09/02/2016

Level 50, Zul'Farrak, Uldaman

Not long ago my paladin hit level 50, after a /played time of six days and 18 and a half hours, which means that getting from 40 to 50 didn't take me that much longer than 30 to 40 (two days and nine hours as opposed to a little less than two days). Apart from the previously mentioned world PvP shenanigans, it was a pleasant ride. Like I predicted, I really loved revisiting Tanaris, Feralas and the Hinterlands. In the end I got my mechanical chicken pet too, plus the sprite darter hatchling. (I always thought it was bollocks that they took away this cute quest chain in Cataclysm and replaced it with a random drop, especially since the original story was all about saving the sprite darters, not killing them!) Remember when pets took up space in your inventory and having even one felt truly special?

I also ran a bunch of dungeons again, mostly Zul'Farrak - at the end I even tanked one run, since I once again felt secure enough as soon as I sufficiently outlevelled both the mobs and the rest of my party. I also healed an Uldaman run.

Zul'Farrak was one of my favourite dungeons in Vanilla and it was fun to revisit it. It just has it all: a straightforward layout, easy access from a zone in which you'll spend a lot of time questing, a whole bunch of dungeon quests, lots of bosses with great drops and an interesting setup. The stairs event worked great. The only issue I've had, every time, is with Witch Doctor Zum'rah. I remember back in Vanilla, the very first rule I was taught the first time I did this dungeon and got close to this guy was "DO NOT TOUCH THE GRAVES". When we came back later, at a higher level, we would loot them for fun and AoE the zombies that spawned, but in general it was accepted custom to leave them alone. I can't recall the boss himself ever giving us any trouble - yes, he spawned a bunch of adds, but they weren't too bad.

Yet every time I've run this dungeon on Kronos, the witch doctor is easily the hardest fight in the entire instance. I've repeatedly wiped on this guy. He summons zombies really quickly and they hit like absolute trucks. Some groups I've been in have tried to avoid the issue by emptying every single grave beforehand (which seemed outright bizarre to me, considering the seriousness with which the "do not touch the graves" lesson was driven home back in the day), which does seem to help but takes up loads of time (and since the zombies hit so hard, the healer needs to drink pretty much every other pull). I don't know what exactly is wrong with the fight, but I do know that this is not how things went down in Vanilla.

Actual Vanilla screenie from when we did decide to open the graves.
If Zul'Farrak is one of my old favourites, Uldaman is the exact opposite. I remember really disliking that place back in the day. With no map view for dungeons back then I tended to get lost all the time, though this is significantly less of a problem ten years later with me being quite familiar with the general layout by now. The intended level range of 38-53 was also a terrible idea, as it meant that you either got no XP for half the dungeon or would run into a massive brick wall towards the end of the instance. Oh, and of course you had to go back there again and again due to the way the different quests were designed and the fact that enchanters were looking to visit their trainer. (I'm still baffled that anyone thought that putting a profession trainer inside an instance would be a good idea!)

All that said, I was surprised by how good a time I ended up having with my pug. It helped that I had a good group that was undeterred by the fact that the server was having hiccups just as we started, crashing repeatedly just as we were doing the "pre instance" and resetting quest progress. I was only disappointed that Grimlok didn't shout: "Me Grimlok King!" The last boss, Archaedas, has remained in my memory as the first truly involved dungeon boss fight I ever encountered, as he spawns multiple sets of adds that need to be controlled. I also recall him summoning a copy of himself near the end (or something like that) which didn't happen in this version and made me doubt my memory a little. We wiped the first time anyway, which caused our tank to pull him out of the room the next time. (Again I found myself hesitant: Shouldn't those doors lock when you engage him?) This completely circumvented the add spawn and turned him into a simple tank and spank, which was slightly disappointing but also intriguing.

"Only" ten more levels to go...

06/02/2016

Private Server Community Management

One thing I've found interesting to observe over the past few weeks has been Kronos' community management. What, you think that simply putting in the effort to re-build the Vanilla WoW experience and letting people play through it for free is enough? Oh no, people want ongoing bug fixes, in-game support, forums to discuss the game, staggered releases of Vanilla patch content, community management, positive marketing for the server... the list goes on.

The fact that this isn't Blizzard and it's not 2005 anymore can lead to some... odd results. Like a few weeks ago, when an announcement was made that people had been making additional accounts purely to create low-level warlock alts and use them to summon themselves all over the place, which the server owners have now decided to curb by imposing restrictions on warlock summoning.

I was initially a bit annoyed with this, as the original announcement stated that "low level 20 warlocks are no longer able to summon high level characters", which is kind of vague and which I understood to mean that warlocks would only be able to summon characters of equal or lower level than themselves from now on. After digging a bit deeper while reading up on the subject for this post, I came upon a clarification that said that the limitation actually only kicks in if the character is sixteen levels higher than the warlock or more. That was a bit of a relief, as it shoudn't affect regular dungeon groups, where a warlock's ability to summon group mates is one of their core utilities.

Nonetheless I have to admit that the whole thing left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Looking at the 21-page forum thread, those warlock alts were apparently a real competitive issue among some hardcore guilds, with the ones with an alt stable being able to get to newly spawned world bosses much faster than any potential competitors. I can understand why this came to the GMs attention and why they felt the need to do something about it, but at the same time I can't help but worry about the effect this might have on more casual warlock players levelling up. I for one simply wouldn't expect to find such restrictions on a server that prides itself on being as "Blizz-like" as possible and would find them off-putting if I ran into them.

Last week, it was announced that the green dragons of nightmare as well as the AQ war effort would be upon us soon (ooh!) - and that Kronos would be implementing a seven times XP boost, lasting for a month. What?! My panic subsided when I read that it was optional, but I still couldn't help shaking my head about it a little bit.

I completely understand why they are doing this - they want players from other private servers to roll alts on Kronos and then be pulled into endgame via the fast levelling. Maybe it will even work on some people. But once again, this goes completely against Kronos' biggest strength: that of enabling players to re-live Vanilla WoW. Vanilla WoW didn't have people in your dungeon group levelling up three times. Why would I want to roll on a server with such a ridiculous levelling curve, even if I can opt out of it myself?

I don't remember where I originally read it now, but someone said that the reason Nostalrius has so many more players than Kronos is that Kronos targeted its marketing at people who were already playing on private servers, a niche group, while Nostalrius has been targeting former WoW players nostalgic for Vanilla, who may never even have played on a private server before and are a much, much bigger group. In hindsight it feels like an odd stroke of luck that I ended up on Kronos myself. Unfortunately I can't see the server having much success at increasing its population if its marketing sabotages its own strengths just to get players to server-hop from other private servers instead of pushing the "you too can re-experience Vanilla WoW" angle to draw in some genuinely fresh blood.

27/01/2016

On Levelling on a PvP Server

I have more than a passing interest in PvP, but at the same time I'm far from being a hardcore PvPer. Generally I tend to go through phases of high interest in it, which alternate with long periods of me barely doing any at all.

However, one thing I had never done in any MMO before I started playing on Kronos was roll a character on a PvP server. It just didn't seem like my cup of tea, because as I said, there are times when I feel like PvP and times when I don't. I had no interest in forcing it on others or having it forced on me while in the middle of doing something else. You can participate in battlegrounds and have honourable duels on a PvE server too.

At the same time, I did wonder about life on a PvP server sometimes. Some people managed to make it sound quite exciting, and if you've ever had someone of the opposite faction "steal" a gathering node from right under your nose for example, the thought of being able to stop them - or at least get revenge - holds a certain appeal.

So when I found out that whether I chose to play on Nostalrius or on Kronos, I would be on a PvP server, I wasn't too put off. It was worth a try, wasn't it?

Kronos' not too massive population has been helpful in that regard. I was nearly level twenty when I encountered my first Horde player and it was around level thirty that I got ganked for the first time. So far I've never been singled out by a level 60, and I've never been corpse camped. It's been a bit annoying to die and have to do a corpse run just because an orc warrior suddenly jumped out from behind a tree when all I really wanted to do was get from one end of Stranglethorn to the other, but it wasn't the end of the world.

This weekend has really made me rethink the whole thing though, especially since people in guild were discussing the subject as well. PvPers like to argue that playing on a PvP server makes things more exciting - and it kind of does. But to be honest, the only times you come away from this excitement feeling good is when you win. Like that one time an orc hunter tried to kill me on an island off the coast of Desolace. We got into this weird stalemate where he would run or recall his pet whenever I went after either of them, but if I healed up and tried to walk away he would give chase again. We must have swum around the island for a good ten minutes or so when it looked like he managed to get himself trapped in an exhaustion zone without noticing, because we were both in the water and he suddenly lost a huge amount of health quickly and then dropped dead without my intervention. I got a good laugh out of that and felt like he got his just desserts for insisting on harassing me.

The past weekend was less amusing. First I was trying to do that quest at the Grimtotem village in Feralas to free some Sprite Darters. I knew that a Horde rogue and warlock were nearby, but they seemed to be minding their own business so I felt reasonably safe. However, as soon as I started the quest, they were suddenly on top of me and ended up killing both me and my quest NPC - which was annoying in so far as the quest is timed, and even though I had technically succeeded at the objective, I failed the quest since the NPC was dead and I couldn't hand it in. After she respawned I made a point of waiting for the two Horde players to bugger off before I even tried again.

Worse though was when on Sunday I tried to do the mechanical chicken escort in Tanaris. I had already failed it once - my own fault that time - and really wanted to get it done the second time. I was so glad when I was finally only mere meters away from Steamwheedle Port, as good as done... until two tauren hunters suddenly decided to come up behind me and killed both me and the chicken. I'm usually not easy to upset when it comes to PvP, but that really filled me with rage, and if it hadn't been for the language barrier I would have given those tauren a piece of mind involving a lot of swearwords I usually never use. That freaking escort quest takes twenty minutes, and you think it's fun to kill me five meters from the finish line? GG, dickbags.

Soon after that, I logged off for the day even though I hadn't achieved much that weekend. Suddenly I really hated Kronos for being a PvP server. The truth is, I've never had the urge to initiate combat with the opposite faction, so if I'm being honest I'm just making myself a punching bag for other players by going along with it. All that ever happens is that I get attacked by people who are several levels above me, in twink gear, or in a group. Sometimes things get turned around and they are the ones who end up with egg on their face, but that's a cold comfort when compared to the amount of my time that ends up getting wasted by corpse-running and having to re-do quests. I've put up with it because there were no other options at the time, but weekends like these really make me wonder whether it's worth it when I could be having fun with something else where other players aren't able to ruin my enjoyment every step of the way. My free time is really too precious to me these days to waste it on nonsense like that. The notion of a rage quit has never been closer to my heart.

19/01/2016

The Kronos PvP Tournament Event

Last Saturday I logged on in Booty Bay and asked in /world if anyone was up for Stranglethorn Fever. The response was (what I interpreted as) a gentle chiding in regards to why I was merely questing in Stranglethorn when there was a big PvP tournament going on at the Gurubashi arena.

Never one to ignore a community event right in front of me, I immediately made my way over there and was amazed to see about a hundred players of both factions spread out across the edges of the arena. There was a clear east/west split between Horde and Alliance, however overall people seemed to be respecting the truce of the event for the time being, and at the edges of the two groups, the factions were even mingling peacefully.

There was already a match in progress when I arrived, an undead holy priest vs. a human ret paladin in healing gear. Unsurprisingly for Vanilla, they couldn't actually kill each other! The priest was always running from the paladin (who was trying to whack him with The Unstoppable Force), and would occasionally even manage to sit down and drink. This continued for about twenty minutes, with people in the stands offering increasingly hilarious commentary ("and they say you can't make a perpetual motion machine") or simply booing at the contestants for drinking so much. Eventually the paladin got lucky with a combination of a fear resist and a well-timed stun proc and was able to claim victory. The crowd erupted in cheers and the chat was scrolling past so quickly that I couldn't even read any of it.

None of the matches that followed took nearly that long, but they were still interesting to watch and some of them were quite impressive displays of skill. My favourite was the druid who managed to kite a warrior for a really long time and then still lost, with the warrior only having a fraction of his health left at the end. That generally seemed to be the thing with warriors, they all hit extremely hard, often taking half their opponent's health off in a single hit, and could only be countered by classes that could exert control and managed to keep them at a distance.

After a while, things slowed down and it seemed to take longer and longer to get the match-ups started. People started to become bored and unruly and began picking fights. A GM reminded everyone to please keep their weapons sheathed until the event was over, and GM intervention was also apparent by interlopers getting punted out of the arena and getting debuffed with a stun that had the duration "forever". It was dispellable though and I eventually took pity on a couple of such individuals and freed them from their imprisonment.

Things got particularly bad when tournament participants were suddenly teleported to the Dire Maul arena with the justification that one entrant, a mage, had such a bad computer that it couldn't handle the crowds in Stranglethorn. What the hell? This is Vanilla WoW, a game from the early 2000s. That thing runs on a toaster! What sort of PC does this guy have? Either way this was quite disappointing for the people actually sitting on the edges of the Gurubashi arena, and the organiser pointing everyone towards his Twitch stream was a cold comfort.

Things got interesting when Teremus the Devourer, an elite dragon from the Blasted Lands, suddenly appeared in the stands. I thought that a GM had spawned him to distract the unruly crowds, but other people in chat claimed that someone had actually kited him all the way to the arena from the Blasted Lands. Either way a dragon rampaging through the crowds certainly served to liven things up for a while.

As a bonus, the Gurubashi arena chest suddenly spawned while people were still killing Teremus, causing another bunch of people to jump down into the arena and start brawling for it. Fun for the whole family!

Eventually it was announced that both the match for third place and the final would take place in the Dire Maul arena and the GM officially gave permission for people to start killing each other in STV. It's noteworthy that while several Alliance players had been talking big the whole time about how they were going to do nasty things to the Horde the moment the tournament was over, it was the Horde that actually came rushing over as a group. It goes without saying that I as a lowly level 46 simply got steamrolled by all those level 60s. I decided to take res sickness and hearthed back to Ironforge before tabbing out to watch the last two matches on the organiser's Twitch stream.

The fight for third place was a rogue vs. warrior, a match that somewhat surprisingly went to the rogue. The final was between another warrior and the aforementioned mage playing on a toaster, and that fight was actually kind of sad and a bit boring to watch as the warrior simply didn't stand a chance. The mage timed all his frost novas and cooldowns just perfectly and the warrior basically couldn't touch him.

Despite those issues I would say that this event was definitely a success. In the future I would simply disqualify any players whose machines can't handle the crowds, as it kind of goes against the spirit of such an event to remove the contestants from the arena and tell all the people who showed up in person that they need to tab out and go watch on Twitch instead. The increasingly long breaks between match-ups also gave people way too much time to get bored, however in the end, the community was quite successful at making its own fun whenever the actual event failed to provide it. Well done, Kronos!

16/01/2016

More Vanilla Dungeon Nostalgia

When I picked up playing on Kronos again after a break of several months, I dumped a whole bunch of group and dungeon quests from my quest log and vowed to myself that, in the future, I wouldn't allow them to bog me down. If I got them done, great, but I wasn't going to fret about it and if I outlevelled them before a good opportunity presented itself to complete them, I'd just throw them out without a second thought.

In terms of group quests, I've actually been pretty lucky since then - just as the ones in Stranglethorn Vale and Alterac Mountains were starting to build up and beginning to feel like a problem, I had a lucky day and got the whole lot of them done in two runs (one for each zone).

Also, I've been running dungeons again, mostly as a healer, even though I always feel a bit self-conscious wearing a dress as a paladin. I tend to not put my healing gear on until we're at the instance and I immediately take it off again as soon as we're done. Funnily enough, the one time I didn't do that and left it on for a bit while wandering around Ironforge clearing my bags, a dwarf paladin whispered me accusingly that paladins shouldn't wear dresses (it was clearly tongue-in-cheek but still telling)!

I'd kind of given up on the idea of actually tanking dungeons because it's just too annoying without a taunt, but ended up doing so for one SM Library/Armoury run anyway because everyone else in the group was several levels below me, which I figured would give me enough of a threat buffer. It did work out OK, though towards the end we had to replace one damage dealer and the new one was a shadow priest that was only one level below me or so... she had aggro pretty much until the end of the run.

Overall I've been enjoying these runs, for a variety of reasons. I'd forgotten just how much more distinctive the classes felt in Vanilla due to their different abilities, and it really makes every group excitingly different as well. Having a mage means that you can always sheep one mob in each pull, which vastly increases the tank's amount of control and makes the healer's job a lot easier, not to mention that their secondary job as a water vending machine is a godsend for any mana users in the party. (Remember when everyone had to sit down after every other pull to drink up?) Warlock summons are really useful in this age before summoning stones if one party member is slacking on their way to the instance and makes it so much easier to replace someone if you need to. On the other hand, they constantly lifetap themselves to within an inch of their lives and then just stand there, waiting for me to drink and heal them up again! Get your own food or drink, buddy, or at least some bandages! Hunter pets are actually really useful as occasional off-tanks since tanks have so little control, and over the course of the evening you can get really attached to the little critters. I always apologised if one died and often resurrected them afterwards. I actually felt sorry for Sheldon the turtle when his happiness level dropped to "unhappy" because he'd died so many times... also, as a paladin I'm having oodles of fun with seals and judgements. In Scarlet Monastery in particular, runners can be a real problem and I got a real kick out of slapping them with a judgement of justice when they got low on health so that they couldn't run away. There's just so much utility and so many synergies going around. The more time passes, the less favourable I look back on Ghostcrawler's "bring the player, not the class" mantra and the effect it has had on the game.

The whole experience is also just so different from most dungeons in more modern MMOs. Syp posted about what he considers a good dungeon run yesterday, and Telwyn wrote a post in reply to offer a counter-point on the subject of why "should take 30 minutes or less" might not be a good requirement for an instance. I can actually enjoy a 30 minute dungeon run as well if everything else about it works for me, but there is a certain quality to these old-school, multiple-hour runs that seems to be missing from many newer games. Both the time and effort required and the rewards you get are just so much greater. There's the whole issue of having to manually assemble the group and getting everyone to the instance (the trip to Scarlet Monastery as an Alliance player is epic on its own), but then once inside you earn decent XP and the drops are just amazing. I'd completely forgotten how rare even greens used to be in Vanilla and I sell almost every single one I find on the auction house. My own paladin still has level twenty gear in several slots simply because I haven't had any appropriate drops or received useful quest rewards. So going to a place where you're pretty much guaranteed to see multiple blues or at least high quality greens drop is just exciting. It's pretty much comparable to pugging a (non raid finder) raid in a newer game, just with fewer people. I guess as someone who enjoys raiding to this day, it's not surprising that those old-school dungeons appeal to me as well - though I fully admit that I wouldn't want to be running them every day either as it would get quite exhausting.

One thing I definitely do miss from those days is the greater sense of patience pervading every group endeavour. You could argue that people simply had no choice, since getting impatient and dropping group would just result in having to spend even more time finding a new one, but I think I'm not alone in actually enjoying that slower pace and feeling more comfortable with it. In one SM Library run, one of our dps apologised profusely that he had to leave to get dinner, but we encouraged him to not leave the party and continued clearing trash with just the four of us. It's not as if we'd gotten that far by the time he came back fifteen minutes later... Then there was the hunter who said "one sec, potty break for 4 year old", or the warlock who suddenly went AFK and then came back ten minutes later to say that her son had cut his foot open and she'd had to help him out, though he was all OK now... and everyone just nodded knowingly. In some way, this atmosphere is actually more casual and family friendly than the more modern, shorter but much more hurried runs, where there is a constant feeling of being on the clock and any interruption means wasting people's time. I really prefer a more relaxed approach where it's not all about efficiency but more about enjoying the experience of simply being in the game, where a bit of downtime is something that's perfectly acceptable every now and then.

09/01/2016

Kronos Perks

I've written about how I ended up playing on Kronos - there was definitely some thought put into it. Still, I have to admit that at the time I certainly didn't know just how big the rivalry between Nostalrius and Kronos would end up being, nor that Kronos is very much the underdog in this battle. (Check any YouTube video in which someone complains about how WoW used to be so much better back in the day and you'll find people in the comments shouting: "Come play on Nostalrius!" Kronos is comparatively unknown.)

Would I reroll to be part of a bigger population? Are you kidding? I'm up to more than five days of /played time on my paladin after several months of real time and I'm still only in the low forties... hell no.

Still, I also realised that there are perks to playing on Kronos that I initially wasn't aware of. This post by a guild leader who consciously decided to move his Vanilla WoW guild from Emerald Dream to Kronos instead of Nostalrius lists a lot of them. To be honest it's so long that I skimmed most of it, but I particularly liked his chapter five about the world, taking note of things like different coloured rabbits, dynamic line of sight and smarter mob AI.

That post also served to make me aware that the TwinStar website (home of all things Kronos) actually offers a huge amount of features I didn't know about. For example it has an actual Armory, which is admittedly not very Vanilla-like (I believe the WoW Armoury was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King?), but since it doesn't affect my in-game experience I consider it a very cool tool to have outside the game. So if you want to check on my pally's progress for example, you can find her profile here.

There's also the "TwinHead" section, which is sort of like Wowhead, only filled with Vanilla information about this particular server. Admittedly the lack of comments limits its usefulness somewhat (if I'm stuck on a quest, I'm usually still better off using Google to find some old Wowhead comments about it), but it's great for things like finding accurate NPC locations in the old world, finding out which mobs actually drop your quest items, or even finding out if there is a bug, as their bug reporting feature is directly integrated into the same system. For example I mentioned in my last post that the Gizelton Caravan quest in Desolace isn't working - so when you go to TwinHead's page about this quest (linked), it actually states outright that this quest's status is "not working" and via a link on the "issues" tab you can find a detailed description of what the problem is.

Not officially linked to the TwinStars website, but no less interesting is Kronos Census, which lists detailed stats about player activity as well as class, faction and level distribution among the characters on the server.

I'm just impressed by the infrastructure behind it all. We've certainly come a long way from private servers being dodgy little things that few people knew about.

28/12/2015

Over the Hump

The thirties were not the most fun of level ranges in Vanilla. You had no mount yet, yet you had to range further and further afield to find quests - particularly painful on classes that don't get some kind of speed boost, like a hunter's Aspect of the Cheetah or a druid's Travel Form (*cough*mypally*cough*). There's also a bit of a dearth of good dungeons in the low thirties... who ever wants to do SM GY? And the only Alliance players who ever want to go to Razorfen Kraul are warriors for their class quest (if I recall correctly).

I've written about questing in Stranglethorn Vale and Thousand Needles, but aside from that I also spent some time in Arathi killing kobolds and Syndicate, and more in Desolace, though I made a point of staying away from anything centaur-related. The quests associated with the goblin caravan turned out to be sadly broken, but from what I hear no private server has got those right yet. Also, Rexxar and his pet bear are jerks. (The latter killed me after chasing me halfway across the map... she just wouldn't let go!)

Either way, I'm proud to say that I'm finally over that hump (thus the title of this post) and hit level 40! There is no ding shot as I was actually in the middle of tanking a Scarlet Monastery run at the time, but I noted down that I hit this milestone after a /played time of four days and about nine and a half hours. So just getting from 30 to 40 took me almost two days of played time, about the same amount of time as 1 to 30! In fairness though, I wasn't trying to be terribly efficient about it (or else I wouldn't be levelling a paladin as prot/holy). I also can't help but wonder how much of that time was spent in combat, compared to running around, sitting on flight paths and idling at the Ironforge auction house. I wouldn't be surprised if it was less than fifty percent.

Of course, hitting level 40 means that I'm finally able to get my first mount! And this is where being a paladin has its perks, because they get their basic mount for free. It counts as a regular paladin ability and doesn't even require you to have had riding training. This is good, because while I've been trying to save up money, I still would have come up a bit short in terms of gold, mostly because ability training is horrifically expensive, and bank space is even more so. (And while the latter is largely optional, I couldn't resist buying some, considering the alternative would have been to *gasp* get rid of some items that I wanted to keep.)

Even though I'm sure that they will take even longer, I'm looking forward to the next couple of levels because a) I finally have a horse, b) they will take me to zones like Tanaris, Feralas and the Hinterlands, some of my favourite Vanilla WoW zones, and c) SM Cathedral and Zul'Farrak are fun and worth re-running more than once if the opportunity arises.