12/06/2016

Bloodless Mountain Lions

I haven't spent that much time on Kronos over the past couple of weeks because I needed some downtime to clear my bags. I'm serious! I had levelled my hunter's leatherworking and crafted a whole bunch of chest and leg pieces that were good enough that I knew they would sell well on the auction house and yield a fair bit more money that way than if I simply vendored them. But you can't flood the AH with ten of the same item, you've got to let them trickle in one by one... so my play sessions consisted of logging in, emptying my mailbox, re-listing things on the AH and logging off again.

This weekend I would have felt like playing some more again, but the Kronos team decided to use Saturday of all days to take the server down for maintenance. I have to laugh at the people who think that Blizzard could just "throw up" a bunch of Vanilla servers and nobody would mind the imperfections. They clearly haven't seen the reactions of people who've been deprived of a completely free service provided by volunteers for a mere couple of hours...

That said, I've since taken my hunter to Hillsbrad Foothills. It was an annoying trek, but I had a breadcrumb quest and I was going to be damned if I had to abandon it. There were some nice quests there too.

I didn't witness any epic Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battles, but the steady stream of Alliance players travelling to Alterac or the Scarlet Monastery was certainly noticeable. I got killed two or three times and got away another couple. In fact, I got quite close to nearly killing a level 30+ paladin but ended up aggroing all kinds of wildlife during my clumsy kiting so that I eventually had to retreat to Tarren Mill to get some health back.

There was one quest in particular that stood out: Elixir of Pain, which is part of a chain. This part asks you to collect ten blood samples from mountain lions. I had cleared the area of cats all the way to the Hillsbrad Fields before I saw my first quest item drop - in fact, I had already begun to wonder whether I was killing the right mobs. Old Wowhead comments also bemoan the bad drop rate, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology I could check Kronos' own database for the exact drop rate on this server: 15%. Ouch! You do the maths for how many mountain lions one has to kill on average to get ten blood samples then...

I'll be honest: I considered abandoning it. But then I realised that I'd need more leather anyway, so to hell with it. I think I gained almost a whole level doing nothing but hunting mountain lions while listening to some random podcasty-type videos. As I've said before, grinding isn't always bad. I needed that leather anyway.

02/06/2016

I saw the Warcraft Movie!

... and it wasn't bad. It wasn't fantastic either, but overall I enjoyed it.

It manages to bring the cartoony world of Azeroth to life in a convincing manner while maintaining its colourful charm. Everything from the acting to the effects is at least solid (though I thought the orcs' voices sounded a bit hollow and hard to understand sometimes).

I could tell that they made a lot of changes to the lore, though I was never that good with the details from the RTS games as I never actually played them. So most of the changes just sparked a "hm, I'm pretty sure that's not how that went in the original version" while I scratched my head a little as I couldn't actually remember just how that particular part of the plot was supposed to go. At least I could usually make a good guess as to why they made a change at that particular point (e.g. to make a character look more sympathetic or to provide a simplified explanation for something that's pretty convoluted in the "real" lore).

I think the film's biggest problem is that while it keeps events moving at a brisk pace and never gets boring, it fails to really get its claws into the viewers on an emotional level and get them to care about what's going on. To make a Lord of the Rings comparison, it's missing its "Shire", the part where we get introduced to the beauty of the world of Azeroth and develop a connection to it, seeing it as something worth fighting for. There is a lot of jumping back and forth between different characters, but few of them get enough screen time that you can really connect to them. And the few that do either aren't all that likeable (in my opinion) or end up dying. (Khadgar is the notable exception here.) It's not so bad if you already know who all these people are and have a previous investment, but I can definitely see how this could cause the film to fall flat for uninitiated audiences.

29/05/2016

More Lowbie Dungeons on Horde Side

It felt oddly satisfying to do Wailing Caverns on my hunter at level - I mentioned that I never managed to do this back in actual Vanilla times (probably because back then I was levelling my hunter shortly before BC launch, so most people were focused on the upcoming expansion already), so this sort of "better late than never" experience was oddly cathartic.

As you'd expect of these old-school dungeons, each run was quite an experience.

During my first run, things seemed to be going almost too smoothly for a while, until we had a near wipe deep inside the instance - me and the mage were the only ones to survive, due to him re-sheeping one mob while I turned my cat's taunt on and spammed mend pet on it until the situation had stabilised. The warrior tank and the warlock decided that they were going to wait for the healer to run back and res them, but in classic Wailing Caverns fashion, our priest got lost on the way back. He did eventually find his way back to the rest of the group (I think he dug up a map from the internet or something), but not until a good fifteen minutes or so had passed.

Killing all the bosses was also a shocking drain on my ammunition - and I'm not some noob who goes into an instance with a half-empty ammo pouch. It got a little nerve-wracking towards the end (I didn't want to have to start meleeing things), and by the time we killed Mutanus, I had exactly five bullets left. Dodged that particular bullet (excuse the pun)!

That could have been it if I had actually managed to get all my quests done in that single run, however for two of them I was still short on drops, which prompted me to look for another group several days later. Pro tip: While watching the chat for LFG requests, a great way to pass the time in a productive manner at this level is to fish at one of the oases in the Barrens. Deviate Fish sell quite nicely.

Just as I was starting to get a bit impatient and began to think that it probably wasn't going to happen that day, I saw a lonely tank looking for group for Wailing Caverns, quickly snatched him up, and about five minutes later we were on our way.

I was kind of amused when this tank asked if we all knew how Vanilla dungeons worked - he was apparently quite old-school and the healer soon commended him on his excellent pulling. The tank explained that in Vanilla, the art of pulling was what tanking was all about, prompting me to add that the art of dealing damage was all about not pulling, which earned a few chuckles.

About halfway through, our warlock disconnected and didn't come back, which prompted the group to replace him with a mage. Said mage actually showed that the tank's question at the start had not been unreasonable, because he had trouble finding the instance entrance and expected all the quests to come from the NPC at the door. We finished without any further issues, I got a nice new bow and managed to complete both of my remaining quests. We also must have killed everything considerably more quickly than last time, because even though we did the entire instance once again, I came nowhere near close to running out of bullets this time.

Once again, this could have been it, except that someone suggested that we should continue to Shadowfang Keep as a group since we were doing so well. Everyone but the shaman healer agreed, and he was soon replaced by a priest.

I'd forgotten just how packed with trash mobs and claustrophobic SFK was in Vanilla. More than once I actually found myself unable to shoot things and forced into melee range since I couldn't get to the minimum distance required to use my ranged attacks (damn those spiral staircases).

Still, initially things seemed to be going well, until our healer DCed somewhat suddenly. He had been saying something about his baby waking up, so we figured that this was the reason for the sudden disappearance. We eventually replaced him with a level 18 priest, which is a tad low for the instance but seemed reasonable considering that he didn't have to hit things. However, we soon ran into trouble in the room with the many stairs and ramps after Odo the Blindwatcher, where our healer's immense aggro radius caused way too many mobs to descend on us all at once. We wiped and tried again more carefully, but still got too many of them, simply doing too much damage to us. I eventually lost count of the number of wipes we had in that room - five or six perhaps - but eventually we had whittled the problematic group down to a manageable size and were able to proceed.

Sadly we didn't have much luck once we actually made it to Arugal, who once again wiped us in short order. (I suppose it didn't help that he was level 26 and I was the highest level in the group at 24.) I think we had two attempts on him, and then found after running back that everything up to the courtyard had respawned, which prompted several people to throw in the towel. Bit of a shame, but it was still a productive run overall - I got lots of leather for my leatherworking and as mentioned, my little tauren dinged 24.

21/05/2016

Back in the Saddle

Kronos has been back up again for a couple of days, but it's still a bit wobbly on its legs sometimes. I logged onto my paladin to see how things were going and a stranger ran up to me and traded me The Light and How to Swing It. However, before I could even do as much as say "thanks, stranger", I was disconnected and unable to log back in again. So, if you happen to read this, random stranger in Ironforge: I didn't mean to be rude, and thank you again!

Fortunately the server was stable enough for me to spend some time playing this Saturday, as I wanted to make use of the rested XP my new tauren hunter had accumulated during the downtime.

Before the servers succumbed to the DDoS attack, I had actually gone out and tamed a hyena as my second pet as planned, but I struggled with both of my pets being unhappy and absolutely ravenous 24/7. I had taken up fishing to keep my cat happy but didn't have enough suitable food for the hyena at hand, causing me to stable it for a couple of levels while I saved up random meat drops. Fortunately Petopia confirmed for me that this was just a side effect of the initial low loyalty level and that both pets would become less ravenous over time as their loyalty increased, which turned out to be true.

I also made a bit of a fool of myself when I meant to go to Orgrimmar to contribute some wool bandages to the war effort and kept looking for the zeppelin docking point in Thunder Bluff. After I gave up and googled it, I found out that this particular connection wasn't actually added until Wrath of the Lich King. Oops!

Two quests from Thunder Bluff reminded me of the existence of Ragefire Chasm. Maybe it's because of my early Alliance experiences, but I always kind of forget that this particular instance even exists, as I always think of the Deadmines as the lowest-level dungeon.

I decided that I wanted to run it. Fortunately there were plenty of LFG requests flying around, however I was soon reminded that things are a bit different when you play a pure damage dealer. On my paladin I could be relatively picky and wait for a group to be looking for a tank or healer at a convenient time, but when you play dps, things are a bit different. I would whisper someone who was "LFM", get no response, and a few moments later they were now only looking for a tank or healer. You just have to be quick and/or lucky... or you can take it upon yourself to be the person who actually puts the group together, which is a bit more work but also more reliable. So the next time I saw someone "LFG RFC", I snatched them up right away, and luckily it turned out to be a warrior willing to tank. It took maybe five minutes to put a full group together, and we ended up with "four undead and a cow" as one of my group mates put it.

There wasn't that much to say about the run itself. We had one near-wipe (the surviving rogue and I ran back out since we were still close to the door) but otherwise things went smoothly. Another time one of the two rogues fell off a cliff and died. I had to chuckle when a group member congratulated my pet (!) on levelling up, and that by name (!!). Quite a contrast to the silent LFG culture where you're lucky if people address you at all, never mind using anyone's name.

Back in the Barrens I also completed one of the more infamous group quests on Horde side: Counterattack! For those who never got to experience it, it's a group quest you get after hunting down centaur leaders in three different oases around the Crossroads (which is an annoying prerequisite to begin with). It involves an event where hordes of centaurs attack, until eventually an elite warlord spawns who hits like an absolute truck, able to two or three-shot players of the right level in average gear.

I was worried that it would be a pain to find a group for this, but as it happened one was forming up just as I was approaching the bunker with the quest giver to hand in the head of the third centaur leader. That said, even with a full five-man group people died to the warlord repeatedly, and most of the time I ended up desperately kiting him around the bunker. I've said before that I'm not very good at kiting, but it's interesting what the threat of impending death will do for your learning curve!

As an extra annoyance it turned out that the banner that he drops can only be picked up by one person at a time, forcing us to redo the whole event five times. One guy was even rude enough to quit the instant he got his own quest item, but fortunately everyone else at least agreed that this was very improper and definitely shun-worthy behaviour.

All in all it was a fun play session and allowed my hunter to hit level 20, a couple of hours earlier in terms of /played than my paladin. Plans for next time: to mop up the rest of the northern Barrens quests and get into Wailing Caverns!

11/05/2016

DDoSed

Kronos continues to be too popular for its own good.

The influx of Nostalrius refugees and curious newcomers who had only found out about private Vanilla servers because of the Nostalrius shutdown caused such massive queues that the server owners eventually decided to open a second server to funnel off at least a portion of the seemingly unending flow of people. Whether by choice or because of technical restrictions, Kronos isn't set up to hold 15,000 players at once or whatever crazy number it was that Nost boasted.

But then came the DDoS attacks. Initially the devs stood defiant, keeping the servers up no matter what, but in practice nobody could connect to them. Even if you did manage to do so, you'd be booted off again within a matter of minutes. I spent more time reading amusing conspiracy theories on Kronos' Facebook page than actually playing.

1# - Blizzard is doing it! Somehow their legal team is incapable of sending threatening letters to anyone situated in the Czech Republic, but they must get Kronos shut down so they are spending all their time DDoSing the servers. It's not as if they got anything else to do, right?

#2 - It's the Chinese Gold Farmer Cartel! Because obviously, if you're trying to make a living off selling virtual goods in a video game, nothing is as good for business as nobody actually being able to play said game!

#3 - It's the revenge of a select few Nostalrius players! Instead of rolling up new characters on Kronos or moving on, these characters decided that if they couldn't continue playing their particular version of Vanilla WoW, nobody else would be allowed to do so either! (Actually... that one sounds at least a little more plausible than the previous two theories, but only in a crazy Saturday morning cartoon villain way.)

#4 - It's all a big lie! Nobody in this day and age could possibly be bothered by a DDoS attack. What are you hiding, Kronos team?! Huh?! Huh?!?!

Sadly, the Kronos team eventually had to admit temporary defeat and decided to take the servers down for a few days while they continue to work on a solution. It's a bit of a shame... but not the end of the world. As one Facebook commenter put it: "Will sound a bit selfish, but I am happy that they closed for 14 days...I have got finals in university now and Kronos distracted me a lot :D"

More time for other MMOs for a while, and at least my new hunter will be fully rested when the servers come back up!

05/05/2016

The Hunter

One thing I didn't mention in my list of casual Vanilla endgame activities was levelling alts. It was still a thing of course, but less so than nowadays simply because each character took so long to level. On the other hand it was extremely rewarding in some ways because the classes were so different, so that each time you levelled a new one it had the potential to subject you to new and unexpected experiences.

One of my SWTOR guildies mentioned that he rolled up some characters on Kronos too, most recently a tauren to play with another friend of his. I used this as an excuse to also do something that I'd already been thinking about for a while: recreate my own tauren hunter. Unlike my priest, she is another good candidate for a nostalgia tour because she was mostly a solo character, meaning that I won't go around missing my friends all the time.

Back in the day, she was originally meant to be part of a levelling group consisting of the same couple of people with whom I had levelled on Alliance side, but it just didn't work out that way. One just didn't have that much interest in his new shaman alt, another one got so into her Horde druid that she raced ahead like a maniac and left the rest of us in the dust. I was left feeling awkward in the middle and mostly puttering around at my own pace, taking in the new and (to me) strange lore of the Horde races. I didn't get much pugging done either - I distinctly remember being quite frustrated that I couldn't get a group for Wailing Caverns for ages, as I had a quest for it that rewarded a nice blue item. In the end I hit a high enough level that I could solo it, and did so just for the sake of being able to say that I'd done it.

Re-creating this hunter on Kronos, I felt extremely excited almost immediately. I think that hunter may very well be the WoW class that has undergone the most drastic mechanical changes over the course of the game's evolution, maybe tied with paladin. Do you remember when hunters started without a pet? Used mana? Needed ammo? Their ranged attacks had a minimum range, so you couldn't just shoot things in the face? They had a "dead zone" where they could hit neither with ranged nor with melee attacks? When melee attacks were a thing? So many memories.

Compared to my paladin, the hunter immediately felt more "active" in terms of combat, since she had both a melee and a ranged auto-attack (on different buttons) as well as a melee special on a cooldown. It may sound weird, but more than anything it struck me how... "cool" the combat felt. Shoot the beast, it comes for you, you dodge and try to hit it with your axe - action-packed! In comparison, I watched a video of a hunter running a dungeon in the Legion alpha the other day and I kept thinking how stupid the animations looked, with the constant shooting at crazy angles while running around non-stop. The way the torso mechanically rotated around the hip to keep up with the movement made the whole thing look extremely unnatural.

Low-level hunter life was - somewhat to my surprise - much harder than that of my paladin. While my pally didn't suffer her first death until some Defias cornered me in a cave in Westfall, I had several near-death experiences in the Bristleback village in the tauren starter area (and saw people die around me left and right), and once I went out into Mulgore proper, I soon fell victim to some vicious wildlife myself. The problem was that the mobs' auto-attacks actually hit harder than my own, so every fight was a race to spam that special attack fast enough to win the hitpoint race, and if even a single add joined in? Forget it. On the plus side, this encourages you to try to learn to kite early on, even before you actually have the tools to effectively do so... because there's nothing like that moment when you realise that you're clearly losing against that mob while fighting in melee, hitting war stomp to stun it, and then making a run for it, trying to get a few shots in from range.

Committing hunter sacrilege by killing a rare.
Of course the truly exciting moment came when I hit level ten and was given the quest to learn how to tame my own pet. I remembered one of the quest steps for tauren being a bit of a pain because the swoop you're supposed to tame has a knockdown that interrupts your taming attempt, and Kronos didn't disappoint in recreating that experience. Since the cooldown of the swoop's knockdown is just a bit shorter than the duration of the taming channel, and the taming rod for the quest only has three charges, I had to abandon and re-pick the quest about five times before I succeeded. I finally got lucky when one of the swoop's knockdown attacks missed and was able to complete taming.

That of course raised the question of what pet to tame to be my (more or less) permanent companion. Back in retail I levelled a hyena and a cat in tandem - something that every guide advised against, since pets needed to gain their own XP (another throwback!) and trying to level more than one at a time meant constantly juggling them and visiting the stable master a lot. This didn't stop me though.

My first permanent pet was a hyena called Skullgrin. Hyenas had a reputation for being well-rounded pets, and if you look at them from a certain angle I think they look absolutely adorable.

<3
They also weren't very popular, which allowed me to feel like a hyena hipster.

My second pet was Echeyakee, the rare white lion from the Barrens (renamed Snowpaw). The funny thing about him is that while his looks were indeed rare, he is easily summoned for a quest if you're Horde, so the number of Horde hunters that went "ooh, rare" and tamed him was actually pretty large, which made him a lot less rare as a hunter pet than you would have thought.

I soon decided that I definitely wanted a hyena again, but I wouldn't be able to tame one of those until my teens. The kitty though... maybe it was time to mix it up this time. After a quick consultation of the Petopia that once was via archive.org, I decided that I was going to get myself a striped moonstalker from Darkshore. That was well into enemy lands and far enough away to be an adventure, but not so far away that I wouldn't be able to complete it in an evening (assuming everything went according to plan).

Fortunately, it did. I only got ganked on the road once, and by a priest no less. (I thought they were supposed to be nice!) However, I ran into far more Alliance players that were kind enough to ignore me, though I got pretty nervous once I got close to Auberdine, simply because there were so many of them and they were actually close to my level, so I wouldn't have blamed them for being tempted to pile on me. I turned on humanoid tracking to avoid people more effectively and hid behind trees as well as I could, until I finally spotted a cat of my level and dashed in to tame it. As soon as the process was done, I hearthed out.

I like how it looks like the strider in the background is laughing at me.
Now the true adventure can begin... plus I need to learn some pet skills out in the wild, a system that hides an astounding amount of depth that players of other classes often weren't even aware of back in the day.

So much hunter love.

30/04/2016

Casual Vanilla Endgame

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

Questing

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

Reputations

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

Earning Money

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

Professions

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

Alterac Valley

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

Dungeons

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