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!

Mid-list

After a man-flu hiatus, I managed to logon for some mid floor HFC this week. I’m still a bit shaky and nervous on mechanics – throwing Iskar’s bauble to the wrong person, or the total floor chaos of Xhul. And pretty sure I pulled some trash with a badly placed Barrage, yike. Least it wasn’t a boss! On those bosses my DPS was better, but still pretty poor – staying alive isn’t enough.

The better news was on the bosses where I felt more at ease – Zakuun, Socrethar – I graduated from bottom of the pile to mid-list. Success! Mild success, but still. I was surprised about Zakuun as that was a fight I still wasn’t 100% on my responsibilities, but it worked out ok. Helped as usual by some good strong voice directing from the raid leaders.

Comparing my combat logs in AMR to similarly geared players shows I’m still below average, but the encouraging thing is seeing improvement. And it’s still only 5 or so goes that I’ve had at each of these bosses in Heroic, so I guess a steep learning curve is to be expected. I’m super appreciative to Frostwolves for being able to do this so late in the Warlords piece.

I think next is seeking some feedback. What am I doing right, what wrong, is there any hope!?

Reconfigured

As planned, I respecced to the recommended talents for Beast Mastery, redid my keybindings for the new priorities, and spent all the Valor I had on the upgrades recommended by Ask Mr. Robot.

AMR is great, well worth the ~$10 for a yearly subscription. Without it I would have probably upgraded the wrong stuff, and definitely defaulted to higher iLvl gear when something lower might be more beneficial. The ability to export and import gear lists using their add-on is invaluable.

New rotation and gear in hand I dutifully queued for some Cataclysm Timewalking. Which was probably unfortunate for the first couple of groups as I was making all kinds of muscle memory mistakes. But I pretty quickly settled into it – there was a definite improvement in the key mapping, making things more obvious and faster to reach.

Timewalking doesn’t give a good idea of DPS output so I queued for all the LFR wings, hoping to also pick up the final Tomes. The good news was there was a definite improvement in damage output – phew! From being mid list I was steady in the top 5, which has the added bonus of knowing the healers will pay you a little more attention. Speaking of, I think anyone who heals or tanks LFR is a saint. So many people on follow, or just standing in the fire, dropping things at the tanks feet, pulling bosses early, etc. Chaos!

In any case, it’s pleasing when you set to work on improving something and there is a clear result. Sure it was only LFR, but the improvements were pretty obvious. Added bonus: Barrage is much more fun than Glaive Toss.

Serendipitously, all four remaining tomes dropped after only running 6 bosses, including 3 for 3 on the last section. So I’m the proud owner of the Legendary Ring, at a similar expansion stage to when I got the MoP cloak. Maybe for Legion I’ll be ahead of the curve instead of waaaay behind!

Raid report & Legion Professions

Spent another night raiding Heroic HFC on Thursday, with mixed results. Still can’t seem to put out decent DPS, despite my iLvl reaching around 705 now. So I’m going to review all my talents and rotation and upgrades, as it seems my current choices were superseded somewhere along the line without me noticing (probably because I wasn’t raiding so it didn’t matter). Given patch 7.0 will change all this very soon, it’s probably a bit silly, but it will force me to be realistic about skill vs gearing, and compare better with similarly geared players.

Downed a few new bosses I’d only seen in LFR which was good, died on obvious mechanics which was bad. Archimonde (N) was a classic case: we got the meta (which gave me the final piece for Glory of the Hellfire Raider), but we got it while I was lying dead in the Twisting Nether as I didn’t realise you had to ‘exit’ and was busily attacking a worthless Void Star. Sigh.

On the plus side, I was lucky enough to get the Tier Gloves, so I now have the 4 piece set bonus (albeit with the LFR chest), and need only 5 more Tomes before getting the Legendary Ring (despite going 1/10 on Tomes in LFR last week!).

In other news the profession Q&A was quite interesting, and I think confirms the plan to go gatherer/crafter on my twin tank alts. Seems like the traditional gatherer/crafter match is the favoured playstyle once again, after Warlords blew that up with the Garrison Mine & Herb Garden.

I’ve avoided reading too much about Legion stuff, wanting to discover it organically in game rather than through the beta coverage. So I was pretty excited to see there is going to be a Fishing Artifact! When the Q&A asked about how to acquire it:

Purposely meant to be kept vague, having hidden things in the world keeps things fun. Don’t believe everything you datamine; you don’t need to complete the Wish Remover achievement. This is meant to be something for people who love fishing.

/raises hoof
I love fishing. Prepping my fishing lines, reels, rods, and special hats!

Barely clinging on to the horse

So, Heroic HFC is a different kettle of fish. Having galloped through Normal a few weeks ago, my gear levelled up enough to join the Heroic lower and middle floor guilt alt runs.

Unfortunately my skills didn’t level up at the same time as my gear, so there was a fair amount of floor tanking going on.

The lower level went pretty well, my DPS was at least equal to a few of the other newer geared players and I stayed alive until Gorefiend. We then switched to normal and felled Archimonde, which was a first for me and earned the Time is a Flat Circle achievement. I did notice however my DPS was well below the tanks for that, which should have been a warning for middle floor…

…which is much harder! I started badly by face pulling some trash on Iskar, to much raid astonishment, then forgetting to get my pet out after dying, etc. Ugh.

Luckily the guild once again were very forgiving, and slightly amused I suspect. Zakuun proved to be tricky too, though after a few wipes I started to understand the fight properly, helped by some good explanations of mechanics. There’s some nice calm voices in Discord and a sense of humour, and you could kind of feel the sudden focus on the attempt that got Zakuun down.

Someone called out with surprise to see my still up at as Xhul’horac went down, which was funny. But it’s pretty disappointing to be below the tanks in the DPS tables – I once read an opinionated blogger saying that is a sure sign of being overwhelmed and under performing, and they’re quite right. So work to be done.

It’s certainly a challenge coming up to speed with boss fights with a group who know them backwards. There’s a certain assumed knowledge, which is completely understandable after a year of the same content. Hopefully being there at the start in Legion will make a difference.

Back on the horse

After a long hiatus, I spent the last two nights running an actual, current, relevant raid – Hellfire Citidel. Some may argue that two year old content is hardly ‘current’, and that’s true but it’s the most current on offer!

The last time I properly raided – so not LFR – was waaaay back in WotLK when I was main tanking Naxx on my Warrior. Since then guild implosions and lack of direction has meant just LFRing my way through endgame. LFR is great for seeing the denouement of an expansion (I really liked finishing off Deathwing and Garrosh that way), but it is in no way comparable to raiding with a guild.

Luckily for me, my new guild Frostwolves decided on a one-last-time Achievement run through Normal HFC, and I’d just managed to edge over the 690 gear score limit. So I was kindly invited along and it was a blast.

My main focus was not dying and getting my rotation and the fight mechanics right, as I realised my DPS output would be pretty lowly. Even knowing that it was kind of staggering to see Mythic geared people putting out at least 5x the DPS that I was. So I guess you could say it was a carry – but at least it was with Guildies!

We rolled through the first 6-7 bosses, and I stayed mostly alive (only dying early to Reaver). Probably largely to Guild Leader Navi’s healing generosity, but I was pleased to be more or less coping. The sheer power of the DPS meant trash was being obliterated which is fun to watch, and many of the bosses seemed easier that on LFR thanks to the lovely control from the tanks and smooth blanket of healing from the, uh, heals.

I was kind of surprised at how the mechanics of the fights were more or less clear, despite my not having seen any bosses after Gorefiend. I had the advantage of being able to focus on mechanics more than contributing a huge DPS output, but I still felt it was mostly clear what was going on and I think I managed to keep my rotation pretty clean. DBM and Wowhead research helps enormously, as does the occasional instruction and whisper from the more experience team. Some of who managed to whisper mid fight – amazing skillz!

It wasn’t until Xhul’horac that a major challenge arrived, with the complexity of the debuff mechanics meaning we were forced to wipe repeatedly in order to keep the achievement alive. On around the 12th attempt we managed to just scrape through, literally by the skin of our teeth.

That unique and thrilling feeling of having accomplished something tricky with a group was palpable – hoots in Discord and many !’s in raid chat. I suspect that feeling is why people keep raiding – working as a team to overcome a challenge is a magic feeling. Even if for me that challenge was mainly about doing the right thing more than contributing a huge amount to downing the bosses, it still felt great to get the achievement done.

We got all the way to Archimonde, and had two attempts at the achievement before having to stop for the night. Hopefully we can pick that last one up next week.

I was treating these runs as a bit of a test to see if raiding in Legion was something I could invest some time in. Come Legion I will be able to start on a vaguely level footing, so given how fun this was it seems worth trying to earn a spot in Normal Raiding.

I’m also super pleased that Frostwolves seems a good fit – there was no finger pointing and a generally good and constructive atmosphere. It was really nice to hear some of the invited guests (from other guilds and servers) give a special shout out to Navi for organising the runs – a sign of respect and a nice reward for hard work.

Fun to be back on the horse, or in my case the toy-pony.