23/10/2020

Level 50 in BfA

We didn't quite get there last Sunday since we didn't end up having as much play time that day as expected, but it didn't take long afterwards. For the curious, my /played time to get to 50 was just under 26 hours. For comparison, my two 60s in Classic took 9-10 days to level each. Even in SWTOR, which I consider to have an extremely fast levelling track these days, my last max-level character took a few hours more to get there than my monk. And even that was with reading quest text and plenty of idling. Blizzard weren't kidding when they said that they just wanted to get you to max level asap with this new system.

In terms of content, we cleared all of Tiragarde Sound (which is mandatory to do first on this new levelling path) and most of Drustvar. We probably would have had to finish Drustvar to ding if we hadn't padded our XP gains with some Cataclysm profession dailies and Halloween event quests. My understanding is that there's a lot of story content left to do, not just Stormsong Valley but also the zones added in later patches and the whole of the war campaign. We'll see how far we get before I lose steam as I so often do with questing once the XP gains stop.

I do want to say though that the immediate experience of hitting max level was awkwardly and hilariously disconnected from everything that had come before. In terms of look and feel, the trip through Exile's Reach and into BfA provides a fairly coherent tale of adventuring in a classic fantasy environment and even if you're a new player or don't have much of a lore background, the story should be straightforward enough to follow. But then you ding 50 and you get this pop-up quest from some crystal dwarf who wants to see you urgently in Silithus, a place you've never been. There's a handy portal to get you there in Bolarus, but other than that there's no real context for what's going on. In the Chamber of the Heart there's a console that lets you watch the Legion end cinematic if you like, but again... if you don't already know these characters and what's been going on, it's pretty incomprehensible and just teaches you that apparently some giant fire dude stuck a sword into the planet while you were hunting witches in Drustvar and you didn't notice.

Then the Heart of Azeroth and your first piece of Azerite armour are dumped on you with little to no explanation. I even needed my husband to point out that the heart's Azerite level had now replaced my XP bar. I know that with Shadowlands coming it's all going to be irrelevant anyway, but why bother new players with this thing at all at this point? It just breaks the flow big time and is unnecessarily confusing if you ask me. It's like saying: "Hey, I know you're enjoying your questing at the moment, but please come and pick up your pointless grind mechanic first, it's very important."

20/10/2020

Classic Guild Life

After spending so many years officering in my SWTOR guild, I'm finding it interesting to just be a rank and file member in a Classic raiding guild that has to operate in a very different way compared to what I'm used to. I just can't stop myself from still looking at certain things with an analytical eye.

For example I was quite confused by how, as I started to find my feet in the guild, some people seemed to become almost overly attached to me from one day to the next. I mean, I took a fast liking to many of them as well, and I don't really have major self confidence issues nowadays, but even so I'm well aware that I'm not that amazing if you get what I mean. It just felt weirdly disproportional how keen some of them seemed to be on simply seeing me online and talking to me.

This meme came to mind.

Things did calm down a bit after a few weeks, but I was reminded of the whole thing again when I logged in by the Stormwind mailbox today and saw next to me a rogue that had recently joined the guild... but now with another guild's tag over her head. I hadn't really got to know her very well - in fact we'd only really exchanged a few lines - yet I briefly had to fight the urge to whisper her and express great sadness about her leaving, perhaps even beg her to reconsider her reasons, whatever they might be. I stopped myself, especially since guild chat on the subject of her departure seemed to indicate that it had already been discussed with her, but it still gave me pause that I'd felt the urge to run after this person like an overly attached girlfriend even for a moment.

The thing is, we had only really exchanged a few lines, but she seemed nice. We are woefully short on raiding rogues at the moment (we only have two!), and she seemed like a promising candidate. And it's not just rogues we've been short on - raids as a whole have been a bit anaemic, often starting with the group being several people short and then only slowly filling up as the night goes on and social members and latecomers get dragged in. That sort of situation is bad for a myriad of reasons and ultimately endangers the stability of the regular raids, meaning that every member has a vested interest in filling any vacancies with decently competent and agreeable recruits as soon as possible. They don't have to be your new best friend, but just being "kinda nice" is honestly enough to want them to stick around.

I suspect that everyone who's ever been an officer in a raiding guild of any size knows what a challenge it can be to maintain a stable roster over the long term, and with Classic raids requiring 40 people this is only magnified. There are also additional challenges caused by other parts of the game.

Unlike more modern MMOs for example, it has no freebies or tasks on timers that encourage you to log in on a schedule... which is something I quite appreciate about it to be honest, and it can still be very addicting in its own way, but if you get distracted by something else for a few days that also means that it's very easy to just forget to log in again and "fade away". In raid terms this means that people sign up and attend raids for weeks or even months and then just... stop. With the sheer size of the roster, chances are that there isn't necessarily the sort of personal connection that you have in smaller guilds and that enables you to chase the person down via other channels in such a situation, so they're just suddenly gone and you have a hole in your roster.

And of course there's the matter of loot being scarce and oddly distributed for different classes, which means that there are a hundred reasons why you might find yourself craving to try a different approach if your guild isn't delivering the results you want, whether it's because there's too much competition for your class, the guild rarely runs the raids that actually drop your best-in-slot for whatever reason, or the loot system makes it hard for you to actually secure the drops you want vs. alts and pugs. With so many guilds being desperate to keep their rosters full, you have little to lose by throwing your lot in with someone else from one day to the next just to see if it works better for you, meaning that recruitment can be a bit of a revolving door at times.

The part of me that likes getting shinies can certainly see the appeal - I look at the 17 pieces of equipment that make up my hunter's current gear, and even after weeks of running dungeons and raids with the guild, more than a third of my gear actually still comes from two pug runs I attended weeks ago. AQ40 is surprisingly rubbish for hunter gear, and if I just wanted to maximise my chances of increasing my dps, I'd be better off looking for regular MC and ZG runs. Of course, in my particular case that's not really why I'm here so it's ultimately not that relevant, but I can definitely see why this sort of situation can be frustrating and why people don't waste any time to look elsewhere if it feels like their current guild's offerings don't help with their personal goals.

tl;dr: There are very strong incentives at work when it comes to raiding guilds in Classic, both to leave one that isn't a perfect fit, and to recruit and hold on to as many people as possible at all times if you are happy where you are. It's no wonder people can get very passionate about this stuff.

17/10/2020

Strange New Retail World

This week the Shadowlands pre-patch dropped for retail WoW, and my feed of WoW blogs is full of people complaining that it's a "nothing patch" for them. Of course, for people who don't own the current expansion it's an exciting time because it means that BfA is now accessible to all subscribers without an extra purchase, and without all the grindy crap to boot.

As I mentioned back in July, I was quite interested in the new starting zone and general changes to the levelling experience. It's not the sort of thing for which I would resubscribe, but since it basically comes "free with Classic" for me I thought that I might as well have a look.

I started by rolling up a Draenei shaman on Azuremyst Isle and revelling in the general confusion of someone who hasn't played retail since Mists of Pandaria. For example the intro cinematic had been updated to narrate about the Draenei's current status post-Legion (I think?) but the quests were still the same old "we just crash-landed here". I also kept looking at my mana bar, daring it to move when I used abilities, but it seemed impossible to make it budge in any meaningful way. There was a first aid trainer that only had tailoring recipes on offer since first aid doesn't exist anymore as far as I can tell. And so on.

By the time I reached Azure Watch, I was level 7 just like in the good old days, but considering that the level cap has now been squished to 50, this seemed kind of unsettling. It doesn't feel like Blizzard really tuned the XP gains in the old zones much at all. I wonder if you still end up being level 20+ by the time you finish Bloodmyst Isle?

I didn't get to find out, because by that time my husband had reinstalled WoW and we were off to our scheduled duo levelling adventure - eventually. The first few days after the patch the EU servers were plagued by login issues (my Classic guild had to cancel its Wednesday raid night since half the guild couldn't even log in), but eventually we managed to roll up a pair of humans on Exile's Reach. He made a warrior because he always defaults to tanky classes, and I made a monk because I'd never played one and this seemed like the best setup to avoid feeling like the class I was playing was all wrong (compared to how I remembered it).

I originally thought that I was going to make a whole post about Exile's Reach, but to be honest I don't have that much to say about it. From what I can tell, happy retail players seemed to praise it for being more in line with the way questing works in the modern game, while salty Classic players considered it a somewhat dumbed down/childish experience. From what I can tell, they are both right? It's a fun little romp that gets you to level 10 quite quickly, but it's also very "generic tutorial level" if you get my drift, and the writing is super on the nose, seemingly assuming that WoW players are unable to pay attention to or retain anything for more than five minutes. (Take a shot every time the Garricks reference their familial relationship for example, just in case the player already forgot again that they are mother and son.)

We had originally planned to level the rest of the way by revisiting Wrath of the Lich King, but the new starter experience segues so smoothly into the BfA intro that we just rolled with it, as it was new content for both of us anyway. (The husband actually played through the BfA story at launch, but only on Horde side.)

The start felt like quite a long stretch of just passively watching cut scenes and listening to NPCs talk, which made us a little stir-crazy, but ever since we've been set loose to make our own fun it's been an enjoyable enough experience. They really weren't kidding about the increased levelling speed though - after about 8 hours of casual play, our duo is already level 26. At this rate we might even hit the new level cap of 50 before the weekend is over! We'll see what happens then.

13/10/2020

40 People Walk into a Lair

I've been raiding in MMOs in one form or another for close to thirteen years now (yikes), so I think I've got a pretty good idea about my preferences in regards to this specific activity. One conclusion I came to after a while was that as a general rule, I find bigger group sizes more fun. They have their issues of course (more likely to cause lag, people talking over each other a lot etc.) but there's just something more... epic-feeling about a large group of people storming an enemy stronghold together.

That said, Classic's 40-mans have still been a step up for me, as previously the biggest raid size that I'd ever been a part of was 25 people. That's 60% more players than I had to deal with previously!

And I really quite like it. 40 characters make for a proper little army that requires organisation into multiple smaller sub-groups, which makes for some interesting interactions. For example I'm but one of five "core" hunters in the guild, and it feels like we're our own tight-knit little group within the larger whole.

There's also a unique sort of social energy to a large and organised, yet fun-focused raid. It oddly reminds me of the dynamics of a party in real life actually, only without the physical awkwardness sometimes associated with initiating or extracting yourself from conversations (it's easy enough to choose whether you want to address the whole raid, others of your class, people near you, or just one specific individual by choosing the right channel of communication), and instead of everyone getting drunk by the end of the night, the ultimate goal is to smash some dragons.

I don't recall ever having been a huge fan of parties in real life, but I quite like this more selectively distanced and organised version. That said, I'm still an introvert at the end of the day and I can't deny that therefore all this socialising is also taking a toll on me and leaving me quite tired at the end of the night. The fact that I'm still relatively new to all the raids and have to pay close attention to every mechanic instead of being able to auto-pilot through a lot of them probably doesn't help either.

So I spend my raid nights laughing at jokes on Discord, exchanging whispers, emotes and random gifts of useless items with various raid members until we're done slaying dragons, but then I'm properly knackered. I can only hope that I'll become a bit more resilient against this over time, because as tired as these nights leave me, I still love the vibe.

It also makes me feel a little sad actually to think of the downscaling in raid sizes that will come with Burning Crusade. I'm sure the poor officers struggling to fill a raid with 40 people every week (the runs are actually rarely full from my experience so far) will welcome the logistical pressure easing up a bit, but it will also force those sub-groups of "the hunters" etc. to shrink and just generally diminish the experience a little bit.

06/10/2020

Into the Unknown

I could join you... but I won't.
Some look to raid here, but others don't.
There's a thousand reasons I shouldn't log in today,
should ignore your whispers, which I wish would go away!

Oh-oh-oh.

You're not my friends, you're just temptation in my ear!
And if I liked you - which I don't! - I'm spoken for I fear.
Everyone I love's already with me in SWTOR;
I'm sorry, raider sirens, but I really don't need more.
I've had my adventures, I don't need something new.
I'm afraid of what I'm risking if I go with you

Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!

What do you want? 'Cause you've been keeping me awake...
Are you here to nag me 'til I make a big mistake?
Or are you just some people who play a lot like me?
Who can tell just what a great fit our union would be?
Every day's a little harder as the urge inside me grows
You just seem to know there's part of me that longs to go 

Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!
Into the unknown!

Wait, what? That's it? That was somewhat less exciting than I expected... guess I've beaten the game now?

I suppose that means the part where I get a cool new mount and find my hidden inner power has to wait until another time.

01/10/2020

Dungeon Bullet Points

Leaving all this newfangled raid stuff aside, one of my Classic endgame goals was to do all the max-level dungeons at least a couple of times and get a better feel for them than I had back in the day. (I've written about my uncomfortable relationship with vanilla endgame previously.) I wasn't sure how well that particular ambition was going to pan out in a raiding guild, but luckily for me it turned out that quite a few of the core raiders are actually quite fond of running five-man dungeons as well, so I've made some nice progress on my personal dungeon checklist.

Blackrock Depths

A Jail Break run in BRD was actually the first piece of group content I recall doing with guildies (not counting the bug/dragon farm). They were looking to get a couple of alts attuned for Onyxia and were LFM, and I figured that I might as well join in since I wasn't attuned either at the time. It was pretty fun!

Since then I've been back a number of times: to get attuned for MC, do some other quests and also help out other guildies. I still think it's too easy to get lost in there and just consider the dungeon too long, but I've found that it does help to let go of the notion of treating it like a regular dungeon that you "complete" every time and to simply accept that you have to pick and choose your targets based on what people want to do on any given night. Plus my guildies actually know their way around so there are fewer annoyances with getting lost.

Blackrock Spire

Now, this has been my biggest success story as it's the one place I don't think I ever went to back in Vanilla and which I only ever visited a couple of times afterwards as well. The only post on the blog that had the tag "Blackrock Spire" until now is this one from late Wrath in which I talk about a pug kicking me for specifically wanting to do LBRS instead of a random dungeon (lol).

Parts of it are still confusing to me, especially where people habitually skip some pulls by jumping off ledges and stuff, but through sheer repetition I've become much more comfortable with the place. I even ran LRBS often enough to collect all the gems for the UBRS key. (Yes, I'm a hunter with the UBRS key now. Every pug's dream!)

There've been fewer runs of UBRS itself, but still a few (and yes, I'm counting UBRS as a dungeon even though it's a ten-man). I've learned how to kite General Drakkisath, and I got Finkle's Skinner from the Beast. I also learned that there's a gnome hiding inside the belly of the Beast, which amused me to end.

Dire Maul

Dire Maul is not as popular a destination but I have visited all wings at least once. East was ticked off during an extremely late-night run with a group of guild regulars. West was done one afternoon when a guildie suddenly got it into his head that he really wanted the book needed to acquire Quel'Serrar - not that we got it in that run, considering the extremely low drop rate. On the final round of the instance to hand in our quests at the end, the druid healer and I must have found every single one of the invisible ghosts in the instance; it was quite ridiculous. Finally, I got to see Dire Maul North during my first ever tribute run, which someone started to get the buffs in time for a guild raid.

Scholomance

Scholomance is the one dungeon I still haven't done for some reason! Need to rectify that at some point...

Stratholme

I've done the living side once or twice and the undead side several more times. It's a place that seems to be quite popular with people for farming money (live side) or specific rare drops (undead side). I took it as a sign of how much times have changed that we easily completed the "Baron Run" (reaching and killing the last boss of the undead side within 45 minutes) several times without even trying. I also learned that there's an amulet you can gather in the living side that makes an NPC from the chapel at the back door help you in the fight against the Baron... even where I thought I knew the content, I keep learning new things.

27/09/2020

Playing Catch-up

I've been playing so much Classic lately; it feels almost embarrassing. I pretty much could have been writing daily blogs about all the things I've been doing, but instead I've just been spending all my time actually playing the game. I haven't been in this deep for a while.

Since that first AQ20 I've been to quite a few more raids: more runs of AQ20, one Zul'Gurub, two Onyxias and two Blackwing Lairs. In the last BWL run I won Ashjre'thul, Crossbow of Smiting, the best weapon for hunters until Naxxramas. My little nelf hunter is starting to kick some serious butt.

Unsurprisingly, the gentle nudges to join the raid team proper have continued, and not just from the hunter class leader either. I was quite surprised for example when, after watching one of the priests stream an AQ40 run, he commented to me that it was a shame that I was only watching and that I should be there with them next time. It's been strangely flattering to be courted this way.

At this point I'm about ready to cave, because I'm a firm believer in embracing serendipity, and that if life gives you something nice you should appreciate it to the fullest while you can. I wasn't looking to raid, but I also wasn't looking to join a guild that would turn out to be an awesome fit for me - it just happened. It's not that I absolutely can't raid "properly" in WoW, I've just been prioritising my hobby time differently. I think it may be time to make some changes in that regard.

So with that in mind, I've been looking at what it would take for my little hunter to be raid-ready for current content. Unfortunately, the answer at this point in the game is: more than I expected.

In general, gear level isn't as much of an obstacle as you'd think. I got myself hit-capped through dungeon drops and quest rewards, and everything else is pretty much a bonus. In terms of dps, the tuning in all the Classic raids up to Naxxramas is so low that there isn't really that much pressure to perform. More is nice of course because it makes things go faster, but it's not a big deal unless topping the meters is a personal motivation for you. It's mostly just tanks and healers who have to worry about having enough stats to stay / keep each other alive.

But there are other obstacles. For example, a big hunter utility in Classic is the use of Tranquilizing Shot, an ability that is key to preventing certain bosses from smooshing the tanks while "frenzied". The ability has a cooldown, and on the bosses that frenzy, it happens often enough that you need several hunters rotating their tranq shots.

The ability is learned from Tome of Tranquilizing Shot, a guaranteed drop from the first boss in Molten Core that binds on pick-up. While people were doing MC regularly, it was trivial to get this for every hunter in the raid. However, one year later, people are mostly sick and tired of farming MC and I still haven't been on a full run of it even once.

On the bosses that require tranquilising in BWL, one of the officers has repeatedly called for me to tranq, just for me to have to remind him yet again that I don't have it. It was fine because we had enough other hunters to cover it, but more than any lack of gear, it really highlighted how much I relied on others to carry me and that's something that makes me feel kinda bad every time. The guild finally put an MC run up for next week, so I'm hoping that I'll at least be able to fix that particular problem soon. This is relevant because tranq shot is still used in AQ40 as well.

A seemingly even bigger hurdle is the nature resist gear though. Resistance gear as a whole is a bit of an odd beast in Classic. In Vanilla it was commonly assumed that you needed fire resist gear for Molten Core for example, but in Classic hardly anyone seems to bother except for a few pieces for the tanks. Similarly, nature res for AQ40 doesn't appear to be quite as big a deal as it was back then, but it's still recommended for some bosses at least. I asked in guild what would be required for a hunter and was told to aim for 200 NR buffed, mainly for Princess Huhuran, which may not sound like much to some, but you have to consider that resistances in Classic are generally parcelled out in stacks of 10-20 per gear piece at the most, so that's a lot of different gear slots that need to be filled.

My heart kinda sunk when that realisation hit me. My understanding is that the guild worked on building up everyone's resistance gear for weeks and months before the opening of the gates, so that's potentially quite a lot of work to get done just to get caught up. People have of course been kind enough to offer help, but a grind with help is still a grind, and proper catch-up mechanics are largely absent, so it really is all about farming materials for crafts and going back to old dungeons for rare drops.

Maraudon is one major go-to for nature resist gear, so I trundled over to Desolace last night to see what I could solo in there. I was relieved to see that I could run past pretty much all the trash mobs (the only time I aggroed any of them was when I had my pet out and doing its "running into places I didn't want it to be" thing) but the bosses were still somewhat of a challenge. I couldn't get Noxxion down for example, and while I found a video of a hunter soloing him, that seemed to require a very specific setup. Razorlash was easy enough, as was Meshlok the Harvester (who was actually up), though the latter only gave me a pretty dress instead of the mail helmet I had been hoping for. Celebras the Cursed was very doable as well, though I didn't handle the adds very well so that we ended up knocking each other out simultaneously, which was at least amusing.

In the end I'd had a decent refresher of the earlier half of Maraudon, and the value of the things I vendored just about covered the repair bills for my multiple deaths, but in terms of gear I wasn't really much better off than before. (Razorlash dropped a pair of leather leggings, but the legs are one slot I would've been able to cover with crafted stuff anyway.)

In short, my whirlwind romance with being guilded and trying raiding in Classic continues, but at times it's also emotionally confusing and finding myself face-to-face with some of the more... eclectic-seeming design choices definitely makes me more sympathetic to why the devs decided to change these things later on to make it a bit easier for people to play together.