02/02/2017

Gnomeregan and Gnolls

I feel like I might have hit a crossroads. My priest hit level 30 last night, but I'm not really happy with the way her levelling is going right now, as my plan to level mostly via dungeons hasn't been working out very well. For one thing each run gives even less XP than I anticipated, but more importantly I'm finding it harder than expected to find groups. It's actually kind of absurd, considering that part of my reasoning for rolling a priest was that it should make it easier to find instance groups, but for some reason there seem to be way too many wannabe healers levelling on Darrowshire (as the Elysium PvE realm is now called), at least around my level range on Alliance side. Almost every time I play, all I see in world chat is "LFM tank (and sometimes dps)", with the occasional "healer LFG" cry from a lonely healer thrown into the mix. I should have screenshotted the one who was trying to make a case for why she was the best choice to heal a level 30 instance because of her raid experience and mana management skills. This is the kind of competition I'm dealing with here.

Mind you, I did get a Gnomer run done not long ago, and that pleased me very much as I completely skipped that instance while levelling on Kronos. It was super smooth as well, even though I was only level 27 at the time, which is... six or seven levels lower than the final boss? We only had one near-wipe on the very last pull before the end, but fortunately I survived with a sliver of health left and was able to res all the others. I did notice that the scripting didn't seem entirely true to the original, as we only encountered a single one of those alarm bots that could quickly get you into trouble, and I remember that the biggest issue with the tunnel of Dark Irons near the end was that they put down mines, which they didn't seem to do here either. Still, it was a good run. Hard to imagine that this dungeon used to give me such nightmares back in Vanilla.

I also tried to get another BFD run in to finish the one leftover quest I still had there, but unfortunately that one turned out to be doomed as a server shutdown was announced shortly after we had started the instance, so we only had time to make it up to the murloc boss before getting kicked off for an unspecified amount of time. I also learned that Elysium is rubbish at doing countdowns, as their server shutdown countdown went from twenty minutes left to five minutes left in the space of four minutes.

I tried my hand at PvP for a change of pace but remembered why I hated it on Kronos too and almost made a post about that at one point. First off, crowd control without diminishing returns is totally out of control as a sufficiently bored mage can literally keep you sheeped indefinitely, but more than anything the UI is just totally useless. "Just install some add-ons, everyone does," you might say, but this is one area where I've been spoiled in the last five years: If an MMO can't present me with a UI fit for purpose right out of the box, I simply cannot be bothered. And the Vanilla WoW raid UI is just a hopeless mess. Specifically the lack of any sort of range indicator makes it impossible to keep an eye on who's even near enough to be healed by you. Just terrible.

This was my Kronos PvP experience. Been meaning to use that screenshot forever.

So I've been spending the last one and a half levels farming gnolls in the Wetlands. Yes, I actually found a spot that was quiet enough that I could have a bunch of mobs all to myself. Mostly I wanted them for their cloth, to work on my tailoring and first aid. It's actually been pretty zen, just killing gnolls while I put a podcast on in the background. It's not really what I want to play Vanilla WoW for though.

Maybe it's time to take a break again. I think it's just something about that level range, as I lost steam for a few months when my paladin on Kronos hit 30 as well.

15/01/2017

Dungeons and Drama

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I'm continuing to level my dwarf priest on Nostalrius Elysium PvE, but progress is slow. One of the downsides of Vanilla WoW gameplay that I absolutely admit is there is that it doesn't lend itself very well to short play sessions, so I only really play on the weekends when I have the time to play for several hours at once. Unfortunately one or two such play sessions don't necessarily provide me with enough content for a proper blog post, so the blog stays silent even if I'm happy with having made a level or two of progress, especially since there isn't as much novelty to the process as there was when I rolled my first character on Kronos.

I'm currently sitting at level 25 and have only really quested in Redridge since leaving Westfall and Loch Modan behind, with all my other experience having come from dungeons.

First I tried to give the Deadmines another go, but that run was pretty awkward and ended up getting aborted halfway through. I should have known that it wasn't a good group considering that the leader was advertising via /yell instead of general chat. Still, the real problem wasn't anything anyone did... as far as I could tell anyway. We'd had a wipe in the forge and had just run back in, then had to run back out again when someone pulled a nearby patrol before we'd all reassembled, and the next time I ran in, it suddenly said that everyone had left the group simultaneously, which was way too much of a coincidence to have occurred naturally. Some sort of group disband bug? I don't know. Either way, since things hadn't been going so great anyway, I made no effort to whisper anyone about putting the group back together, and they didn't contact me either.

Then there was Blackfathom Deeps. What was funny about that one was that we spent ages looking for a warrior tank since the group leader (a ret paladin) insisted that this would make for the smoothest run. Then we finally found one, but the moment we actually stepped into the instance it turned out that he had neither a shield nor any interest in tanking. I don't know if he was intentionally deceiving us, didn't know what he was doing, or if the invitation issued by the paladin had been unclear, but nobody made a fuss and we just moved on with the hunter pet tanking. (Could have had that experience without waiting for half an hour, that's all I'm saying...)

Ironfur the bear was actually doing a pretty decent job at it for most of the instance too, but when we reached the part with the Twilight cultists, our pally DCed, never to return, forcing us to continue with one man down. This did not go well on the part with the braziers, where we wiped on every single one as far as I recall, and on some of them more than once. When we didn't wipe, I at least still died on every single pull (since I instantly got healing aggro from everything and the hunter was the only one trying to get things off me) and had to make the long corpse run from Darkshore every time because nobody had a res. By the end my armour was nearly broken and I was seriously losing the will to live, but at least I got a Rod of the Sleepwalker out of the whole ordeal.

In contrast to these, running the Stockades was a breeze, with a tank who seriously knew what he was doing and made it a great experience. I happily joined him for another round when it turned out that his friend had forgotten to pick up some quest items and needed to go again. I was disappointed only when I got my Seal of Wrynn at the end of the lengthy quest chain, as it was only a pesky green! I can only guess that this is another one of those "back in patch 1.x it hadn't been upgraded to a blue yet" things that the Nost team seems to love...

Speaking of the Nost team though...

The Vanilla WoW community continues to provide endless entertainment in the form of pointless drama. Remember how this whole Nostalrius relaunch came about? Because the Nost devs were ticked off that Blizzard wasn't responding to them and released their code and database to former rival server Elysium to recreate Nostalrius. While many were happy to get the server back, people were also shaking their heads at the Nost team's behaviour, as acting like that was an obvious slap in the face of Blizzard after they had considered themselves the champions of getting official WoW legacy servers previously.

Well, it seems that a couple of months later, they've finally realised this too, and are akwardly backpedaling by asking the Elysium team to stop using the code and data that they've been given only a few months prior. Unsurprisingly, the Elysium team replied with what can be summed up as: "Sure, we'll change the name from Nost to something else and go back to using our own core. Thanks for gifting us this massive community!" So nothing really changes except that the former Nostalrius team has officially disavowed private servers I suppose? One can only guess that this has something to do with Blizzard, whether they privately expressed an unwillingness for any further talks because of what had happened, or whether the Nost team is actually dealing with legal action that forces them to officially cut all ties with the project.

Little to nothing should change for those of us who are simply playing on the servers. Maybe my Seal of Wrynn will actually turn blue. And I guess I'll have to go back and re-tag the previous posts about this project "Elysium" instead of just Nostalrius.

31/12/2016

The Adventure Continues

Suddenly (to me), the gold sellers have invaded. I had heard people talk about them being a scourge upon the land previously but hadn't noticed any myself, but one day I logged in and suddenly I, too, was getting bombarded by spam channel invites and whispers at a rate of up to one per minute. Maybe they wait until you've hit a certain minimum level or something. It's literally impossible to manually add all of these people to your ignore list. I just started to mentally block them out after a while.

I've also learned that Nostalrius has a somewhat odd concept of server progression. Releasing content like dungeons and raids in the order they were originally introduced to the retail game is a well-known strategy by now, but apparently the Nost team are sticklers for details, without being able to implement them in a good manner. What this means is that you can buy and train certain profession recipes, but when you actually try to craft them, you get an error message that "this spell isn't available to you", according to general chat because that particular ability wasn't added until patch one point so-and-so. Do you really expect me to have memorised every little detail of the Vanilla patch notes? And what am I to do with all these Raw Sagefish now? Bah.

I've said before that the key to enjoying playing on a retro server is to find a balance between indulging your nostalgia and experimenting with things that are new to you. The latter is covered by me being a dwarf instead of a night elf priest this time, and by my choice of professions: tailoring and enchanting. My original nelf priest was a tailor too, so that bit is familiar, but her second primary profession was skinning, which was easy to level and actually earned some money. While enchanting makes a good partner for tailoring, it's a huge pain to level (looking forward to having to visit the trainer in Uldaman over and over again!), and tailoring is no slouch either. I've turned hundreds of pieces of linen cloth into cloth bolts already, yet I'm barely able to craft gear intended for level 12s.

More so than on my pally, I'm also finding that grouping up for random quests is incredibly beneficial, because as a priest I don't have the same survivability while solo that I had on my pally. I had a fantastic time grouping with a warlock for the final part of the In Defense of the King's Lands chain in Loch Modan, which involves killing lots of troggs - I was one step ahead in the chain and he said he would understand if I didn't want to go back to re-do the last part with him, but why ever would I not? All I have to do is dot, wand and cast the occasional heal, and it rains both XP and cloth, much easier than it would ever do when I'm out on my own.

Speaking of wands by the way, I was so excited when I got my first wand. As a fledgling priest player, I remember being told to spec into wand specialisation asap. Current WoW players just wouldn't understand.

I was actually level 19 by the time I got into my first Deadmines run, but I got all my quests done and won that excellent priest shirt from the last boss. I just had to craft myself a red shirt to hide the fact that it left my dwarf's chest pretty damn exposed. But I'll probably want to do a few more runs for cloth if nothing else!

23/12/2016

More Nost Impressions

I'm continuing my levelling on Nostalrius-PvE on and off, but it's extremely slow. Now, Vanilla levelling is slow by default and generally I consider that a feature rather than a flaw, but the high population on Nost really makes things harder than usual.

I mentioned in my previous post that you might as well forget about doing any quests that require you to pick a specifically spawned item off the ground, but finding mobs to kill is hard as well. For the purposes of getting a kill quest done, this can be alleviated by grouping up, but that only goes so far. (For example I went to Elwynn and found the mighty Hogger being spawn-camped by about four full adventuring parties.) Grouping in Vanilla WoW also incurs a hefty XP penalty on mob kills, and as I observed when I levelled my paladin on Kronos, Vanilla expects you to actually gain most of your XP through mob kills. Nost leaves you between a rock and a hard place in that regard, as you can group up and kill more mobs, at a pittance of their normal experience value, or try to set out on your own and find most of the landscape already depopulated.

The one amusing exception I found to this were caves. In Vanilla everyone knows them to be death traps, so few people dare to venture all the way into one without grouping up. However, you can then end up in the bizarre situation of multiple groups crowding a cave to such an extent that the spawn timer goes nuts and spawns new mobs almost faster than people can kill the existing ones.

On a more general note, I've also found grouping on Nost to be strangely impersonal. Vanilla has this reputation of being a more social game because grouping is harder and you value your group mates more - and that was certainly my experience on Kronos as well - however Nostalrius' huge population pretty much negates this effect to the point that grouping out in the world feels more akin to the silent dungeon finder groups of modern WoW. You run into an area where people farm mobs, someone quietly throws you an invite because you all know that you're all there for the same reason, you kill things until you're done and then wordlessly leave again - since there is such a high turnover there is no point in engaging in conversation or sticking around.

I've also found that Nost's scripting does indeed appear to be somewhat less solid than that of Kronos, as much as the more hardcore Nostalrius fanboys would like to deny it. My dwarf is only into her teens, and already I've run into all kinds of bizarre issues, though admittedly they were all minor. Quest hand-ins that weren't marked by yellow question marks, or the other way round: NPCs having that same yellow question mark over their head even though I didn't have a quest for them. While trying to fish in the Forlorn Cavern in Ironforge, I kept getting a "your cast didn't land in fishable water" error three times out of four, even though I was practically surrounded by water. Ranged attacks seem to largely ignore line of sight, with spells and projectiles going right through hills, trees and walls - I think I would find that one a lot more annoying if I didn't use ranged attacks myself. Finally, there was that one occasion in Loch Modan where upon my death, my corpse suddenly decided to start sliding halfway across the map until it was stopped by a mountain range. I'm glad the mountain was there to stop it or I might never have been able to catch up with it again!

The one thing that Nost does better than Kronos is group loot, which actually seems to work properly as far as I can tell. On Kronos, at least when I last played there, the loot distribution for the default setting was clearly uneven and not working as it should, and every corpse always sparkled for every group member even if it had nothing on it, which was super annoying.

Anyway, I continue onwards and for now my first big goal is to hit level 18 and start running the Deadmines as much as I can to alleviate those XP gaining issues a bit.

18/12/2016

Nostalrius-PvE Re-Launch Impressions

I nearly forgot that it was Nostalrius' big day yesterday and only remembered about half an hour after the servers were already supposed to have gone up. Of course, upon checking it turned out that there had been technical issues and both servers were already down again.

The PvE server soon came up again, however the PvP server had bigger problems and remained down, causing all the people who really wanted to play PvP to clog up the PvE server queue instead because they were bored. When I tried to log in I was presented with a queue of over 11k.

That estimate was optimistic to say the least.
I decided to stay in the queue but minimised it to do other things in the meantime. Initially I kept checking on it quite frequently, anxious that I might miss my turn, but based on how slowly things progressed I eventually gave up on that. Of course, when I finally did check my position in the queue again for the first time in over an hour, I had been disconnected and would have had to start over at 9k+, which was not going to happen as it was getting quite late for me by that point.

This morning things went somewhat better and I managed to log in right away, though a quick /who command showed that even so the server was already close to approaching its purported cap of 5000 players per faction again.

As decided previously, I rolled a dwarf priest, and found Coldridge Valley to be quite busy. I can only imagine how much worse things must have been in the human and nelf starting areas. I would say that there seemed to be about as many player characters as mob spawn points, which meant that it wasn't totally impossible to get things done, but it was rare for a mob to live longer than a few seconds after it spawned. It took me several laps of the Valley just to get to level 3.

While I was talking to a vendor, I suddenly got disconnected and found that the server had been rolled back a couple of minutes. Fortunately I hadn't been in the middle of anything critical. However, something seemed to have gone wrong, as all the mobs had disappeared and nothing would respawn. I decided that this was a good time to take a break.

When I checked back about two hours later, there were still no mobs, but apparently this didn't dissuade people from logging in. The /who command still showed over 4000 (Alliance?) players online. I saw some dwarves and gnomes stand in a circle in Anvilmar and engage in what appeared to be roleplaying, but for me, a mobless Azeroth wasn't interesting.

Fortunately things were fixed by the time I checked back in in the late afternoon, and there was a queue of 2k+ again. I waited this one out and fortunately it didn't take too long. I did some more laps around Coldridge Valley and eventually managed to struggle my way to level 5. Any quests that require you to pick an item off the ground you might as well abandon instantly, as the spawn points are camped to oblivion, but at least people were happy to group up for the troll kill quests.

Can you guess where the item for Felix' quest spawns?
Around Kharanos things got a little better as people were able to spread out more, though it still took me ages to get all my boar meat and I had to abandon another pick-up-the-item quest as a hopeless endeavour. At level 7 I decided to make the trip to Ironforge to learn some professions and more. Just before I could return to questing I was disconnected and was unable to log back in, causing me to call it a day.

So far, it's been interesting to be a part of this "event", but I can't say I'm a huge fan of what many Nost lovers apparently consider a "healthy" population. Seeing a lot of people around you is nice, yes, but when it gets in the way of making progress, not just with one quest but in general, it kind of makes me long for Kronos' more convenient population size.

EDIT: On my next login I also found that I had been rolled back to level 6 and had unlearned all my professions again. Sigh.

11/12/2016

Nostalrius-PvE to re-release on December 17th

In a bit of a turnaround of the original announcement, it's now been decided that Nostalrius' PvE server will make its comeback at the same time as the PvP version instead of being relegated to the end of the release queue. In fact, both servers will re-launch as early as December 17th!

I'm not sure I will have much time to play this close to Christmas and with SWTOR just having launched a new expansion, but I'm definitely tempted to at least log in on Saturday just to see how crazy the lauch hype is going to be.

Fortunately I have been able to acquire another Vanilla WoW client, though it was once again a journey fraught with difficulties. The dodgy Czech file sharing website where I downloaded it last time has since disappeared from Kronos' download instructions and they just tell you to torrent it. As someone who doesn't do torrenting, this is super annoying! Eventually I managed to find a download for which I "only" had to temporarily install a special toolbar, and after the download failed two times, the third attempt finally succeeded. I'll have to make sure to save the client somewhere where I will remember to back it up this time, so I won't have to go through all this nonsense a third time later on.

Now the most poignant question for me is actually which class and race to roll. I know I want to play Alliance, because even though I spent more years playing as Horde than as Alliance in retail, Vanilla is distinctly "Alliance-flavoured" to me. If I ever started on a Burning Crusade server, I would probably go Horde. I just levelled a paladin to 60, so I don't want to do that again. I considered a hunter, since my tauren hunter on Kronos didn't get all that far, but from what I've heard the crazy high population on Nostalrius makes it very hard to peacefully solo-quest/grind your way to cap as mob spawns are so highly contested. From that point of view, something with high group appeal would probably be better, but I don't want to re-create my night elf priest yet again since I could already tell on Kronos that this came too close to "trying to relive the past" and made me a bit sad. Maybe a dwarf priest to make it feel just a little different? Hmm...

On a side note, even the BBC is writing about the Nostalrius relaunch. They are going to be so busy.

20/11/2016

Legion & Legacy - End-of-year Thoughts

Just because I haven't been playing WoW doesn't mean that it has been completely off my radar. For one thing, the launch of the Legion expansion in late summer was hard to miss. And I do have to hand it to the WoW community: They are very good at building hype. I actually watched a video of someone talking so enthusiastically about just how much fun he was having with Legion that part of me was genuinely tempted to give it a try. I know better of course, but I have to give kudos to people for still managing to rouse these kinds of feelings in me after all these years and despite of my brain knowing better.

Following the reactions to Legion once the launch hype had died down was also interesting because... either Blizzard really never learns, people will complain no matter what, or maybe a bit of both. The reason I'm saying this is that after all the "there's nothing to do" moans about Warlords of Draenor, we are now back to people complaining about excessive grind and alt-unfriendliness - the exact same things that people were criticising about Mists of Pandaria. It's pretty fascinating to observe even without playing myself.

Meanwhile, I have been feeling a genuine itch to play some Vanilla again, but after just getting a new PC I'm uncertain about how to go about it. The memory of how much of a hassle it was to get the Vanilla client up and running last time doesn't exactly endear me to going through all of that again. And it makes me kind of sad to say it but... I also think I'm pretty much done with Kronos. I didn't really put down deep enough roots on it, and the fact that it's a PvP server just makes it too hard for me to casually enjoy myself on my own. I was really hoping that the opening of the gates of Ahn'qiraj would invigorate my interest somehow, but seeing how I wasn't even able to observe the event peacefully, the opposite was the case. It's annoying that the private server community has such a hard-on for PvP servers that good PvE options are few and far between. Mind you, I don't regret giving it a try, but it also taught me that PvP servers are not worth my time in the long run.

But oh, what's this...?

The drama around Nostalrius continues, and apparently they have now decided to relaunch. I've previously written about why I don't think Blizzard will ever create official Vanilla servers, but it's hard to not feel at least a spark of hope these days considering that they've gone on record only this month to say that they are still thinking about it. The Nost team on the other hand, previously the community's untiring official champions for legacy servers, have now decided to throw their toys out of the pram and will just do the same thing as other private server hosts, which is to keep going and simply ignore any cease and desists from Blizzard. One can't help but see this as unhelpful to the cause... if you thought that official Vanilla servers ever had a chance that is. For many that were quite happy to play on private servers on the other hand, the return of Nost is a joyous day. And you know what? I think at this point it might be for me too... because they are also relaunching their PvE server.

It will be the last one to go up as part of an incredibly badly thought-out staggered release and will likely be the least populated... but all that is perfectly fine by me. Maybe in the new year I will give levelling another Vanilla character a shot, this time without constantly having to worry about gank attempts.