In completely unexpected news, Blizzard broke the internet today with the news that the wonderful Vulpera race is coming with patch 8.3.
The foxes revitalised my interest in BfA when I first encountered them, and while were an obvious choice for the next Allied race, it seemed like if it did happen it would be with the new expansion. Happily not!
I’ve never liked Goblins (too mercenary, and environmental criminals), and Gnomes too seem pretty wanton about destroying any land they settle on (see: Mechagon). Thinking back, the Vulpera also seemed pretty interested in treasure (why is it that Blizzard’s diminutive races all being greed-motivated?), but at least they were living in harmony with their homeland. It will be fun to be playing a gigantic Tauren one moment, and a tiny Fox the next.
The other obvious conclusion with 8.3 being announced today (and the final boss revealed) is that Blizzcon will definitely be the announcement for the next expansion – they’ve cleared the BfA decks now. So that’s exciting too – if the rumoured PVE Overwatch 2 is also revealed (and Diablo IV?) it will be a great year to be attending.
So far I’ve dithered about on Classic by creating far too many characters and not really committing to any. Doing a quick tally, on three servers (two PVP, one PVE) I have Hunters at 12/11/10/7, Warriors at 12/10/5, and a Rogue at 6. Plus bank alts on each. So theoretically I would have an (impossible) level 73 character if I had stuck to one. Obviously that’s not true given the slow down in levelling, but none-the-less I am well behind the curve as a result.
As usual it’s probably because the first levels are the most fun, with quick progress, rewards, and levelling routes burned into subconscious effectiveness. But now I’m trying to knuckle down and just play a single Hunter and Warrior, and actually move beyond the starter zones.
On the Hunters I was finding that even once they got their pets, mobs would still come at me rather than the pet. I put this down to Classic being different, until finally realising recently that I had neglected to train Growl on any of them. I happened to notice text something like ‘You have learned a new skill: Growl’ when I handed in a Hunter class quest, and as soon as I trained it on my Wolf the Hunting game became a lot easier.
Something else that made things easier was tracking down the rare wolf Ghost Howl in Mulgore. I searched around Thunder Bluff for an hour or more until finally finding him amongst the Windfury Harpies west of TB, and it was quick work with my tamed Prairie Wolf Alpha (I’d seen him earlier at level 7 but was no match for him then). Killing him led to a quest which rewarded an amazing gun upgrade.
I love finding Rares in Warcraft, particularly when you find them just by noticing something different in the scene in front of you. It’s not only that they look slightly different – maybe bigger, maybe an odd colour – they also move differently to the normal creatures. It’s almost like they have a swagger about them – slight slower, nonchalant, and much less predictable.
Next up is to venture into the Barrens, where I hope to eventually find and tame Humar the Pridelord with his unique black coat. A friend once camped out his spawn point for days during Burning Crusade – might be a nice tribute to do the same. Petopia has a nice unique looks gallery for those wanting to track down a standout companion.
For reference, this is how I’m running my Hunter at level 10.
I’ve developed a default key mapping with some macros behind each button to make the Hunter attack sequence easier and more effective:
So the opening sequence is to press F1 to send in my pet, wait briefly for it to engage, F2 to start firing, then 1 to weave an Arcane Shot in between Autos. If there is more than one mob (please, no!), then F1 again will redirect the pet to the next tabbed target. I can refresh Serpent Sting with F2 (rarely required as regular mobs die before the 15 sec. debuff drops off). F3 is reserved for Concussive Shot to slow down runners (and pets I might want to tame).
For F1, I use the following macro:
#showtooltip Hunter's Mark
/cast Hunter's Mark
(The ! before Auto Shot ensures that spamming F2 won’t turn it on and off accidentally.)
I borrowed these from Icy-Vein’s Hunter macro guide. Their pet guide was also very useful for jogging my memory on pet feeding, classes, training, etc. And to complete the trifecta, their excellent Beast Master levelling guide includes a very handy level slider that shows you the recommended build and rotation at each level. Playing around with your own style rather than going by the book is definitely recommended, especially when levelling, but it’s good to have some kind of starting point reference.
Keeping track of my pet happiness was also difficult for some reason – maybe some add-on was hiding the status. I got around that by installing TitanPanel and this Pet Happiness broker. Now I can easily see when my pet needs feeding, and TP itself is useful in other ways (like making it obvious when I’m low on ammo).
Having polished off all the Vanilla dungeons (I want to say Classic but that now means something entirely different), our motley Alliance crew ventured into the first Outland instance, Hellfire Ramparts.
I was super pleased to see our Hunter had already managed to piece together a classic Outland outfit, with some truly ridiculous ‘pants’, clashing gloves, topped off by a fantastically wrong helmet. His gormless face was icing on the cake.
I have strong memories of this dungeon being somewhat difficult, especially the tricky early trash pulls which can easily go horribly wrong, and the final boss, the netherdrake Nazan. Those memories were confirmed when I looked up the Ramps blog entry from our old guild, Midnight’s Children – it sounds like a nightmare, even bringing a rare rallying cry from our Guild Leader:
Midnight Children do not believe in rank or status. As such their guild leader has never issued an order. But I do now.
This Dragon must die. All the forces of this Mighty Guild will be bent to this end. No sacrifice is too much, no labour too strenuous. One Horde. One Guild. One Victory.
So it was with some trepidation that we entered, especially as we were reduced to four players. How could we get through this alive, let alone short handed?
Incredibly easily, as it turned out.
Blizzard either nerfed the living daylights out of Ramps at some point, or else our years of playing meant that it was a walk in the park. Somehow I suspect the former. We had no trouble with any trash or bosses, with Nazan falling with barely a whimper.
He also dropped a super nice looking weapon called Hellreaver for our DK.
Our biggest challenge ended up being trying to tame one of the excellent Shattered Hand Warhounds for our Hunter. We accidentally killed just about every single one via my Consecration Aura, our Death Knight’s Death and Decay, an accidental auto attack, etc., before our veteran Priest designed a strategy that allowed our Hunter to pull a solo wolf while we distracted its companions. It was silly but also great fun, a reminder of how the best gaming moments tend to be unscripted and spontaneous.
Last night our Alliance guild finished off the final Dungeon in the original ‘Vanilla’ (aka Classic!) set, Lower Blackrock Spire, a dungeon crawl par excellence.
When I used to tank pug, I was always glad when LBRS popped – though often I had to queue for it specifically as once you hit 58 the game decides it’s BC dungeons or bust. It’s a far more linear run than Blackrock Depths which makes it much easier with a PUG, but more importantly it’s full of interesting bosses, bonus quests, pet drops, and stunning multi-level design that absolutely nails the underground fortress feel.
Much like BRD, there are many spots in the dungeon where you can see where you will be going later, or where you’ve been previously, and plenty of tricks for backtracking and short-cutting if you want to. The bonus boss Urok Doomhowl is a great example, requiring you to have looted the head of a prior boss but also to have collected an unmarked pike to stick that head on. The designers obviously realised people might miss the pike, and cleverly allow you to jump down to a lower level path that leads you directly back to the pile of pikes… followed by a long jog back to your party. At least one way was fast!
LBRS is basically a dark Horde stronghold, which makes it strange to run as actual Horde, even if the minions and bosses are Horde traitors. Killing Orcs and Trolls doesn’t sit quite right. On the other hand, doing it as Alliance feels exactly right.
One thing that became a problem late in this sequence of runs was Blizzard’s 8.2 change to group XP, where having a level-locked person in the group meant no-one earned XP for the events during the Dungeon nor the quest hand-ins at the end. Apparently the change was made to foil people charging for level 110-120 boosting, but surely Blizzard could have made that only apply to the high level boosting.
Several of our members were using each run to level up, which worked perfectly with keeping pace on the dungeon level requirements, and that stopped abruptly with the policy change. We did work out you could disband the group, wait for a 5 minute cooldown, and hand in the quests for full credit, but that is a pretty dull thing to have to do and doesn’t help with the missing XP from all the dungeon mob and boss killing. It’s a pretty punishing change for groups like us who are working systematically through content.
The level nerf didn’t spoil our fun however. We finished the journey that started way back in Deadmines over a year ago, and earned our Classic Dungeonmaster achievement. The Blackrock dungeon duo are a fabulous end to an epic 60 levels of dungeoneering – our newest player commenting on how he was exhausted but exhilarated by the end of LBRS, with the achievement being all the sweeter for the tribulations Blackrock Mountain had put us through.
Now it’s time to unlock XP again and venture into the wilds of Outland and the many good Dungeons – and colourful outfits – to be found there.
Today in Warcraft Classic I died. Quite a few times. This was tremendous!
My new-to-Warcraft-although-no-longer-that-new friend has started playing Classic too (unfortunately as Alliance), and has been commenting on how he keeps dying. Mainly to murlocs, which made the old hands in our group have PTSD flashbacks.
In a typical “I remember when” fashion I laughed and assumed it was due to his rookie skills, and that I would never die – or only very rarely – during lowly levelling quests.
How wrong I was.
My first death was to the Palemane Gnoll leader Snagglespear. Like a typical boss, he stands in the middle of a campsite surrounded by fast spawning minions. Another player and I grouped up to take him on, having seen several others try solo and fail. Surely a Druid and Warrior would make short work of him even at level 7, we thought, before he instead made short work of us.
We did get him eventually, with great caution and judicious pulling, but even then it was close. Unlike Live where he’s guaranteed to drop a 6 slot bag, his Classic loot table drops absolutely nothing of use, but succeeding with the challenge of defeating him was reward enough.
Snagglespear however seemed to open the death floodgates for me, and I proceeded to be killed by Prairie Stalkers and Flatland Cougars working together, Wiry Swoop talons, Venture Co. troublemakers, and Windfury Sorceresses (twice!). Mulgore is huge so the death runs were long, but I kind of enjoyed every one of them.
I eventually learned that running around in white and grey gear and no way of healing meant extreme patience was required. Plus a lot of 360 camera panning during a fight to check for patrolling extras. Mulgore’s spread out nature is somewhat deceiving – you think there’s plenty of space so you won’t get hemmed in, but the mobs have long patrol paths so you can suddenly find yourself in a perfect storm of fang and claw.
The triumph of the day was downing Supervisor Fizsprocket and plenty of his Venture Co. cronies. It would have been impossible – or near impossible – to solo, but organic grouping meant we (still cautiously!) cleared his mine and recovered his… clipboard. Almost sounds like FFXIV!
This post also marks the final day of Blaugust. I’m pleased to have posted every day again (like last year), and most of them felt ‘postable’. I do agree with Endgame Viable that deciding not to post is a valuable skill, but Blaugust makes it hard to shelve things – I think the Money on the Table post is probably one that I would have dropped (which makes it ironic I’m now linking to it again), but it was getting late and I didn’t have the energy to start something fresh. And I did like that press box!
Many thanks to all who have read and commented during the month, I’ve really enjoyed reading a lot of new and established bloggers who’ve participated too – though I’ve struggled to keep up with all the reading.
And of course huge thanks to Belghast for pulling this together – a monumental effort each year. It’s great to read how much enjoyment he’s getting from Classic, which appropriately enough mirrors what he’s created with Blaugust: a community.
I think more than anything I am enthralled by World of Warcraft Classic because it represents something that I never really dared dream would happen. Sure I had high hopes about getting the band back together and tromping around in Azeroth. However what I really missed was the return to the sense of broader community that existed during that time. Apparently lots of people also missed this because it has done my jaded heart good to see players helping players constantly.
Compared to Tirisfal Glades which was teeming with Undead, the Red Cloud Mesa in Mulgore was a relaxed and mellow gathering of Tauren, as befits their nature. It may also have to do with being on a PVE server instead of PVP… but I like the other theory better.
The two zones are quite different to begin with. Tirisfal funnels players down a road and hems you in quite tight, where Mulgore is wide open spaces with freedom to roam. It’s more clever design from Blizzard, establishing the dispositions of the races through the environment in which they’re introduced.
The sound design of each zone also reflects the personality of their occupants. The Tauren are greeted with wonderful birdlife, the crackling of warming bonfires, and the creak of windmills providing sustenance to the villages. The Undead on the other hard are haunted by swirling wind and distant cries, and the incessant heartbeat of a life they can never live. I’ve really noticed the sound in Classic, with music down and ambience all the way up it’s spectacularly good. I wonder if in Live I’m too busy doing jobs – and too efficient at doing them – to just stop and listen.
I also thing it’s vastly better how it doesn’t take long for Classic to introduce mobs that will agro. The starter zones on Live are all sanctuaries of passive mobs, and I think it’s an improvement to have a bit of danger even while you’re learning the ropes – it adds excitement and risk to the experience.
Levelling a Warrior is pretty simple stuff, with only a few abilities. I made sure to get to level four so I could train Charge, which establishes the core Warrior characteristic early on – furiously running into battle and not stopping until either you or the enemy has fallen. In Classic even a Warrior has to be a little cautious though – chain killing cougars was enough to get my health whittled down to the point where I had to pause and recover.
I was amused to see a fellow Warrior charging toward a Plainstalker without a weapon equipped and punching it until it dropped. That reminded me that there is an Unarmed skill in Classic, so I took my weapon off too and ran around punching things. Very silly but very entertaining too.
Classic continues to enchant, I really love the feeling of starting from nothing, not being able to lean on alts and cash reserves and banks full of help. Over the years I’ve sometimes decided I’ll start a whole new stable of characters on a fresh server, but it’s never had quite the same feel – I think because I’ve always been able to switch back to my established roster of equipped and enriched regulars. On Classic that’s not possible, and planning out a set of characters to support and compliment each other with professions and experience is a fun project in itself.
A next step is looking around for a guild. I wish there were more Australian bloggers around so there could be a guild with a strong community of people who also write about their experience – something like Belghast’s terrific House Kraken. Once I’m through the level 10 specialisation choice (and once I’ve chosen which character to concentrate on first) I’ll start testing the waters of some of the broadcast guild invites. Another approach might be to run some Dungeons and observe which guilds seem to have good attitudes – and a good name! – and trial a few that way.
As the Classic fever was building, I enjoyed reading Belghast’s excellent post on communication and admiring the great screenshots from his early Warcraft days.
It made me want to dig out my old screenshots from Burning Crusade, but unfortunately they were locked away in Picasa somewhere. I had assumed that they were lost forever due to Google sunsetting Picasa some time ago, but a small amount of research revealed that you could still get them if you could logon to the Google account associated with your Picasa account. Luckily enough I still had that logon and before long I had recovered all the pictures.
Now that I had the images, it seemed like a good time to reconstruct the old guild blog, which was a two year history of my first Warcraft guild and our adventures in Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and, in particular, Karazhan. The blog was also on a Google property – Blogspot. But the broken images made it no longer useful, plus Google’s propensity to shut services down meant it could disappear at any time. It was the same account as Picasa, so I could easily logon and download the post history as an XML file.
I decided the best plan would be to try and migrate the blog to a static Hugo blog and host it on a Galumphing subdomain, which would mean merging the Blogspot text with the Picasa images.
Thanks to the internet magic of 2019, there are plenty of tools for doing the Blogspot to Hugo migration. The most promising looked to be this Blogger to Markdown tool written by palaniraja on Github. I installed it on a Mac and it worked flawlessly, miraculously producing a directory full of Hugo formatted markdown files. It even had a very nice feature that merged the blog comments into the single markdown post file, making it much easier to publish as a static archive of the original blog (comments being the bugbear of static site generators).
Next I followed the very simple Hugo Quick Start steps, and was very surprised to find it worked first time. I chose a theme – Solar – that was similar to the original blog, and before long had the site up and running locally and started configuring it in real-time with the Hugo server.
I did a pass of comment formatting (some of the dates were a bit mangled), and tweaked some of the settings – publishing the full test of each post instead of a summary, and putting it in chronological order so you could read it from start to finish (which is the reverse of a standard blog setup). I also added Wowhead tooltips for good measure, which slows things down marginally on load but with a static site it seems a fair trade-off. Otherwise I left it as it was.
The final step was merging the local images back into the blog. That was unfortunately a more manual process, as I had to remove a lot of Picasa HTML cruft, but it didn’t take too long with some judicious Notepad++ mass replacements.
I published the site again, and there it was: Midnights Children, in all it’s non-apostrophed glory. Just seeing it again hit me with a huge nostalgia wave, and reading the posts complete with images of glory and despair was even better. There’s probably only 5 people who are still interested, but for them it’s a reminder of a special time and a special friend.
I totally agree about the WordPress dilemma – it’s a great platform in a lot of ways, but it’s very slow and kind of stodgy, especially when compared to static sites. It is however very easy to setup, has a strong support ecosystem, and importantly has integrated comments and associated spam protection (assuming you want comments, that is).
I was tempted to move this blog to something simpler, but stumbled trying to find something that elegantly incorporated comments. Disqus seems to be the most common choice, but it seems to have pretty major privacy problems, and all the open source commenting engines seem pretty flakey and hard to configure and maintain.
Like UltrViolet, I’ve stuck with WordPress, self hosting and using Markdown for writing the posts (so it can easily be migrated if need be), and disabling the frustrating new block editor. I even did a test migration of this blog to Hugo using the same tool as above and it worked just as well. Which gives me confidence that I’m not super locked-in should a nice simple option present itself.
I wish Endgame Viable well! It was certainly worth the time for me, though this was more an archival project than a living blog.
The Oceanic servers filled up pretty quick, or at least the PVP ones did. By the time I was home from work the main server (Arugal) was full with a 10,000 person queue and 260 minute wait. Blizzard had opened up a second PVP server called Yojamba (which sounds more like a FFXIV server than WoW, but apparently it’s an abandoned Troll isle in Northern Stranglethorn) in the middle of the day, but that too was full and queued.
As I pondered taking it easy on the medium-busy PVE server Remulos, another new PVP server appeared, and with an awesome name too: Felstriker. That’s a much better PVP name.
So I hopped on, recreated Stroeb the Undead Rogue, and logged into a world of wonder.
During the voice over intro there were streams of Undead emerging from the starting crypt, most with single-barrel names (thanks to the server only just popping), and all moving with purpose toward the first quest hub.
The intro movie is very different to the current one, much more sinister and full of forboding, telling us that the Undead don’t give a damn about “the primitive races of the Horde” (let alone the Alliance), and will slaughter those that would hunt them as monsters:
They will go to any lengths to ensure their dark plans come to fruition. As one of the Forsaken, you must massacre any who pose a threat to the new order: Human, Undead, or otherwise…
One thing I noticed far more was the sound design. Along with the fantastically spooky music and muffled screams of the the intro, the entire zone pulses with a super low heartbeat which you don’t notice until you stop and listen for a few moments. The subtle tension that adds is terrific.
Instead of taking the first quest, I just wandered through the starter area, poking around the edges of the map and seeing what was out there. I soon found Caretaker Caice, who wandered about restlessly with a lantern in front of a crypt, occasionally philosophising about the Undead state. Purely flavour, and purely great.
The bat hunting was so fun I ended up levelling all the way to 3 without moving beyond the graveyards and surrounding hills. During this I was entertained by all manner of memory jolts, from weapon and defence skill upgrades to the beginnings of the skill tree adventure.
Before logging off I tried one of the rites of passage of Vanilla by successfully kiting a Dusk Bat down into the spawning crypt.
It all sounds so simple, but there’s something undefinably magic about it. I’m sure a lot of words will be written trying to capture exactly what that is, but for now I’m just thrilled we’re playing.
Tonight our Alliance guild finished off Blackrock Depths, the penultimate Vanilla/Classic dungeon, having finished the ‘Detention Block’ last week.
Now split in two Dungeon Finder halves, the second ‘Upper City’ section has four bosses you have to kill for the Achievement, but 13 total. Oddly enough, the Dungeon Finder split has made it very difficult to navigate – it more or less leads you to the four achievement bosses while ignoring all the rest. As a result we ‘finished’ in 45 minutes, then spent another 90 minutes unravelling the puzzle of finding the remaining bosses.
Navigation is also not helped by the map changing between floors somewhat arbitrarily, making it particularly hard to work out the path to the bosses. You used to start at the start and work your way through the entire dungeon, which mostly made sense. Now it’s confusing as you appear mid dungeon, have to back track, and use mole machines to get around impenetrable doors.
None the less, it’s a a wonderfully complex and diverse dungeon, a living breathing Dark Iron city, full of everything a city would have: kings, queens, jailers, crafters, gods, and monsters. There’s a huge number of schematics and plans that drop, befitting a Dwarven empire, and rep hand-ins that require you to return things you create in Molten Core.
The Grim Guzzler is as crazy as ever, a bar full of hammered patrons all of who eventually turn on you once you start spilling their beer and spiking their kegs. With predictable results.
One amazing – and crazy – piece of design in the Relic Room, which has about 15 locked safes. You pick up Relic keys as you venture through the dungeon, which allow you to unlock the vaults for a random loot chest – Blizzard were well ahead of the loot box game here. In one run you won’t get enough keys to unlock all the safes, but there’s a quest boss that only appears if you do – so you have to hang on to the keys and co-ordinate to open the room together later. Not something to do via Dungeon Finder obviously. That mechanic – and many others in BRD – are another reminder of how co-ordination and teamwork were highly valued and required in the original release, even for dungeons.
We now only have Blackrock Spire to do, before we can unlock XP and start on the Burning Crusade dungeons. In a fortuitous piece of timing, we’ll run Spire just as Classic launches – finishing up right as we’re starting all over again.
I’ve been trying to work out exactly why Classic has become so appealing.
There’s the obvious things like revisiting the very first outing for a game I’ve devoted long hours to. I wasn’t there at the beginning, so while many of the features are familiar from Burning Crusade, this will allow us to experience where it all started.
Then there’s the somewhat masochistic appeal of having to struggle instead of cruise. As has been well documented, unless you’re raiding ‘ahead of the curve’ the retail version of Warcraft has become a walk in the park when compared to ye olde days. I can’t remember the last time I felt any sense of danger or need to be careful in game, and purple loot is no longer a thrill, it’s an expectation.
Which is not to say the live game isn’t entertaining. There is entertainment aplenty, great storylines, beautiful design, and it still has the capacity to surprise even 15 years later. It’s just that it is now a different game to what it was – again, if you’re not raiding. Raiding has become the sole place where you still have to work hard and have a team.
I started thinking that concept of needing to work with other players gets to the core of why Classic might work, and Belghast’s terrific post musing on MMO communication drove that thought home:
The first MMOs worked and created the lasting relationships that they did in part because we had a serious need for other people. What I mean by that is that in order for us to have a fun night, we needed a bunch of other people to be similarly interested in doing the same thing. This meant that without really meaning it… you yourself were open to doing things that were maybe less than optimal for your evening because it would mean that in turn the other player would be willing to assisting you at a later date.
My fondest memories of Warcraft are raiding Karazhan with one or two close friends and a whole bunch of people I’d never met. We spent hours and hours working together through that epic Raid, slowly improving and progressing, helping each other gear up and talking tactics offline while we waited for the next scheduled run. It was epic, exciting, and the thrill of defeating each boss to allow us to move on was unbeatable.
Taking a team of friends into WoTLK raiding was similarly exciting, and although we only made it into the first wing of Naxxramas before real life struck, that first wing was incredible. We were doing something together through hard work and perseverance, marvelling when our strategy and preparation came together into a well oiled machine. Which didn’t happen often, but when it did it too was an unbeatable thrill.
Of course the same thing could be said to apply to raiding now, but the temptation to just do it in LFR or press a button, as Belghast put it, is often too great. Plus we’re all ten years older, so attention and time is far more thinly spread.
Classic feels like a chance to travel back to a time when teamwork and strong server-based bonds were requirements for success. It’s almost certainly a pipe dream to imagine being able to raid – those ten years aren’t nothing – but even running dungeons and epic quests like Rhok’delar will mean community and communication become paramount, and that might be something special.