Slightly more prepared

One day and eleven hours to go for BfA, as I write this. I’m not really that prepared, having looked at finishing Legion Engineering and Mining and failed, and also failing to participate in enough fishing raids to level the Underlight Angler much. Once BfA launches it will be nigh impossible for a while, until people start backfilling content.

I did finally empty out most of my bags. Where by ‘most’ I mean half – I can’t quite let go of all the special bait and fish!

After the new PC build, my addons are also mostly under control. I decided against ElvUI for the time being – it’s a nice set and forget system, but it is very hard to customise and tends to take over everything. So I’ve slowly built a passable UI using some core components: Bartender4, Shadowed Unit Frames, ThreatPlates, Adibags, and of course FishingBuddy. I’ve thrown on TitanPanel too, which is fun though I’m not sure ‘required’, though many swear they become dependent on it. Just need to find a minimap and chat fixer and we should be good to go.

The other thing I wanted to get a better handle on before launch was the lore backstories. Luckily Blizzard Watch have our backs here. Super lore-watcher Anne Stickney (why hasn’t Blizzard hired her?) fills us in on the undeath of Sylvanas, while equally knowledgable Matthew Rossi goes deep on Saurfang.

There is also a super useful BfA timeline article, that outlines the plot points and has links to all the novellas, comics, and animations that bring us to the launch. I’d missed the comics, and all three are excellent and flesh out a lot of the storyline – especially Jaina. Recommended reading!

Training wheels

Gloriaboboria recently posted some impassioned thoughts on how Warcraft could (and should) go about attracting, and more importantly retaining, new players. It’s a common problem in established MMOs, and one not easily solved:

A running theme I’ve seen among newer players giving feedback, including some I’ve introduced to the game like my own brother, is that they’re entranced by the initial portions of the game, love it, rave about it, but eventually fall off around level 20-30 and leave and don’t come back. That’s not even halfway to the level cap.

There are so many nuances and interlocking systems in an MMO that it feels like a new player has no chance. If they want to play an MMO, it seems like they’re better off jumping in on a new one where there is an entire playerbase learning the ropes and sharing knowledge.

The problem with this of course is that new MMOs struggle to gain traction. Even heavily promoted and well executed games like Wildstar floundered after launching with much fanfare. So playing one of the established games with an already strong community becomes a better choice. At which point we’re back to the problem of complexity.

One suggestion from Gloriaboboria is a mentoring system:

It seems like a monumental issue to try and tackle and yet we already have examples from other games that at least make attempts to rope new players in via mentoring systems. I’m not saying the mentoring systems in games like FFXIV and Guild Wars 2 are perfect, because they aren’t, largely because they aren’t monitored in any way. But at least they EXIST. Take a page from their notebooks and set up a basic mentoring system in WoW.

I agree this would be sensible – whenever I’ve logged onto GW2, I’ve noticed specially designated players who have been granted some kind of mentor role. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but it seems like a smart idea that rewards your dedicated players with an enhanced in game role and also helps new starters.

Warcraft has done well by streamlining the gameplay experience, making it as seamless as they can despite the ancient code base and massive history. The class trials seem like a good idea too, though throwing someone into a level 100 scenario for a test drive is more for experienced players than new. But there are still mysteries for the new player that are nigh impossible to unravel without help. How does a guild bank work? Why is the bag UI so bad? What’s a Beastmaster Hunter compared to a Survival Hunter compared to a Marksmanship Hunter??

And perhaps the greatest problem of all – how to Dungeon? How to Raid? The two pinnacles of content are also the two things that have the greatest barrier to entry, and are the most likely places to suffer a crushing experience that will make you leave the game and never come back.

I’ve long considered starting a guild that is for mentoring dungeon and raid groups. A few level locked tanks and healers, with an open policy to guide and help new players learn the ropes when it comes to coordinated group play. It wouldn’t take long to get new players comfortable with the concepts, and give them the confidence to get out there in Dungeon Finder and LFR to enjoy the high level content.

The problem is there are no good in game tools to support such a concept. Using the forums is hardly effective, and in game advertising is more or less limited to general chat and the broken find-a-guild systems. Blizzard seem to have acknowledged some of the problem in creating their new Communities system in BfA, but it still seems to focus mainly on existing players and friends.

Maybe one day I’ll give it a try using the tools available, but it feels like there should be more systems in game to support the mentoring role. Then again Blizzard are probably not too worried about recruiting and retention at the moment given the huge reaction to the BfA preamble. Only a few days to go!

Sylvanas Lannister

(Spoileriffic if you haven’t finished the pre-BfA scenarios!)

The Battle for Lordaeron scenario is really great, probably the best in game story telling I’ve experienced. There is a real sense of urgency and panic, plus it’s the first time the scale of the Horde and Alliance battle has really sunk home. This is no skirmish, this is a real war.

There are a lot of great moments and reveals in the storytelling. When Sylvanas unleashes the blight (another unforgivable act), the player is given the choice of taking a mask and healing the infected Horde warriors, or taking a can of blight and spreading the disease further. It was great to be given the option to do good in the face of the horror – thanks Blizzard.

Baine makes his first serious appearance, and has a wonderful moment of Sophie’s Choice which only made me respect and love him more. His facial animation is perfect, bearing witness to his frustration as he is forced into an impossible decision thrust upon him by Sylvanas. And, being Baine, he of course chooses correctly.

Great question

And I even warmed slightly to Sylvanas again when she sat slouched in the throne room and gently mocked the ‘little lion’ boy king. When she’s at her arrogant best, she’s something to behold. Pity that same arrogance has led her – and the Horde – so badly astray.

Jaina was a revelation for me – not having played Alliance I hadn’t ever experienced or realised her power. Though the floating ghost boat thing? Not a fan. And I’m not sure the status of Undercity at the finish, but it doesn’t look like either side ‘won’.

I also wasn’t sure what had happened to Saurfang, which was a blip in the Horde side storytelling I think, but apparently he’s locked up in Stormwind Stockade. My level 10 Alliance Spy Guild will have to go in there and rescue him!

Very true

Tokenism

As part of the new Alliance group, we decided a new server was a good idea, so everyone was starting from more or less scratch – 6 slot bags, no money, and if we were lucky, a tough hunk of bread. It would equalise the playing field a bit for our new recruit too.

With the group up and running as of last night, it was time to setup the Guild. After collecting all the signatures, we formed the Guild to much celebration. I went to create the Guild Tabard but it cost 10 gold to create. 10 gold! I only had 22 silver, so the crest would have to wait for some auction house ore sales to start rolling in – or so I thought.

One of our members came online, signed up, and suddenly advised everyone that the Guild Bank now had… 100,000 gold in it.

One. Hundred. Thousand. Along with piles of 30 slot bags, etc.

I was stunned, and didn’t quite understand how that was possible on a new server with new characters. Then one of the other guildies clued me up: the WoW Token. They’re currently selling for ~190,000 gold, so there’s the answer to our guild riches.

I’d never really considered the implications of the Token until that moment. I knew about them, but mostly thought they were used by auction goblins to buy free game time. But of course the free game time transfers gold to the seller.

It’s quite a game changer. I was quite pleased with how my Horde main had found her way to ~250,000 gold over the course of her career in game. But that is kind of rendered inconsequential when you can buy yourself that much in an instant.

I felt a bit grumpy about it, as it seems a bit like cheating, but was reminded by a guildie that ‘we play for fun not purity’. Those that enjoy endless free bag space and rolling in cash can partake of the new found riches, and those that like the slower grind of gathering and auctioning and a hefty Coldridge Mountaineer’s Pouch can follow that path. And bag rage isn’t exactly ‘fun’.

So I withdrew 10 gold and made the tabard. But as for my personal accounts: as of tonight I have 25 silver, and feeling pretty chuffed with that. Time to mine some more ore!

The shock of the new

For a few years, my group of roleplaying friends fell hard into Warcraft, peaking in WotLK before real life got in the way. Since then some have played continuously, others dip in and out, and some have retired for good.

Waiting for Grimsong

But one DnD veteran never played, for one reason or another. He’s something of a completionist, and lover of RPGs, which meant it was hard to see how a basically bottomless MMO could fit into his schedule. A small chink in that armour appeared recently when we almost played Secret World Legends together, but it was barely an MMO – which is why he 99% completed it and I bailed.

Every so often – normally around expacs – someone has tried to cajole, peer pressure, or sweet talk him into playing WoW, but never with any success.

Until now.

I’m not sure if it’s because of swirling storyline controversy (which means Sylvanas is trending in his non-MMO news feed!), or the when-it’s-ready no-show for the Vanilla servers, or just the relentless ‘first taste is free’ tempting from the rest of the group. Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled he’s going to give it a try.

Of course the first thing we veterans did was start imposing ideas and rules for how to level, when to stop, what you could and couldn’t do, etc. No heirlooms, only levelling in dungeons, maybe even ironman? Oh and I’ll send him some bags and gold, and and and…

We quickly realised though that all those rules were to make it more fun for us, the long term players looking for that spark, chasing the dragon again, somehow rediscovering the shock of the new.

Bhagpuss discussed this phenomenon very nicely in a recent piece:

Some people like to know how magic tricks are done. For them, understanding the mechanics make the whole thing more fascinating, not less. For most, though, once a trick’s explained, it’s dead. Explain enough tricks and all of magic dies.

Which is why you need to be careful and cautious when showing someone around the back of the set. If you reveal all the trapdoors and uncover all the mirrors there’s nothing much left but dusty boards and flat canvas. At least let the newbie see the trick done properly, once.

So the new plan is: relax. Take it slowly. Look around rather than relentlessly ahead. We’ll venture into 5-mans when the time is right, and take them at a leisurely pace. And soon enough BfA will provide plenty to be going on with too.

Our friend will get to have his moments of wide eyed exploration and discovery, and we’ll be there to enjoy some of the reflected glory.

Plus: his condition for playing is that we should roll Alliance, which for a dedicated Horde group is very likely to provide the shock we are seeking!

The simple things

One of the keys to playing an MMO effectively as a raider or mythic dungeon runner has always been getting your rotation right. Making sure that you fire off key skills at the right time, don’t waste cool downs, and combo your best abilities correctly.

After every major patch there is always a new rotation to learn and action bars to configure to ensure optimum key pressery. BfA is no different, so I’ve set about researching the new best-in-class rotations for my Hunter. I’ve never professed to be anything beyond a ‘Normal’ level player, but I still like to try and make sure I’m not doing anything obviously stupid, and preferably doing most things right.

There are a lot of great guides out there, from Icy Veins to Wowhead to individual class masters like Bendak at Eyes of the Beast. I usually try and cobble together talents and rotations that combine passive skills along with the more fun active talents, and then hotkey them in some semblance of the correct order.

This time however I stumbled across a really interesting post on the AskMrRobot blog, which examines Simple vs Complex rotations, and the effect on DPS as the rotation gets increasingly involved.

Using a Marksmanship Hunter as an example, they discovered that the difference between a simple rotation and a very complex one can be as little as 1-3%. Even the difference between the simplest possible rotation and the most complex was only ~10%.

I found that amazing to read, and somewhat liberating as a casual player. Obviously if you’re a progression raider that 10% difference is immense, but for the Normal and even Heroic players, if you can pare it down to a 3% difference then it seems very safe to choose.

As AMR points out, the major benefit of simpler rotations is that you can focus better on the boss mechanics, and you’re more likely to be able to maintain your rotation in the face of the chaos of a boss fight:

Simpler rotations aren’t just easier to do, they are also more robust. They can stand up to the interruptions from a real boss fight, like movement, knockbacks, and switching to adds that need to be nuked down. A lot of complex rules lose all of their benefit when these types of interruptions happen and either offer zero DPS gain, or in some cases, cause a DPS loss.

Again, great news for the casual player who still wants to be effective! Which makes me happy to turn to Icy Vein’s ‘Easy Mode’ guide (despite the slight but ridiculous shame that comes with associating with ‘ezy’ play), or Wowhead’s Levelling Build when designing my BfA setup.

Looks like another case where the old saying might be true: the simple things in life…

Meta Blaugust blogging

With Blaugust fully rolling now, I thought it might be ok to post a meta post about blogging – or more specifically questions about blogging and commenting.

(I guess this could be better asked on the Blaugust Discord, but I don’t really use or get Discord, and anything posted there is only visible to the Discorders. Which is why blogging is so great – it’s public and a permanent record).

One of my biggest confusions with blogging is commenting. Whenever I see a post that stirs the imagination, I think about commenting, but then decide it would be better to make a full post here. The logic is normally that there is too much to write in a comment, and comments tend to be seen by a tiny fraction of blog readers.

On the other hand, comments can be the heart of a blog. It’s how you know people are reading, and reading enough to care to respond. Veteran blogger and Blaugust mentor Bhagpuss is pretty clear on the matter:

I one hundred percent recommend and advise any reader to comment, whether or not they also blog or plan on starting. Comments are the life-blood of blogs. Bloggers love comments and commenting leads to blogging. Do it!

But! He also goes on to say:

I’ll start commenting and within a few sentences it will occur to me that a) the comment is going to run long – most likely very long – and b) it would make a perfectly adequate blog post! At this point, out of blogging solidarity and politeness, I usually change the comment to something along the lines of “Great post! I was going to comment but then I realized I ought to make it into a post over at my blog”.

This is exactly what happens. Though I rarely get as far as starting a reply.

Is the best etiquette to post a reply, but link to your post if you make one? That sometimes seems like it might be a bit rude, hijacking someone else’s post, but it does seem a good compromise? I certainly like seeing a link posted as it leads me to find great new bloggers, or great posts from existing blogs.

It might also be the only way to guarantee the author knows you have posted a response. The state of link-backs seem perilous at best, which is a real shame. There could be terrific post somewhere engaging with one of yours, but you may never see it.

Interested in thoughts on this – feel free to comment or post a response! And then comment. With a link. Argh!

Fractious Factions

Since the announcement of BfA, a lot of people have been wishing factions would go away, to let everyone play as one happy horde. Or should that be alliance?

There are arguments for merging that are strong – playing with friends no matter what race they’ve chosen, less conflict with other players to allow more with fictional enemies, and a sense of cooperation instead of conflict.

It would mean the end of mass PVP, as it’s hard to see how you’d create two predictably opposing forces without the prop of factions. PVP may be a minority activity, but it adds flavour and drama for those that seek it out.

Despite the arguments, I think Factions should stay. Removing them would remove some of the soul of the game.

I like that there is a different feel and personality to each side. That you can have cities that are distinctly one side or the other, with the colours and personalities that go with that.

There is a sense of tension and curiosity created by having zones that you can’t safely venture into, forcing you to skirt around or tentatively work your way through. Having to sneak into Ironforge in order to fish up Old Ironjaw was excellent fun that wouldn’t be possible without Factions.

It doesn’t always have to be red vs blue, as shown by Legion. Blizzard could do some cool things like having a raid with both factions inside, meeting at a final boss that they combine to defeat. To allow friends to play together, similar mechanics could be introduced for dungeons or even raids, easily explained in lore as temporary truces in order to defeat a greater foe.

A grudging respect and sense of accomplishment created by working with the other side is sometimes more rewarding than having everything as one happy family.

If nothing else, Factions should stay for the stories they generate, the current uproar being a great example. And also for the sense of belonging they create. As Saurfang’s Troll recruit Zekhan expressed so well, “The Horde… it’s all we have”.

Without armour

Well that was unexpected. After all the hand wringing, Blizzard drops one of their brilliant cinematics, perfectly targetted to assuage the wavering Horde players.

As suspected, Saurfang is being given the role of the moral core of the Horde, and it’s immensely relieving to watch. Sure it’s doesn’t let we Horde players off the hook – the World Tree is still burnt to cinders – but it does allow us to believe there is a better path to follow.

The player engagement must be off the hook at the moment. I bampfed to Dalaran last night to find a spontaneous group of players slow marching around the mid city, yelling that this was a protest to demand Saurfang be installed as Warchief. And this is not on a RP realm, which demonstrates how hard all this has hit.

Best use of idling in Dalaran yet

Another great spontaneous player protest that has emerged is players hiding their shoulder armour, in deference to Saurfang and his Troll disciple. Or DeadlyBossMods adding Saurfang’s sage “Don’t die” advice as a Raid Warning.

I do wonder if this was dropped early, but once again it’s much more likely that Blizzard are just better at this than we give them credit.

Underlight Angling

Last night I continued my flip-flopping between Sylvanas and fishing, with fishing coming out way on top. I caught my last rare fish and consequently completed the requirements for the best Legendary of Legion, the Underlight Angler. Thankfully the arrival of Azerite hasn’t relegated this Legendary to the annals of history.

Hello old friend

Before wielding it, there was a great surprise (though I should have guessed) when the inimitable Nat Pagle turned up for the quest that would unlock the rod. I was very happy to see the old sod again, and we went off fishing together for a while, just like old times.

We – well, I – had to defeat a giant murloc in order to finish the job, which somehow then became part of the fishing rod itself.

Mglrrp!

Once it is complete, a number of reputation and upgrade quests become available. The Fisherfriends seemed a good place to start, and fortuitously it was in Highmountain.

At first I started fishing alone, before recalling that there were such things as ‘fishing raids’. I signed up for one, and it was hilarious and brilliant.

Fisherfriends require you to fish up specific items to earn rep, and you have to be standing in certain spots to achieve that. For the Highmountain, that spot is a tiny boat in the moat around the building. Which means there were 20+ people suddenly crammed on the boat, all fishing peacefully.

Fish raid!

Best of all was when a conversation started that somehow ended up talking about D&D, Warhammer, miniature painting, and Pathfinder 2 beta testing. In other words, not Barren’s chat.

I loved it. Everyone was just casting, idly killing the occasional boss spawn (that gave a buff meaning every cast caught the required items), and having a relaxing time and thoroughly ignoring what was going on out in the ‘real’ world. As fellow Blauguster Barely Readable Diary puts it:

So here we are. On the cusp of Blaugust Reborn, and of the continuation of the so-called War of Thorns and the Battle for Azeroth, and I’ve gone fishing. I’m pretty sure as soon as I have a foothold on Kul’Tiras sorted, I’ll go fishing again, too.

May your casts land true, my friend!