Why I do like the Harvest Festival

LarĂ­sa made a post about how she was somewhat disappointed by the lack of activities related to the Harvest Festival. I commented on her post saying that I actually appreciate the fact that it's a very low-key holiday, but I wanted to elaborate a bit on the whys and hows on my own blog.

What are holidays in real life? Theoretically you take some time off from your everyday routine to think about something important: memorable historical events, important people in your life, things you can be grateful for. Sounds good, right? In practice however, this ideal is nowadays often overshadowed by commercial interests and artificially created social pressure to act in certain ways during the holidays. Valentine's Day is less about appreciating your loved one and more about buying flowers and chocolates. Christmas is less about quiet contemplation and giving thanks and more about who can buy the biggest and most expensive gifts.

WoW holidays are actually very similar in that regard. In the past they were events that just offered a bit of food for thought and extra activity based on the game's lore. Visiting the elders during the Lunar Festival comes to mind, or doing Winter Veil quests. However, with the introduction of the achievement system a lot of this has become overshadowed by the idea of making people engage in sometimes quite arbitrary activities related to the holiday just to get achievement points. Would anybody have sat around in "rabbit form" in Un'goro crater if it wasn't for Hard Boiled for example?

The worst thing about this is that some of these holiday achievements are pretty poorly designed and almost guaranteed to cause frustration. School of Hard Knocks comes to mind, with its requirement to sabotage your own team, or Be Mine! with the related pressure to log on once every hour just to beat the random number generator. Even the relatively harmless Brewfest isn't completely innocent, what with the countless daily ram races that are required to get enough tokens for all the achievements.

If you want to participate in a WoW holiday, you have to look at its achievements. If you want to get those achievements, you have to dedicate a considerable amount of time to strange grinds of all kinds for the duration of the event. I won't deny that some of it is fun, just like exchanging presents for Christmas can be fun, but there's also this really weird sense of pressure that I really don't like to see associated with what should be time off from the everyday grind (instead of an extra grind to add to your list).

When I first spotted the Harvest Festival on the in-game calendar I actually panicked a little because I confused it with Pilgrim's Bounty and was wondering how I was supposed to find the time to finish all the Brewfest stuff while simultaneously working on the next event already. So when I found out that actually Harvest Festival is something else entirely and really just a time to chill out, eat some free food and honour fallen heroes I was extremely relieved and pleased. No pressure, just a bit of relaxation and fun. Maybe I just feel that way because I generally don't do gifts for Christmas either.

Anyway, here's to you, Grom Hellscream!


The story of a sad, burnt out raider

It occurred to me the other day that I have now been playing WoW's raiding game for a whole two years. There have been occasional short breaks due to holidays, broken computer parts and the like, but on the whole I've been extremely loyal and dedicated to my raid force, raiding three nights a week and never picking and choosing my raids - when I'm available then I'm available, be it for a thrilling progress night or farming old content until my eyes bleed.

There have been ups and downs during that time, moments when I wanted to quit in a frothing rage because of something that I considered outrageous at the time, but then didn't. There were times when I didn't really enjoy it that much and kind of went through the motions more than anything. But never have I felt as utterly disheartened with raiding as I do now.

It all started with Yogg-Saron. We had been making decent progress through Ulduar until we met him and he turned out to be an utter cockblock. We were stuck on him for weeks and months, wiping and wiping and wiping some more. The fact that this was during the summer didn't help either, as we were often short on signups and couldn't always organise enough raids to clear the rest of the instance before the weekly reset, thus not having any attempts on Yogg at all during some weeks. (This was before the ID extension feature obviously.)

I showed up for every raid and got to enjoy the wiping to its fullest. This wasn't a problem; I had made similar experiences during BC, but in the end we always got the suckers down and victory was all the sweeter for it.

One night in August my PC decided to play silly buggers because of the hot weather and I phoned in to ask to be replaced after having experienced multiple shutdowns mid-fight. That night they finally downed him. I was bummed, but more than anything because it was an exact repeat of what happened during our first kill of Kael'thas last year. Still, I tried to remain positive because I had seen Kael'thas die on the next raid, surely I'd get my chance to down Yogg as well, right? Right?

But suddenly... people didn't care anymore. Trial of the Crusader was out and way more alluring with its new and better loot. We were still doing Ulduar, but barely managed to clear half the instance some nights because the raid leaders would suddenly decide to try hard modes on a whim, just to see what they were like. And Yogg had died, so who cared if we didn't make it to him before the reset? I did of course. I nagged. People rolled their eyes and made fun of me.

Still, I continued to sign up for every raid, convinced that my day would have to come eventually. One night about a month after the first kill I decided to sign off because a friend from England was in town for a day - not exactly something that happens often - and I wanted to spend time with him. Guess what the raid did that night? Yep, they went and killed Yogg-Saron.

I facepalmed but still tried to keep my chin up. After all, it was kind of my own "fault" for choosing my friend over the raid, right? I'd just have to make sure to not miss any raids anymore in the future. So I kept signing. And people kept finding excuses not to do Yogg.

One night we were finally in his prison and had made one unsuccessful attempt on him when someone called out "We've got Wintergrasp! Let's go to VoA!" and the raid leader actually went along with it, abandoning Ulduar and ending the raid after Archavon. That was definitely one of those frothing rage moments.

Since then we've been to his lair one more time, but even though we had half the night to kill him, we just wiped over and over until raid end time. The worst thing was that nobody seemed to be particularly bothered by this. They just don't care anymore. Yogg-Saron is so last month. It's just me with my weird obsession with wanting to see all the bosses dead and longing for closure after dutifully attending Yogg wipe nights for several months.

"Ok," you might say, "we get it, you've got some real issues with not having killed Yogg-Saron and it bothers you. But what about all that time that your raid force spends not trying to kill Yogg? Surely there must be something enjoyable there?"

Well, that's kind of the problem. The only other thing we're doing is Trial of the Crusader. On normal mode that's all fine and dandy (though in all honesty I'm already starting to get a bit bored with it after so many flawless clears, more than my guild ever did of any other raid instance I believe), but it's too easy. It takes about two hours maximum, and that's including summons, bio breaks, explaining boss strategies to the new guy and so on. Then what?

Then we try to do it again on heroic mode. I've expressed my dislike for hard mode raiding before, but I'm not sure I've really managed to convey properly just how much I despise it. It manages to combine the worst bits about progression (endless wiping) and farming (the same old fights over and over) without any of the fun parts. The loyal part of me wants to put up with it for the sake of the guild and because there's no other raid to progress into at the moment anyway. Except I'm still stuck at the point of progression where I want to kill Yogg. So all I ever think about during Coliseum nights is how bored I am and how I'd much rather smite some tentacles. It's sucking the fun out of things harder than a vacuum. I've come to the point where I actually dread most raid nights, wishing I could just hide on an alt. But hey, duty calls...

My friends tell me that I should take a bit of a break and then I'll be able to come back feeling refreshed and enjoying it again. I do think that getting away from it all might help and I might actually miss it again, but there's still the problem of Yogg. If the past is anything to go by, then I just know that the raid will kill him again as soon as I'm away, and going by the utter lack of enthusiasm displayed during our last attempts I'm afraid that it will be the last time as well. And then what? Then my last incentive to keep signing for every raid will be gone and I'll feel majorly let down by having missed out on killing one of the best raid bosses of this expansion. I don't want that. I want to feel like I'm back on the progression curve again and be able to enjoy raiding.

So I cling to signing up like a rabid bulldog clings to its victim, simply because I'm afraid of what will happen if I let go, all the time getting more frazzled and distressed due to not achieving my goals and being frustrated with the content we do. I know it's a game, and in a few years I'll probably look back at this and shake my head at how I could ever get so upset about it, but right now I really don't know what to do but despair.


Questing in Alterac

Last night I took my little shaman alt to quest in Alterac Mountains. That zone will always have a special place in my heart because as far as I can recall it's the only zone that doesn't have a town of either faction or a neutral town in it, so it feels truly remote and dangerous. The map might as well just consist of the words "here be ogres".

This effect was heigthened back in the day (pre-patch 2.3, wasn't it) by the fact that the inhabitants of the ruins of Alterac were all elite. This really wasn't a place where you wanted to go quest on your own.

I really miss random outdoor elites by the way. To this day I'm not sure why Blizzard thought it so important to remove them... yes, making them all non-elite meant that there are yet more mobs everyone can kill alone in this game, but aren't there enough of those already? It's not as if these elite quests were really required for anything, but they were a good opportunity to meet people in your level range, as grouping up for these quests actually provided a real benefit as opposed to just an XP cut. Plus it made the world more interesting to have more areas that were genuinely dangerous to you at level and slightly above. To this day I automatically become wary when an alt of mine goes near the Mosh'ogg Ogre Mound, Jintha'Alor or another area that used to be infested with elites. Then I go "oh right, they've all been nerfed" and feel sad.

Picking up the quests from Tarren Mill meant that I also got to do one of those evil Forsaken quests again that makes me feel bad every time (though clearly not bad enough to skip it): Prison Break In. Some Forsaken guy sends you to the Lordamere Internment Camp to kill a bunch of traitors who stole some "artifacts" from the Undercity and return them. Doesn't sound too bad, does it? I mean... traitors! Evil!

But then you get there and all these "evil" Forsaken are trudging around the internment camp wearing nothing but rags, just like those poor orcs in Caverns of Time: Escape from Durnholde. They are also neutral to you and don't give a damn if you kill their human wardens. When you attack them they'll fight back somewhat feebly and then try to run away when they get low on health. Absolutely pathetic.

As you kill the last guy you're forced to also kill his named guard, who drops a journal in which she talks, among other things, about what a noble and altruistic individual the guy you just killed was. Oh, and those valuable artifacts you were supposed to retrieve? Pieces of bloodstone, that rubbish ore that you only find in Arathi and that serves no other purpose than to be handed in for an Alliance-only quest. (Though one of the uncommon gems found in Northrend is called bloodstone too, not sure if there's a connection.) Way to make me feel good about myself there!

Related to that, I hope that Cataclysm will get rid of those quests to harass inhabitants of Dalaran or at least tweak them in some way. Not that I don't enjoy smacking squishy human and gnome mages to death, but they just feel hugely out of place considering that both the Horde and the Alliance ally with the Violet Eye at seventy and even set their hearthstones in Dalaran at eighty! Really, the Kirin Tor don't mind that I went around killing off their dudes sixty levels ago? Actually, it's worth it to go back to killing them even at eighty, since they drop the rare Cat Carrier (Black Tabby). And all those guys in Dalaran are okay with that? That's just hugely inconsistent.


Saving the day

The most fun moments in a raid are never when you down a boss flawlessly, but when things go hilariously wrong.

Today I joined a guild group for ten-man Trial of the Crusader, consisting of a couple of main raiders, a few guild members who don't usually raid with us and a bunch of alts. We one-shot the first three bosses, if not flawlessly, and then wiped a few times on the Twin Val'kyr as those unfamiliar with the fight struggled to get to grips with the whole colour-swapping concept.

To summarise it for non-raiders: You fight two val'kyr and there's some stuff with white and black swirlies that you have to either seek out or avoid.

Oh yeah, and I was main-tanking on my paladin.

On our third or fourth attempt the tank of the other val'kyr went down when the boss was at about thirty-five percent health. Within only a few seconds a whole bunch of thoughts raced through my head:

Ok, the other tank is down. This already happened on a previous attempt but we managed to recover from that particular mishap due to the feral dps druid taking over tanking for a bit while one of the other druids combat-resed the dead tank. Can we do this again? Nope, the feral druid went down very early in the fight this time. Any combat reses at all? Nope, both of the other druids used theirs on the previous attempt and they are still on cooldown. Hm.

I targetted the loose val'kyr and saw our enhancement shaman attempting to tank her, the fool. He took a hit or two and lived, but it was obvious that he'd be dead meat soon. So I did what any tank would do in such a situation: I taunted.

There was no real logic to it. After all every guide will tell you that you need two tanks for this fight, though I couldn't remember why. Something about the two val'kyr healing or buffing each other if they are close? All I knew was that a boss was hitting someone she wasn't supposed to be hitting, and even if we were going down it was only right that we should be going down with everything beating on me, the tank, until the very last moment.

Healers have a similar instinct, which often annoys our raid leader when he calls for a wipe and we drag it out endlessly by desperately healing whatever we can until we're all dead. It's what healers do, damn it, we can't just stop because you say so!

Anyway, there I was, tanking both of the winged ladies at once. Somehow I managed to keep aggro on both of them too, only losing the one I wasn't supposed to tank briefly once but taunting her right back again immediately. The healers were frantically spamming heals on me as is their way. The dps kept nuking. A smile started to spread across my face. I felt invincible!

Slowly, very slowly, the twins went down. They did a couple more of their special moves and we lost more people, but somehow we kept going. Even though I wasn't moving, suddenly all the little buffing swirls seemed to be attracted to me, and before I knew it I became a giant among elves and started to radiate light. (No really, it's what that buff does!) And then they both fell down at my feet at once, I ran around like a loon and laughed at my screen.

People congratulated me on my tanking and on saving the day, but the fact of the matter is that I didn't really do anything that amazing. Just doing my "normal" job on the previous three bosses had involved more work than that one taunt really.

Nonetheless I have to say that it felt really great. It's one thing to beat an encounter because you're doing it right, but there's also something to be said for doing it outrageously wrong and still coming out on top.


Customisation and lack thereof

I did something unthinkable the other day: I signed up for another MMO, namely Champions Online. Now, I don't intend to start talking about it a lot, not least because I haven't actually played it enough yet to have much to say, but it has inspired me to talk about something WoW-related anyway, namely character customisation.

Champions is a game that allows for a metric crapton of customisation whenever you create a new character (with the potential for some pretty hilarious results). Other games offer pretty detailed character customisation as well, and often when I hear people talk about such games they make a comment about how WoW really fails in that area because everyone looks the same.

While I really enjoyed fiddling with all the options that Champions offers so far, I still feel the need to defend WoW in that regard. I mean, I wouldn't mind if female Tauren could have more than four different hairstyles, but at the same time it really doesn't really strike me as a huge problem that they don't.

The thing with very involved character creation screens of any kind is that they are a sort of mini-game of their own. You can easily spend half an hour or longer composing just the perfect character in there. It's a kind of artistic exercise: Can you transfer the image you have in your head onto the screen with the tools available to you?

But then you actually start playing... and it matters very little what eye colour you chose for your hero or what kind of belt they wear. Most of the time you won't even notice, since actually playing requires you to zoom out to a certain extent and pay attention to other things. Sure, when you zoom in to stand still and ogle at your creation it looks great, but how much time do you usually spend doing that?

As far as actual gameplay is concerned, giving your character a custom look only really serves two purposes: to make sure you're reasonably comfortable with what you're looking at (numerous are the tales of people who created characters and then deleted them again because they realised that there was something about them that they just couldn't stand to look at for longer periods of time), and to sufficiently distinguish yourself from everyone else so you and others can still recognise your character in a crowd.

Now, I admit the latter used to be a bit of a problem for druids, but this has been addressed with the different fur colours for feral forms and hopefully trees and moonkins will receive the same treatment eventually. Sure, there are only a handful of different colours, but how often do you realistically find yourself playing with more than four other druids fulfilling the same role as you?

Druid forms aside, I have to say that I can't recall ever meeting another character in WoW who looked exactly like one of mine. Sure, a lot will have the same hair style for example, but even with the limited options available, running into someone else with exactly the same face, skin colour, hair style and hair colour are fairly slim. Or maybe that's just me being biased because I mainly play a female troll who doesn't have that doe-eyed face and tiny tusks.

Also, let's not forget the huge customisation offered by armour! Admittedly a lot of people will go after the same pieces of armour at endgame, but unless you're playing on a server where every other guild clears the top raid content on a weekly basis, you're unlikely to run into many people who're actually wearing all the best-in-slot gear for their role. More likely most of them will have done a fair bit of mix-and-matching with whatever they happened to get their hands on, giving each of them a unique look.

Yes, being able to give your character a very unique look right from the start is pretty cool as well, but very much disconnected from the quality of actual gameplay. In fact, character creation that is too involved can even become a bit of a barrier when you first start playing. My first Champion still sits at level two, not because I didn't enjoy what I've seen of the game so far, but because it took me so long to get her looks just right that I found myself with very little time left to actually play before I had to log off again. Comparatively my first ever character on WoW didn't take more than few minutes to make (even with me being a complete noob at the time, reading all the class descriptions and so on), leaving me with much more time for my first play session - and by the time I was level six I was hooked.


The superiority of pugs

Lately I've found myself wondering why I pug so much when I'm in such a nice guild. People sometimes say that if your guild can't provide you with groups for the content you want to do, then you're in the wrong guild. I very much feel that I'm in the right guild, but I still often find myself going straight for the LookingForGroup channel without even asking people in my guild first whether they'd be interested in coming to the heroic I want to go to.

Yesterday Oculus was a double daily and I decided to do it on my druid since she had never done Oculus at all. When I logged on about half a dozen people showed up on my guild tab, most of them already in a group and on their way to Coldarra. "Oh well, I'll pug it then," I figured and hopped on LFG. It took me about ten minutes to assemble a group and off we went. A very smooth run followed in which we didn't suffer a single death, and I even learned a new strategy for killing Mage-Lord Urom.

Afterwards I hearthed back to Dalaran, handed in the daily quests and idled for a bit. A bit later I saw an achievement pop up in guild chat, indicating that someone else had completed the Oculus for the first time. Then it hit me: The guild group that was just about to enter the instance when I came online finished after my pug - which was formed quite a bit later. I don't know if they wiped or what, but the comments reiterating their hatred of the Oculus certainly hinted at it. In other words: my pug had been more efficient than the guild group.

Which then in turn made me realise that the reason I pug so much, and happily, is that it's simply the superior method of going about things for me most of the time. I mean, I run a lot of instances. Not every day, sometimes real life pwns me as well, but when I do have the time, running the daily heroic on as many of my level eighty characters as possible is definitely a priority for me as soon as I log on. My guildies are not at all averse to grouping and many of them have alts to gear up as well, but still... when I log in at any given time, the chances of finding a group of people in my guild who are all willing to do the daily heroic and aren't already busy with something else, saved, about to log off etc. are pretty slim. The LFG channel on the other hand is always full of people wanting to do the daily heroic (and others). Sure, a lot of them are dps death knights, but sometimes there are tanks and healers as well, and either way you at least have a baseline to work with. Once you're just missing someone to fill that last slot, people can start to pull strings outside the channel, but LFG gives you a solid headstart.

Not to mention, three out of my four eighties can heal, two can tank - chances are, if I join LFG someone will ask me to join their group in less than a minute and I don't even have to do anything. Good times.

Now, pugs have the reputation of being notoriously incompetent, and everyone has got their own horror pug stories to prove it. However, people rarely talk about the good pugs they have, and I know that those exist as well because I've had quite a lot of them too. There are more people with multiple level eighty characters out there than you think, they all want to go to heroics to gear up (especially after the 3.2 emblem changes), and they all have the same problem as me, that finding four guild groups for the daily heroic a day is simply not feasible. So they pug it, over and over, and because they pug so often they know all the instances really well. In that Oculus pug yesterday nobody required an explanation of what to do with the drakes, we even ended up with a very good setup pretty much automatically. On the last boss one guy asked for a refresher of which abilites he should use when, but that was just another sign of someone knowing his stuff and simply wanting to communicate with the group.

My guildies are mostly very good players as well, but since we are a raiding guild, many of them are focused on raiding quite heavily and don't care much for five-man instances. And then you end up with things like raid tanks running in circles in a nearly-cleared Nexus because they don't remember the way, or people standing in Anub'arak's pound because they haven't been to Azjol-Nerub since last December and couldn't remember any of the boss's abilities (and were too sure of their leet raiding skills to bother asking for a reminder). Does that make them bad players? No! But it makes them a lot more pleasant to raid with than to have them in random instance runs.

Guild groups still have their perks and are great from a social point of view: I'm sure I wouldn't have had half as much fun wiping on the Black Knight because our healer accidentally switched to the wrong action bar if it had happened in a pug as opposed to a guild group with friends. But really, if you just want to get stuff done in heroics, pugs are the way to go.


Heroic Northrend Beasts = boring

No, not because they are too easy. God no. In fact, for my raid force - which cleared normal mode of Trial of the Crusader with ease on both ten- and twenty-five-man - our first attempts on heroic mode were like hitting our heads against a brick wall; it was just such a massive step up in difficulty.

Now, I don't mind wiping a lot to learn a difficult fight. It's usually worth it for the feeling of excitement when you finally get past that really difficult phase and your heart races as the boss exclaims something, adds appear, other exciting new things happen and you wonder if you'll make it to the end. In Trial of the Grand Crusader nothing new and exciting awaits me at any point. I don't have a particular personal desire to get Gormok the Impaler down quickly because I know exactly what will happen afterwards: not one, but two jormungar will enter the arena, and so on and so forth. I've done it a dozen times before. It's the same on heroic mode as on normal, only with more damage on the tanks and more fires to stand in for everyone else, sort of as if I had suddenly walked into a really bad pug group for the normal instance. The difference is that if I walked into a pug where the boss was turning the tanks into tauren mash in less than a second I'd say "screw you, guys" and go home. (Well, maybe not exactly like that, but you get my point.) With my guild I kind of have to stick it out, because the little checkbox says that it's heroic mode and thus it's okay for us to suddenly suck really badly on a fight that we usually ace. That's "progression" for you. Sigh.

Spinks made a post only today in which she said: "There are two types of gamer in the world. Those who want to play through a game again on a harder mode after they’ve finished it, and those who don’t." I think I can safely place myself in the latter group.

Though it probably doesn't help that Northrend Beasts isn't a very interesting fight to heal, as there've been some hard modes that I found a lot more tolerable. I mean, there's a lot of damage going around in this particular encounter, but that doesn't make it interesting.

You see, I believe that the fun of raid healing increases and decreases along a curve. (If I was as talented as Tamarind I would make a snazzy graph to illustrate this, but I'm not so explaining it in words will have to do.) Obviously, when there is little to no healing at all for me to do, I won't find this situation fun. It's kind of boring and makes me feel useless; who'd enjoy that? As you increase the healing load, my enjoyment will go up as I actually have something to occupy myself. However, once you get past a certain point it becomes less fun again, namely when fights deteriorate into nothing but massive damage that you have to spam-heal. Kologarn is such a fight, as is Hodir - and at least phase one of the Northrend Beasts falls into that category as well in my opinion. It's not that I shy away from a challenge, but just mashing your biggest heal over and over to barely keep people alive strongly reduces the amount of actual thought you have to put into the job, and that is something that I don't find enjoyable at all.

Many of my favourite boss fights as a healer are actually relatively light on healing but engage the healers in more ways than just making them watch health bars and not standing in the fire. Archimonde was one such fight for me in BC; in WOTLK I really loved Yogg-Saron. Hell, even Anub'arak is not so bad (as Spinks also remarked the other day), because he really requires you to heal intelligently towards the end, not too little but also not too much. Maybe I'll like his hard mode more if we ever get there.

Still, as far as I'm concerned, Blizzard could still scrap hard modes altogether and I'd be all the happier for it.


Ponderings on gear

Everybody wants to get better gear for their character in WoW. If you don't, you're playing the wrong game - you'll struggle while levelling, and once you hit level eighty you'll run out of things to do, because barring access to any more levels, upgrading your gear is the only way to make your character any stronger and durable enough to progress into new and unexplored areas (read: raids).

At the same time there's a weird stigma attached to desiring better gear: You shouldn't need it, because it's all about skill anyway! Or: Don't be such a loot whore!

Lately I've been making some interesting observations about my own desire for gear.

The first one is in regards to my main character, my healing priest who raids. Back during the Burning Crusade she was shadow-specced, and I pursued gear upgrades very vigorously. Even though I couldn't always measure it, I had the distinct impression that every little upgrade would enable me to do just a tiny bit more dps, which then in turn might make the difference between killing a boss or wiping. Even without those life-or-death considerations, better gear always meant an improvement and being able to kill things faster, even on farm content.

Since I've become a full-time healer this simply isn't the case anymore. Mana regen is supposed to be a concern for healers, but thanks to replenishment it's simply a very wonky mechanic right now. Either you have more mana than you know what to do with, or you never seem to have enough - and since this state depends entirely on raid buffs, it doesn't really feel like my gear choices make a huge difference in that regard.

Bigger heals are still better heals, right? Well... only to an extent. When your heroic tank barely takes any damage, bigger heals only mean more overhealing. In raids on the other hand it feels as if it makes little difference whether my flash heal hits for 5k or for 5.5k when a boss hits for 30k damage. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know that it obviously does make a difference because everybody's heals add up, but it's hard to actually get any kind of feel for it.

These two factors have definitely put a damper on my enthusiasm for getting new gear. After all, what's the point when it doesn't actually feel like your new gear makes you any better at what you do? I wonder if this is simply another area in which healers get the short end of the stick.

Still, leaving aside the switch from dps to healing there is more to it, namely the massive loot inflation. I remember being very excited back in BC when I got my wings from Void Reaver and I kept wearing them for a very long time. It wasn't until late in Black Temple that I got something better.

I had hoped that the tier 8.5 shoulders for priests would become similarly meaningful for me in this expansion, but no such luck. My guild has killed Yogg-Saron on 25-man, but only twice and both times I wasn't there. Now we do almost nothing but Trial of the Crusader, because what's the point of going back to Ulduar? I got my tier 9.5 shoulders pretty quickly, but something about them just feels wrong. I don't want to go through new gear so fast that you might as well skip a whole tier of it.

This is only made worse by the badge system. I have a lot of good things to say about it really, but from a raiding point of view it's like getting loot thrown at you. I don't even have to bid on anything anymore, after a few raids I've accumulated enough badges to buy another upgrade without even trying anyway. It's oddly disheartening. It's as if you gained experience points purely by being online and sitting in a capital.

In summary, I find myself caring less and less about loot on my priest, because it doesn't feel like I actually get considerably more powerful by obtaining it, and because even the act of obtaining it feels less and less meaningful at the speed at which even the casual raider rushes through raids and gets new and better gear thrown at them.

Now, by contrast, my level eighty alts: On them I absolutely love getting better gear.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that their primary focus is tanking and doing damage. (The druid and paladin have healing specs which I enjoy playing as well, but as far as gear goes I tend to neglect that side of the characters.) On my hunter I can still enjoy the thrill of watching my "damage done" go up a little bit in heroics every time I get a new piece of gear. Hell, I made a whole post just to express my glee about her getting a new helmet! And on my tanks? I really enjoy seeing their health go up with every upgrade, knowing that every hitpoint increases their chances of survival when the going gets tough.

Also, my alts generally don't raid, not including doing a few bosses here or there on a whim when someone invites me. I play them a lot like I imagine a casual player plays the game: On a busy day I might do an instance or two (preferrably the daily heroic), a couple of quests, chat a bit and then I log off.

Back at level seventy that meant that none of my max-level alts got a ton of playtime. I still cared about gearing them up and usually gave it a good shot right after hitting level seventy: did some heroics, went on a couple of Karazhan runs, that kind of thing. Badge items existed, but there weren't nearly as many of them as there are now, maybe three for each class/spec combination. So it never took long until I hit a point where I couldn't really get any more upgrades for my alts without doing progression raiding, and honestly, doing that with just one character has been - and still is - more than enough for me. So I started to play them less, because they didn't really have anywhere to go.

And now we have WOTLK. I've been wondering for a while why I find it so hard to just leave my level eighty alts alone for a bit these days and focus on levelling another character like I did repeatedly in BC, but I think I know now: because with all those badge items, there's always something more to aim for, even when you only play casually. Sure, I might only do a heroic every couple of days, but I still get conquest badges from that, and eventually that means that I can buy another awesome item. So of course I keep doing it! Not because I "need" the gear in any way, as I don't intend to raid with those characters, but simply because it's fun to make them better. And I can keep doing that now even while playing casually, something I couldn't really do in BC. Win!

I'm not really sure where exactly I was going with this post. I think the point is that I both love what Blizzard has done with loot and badges - the casual, alt-playing side of me does anyway - and I find it boring and uninspiring when I raid. I still think they are in a good place right now in terms of loot distribution, but I wouldn't mind a little fewer badge items to make raid loot retain some of its flair. And I wish they wouldn't add such easily accessible and massive upgrades with every patch. I'm okay with replacing all my gear when an expansion hits, but seeing half of it become obsolete every couple of months is a bit much.


The things we wish we'd said

Sometimes I wish I wasn't so damn nice and always avoiding confrontation. When I end up in a group with someone who acts like a jerk I tend to just try to ignore it and get on with the instance instead of saying "screw you, jerk, I'm out of here". I always think that I can stand it for just one more boss, that it would be mean to deprive the other people in the party of their tank/healer etc. At the same time it kind of bugs me that I act like that, because I'm sure I could save myself a lot of frustration if I didn't just put up with so much crap.

Today I had a bad pug for heroic Trial of the Champion for example, which was particularly jarring because on average most people on my server are quite skilled and nice, and even the unskilled ones are usually friendly at least. But today I somehow ended up with a resto druid who was nothing but a complete and utter toerag.

I should have known that something was off with him the moment we entered the instance and Mr Tree felt the need to tell the warlock that "your pet's name sucks". I don't even remember what it was, just one of those randomly generated names for imps, nothing special about it. Not to mention that it's not as if warlocks have any kind of say when it comes to their minion's names. So, you know... yay for random rudeness?

Anyway, I was tanking on my druid. I've tanked TotC many times by now, both on normal and heroic. Most of the time that was on my paladin however, and I find paladin tanking incredibly easy compared to druid tanking. Bears just have so few tools... try something like moving a caster just by two inches for example: on my paladin I have avenger's shield and arcane torrent to silence the mobs and force them to move, on my bear I can use my charge to stun and interrupt, but then they'll just stand there for two seconds being stunned and then go back to casting. I also notice that I generally seem to have a much harder time holding aggro on my bear, especially against multiple targets.

With things being as they were, I didn't disagree when the healing druid told us to run out after the jousting even though I'd never done it that way and am used to picking up the mobs after we dismount. When we attacked them again after resetting I made the mistake of charging right in, which caused the other two mobs to run behind me, screwing up my positioning right from the start, and before I could get things under control again, the arms warrior had run off and mauled the healer.

"Great tanking there," Mr Tree commented, sarcasm dripping from every letter.

I had wanted to apologise properly and to explain what went wrong, but feeling both slightly flustered and annoyed I just said "sorry" and we moved on. On the next attempt we got them down, though dps was constantly dying and running back in again. I resisted the urge to say something along the lines of "great healing there".

Next we got the Confessor, and as I pulled the first trash pack, someone else somehow aggroed a second one as well. I hit challenging roar to try and pick them all up, and at first I thought that I had succeeded... though with my bear's big butt and half a dozen aoe abilities filling up my screen it was hard to see anything really. The healer continued to yell at me in caps lock until I noticed that one of the casters had hung back and was flinging spells at him. So I ran over, got aggro on that last mob... and died, resulting in a wipe.

"Have you ever tanked before?" the healer accused me immediately.

I should have said: "No, because clearly nobody who has ever tanked before could ever hit the wrong key or make any kind of mistake ever again after their first tanking experience." In reality I just told him that yes, I had tanked this before.

"Are you tanking with your eyes closed?"

No, but as I said above... but well, it had already become clear that he had no actual interest in figuring things out, only in abusing people. Not much point in arguing, right?

In a feeble attempt to defend myself I said: "Well, someone aggroing an extra pack didn't help." To which he responded with: "Quit the blaming!" Huh. Because I'm the one throwing blame around like a monkey flings poo, right?

I offered to just leave at this point if I was aggravating him so much, to which he didn't respond but one of the dps offered a "lol". I was probably too polite about it. Again, what I should have said would have been something along the lines of: "I think I'll leave, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding another tank. After all, who doesn't love getting yelled at in all caps every time they hit the wrong key? That's why LFG is always full of tanks!" But once again I bit my tongue (or sat on my fingers I guess, considering that this is about typing).

We then wiped some on the Confessor herself. Dps was dying constantly and running back in, resulting in the memory's health going down really, really slowly and the healer eventually running out of mana. This is where the dps started to get cranky as well, seeing how some of them had died something like five times already. "How about some heals?" - "I'll give you heals when you give me dps!" retorted the druid, spamming damage meters to show his disapproval of everyone else's performance. The funny thing was that he had a point, the dps was quite low, and usually I'd defend the healer under such circumstances... but as it was I just rolled my eyes.

We eventually managed to down the Confessor as the druid somehow succeeded in keeping everyone alive. Then we proceeded to wipe some on the Black Knight. This is where the warlock got fed up and left, after the umpteenth time the druid whined about the dps being made of fail. I couldn't help but admire him, and in hindsight I probably should have followed his lead. As it was though, we replaced him with a retribution paladin and then finally managed to finish the run, at which point the druid proudly declared "that proves that the warlock did retarded dps".

One last time I didn't type out what I thought, which was "better to have retarded dps than to be an idiot in every other way". I just left the group and put the druid on my ignore list, an honour which he only shares with a bunch of spam bots so far.

I'm playing this game to have fun. Being successful is certainly a part of that, but it's also quite possible to have some fun while wiping, messing up and learning. However I simply cannot enjoy myself when someone has to act like a jerk to everyone in the party, no matter how well we're doing. Now if I could only learn to apply that knowledge more consistently in practice, and to stop letting others ruin my fun! Where's that ignore button again?


So, this VoA thing...

This morning I joined a ten-man Vault of Archavon on my paladin. I figured it would be nice to finally see the new boss and since it was organised by our usual raid leader I was sure that it would be a nice and efficient run. And it was.

It also got me thinking though, because for all the raiding I do and for all the pugs I run, I've only done Vault of Archavon about five times ever, and that's if you add up the runs I've done on all my alts. There's great loot to be had in there, why do I never bother?

In theory I think the idea behind VoA is a great concept: a raid that is only accessible when you own the local PvP objective is a nice way of giving both PvP and PvE fans a reason to work together, plus it makes the world PvP in that area more meaningful.

In practice I find that it really discourages raiding with your guildies. Raids are usually scheduled at fixed times on set days since it's otherwise unlikely that you'll just happen to have enough people of the right classes and specs online and available, but since you never know if your side will even have access to VoA at the time you can't make any plans in that regard. You could make a combined effort to cap Wintergrasp together at raid time, but that's no guarantee for success either. All in all it seems like a lot of effort for the questionable reward of maybe having access to a short raid.

So what do you do when you can't get a guild group together? You pug, grabbing whoever happens to be around and willing the moment your faction takes control of Wintergrasp. Now, I pug heroics five times a day on some days and enjoy it, but I have to admit raids are a different matter. On average I've found that the population of my server seems to consist of pretty good players, but the more people you gather in one place at once, the higher your chance to end up with a rotten egg who ruins it for everyone after all. Also, the organisational effort increases the more people you have in a raid, with the potential of a lot of annoying wait times even in good groups, as it has to be decided who tanks what, who heals whom, people take turns to go AFK instead of doing it all at the same time and so on.

Still, it can be good fun to pug Naxxramas for example - with all the bosses in there it's worth putting up with a couple of obstacles to get to kill them all. But VoA? You've got three rooms with three bosses who are mostly tank and spank. Is that really worth the effort? They aren't even particularly interesting, what with looking almost identical and being completely devoid of emotes, dialogue or any characterisation whatsoever.

But surely the loot should make it worth it? I mean, we all complain about how dull Trial of the Champion is, but we still run it for the epics, right? Well, leaving aside the fact that VoA makes TotC look like it has a really interesting and engaging storyline by relative comparison, even the great loot has its issues.

In theory it sounds great, being able to get tier items from the current top raid instance from a random tank-and-spank boss. Unfortunately your chances of actually getting anything are very, very slim. Look at the loot table for Archavon the Stone Watcher on wowhead for example, go on, I dare you. Yep, that's right, it lists no less than two hundred different drops. To be fair that's both ten-man and twenty-five-man combined, but that still leaves one hundred for each. No item has a drop rate higher than four percent. Some of them are for PvP, some are for PvE, and for some reason a lot of them have old-school class restrictions, which really baffles me. In the "normal" raids Blizzard has moved further and further towards replacing tier drops with tokens, to ensure that everyone can get a piece of the cake and you don't constantly end up with drops that nobody can use just because you don't have that class in the raid. Why did they completely ignore the progress they've made on that front in VoA? I mean, in my pally's run today all three bosses dropped an item that was only useable by priests and we didn't have a single one in the raid. Stupid! Shouldn't we really be beyond this now?

Also, I don't understand why anyone thought it would be a good idea to put bosses from three different tiers into a raid instance with a single lockout. When Archavon was the only iron giant in town it was all good, people in all kinds of gear could go and spank him to have a shot at some epics. Then Emalon came around and suddenly those that would have been good enough for Archavon weren't good enough for Emalon and thus shunned, because you didn't want to get saved with a raid that could kill Archavon only. Now it's even worse, as everybody just wants to go for the new boss, which requires you to mostly outgear the other two already. So not only does every boss have a ridiculously low chance of dropping something your class can use, you'll only really need loot from one of them anyway. People who could actually use drops from all three are likely to be kicked from any pug before it even gets going for being "way undergeared". Fun, eh?

Clearly Blizzard must have done something right with VoA, since it appears to be very popular on my server, but for me it just doesn't cut it. To be honest I don't get why so many people do insist on running it week after week, when it's so dull and so much hassle for an absolutely minimal chance of getting a useful drop. Maybe for the same reason so many play the lottery week after week. It could be you after all!


An tribute to Zul'Aman

Late last night I randomly got invited to a Zul'Aman pug. I decided to go along with my druid since she still had Hex Lord? Hah! in her quest log (I'm notoriously bad at abandoning old quests). We breezed through the place in about twenty minutes and I felt mildly heartbroken. I loved this instance so much back at level seventy; seeing everything getting drowned in aoe and bosses dying before they even had time to execute their signature moves made me sad. I have to admit that when our main tank stupidly rushed ahead, got locked in Halazzi's room with only two dps and died, I felt a strange kind of satisfaction. At least that old lynx's claws were still somewhat sharp.

I remember once reading a throwaway line on another blog that called Zul'Aman the perfect raid, and while I unfortunately can't remember who said that I can't help but agree. I'll admit that I'm biased since I generally love all instances with trolls in them and because I had some of my best raiding moments ever in there, but I think even if I ignored those factors I'd still have to say that it's a damn good raid.

It was pretty short - my "bear group" cleared the whole place in about an hour even before the big 3.0 nerf - but it offered such a nice variety of different and challenging encounters that it always felt worth your time anyway. There was a reasonable amount of trash as well, and every single pull was meaningful and a challenge of its own.

First you had Nalorakk, the priest of the bear god - he was the "gear check boss" since both he and his trash mostly just hit hard. If I think back to how many times we wiped on the last pull leading up to him, back when we first entered the instance... yikes.

Then there was Akil'zon, the eagle or "movement boss". The trash leading up to him only consisted of a gauntlet where mobs would continue to come at you from both back and front, and the challenge was to move forwards as fast as you could without losing control of all the adds. The boss himself was also all about correct positioning and finding the safe spot whenever he cast his electrical storm.

Jan'alai, the dragonhawk, was the "control boss", both in terms of trash and the actual boss encounter. Could you lock down the scouts to prevent them from repeatedly calling for reinforcements? Could you control the flame casters so they wouldn't aoe your raid to death with their hasted fireball volleys? On the boss himself you had to plan carefully when and what to dps, since killing things too quickly could be just as deadly as killing them too slowly. Keeping the mass of dragonhawk hatchlings under control was challenging as well, back in a time where aoe tanking abilities were rare.

Halazzi's trash mostly consisted of packs of lynxes that appeared out of nowhere - who doesn't like surprises? The boss himself wasn't about tons of adds though, more about quick target switching: The off-tank had to be fast with picking up the lynx spirit before it could run off and maul the clothies, and the dps had to be focused on taking down the corrupted lightning totems whenever they were dropped. Ah, the fond memories I have of fail dps who couldn't push a targetting macro unless you shouted at them in a raid warning every single time...

And then you had the final bosses of course, with Hex Lord Malacrass blocking the way to Zul'jin. I remember the first thing I heard about him was that he was "like Moroes" with his four adds and what not. Hah! Of course the adds were significant, but the real challenge was the way Malacrass stole the abilities of random players in your party and used them against you. Nothing like a paladin's consecration eating away at the health of your melee dps or a priest's mind control suddenly affecting your healer. And all this while you were racing against time and massive aoe shadow damage.

Zul'jin himself was kind of a combination of the first four bosses rolled into one and the addition of some new abilities... I think that should say enough really. An epic ending for an epic instance.

Zul'Aman was also - as far as I'm aware anyway - the first raid with a "hard mode". I remember at the time I was looking forward to Blizzard implementing more of them; it's too bad they changed the concept so much since then, because I loved the Zul'Aman timed chests but dislike most of WOTLK's hard mode encounters.

The thing with the Zul'Aman chests was that they were never an either-or decision. It wasn't: Shall we just kill this the normal way or wipe lots in hopes of getting an achievement? You did the "hard mode" while doing the normal mode. It wasn't about weird gimmicks like not killing adds or generally not doing the sensible thing either, you were simply rewarded for playing well, for killing things fast and without wiping.

In addition the chest rewards were staggered and cumulative. It was enough to just know how to kill the bear boss to get the first chest. If you could pull off downing both Nalorakk and Akil'zon without too many wipes two chests were yours. Three was where it started to get tough as you didn't get much extra time from then on, but getting three chests was still a nice consolation prize if you couldn't quite make it to the warbear mount.

Now compare this to something like Freya and her hard mode in Ulduar: There are four different difficulties: normal; one, two and three elders. Higher difficulty requires you to intentionally make things harder for yourself by not killing the elders even though it would be the sensible thing to do. Also, you have to choose which mode to go for as you can only do one at a time. The loot for three of them is identical except for an extra emblem or something (I didn't keep track to be honest); only the hardest difficulty gives extra rewards. In short, it's highly annoying and unrewarding. So... why did anyone think that this would be an improvement over what we had before?

I miss you, Zul'Aman, I really do.


Define progression

Recently there's been a bit of discussion in my guild about where our focus should lie in terms of raiding. As it turns out, even thirty people who generally get along well and have similar ideas about how much and how seriously they want to raid can have vastly different ideas of where progression should lead them.

Once upon a time people didn't even have to ask questions like that because raiders had their work cut out for them: There was an "entrance raid" which you had to clear, once you had killed all the bosses in there you could move on to the next raid, which you then had to clear to be eligible for entering the next one and so on. People always knew where they stood, where they wanted to go, and how other raid forces compared to them. A guild with five bosses down in Serpentshrine Cavern was more progressed than one who had only downed three. Both were striving to move on to Mount Hyjal.

These days a freshly dinged level eighty can walk into any raid he likes and that has certainly muddied the waters. People can kill bosses here and there as they like, but how do you measure their success then? Is a guild who has downed five bosses in Ulduar and one in the Crusader's Coliseum better than one that has downed nine bosses in Ulduar? After all the Coliseum is theoretically one tier higher...

Hard-mode and achievement raiding complicates matters even further. Is it better for your guild to ignore a large portion of Ulduar to work on Deconstructor's hard mode or to kill Yogg-Saron first? Which one is a greater sign of progress?

From what I've observed there basically seem to be three different approaches:

On the one hand we have the "bosses cleared" approach: Progression means seeing new bosses and killing them. It doesn't really matter which tier they officially belong to or if there are any achievements associated with killing them. If you're 12/14 in Ulduar, your next goal should be to kill Yogg-Saron, though working your way through the Crusader's Coliseum on normal difficulty is also an option. Hard modes are uninteresting.

Secondly we have the "loot dropped" approach: Progression means getting better loot, so you always go after whichever boss drops the current best-in-slot gear. Finding themselves in a 12/14 Ulduar guild, these people will want to move on to do the Crusader's Coliseum on normal and then hard mode, since the loot from there makes everything from Ulduar look weak in comparison.

Finally we have the "achievement whore": They want to go and kill bosses wherever they can gain the most achievement points. Which in this case would mean focusing on clearing Ulduar while performing odd stunts on every other boss and attempting hard modes in order to get achievements. The Coliseum isn't completely uninteresting but offers fewer achievements to go after.

Unfortunately at least two of these definitions of progression are very much at odds with each other. If your idea of progress is to see new bosses, wiping on the Northrend Beasts encounter with higher numbers is a waste of time since it's the same boss and only hits harder. If you always strive to go where the best loot comes from, spending time on clearing Ulduar is a waste of time since you can get better stuff elsewhere. The achieve-a-holic can get along reasonably well with people of either conviction, but will always push for random achievements and hard modes that the others don't care about.

How do you reconcile people wanting such different things from raiding? None of the three attitudes mentioned here are right or wrong, but they suddenly create friction where people used to be unified in their goal to follow a clear raiding path. For example I'm a "bosses cleared" person myself, but most of my guild seem to be split between wanting to go after achievements and loot. Should I leave over something like that even if I value my guild very much for other reasons? And even if I wanted to find a different raid force, how would I know where to go? The most hardcore raiders will want to kill everything in every possible way, but if you're more of a middle-of-the-road raider you'll have to make choices, yet I don't think I've ever seen guilds advertise themselves accordingly. "Focused on hard modes", "don't care about achievements", or what?

What kind of raider are you?