Friday, December 31, 2010

Three against... What?!

It was the night before New Year's Eve, when the Three Stooges took off again. With some fuzz with the contents of their bags they rummaged through the auction houses, banks, inns and stores of Stormwind, weeping for their trusty Northrend purples which had gone stale with the new, shiny greens of Cataclysm.

With much rage and crying they set their foot in Blackrock Caverns, the place they so fittingly died in the last time they were around.

"Off we go", claimed Laiskajaakko, as he entered the Cavern with Bishopgeorge. Without much ado he launched to the first caster mob, unaware of the fact that his brother had just exited the instance to show Förgelös, the middle one, where the Caverns entrance is.

Score: 1-0 for the instance.

Much rage and laughter commenced, as the three of them proceeded the instance. The first 'boss' with his lovely chains of appreciation caused the second death in the trio, when Bishopgeorge - instead of running straight - decided to run in circles around the feller. In the end, Laiskajaakko had only ten or so hit points left when the big bad boss went down, with all the cooldowns gone and potions chugged.

Score: 2-1 for the instance.

Onwards behind the shoulders of Raz the Insane or whatever his nickname was, and down the tunnel to Corla, that damned priest of the dark forces. The encounter is definitely done to humiliate us who want to have a real challenge in the instance, because it's quite impossible to complete at this level, with the dps available to the gear available. There just isn't enough dps to kill the beast beauty with the standard combination of the holy trinity: tank - dps - healer. I say standard, because none of us is a hybrid, nor do we have any pets to play with, pets which most of the time bring another party member to the foray, really.

Naturally it was a wipe. Twice even, even though we tried to rotate the one standing in the light ("Don't look into the light!").

Score: 8-1 for the instance.

"The heck with it", decided Bishopgeorge, and as the group leader put us into the LFD. Which, amazingly enough, filled the group before we got back from the spirit healer. (Ok, well, almost.)

And the instance was a breeze. The only problem was the fact that Laiskajaakko had never been in the instance before, so every boss was a new experience. There were wipes and deaths, but in the end the final verdict was that the instance was easy but designed so that it would be a real challenge for the three of us at anytime soon.

Score: 20 - 6, for the instance.

After which it was time to recuperate in the gentle care of Stormwind. Over the instance run there was next to no chat, no help, no advice from the two extra members, even though they had been in there several times. Laiskajaakko had to ask for guidance in Corla (ok, so the debuff's wear off, thank you) and that furnace master feller (now I know I have to drag him through the lava, thank you for telling that to me after the first wipe even though I asked). Without the constant chit-chat over the vent among the three of us, the instance experience would have been very, very shallow and dry.

Due to the fact that you have to know where the entrance is, the three decided that it was time for Bishopgeorge and Förgelös to gain their Sea Legs and Sea Horse. They went for the boat, stood on the same pier, but couldn't see each other: the glorious side effect of the phasing system. Upon reaching Vashj'ir the two landlubbers started doing the quests as planned, while Laiskajaakko did some mining and monster bashing, granting the two 'off-phased' brothers some extra experience. Which was nice and everyone was joyous.

Long story short, the three rode into the Throne of the Tides and engaged the first boss in there. That Nazga or what her name is. Anyhow, we got our behinds handed to us in a very grand and typical manner, as Bishopgeorge missed the healing que while yawning loudly, wiping first Laiskajaakko (Heals, please, Hello!) then Förgelös (Could we really have some heals here, please?!) in rapid succession. The only excuse was... "hmmmh... aye, that was partly the fault of the player, partly... hmmh..."

So we called it a night.

Förgelös put it nicely, and I have to agree with him on every word. You see, he said: "Despite everything Copra/Laiskajaakko claims and writes in his blog, one has to admit that the developers at Blizzard have really put some effort to the new areas and instances. So much so that you can really see that the polish isn't just skin deep."

Like I said, agreed. And I have never denied that WoW is extremely well done, polished and completed with great care.

It's good to end the blogging year with these warm words and wish all of you readers a very nice New Year.

C out

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On challenge in WoW

I've mentioned already this week that there seems to be less and less challenge in the game, especially Cataclysm has taken majority of the solo game challenges off. The railroaded themepark questlines are so secure and sure to guide new player through the 1-60 to the great unknown, unchanged Outlands which stands suspended in time out there.

At no particular point there is any considerable challenge presented to the player, not even the 15-50 instances provide any meaningful challenge to the groups at that level due to the fact that the players mostly overgear the content. I've also noticed that there are usually one or two characters in a random group at the 45-55 range (at least) who are either a couple of levels higher or lower than the rest. This in turn means that the ones lower get carried through and the ones higher get to carry the rest.


There are challenges in WoW later on, and a quite huge amount of them, really. Let's list some of them for discussion:

  1. Run only LFD PUGs and not lose your temper at all.
  2. Endure a jerk in a random LFD group.
  3. Gear up after getting into level cap.
  4. Gear up for raiding, even though it is now possible both by doing heroics AND normals.
  5. Find the right strategy guide and accompanying videos to heroics and raid instances.
  6. Learn the instances by heart before committing to them, see 4.
  7. Learn the raids by heart before committing to them, see 4.
  8. Play some minigame while waiting for a random group and beating yourself every time, unless you are blessed with a guild running at the same level and progression.
  9. Do not leave a group in an instance in which no-one understands the basics of crowd control at all. This applies to the instances from Dire Maul onwards, really, only to be forgotten in Outlands.
  10. Level outside the pre-planned storyline.
  11. Level without killing anything.
As you can see, learning to play your class isn't included. Naturally. That is not a challenge, that means only that by going through the quests and questlines you should have learned everything there is to learn. At level cap you should be a master already, even though it takes 10.000 hours to master anything

We all know it doesn't take 10 000 hours to level from 1 to 85 anymore, though...

Anything else I forgot to mention as a challenging thing in WoW?

C out

PS. I know a certain German reader who will point out that 'to have fun' would be one, but I doubt I wouldn't be playing the game still if I didn't have at least some kind of fun with it, right?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not at all!

I admit, the lasts few posts have been the same old me again: complaints and critiques of the game as it appears to me. This post is supposed to be something completely different. Not at all like the previous ones.

First of all, my first contact with the Shattering was in fact a new alt, an Undead Hunter with whom I blasted to level 18 I think. What a joyous ride that was! The quests flow from the beginning in such a way that you are really 'living up' a story of an up and coming hero rather than one of the guys at the cemetery, like it earlier seemed to be. The phasing provides a pull which is otherwise impossible to achieve and you really see the world change from a scene to scene.

After playing the worgen and goblin starter areas and seeing the gnome starter, I can say that the beginning player's starting experience has been streamlined and polished to the extreme. The only pitfall in this is the possibility that the starter areas are lacking the challenge one would expect to see in a world torn by constant war and strife.

But the biggest fun came later on with the Undead: there is this particular quest at the border of Silverpine Forrest and Hillsbrad area, where you get to be the questgiver. And you get to had three quests to three different kinds of characters. No more spoilers, but this quest was the first time in the game where I laughed with tears in my eyes to a scripted event. And the follow ups with the questees later on were a cracker, too, but not the way the original quest would have suggested...

At the high end levelling areas one cannot be but amazed of the quality, continuity and flow of the story itself, and contrary to what Blizzard said about quest hubs (something like "players want to see their minimap blinking with yellow exclamation marks"), they condensed the hubs instead: only few quests usually doable in the same area and at the same time, continuing the story or two simultaneously only to be finalized in a sort of climatic encounter before leaving for the next area. Well, the same worked in the new revamped 1-60 quests, too, but in the end levels it's even more profound.

What really warmed up my cold heart was the fact that the crafted gear is again worth a thought: even the first BoE gear which is craftable by a blacksmith are worth the while. I replaced WotLK purples with the first three pieces I could do and without a single doubt! I haven't checked the other crafts yet, but I bet that the tailors have the same situation at their hands as soon as they get enough cloth in their hands. I can only hope that this continues to the cap, because it would seem a waste to be subjected to the instance and point gear only.

In saying that Blizzard provided more of the same you would be making an underestimation: they provided even more of the same, but with some very innovative approaches. However, in railroading the play experience the game has taken quite a few steps towards the massive multiplayer solo game, and by doing that the group content will suffer the most in the end: people just do not know how to cope with the group content, blasting away with the ways they have learned while soloing. Then again, one of the nifty little things Blizzard provided the players with are the progressing quest chains: you get both experience and the next quest of the chain on the fly, and these combined with the instance create a very, very interesting concept. The same system has been used in the wilds where you may find a quest while doing another (triggered by random kill or an area like a cavern) which liven up the questing itself, giving you the illusion of free form or sandbox quests.

If we think of Cataclysm from the newcomers point of view, then the overall experience has improved to cater the complete noob in a fantasy game: it provides interaction, specified and achievable quest targets and guides and ushers you onwards with the story and out into the world. The ongoing storylines really push you beyond the earlier level 10 barrier Blizzard reported, as they continue way beyond that limit.

So from the newcomers point of view, Cataclysm made WoW even better.

For the veteran quester who has seen the content up to WotLK the new levelling experience is a refreshing change to the old one, providing new insight into some quest types and using phasing as a real tool in advancing the story. Also the fact that you have to find the instances in real before you can queue to them via the Dungeon Finder is a refreshing thing, and urges people either to go through the quest lines in the area to reach the conclusion in the instance or to explore the area to find the entrance. As I haven't reached the cap yet (only lv83) I cannot say what changes in there, but I expect it will be even more of the same as it was in WotLK, causing me to turn my face on working with my alts.

All in all, Cataclysm turned WoW into a roller coaster which urges you to go by the numbers. It's not a bad thing considering the changing customer base, but it's not exactly what the genre requires to improve as whole. I for one am having the feeling that by streamlining the system Blizzard has gotten rid of the danger and challenge in questing, and for me it is not enough to have that sense of challenge in the heroic instances alone.

So for the next time I would love to see some sense of challenge, possibility to fail even if you do your best and more emphasis on group content. By this I'm not saying that the instance content is bad, quite the opposite: the instances I've been so far are top notch and entertaining, the bosses are different and have various mechanics and all. But the change from WotLK facerolling with AoE damage to the crowd control required style seems to be too abrupt for the majority of the players and the questing and levelling content doesn't help the players to understand this change.

Was that pep enough for a change?

C out

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No sandbox

I have been wondering the same thing over and over, especially now as I have tried to start a total pacifist project. How WoW actually guides, ushers and urges us players to do things in certain ways.

The actual social tools are adequate at best, and the game mechanics teach us from the first level on to mind our own business, solo everything we encounter and kill all sorts of creatures to advance. Later on we're taught to steal from inns (look at the Dalaran cooking quests!), that torturing is ok if someone else says it's ok (Kirin Tor quest in Northrend) and so on. Even the Heroics late in WotLK taught us that it's ok to be a jerk as long as the mobs die.

Now the issue I'm having at the moment is the fact that the game requires us to kill, maim and destroy from the beginning. You cannot start a worgen without going through the worgen starter area, which requires you to kill in the second quest. And you cannot skip any quests or you get stuck with the starter Gilneas for good. It's like an island, ending in digital void all around. I have pictures to show that, maybe I'll enter them in here later on.

So I started another 'new' class combo: gnome priest. And guess what?

The first quest is to kill 6 deranged gnomes. You cannot skip that quest, but at least you can get out of Gnomeregan to the Real World by just skipping all the starter quests. But then you are gimped from the beginning: the quests out there start from level 2 or 3, so you are out there with your lv1 toon, fiddling your fingers.

So I've been running around the world and I've been able to get to level 3 by now, with much more played time than you'd require for the normal level 5. And the worst thing? As I haven't been able to do more quests than the few delivery quests, I don't have any money to purchase herbalism which would be both an experience source and money maker.

WoW definitely is no sandbox game to pass your time. Everything you want to do outside the theme park box gets you in deep end of the pond and there is no real light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe I should transfer some gold from my banker to this toon to get going?

C out

Monday, December 27, 2010

I don't have the guts

Christmas came and went: now we're trying to suffer the rest of the fabulous food that we just couldn't eat up. Oh, yes, and I'm back at work, filing things.

The little time I spent playing went to doing some secondary things, like working on AH, starting a non-violent pacifist gnome priest and levelling some unnecessary tradeskills on my secondary toon, my spriest. I have been deliberately avoiding taking my warrior out of the closet, because I am confused, scared and mixed up with the tanking in the new instances.

I just do not have the guts to take up on a PUG to run the instances.

The reason is the same as it was with the WotLK endgame instances and taking up on raiding: I fear that I'm not good enough to do it and that I ruin the evening - or the instance - for the rest of the group whom I will never meet again.

The change in the way how tanking goes changed quite a bit, at least in my book. The last few heroics after the Shattering (before Cataclysm hit) really showed me that I just couldn't handle several rampant mobs at a time: to let one pass is two misses too many for me. When I'm tanking I want to have things under control, and nothing should go past my presence. "Thou shall not pass!"

But... the run with the Stooges and my two PUG's with my shadow priests showed me that even though the instances are pretty simple - especially the trash mobs - I can't expect to keep all the threat on me all the time. Blackrock Caverns was pretty simple but the Three Stooges will have hard time with the encounters later on where one has to be tied to the beam, you know what I mean. But as a tank in a PUG... not my bowl of porridge. Throne of the Tides is even worse, as some of the boss encounters evolve around the idea of multiple mobs spawning around the area: the group - which was two-three levels higher than my spriest, but I still scored the second highest dps... - wiped twice due to mismanaged aggro and lack of attention from the druid tank. Knowing the lack of area threat generation of a protection warrior, I can't see myself enjoying the red Threat Plates on my screen alongside the screams of agony from the group members. And accusations after that.

Oh, I know. There is this group of people who say that because you are in a guild you shouldn't have to PUG at all. Sadly the majority - read all - of the active guild are at the cap already, running heroic modes: knowing how nice it was to go through the same instance time and again, there is bound to be next to no interest to return to the normals after gaining the option to run a heroic. I'm assuming this and I doubt I'm too much off with this.

So, I'll just level up by questing which is nice. With the current rate of advancement I'll be off the boat once again.

Only because I don't have the guts to ruin others day by messing around in my tanking.

C out

Friday, December 17, 2010

Three rode to Mt. Hyjal and found themselves in Blackrock Mountain

Oh, well. Back to business. The three stooges nights are the highlights of my WoW playing, definitely, even though last week started to look like something that was not too appealing. Questing among thousand others, trying to steal kills and bosses and just trying to be the fastest in a mini-instance - or elemental realm or whatever they are - to get the quests done.

Last night started as one such thing. Questing among not-so-friendly competitors. The darn hurry rubs on very fast, especially after you try to kill ten foozles and notice that someone picks them up with a dot just before you charge into them.

I was ready to kill after two such quests. Add to that the fact that at least three Obsidian nodes were stolen from me as I was fighting the mob guarding it.

Then we got to the same mini-instance and the recognition was immediate. The instance was a tribute to ancient game called Joust, with wing flapping and awkward 3d movement with a bird that really couldn't decide whether it was a brick or a sparrow.

It took a while to get the hang of the controls, but in the end it was pretty fun, actually. Though I still think that Joust was much better in it's 2d design than this 3d version of it. Still it was a nice tribute to one of the old arcade games.

At which point Förgelös, our resident rogue, started pestering us with the quest to enter the Blackrock Spire. Heedless to that we plunged into the questlines involving the Inferno area, and soon noticed that all three of us were cursing the quests to kill, collect and escort small furry things from the blazing Inferno to safety. Grumbling and mumbling filled our Vent channel as we worked to finish the hippie themed quests of the area: the only one which was fun was the last one, in which you saved bear cubbies by tossing them down from trees to a trampoline... go figure!

And off we went to the Blackrock. After some misplaced hearths and travelling, we found the new instance. Without much thinking we plunged in, head first as usual, not noticing that it really WAS an instance.

Few seconds later all toons were dead and three of us laughing the earlier frustration off.

After almost completing the instance we came to the conclusion that this was what we needed: to be against unbearable odds, chain-dying in places where everyone went dancing through. Not the over-dumbed down quest chains which were way too easy and simple even compared to the ones presented in the beginning of Northrend area.

Short note on the warrior side: you can say anything about levelling as protection, but the fact is that it hasn't gotten any better. I switched to the arms spec I had without changing any gear and I killed mobs in half the time. The only difference was that in protection I didn't get any damage from normal equal level mobs, but then again, who would bother? With arms I was running from a mob to another, combat healing on the run.

And the gear is clearly aimed for the dps side of the specs. Already replaced my chest and shield with way better greens than what I had in IC purple. Gearwise Förgelös was the lucky-duck in the group: everything changed from the earlier and he is now the one with the highest gear score of the group.

With new daggers and all.

The night was a success. The Three Stooges are riding again.

C out

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sad long silence


I had almost forgotten I had a blog. All this due to a couple of weeks of travelling due to work related things, then being hyperactive in RL and finally getting a new computer - which was broken to begin with - to cut my actual play time in shreds.

And then the ultimate waste of time, Cataclysm.

Of course I had to try everything. Worgen, goblin, undead hunter, Vash'jir, Hyjal.

First things first. I started a long time 'dream class' of mine before the Shattering hit: Undead Hunter. And I admit, hunter is the face rolling machine to level. The experience is spoiled only by the fact that the starter area has been reduced to a no fun hand holding guidance, even though the quests themselves have been linked up into a better flow of the story. This is where Blizzard has really made the most improvement: the story of the character really flows and you are moved from one part to another when needed. No more the minimap is full of stars exclamation marks, but only few which you can do at the same area. And the real treat of the undead story progression comes when you are leaving the Silverpine Forrest. The quest in which you are being put into the place of a quest giver. I have never laughed as much while playing the game, except when we're really wiping with my brothers. If you do not want to play an undead, do yourself a favour and play this far. And a bit further, as the story continues later on...

Cataclysm came and it was time to see the levelling areas. Vash'jir and Hyjal at the second wave of levellers == not fun. Everyone and their cousins have this urge to get to the cap as fast as possible, as if they were afraid that they might start liking the quests, stories and the deep - and quite often - fun lore of it all. The main gripes of the whole charade is the fact that the quests, especially the most interesting ones, are designed for single player, only to be raped by hundred player characters simultaneously. Kill stealing and other obnoxious and anti-social traits rule the areas, when people just tag a mob and let others kill them. Or just pick the collectable stuff while you are killing the mob guarding it.

So I have dropped it. I'm not in such a hurry to the cap even though the guild is most certainly about to start the first 'raids' soon. We will have the next expansion in what, two and odd years, so why hurry to the end and be bored with no content?

Goblin starter area screams for comment: played it and didn't like it. It just doesn't fit my mindframe, it's too 'contemporary' and it overdoes the pop-cult references abundantly. Just my bowl of porridge there.

But the worgen starter area. Goodness gracious! Everything seems to fit the story in here. And the game: the werewolf people fits the overall game like no other of the added races ever. The story is just as grim and gloomy as you could expect, the only thing that left me cold was the actual voice acting. It just sounds so off from the british accent you expect that it isn't even funny. One could have expected Blizzard to put as much effort to it as they have put on everything else in the game, to make the Victorian setting sound as one (or as we see it through Hammer Studios movies and Sherlock Holmes' interpretations) as possible.

The only thing I regret about the expansion so far is the fact that my dream of levelling up a worgen druid who would kill nothing to the cap has been shattered by the fact that you cannot get a worgen out of the Gilneas without killing a wild worgen or two. Or at least as many as the quests require, add a few scourge in the mix. This was confirmed by a GM who helped my character to respawn after I had explored the whole area available for play the other night, when I noticed that everything was phased, there were no creatures (save spiders and stags) in the area and even the trees were absent. And the world ended in a shining, transparent wall beyond which there was nothing towards Hillsbrad and only a bottomless crevasse towards Silverpine. Even Shadowfang Keep was absent from the area around Wall of Gilneas!

So this is what I've been doing for the last few weeks. Thanks to the people in The Wild Hunt, I have forgotten my calling to write: you know who you are.

Maybe it is now safe to try the levelling areas again. Off to Hyjal with the Three Stooges again!

C out