19/11/2017

Flaw or Feature?

It's barely been two weeks since WoW Classic was announced, and already the forum wars are raging about how exactly it should work. There is an official WoW Classic forum now after all! I've also had a lot of videos on the subject pop up on my YouTube feed.

Personally I firmly fall into the camp of wanting to see as little change as possible. It's not that I couldn't imagine some changes that would make the game a little nicer for me personally, but as I once wrote in a previous blog post, Vanilla WoW appealed to different groups of people for very different reasons. There were people who enjoyed the levelling and the world and cared little about endgame, and there were those for whom endgame was all that mattered. If you asked either group how the game could have been improved, they probably would have told you to do away with all the stuff that was just dragging them down... but which was someone else's main reason to play in the first place. So while it will be impossible to re-create the experience we had back then 100%, trying to stick as close to it as possible should definitely be the goal. Any sort of changes would just cause the pendulum to swing in a bad direction for one target audience or the other.

I think a lot of this sort of discussion comes from people still not understanding the appeal of Vanilla WoW. It was just an entirely different game. I saw one YouTuber compare it to a survival game, which I thought was really interesting... no, you weren't going to die from not eating or drinking enough within a certain amount of time, but the world was dangerous and you could find yourself in all kinds of unpleasant situations if you just strolled out into the wilderness unprepared.

Let's take hunter arrows for example. Blizzard eventually took the approach of considering the act of buying and restocking ammo pointless busywork that might as well be removed. And if you only ever log in to raid and test yourself against mighty big bosses, there is some truth to that! However, for the newly minted hunter who is only just learning how to survive in the world, you essentially just took away a part of their game. It's like looking at a survival game and going: "Gosh, all this collecting wood and stuff before you can build anything is just pointless busywork! People should be allowed to just have unlimited resources and build whatever they want." Building whatever you want is a valid activity to have in a game, but then you're not creating a survival game anymore.

Vanilla WoW was also much more about roleplaying than gaming in the modern sense. Sure, things like imbalanced classes and expensive respecs may have been issues from a gaming point of view, but they also helped define your character's role. What meaning does it have to "be" a holy priest if they are something that effectively only exists inside of instances because in the open world everyone respecs to shadow? Most classes and specs were better in some situations than in others and this was something that you just accepted as part of the character you chose. You could choose to be someone who had to rely on others a lot, someone who went at it alone most of the time, or a jack-of-all-trades who was flexible and could do multiple things but wasn't as good at any of them.

You can disagree with that, and maybe even consider it a bit inane to prioritise roleplaying over having a smooth dps rotation or a viable tanking spec. However, the point is that there is already a version of the game that has its priorities the other way round. I'm still amazed that Blizzard is finally acknowledging that players who don't prefer that way of doing things actually exist and might even be worth catering to. Right now it looks like it might actually be the player base for whom it will take some time to sink in that not everyone likes the same things and that other ways of playing the game might be valid too.

07/11/2017

Classic WoW in a Modern World

The more I think about the notion of classic WoW becoming official, the more problems I foresee Blizzard facing - beyond the question of which exact set of features should be included and at what level, that is.

Server Merges

Blizzard are probably pretty proud of having successfully avoided the spectre of official server merges despite of the game having experienced some pretty dramatic population drops over the years. First there were linked servers, then cross-realm zones. It may all be a bit convoluted, but they effectively managed to transfer their game to a single-server model of the type that more modern MMOs have without ever having to deal with the dreaded matter of officially having to shut anything down.

Since Blizzard has also already stated that WoW Classic won't have these features, I can't help but wonder how it's going to work. Regardless of how successful you think this experiment is going to be in the long run, it seems pretty obvious that there'll be a considerable launch rush as everyone sticks their nose in just to see what it's like. Are they going to limit the number of servers and let people wait in queues for that old-school feeling? If they open more servers to accommodate the masses, what happens to the ones that go quiet once the initial excitement wears off?

Old Game vs. New Player Base

I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that World of Warcraft's player base has gone through some heavy churn, and that the majority of people who are playing today are not the same ones that played Blizzard games ten, fifteen years ago. The company caters to different tastes now.

So what's going to happen when "WoW Classic" suddenly shows up on the Blizzard launcher as a new option? Lots of people are going to play it just to see what it's like and will likely come away from it thinking the experience terrible and outdated (even if that's the point). This could produce some pretty bad PR for Blizzard. They will probably need to put up some sort of disclaimer when people first opt to download the game, that if they want fast and streamlined, current WoW is right over there.

Ignorance Is Bliss

I often hear claims that people only enjoyed Vanilla WoW because of the circumstances and that it's actually a pretty terrible game underneath. I strongly disagree with that, but circumstances have certainly made a difference. In Vanilla WoW, we were all bad at the game, and there was little help available. Sure, fan sites and databases like Thottbot did start to pop up over time, but they were woefully incomplete compared to what people are used to today, where everything is datamined, categorised and published on multiple websites often before it's even released. The game was a mystery, and since we were all clueless we didn't expect as much from our fellow players.

As an example, people like to cite Alterac Valley matches that ran for hours or even days - yet after re-experiencing the vanilla version of that battleground on Kronos, I couldn't help but think that this would simply be impossible nowadays. AV used to take days because too many people didn't know what they were doing, got distracted by quests and randomly hunting for kills. If most of the team knows the objectives and actually tries to capture them, there's just no way that things can stall for that long, not unless the two sides are insanely evenly matched or incredibly organised.

Or remember all those stories about half the raid in Molten Core getting away with being AFK or just hitting one button? You could get away with that because the content wasn't as demanding, but people also didn't know any better. Not everyone had damage meters or even any idea of concepts such as min-maxing their gear or having the correct rotation. Yet can you imagine anyone being admitted into a raiding guild and consistently being allowed to just tag along like that these days, with how performance-anxious many MMO players and WoW players in particular have become?

We'll see just how people's attitudes shake out, but it's definitely something to be a little wary of.

04/11/2017

BlizzCon News - Official Vanilla Servers Inc.!

I'll admit that even though I haven't (officially) played a Blizzard game in years, I still like hearing the news coming out of BlizzCon. Blizzard knows how to put on a good show, and the trailers are often neat to watch even if I don't play the game they are for. However, this year, something was actually of interest to me.

First off, as expected, they announced the next WoW expansion. That wasn't what interested me, but I wanted to say something about it anyway.



"Battle for Azeroth" is probably the most uninspired theme for an expansion they've come up with to date. Pretty much anything people were speculating about before the announcement would have been more interesting.

It also made me think about just why I find it so uninteresting. I often see people complain that factions are an outdated concept and should just be done away with, and I always disagree. I love factions as a narrative device. When I rolled my first Horde character back in the day, it was literally like a whole new world. The other faction presented a totally different culture that was so at odds with the Alliance way of doing things that they pretty much couldn't help being hostile to each other.

Yet at the same time, they weren't openly at war. There were areas where open fighting was happening, such as Ashenvale, but at the same time there were also groups/personalities that were striving towards peace, such as Thrall and Jaina. It struck me as realistic that attitudes towards the other side weren't unified, and it made for an interesting environment that was always on the edge of war, yet not quite. It's like "will they or won't they" in romance. The tension is what's interesting, and never quite knowing which way any given situation might swing. Open war, with people just bashing each other's heads in while shouting "For the Horde!" or "For the Alliance!" is not.

That said, going by the YouTube comments on the trailer, there seem to be a lot of people for whom this is exactly their idea of a good time. Good for them, I say.

No, what really interested me was this:



Yes, Blizzard has actually committed to creating their own Vanilla servers! I once said that I couldn't ever see them doing this, but I'm absolutely thrilled to be wrong, even more so after my recent disenchantment with the private server community. I will definitely be playing this when it opens. I don't mind playing a sub and will be happy that Blizzard is finally offering something again that I'm interested in paying for.

As for how long it will last? We'll see. If I end up playing it the same way I have been playing on private servers in the past few years, on and off for a couple of months throughout the year, it will feel like a good deal. I'm not looking to go back to "no-lifing" it.

That said, it's advisable not to get too hyped just yet. We don't have a release date yet and they said that they want to take their time to get it right. While they won't have to come up with content and art assets, which should save a lot of time compared to an actual new expansion, getting the coding just right will certainly be a challenge. I won't be at all surprised if we won't see this for another year or even longer. Not that I mind - gives me more time to "forget" my recent experiences and dive in fresh when the time comes.

The other big caveat is of course: "What is Vanilla WoW?" In the private server community, the most common model seems to run on patch 1.12 mechanically while introducing content such as dungeons and raids slowly over time, but there's nothing to guarantee that Blizzard will emulate that. Not to mention that there will probably be a certain temptation on their part to meddle with "quality of life features", for example by using the new character models or bringing in achievements, which could be disappointing for those of us who don't like these things. We'll just have to wait and see. It's still hugely positive news.

20/10/2017

The Trouble With Private Servers

I said in my previous post that I've repeatedly lost my lustre for levelling characters at around level 30 and that I was hopeful that this wouldn't happen with my druid, but it seems that fate has conspired against me.

A few days ago a commenter asked what I thought of the "recent development with Elysium". I had no idea what he was talking about so I had to go look it up first. As it turned out, the server had shut down pretty much overnight ... again. This time it had nothing to do with Blizzard though, and everything with the unregulated and drama-prone environment in which private servers operate.

I remember when I first started doing research on private Vanilla WoW servers, I came across this video by dodgykebaab on an event he called the "Molt Down". The story was about a private server called Molten, one of whose contributors decided to steal some money as well as the server's character database. I was strongly reminded of this as I pieced together the Elysium story from various reddit threads.

Oh sure, the details are different. Here it's two of the previous server owners who are being accused of stealing money and selling gold. This is used to paint the database thief as a sort of rebel hero... but the result is the same. The old server is gone and you're supposed to go somewhere else, where your characters and account still exist because hey, the guy literally took everything with him when he left.

I knew going in that you can't rely on these servers to be stable. However, I guess my time on Kronos lulled me into a false sense of security. The people running that have always come across about as professional as it gets in these circles, and I suppose it makes sense seeing how they are part of a larger collective and open about taking money for certain things. That sort of environment fosters a certain sense of professionalism.

However, most of the private server scene is and remains a Wild West. How can it be anything else when they operate outside of the law and there is real money to be made? Sure, there are good people who volunteer their time for free and genuinely just want Vanilla WoW to survive as a hobby, but it only takes one bad apple giving in to the temptation of money or power to ruin it for everyone who plays on that server.

At least for now, my enthusiasm has been deflated. It doesn't look good for Elysium as they're frantically scrambling to restore some semblance of their community with month-old database backups yet haven't made any visible progress in days. Meanwhile, the rival server is up and running already, and all it takes to join in is a quick edit of the realmlist.wtf file.

I've said before that I try not to let this sort of drama affect me too much. As someone who has been playing for free the entire time and was only really interested in levelling, without any competitive streak, what did it really matter to me if someone took money out of the donations account for private purchases or sold gold to a max-level character? I'm not saying it's right, but it's the sort of thing I wouldn't even notice or know about if I was just playing the game and not reading reddit. However, someone stealing my account data to set up a rival server? Somehow, that feels oddly personal and I find it really off-putting, leaving me with no desire whatsoever to play on the new server, even if it now has my previously created characters on it. If only Kronos had a PvE option...

30/09/2017

Re-exploring Night Elf Lands

Once again, much faster than I expected actually, I've hit the milestone of reaching level 30. Does that mean that I'll lose my drive again soon? Hopefully not... I do have plans for the near future at least, such as revisiting Razorfen Kraul. I've seen enough LFG requests for it in world chat that I think it might actually be possible to get a pug for it.

I've been surprised by how much I've been enjoying redoing those low level night elf zones on Kalimdor. It's been long enough that my memory is very fuzzy and it feels exciting to re-visit all those stories, even if at times I've wanted to slap myself for making the exact same mistakes I made back in the day all over again (such as searching for a quest item in the wrong place and not realising it until I brought up a guide).

Stonetalon Mountains in particular has been a pleasant surprise. My memories of it back in the day mostly have it feeling very empty. It wasn't until I rolled my first Horde alt that I even realised that Sun Rock Retreat existed. As Alliance I don't really remember doing any quests there, just being confused by my druid friend being able to talk to an NPC that wouldn't interact with me, probably because she had found a breadcrumb somewhere that I had missed.

This time around I engaged in a whole chain around the Venture Co. loggers that had me fetching magical ingredients for a gnome all the way from Stormwind, and I could hardly believe my own eyes when I ventured forth into the Charred Vale with something like five different missions in my log that pretty much required me to kill everything in sight.

I think once I wrap up Ashenvale however, I'll probably want to switch over to the Eastern Kingdoms for a while. My memory of Desolace is relatively fresh thanks to questing there on my paladin, but I never did much on her in Hillsbrad and Arathi...

I also got into Gnomeregan already, once again as a healer. That run was kind of funny in a way, as I realised pretty much the moment we set foot into the instance that there was no way we were going to complete it with that particular group composition, as the last boss is level 34 and we only had a single damage dealer above 30 - a warlock who didn't really seem to understand English very well and kept meleeing things with his staff. The tank eventually got sufficiently annoyed with him to kick him from the group. (I get why someone like that might end up in your group in an average MMO... but on a private server for a ten-year-old game it's rather bewildering.)

However, that same tank was also very determined to finish the dungeon despite of being only level 29 and pushed onward with great care. I swear I've never killed this much trash in Gnomeregan just to avoid pulling it by accident. We found a treasure chest behind a pillar relatively near the entrance that I didn't even know existed. And remember those tunnels with walkways on two different elevations, where you'd traditionally take the upper path while sticking as close to the wall as possible to avoid pulling the mobs on the lower half? We tried that at first and after it didn't work out for us, we kept jumping back and forth between the two lanes to clear both of them in their entirety.

We did remarkably well like that (the kicked warlock was quickly replaced by a rogue), but the final tunnel with the Dark Iron dwarves did us in one too many times. I mentioned that during my previous visit they didn't appear to be laying mines as they should, but this has clearly been fixed in the meantime so we kept dying to too much damage. (I'm still not sure the mines were behaving entirely as intended though... I had to laugh when at one point after I died, a mine "ran away" from me back towards the remaining dwarves.)

After the third wipe on the same pull or so, the replacement rogue abandoned us, but this actually worked out in our favour as we somehow ended up with a level 35 paladin tank instead (6 levels higher than anyone else in the party) who managed to carry us through that last bit until the end. In the end the run took up the entirety of my afternoon, but at least I managed to finish all my Gnomer quests in one go, including the escort. Of course one of them has a follow-up that asks you to go right back in there...

24/09/2017

Tirri's Dungeon Journal

Just like during my previous nostalgia trips back to Vanilla WoW, I only really find the time to do dungeons on the weekends, which strongly limits how many of them I can do, but even so I've managed to squeeze in four runs on my druid so far. I thought I'd make a short post about them, since in Vanilla WoW, no two dungeon runs feel the same and it's always interesting to talk about your pugs.

Part of the idea of rolling a druid this time around was that I would have an easier time getting into groups, since tanks seemed to be in much higher demand than healers while I was levelling my priest. It hasn't quite worked out as expected.

I tried to put my first Deadmines group together myself, but despite of my (what I thought were) inviting shouts that a tank OR healer would be fine for the last spot, nobody took the bait. Suddenly a level 60 night elf hunter whispered me and offered to simply run us through. I've never been a fan of dungeon boosts, as they kind of defeat the point of having fun with the group gameplay, but at that point I was getting sufficiently tired of spamming LF1M that I accepted his offer (once I had checked with the rest of the group that they were OK with it too). The result wasn't very exciting and gave little XP, but I did get all my quests done in record time and the last boss dropped his Blackened Defias Armor for me, so I called it a win.

Later I joined another run as tank, and things went well enough until our healer suddenly disconnected while we were on the pirate ship and then never came back. We managed to clear a couple more trash pulls with the use of crowd control and by having me back off to heal myself when needed, but Captain Greenskin proved too much for us without a healer, which eventually forced us to call it a day. I would have been more disappointed if I hadn't already completed all my quests and also scored Smite's Mighty Hammer on this run.

Up next was Blackfathom Deeps, this time as a healer. Fortunately I do enjoy healing as well and had made a point of starting a set of healing gear early. This was a very smooth and fun run with a pleasant group, with the only disappointment being the realisation that the quest Twilight Falls is simply impossible to complete as a healer. I had the same issue on my dwarf priest earlier in the year. The problem is that quest items for some reason seem to ignore the normal loot rules on this server and are always treated as free for all, which means that they inevitably get picked up by the tank and melee dps before anyone else can get to the dead mob, and there aren't enough cultists in the instance to produce drops for a full party all on the same quest. If I happen to get into another run I'll give it another go (maybe if I can tank that one so I can hog all the drops for myself), but if not I'll just have to dump it - again.

Finally I picked up all the quests for the Stockade except the one from the Wetlands that has a prerequisite chain. The nice thing about the Stockade is that due to how short and easily accessible it is, people run it all the time and at all times of day. I actually logged on with only about an hour to go until bedtime and simply watched general chat for a few minutes - and what do you know, "Anyone for the Stockade?" popped up within five minutes. I was initially asked to heal again, but then the party leader (a paladin) suddenly decided that he'd rather heal himself, and we already had a tank, so I actually ended up doing kitty dps! Not my favourite thing ever, but if it gets the job done...

It amuses me that with a character specifically designed to make use of the apparent tank shortage I experienced previously, I only actually tanked one out of four runs so far. But then that's part of the beauty of rolling a druid - being able to play whatever role is needed.

09/09/2017

Druid Life

As I expected, with things in my life calming down a little after the summer, I eventually found myself bitten by the WoW nostalgia bug again (admittedly watching a lot of YouTube videos about the game hasn't helped). Somehow I had no interest in revisiting my dwarf priest however, so I decided to roll up new druid on Darrowshire instead. She's somewhat reminiscent - but not a complete clone - of a night elf druid I used to play on retail, mostly during late Burning Crusade and Wrath.

While I never played one in Vanilla, I consider druids one of my favourite classes, because I like both their role versatility as well as the whole guardian of nature theme. Also, while I didn't play druid myself until later in my time with WoW, the class had a strong impact on my early days in the game as my first levelling partner was a druid, and her class quests were constantly driving both of us forward. I still remember when I was told that we really had to get to Westfall (for her seal form quest) without even knowing where that was on the world map...

I think I've said it before, but one of the nice things about Vanilla WoW is that rolling an alt is just such a totally different experience. Class balance was poor back then, that's true, but on the plus side both the play style as well as the race/class-specific narrative for each one (not to mention professions) made levelling each new character distinctly different from the last.

To learn how to shapeshift and how to cure poisons, druids for example have to go through separate quests chains for each one, because how could you expect something this core to your class to simply be trained via the press of a button (or worse, like in current WoW, to just appear on your bar without explanation)? I enjoyed the bear form quest in particular - I initially had to retreat in shame after my first attempt, because the moonkins around the cave I had to enter were too strong for me, but once I had gained another level, I managed to make it through - you bet that I felt that I had truly earned the strength of a bear after all that! It's best not to think too much about the seal form quest though... if this is really a test that all young druids have to undergo (as one of the quest givers explicitly states), the Cenarion Circle must be expending a stupendous amount of effort and resources on hiding precious treasure in faraway and hard to access underwater locations over and over again...

My talents gave me reason to pause because I had forgotten how confused druid talents were in Vanilla. I know that I want to be feral first and that's fine, but I'm used to it having great synergy with the resto tree... except that before BC sorted things out, several of those really nice talents were actually tucked away under balance, making me unsure of which one would be the better secondary. I also can't believe anyone ever thought that it would be a good idea to give a healer a dot as a high-level talent. Insect swarm in the resto tree, really!

As my primary professions I chose herbalism and alchemy this time, which turned out to be an even better fit for the class than I expected/remembered, as one of the steps of the quest to learn how to cure poisons requires you to fetch some herbs - the quest giver even says something along the lines of how unlucky it would be if you weren't a herbalist yourself, hah. It also makes levelling seem faster somehow, since there are herbs everywhere and you end up running all over the place and killing lots of extra mobs just because you really want to pick that flower. At this point my druid's already halfway through level 18 and I only just started picking up the Deadmines pre-quests (because night elf or not, you've got to go to the Deadmines).

Aside from that I've been happy to ignore unrelated quest givers in those areas though, as my current plan is to stick to Kalimdor as much as possible, because neither my paladin nor my priest have done much there, so it's all still pretty fuzzy in terms of memory and will feel much fresher. At the same time I also feel a lot of nostalgia for Darkshore, Ashenvale and Stonetalon in particular, as these zones left strong impressions on me during my formative first weeks in WoW.

As for the general state of the server (since several commenters on my last post asked about this), it still seems healthy. Things have of course calmed down since the craziness surrounding the launch (and thank god for that), but /who still shows over a thousand players per faction online seemingly at any time of day, which I would consider quite a thriving community. I was just surprised by how quiet chat seemed initially, until I remembered to join the custom world channel. For some reason people really don't seem to care much for talking in general chat on Darrowshire.