Current Affairs

For the first time in perhaps ever, or at least since WotLK, I feel like I’m actually playing the current version of WoW when everyone else is – and it’s a pretty fun experience.

Please don’t open

My Hunter is well geared (solely through World Quests), finished with all the Achievements for BfA Pathfinder Part One, unlocked the Zandalari Troll and Mag’har Orc allied races, reunited with Hati, confronted Jaina in the Dazar’alor raid, and just recently polished off some Lovecraftian old god spawn in the new Crucible of Storms raid. The raids were both in LFR mode, which has it’s share of detractors, but is a godsend for those that don’t have a guild to raid with and just want to see the story.

Such a good dog

This has all happened incrementally through logging on and doing daily quests, taking whatever new quests were dropping in the patch cycle, and generally exploring the world. I’m still not a great fan of the Horde-side BfA zone designs, a feeling reinforced by the various allied race and Hati quests that send you scurrying around the old worlds. But overall I’ve really enjoyed the slow but marked process through the new content.

Logging on today I was surprised to realise that I was more or less ‘done’ – there was no reason to do the world quests on offer, the raids were completed, and any gear upgrades on offer were incremental at best. That’s a very unusual position to be in for me, but kind of satisfying. Slight spoiler, but also super satisfying has been following the Baine storyline and helping him defy Sylvanas and become the leader the Horde needs. Those Bloodhoof are good people.

What would be ideal next is to have a cadre of friends to run Mythic dungeons and Normal raids, but that’s not looking likely anytime soon. Our Alliance-side is still working through Vanilla dungeons and our not-so-new-player’s Horde character is only just starting Northrend (and admirably insists on doing every possible quest in each expansion, so it’ll be a while ’til 120). So a max-level group activity will have to wait for the next expansion in late ~2020. Or Classic!

For now it’s time to level some alts, wait for 8.2 to drop (which I’m really looking forward to), and polish off the last few Fishing Achievements.

Further dungeoneering

Our Alliance adventures have continued apace, and we’re now down to the final seven before we can advance to the BC suite.

Seemed appropriate in a Monastery

We finished off the Scarlet sequence by cleansing Scarlet Monastery, another lovely piece of dungeon design, with the appearance of Lillian Voss being a highlight – and also a highlight of BfA as it turns out. One of Blizzard’s great strengths is allowing secondary characters to grow and feature through the course of many expansions, and Lillian’s story is one of the best. It’s not too spoilery to say her role as a shepherd for fresh Undead in BfA is superbly done.

Next up were the Razorfen pair, not as interesting but still good romps.

The last of many quillboar

Last week was the twists and turns of Maraudon. A strange mix of dinosaurs, centaurs, and noxious slime, and a very handsome elemental queen – and apparently the mother of the Centaur? My Tauren self was pleased to finish her off in that case.

During the Maraudon run I suddenly realised I was gaining XP, despite having switched if off at level 60 to allow us to continue queuing for the lower level instances. Somehow patch 8.1.5 had switched XP back on. I promptly forgot about it and then was horrified to ding 61 after killing Theradras. One of our party cleverly suggested a cursed DK could take the place of my Dwarf, and that seemed like the only way to continue, but I was very sad to have to abandon my Paladin. I raised a pleading ticket to Blizzard to reverse the level, not expecting it to be possible, but was amazed to find it was! They promptly downlevelled me to 60, and even froze the XP too. All praise to support rep Sehtovkt for the assistance, and Blizz for being flexible.

Don’t stand in the green

And finally, this week we ventured into Scholomance, another beautiful instance. There are so many great design elements in there, from the Flesh Horrors to the Bored Students, and the Gothic nature of the ruins themselves. After the Mists redesign, it’s also one of the few early dungeons that requires watching mechanics, not just tank & spanking – our returning friend Lillian Voss, cursed by Darkmaster Gandling, even managed to wipe our party. Our revenge on Gandling was all the sweeter as a result.

Foxy Azeroth

I finally finished off Nazmir, enjoying it more as the storylines all wrapped up – helps having the end in sight no doubt.

Surprised this construct took me seriously with my headgear. His is way more impressive.

I bumbled around choosing which zone to go to next, eventually settling on Vol’dun, as I was tired of Trolls. And oh boy was I glad I did. The first person you meet is this magical creature:

They’re called Vulpera, and they’re the best thing in WoW since the Highmountain Tauren. If this had have been the first zone I played, I think my entire attitude to BfA would have been different. Armed foxes!

Armed foxes fighting snake people!

Armed mounted foxes!

As many have said, if these guys aren’t the next Horde allied race then Blizzard are mad. I think it would even get Bhagpuss to stump up for a sub, given his #1 favourite race ever were the Vanguard Raki (‘Stocky foxes with a great backstory, characterful animations and the happiest faces’). I can’t wait to play one. Please Blizzard.


On the Alliance side, we ventured into Scarlet Halls last week, which is another great dungeon. It’s the first one that introduces more complex mechanics to the bosses, which meant we dutifully wiped a few times due to only being practiced in tank and spank. Suddenly having to deal with damage spikes and insta-kill mechanics was a whole new thing, but all the more fun as a result.

A breather before the final boss

The second run through had a memorable moment, when everyone wiped on the boss’s killer whirlwind mechanic except me. This left the boss on about 33% health, so I started popping all my defensive cooldowns, healing almost constantly, and doing very tiny chunks of damage to the boss and his adds.

Ironically his mechanic (where he whirls off on his own for ~20 seconds) made it possible, as I could heal almost to full each time before he returned. It’s my first experience of how a Paladin can just keep going and going whilst chipping away at the enemy and eventually wearing them down via sheer persistence. Otherwise known as boring them to death!

…and then I popped Consecration, followed by Flash of Light…then Consecration again…

Blizzconsiderations

Blizzcon this year was fairly light on big news, which was kind of expected given the expectation-hosing Blizzard did before the show even begun, and which was disappointing enough for some (like Syp) to say the show should have been cancelled. I guess for a newshound maybe it was a let down, but people on the ground seemed to have enjoyed it, and despite the lack of huge announcements there was plenty to absorb, made easy by the top notch reporting from BlizzardWatch.

The Overwatch news was very thin, with the only real announcement being the reveal of Ashe, who looks like a great addition (and has been immediately adored by the fanbase). I wonder if Blizzard intentionally unveiled a Western themed hero in the same week as Red Dead Redemption 2 dropped? Seems a little too evil genius I think – and an opening weekend of US$750m for RDR2 wipes everything else off the map.

Meanwhile over in Warcraft land, there’s the remastered Warcraft III, which excited a lot of people, and a bunch of ‘coming soons’ for Warcraft itself. None of which were earth-shattering, but there was a general lifting of the mood around WoW as a result, with the feeling that the developers are starting to get in the expansion groove and listening and responding to the fans. Perhaps there’s hope for BfA yet? Plus, Tauren Heritage armour!

The biggest Warcraft news was saved for the Vanilla version, with the launch being set for mid 2019, and perhaps most surprisingly the fact that it will be ‘free’ for existing subscribers. This is a nice bonus if you’re already playing, as it means there’s no cost to trying it out, and I guess Blizzard’s theory is that those who sub just for Vanilla will also end up having a go at ‘real’ WoW. Smart thinking, and probably worth leaving the money (and potential ill will) on the table that would have come from charging extra for current subscribers.

The panel went into a lot of detail about getting the old code and assets working on the new platforms, and the BlizzardWatch liveblog is well worth reading to understand just how tricky it all is – stuff like finding the old source code (on a backup of a backup!), first bug fixes, lighting, art assets, terrain rules, it’s all a fascinating and rare look behind the scenes.

It was also encouraging to read just how strict Blizzard are being about Vanilla. There are plenty of shortcuts that could be added, but most are being denied. Hour long waits for mail, goblin auction houses, and no dungeon finder. It’s going to be pretty close to the real thing, but with a modern engine, and no real shortcuts – unlike the LotRO ‘Legendary’ server which is probably allowing cash shop advantages, something that seems like a mistake at first glance.

Blizzard also going to be staging the content releases, adding raids and dungeons as they were originally available. That’s great news as it allows time for guilds to work through content slowly, which is probably going to be a requirement given the legendary grinds that used to exist. People who tried the limited Blizzcon beta were already remembering just how clunky things were (the hunter dead-zone, dying a lot, ammo, weapon skills, feeding your pet), but there’s also great features like the old talent trees, a greater sense of purpose in planning your upgrades and progression, and the charm in activities like collecting for its own sake in the pre-achievement driven world.

It’s a tremendous experiment (and hopefully experience), and will interesting to see how long it thrives.

From the other side

I tried, BfA, I really tried.

My Hunter main is sitting at 112, bogged down in the swamps of Nazmir. The storyline is mostly enjoyable, but like Syp, I tired of the brown and grey environment very quickly, and it seems to go on forever. I’m sure I’ll get to 120 eventually, but the swamp and the fact that Trolls have unfortunately never appealed to me means the expansion has really failed to get its claws in.

Poor Torga

Luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, I’ve been having great fun with my levelling Dwarf Tank. Trying the ‘other side’ has always been a long term goal, and I’m very pleased to be finally doing it. The Alliance really does have quite a different feel, despite fulfilling the same collect x of y quests, where there is far more emphasis on being right, and being the ‘good guys’ when compared to the barbaric Horde.

All of which is rubbish of course, but I’m embracing my Alliance righteousness: wearing ‘the Hordebreaker’ as my title and laying waste to any Horde that crosses my path. With the exception of Tauren of course – on one escort quest I kept the NPC alive rather than killing the Tauren warriors, though I’m not sure how sustainable this policy will be.

It’s been refreshing playing zones I’ve never seen too, all the Eastern Kingdom Alliance only areas, and now Darkshore (post-Cataclysm but pre-Sylvanas horrorshow). Some of the questing and storytelling is excellent, with the ridiculous Bravo Company of Redridge Mountains being a particular highlight. So too Duskwood (end of the zone to the other and back quests excepted), which included some lovely personal stories and a fun crypt section which was a brand new layout for the normally predictable underground territory.

Hey, wait a minute…

Dungeon runs have continued apace, and we’re now up to Scarlet Cathedral. It’s been great revisiting the dungeons in sequence and with a group of friends, meaning we can take our time to scheme and laugh our way through. Shadowfang Keep has probably been the pinnacle of the early dungeons – it’s terrific being on the battlements seeing out into Silverpine Forest – though the hilarity of pet-pulling half of Gnomeregan and the ‘rope trick’ in Blackfathom Deeps also rate highly.

All of which is making me fear it’s more likely I’ll end up experiencing BfA from the Alliance side before the Horde. Then again – our dungeon group has a pact to play all the dungeons together before advancing, so at one a week it will be years before we catch up to current content. Phew. For the Horde!

Post Blaugust post

Blaugust is wrapped up for the year, and it was great fun to participate. I was a bit wary about signing up and committing to writing, but I’m glad I did – it created a good discipline to write each night, and the interaction with other bloggers was very rewarding. It was really good to find so many new blogs to follow, and also to see people didn’t worry about ‘gotta post every day’. I’m pleased I managed the streak – on the couple of days when I struggled for an idea, it was great being able to turn to the Blaugustians and quickly find inspiration. After 31 days of posts, having three days of radio silence was kind of weird, but it happened to coincide with a work /afk trip so it all worked out pretty well. Thanks to everyone who’s visited, and special thanks to Belghast.

Matryoshka secrets

One of the most fascinating – and mind boggling – recentish developments in the Warcraft community is the Warcraft Secret Finding Discord. It’s a huge community of players who are dedicated to discovering and solving secrets that are hidden throughout the game world, and some of the things they’ve solved are incredible.

At some point the Warcraft developers/designers started hiding things in the game for players to discover. I’m not exactly sure when that was, but it seems to have really ramped up during Legion. The secrets are often hidden deep within other secrets, with the ultimate solution leading to a reward like a mount or pet.

Senior designer Jeremy Feasel aka Muffinus seems to be the main culprit, or at least the person who leaks small clues and teasers about what might be out there to find.

Once the secret has been solved, the community share it so we can all benefit from the fun. Syp chronicled his adventures earning the Lucid Nightmare mount, and you can see from the steps involved just how complicated it must have been to work out.

My favourite is probably the solution for the Sun Darter Hatchling. It’s hard to fathom how the community managed to work this one out, with the steps involving a baffling sequence of puzzle solving, potion guzzling, battle pets, and costumes.

Given the popularity of the community and puzzles, it’s no surprise that BfA includes more – and more challenging – challenges. The current hot topic is trying to work out how to earn the elusive Hivemind mount. The first major discovery was the Baa’l battle pet, which has a staggeringly complex sequence to complete before you can claim it.

Meanwhile Muffinus has claimed that the Hivemind was removed during the beta. Such is the game of cat and mouse with these secrets that no-one trusts that to necessarily be true – he does tease that ‘the secret hunt is far from over’ after all.

It just occurred to me – I’m a bit slow – that of course the ultimate secret is called the Hivemind, as the only way these increasingly complicated mysteries can be solved is with exactly that – a community of likeminded, focused, and slightly insane explorers.

Scalability

One of the more interesting – and controversial – changes with the 8.0 BfA Warcraft patch has been the further introduction of level scaling. It was already around before the patch, but it now seems to be universal. Which has had a huge impact on the speed of levelling.

For the longest time people have complained about out-levelling content so that they feel they can’t effectively finish storylines because the XP reward is basically zero. Not that that meant you couldn’t do the content, just that it felt like you were wasting time – it’s a strange mental trick.

So Blizzard have introduced scaling across all continents and content, effectively splitting it into Vanilla / Burning Crusade + WotLK / Pandaria + Cataclysm / Warlords / Legion / BfA. You can now level in any zone within those brackets, and the mobs and rewards will scale accordingly.

This is pretty great in many ways, as those that enjoy the storylines can experience the entire thing. You can jump to a zone you haven’t played and everything will be a gentle challenge and you’ll get gear upgrades as you travel. It’s a boon for the Alliance levelling we’re doing, making each zone relevant and interesting.

The main disadvantage is all the old speed levelling techniques have dried up. I’m interested in levelling an Allied race – Highmountain Tauren, naturally – so started investigating how best to do it. The received wisdom seems to be that there are basically no shortcuts any more.

The old favourite of chain running dungeons appears to be off the cards, as the time invested in the run is often better served just doing simple questing.

When we started running the low level Alliance dungeons, I assumed everyone would be gaining two or three levels per run, meaning we’d have trouble completing them all. But the scaling has meant that people are lucky to level even once, and all the dungeons are available until level 60. Pretty great, and very clever.

Some claim that carrying through dungeons with a high level friend (or second account) is still an option, running Stormwind Stockades from 1-60(!), but that is terminally dull. Some redditors seem to think that there’s a pet battle loophole, but that too sounds super dull. I want to level fastish, but I don’t want to just do the same thing over, and over, and over.

So in the end, it seems that the simple act of gearing your character up with heirlooms, taking mining and herbing, and setting out into the world is the best method. Which is probably as it should be, and I’m merrily making my way through the Barrens once again as a result, and enjoying every moment.

Classy

Soul of the Forest posted an interesting question: what class do you refuse to play? Their bette noir is melee DPS, which is a very reasonable position to take. Staying alive is the key difference in playing and contributing well and being a dead weight, and melee DPS is always bottom of the heal priority whilst being in the most danger of death. I stopped raiding on my Rogue because I used to die too much too easily, but I’ll still play melee DPS as long as I’m wearing plate or have some good self heals.

Armagon and Endalia responded, with tanking being the main thing they avoid (largely due to the pressure from other players), and I’m sure there are more thoughts out there too.

I’m quite happy playing tanks of all descriptions, and love playing a Hunter obviously. I haven’t played a lot of healers in an MMO, but in Overwatch I love playing Mercy.

The class or role I just can’t bring myself to play is a caster. Something about using magic just doesn’t gel with me, and I can’t find a way to make it work. Despite casters being essentially a Hunter with lightning or flame instead of arrows and bullets, they don’t work for me.

The same fear of magic applies in tabletop RPGs like DnD, some of which is down to the overwhelming spell tables, but it’s also just not a class I can roleplay at all. It somehow seems too passive, or that it’s not me doing the work, it’s the magic.

So I guess my characters have to have some element of physicality to them, something with heft or guile or a pet and a bow. I’ll leave the weaving of magic to the experts.

The WoW Diary

Blizzard Watch has posted about an interesting sounding project – a development diary about the very early days of the creation of WoW. It’s being written by John Staats, who was apparently one of the key designers of a slew of early dungeons and content, including Karazhan, Wailing Caverns, and much more.

There’s a good extract of the book over on Wowhead that details some of the work on Scholomance. In the early days apparently it could take 6 hours(!) to finish a single run – and this is a 5 man dungeon, not a raid.

It’s fascinating to read how Staats wanted to change the mob density in the dungeon as a result, but Jeff Kaplan (at the time the ‘endgame designer’ for WoW) pushed back as doing that may have had unintended consequences on the world economy. The less mobs, the less loot, and also the less crafting drops:

The next morning, I went back to Jeff’s office, to tell him again about the length. Ever patient, he explained that it wasn’t simply a matter of removing spawns, there might be quests that depended a number of drops and removing monsters might unbalanced quests.

[Kaplan] explained that there were also trade skill recipes that used ingredients from loot tables – so reducing monsters could also affect the trade skill economy. “There’s lots of systems connected to monsters, and we also could be introducing bugs into the game by changing things.”

It’s very much an insider account, and he’s not hiding the politics and tensions of working on a high pressure development, which is unusual for this kind of book. Apparently it’s a fully Blizzard approved project, so it must be (mostly) accurate. There’s a fair amount of ego on display in that Wowhead excerpt, but we can probably forgive that if the content is strong enough.

There’s a Kickstarter to fund the book starting August 28 (which is now, here in Australia!). I’ll update this post with a real link once it’s live, in the meantime here’s a beta link to whet your appetite. Here’s the live Kickstarter – funded almost immediately.