With all this energy, and given Classic is somewhat generously included in an existing Warcraft subscription, you would think that a company as efficient at making money as Blizzard would be doing everything they could to sell stuff.
And yet all I can see that is definitively tied to Classic is the retro t-shirts on the Blizzard merch store. Soft of nice shirts, but there’s only a few.
There was also the 15th Anniversary Collectors Edition, which isn’t strictly Classic but comes pretty close, but it sold out instantly and has never been restocked. Which is annoying for collectors as it was never tagged as ‘Limited’ as far as I know.
The most obvious thing to sell would be a new Classic box which, given the popularity of the 15th box, would be a hit – especially if they ‘threw in’ a mount for the Live game. Warcraft streamers Taliesin & Evitel posted the presskit they received, and it’s exactly the kind of thing Collectors would love:
But while something like a box would have sold like hotcakes before the launch, it’s unlikely to sell after. Perhaps there is a merch onslaught still to come, or maybe they are hedging in case Classic falls flat on its face after the first month (which seems unlikely at the moment).
Obviously Blizzard are counting on new subscriber money, and there’s no doubt there will be a sub spike and potentially some conversion to the live game (we need a better word for that – Blizzard call it ‘Retail’ but that’s too mercenary). But look at that press kit! Let us buy it Blizzard, pretty please?
One good thing about Blizzard ignoring their potential cash cow is that we can reward independent creators like Frenone and Naariel with our patronage instead.
FFXIV continues to impress with it’s in-game help and training systems.
I’ve reached a level where I can queue for Duties (aka Dungeons/Instances) as a Gladiator tank, and I was tempted to do one, even getting as far as queuing before quickly bailing and saving the poor Duty Finder group from a rookie tank. It seemed a bit soon, and for a new player it would probably be a tough ask having never tanked before.
I was surprised the game was willing to throw me into it, given its propensity to introduce concepts first. However I think I’m slightly ahead of the level queue due to completing all the Hunting Log quests, side quests, training professions, etc. For that reason I hadn’t returned to Ul’dah recently, and when I did I found there was an excellent solo training function available.
By talking to a trainer, I was queued into some solo Duties which introduce you to the concept of tanking step by step. The first was about avoiding enemy tells (the orange warnings on the ground), the next was using combos to draw enmity/threat, then how to draw multiple mobs attention, etc.
I’d already worked most of this out just by running around, but then I am well versed in the MMO combat style and tanking as a concept. If you weren’t this kind of systematic training is a terrific way to help people learn a Class and that Class’s in-game role.
The training was tailored for Gladiators, naming specific abilities and how to use them. Which is very impressive as it means there is no doubt the same kind of thing for every other Class too. It’s a lot of work to put in for the developers, but I think worth it as a way to show a new (or old!) player how tanking, healing, and DPS works. This is something other games could really learn from – Warcraft provides precisely zero help for learning how to tank or heal, or even the basic DPS rotation.
During all this I’ve been following the M(ain) S(tory) Q(uest) – I’ve even learnt some of the acronyms now – which I’m finding rather uninspiring. It seems to be a story of political intrigue, with various named factions and figures all trying to gain power in Ul’dah. The problem with it is that as players we have no investment in any of the people being talked about, and it does seem like a political game rather than something of world shaking importance which a hero like us (ahem) would be needed for.
I have also failed in my quest to get to Limsa Lominsa to learn fishing. I was pleased when I stumbled on a map reference that seemed to show I could catch a boat there from a nearby town, but when I arrived there the harbour-master told me the way was temporarily closed. I suspect it’s because I haven’t completed some pre-requisite, but it was very disappointing.
Both the political nature of the MSQ and the Fishing failure are making me ponder rolling a second character who starts in Limsa Lominsa, just to see how different it is. I have five days left on my 30 day account, so that might be a good way to spend it.
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.
Having discovered professions, my next goal was to hit level 15 so I could catch an airship of some kind to Limsa Lominsa in order to train Fishing. If FFXIV is only going to be a month long project, fishing has to be part of it.
Levelling didn’t take long. Following the main storyline and the nearby side quests netted most of the required experience – and a taunt skill which will come in handy.
During the questing I answered my question about what happens if you’re equipped for a profession when you encounter an aggressive mob: you run away. I hadn’t worked out how to tell which mobs would attack when you passed through their aggro radius and accidentally drew the attention of three angry ants. Fighting them with my pick wasn’t going to work, and I couldn’t quickly change outfits, so I sprinted away. Luckily they are on rubber bands so I was soon safe, but I learnt the lesson. It does make gathering seem a little hard to do at low levels – it might have to wait until I’m a bit more powerful.
I discovered that my ‘shield bash’ ability is an interrupt for the telegraph abilities of mobs. Smacking them when the ground effect appears stuns them and cancels the special move. Very handy and easier than running out of range. I suspect that later mobs won’t be quite so easy to disrupt, but for now it’s a fun ability. I also polished off the first tier of the Hunting Log, which rewarded a good chunk of XP but disappointingly nothing much else other than a massive banner alert that things were about to get more difficult.
The final discovery in this play session was that I’ve reached a level where things are starting to be dangerous. I wandered into a camp of small sentient creatures and started mindlessly slaughtering them. There was some kind of glowing purple circle around the quest objective which gave me pause, but so far glowing things hadn’t seemed to make much difference so I pressed on. Suddenly a mini-boss of some kind was summoned and started casting something nasty, at the same time as the remaining trash mobs all decided to finally notice me and start attacking en masse. Bravery and valour took a back seat as I employed the sprint button again to get out of there, barely making it alive. I went back with a more methodical approach and succeeded, though it was still a lot tougher than anything I’d previously encountered.
I also had some close scrapes with some particularly aggressive mantis like creatures and some giant poisonous toads. I was looking for colour cues as to what will aggro and what will let me walk straight through, but I think it’s a small icon next to their nameplate that is the tell. Clearly I’ve reached some kind of tipping point between friendly newbie zone and somewhere with more expectations, and I may well be doing something wrong (or non optimally) too. From now on a more cautious approach is called for – and I should pay more attention to the swirly coloured magical stuff.
When I reached 15 nothing actually happened. I think I was kind of expecting a quest to magically appear, similarly to how flying does in Warcraft. Not that this was flying, but FFXIV has been very good at introducing new concepts as they become available and the ability to take airships to new cities seems to warrant that kind of notice. My guess is this is locked behind a quest chain I haven’t quite completed, like learning Professions was.
Today I finally did the Stay of Execution scenario, months behind schedule, and it was superb. Long an advocate for the Tauren, and for Baine Bloodhoof to become our next Warchief, this solo dungeon make it all the clearer that he is the right choice.
I unlocked it by finishing up some quests in Nazjatar, not really knowing what was going to happen – somehow I’d managed to avoid spoilers for all this time. I was shocked to find that Sylvanas was about to execute Baine for ‘betraying’ her when he reunited the newly Undead Derek Proudmoore with his sister Jaina.
A Shamanistic vision shows us that he is imprisoned below Orgrimmar (in a repurposed dungeon based on the Siege of Orgrimmar raid), and we need to act immediately to rescue him. We’re joined by Thrall and Varok Saurfang, heroes of the Horde and stars of the Safe Haven cinematic, and it’s a thrill fighting alongside the two elder Orc legends.
But that’s nothing to the shock of who we find half way through the mission.
Jaina. I was genuinely surprised, which I guess says something for how little attention I pay to the streamers and data-mining lore-reveals. It’s a nice feeling to find a game you’ve played for so long can still take you by surprise, and a reminder of just how strong Blizzard’s lore and writing team can be – and a reminder of why we keep playing.
Jaina is there to rescue Baine too, not just because of the Derek Proudmore moment, but because Baine is good people. He, of all the participants in this war, doesn’t deserve a traitor’s death. The confrontation between Thrall and Jaina is beautifully played out, as they – and we – unite to rescue Baine from Sylvanas’s prison.
The in-game cinematic that finishes the scenario is one of Blizzard’s best. Jaina and Thrall gazing down on Thunder Bluff, fearing Sylvanas’s retribution, and both reflecting on the terrible cost of the years of conflict and death.
Thrall’s regrets in particular struck home with me, his sorrow over the death of Baine’s father Cairne, and all the conflict and ruin that has wrought. Jaina’s reaction to Thrall’s pain is magic, and brings great hope for future peace between the two warring factions.
I still hold some slim hope that Sylvanas will somehow be shown to have been acting in Azeroth’s best interests, that rousing Azshara and N’zoth was required in order for the factions to unite and defeat the larger threat. But the descruction of Teldrassil has probably put paid to her reputation ever being rehabilitated. Her time is over.
If anyone can heal the rift between the Alliance and the Horde, it’s Baine Bloodhoof. And if Sylvanas really does try and burn down Thunder Bluff nothing can save her from our retribution.
I’d forgotten that upon reaching level 10 I could start to train in the gathering and crafting professions – or Disciplines of the Land and Hand in game terms.
It wasn’t only level 10 that was required, it was that plus finishing the mandatory Gladiator introductory sequence. I almost felt guilty being tempted when my Guildmistress told me that much as she hated to say it, I was free to go and train in other Classes.
What I didn’t realise was that training the Hand/Land classes was the same as switching to an entirely different Combat Class. When I trained as a Miner I suddenly lost all my Gladiator skills, my action bars swapped, and I was suddenly near-naked in the middle of the Mining Guild.
Working out how to dress more appropriately, I soon found the ‘Recommended Gear’ button on the UI, which very smartly worked out what gear I should equip for my current Class. And then I could save that as a Gear Set, and switch between Combat and Profession equipment with ease.
I was equipped with a Mining Pick and had a single action available called Prospect, which promised to reveal mining nodes on my minimap when active. This is very different to my experience in other MMOs where gathering and crafting are very much secondary skills, requiring only a tool or two in your inventory. Here you become a miner, or goldsmith, or tailor, etc.
At first I was sceptical that this was a good idea – having to swap entirely to a new load out and skill set just to mine some ore seemed quite cumbersome. And it means that you can’t just spot a node as you’re adventuring and gather it on the move. You need to set out specifically to gather, or craft, and abandon your combat role entirely.
I do worry what would happen if you set out with mining pick and sub-optimal armour equipped, only to encounter some aggressive mobs that needed your full kit to counter. I wonder if you can swap mid combat, or if it’s like other games where once you’re engaged you’re locked out.
Mining pick equipped, I ventured back out into Thanalan and soon found my first node. They are much prettier than Warcraft that’s for sure.
I duly started picking away at it, and discovered that FFXIV has a much deeper crafting system than I expected. One you find a node, you can choose what you want to try and extract from it, and what the chance of recovering each possible reward is.
This kind of blew my mind, as this made gathering is a game in itself, with chance and gambling and decision making instead of just mindless clicking on shiny nodes. There’s a full list of levels and skills to be learnt, quests and objectives, and I presume you could play the game as solely a crafter if you were willing to forgo combat.
I’ve always been intrigued by Bhagpuss’s reports of the full crafting storyline in EQ2, and it looks like FFXIV has at least some semblance of that, though whether it goes quite as far as EQ2 does is yet to be seen:
It’s completely viable [in EQ2] to have characters who only craft and still have a well-developed, structured throughline from creation to cap that includes everything an Adventurer could expect. There are signature questlines at all levels, side-quests, storylines, upgradeable gear and tools, important NPCs to meet, titles to earn, achievements, you name it. There are even craft raids.
Training Mining also unlocked a Gathering Log full of lists of items to find while Mining. Similarly training Weaving created a Crafting Log, though it was more functional, containing recipes for how to make gear and accoutrements. Crafting an item involves chance, material wear, and action bar skills in order to make the object you desire. The animation is also pretty great, a full spindle or needlecraft pad appearing for weaving, and accompanying over the top excitement when you successfully make a ball of twine.
Exploring this has opened up a whole new world within FFXIV, and I found myself excited to start progressing the profession chains – perhaps even more than following the actual storyline. The fashion, armour, and weapons you see just wandering around Ul’dah continue to be astonishing, and I assume that much of it is created via crafting, no doubt at great expense. The bigger capitals and endgame hubs must be a sight to behold, and I can imagine setting up as a crafter of exclusive goods must be an excellent earner and satisfying game in and of itself.
My only regret is Fishing isn’t available in Ul’dah, for that I need to travel to somewhere called Limsa Lominsa – and to get there I need to get to Level 15 apparently. I’ll do that on my Gladiator given I’m 12 now, unless Gathering ore becomes more interesting!
I dipped back in to FFXIV today, spending some time following the main story questline.
At my low level it doesn’t seem to be terribly different from the non main story quests, or at least the objectives aren’t. One had me handing out exactly four treats to starving children, another dealing with precisely three bad-guy Lancers. Meanwhile the side quests were more or less the same – collect eight ribs, investigate four bits of ore on the railway tracks.
The main difference was that there were occasional cut scenes (still unvoiced), and the reappearance of the Handsome Stranger. I faced down a gigantic animated clump of boulders, and a mysterious black robed figure marvelled at my apparent skill in defeating it. So there is the hint of something larger brewing, though it’s hard to follow exactly what that is.
I found it quite hard to stay motivated, though it’s hard to say whether that’s the game or I just wasn’t in the mood for MMO style gaming. While I enjoy the open world of an MMO, sometimes the tight confines of an on-rails single player game can be more absorbing, or at least more distracting.
The other thought I had was that it would be more fun to be doing this in a group. I found the same thing in GW2 and SWtoR, where I would have fun playing solo to a point but then drift away and never complete any characters.
In SWtoR it was often because it seems a waste missing out on the group conversation options, which is one of the underrated features of the game. Playing in a group allows you to independently choose the dialogue option you want, and then a random roll determines which choice ‘wins’. It makes questing much more interesting as you often get to see responses you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen.
In GW2 I think it was more the same kind of problem I’m feeling in FFXIV, namely uncertainty about exactly why I’m doing all this if I’m not playing with friends, or heading to an endgame where I could.
The thing that makes me question that theory is WoW, where I will more often quite happily play completely solo, working on alts or grinding out reps and rewards on my main. The difference being that there’s a group of us that noodle about every so often, and with who I had a brief and vaguely glorious period of raiding, and one day might do so again.
I wonder if were I a GW or FFXIV veteran instead of a Warcraft one I would find WoW had the same issue. Or, more likely, I’m just having an off day and I’ll be back in the chocobo saddle tomorrow.
Last year I finally played Red Dead Redemption and said it was “easily one of the greatest games I’ve ever played”. Now I’ve played the sequelprequel and it too is up there in the pantheon.
Rockstar took the unusual approach of releasing it as a prequel to the original game, which at first seems like an odd decision. But that decision immediately pays off, as you are introduced to the new protagonist – Arthur Morgan – via a mission to rescue the hero of the first game, John Marston. This provokes two instant emotional reactions: one being the joy of seeing John again, and the other the beginning of forging a new bond with Arthur – a bond which is the core of RDR2. It’s a brilliant beginning to a brilliant game.
I pulled out my stage coach times
And I read the latest news
I tapped my feet in dumb surprise
And of course I saw they knew
The journey of the game is a familiar one to Western fans, following Arthur and his adopted family of outlaws and rebels through their dreams and tribulations on their quest for a better and free life. Arthur himself is a rough man of few words but long on loyalty and honour. And over the course of the game you grow to love him deeply.
The Pinkertons pulled out my bags
And asked me for my name
I stuttered out my answer
And hung my head in shame
Being a Rockstar game you are mostly free to play Arthur as good or as bad as you choose. You can be an upstanding gangster grudgingly respected by even the law abiding citizenry, or you can be a nasty piece of low down villainy who terrorises from lake to landing. Naturally I chose the former, though there are enough moral conundrums and choices to ensure that you’re never quite the model citizen, always straying outside the law rather than in.
Now they’ve found me
Lord I say at last they’ve found me
It’s hard to run
From a starving family
The game world is stunning, the most alive and realistic (within the Western framework) world I’ve ever ventured in. The wildlife and nature is quite incredible, both graphically and audibly, each valley or mountain top or forest swarming with movement and sound. For much of the game you are simply riding free and exploring, drawn to the next vista and watching herds of bison grazing on the plains.
Reading that ornithologists have studied the game and gave it top marks comes as no surprise. Nor that a friend’s father examined the railway details all the way down to the joinery on the sleepers and rails and was amazed by their accuracy. It may sound crazy to put that level of detail in a game of this type, but it pays off in spades with the immersion and joy the world generates.
Now I’ve seen this chain gang
Lord I say let me see my priest
I couldn’t have faced your desert sand
Old burning brown backed beast
Special mention must be made of the horses in the game. The models are beautiful, from their movement to their coats to the idle animations to the incredible detail of their faces. Over the course of the game you can tame wild horses and develop their skills, and by the end you will have made a bond stronger then iron with your favourites.
The poor house they hit me for my kin
And claimed my crumbling walls
Now I know how Reno felt
When he ran from the law
Some reviewers have said you don’t need to play the first game to play the second, and while that is true it also means you would miss out on a huge component of the RDR2. Knowing the fate of many of the characters you play alongside brings an emotional heft that is extremely affecting. It’s quite different to a sequel where you are continuing a story, here you are starting a story where you know the ending, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Now they’ve found me
Well I won’t run
I’m tired of hearing
There goes a well-known gun
It is an extremely emotional voyage the game takes you on if you let it, one which can be played with great freedom of action and yet remain a shining example of the power of a single player game to craft and shape a story that lives on beyond the boundaries of the game.
And in Arthur, Rockstar have created one of the great videogame – or any medium really – characters. Spend some time in his skin and you’re unlikely to forget it.
Our Alliance Guild ran Blackrock Depths this evening – or at least the first 7 bosses: it has 20 in total. I suspect this is the largest 5 man dungeon in Warcraft.
Doing some research for the run, I was amazed to read that when it was originally released in Patch 1.3.0 in 2005 it would take 4-6 hours to run. That’s remarkable, and remarkable that people would have the stamina to do such a lengthy run. Especially given how much harder it would have been on release with mobs at level and no min-maxxing possible as this Dungeon would have been dropping the best gear in game.
Even just navigating it must have been a challenge, with multiple levels and an dizzying array of routes and obstacles. These days it’s much easier with Dwarven mole machines allowing fast travel to various spots throughout the maze.
It has unique attributes like The Black Forge which is the only place in game where you can smelt Dark Iron Ore, and The Black Anvil which allows those bars to be crafted into items. And those two locations are deep within the dungeon, so you can’t just traipse down there to do a bit of crafting. It’s lovely that the gear you forged was largely fire-resistance, which set you up for the yet to be released Molten Core, the first Warcraft raid. The Forge is even located just before the entrance to the Raid as a hint and teaser. That kind of precise logical progression is sorely missing from the ‘retail’ game.
Places like Blackrock Spire are another reason Classic is going to be fascinating. When even the Dungeons are challenging marathons, it will be a real test of the capacity of the modern MMO player. Assuming it’s successful enough to move off Patch 1.12, which it surely will be given the current level of interest.