26 November 2009 § Leave a comment

As you probably noticed, WoW turned 5 last Sunday. We all got an Onyxian Whelpling (which is cute, but it’s kinda hard to use it given everyone has it), and a wave of nostalgic interviews and posts about the game that absorbs us all. Couple of themes seem prevalent, when people think back about the past 5 years. One is the amazement we all felt at the beginning of our journeys into Azeroth. From the introductory cinematic (which is pretty engaging), to the arrival to the majestic Gates of Ironforge or the entrance of Stormwind, I think we can all agree that “immersion” and “epic scale” are two things that Blizzard did right. (You will notice that I mentioned the Alliance capitals – I think the Horde original capitals are nice, but not epic at all, or not in the same scale).

The other is storytelling. Blizzard has been a master to actually use the game to tell stories, and to push forward the lore. In fact, I think one of the biggest changes – and one of the best, in my opinion – from vanilla to Wrath is the movement from simple quests (“kill x wolves”) to storyline quests, which somehow either fit the theme of the expansion, or develop a secondary plot. Vanilla didn’t really have a single, unifying story – while BC had the progress of the fight against Illidan (and then Kil’Jaeden, which was summoned in our world by a disgruntled Kael’Thas) and Wrath chronicles the fight against Arthas. In my view, this storytelling device increases the involvement of players into the world – thus building on the charms of the world.

From my part, I have some fantastic memories: first run of Scarlet Monastery (when I understood what it meant to be a healer for an instance), first run of Molten Core (the panic about keeping tabs on the health of 40 people), first kill of C’thun (with all the priests smiting because we were out of time), first kill of Kil’Jaeden (after a crazy, 2-month run of Sunwell to get it done before Wrath). The best memory I have, though, is the day I obtained my Benediction. This is probably something anyone who has not played a priest in vanilla cannot understand – but let me give you a quick rundown.

Creating Benediction required three elements: the Eye of Shadow, the Eye of Divinity, and the Splinter of Nordrassil. The Eye of Shadow dropped from Kazzak, a world boss spawning about twice a week in the Blasted Lands. Because he was in the world, there was some serious competition to get him while he was up, as well as some serious griefing between Alliance and Horde. The Eye of Divinity was a drop off Major Domo’s chest, in Molten Core. Once you had the Eye of Divinity, equipping it allowed you to see the ghost of Eris Havenfire, a Human Priestess, who had failed to save the city of Stratholme from the Scourge and from Arthas subsequent razing. Eris asked you to do what she couldn’t – to save the plagued citizens of Stratholme. The reward? Nothing less than a splinter of the World Tree (and it’s not clear how that’s got into Eris’ hands, but we’ll gloss over that). As soon as you accept a quest, a wave of Stratholme peasants spawns nearby. Some of them are diseased, and you need to cure them or they will die quite quickly. Skeletal archers will also shoot them, so it’s important that you keep the peasants’ health up. Finally, skeletal warriors will swarm you and prevent you from doing your job.

Now, to make things slightly more complicated, you cannot have any outside help – no buffs, no auras, no heals from party members. Also, this is when the 50g respeccing fee was a MAJOR deal – so much so that, for all the importance of this quest, I decided to do it as shadow, which was my current spec at the time. All the web walkthroughs were mentioning that Holy Nova was essential to do this – but Holy Nova, at that time, was the 31 pts talent in the Holy Tree (no comment about the talent trees of the release version). So, after getting both Eyes from my raid, I spent about a week collecting all possible consumables: Mana potions, of course, but also Flasks of Distilled Wisdom, Oils of Immolation, Whipper Root Tubers and the other Felwood herbs, Cerebral Cortex Compound and the other Blasted Lands buffs, all possible food (because all the different food stacked), the Dire Maul drinks… Then I got a mage, warlock, druid and shaman friends to come with me: they were supposed to give me their buffs, and then stand on the hill Eris was on, and not move at all – because if they did move, they would be counting as intruding, and this would spawn the demon who would insta-kill all of us. So after all this preparation, I got to the questgiver, started the event – and failed. Badly.

After you failed, Eris would despawn for 2 hours – so of course you would have to restart all your preparation and come back possibly another day. I tried three times: twice I failed because I just couldn’t triage the peasants, once because an overeager friend moved to “try to see what was happening” (which of course he couldn’t, because he would not see all the ghosts I was fighting) and spawned the demon. The fourth time, I decided to forego all the player buffs. I had all my potions and foods and juices, but I just couldn’t face asking my friends to travel to Eastern Plaguelands, just to watch me fail. So I just went, one morning before work, not feeling confident at all – and I got it. I don’t know how many peasants I lost, but I had found my rhythm, and was abolishing, renewing, shielding and shackling all I could, drinking all the potions on cooldown, killing the skeletons on cue. And Eris gave me the Shard of Nordrassil.

At that particular moment, I felt on top of the world. I had conquered the most difficult challenge for a priest – I was worthy of the most awesome weapon that was available. I had also saved a city – a city that was damned by the Kel’Thuzad’s plague, and that Arthas had to destroy in his attempt to save the whole Kingdom of Lordaeron. I may not have had the full Prophecy Eris was wearing (in fact, I think I was hardly in full Devout) – but I had done it. In other words, the challenge of the mechanics in-game (triaging waves of friendly units, which were actually hard to target, while enemy units beat on you) combined with a very powerful story to make me, Tsark, the Mediocre Priest, a true Hero.


The Wrath of the Raid Nerd?

20 November 2009 § 7 Comments

I bet Blizzard didn’t foresee this. It seems the whole raiding community is up in arms, ever since Blizz announced their plans for gating Icecrown Citadel. It seems most people are taking offence at Blizzard patronizingly telling us the pace at which we can discover the new instance, and the limited attempts being VERY limited, which makes wasting attempts due to connection issues a bit of a nightmare. Here’s my (very personal) on the issue and the controversy.

The Issue

Blizz is combining the gating we’ve seen in Sunwell and Trial of the Crusader, with the limited attempts we’ve seen for Algalon and Trial of the Grand Crusader. To cap things off, we will have a buff of increasing strength as weeks go by, increasing our health/damage/healing.

Gating is, in my ever-so-humble opinion, a very bad idea – at least, in the implementation we’ve seen in ToC, which is the same as they plan for ICC, apparently. I already said that gating is one of the reason most everyone started hating ToC early on: the problem is the combination of gating bosses in normal with gating ALL heroic bosses until Arthas is down. In essence, we get a double gating mechanism: I need to get to Arthas to enable Heroics, but I cannot get to Arthas until a set number of weeks. There’s a third gating mechanism, preventing the engagement of Arthas until the final boss of the previous wings are down, similar to the original design of Naxxramas – this however is a minor concern, and only becomes relevant in the context of limited attempts, which we will discuss below.

Gating worked relatively well in Sunwell, because:

  1. very few guilds were in Sunwell, anyway – and the ones that were, were pretty hardcore and thus didn’t give up (well, some of them did at M’uru, but that’s not because of the gates)
  2. the bosses were hard enough that even amongst the guilds in Sunwell, a lot of them were not downing the available bosses before the next gate would open.

Blizzard clearly doesn’t want to make bosses as hard as Kalecgos, Brutallus, Eredar Twins or M’uru – and (although I had a lot of fun fighting them), I cannot blame them. Gates are their way to make sure Arthas is not as hard as Kil’Jaeden was (or C’thun, or Nefarian, or Kael’Thas, or Vashj), but at the same time doesn’t die the day the patch is released. And to this I say – why is it a bad thing that Arthas dies the day of the patch? (Let’s assume he dies – I should say “the Arthas encounter is defeated, given we really don’t know yet if Arthas will die or merely have a setback, but that’s too unwieldy. So just assume that he dies for the rest of this rant).

Blizzard’s response to such questions is never clear. They may be worried about people spending too much time in the game (and the ensuing bad press), but I find it hard to believe that’s the case. Most importantly, while I’m certainly not a Libertarian, I really don’t think Blizzard should be worried about that. More likely, they are worried about raiders being frustrated and leaving the game because after you kill Arthas, and maybe farm him for a while, there will be nothing left to do. The sad thing, though, is that gates are more likely to frustrate raiders – and have them leave the game, either just after killing Arthas, or, even worse for Blizz, before even getting there. Everyone knows loot is not a big deal with the last instance of the expansion, anyway, as the lvl 85 Heroic loot is quite likely to be better in all ways, so there’s really no incentive in farming ICC either way.

Now if only we had an instance where the final boss didn’t die on the day of release – oh wait! We do! Algalon died quite a few weeks after Ulduar was released, and even quite a few weeks after he was unlocked. I’m not saying Ulduar was perfect – but it seemed to satisfy the “regular” raids (who could chug along and progress towards Yogg-Saron at their own pace), and the “hardcore” ones (who WTFPWNED Yoggie, and starting working on Firefighter and Algalon). Some of the hard modes were tweaked and hotfixed after release, as the hardcore guild proved once again to be masters at finding any way they could get the kill (the Holy paladin healing inside the brain for Yogg-Saron no keeper was particularly fun). Still, Algalon was defeated on 3rd June by Ensidia – Ulduar was released on 14th April. Is a six weeks cycle acceptable to Blizzard?

The other mechanism Blizz is using is limited attempts. I have mixed feelings about that. I am VERY happy that there won’t be a “no wipe” extra loot (the frustration of missing out on cloaks because of one stupid mistake is reducing my already-limited enjoyment of ToGC). I wouldn’t have minded some extra loot for good performance (comparable to the Skills and Mad Skills tributes) – but that’s not fundamental. Larisa has a good point – it’s not clear why Blizzard is penalising the people who prefer to learn their encounters while playing, instead of spending time “offline” looking at strats and videos. All in all, I think I am mildly negative about limited attempts, but not to any important degree. It’s also probably better to do limited attempts rather than limited time: not being the fastest kid in the west, I need 5 mins after each pull to figure out what happened, why we wiped, etc, and I admit in Algalon there was a strong trade-off between doing that or getting more practice in. I also appreciate that some bosses won’t be included in the attempt counter, which means you won’t get penalised for stupid wipes on early bosses.

The third and final mechanism of ICC is the Ashen Verdict buff, which will increase the raiders’ power as time goes by and the good guys increase the pressure on the Scourge. I unabashedly love this. I think it’s a nice, elegant solution to allowing more people the chance to experience the raid, while allowing the top guild to try their hand at harder encounter. The fact they provide an in-game explanation is, to me, even better.

The controversy

Apparently, I am more or less in the mainstream with my analysis. Most people seem to like the buff mechanism: it’s certainly a lot nicer than having to nerf encounters after a while, and it probably saves development time too. The opinions on limited attempts are equally lukewarm, while the gating idea is not well liked at all. What struck me is the rabidness of some of the posts I’ve seen: even bloggers who’re normally fairly well balanced are predicting the end of the world, cats sleeping with dogs, fiery apocalypses and similar disasters.

Seri over at World of Snarkcraft appears particularly aggravated, “bashing [her] head repeatedly against [her] desk”, and forewarning of a Big Blizzard Brother deciding how long we can play the game. I’ve appreciated Seri’s posts before, so her tone is very surprising to me – I can only assume she was having a bad day or something, or maybe I’m just too naive to realise that, indeed, this is the beginning of the end for raiding and World of Warcraft. Quite possibly, from the point of view of a raid leader of a 25 man, anything that may cause even a few people to become frustrated and leave does become a big issue.

Similarly cataclysmatic comments (no pun intended) from StratFu – but that’s a bit more understandable, as that’s a hardcore strategy website of the type that is most likely to feel the pain of the gating. Accusing Blizz of being like the Chinese government is probably not going to make them listen to any suggestion, though.

The Mediocre Perspective

So my personal take? Yeah gating is gonna suck a bit – but mostly, that’s gonna go away in a relatively short time: the ToC gates lasted five weeks, the Sunwell ones about four if memory serves. Honestly, I would think that Blizzard will pace the gates every 2 weeks at most – and that means that, assuming the patch is released on the 1st December (which honestly looks increasingly likely) that would mean seeing Arthas around mid-January. Given the Christmas break in the middle, I really don’t think that’s too big of a deal. It would be nice if Blizz gave us an idea of how often they will release the new gate, but I doubt they will (they didn’t for Sunwell, and all indications are that they want to play it by ear this time too).

Critical QQ suggests that this model will mean less raiding time, and more time devoted to other aspects of the game. That certainly seems to be a goal for Blizzard, to have players try out different things to do in the game. I do have some alts that still need attention: my warlock is almost 80, my DK is still stuck at 70 (cannot really bring myself to like the DK mechanics), and my hunter on Gurubashi is just so much fun to play…  I’m pretty sure I’ll find things to do – if nothing else, it will be the time I finally get some more PvP achievements on Tsark!

The plans are to be changed

17 November 2009 § Leave a comment

I had planned a post to talk about Discipline priest gear, updating Paolo’s post for the benefit of people like me, with no (regular) access to 25-man raids but with a serious 10-man. That would mean including some of the hardmode loot that Paolo left out, while excluding most of the 25-man options (except Onyxia, because a) you can PUG that, b) we’re actually killing her with 10 raiders in 25-man difficulty, so yeah, you can get that loot). In the end though I realised the added value was very little (he left out a neckpiece from Thorim hard, and the upgraded Signet of the Kirin Tor, both of which are actually quite nice, but not enough to devote a whole post to it).

So, instead, I promise to work on a couple of the posts I have drafted – probably the one about 10-man raiding feeling a bit like the ugly stepsister sometimes. Look for it by the weekend.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a small episode that made me think a lot. My 10-man raid finally managed to get Insanity again this week, after a 5-week hiatus. The Drape of the Sunreavers dropped as our bonus loot, which of course sent all 2 healers and 4 dps casters into high salivation. Because we have a fairly regular roster, and we’ve become good friends, we try to talk about loot instead of simply rolling. However, caster cloaks have been a noticeable gap in the itemisation of boss’ loot tables, and we’ve been particularly unlucky, so most of us were still using Naxx-level cloaks. So we decided to just roll and see. My roll was the lowest (no surprise there) – and then everyone passed to me.

Some said that they preferred waiting for the spirit/haste version (which admittedly could be better for our warlock, and maybe for our druid especially after the next patch). Some just said that my cloak was worse than theirs, so it was a bigger upgrade for me. But to me (and maybe I’m just on a mind trip here, seeing meaning where there’s none), that was a “thank you” for the work I put into that raid. And I don’t want to say that I’ve worked harder than most – in fact, sometimes I feel like I’m holding the group back given my attraction to void zones. But.. I don’t know how else to say this: it really felt like I was being rewarded. All of which I found extremely touching. So thank you guys – I’m quite lucky to be raiding with you all.

A new alt!

10 November 2009 § Leave a comment

So I guess I should put a pink ribbon on my blog – a new alt is born! A series of factors came together in her creation:

  1. I’ve never had a hunter – or rather, my top hunter is a lvl 30-something dorf (what the hell was I thinking?)
  2. I’ve had the itch to try out the revamped instances – you know, the ones where the end mobs is not 11 levels higher than the starting one (hello Uldaman), and when named mobs drop blues, not white items (hello RFC)
  3. I’ve been curious about starting a character on a new server – I love Feathermoon to death, and it will probably be my home for a very long time still. But it’s nice sometimes how things work on a different server.
  4. A friend of mine told me he was considering transferring severs, because he was unhappy with they way his guild was going these days (and I’ll leave it at that, because I’m not sure he wants his plans to be known, so he shall remain anonymous). So he had transferred a lvl 80 alt to Gurubashi – and while it’s nice to start afresh, it’s also nice to have a lvl 80 person as a last-minute support (from a gold loan to an instance run)

I alternated between Troll and Blood Elf hunter – mostly because the starting zones for Blood Elves are about 1000x better than Durotar-Barrens. In the end, I decided I could withstand Barrens – and it would be a good occasion to relive them before Wrath. So a couple of gaming sessions, my Troll Huntress is now lvl 19, and has run Ragefire Chasm.

Gurubashi is a lot more active than Feathermoon – but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The fact that Trade is monopolised by people LFG or LFM is a bit of a drag – and chat scrolls up at amazing speeds, because everyone seems to feel the need to repeat their request four times at least (and in caps, ça va sans dir!). The economy is completely screwed: I’m glad I decided to go the safe route, and get two gathering professions. Peacebloom is going for 1.5g a stack, Silverleaf is at 2g and Light Leather is around 2-2.5g. The plus side is that at lvl 20 I managed to already make a fair bit of money – about 20g, which means I could buy bags (10-slots, still), the first glyph… Just to give you an idea of the state of the economy: 6-slot bags (available from vendors for 45s) were sold for 2-3g.

At lvl 14 I started looking for a group for Ragefire Chasm, and this was kinda fun. Not many people in the LFG tool (what a surprise!) and mostly DPS, so I did a /who 13-16 and whispered all possible tanks. Given that at that level we have about 3-4 talent points in total, I would have though anyone would be interested in coming. Boy was I surprised! Aside from the usual “not interested” (fair enough), and no replies from about 50% of the people, I also got

  • “I don’t have a shield” – now this really boggles me: I’m the anal person who levelled his druid as feral but with a resto set in my bags, always. But geez – is it really too hard keeping ONE shield in your bags??
  • 2 lvl 30s inviting me to a group and then asking me for silvers for a run through – whatever gave you the impression I was interested in that??
  • I did get a “shut up noob, you’re covering my LFG requests” – I kinda doubts the people interested in the daily Heroics are the same interested in RFC….

All in all, I’m enjoying the experience – it’s certainly nice to see a character progress through levels that quick, and to learn the dynamics of a new class is always fun. Now, I just need some of my friends to join me on Gurubashi Horde!

Tsark writes the blues

5 November 2009 § 2 Comments

Nothing to do with the official Blizzard representative posting on the forums, of course. It’s just that… I’m being a bit frustrated with the game recently. In fact, mostly I’ve been frustrated with raiding – which has been my main interest in the game for most of my WoW time.

My raid group is awesome, and after a fairly intense period of drama in May-August, we have settled back and now are doing very well in terms of atmosphere. It’s not even that we are not getting anywhere: as I reported a couple of times before, we basically have managed to conquer all of the current content.

And yet…

Part of the problem is, of course, that I don’t like Trial of the Crusader. Farming an instance we like is painful enough – farming one we don’t like is downright masochistic. At the same time, I adore Ulduar: I find it the perfect combination of trash and bosses, a great balance between normal modes and hard modes, nice lore and beautiful art. So, while I enjoy farming the Siege and Antechamber on alts, so that we can then switch to our mains for Algalon, that’s still not enough. Alt runs are fun, but can also be an additional source of frustration when you wipe on bosses that you should really one-shot. Part of the reason I bring a healer to these alt runs is precisely because I don’t want to weigh the raid group down with my learning curve, once again. Not all of our raiders have the option to do that, though – and many of them prefer to bring other alts. So sometimes alt runs are a bit of a mixed bag too.

I actually think the major source of my frustration is the fact that we’re right at the edge of our skill. We’ve done the top achievements (Algalon and Insanity), but we cannot repeat them consistently. The way they are set up is also very unforgiving. Up until that point, a bad week for a raid group would mostly mean taking more time and attempts to down the bosses than the week before. Starting with the Zul’Aman bear runs, Blizzard introduced other limitations: a time limit in the bear runs, a similar time limit with Algalon, and a no-wipe clause for the Insanity chest.

When we managed to complete a successful bear run, back in May ’08, we repeated that every single week afterwards, until we had the necessary 11 bears to cover our raid. We missed one run, in total, and if memory servers it was the run when we got to the Lynx boss with 11 mins to spare, only to have the tank disconnect from the game, while still being on vent. Something had happened to the internet routing, and he could not manage to connect again – and the worst part was that he was still on vent with us, so it was pretty agonising. However, after that, not a single hitch – we kept getting better and better, and the runs kept getting easier and easier as we improved our gear (from the 25-man we were running at the same time), and we learned the ins and outs of that run better.

Nothing even remotely similar happened with Insanity or Algalon. We managed to get Insanity at the beginning of October. For the following 3 weeks, we didn’t even manage to get Mad Skills – we were getting trounced by Faction Champions and (in lesser measure) Jaraxxus. We then managed to get one more Mad Skills last week, but that was it. This week, again, a bad combo of Faction Champs really kicked our butt (and the fact we had only Mind Blast as a healing debuff didn’t make our task any easier).

On the Algalon front, we killed him two weeks ago for the first time –  on the last pull of the weekly hour. Last week we couldn’t manage to get the raiders for enough time to get the full hour on Algalon, and thus decided to take a week off from him. This week we went again, and we still had people dying to the same stuff as always: black holes, big banks, cosmic smashes… I can understand this case a bit more though: we only got him once, and we also need to expose two of our raiders to the encounter a bit more, as they weren’t there for the kill and, at least in one case, have missed some of our earlier attempts too.

That’s five cloaks we didn’t get, and five mounts, and 8 extra trophies – as well as two cloaks/rings from Algalon. It’s not even so much the loot though. I know full well that we’re going to get more loot in Icecrown (albeit the Insanity cloaks are still probably going to be competitive, given their ilvl), and most importantly, I always believed loot is a means, not an end – and I believe that most of the times I actually manage to act that way. But failing to achieve the same level of performance we managed at least once in the past still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – and this bitterness plus the dislike of ToC is probably what is causing me to feel a bit less enthusiastic about raiding than I used to.

My biggest worry is that my raiding group think I’m somehow angry or frustrated with them: I am frustrated, but they have nothing to do with it. In fact, I’m trying (if anything) to speak less precisely because I don’t want this frustration to seep through and make my comments any more cutting than they need (or intend) to be.

So, being the practical person that I am, how do I get out of this funk? From a raid point of view, I think we all need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and see how we can improve – especially on Faction Champs, which is really our biggest weakness (although today’s Anub’s attempts didn’t exactly fill me with confidence on our abilities there either). From a personal point of view, I’m spending more time on alts, even on a new alt on another realm (I wanted to try levelling a new character without the support and money of my current stable of alts – I’ll probably post something about my huntress soon). I’m also spending a bit more time outside of the game, to see if I really need to scale my involvement down a bit, or it’s just a passing phase. Icecrown Citadel sounds great, so I’m quite excited about that… and hopefully, that will also help.

I also have some plans for the blog, including my first ever RP post. In fact, I’m accumulating a long list of draft posts that I want to work on. Who knows, maybe this could be a good moment to really find out how well I write!

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