The Mighty Boost

With the announcement of BfA came the inevitable news that we would all be receiving a free level 110 boost along with the release. This is now expected with every increase of level cap, theoretically to allow a new player to jump in and start playing the new content immediately. Or maybe it’s for luring lapsed players, tempting them back with the offer of immediately playing with their still subbed friends.

Neither of which makes a lot of sense. If you’re a new player, than you would be much, much better off starting from the very start. MMOs have an overwhelming number of systems and mechanics to learn, and the idea that a brand new player could – or should – start close to level cap seems counter productive. The most likely result is feeling lost, confused, and unlikely to continue. Compare that to levelling from scratch, discovering the world and your class as you quest, and experiencing the wonder of the MMO genre. I can’t imagine playing GW2 or LotR or SWtoR, games I’m far less familiar with, and starting anywhere but at the beginning.

Similarly for lapsed players, the rust takes a while to shed, and chances are you would be better served rolling a fresh character and feeling your way back into the game. With levelling pathways so streamlined and rapid, even without heirlooms, there’s no reason not to. And if you are playing with friends, the recruit-a-friend mechanic should be tempting enough to get them to help you speed your way to the top.

Recruit-a-friend

Which leaves us with existing players. Perhaps that’s who these boosts are targeted at? A bonus auction mule, or crafting specialist, or gathering bot. That’s the only reason I can think they might be tempting. If you’re already playing, you’ll have favourite characters and are unlikely to want to roll something brand new.


I’ve had boosts for the last few expansions, and used them eventually, but found that as soon as I boost a character I never play it again. During Warlords I developed a plan to level a couple of alts in order to have a full complement of crafters. The boost mechanic meant that if you were level 60, and had any level of profession, your profession level would be boosted to max along with your character. So I dutifully levelled a Herbalist/Alchemist Druid and a Mining/Blacksmithing Paladin, and boosted them to 90.

The problem was that once I logged on to them I didn’t recognise who they were. Weird armour, strange abilities, meaningless action bars.

I have a feeling we’ll meet again

I think the problem is I tend to invest in the story and mythology of each character I level, so skipping 30-40 levels of those experiences means the characters become strangers. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. Compare that to all the many alts and several max level characters, who are all someone in my head, and who I can’t face deleting even though many are long parked. A level 10 Rogue who server transferred several times just to snatch some twink trinkets. Two stalled level 60 Paladins (hello, Hellfire Pennisula!), a Tauren and a Blood Elf, each seeking their own interpretation of using the Paladin’s light.

You could argue that these are pointless characters given they’re not playing endgame, nor ever likely to, but I agree with Bhagpuss: “Sometimes the sheer fun of doing something is all it takes to make something worth doing”.

Preparing for a cataclysm

Like Syp, I would often level tanks through dungeons, enjoying the low level leadership and fast pace of levelling. And it does give you some sense of story, even if it’s contained to instanced events. But I recently decided to take a Bear Druid via the same less travelled path, eschewing heirloom armour, choosing levelling zones to play and finish, and avoiding dungeons.

It’s slower, but not terribly much, and far more interesting. You meet characters of great lore and history (note Sylvanas and Deathwing above, both encountered through levelling), and many of the quests are extremely well designed – Garrosh Hellscream’s story in Stonetalon manages the nigh-impossible feat of making him seem like a reasonable fellow. Most of the zones are beautifully crafted, especially Northrend where I’m up to now. Bonus things like capturing unique battle pets as you travel and levelling gathering skills through each zone makes the whole exercise relaxing and entertaining. And I understand my character perfectly: the rotation, which gear to use, which skills to add to the hot bars and which to ignore.

One of these things is not like the others

Maybe the best use of a boost character is to park them near some old world rare spawns, or outside Karazhan to try for the horse each week, and treat them like the strangers they are.

Wherefore Warcraft

Back in September 2016 I posted about being stalled in Warcraft. Five months later nothing has changed. I’ve maintained my subscription, but have only logged on to idle about, stare at my character stable, get momentarily enthusiastic about one, then logout shortly after.

As I covered in that earlier post, this is something that happens after every new expansion and I’ve been trying to work out why.

This time it was particularly galling as I’d found a great guild (after the gradual disintegration of my own during the appropriately-named Cataclysm). Reading the adventures of Frostwolves through each patch makes it clear how welcoming and encouraging they are, even through some very hard personal times recently. And I’ve missed out on being a part of that, through my own bizarre reluctance to play.

After some thought I think it comes down to a few different things.

One is the feeling of pressure to level and equip that occurs with each expansion drop. Logging on after a few days and seeing people already at max level and working on gear and rep leaves me feeling like I’m underperforming and lagging behind almost immediately. I like the idea of being on an even keel with other raiders, which is what an expansion should allow, but due to my slowness getting started I’ve always ended up behind before even getting going. I know the guild wouldn’t judge or mind or even notice at all, but it’s a mental block for me.

So I drop behind quickly, and then start feeling like it’s impossible to catch up. Which leads to not logging on, or creating low level alts and getting that quick hit of levels and skills – and getting even further behind.

Another is that an expansion makes the gear/rep timesink somehow more transparent. Rushing through the levelling to get to end game, then having to slowly gear up via daily quests and rep becomes less appealing when you’re starting from scratch instead of working on incremental upgrades. I’m not even sure that makes sense, given loot and gear acquisition is one of the rewards of an MMO, but perhaps being able to see the mountain ahead is more obvious during the first weeks of an expansion, compared to the subsequent patches where you are already comfortably geared and just looking for bits and pieces. The rapid accumulation of new gear should be exciting and fun, but it also puts a barrier up that needs to be overcome.

During WotLK, when I was main tanking for my guild, I was called out for not gearing quickly enough by two guild troublemakers (who disappeared from the guild shortly thereafter). There was probably some truth to it – I was unwilling to put in endless hours of gear grinding being happy with ‘good enough’ (and preferring to fish or find pets with that time) – but that pressure and expectation ended up destroying the guild. Some hangover from that drama no doubt contributes to the wariness I feel now about ‘keeping up’.

There’s some appeal to playing the way Bhagpuss does, levelling and gearing enough to be comfortable with solo content, while avoiding the end game treadmill:

I’m about finished up on the last EQ2 expansion at least as far as my Berserker goes. The main story’s all done and he’s nicely geared for solo. Next comes the gear grind to upgrade everything, the spell grind, the faction grind, all that good stuff that keeps people subbed ’til next time. I can skip that.

But when I play like that I always feel like I’m missing out on the main substance of endgame, i.e. raiding. I end up in LFR, and almost immediately wish I was doing it with a gang.

So why not play at my own pace, enjoying the guild community, and join the Sunday night ‘casual’ raids when I’m eventually ready? That would seem ideal. I think the problem with that approach is that I end up joining raids when they already know all the strategies and tactics, meaning there’s far less of that epic feeling of a team learning and progressing through a new fight, which is so rewarding. Much as I loved and appreciated being able to run through the tail end of the Warlords raids with Frostwolves, I never got to that point of a deep and intuitive understanding of the raid and my class, because I came in so late. I felt I was just barely keeping up, and learning fights on the fly (and with copious Wowhead boss fight revision).

It’s a catch-22. I want to be in a team of raiders learning and progressing, but I don’t level and gear quickly enough, so I end up behind, which means I don’t raid, which leaves me further behind, etc.

So there it is. A brain dump and wall of text about why I’m doing nothing in Warcraft, yet again. I’m not sure I feel any closer to a resolution or way around this, but I suspect one answer is that ‘proper’ end-game raiding is probably just something that is out of my reach. If I can come to terms with that, maybe one of my toons will leave Dalaran and start journeying to 110. Just in time for the next expansion!

Zerg appreciation society

Bhagpuss writes a lovely lyrical paean to the joy of the MMO zerg1:

EverQuest began with no formal raiding structure but players invented one of their own, bringing larger and larger gangs to clear entire zones in a rolling wave of terror. When SOE formalized matters with the Planes of Power expansion the raid size was set at 72, a number that sounds pretty massive even today.

A spontaneous ‘rolling wave of terror’. Lovely. Reminds me of the very occasional WoW groups I’ve joined that would attempt to raid opposing faction capital cities (all of which have fallen apart due to lack of leadership – and the lack of PvP skills in a typical PvE player).

Every time Bhagpuss writes about GW2 I want to go and try it (again). But every time I do I get bogged down in the starting areas and abandon ship. It doesn’t help that the racial selection is so limited, and all the Norn female faces look like supermodels, but there’s something that stops me continuing each time.

I’m not sure what exactly it is. Maybe the clunky storytelling (those cut scenes) or the endlessly spawning events (didn’t I already kill the Direwolf?). Maybe it’s the lack of rails, the free form nature of ‘do what you want how you want’ is too imtimidating, especially when trying to get a grasp on a whole new game and UI. The completionist urge is also a problem – I don’t feel like I can leave the starter area until I have all the vistas, events, hearts, etc. In other words, it’s not the game, it’s me.

When GW2 launched a bunch of WoW friends all jumped in arms open, but the only one that stuck around was the PvP fiend. Which, reading Bhagpuss, makes sense. The WvW game seems so strong, when it works, and while I tried it WoW drew me back pretty quickly.

I feel now like it’s too late to begin or catch up, though I still have a lonely browser tab of ‘GW2 tips for beginners’ open, just in case, and for next time the bug bites. And damn if I wouldn’t love to be part of those zergs.


  1. As opposed to the swarming version of SC2 

Emulation: everything old is new again

Following in the footsteps of MAME, there’s a pleasing resurgence in fan-crafted MMO emulation projects.

From Star Wars Galaxies to vanilla Warcraft to Warhammer Online, it’s great to see these worlds being preserved. Even better to see people like John Smedley giving them the thumbs up.

Even if they can never be the same as they were – the lightning-in-a-bottle communities are impossible to recreate – it’s important that the history and joy those worlds represented aren’t lost.

I briefly tried a Vanilla Warcraft server, and it was amazing to remember just how far things have changed. Hunting with ammo, pet happiness, minimum range, weapon skills – and the possibility of dying in starter areas1. And despite the small numbers, there’s every chance the emulated games will generate unique communities of their own.


  1. What I really wanted to try was Plainsrunning, though I’m not sure it ever made it into a production build.