lot of great moments and reveals in the storytelling. When Sylvanas unleashes the blight (another unforgivable act), the player is given the choice of taking a mask and healing the infected Horde warriors, or taking a can of blight and spreading the disease further. It was great to be given the option to do good in the face of the horror – thanks Blizzard.

Baine makes his first serious appearance, and has a wonderful moment of Sophie’s Choice which only made me respect and love him more. His facial animation is perfect, bearing witness to his frustration as he is forced into an impossible decision thrust upon him by Sylvanas. And, being Baine, he of course chooses correctly.

Great question

And I even warmed slightly to Sylvanas again when she sat slouched in the throne room and gently mocked the ‘little lion’ boy king. When she’s at her arrogant best, she’s something to behold. Pity that same arrogance has led her – and the Horde – so badly astray.

Jaina was a revelation for me – not having played Alliance I hadn’t ever experienced or realised her power. Though the floating ghost boat thing? Not a fan. And I’m not sure the status of Undercity at the finish, but it doesn’t look like either side ‘won’.

I also wasn’t sure what had happened to Saurfang, which was a blip in the Horde side storytelling I think, but apparently he’s locked up in Stormwind Stockade. My level 10 Alliance Spy Guild will have to go in there and rescue him!

Very true

Tokenism

As part of the new Alliance group, we decided a new server was a good idea, so everyone was starting from more or less scratch – 6 slot bags, no money, and if we were lucky, a tough hunk of bread. It would equalise the playing field a bit for our new recruit too.

With the group up and running as of last night, it was time to setup the Guild. After collecting all the signatures, we formed the Guild to much celebration. I went to create the Guild Tabard but it cost 10 gold to create. 10 gold! I only had 22 silver, so the crest would have to wait for some auction house ore sales to start rolling in – or so I thought.

One of our members came online, signed up, and suddenly advised everyone that the Guild Bank now had… 100,000 gold in it.

One. Hundred. Thousand. Along with piles of 30 slot bags, etc.

I was stunned, and didn’t quite understand how that was possible on a new server with new characters. Then one of the other guildies clued me up: the WoW Token. They’re currently selling for ~190,000 gold, so there’s the answer to our guild riches.

I’d never really considered the implications of the Token until that moment. I knew about them, but mostly thought they were used by auction goblins to buy free game time. But of course the free game time transfers gold to the seller.

It’s quite a game changer. I was quite pleased with how my Horde main had found her way to ~250,000 gold over the course of her career in game. But that is kind of rendered inconsequential when you can buy yourself that much in an instant.

I felt a bit grumpy about it, as it seems a bit like cheating, but was reminded by a guildie that ‘we play for fun not purity’. Those that enjoy endless free bag space and rolling in cash can partake of the new found riches, and those that like the slower grind of gathering and auctioning and a hefty Coldridge Mountaineer’s Pouch can follow that path. And bag rage isn’t exactly ‘fun’.

So I withdrew 10 gold and made the tabard. But as for my personal accounts: as of tonight I have 25 silver, and feeling pretty chuffed with that. Time to mine some more ore!

The shock of the new

For a few years, my group of roleplaying friends fell hard into Warcraft, peaking in WotLK before real life got in the way. Since then some have played continuously, others dip in and out, and some have retired for good.

Waiting for Grimsong

But one DnD veteran never played, for one reason or another. He’s something of a completionist, and lover of RPGs, which meant it was hard to see how a basically bottomless MMO could fit into his schedule. A small chink in that armour appeared recently when we almost played Secret World Legends together, but it was barely an MMO – which is why he 99% completed it and I bailed.

Every so often – normally around expacs – someone has tried to cajole, peer pressure, or sweet talk him into playing WoW, but never with any success.

Until now.

I’m not sure if it’s because of swirling storyline controversy (which means Sylvanas is trending in his non-MMO news feed!), or the when-it’s-ready no-show for the Vanilla servers, or just the relentless ‘first taste is free’ tempting from the rest of the group. Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled he’s going to give it a try.

Of course the first thing we veterans did was start imposing ideas and rules for how to level, when to stop, what you could and couldn’t do, etc. No heirlooms, only levelling in dungeons, maybe even ironman? Oh and I’ll send him some bags and gold, and and and…

We quickly realised though that all those rules were to make it more fun for us, the long term players looking for that spark, chasing the dragon again, somehow rediscovering the shock of the new.

Bhagpuss discussed this phenomenon very nicely in a recent piece:

Some people like to know how magic tricks are done. For them, understanding the mechanics make the whole thing more fascinating, not less. For most, though, once a trick’s explained, it’s dead. Explain enough tricks and all of magic dies.

Which is why you need to be careful and cautious when showing someone around the back of the set. If you reveal all the trapdoors and uncover all the mirrors there’s nothing much left but dusty boards and flat canvas. At least let the newbie see the trick done properly, once.

So the new plan is: relax. Take it slowly. Look around rather than relentlessly ahead. We’ll venture into 5-mans when the time is right, and take them at a leisurely pace. And soon enough BfA will provide plenty to be going on with too.

Our friend will get to have his moments of wide eyed exploration and discovery, and we’ll be there to enjoy some of the reflected glory.

Plus: his condition for playing is that we should roll Alliance, which for a dedicated Horde group is very likely to provide the shock we are seeking!