29/03/2020

Blizzard Polls People About Classic Burning Crusade

So Blizzard accidentally made it official that they are already working on a classic version of Burning Crusade by sending out a survey to players asking how they'd want it to work (and pleading with them to please not spill the beans about this on social media - how quaint). This is great news for me, considering that I've said before that BC is my favourite version of WoW and I'd be over on a Burning Crusade Classic server in a heartbeat! I also said in my "What Will Come After Classic?" post from before launch that I considered a continuation into Burning Crusade the most likely option, so I'm pleased to see my suspicions confirmed..

Now, the specific question that players were asked concerned the matter of how characters should arrive on Burning Crusade Classic servers, with the following options provided:

1) Continue playing my current Classic character on my existing server as it progresses to the Burning Crusade expansion, with the option to transfer to a Classic server that will never progress past level 60.

2) Continue playing my current Classic character on my existing server that will never progress past level 60, with the option to transfer to a Burning Crusade server.

3) Start a brand new character from level 58 on a new Burning Crusade server.

4) Start a brand new character from level 1 on a new Burning Crusade server.

5) None of the above.

One thing this does confirm is that the current version of WoW Classic isn't going anywhere. You'd think that shouldn't surprise anyone considering how the project was pitched originally, but I saw at least one YouTuber be very vocal recently about how "obviously" all classic servers would have to progress into Burning Crusade because you can't just "split the community".

He's not wrong that this will further split the community, but I can't say that I consider this a large problem. People used the same argument to make the case against having classic servers to begin with, and yet here we are. I suppose if you've genuinely never played an MMORPG other than WoW you might not know this, but you don't need ten million people playing the exact same version of the game as you to have fun; all it takes is enough of them to keep a couple of servers buzzing and you're golden.

Anyway, accepting that there will be another community split with this doesn't mean that it's not going to be important to consider how this occurs. The first two options in the survey are interesting that way because I hadn't really considered what a difference it would make to put the onus of transferring on either the people wanting to progress to BC or the ones wanting to remain in Classic. Basically whoever gets picked to be the default gets to retain their server community, guild structures etc. while those transferring off under this model would have to rebuild from scratch - they might even get thrown in with people from several different origin servers. (I saw someone comment on Reddit that they thought this would be a great opportunity for Blizzard to fix faction imbalances during the transfer process, which is another interesting consideration.)

The two options talking about brand new servers initially surprised me because they immediately seemed off to me - how can you have an authentic Burning Crusade launch experience without people having the option to take their existing characters to Outland? And while I get that some people hate levelling, why would anyone choose a fresh level 58 character over taking what they already have? Is there a large community of people who hate levelling, haven't touched Classic but would jump into Burning Crusade to go straight to Outland? It just seems weird to me.

That said, I thought it was notable that WoWcrendor pointed out that even if these options are unpopular, there isn't really much of a reason to not have at least one or two completely fresh servers for the people who like the idea, as it wouldn't conflict with allowing everyone else to transfer to other servers. It would certainly be an interesting experiment, probably creating a slightly different economy and more importantly, an environment where new blood elves and draenei would be on equal footing with everyone else.

The notable thing missing from the survey options is any talk about copying characters instead of transferring them, which would be my preferred way of handling the matter. While most people are unlikely to have the time to seriously play multiple versions of the game simultaneously, it would be nice to have the option to play either version of WoW Classic without having to completely start over. Plus, forcing people to choose between one or the other is simply going to be an uncomfortable decision, and it seems inevitable that there would be those who would later regret their choice. Why make things hard for players and risk making them unhappy if it's not needed?

The one risk I've seen people mention in regards to character copy is that someone could load up a character with lots of gold and valuables before transferring and that this would then imbalance the economy on the destination server. That's a fair point but one I'm sure could be worked around with restrictions if needed. Though my favourite suggestion in the linked Reddit thread was to simply copy the entire server wholesale once Burning Crusade is ready to launch, so that things like guilds are preserved, there are no economy shenanigans, and players can easily jump on one or the other without having to worry about keeping or losing characters.

Since it's still early days one can hope that Blizzard will consider something like this when we actually get there.

27/03/2020

Big Cats and Quests That Aren't

So it ended up taking me an extra four levels until my night elf hunter was able to afford her mount. I'd forgotten just how much I love nightsabers; they are so majestic. Unlike my taurens' kodos, whom I see as purely functional, I actually love watching my hunter ride along on her big new cat, especially with a smaller cat running alongside it. It's just a joy to watch. Now I only have to remember to actually mount up more often - turns out that simply throwing on Aspect of the Cheetah for 24 levels is a hard habit to shake.

As usual I'm really loving the fourties - circling between Stranglethorn Vale, Tanaris, Feralas and the Hinterlands is just good fun all around. One thing I found interesting to revisit and which I hadn't thought about in a long time were the hippogryph eggs in Feralas. It's an interesting mechanic that's kind of like a repeatable quest but not exactly.

Basically there is this gnome in Gadgetzan that has a couple of conversation options about hippogryphs in Feralas, how they are threatened by the Gordunni ogres and how she wants to preserve them by collecting their eggs. You may find yourself reading through these gossip options after another quest sends you to talk to this NPC, but she doesn't actually give you a quest for hippogryph eggs.

However, if you do find yourself in the mountains near the ogres in Feralas and you keep an eye out, you might find nests with eggs in them, and somehow you can stuff an egg that's almost as tall and twice as wide as your character into your backpack. (Though I guess the size might explain why it's labelled as unique and you can't carry more than one at a time.)

If you then return to the gnome in Tanaris, you can stick the egg into the machine next to her and it assigns the egg a quality (bad, ordinary, fine, or extraordinary). Based on the quality of the egg, she will then offer you a reward box. So like a quest really, but not using the usual language of floating exclamation marks and quest log entries.

There are a few of these in Classic (another one I can think of is the Shady Rest Inn - while there are a number of quests associated with it, there is a big "gap" in the middle where after being sent to Theramore and talking to various people there who bring it up, you need to actually find the place on your own and pick up the clues scattered around the area before being given more "proper" quests).

I do think these are pretty neat, and I quite like picking up another egg every time I'm in Feralas now. It also makes me wonder how I'd feel about playing an MMORPG where all the quests required more "discovery" like that instead of simply always being indicated by UI markers... (though chances are I'd not find it as intriguing and more tedious if it was just the default).

19/03/2020

Not Uldaman Likely

I've mentioned on this blog repeatedly that Uldaman is not one of my favourite instances. (I remember referring to it as "Ul-damn" among my group of friends back in the day.) But as the saying goes: absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after giving my little nelf hunter a break from instancing for more than ten levels (yep, I didn't even bother with Scarlet Monastery this time), I was actually starting to look forward even to Uldaman. It also helps that its proximity to Ironforge makes it a significantly more attractive destination for Alliance players than for Horde.

So when I saw someone LFM for Uldaman the other night, I jumped right in despite of being very much on the lower end of the level curve for it at level 42. (The last boss, Archaedas, is level 47.) Imagine my surprise when I realised that actually, nobody in our group was higher than level 43. I was in fact the highest level damage dealer, with the others sitting at 41 and 39 (!) respectively.

This is the sort of situation I think many people would have noped right out of, but I didn't mind because I was just happy to have got a group so quickly and I figured we'd just see how far we could get.

It was around the area with the troggs that we started to feel the strain in the sense that our healer had to take a mana break after pretty much every pull... but both the tank and healer were very much on the ball and kept performing admirably under pressure.

By the time we got to the stone constructs, things got really hairy as it has all these groups of one big elite and lots of weaker mobs and we didn't have any good AoE either (the other two dpsers were another hunter and a feral druid), so we had to slowly pick them off one at a time, putting even more strain on the tank and healer as every pull took for-freaking-ever. Yet still we persevered, and nobody died.

Eventually we reached the last boss, who showed as red for everyone due to the immense level difference. Thinking of the dps check involved to deal with the adds, I was not confident, even with the "pulling him to the upper level to slow the spawns" strategy, but we went ahead anyway, with both of us hunters being assigned to add killing to make up for the lower dps. (At level a single dps is usually enough to deal with them.)

And it was... epic! So much so that I felt the need to make a little video about it:



In a nutshell, the fight took about five minutes, as we plinked away at Archie's health really slowly (in the video I fast forwarded through the boring bit). Near the end when the two big adds came in everything went a bit manic and people started dying, but the tank and I managed to finish off the boss together, which fortunately caused the last adds to despawn. Happy days!

I'll certainly think twice before considering someone "too low" for Uldaman next time...

12/03/2020

Level 40 the 3rd

Well, who saw that coming? I certainly wouldn't have guessed, looking at my roster at the beginning of the year, that my third character to level 40 would be a brand new nelf hunter, but here we are. I'm just enjoying the solo experience as a hunter way too much, and playing as Alliance feels refreshingly different after focusing on Horde side for months.

I even remembered to take a ding shot:

This one doesn't have the money to buy a mount yet, but I decided not to fret about it this time. So instead of proudly showing off my new ride, have some random screenshots I took while levelling on Alliance side:

 
The very first screenshot I took of my hunter in the starting zone. It was raining so hard that night! Also, I really love the female night elf bow-drawing animation.
The night I made the run to Ironforge. I never realised how you can see the city's lights up on the mountainside at night.

 
Remember when the Titans were this big mystery from Azeroth's past instead of overused and annoying?
 
Ashenvale contains a fair number of ruins, but it didn't really hit me just how pompously those elves must have lived back in the day until I considered the sheer size of that half-buried statue.
There's this quest in the Wetlands that has you fighting cursed undead, and one of their abilities temporarily passes their curse on to you, turning you into an undead as well. To my great amusement this applies to pets as well, meaning that I ran around with a pet undead for a while. (And I guess it confirms that Spotty is a girl? Unless everyone gets turned into a female undead.)

Hunting at night on the Shimmering Flats. I've said it before but I'm astounded by how beautiful I find Thousand Needles in Classic, because I don't remember being particularly fond of it in Vanilla.

Always gotta keep your eyes open on the road through Duskwood, you never know when you'll run into Stitches!

Whenever I spotted him wreaking havoc in Darkshire, I sometimes decided to help out.

I noticed there's an impressive amount of yells associated with Stitches spawning as well. It's interesting and somewhat old-fashioned design if you think about it: There is no quest to kill him, he's just a really hard mob (for the level of the zone) that spawns when someone completes a certain quest and is basically like a cat set among the pigeons, making the road unsafe and killing lonely questers left and right if they aren't careful. Makes for a very memorable experience.

Stranglethorn can be quite beautiful when you take a break from killing wildlife and trolls every now and then.

Logging in one evening I was baffled to find such a crowd in Stormwind, considering the server's usual population levels. Turns out it was just before someone dropped Onyxia's head to give everyone a buff. There is a whole system to this where guilds take turns I think, everyone assembles just before the event to get buffed, then mages put up portals to take the big guilds away to raid and the city empties out again. Quite fascinating to watch.

The Hall of Explorers in Ironforge is such an RP place, with all those oddities on display, including plaques that you can actually read.

Looking out over the beauty of Loch Modan. Destroying that was one of those things I could never quite forgive Cataclysm.

Finally, a sunset over Theramore.

03/03/2020

Hunting in Warsong Gulch

When battlegrounds were added to Classic I mentioned that I might give Warsong Gulch "a try in one of the lower-level brackets if there are enough people queueing to keep wait times at a reasonable level". I was reminded of this resolution when my nelf hunter travelled through the Arathi Highlands and past the (currently still non-functional) Arathi Basin entrance.

As she was level 29 at the time, I decided to queue up for some WSG the next time I was in Ironforge. Being at the top of your level range is never a bad thing, and I thought I remembered hunters being pretty good in the lower level brackets.

My queue pops weren't quite instant, but close, and I played a total of four matches that day, three of which the Alliance lost. It was a pleasant enough nostalgia trip, reminding me of all kinds of details about the battleground that I hadn't thought about in ages (a speed buff spawns in that nook here, there's a gap in the fence over there etc.). I realised that I really liked the map and its music, and the experience also stirred some pleasant memories of playing with my rated battleground team back in Cataclysm.

Lowbie pugs have nothing like the co-ordination of a rated team of course, though considering the number of twinks on both teams, things were certainly more organised than they could have been. Each match lasted between 10 and 35 minutes, and the latter was a stark reminder of why I really didn't like this battleground much in its original incarnation: spending more than half an hour fighting just to lose anyway and end up with zero bonus honour doesn't make for the most fun of experiences.

That said, I have a knack for seeing the upside when evaluating the scoreboard at the end of the match. Sure, we lost horribly and only got four kills throughout the entire match, but at least I got the killing blow on all four of them! Or: Sure, we lost, but nobody died as many times as me - I win at dying!

(As an aside, I've come to the conclusion that this is because I'm the objective-orientated mirror image of "that guy who fights on the road" - note that I'm not saying "opposite": I have a tendency to blindly run towards the objective with no regards to my own safety, which is why I die a lot when things aren't going well. Not really that much smarter than road guy I guess, just a different kind of stupid.)

Anyway, my favourite thing that happened during all of these matches and which I just have to recount on here was when I hopped down from the graveyard, unsure of which way to head after just respawning, and a human mage beckoned me to come with him. The enemy was holed up in their base with our flag, and he thought that we could take them on. In fact, he had it all planned out as he explained to me in whispers: we'd both nuke the warrior who was carrying the flag, and he would take care of the warlock and priest that were guarding him by sheeping one and using his Gnomish Mind Control Cap on the other.

So we went into the tunnel together and up the ramp on the inside, where we ran straight into the warlock. My mage friend hit his magic button to mind-control him and... I got to watch his name turn red as the cap backfired and turned him into an enemy instead of turning the warlock into an ally. I died soon after but was laughing too hard to do anything useful anyway. It's these kinds of moments I play Classic for.

27/02/2020

Did somebody say... Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker?

I've previously talked about how I ended up being a social member of a raiding guild on my Horde characters in WoW Classic. I'll also be honest and admit that I have wondered occasionally whether I wouldn't be better off in a more casual levelling guild, especially after the friends that had originally rolled characters with me all quit and I was nothing but a lonely leveller in a guild of raiders. But inertia is a powerful force, and ever since I hit 60 I have occasionally benefitted from things like being invited to super smooth guild dungeon runs.

This Tuesday though was one of those evenings where being in a raiding guild definitely paid off.

You see, a couple of weeks ago the guild's main tank had acquired his second Binding of the Windseeker, meaning that he was now in possession of both of the rare drops from Molten Core needed to craft Thunderfury, Classic's legendary (in more than one way) sword.

It wasn't quite that straightforward though, as there are also a lot of expensive crafting materials involved, and those couldn't just be conjured on the spot. The tank didn't explicitly ask anyone to give him stuff, but he did comment that there were still a lot of Arcanite Bars to go and that he'd appreciate any help, so I instantly mailed him my three recently acquired Arcanite Crystals free of charge, even as a part of my brain was quietly screaming: "What are you doing? Those are worth like 150 gold and you still don't even have an epic mount!"

But things are just different in Classic. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a guild to get someone a Thunderfury. You just know this and take pride in being able to contribute, even as a social member.

After that I definitely wanted to be there for the final forging though, so I made sure to keep a close eye on the guild's Discord from then on, in order not to miss the point when material gathering was complete and the tank would want to assemble a raid to challenge Prince Thunderaan for his weapon (who is also a raid boss, if not a "proper" one, so you do need extra warm bodies to finish the quest).

And Tuesday night was the night! The note said that it was going to happen once the Molten Core pug organised by the guild was finished - fortunately the guild leader was streaming the run, so I opened the stream in a secondary tab to keep an eye on their progress while doing something else, and once they'd downed Raggy I logged back on my hunter and made a beeline for the Crystal Vale in Silithus.

I was so excited that I recorded the whole thing:



Even including time for summons and so on, the whole shebang was over in less than ten minutes, but that didn't make it any less memorable to me. It's just not an event that most players will take part in more than once, if ever, so I was happy to be there, kill a boss the size of a small tower and feel epic. It was definitely worth it too, and seeing everyone else's excitement and happiness for the tank just gave me warm fuzzies. What's not to love?

23/02/2020

Dungeon Milestones

Something that I've been thinking about while levelling my alts in Classic is just how important dungeons are to me, and have been ever since I first encountered them as a concept back in 2005. I mean, I've known for a long time that I like this sort of small group content, but I'd never really paused to think about just how much it influences the way I play, both in WoW and in other MMOs that I've played over the years and that have similar types of content.

To summarise it in a simple example: I can't imagine levelling an Alliance character and not taking them to the Deadmines around level 20. Running that place is just way too enjoyable and rewarding, so that while levelling any character through their teens the goal of "running the Deadmines" serves as a beacon for me the entire time: get x more levels from regular quests, start gathering up the various dungeon quests around level 18, then start looking for a group while doing some more regular quests in the area.

Then I rinse and repeat the whole process for every single dungeon in the game (more or less). In a way it makes me much more resilient against the drop-off in interest that many people seem to experience in the forties as quests become more sparse, as there's no lack of dungeons at any level range, always giving me something interesting to work towards.

You might wonder how well this system works in other MMOs that I don't already know inside out the way I do Classic - after all, I can't really use dungeons to plan my levelling when I don't know what dungeons there are, right? This is correct, but at the same time modern MMOs tend to make it much easier to get into this content than Classic does. Usually you can simply open a dedicated interface that will show you what group content is available at your level and you can just queue up for automated group formation, without having to spend time manually looking for a group or hunting down dungeon quests.

That said, my "obsession" with dungeons has its own pitfalls too. It's just a different sort of routine and has its own vulnerabilities to getting disrupted that can cause my progression to stall or even halt completely.

For example, many modern MMOs are designed around the idea that you don't actually need to do a lot of the available content to get to the level cap - which is fine in principle, but feels bad to me when the available "content chunks" don't slot into each other in an organic manner. For example I was not pleased when in post-Cataclysm WoW, basically doing any dungeon whatsoever would quickly cause you to outlevel whatever zone you were questing in, making it hard to meaningfully combine the two types of content. During my first stint in Neverwinter, one of the reasons I lost interest was that I accidentally outlevelled a skirmish while doing some quests, and there was no way of going back to see that content once you'd left the eligible level bracket. It may seem a bit silly to get upset over something like that, but the point is that it can really disrupt my flow and therefore lessen my enjoyment of the game.

Even in Classic itself I can run into issues when I feel that I "ought to" be doing a certain dungeon but it's hard to get a group for it for example. What got me thinking about this whole thing was that after doing BFD, the Stockades and Gnomer on my nelf hunter, I thought about Razorfen Kraul as my next potential destination and how hard it was going to be to find a group for that as Alliance - not to mention that I was enjoying a blast of nostalgia doing more or less all the quests in Ashenvale at the time. So I made the conscious decision to give myself "permission" to skip that one, and any later ones as well if I just don't feel like doing them at the time.

It does require a conscious effort for me to think like that though, because my default is simply to always make a beeline for the next piece of group content.