30/04/2016

Casual Vanilla Endgame

People sometimes say that there was nothing to do in Vanilla WoW at level 60 except raiding. This is not true, but I think the reason people believe this is mainly that they don't understand or remember just how different Vanilla WoW was to current WoW. Mainly, there are two points to consider: Firstly, while it's true that the very best gear in the game generally came from raiding, upgrades were gradual and felt rewarding every step of the way, so just improving your gear via quests and dungeons could keep you busy and felt satisfying for quite a long time, even if you never got best in slot. Secondly, many activities that made up endgame in Vanilla still exist in WoW today but just wouldn't be considered endgame because they take little to no time these days.

Questing

First off, there's simple questing. I mentioned that I hit 60 in Winterspring, but there were still quests to do there, and I still haven't even been to Silithus except to pick up the flight path there. The last time I played retail WoW, in late Mists of Pandaria, I ran dailies with my pet tank there, and we could knock out a daily hub in five to ten minutes. In light of that, the idea of regular, non-repeatable quests keeping you busy and engaged for long enough to count as "endgame" seems kind of bizarre, but it's true. With combat taking so much longer as well as travel and other obstacles in the way, just working on clearing out your quest log could keep a casual player busy for weeks. At the same time it was worth doing not just to learn more about the world, but also to earn money. In a time when inflation has run rampant in retail, to the point where it's not unusual for people to trade in hundreds of thousands of gold, it's hard to remember a time when every piece of gold was precious and required hard work. Some classes also had interesting and unique class quests to pursue at level 60.

Reputations

Reputations in Vanilla mainly meant grinding, which I'm not necessarily a fan of, but as one option of many it absolutely has its place. Right now for example I'm working on my reputation with the Timbermaw, which kind of ties in with the first point as I have two quest items in my bags that I won't be able to hand in until I've reached at least neutral with them. It's slow-going and the last time I checked I still needed to kill over 150 furbolgs to reach my goal, but the nice thing about grinding is that you can do as little or as much of it as you like, at any time. Personally I've settled on simply doing one round through the Deadwood camp whenever I'm landing at the nearby Alliance flight point, and I'll get there when I get there.

Earning Money

Both of the above will earn you money as you go along, but it can also be a goal by itself, for example by going out to collect crafting materials which you can then sell on the auction house. Everyone dreams of having an epic mount one day, but a thousand gold was a lot of money in those days and took some work.

Professions

I've written about my epic journey to becoming an armorsmith, but of course levelling my blacksmithing hasn't ended there. I'm currently sitting on a skill of 278, and with every skill-up requiring more than twenty thorium bars, it's slow going. However, every single item I craft is actually useful and I can sell it (even if the profit isn't great). I haven't focused on it specifically, but I do mine thorium everywhere I see it and so keep chipping away at that skill bar slowly but surely. Likewise, all the other crafting professions and even the secondary professions all have specific requirements to get them maxed out that aren't as simple as loading up your bags with mats and going AFK at the forge.

Alterac Valley

Even if you're generally not a PvPer, Alterac Valley weekends are a chance to hop in and engage in some casual PvP even if it's not usually your cup of tea. There are some nice gear rewards to be had, and if your urge for PvE is too strong, there are also PvE quests to be done in the Valley. With the large number of people participating and the battleground being accessible from level 51, it's simply accepted that not everyone will make a meaningful contribution to the actual battle, so feel free to have fun your own way. Personally I was in an AV match today that lasted two hours and 41 minutes (I was there for the entire duration)... let's just say: it was certainly an experience.

Dungeons

And finally... should you be able and willing to take the step up, there were of course the five-man dungeons. While their length made them less casual-friendly than dungeons in WoW are today, even a casual player should be able to make it at least into the occasional dungeon run. Apart from gear there is also a lot to see here: There's Blackrock Depths (which nobody really runs in its entirety in one go, so it will probably take you several runs just to see all the bosses), Scholomance (which has the added complication of requiring a key), Stratholme live and undead, and the three wings of Dire Maul, all asking you to come back repeatedly, not just for gear drops but also to unlock more stories.

24/04/2016

Nostalgia and Other Reasons to Play Vanilla

First off, let me direct you to this excellent article by Bree from Massively Overpowered on what is and isn't nostalgia.

I started playing on Kronos due to nostalgia, there's no doubt about it. I just wanted to see old Azeroth again. But as the above article says, nostalgia isn't what keeps you around. I stayed because I was actually having fun again.

In fact, too much nostalgia is probably a bad thing. I'm pretty sure it's a major reason I haven't really gotten into playing my priest alt. Playing her reminds me way too much of the aspects of my original WoW experience that I can't really recreate: being a student with seemingly endless amounts of free time, having friends that levelled with me the entire time, the fun we had together.

In hindsight I think that recreating my pally instead was definitely a very good choice. Since she never got very far in retail, playing her hasn't so much been an attempt to relive the past as a trip to an alternate universe where I never re-rolled night elf. How would things have gone if I had continued to level as a human paladin? Well, now I can at least find out what the game would have had in store for me...

As I said, levelling has been fun again. Even though old Azeroth isn't new to me anymore, there were many things that I'd forgotten. I love just how "worldly" everything feels. I used to find those quests annoying that send you all over the place, but it just feels more natural now that I've seen the alternative. Sure, in some ways it is annoying when the quest giver in Booty Bay sends you all the way up to Dalaran just to talk to a mage, but it's at least equally nonsensical when everyone and everything needed to solve an issue has been within a one hundred metre radius the entire time but nobody thought of talking to the guy over there or picking up that box from around the corner until you arrived.

The longer-lasting fights out in the world highlight the strengths and weaknesses of different mob types vs. different classes, while the higher mob density and increased danger posed by enemies in general force you to pay attention to your environment. You spend enough time in each zone to learn all its ins and outs and get opportunities to meet people. Professions require work and gaining stats is meaningful. When you get a buff or a new gear piece, you can really feel the difference in power it makes! Everything just flows together to create a great experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that some people, even among those who play on private servers, think that Vanilla levelling was crap.

Just one example I saw on YouTube. Click to enlarge and read.

My first reaction the first time I saw someone state this in chat was one of shouting "Blasphemy!", but this was soon replaced by intrigue. If they don't like the levelling, what other reasons do people have to love Vanilla? I certainly can't think of any from personal experience, as I didn't engage in much PvP or endgame PvE myself back in 2006.

One thing that surprised me is that apparently there is a considerably-sized community that loves and misses Vanilla's 20- and 40-man raiding. Kronos has a built-in boss kill tracker... just look at all those bosses being killed in real time, and that number is only going to go up once all the Nost refugees level up! It's funny because more recently large group raiding like this has earned a bad reputation, and a lot of Wildstar's troubles to retain players for example were blamed on its attempts to revive 40-man raiding. After seeing how things go down on Kronos, I'm confident in saying that the inclusion of 40-man raids by itself can't have been the game's issue. Hell, I'm willing to bet there are more people doing 40-man raids on private Vanilla WoW servers than in Wildstar even now. Why? Well, this video from Preach Gaming gives five reasons why the format was and is beloved by many:



(In fairness, he also has a video called "Top 5 Reasons 40 Man Raiding Sucked", showing the other side of the coin.)

Finally, there is PvP, which surprised me even more, because while I've seen a fair amount of negative comments about 40-man raiding, I've met even fewer people who had anything good to say about Vanilla's PvP. Classes weren't balanced, gear wasn't balanced, the grind for PvP ranks was only good for no-lifers. And who really misses Warsong Gulch matches that lasted forever?

Well, apparently there are a fair amount of people who do miss Vanilla PvP. While there are purists who say that world PvP died the moment battlegrounds were introduced, most will agree that it was generally still a thing at least on a smaller scale until flying was introduced. I reckon that few would admit it, but I think a lot of people also liked the imbalances, which is why so many Vanilla servers are flooded with warriors, mages and rogues. If your goal is to pwn noobs, being able to get an advantage right from the point of character creation is appealing. Put in a slightly less inflammatory manner to PvPers: they liked that not everyone was equal, that making the right choices and putting in extra work was very rewarding in terms of the advantages it gave you. To quote player Aieris from a thread on the Kronos forums on the subject:

You are realy [sic] rewarded for your grind effort. I (as rogue) was useless in PvP without any preparation. Blind/Vanish 5min CD and then what? Kited like hell. Then i farmed Thistle Tea, Free Action Potions, Engineering, trinkets and it got far more better.

Other reasons I've seen cited by people loving Vanilla's PvP are: gear being the same in PvE and PvP (meaning that it was easier to move between the two game modes and made the individual gear pieces more valuable), long AV matches feeling epic (personally I haven't experienced anything like that even on Kronos; I think it required people to be less knowledgeable about what they were doing than they are now, therefore causing the game to stall), and the classes' limitations making combat more straightforward (e.g. not everyone having an interrupt, heals or whatever).

Overall, this has really driven home the point for me that Vanilla WoW managed to offer an experience that appealed to different groups of people for very different reasons, even if there are certain common threads running through the whole thing (such as the need for greater investment being rewarded and getting to know people more naturally during gameplay). Everyone had their parts that they didn't like or at least didn't care about, but what they did like they loved so much that tolerating the downsides was worth it. It's noteworthy that this goes counter to the attitude that gets promoted more recently, that MMOs should just focus on their particular niche and cater solely to that audience.

Yes, things were different ten years ago. But it's remarkable how much of it still works.

17/04/2016

Refugee Crisis

The Nostalrius shutdown continues to make waves.

Kronos got absolutely swamped with refugees. To some degree, this was to be expected, but in practice it's still been awe-inspiring. I think that previously the server had been averaging slightly more than one thousand concurrent users each day, which multiplied by several factors overnight. The server admins have been doing overtime to make sure that both hard- and software could handle the stress, but nonetheless it's been a disruptive experience for the existing community, and not just because there were sudden queues and the /who command is now limited to the first fifty results like it used to be on retail instead of showing you the entire server pop.

Former Nostalrius players have been accused of lowering the quality of world chat (which is doubtful, considering the depths to which Kronos players were able to sink entirely on their own) and there was a sudden and to me very confusing rise of xenophobia in regards to Chinese players. Some players are just crabby with the newcomers because of the former rivalry between the two servers and remembering things like Nost players rolling alts on Kronos just to troll world chat with accusations of how dead our server was (which is highly ironic in hindsight). Others just enjoyed the lower population, especially since it made the PvP aspect less aggravating. I can understand that one, but as far as everything else goes, I think we'll just have to get over it. Let's focus on the fact that we're all here for the same reason - enjoying a version of the game that's otherwise not available anymore.

The story of the Nost shutdown was big enough that it even spilled over into mainstream media - check out this article on the BBC! And of course blogs and YouTube videos have been alight with discussion. Even Nils crawled out of whatever hole he had been hiding in to suddenly comment on the subject of Vanilla WoW. I've been kind of delighted with how many positive reactions there have been in favour of the concept of Vanilla servers, if for no other reason that my tastes rarely seem to overlap with the mainstream anymore and it's kind of cool to see other people also like something that I've already been enjoying for a while. Of course from Blizzard's point of view, it must seem like their move to get Nostalrius shut down has backfired at least in the short term, as it has provided private servers with more positive publicity than they ever could have hoped for.

Of course, not everything that people have contributed on the subject has been useful. Some have used the whole thing as just another excuse to rant extensively about everything that annoys them about Blizzard and current WoW, which I can understand but doesn't really contribute anything new. On the other side we've had hardcore denialists insist that anyone who enjoys Vanilla WoW more than the current iteration is just deluding themselves and stuck in the past (you better not enjoy anything that was created more than ten years ago). And of course there's been the argument that since private servers are illegal, that should be the end of the discussion, which is simply self-defeating - laws are made by people and can be changed. I certainly think that MMOs with their malleable nature could be used to question certain aspects of copyright law.

Either way, while the whole thing has been interesting to watch, I can't say that I feel very strongly about the subject from a personal point of view. If Kronos were to shut down tomorrow, I'd just spend that extra time on other games again - I've had my fun and no regrets. Would I play on an official Blizzard Vanilla server? Hell yeah, but I still don't think it's likely to happen as the whole concept just doesn't mesh with their business philosophy. For now I'm just curious to see what sort of other effects the drastic population increase will have on Kronos.

11/04/2016

Level 60 Ding!

I actually meant to post this a few days ago, but decided to postpone it due to the Nostalrius drama being more topical. I hit level 60 on Kronos!

The crucial moment came when I handed in some quests to Donova Snowden in Winterspring. An orc hunter stood by and cheered for me, then put me into an ice trap and ran off. It amused me. Of course, as soon as I tried to continue towards the next nearest quest giver, I got killed by an undead rogue. Oh well, just can't trust those Horde players.

Here's my /played time as a newly minted level 60:

There are still a lot of things to do and a lot of things to say about the Vanilla experience, but for now I'm simply happy to have achieved this goal and shall leave you with some more screenshots from my levelling experience.

The Corporal Keeshan escort quest teaches Alliance players early on that escorting NPCs is a pain in the butt (and that grouping up is beneficial).

It was nice to see this nice quotable scene "live" again.

In general, Vanilla made it preferable to travel on the roads because it was much safer than going cross-country. Except when it wasn't.

I always liked going to Stormwind Keep and finding someone else in the middle of revealing Onyxia's true identity.

 
Re-reading this gave me goosebumps. Some quests in Vanilla were seriously creepy and sad.

Speaking of safety on roads and in towns...

I don't think many people do a lot of fishing while levelling up. I did.

That moment when finding a blue BoE was the most exciting thing ever.

Old Dalaran! I remember being absolutely mesmerised by this big purple bubble back in the day, and it still fascinated me upon revisiting it.

I loved having the old Thousand Needles back. The post-Cata version isn't bad, just... meh.

This just amused me.

Another very quotable dungeon boss.

The one quality of life issue that frequently annoys me: that trying to do anything while mounted (take a flightpath, attack something) won't dismount you automatically.

Learning how to become an expert in First Aid.

Still an epic moment.

Oh the grief this quest caused me! But eventually I got there. I also loved just watching our footprints in the sand.

In comparison, this escort quest was both funnier and much easier.

Isadora's first Alterac Valley was mostly a lot of riding around and dying quickly.

When <Bohemia> announced that they were about to place Onyxia's head on the gates, I (and others) ran over to witness it because it gives a nice buff. Just another one of those small community touches.

One of the more frequent, if harmless, glitches on Kronos is that mobs love to get stuck in or on trees.

Saving Sharpbeak stood out as one of the few quests that wasn't properly scripted on Kronos - upon completion poor Sharpie just keeps lying in his cage! Poor thing.

I remember seeing this glitch back in Vanilla. It's entertaining that even that gets reproduced on a private server.

  
Proving the old adage that the better the gear, the more ridiculous it looks. I'm actually wearing a shirt underneath, but since it's dirty white it doesn't really help much...
The 7x XP event led to a noticeable rise in multiboxers levelling alts.
After what they did with the place in Cata, it was sobering to see the old Light's Hope Chapel again. It's hardly what you'd call a beacon of hope, just another stop in an incredibly dreary endgame zone. Needs more light!

07/04/2016

In The News: Blizzard Shuts Down Nostalrius

Now there's a piece of news I didn't expect to see in my newsfeed this morning: Blizzard is getting Nostalrius shut down. Of course they have every right to do so and I do think that everyone who makes the decision to roll on a private server has to be prepared for that kind of thing to happen sooner or later, but it's still kind of surprising to see it happen at this precise moment and to Nostalrius in particular, mostly because unlike other private server projects that don't hide the fact that they enjoy making money off their work by integrating cash shops into the game and the like, Nost prided itself in being a non-profit work of love.

On the other hand, in some ways I'm not surprised at all. Nostalrius was increasingly becoming bad PR for Blizzard. When you've previously claimed that nobody really wants Vanilla servers, a single one of such servers boasting 800,000 accounts and 150,000 active players looks kind of awkward. That's the population of an entire niche MMO right there, on a single private server! Plus, Nostalrius players were absolute zealots. They were everywhere and they were passionate. If I had a penny for every YouTube comment I've seen that urged people to start playing on Nostalrius... I would have a not insignificant amount of money. They were genuine too, not just advertising for the sake of it. I remember the commenter who said that in five days of playing on Nostalrius he had made more friends than he's made in retail WoW in the past five years, or the one who compared all the achievements of his level hundred character to his poor Vanilla alt, whose bags were always full and who couldn't afford a mount, and who elaborated on why he loved the latter so much more.

"Nostalrius" had become shorthand for "playing classic WoW on a private server". The other day I even saw someone link to an article in a print magazine that referenced it. A YouTuber I follow and who played on Nostalrius commented that before his Twitch stream got shut down the other day, his Nost stream had risen to fourth place among the most popular World of Warcraft streams. Basically, Nostalrius and its community were really good at promoting their cause - in fact, they were too good at it. I don't think Blizzard decided to issue them with a shutdown notice because of financial concerns. They know that those players won't love them for it. But Nostalrius was making a point of making live WoW look bad and the mainstream was starting to take notice. I can see why they couldn't let that stand.

For all the forum wars and "my server is better than yours" sniping I've seen over time (even in my own comment section!), I genuinely feel for all the Nostalrius players who lost their home today. We are united in our love for the game that once was and is no more. Here's hoping that they may find a new home, whether it's on Kronos, a different private realm or in a different game altogether.

The Nost team, ever so optimistic and proving themselves to be fans to the end, actually started a petition for official classic server support to submit to Mike Morhaine. I'm fairly certain that it will be completely ignored. Blizzard pride themselves in their polish and in their expertise when it comes to what's (supposedly) fun and what isn't. Lending any sort of credence to the idea of classic servers would mean admitting that - just maybe - not everything they've done with World of Warcraft over the past ten years was a good idea and that actually, they did make it worse in some respects. That would be unacceptable. Those of us who loved previous iterations of the game and have felt lost in the last few expansions are just like a clingy ex to Blizzard that can't let go, long after the company has got over us and moved on to new pastures/customers.

03/04/2016

An Eastern Plaguelands Adventure

As I was getting close to hitting level 60, I decided that it was time to find some grindy quests to fill out those last couple of bars. There was plenty of content left to do but I already had my eyes set on the start of Tirion Fordring's quest chain, which requires you to depopulate half the Eastern Plaguelands. I hadn't actually thought about Tirion's background as a sad hermit living off maggot stew in a long time. Hemet Nesingwary has nothing on this guy's bloodlust in Vanilla.

My first attempt to get going actually got aborted before I'd even made it to the Plaguelands, as I got a whisper while on the gryphon whether I wanted to tank Sunken Temple. I had realised last time that I'd forgotten to pick up my class quest (because to be honest I'd forgotten that everyone got one of these for Sunken Temple to begin with, so I hadn't been on the lookout), so I needed another run anyway and was happy to oblige. All I can say is that it was another successful and entertaining run.

As a result of this, my second attempt at tackling Tirion's quests saw me armed with a shiny new axe. I started my play session by spending several minutes whacking away at a carrion grub, trying to get my one-handed axe skill at least into the double digits.

As I moved out of Tirion's little corner of the Plaguelands, I saw that someone else had already cleared out the area and eventually ran into a rogue who was obviously on the same mission as me. She instantly threw me a group invite.

In that second before I accepted, a lot of thoughts raced through my head, not as fully formed words, but as concepts. Modern MMOs have generally made me not want to group up for kill quests, because usually they only require you to kill something like six mobs anyway and if I'm already on the fourth one there is little point in accepting a group invite when I'll be up and away again thirty seconds later. Also, I had kind of come out here specifically to grind on my own. But that quest counter required me to kill seventy mobs or so, without being specced for dps. I accepted.

We had barely grouped up when four Horde came riding by. I tried to run but didn't stand a chance. My new companion vanished and immediately apologised for leaving me hanging, but I agreed that there wouldn't have been any point in her attacking, what with there being four of them. Once I'd recovered my body, we began scouring the area for mobs more seriously. The rogue turned out to be a skinner and a herbalist, diligently hoovering up the leftovers of all dead hounds and bats, and frequently dashing off into the nearby hills to pick flowers. She got really excited about some of them and I couldn't blame her - she even found a black lotus. She apologised for seemingly having such a short attention span but I could completely relate, seeing how my own main in retail used to be a herbalist and my main in SWTOR is also a bioanalyst (the fancy sci-fi version of a flower picker, and I still get shouted at for not keeping up with the group in that game - some things never change).

I apologised for my lack of damage contribution and explained that I was levelling my weapon skill (never mind the whole prot/holy thing) but she didn't seem to mind and was just delighted by my buffs and constant cleansing of the various nasty debuffs that plaguelands critters have a habit of leaving on you - seriously, some of those can be nearly crippling depending on your class and have durations of up to half an hour.

I soon commented that questing as a duo was oddly relaxing and she said that this was because it was so safe, and it's absolutely true. Vanilla WoW managed to strike that golden balance of making it possible and feasible to quest on your own at all times, but since pulling adds could be highly painful, grouping up was a great way of reducing stress, not to even mention the added strength in numbers on a PvP server.

Later, when the follow-up mission to the mega-grind sent us to the Undercroft to retrieve Taelan's toy hammer, clicking the mound of earth there spawned four mobs at once, plus a couple of nearby zombies decided to join in as well. The rogue was initially alarmed, but I laid down a consecration and controlled the lot of them while she burned them one by one, eventually resorting to a Lay on Hands when I got low on both health and mana. She laughed and commented that this was a classic pally move. It reminded me of how much I previously enjoyed teaming up with damage dealers - as a paladin with a prot/holy spec I'm pretty good at staying alive through all kinds of shenanigans, but killing things can be painfully slow. Having someone to help with that while keeping any situation under control by tanking and healing is just the perfect combination.

When we had finished up the EPL part of the quest chain and I needed to log off because it was late, I was quite pleased with the evening's progress. It just continues to fascinate me how easily and naturally grouping up occurs in the Vanilla WoW environment even now, and that despite of the questing being perfectly solo-friendly.

28/03/2016

Does a private server count as "Playing WoW"?

Just a quick question for my readers today. Do you think that playing Vanilla WoW on a private server counts as "playing WoW"?

What I mean is this: If someone else asks you "Do you play WoW?", do you say yes or no? Or do you launch into a lengthy explanation?

It's just something that I've been thinking about, since in the past couple of weeks there were several occasions where this happened to me and I automatically made it very clear that I wasn't playing WoW anymore and hadn't done so in a long time. Yet strictly speaking that's not true, because I've been playing Vanilla WoW on Kronos for months (if very casually)!

It just seems to me that Vanilla WoW on a private server is such a different and niche activity compared to Blizzard's World of Warcraft as people currently know it that to talk about it as if they were one and the same would be even more misleading.