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!



Overwatch Listicle

I hate listicles, but here’s one anyway!

  1. Sombra. Not sure I’m a fan of the new class - it really changes the dynamic of the game. Total invisibility is hard to prepare for, meaning you can be dead before you realise she’s even reappeared behind you (and it’s always behind you). This is kind of different to other heroes, even one-shotters like Widowmaker, where you at least have some defensive counter measure available if you see them fast enough. I’m also finding her ability to hack health packs super annoying - it basically removes them from the game which isn’t particularly interesting or fun. To counter those issues, maybe there should be a timer on the health hack (similar to Sombra’s own teleport timer), and maybe a (very) faint motion blur when she’s invisible.

  2. Arcade Mode. Love the new 3v3 and mystery 1v1 modes. Short and sharp, and the new Antarctic map is perfect for them. The 1v1 is interesting because you basically become friends with the other player, complimenting them on their play and vice versa. Similarly 3v3 has much more communication than a full 6v6, as you have to adapt quickly to the other team’s strengths and weaknesses as each round passes. It’s probably similar to how Heroic/Mythic WoW raid teams have to be far more co-ordinated than Normal/LFR, as you can’t afford to carry anyone. Though in OW one super-fast twitch player can dominate the opposition more consistently.

  3. Quick Play. Taking out the ability to hero stack is a bit of a bummer. I can see why they did it, but now it’s a bit of a land rush to get a hero you want, and those with the lowest ping times inevitably get their choice. It was always fun, if often devastating, coming up against a full team of Junkrat’s or Pharah’s, and now that’s hidden away in Arcade Mode which is a bit of a shame. Quick Play suddenly become more serious and less flexible, instead of the default & funnest way to play. People quit now if they can’t get their choice. Then again, I did come up against 6 Sombra’s in Arcade and that was terribad! So maybe it’s for the best.

  4. Talking of Junkrat, I HATE JUNKRAT. Flinging random bombs through windows and hoping for the best, then sending in the wheel of death. Ugh. Refuse to play.

  5. And Roadhog. Why are all the Australian’s freaky? Mad Max was handsome, but Blizzard chose Toecutter and Immorten Joe as a role models instead. Alas.

  6. Symmetra. One great thing about OW is witnessing some genius play a character which makes you understand how it’s meant to be played. I came up against a brilliant Symmetra who constructed matrixes of death lasers in perfect spots, teleported her team to the front, and beamed everyone to death who came near her. Lesson learnt, and now playing her I have a much better idea what to do. That’s not something that can happen in an MMO for obvious reasons, and it’s a real strength.

  7. Spontaneous team co-ordination is another. Seeing a random group coalesce into an unstoppable Bastion/Reinhardt/Mercy/Symmetra whole is a thing of beauty.

  8. Playing with a console controller is hard. PC master race.

  9. I’m starting to miss WoW!



Overwatch Kart

An interesting phenomenon in Overwatch is the 99% comeback.

I’ve played many a match where one team is up 99% to 0% on a control map, and somehow the other time makes a stunning overtime comeback for the win. Same on an escort - a last gasp push or save 1m before the objective. One team often seems to (luckily) spawn pretty much together together, then (luckily) arrive at the point together, and then (luckily) have most of the Ultimates ready to blow. It’s like a 6 person Overwatch zerg - pretty fun, but pretty unlikely to happen as often as it does.

After experiencing it a few times - and it being joked about plenty at the PAX Overwatch tournament - I realised it reminded me of Mario Kart’s catch-up mechanic, which subtly grants advantageous boosts to players lagging behind in the race. Maybe Overwatch is doing the same thing - giving the team about to lose some kind of hidden bonus in the form of sped up Ultimates or co-ordinated spawns. There are plenty of discussion threads and conspiracy theories out there, though nothing provable.

Many put it down to pure psychology: the fact you have one last chance makes the team suddenly focus and enter some kind of heightened-gameplay frenzy. And as it turns out they’re probably right. Asked if such a mechanic were in place, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan (a fairly reliable source!) responded with a pretty definitive response: “Nothing at all”.

It’s nice to know it’s our skills giving those last gasp victories, and it sure is an interesting psychological phenomena. I guess sports teams and the military - and Jeff Kaplan and co. - already knew all about it.



Post PAX post

On the weekend I travelled down to Penny-Arcade’s fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo in Melbourne - I figured it was kind of a Blizzcon-lite with far less travel.

It’s a three day event, and I went for the Saturday session with two of my nephews. Having never been to a gaming or comic convention, I was equally excited and apprehensive. Tradeshows can be pretty dire, with bored vendors trying to attract your attention while you studiously avoid eye contact. I realised pretty quickly this wasn’t going to be your average tradeshow:

Embarrassingly I’m not sure who she’s playing, but wow


Entering the vendor hall surrounded by thousands of fellow fans pretty quickly allayed all remaining fears: this was going to be fun. Massive displays from major industry players, sound and vision overload, hardware to ogle, and all in the name of gaming. The dominant games were easily Overwatch and the venerable CS:GO. Overwatch was everywhere, being used to demo super fast monitors, LED headphones and keyboards, controllers and just about anything else. Most of the vendors had LAN setups which were allegedly to demo their hardware, but really most people were just enjoying the opportunity to play 6v6 in the same ‘room’.

On the hardware front, the main thing we noticed was that VR is everywhere, though the queues were so long for all of them that we didn’t get to play any. There’s definitely some momentum around this latest attempt, no doubt seriously boosted by the offical PS4 VR hardware - they had the largest stand and longest queues.

It was also hugely entertaining constantly seeing amazing cosplay everywhere you turned. One moment you might be playing Mei, the next she’d be standing next to you with Reaper and Soldier 76 for good measure.

So far so good, but the real highlight came when we emerged from the cacophony of the demo hall into the (relative) serenity of the second main hall, which is effectively a fan-run celebration of gaming in all it’s shapes and colours. Tabletop, RPG, console, PC, retro, pinball, miniatures, dice, you name it.

No really, you name it


There are hundreds of tables setup for tabletop gaming, ranging from cards to miniatures to old school boardgame history (you could borrow just about anything from a huge selection of carefully maintained boxes). The amazing thing was that there were volunteers for every game, just sitting waiting for people to plonk down and learn how to play. No sales pitch, no pressure, just a celebration of a game they love and knowledge they want to pass on.

A collection of vintage machines were constantly in use (I struggled against R-Type with an very ancient joystick attached to a Commodore-64), as was the console rental area where you could pick any game from a huge library, grab some controllers and play for as long as you like. We entered a PS4 Overwatch comp and were promptly trounced, but it was a great experience complete with an encouraging audience.

Healing stream engaged


You could learn to paint figurines, enter pinball comps, collect and trade pins, or choose from any number of Role Playing game sessions, complete with volunteer GMs and newbie-friendly guidance. We played a one hour Adventurer’s League DnD mission which was a hoot.

The ‘fan hall’ was the true heart of PAX and no doubt a large reason for it’s continued success and popularity. No matter what kind of gaming you enjoy, there was a way here to enjoy it. My only regret was not getting to see any of the many many talks and panels that were held throughout - Fight of Fandoms: Fallout vs Witcher, SUPER HAPPY FUNTIME TOKYO GAMESHOW HOUR, the Omegathon etc. Obviously a reason to go back next year!

According to Wikipedia, PAX was created by the Penny-Arcade team because they “wanted to attend a show exclusively for gaming”. It would more accurate to say it was created for gamers, and it’s a huge success.



Team Overwatch

One of the oddities of Overwatch is that if you play with a pre-made team, the game gets harder. I go from a ~60% win ratio in random groups to pretty much 0 in a pre-made with friends.

This is somewhat counterintuitive. We figured that playing as a co-ordinated group would make you almost unstoppable. Team comps could be spot on, choke points verbally controlled, ambushes and ultra’s given plenty of warning. All of which is true, but the thing I hadn’t realised is that once you rock up with a 56 player group, the game will try to find a matching team of similar numbers to fight against. So while you’re a little more organised than a Quick Play pug, so are they. And unfortunately ‘they’ always seem to be a whole lot better.

Given the rookie status of most of the people I’m playing with, this means we have been getting hammered. We’ve gone 0/10 most nights - we were thrilled (or should that be relieved) when we won one round of a best of three! While our skill level and experience is pretty low, we should be winning at least a few. Even though we’re theoretically being matched with similar skill levels, it’s pretty clear that most grouped players know how to play, and are probably a lot more organised. Team composition becomes much more important to counter opposition strategies - coming up against a well oiled Bastion/Mercy/Reinhardt team is very difficult to overcome without some thought and on-the-fly planning.

Luckily it’s still fun, and it also means you quickly realise that it won’t be enough to just have 5 people you know playing together: you need to communicate and co-ordinate and play as a team, not a bunch of individuals. That may work in random groups, but it falls apart against an organised attack. It’s similar to coming up against a well oiled PVP group in WoW. You quickly realise when the other team is used to playing together, and grudgingly prepare for a short sharp lesson in defeat. The biggest improvement would come from someone taking the leader role and co-ordinating things . Either that or an entire team of D.va’s!

Nerf this!