Greetings from the Barrens

I actually played my shaman alt so much as of late that she eventually ran out of restedness again for the first time in ages. There's something about lack of restedness that always makes me want to stop playing, though I'm not sure what it is. I'm not obsessessed with levelling as quickly as possible; I think I just find the blue bar much more aesthetically pleasing...

Anyway, I decided to dig up another low-level alt of mine, my troll warrior, and take him to the Barrens. The Barrens are an interesting place, very iconic and typical for the Horde, but also infamous for housing a lot of stupidity (Barrens chat) and being a pain to quest in. In fact, Green Armadillo of Player Versus Developer made an interesting post about two months ago in which he analysed just what's so bothersome about questing in the Barrens, the most important point being that a single quest chain to kill harpies for example requires you to do twenty minutes of running back and forth, and that's without counting the time to actually kill anything.

Some quest descriptions are also incredibly vague for today's standards, like the infamous Lost in Battle, the quest to find Mankrik's wife. There's mention of "a small tauren camp" and the Gold Road - what, you mean the same road that spans the whole freaking zone? Though I have to say that in all fairness, I never actually had problems with that quest myself. My very first Horde character was a tauren, and thus I first approached the Crossroads from the south. Being new to Horde lands I took everything in with great interest and immediately noticed the burnt huts and the female orc corpse next to them. So when I got the quest from Mankrik it didn't take me long to make the connection and I considered it a very easy source of XP.

In fact, despite of their bad reputation I have many fond memories of the Barrens, though I never went back there for long after my first Horde character did most of the quests in the zone. Take WANTED: Baron Longshore. While Green Armadillo complained about respawn timers being too long, this guy is the exact opposite: If you just run down the coast south of Ratchet randomly killing pirates, you're bound to run into the baron at least three times or so. He respawns fast and all over the place, which makes for a nice running joke. I'm happy to say that I got a good laugh out of it on my troll warrior as well.

I then proceeded to do The Guns of Northwatch. I remember that when I levelled my first Hordie, a friend recommended that we do this quest as a group. These days I'd say it's definitely soloable too, but nonetheless tricky, with lots of fleeing mobs in a densly packed environment with healers. Also, you get to do what's probably the longest escort quest ever in the same area, leading a snotty high elf ("Finally! Someone to rescue me!") out of Northwatch all the way to Ratchet. While doing this he will run into packs of mobs left and right, all the time screaming about being attacked. Good times!

I think the reason that I enjoyed the Barrens quite a bit the first time around was that I was completely new to playing Horde-side and thus revelled in the search and exploration aspects of the zone. (Where's that centaur leader now?) However, due to the endless runs it's definitely not a good place to level in if you want to make progress quickly and without too much hassle. As it is I'm surprised that I'm enjoying it as much as I do to revisit the zone on my troll - I think it's because I largely went in there with the mindset of wanting to remind myself of all the quests before Cataclysm comes and tears the land asunder. My only "problem" is that with the increased quest XP I'm getting ahead of myself too quickly, with quests turning grey way too soon - but that's a rant for another day...


Miss Medicina's healing questionnaire

Miss Medicina posted a sort of meme to get healers talking about themselves. I wasn't tagged by anyone, nor is this a "healing blog" per se, but I'm definitely a healer at heart and felt like answering the questions anyway, so there!

What is the name, class, and spec of your primary healer?
Shintar, priest, holy.

What is your primary group healing environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)
With Shintar I'm mostly healing raids these days, both ten-mans and twenty-five-mans, simply because she's done all the five-mans to death and has got absolutely nothing to gain from running them anymore. I still like healing five-mans though and keep running (and healing) them on my alts.

What is your favorite healing spell for your class and why?
Like Miss Medicina I like circle of healing for its effectiveness, but I think prayer of mending still holds the top spot for me, simply because it's so unique and fun. No other healing class has a spell even remotely like it, and the randomness of the bounces can sometimes lead to great results if you know how to make a situation work in your favour. For example many a melee character has been saved by my ProM bouncing back and forth on the King Ymiron encounter, after he decided to dump a spirit fountain next to the tank just before stunning everyone. In raids with lots of raid damage or multiple tanks it also feels great to shoot it off every cooldown and then continue to cast something else, safe in the knowledge that your little ambassador of holy healing powers is doing its job just fine even without you watching.

What healing spell do you use least for your class and why?

I rarely ever use Holy Nova for healing, only for loldps.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of your healing class and why?
That we have so many different healing spells and thus have a tool for every situation.

What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your healing class and why?

I think our biggest strength is also our biggest weakness in some ways. We're good at everything but not really great at anything, leaving us with a bit of an identity crisis. I often have the impression that even the developers aren't sure what priests are really supposed to be about other than "they heal lots". We still don't stack that well in raids, and are rarely the first choice for a specific role, making us feel like stopgap healers sometimes. "Well, we don't have a shaman to heal the raid. I guess one of the priests can do it. If we must."

In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best healing assignment for you?
Raid healing that isn't too spammy, because it leaves me with some time to do other useful things like throw renews on the tank (and thus plays to the priesty strength of being able to do a little bit of everything). Extremely spammy raid healing always leaves me feeling inferior to a chain-healing shaman, because oh, circle of healing is on cooldown again, not everyone is in range for prayer of healing and so on. Heavy tank healing on the other hand makes me run out of mana fast, and easy tank healing is just plain boring.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with most and why?

I think this isn't so much a matter of class as of... chemistry, for lack of a better word. It's about being able to predict what the other healer will do when and where, and complementing each other in the process. I had great fun learning ten-man Naxx with a resto druid friend of mine for example, we were playing very well together.

My current Trial of the Crusader ten-man on the other hand has me grouped with another holy priest, and our teamwork is pretty good as well. Not to mention that having dual divine hymns, prayers of mending and circles of healing is kind of awesome.

What healing class do you enjoy healing with least and why?

I haven't made too many great experiences teaming up with paladins and shamans. Obviously we can make it work to get things done, but in tends to feel a bit like we're constantly stepping on each other's toes. So in the case of the shaman I'll be casting renew on someone who's just taken a little bit of damage at the same time as the shaman casts riptide, when the melee gets stomped I cast circle of healing just before his chain heal goes off and so on. Similarly I don't feel that I have great synergy with paladins because they'll be able to easily solo-heal any tank, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs, but if there's AoE damage all of a sudden I suddenly have to go into overdrive because they just can't keep up.

What is your worst habit as a healer?
Being competitive. Healing is supposed to be a team effort, but I can't help looking at the healing metres and wanting to be on top (or at least high up). I don't need to brag to anyone about it, but it's probably more important for my personal satisfaction than it should be.

What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while healing?

Lack of recognition for healers and their work. As long as the boss dies, it doesn't matter if healing was easy or hard, or if everyone actually did their job. So what if all the dps stood in the AoE? You healed through it so it obviously wasn't a problem, right? Or to give another example, in one of my Trial of the Crusader runs last week I was duo-healing with a holy pally who was extremely clueless about how to play his spec. We made it through, he got loot at the end and everyone was happy - while I just felt exhausted because he had barely contributed a quarter of all healing, but who cares, eh?

Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other healers for PvE healing?

I think that at the moment things are pretty well-balanced. However, I'm sure that it's only a matter of time until some mechanic will surface again that suddenly makes one kind of healer vastly overpowered for some reason or another.

What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a healer?

Well, whether my target lived or died obviously does matter, but other than that I like to look at healing metres on Recount and World of Logs. I check how I compare to other healers and especially to other holy priests (if there are any). If there's a big difference I look at what spells we both used; you can learn a lot that way. Oh, and my own survival matters too, of course. I always feel like such a failure when I die to environmental effects because I was too busy staring at health bars. A dead healer is a useless healer.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your healing class?
That we can dispel anything other than magic and diseases. Though this has got better as of late.

What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new healers of your class to learn?
Getting to grips with all the different healing spells and when to use them. You can usually recognise newbie priests by the limited amount of spells they use, be it flash heal spam or a prayer of healing at the slightest sign of group damage, simply because they haven't yet figured out that there might be better ways of doing things. I remember running Karazhan with the priest alt of one of our druids and he never used prayer of mending even once. /gasp

If someone were to try to evaluate your performance as a healer via recount, what sort of patterns would they see (i.e. lots of overhealing, low healing output, etc)?

I tend to place pretty high on overall healing done and about mid-field on overheal. The most remarkable thing though, and one that I find striking every time I compare myself to our only other active holy priest at the moment, is how addicted I am to instant casts: prayer of mending, circle of healing and renew specifically. Even though they are also useful I tend to avoid flash heal and prayer of healing whenever I can.

This is a habit that I developed in the past year due to my computer not being quite up to WOTLK standards. I never had any performance problems during BC, but the first time I walked into twenty-five-man Naxxramas everything just locked up. I was absolutely horrified at first and worried that I might have to stop raiding altogether due to being completely useless while playing at two frames per second, but like someone who lost a limb I managed to adjust by getting stronger in the areas that are least affected by lag spikes and low frame rates: my instant cast spells.

Haste or Crit and why?
Well, I try to maintain a balance, but I'm leaning towards crit: Due to the aforementioned computer troubles I have problems to get many spells off even within their normal cast time, so haste wouldn't do much for me. When you only see one frame per second, reducing your global cooldown by a half-second does nothing for you.

What healing class do you feel you understand least?
Resto shaman, simply because it's the only healing class that I haven't levelled to eighty and raided with yet. It's in the works though.

What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in healing?

I'm a Healbot user and very fond of it. I used to be an addon-avoiding purist (and some people complimented me on my healing skills even back when I manually targetted everyone and then clicked on the healing spells on my action bars) - until one day I got to watch a friend who plays a resto druid play on her home PC. She had Healbot installed and I was just stunned. You could heal people just by clicking on their health bars? It was obvious to me that this would save a lot of reaction time, and since I was (and still am) dedicated to being the best healer I could be I just had to get the addon as well.

I also have a timer addon to track my renews and such, but I think I accidentally disabled it the other day but didn't end up missing it that much, as Healbot's integrated tracking worked well enough for me.

Do you strive primarily for balance between your healing stats, or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

I try to maintain a balance, though my main priority for enchanting and gemming is spellpower. I don't stick runed gems in every socket though - in fact being able to go for (sometimes relatively useless) socket bonuses is one of my guilty pleasures as a healer. When you're dps there's usually one way and one way only to gem for absolute maximum dps, and it usually involves ignoring socket bonuses. For healing things are a lot more flexible, so people aren't likely to argue with me if I decide to go for a purple gem just to get the six stamina socket bonus too.


The trouble with TotC

In the past week I had a couple of days off, so I had more time to play WoW and raid. Here's what I did:

Trial of the Crusader (10-man): four full clears (no, really)
Trial of the Grand Crusader (10-man): two or three hours of attempts spread out over two nights, two boss kills
Trial of the Crusader (25-man): one full clear
Trial of the Grand Crusader (25-man): about six hours of attempts on Northrend Beasts, also spread out over two nights, no kill

If you think that sounds slightly insane, you're not the only one. And here I thought I was hardcore when I did two full Karazhan clears in one day back in BC...

In the end the experience mostly just left me with a very weird feeling. Obviously nobody forced me to raid the same instance over and over again, and it certainly felt cool to get the achievement for clearing it on all of my alts. However, on the other hand I'm starting to get seriously tired of doing the same fights over and over again (especially the Faction Champions), and in a strange way it feels as if Blizzard isn't leaving me much choice regardless. I mean, I'd quite like to do some Naxx and Ulduar runs again for a change, or even Sartharion and Malygos, but none of those would do anything for my characters' personal progression anymore, as the emblem items have made huge chunks of the gear in there completely irrelevant, even for my alts. My hunter for example has never even cleared Naxxramas, yet she's completed Trial of the Crusader and was only outdamaged in there by a mage in full twenty-five-man gear. How wrong is that?

I think raiding right now suffers from the same problem as the levelling game, namely that Blizzard seems to think that making things accessible means forcefully funneling people towards the end as quickly as possible, even if that means skipping a large part of the journey. Which is really bizarre, considering that the journey is what makes up ninety percent of the game. No wonder that I feel the pull of low-level alts stronger than ever as of late - at least they still have some roads left to travel.


Instance Review: Zul'Farrak

Today I'd like to talk about another low-level instance that is very close to my heart: the troll city of Zul'Farrak.

1. Accessability

Zul'Farrak is located in Tanaris, which lies pretty much at the end of the world if you're looking at it from anywhere significant (like a capital city). Your first journey to the zone will take a fair amount of time, but it's worth it: Where else would people get their fix of Noggenfogger Elixir? The quests in the area also have as much synergy as you're currently going to find in any part of the old world, which makes it a fairly pleasant place to level. (Pirate quests!)

Once you've actually got the flight path to Gadgetzan, getting to Zul'Farrak is easy enough, as it's only about a minute's ride away from town.

2. Atmosphere

This is personal bias speaking here, but I absolutely dig any and all instances with trolls in them. I'm not entirely sure why that is - after all I play a troll myself and hearing their death noises has been known to make me twitchy on occasion. ("What was that? Am I still alive? Phew.")

Maybe it's because all the troll instances have a certain old-school adventure flair about them. "Indiana Jones and the secrets of Zul'Farrak", anyone? I could totally see it.

3. Story & Quests

Unless you want to get into troll lore in general, the "story" of Zul'Farrak can be summed up pretty simply: There's a bunch of bloodthirsty troll bastards who have lots of stuff. Let's take it! They are clearly evil anyway. Does a good adventurer really need any more justification?

As far as quests for the instance go, there are a ton of them; and almost all of them are available to both Alliance and Horde. Conveniently a lot of them can also be picked up quite close to the instance and don't have any pre-quests. It's interesting that they are without exception about stealing stuff from the trolls for other people. You're not the only one who wants a piece of those riches! (Though you could argue about the objective value of things like scarab shells and troll tempers.) This makes Zul'Farrak an excellent place for gaining a huge chunk of experience in your fourties.

4. Length

Obviously people's ideas of what's the ideal length for an instance will vary a lot as it's very subjective, but I find Zul'Farrak's length to be quite close to ideal. With a competent group it shouldn't take all day, but you're getting a good chunk of content for your time.

Due to the instance's circular nature there is no single predefined route through it, so if you're short on time you can always just aim for the part you are after and skip other bits, thereby adjusting the length to your needs.

5. Layout

As just mentioned, Zul'Farrak is basically one big circle. This can be mildly confusing during your first visit ("Wait, haven't we been here before?"), but it's not too bad. There are a lot of walls, huts, nooks and crannies that make the instance feel like a real place, but due to the circular layout you can't really run into any dead ends.

6. Trash

Sandfury trolls are hard. Well, at level anyway. This makes Zul'Farrak a good place to practice playing your role in a group, because there's a lot to do for everyone. First off there are many patrolling mobs to watch out for, which can easily lead to overpulling if someone doesn't watch where they are standing. Most trolls will also try to flee when low on health, increasing the risk of unwanted adds even more. Slowing abilities and focused fire are key.

They also have a whole host of abilities to annoy you, like heals, totems and crowd control - their hex in particular is extremely overpowered, can be cast on the tank and doesn't break on damage, like, at all. Ouch! Dps needs to learn to help with things like interrupts and dispelling.

7. Bosses

I'll be honest here and admit that many of the bosses in Zul'Farrak aren't very memorable by themselves. There's that basilisk guy, that zombie guy, that chief guy... but who even remembers their names? The only one that really stands out is Gahz'rilla, but that's simply because he's the only boss that isn't a troll, and seeing him emerge from his pool of water for the first time can be quite awe-inspiring to the average newbie. Plus, back in the day you needed a special item to summon him which was quite hard to acquire, so actually getting to see him felt special. Zombie boss can also be memorable if you've ever been in a party with someone who refused to listen to the instruction to not touch any of the graves.

However, there is one thing that's more epic than any other instance boss encounter that I can think of: the "stairs event". There's nothing quite like running up that pyramid, freeing the prisoners and just as you're congratulating yourself on another job well done, you turn around, look down... and suddenly there's a sea of trolls in your way. Then you have to spend the next ten minutes fighting your way out in a truly epic manner. For that encounter alone the instance is worth visiting.

8. Loot

You can't talk about Zul'Farrak loot without mentioning Sul'thraze the Lasher, an epic sword that is acquired by combining two rare blue boss drops from the instance. It's actually not that amazing a weapon, but at level fifty owning an epic still means something and is great for showing off. You do need to get quite lucky though, to see both halves of it drop and also win the roll.

As far as more ordinary boss drops go, Zul'Farrak still has some odd leftovers with questionable stats on them. I mean, were items with negative stats ever a good idea? And which class wants to spend their time meleeing with a staff? There's still some awesome loot for clothies and caster druids though, plus a few items for rogues and other lithe melee fighters. Any plate wearer not wearing heirlooms will also be happy to pick up some Big Bad Pauldrons.

The quest to kill Gahz'rilla also rewards people with an interesting trinket, the Carrot on a Stick. It's hardly amazing, but at low levels it's easy to not get any trinkets at all for a long time, so having something to stick into that empty slot feels quite satisfying.

In summary, Zul'Farrak is an instance with amazing atmosphere and some interesting and unique rewards. Since it's easy to get to and has a lot of quests to offer it's pretty much always worth a visit, even if you're trying to power-level. And it has the stairs event, which is one of the best five-man boss encounters ever and fun at any level. 'nuff said!


Fresh from Onyxia's hattery

Considering the effort I put into acquiring the tier eight helm for my hunter and how excited I was about finally getting it, it was a bit of a shame to already replace it after two months. Still, I'm proud to be able to add yet another wonderfully over-the-top helm design to my collection.


Instances: the new battlegrounds

So Wow.com had an article up about the new LFG interface as it can currently be seen on the patch 3.3 PTR. My reaction to said article and the attached screenshots can be summed up in four letters:


Never mind grouping with people from other servers, it's everything else that's going to change instancing as we know it. Basically, they are turning instance pugs into battlegrounds. Forget: "LF1M [instance], need tank... come on, anyone?" Forget: "Um, anyone beside me coming to the summoning stone?" In the new LFG interface, you check which role(s) you can play in a group and which instances you want to go to and then you just wait. The system will automatically build a group for you, informing you with a pop-up when it is done. Then you just have to click another button, and you, as well as everyone else in your party, will be teleported straight into the instance. Presumably you'll also end up back where you left off once you are done, just like it is with battlegrounds. This is a huge change.

To be honest my first reaction to reading this was one of pure glee. Only a little more than a week ago I praised the convenience of joining a battleground while in the middle of questing. This is going to make pugging instances just as easy and remove so many of the small everyday annoyances people have to put up with while forming a pug at the moment, like the frantic search for that last group member while everyone sits around in Dalaran twiddling their thumbs, wondering whether the group will ever actually go anywhere; or the eternal problem of people not making their way to the instance and demanding summons when nobody is even at the stone.

As far as the cross-server part of the new system goes, I tend to agree with Ixobelle about its usefulness (and lack thereof) at level eighty, but it does give me hope for being able to run instances "properly" while levelling again. In the past year I've got into the habit of just letting my boyfriend boost my alts through any dungeons where I want to get a quest done, and I used to despise boosting - but with everything being so focused on endgame, assembling a full party for a low-level instance at any time of day has become next to impossible. One can hope that there'll be enough interested players across a whole battlegroup, but we'll see.

Oh, and you'll be able to queue for any and as many dungeons as you want, regardless of level - how cool is that? Anyone who's ever tried to join LFG for an instance while levelling just to realise that they were one level too low or one level too high to queue for that particular dungeon will really appreciate this change.

Of course changes that drastic also raise a lot of questions, and the comments in response to the WoW.com post reflect that, though even there they didn't address everything I found myself wondering about. Will you still be able to disenchant and trade shards, seeing how trading doesn't work in battlegrounds? What happens if you wipe, do you just respawn at the entrance? What if you have to leave the instance temporarily, say to repair? Can you do that at all or will you be locked in? So many questions and so few answers... however, I think this is one of those things that we'll just have to sit out and wait for. I have enough faith in Blizzard to believe that they will consider all those issues and make things workable one way or another.

The only thing that makes me slightly sad about this new system is the fact that it will mean another blow to immersion in the game. As much as I enjoy the convenience of being able to quickly jump in and out of battlegrounds, it makes them feel like very isolated places - things that aren't really part of the world of Azeroth. I still remember the very first time a friend dragged me into a battleground - I think it was Arathi Basin - and how massively confused I was at the time. I had explored much of Azeroth already and thought that I understood how it all worked, but then I was suddenly teleported to some strange place, away from the middle of Ironforge, to somewhere that was supposed to be Arathi but clearly wasn't... I had explored the whole zone and there were no lumber mills or gold mines there!

I can see instances suffering a similar fate once the system just starts teleporting you everywhere. Where was Razorfen Kraul again? Pfft, who cares, it's just some swirly portal in the middle of nowhere, click this button and you'll be teleported there instantly. Things like that make me worry about the "world" part of World of Warcraft.

Still, on the whole I'm definitely anticipating patch 3.3 with a lot of excitement now. I pug a lot while often having limited time for it, and the thought of it becoming that much easier is definitely appealing.

Faction Champion Fail

I really dislike the Faction Champions in Trial of the Crusader. I know that I'm not alone in this; a lot of crying has been done about how the fight is too much like PvP and people don't want that in a PvE instance, but that's actually not really it for me. I don't mind a bit of PvP and occasionally even participate in it myself.

There are two things that I dislike about the Faction Champions, the first one being that I really feel sidelined as a healer in this fight. I realise that no fight is equally interesting to everyone, but this is a pretty extreme example of inequality if you ask me. Especially in twenty-five-man mode our raid leader has to spend ages discussing the strategy for this fight every time (since the group composition is always different): who should (try to) crowd-control what, interrupts, kill order, and so on.

However, in the meantime the healers don't need any kind of plan, because our role is always the same: 1.: Heal anyone that takes damage (this is completely random). And 2.: Run away from things that try to damage you (this will also be completely random). So I get to spend ten minutes twiddling my thumbs while a lot of things are being discussed that have zero relevance to me and then I spend a lot of time seeing one of my favourite activities in the game being reduced to Whack-A-Mole in its purest form. No strategy here, it's all random. /yawn

The second thing that I dislike about the Faction Champions is that they have somehow turned into the personal nemesis of my ten-man group. We have downed them on both normal and heroic mode, but if anything is off one night, this fight is where the shit will hit the fan. And unfortunately tonight was one such night, as we just could not get them down on heroic mode and nobody seemed to have a clue why. From my point of view it was because we healers were being silenced all the time, but that didn't really make it any better because I had no idea how to solve that problem either.

I mean, usually when I encounter a problem in a fight like this I take the following steps:

- Ask myself if I did something wrong and if so, how I can avoid it next time: In this case I couldn't see what I could have done to avoid the constant interrupts from the mage, the enhancement shaman and the warlock's felhunter. I can't really get rid of the fel puppy when it's absolutely set on chewing on my toes. Both counterspell and the shaman interrupt are ranged instant casts, so I can't avoid them either, seeing how I can't constantly be out of range of those two guys while staying in range of the raid.

- Ask myself if anyone else obviously did something wrong and if so, how that could be corrected next time: Now, I wasn't sure whether anyone was supposed to keep the shaman and the mage busy, but even if they were, nobody can be expected to keep a champion's attention one hundred percent of the time, so an instant cast targetted at someone else can always go off anyway.

Which left me... completely lost and helpless. On absolutely every attempt I would get interrupted and locked out of my holy spells for ten seconds after a few casts - and ten seconds are a looong time in a fight like this, a time during which people would get dangerously low despite of the other healers' efforts. When the silence finally wore off I'd get a few casts off before being interrupted again, and during the next ten seconds the whole thing would then quickly devolve into a wipe.

Nobody really seemed to know what to do either, people were constantly asking to change the kill order but it didn't seem to do us any good whatsoever. Eventually it got late and we got so frustrated that we left for the night and went off to do something else, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had a sour taste in my mouth.

Maybe I do dislike the Faction Champions for being too much like a PvP fight after all, because it's all so random and impossible to fully control, so nobody knows what can realistically be expected from everyone else at any time. So it's random trial and error every time... Trial and Error of the Crusader, hmm.

In the immortal words of G.I. Joe: Knowing is half the battle - unfortunately that also means that if you don't have a clue what's going on, you'll always be fighting a battle that's already half-lost.


Holiday achievements: likes and dislikes

Three weeks ago I praised the Harvest Festival for being a pleasantly low-key event with no achievements attached to it. This might have created the impression that I dislike holiday achievements in general, but that's not true. It's just that I've been kind of sitting on the fence about a lot of them for the longest time. With the recent anniversary of the release of patch 3.0 and the introduction of the achievement system, it occurred to me that I've had a full year of achievement-infused holidays now and that I should really know by now what I do and don't like about holiday achievements... or should that be achievement holidays?

First off, it actually took me a little while to get into the spirit of the whole thing at all. Hallow's End and Winter Veil 2008 just kind of passed me by, with me being completely unaffected by the achievement frenzy they caused. The first meta holiday achievement I got was To Honor One's Elders, and looking back at it I don't think that was a coincidence, as the Lunar Festival, Midsummer and Hallow's End ended up being my favourite holidays in the past year.

Why? I think it's because these were all holidays that you could feel were truly celebrated all over Azeroth. It doesn't really matter where you log in and out, there'll be something for you to do related to the holiday: ancestral spirits everywhere, bonfires all over, and any innkeeper will be happy to let you trick-or-treat. For high-level characters this offers an incentive to visit places they might not have visited in a while, making the world feel more alive all around. For low- and mid-level characters this means that they also get to participate, no matter where they are currently questing, even if they might not be able to tick off every single item on the big holiday-related achievement list. Compare that to something like Brewfest, where all the action is pretty much limited to Orgrimmar and Ironforge.

My favourite holidays also didn't involve any (or relatively little) of the things I've come to dislike about holiday achievements, such as:

- timed grinds: I actually enjoy grinding to a certain extent (I've got four characters who're exalted with the Sons of Hodir, if that gives you any idea), but the key here is that I can choose when to make some time for grinding and when I don't feel like it. Grindy holidays on the other hand give you exactly one or two weeks to collect hundreds of chocolate eggs/burning blossoms/brewfest prize tokens if you want to get all the achievements related to the holiday, and you better not be ill or on holiday during that time or you'll have to wait a whole year to even get another chance.

- too many "fun" items: Okay, I get it, fun items are supposed to be fun. That's alright as long as they aren't required for anything, but when you're already struggling for bag space and you need ten different items to get all the achievements that's actually... rather unpleasant. Valentine's was probably the worst offender of this, what with the card collections and poetry collections and food collections and bracelets and candy hearts and rose petals and aaaargh! I'm mildly obsessive about keeping the content of my bags in order, and having too much temporary, holiday-related rubbish taking up valuable space is not something I appreciate.

- plain stupid achievements: Well, what's stupid? This is obviously somewhat subjective, but I would think that something that requires you to actively undermine other people's fun is pretty stupid for example. (Yes, School of Hard Knocks, I'm talking about you again.) The same is true for achievements that are purely related to luck with random numbers. I have no problem with things like the Needy or Greedy achievements for example, because while they are dependent on the RNG, you have all the time in the world to get them. A holiday pushing you to log in once an hour for a whole week just to "roll" and try your luck as often as possible is quite exasperating on the other hand.

I also rather disliked the Horde version of Rotten Hallow myself. Nothing like repeatedly getting flagged for PvP and getting ganked without having done anything while trying to figure out on which floor they hid that keg. I don't usually mind dying, but I'm not fighting the bloody Lich King here, I thought this was supposed to be a distraction from the more serious issues in Azeroth! I don't think something like that should require a death toll as high as the average raid night from me then.

Oh, and I'm not a big fan of Winter Veil for no reasons in particular. I think that might be related to my scrooge-like attitude about real-life Christmas though.

We'll see how Pilgrim's Bounty pans out.


Questing in Feralas

Feralas is another zone that's very dear to my heart. In part it's simply because of its looks and atmosphere - I love that it's basically a single forest that's so big that you can barely see the sky, yet it's still lush and full of life instead of dark and threatening. I think Feralas was also the first zone in which I became aware of the rain in WoW - it struck me as beautiful and very fitting for that kind of environment.

Feralas is also a zone with which I connect a lot of fond memories of noobishness and exploration, such as riding down the main road on my night elf priest and straight into the Camp Mojache guards. What, a Horde outpost in the middle of the road? Outrageous! Or finding myself stuck on top of one of the Twin Colossals without a parachute, trying to levitate down and landing right in the middle of a bunch of elite dragonkin. Or running into an annoying night elf hunter while doing the mechanical chicken escort quest, zapping giants together and eventually becoming friends. Or looking at a shadow priest of the enemy faction killing ogres and wondering why I can't shoot funky blue lines out of my palms. Yes, I was a shadow priest in my fourties without mind flay once. Those were the days...

And somehow, even as I levelled up alt after alt after alt, Feralas never lost its charm and ability to surprise me. I remember coming there for the first time as Horde and being completely baffled that there were ogres living in the mountains north of Camp Mojache. I never even knew that place existed before! It also took me a long time to find my first ever Hippogryph Egg. When I levelled my paladin through the zone I was quite surprised when I managed to find a path up a mountainside to a cave full of gnolls where I could finally mine that ore vein that I had seen on my minimap dozens of times while riding past, always wondering where the hell it was hidden. And today I was playing my shaman and found a Gordunni Scroll, which started a little quest chain that I'm pretty sure I had never done before. It's just wonderful that a game that I've been playing for so long now can still surprise me sometimes.

It was also interesting to note that, even though Cataclysm and a complete revamp of the old world are looming ahead, Blizzard hasn't stopped tweaking old content to make it more convenient to level through it right now. Take the quest A Strange Request. This used to send you to Orgrimmar to trade a shrunken head for some herbs with Neeru Fireblade. As I skimmed my quest log today I did a double-take: Xerash Fireblade, located at the Lariss Pavilion... eh, what? Yep, flying all the way to Orgrimmar was clearly too much effort, so Blizzard placed a random NPC just around to corner so you can deliver to him instead. That probably sounds more sarcastic than intended, because it really is convenient, as it means you can get straight to the next part of the chain without having to fly across half the continent.

Speaking of the next part of the chain: Testing the Vessel used to require you to travel to the Hinterlands to use the quest item on owlbeasts there, but not anymore. Now you just need to use it on a bunch of bears and wolves that roam the area aplenty. Again a massively convenient change, and one that kind of makes sense too in my opinion: to be honest I never understood why just to test the item you needed a very specific kind of owlbeast from another continent... though I'll admit that in this case I was also a little bit sad. These quests didn't send people halfway across the world just to waste time, it was also a way of helping them to find other zones appropriate for their level. I mean, how else would a newbie questing in Feralas for the first time feel inspired to go to northern end of the Eastern Kingdoms? So the loss of that connection saddenened me a bit, but as far as I know Blizzard is planning to make all the zone transitions much smoother in Cataclysm anyway, so hopefully that question will have become redundant by then.


Reasons for raiding

Euripides from Critical QQ made a post the other day about why he raids, also touching on things that he doesn't care about while raiding, such as story: If Kael’thas had instead been a featureless blue cube named “Final Boss” and had abilities called “Phase One Ability” and “Phase Two Ability”, the fight would have been exactly the same to me. This surprised me quite a bit, even more so when Larísa pretty much agreed, the reason for my surprise being that I can't agree with this sentiment at all and that I couldn't even imagine so many people feeling this way. It did make me think about why I raid though, and I basically came up with four different reasons.

The first one, if we go alphabetically, is what I would call adventure. This is exactly the bit that Euripides and Larísa say they don't really care about. They talk about it purely in terms of lore, but I think that doesn't quite cover it. I mean, I don't need to know all of Onyxia's background story to appreciate the excitement of my little troll facing off against a huge, fire-breathing dragon. It still wouldn't be the same if she was just a red cube.

I may not be hugely into roleplaying, but I would have thought that most WoW players care at least a little bit about immersion and becoming part of a big fantasy world while they play. I mean, would you really keep playing if it was all just shapes and colours with no context? I know I wouldn't, and that's still true when I raid. I'm not massively concerned with the backstory of the characters I fight, but I love me some good voice-acting, epic cut scenes (hello there, Kael'thas phase three) and the like. It's like watching a good film, only more interactive.

The second reason to raid would be the one Euripides lists as his main motivation, gaming: solving the puzzles, overcoming the challenge, beating the game. This is one aspect that isn't actually all that important to me if I'm being honest. I'm not really impressed if a boss is a complete pushover that poses no challenge at all (I'm looking at you, normal-mode Jaraxxus), but really, most of the stuff in WoW is pretty easy if we're being honest - I enjoy it anyway and don't expect raiding to be vastly different.

My third reason to raid (still going alphabetically) would be progress. This isn't so much about how raiding appeals to me personally, but about how it benefits my character. There are a lot of achievements that you can only get by raiding, so if you want to max out your achievement points you'll have to raid. The same is true for gear really; while you can get very good gear just from farming emblems these days, if you want to be decked out in the best stuff available you'll still have to raid. That's a pretty solid reason to do it regardless of how you feel about the activity itself; it helps you to make the most of your character.

And last but not least for me, there is socialising. I actually think that this is one of the most important reasons for me to raid, if not the most important one. It's not really the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of raiding, but if I imagine raiding with a bunch of strangers instead of my friends I find the thought very unappealing, so it obviously matters.

From this point of view raiding isn't really that important as an activity of its own, but it serves as something to bring people together, as an excuse so to speak, so you don't "just" sit there and talk. People go out for a drink together, go bowling with friends and the like for pretty much the same reason. The shared activity gives you something to talk about if there's nothing else, and actually engaging in it nicely fills any gaps in the conversation.

There are quite a lot of people that I like in my guild, but in all honesty I don't think I could ever make the time to do things like quest, instance etc. with all of them individually. Raiding handily brings us all together and lets us enjoy each other's company three nights a week anyway.


A year's worth of PvP changes in a nutshell

A few days ago I made a post about why I generally don't engage in PvP. However, I am currently in one of the mentioned "content slumps" - having grown somewhat tired of farming Trial of the Crusader and the daily heroic for badges - so I'm once again feeling the pull of activities that usually take a lower priority, just for the change of pace. Since I haven't actually engaged in any significant amount of PvP since the end of Burning Crusade, I got to experience a lot of changes live that I had only skimmed in the patch notes previously.

Low-level PvP is actually pretty fun these days.

A long time ago I tried to do a bit of low-level PvP on an alt and it wasn't very fun. I had to spend ages sitting around at the battlemaster waiting for a match to pop up, just to end up facing off against a team with at least one massively overpowered twink in it who would constantly two-shot me before I could even go "bwuh" in confusion, even when I was at the highest level of my current level bracket.

I am happy to say that those days are gone. With the return of experience gains to battlegrounds - including the ability to turn them off - twinks have been banished into their own battlegrounds where they cannot harm us innocent casual PvPers, leaving us with matches which are filled with nothing but people who really just want to have a bit of fun while levelling. Everybody's wearing a mix of blues and greens with some heirlooms here and there, and everybody dies pretty quickly when focused, but at least we're all even in that respect. And since you can queue from anywhere now, you can hop into a match while in the middle of questing and then pop right back to where you left off.

The experience gains aren't massive and I wouldn't really recommend levelling by doing battlegrounds only, but they are a nice bonus. (Though my shaman once ended up in an Arathi Basin match which we won 1600-0 due to an unfair advantage in numbers, and in those five minutes the honour and xp kept rolling in at such speed that she gained about half a level, which was a bit scary.)

Speaking of AB...

Arathi Basin, Eye of the Storm and Warsong Gulch matches are faster now.

AB and EotS end once one side reaches 1600 resources instead of 2000, and WSG has a timer now. I can't say that I've noticed the former change making a huge difference, except for making it a bit more bearable if you end up defending a base that the enemy decided to ignore completely and are getting bored watching the two teams struggle for superiority at the other end of the map - at least it's over more quickly.

The WSG change is definitely a good one though; I think seeing the timer up there really encourages people to get down to business instead of trying to pointlessly farm honourable kills mid-field. At least I haven't had a match that actually hit that timer yet, though I haven't played WSG that much so maybe that was just a coincidence.

Death Knights are annoying.

From a "facing them in PvP" point of view anyway. I think overall rogues and retribution paladins still win on the annoyingness scale with their stuns and from-full-to-zero-before-you-can-do-anything burst damage, but Death Knights are definitely a close runner-up.

Death grip is the worst offender really. This ability doesn't just prevent me from playing my character, it actively forces my character to do things contrary to what I'm doing - like forcing me into the middle of a group of enemies when I was trying to run away. I'm not sure why this works in PvP at all, seeing how it's a taunt and none of the other classes' taunts work in PvP.

And well... then there's other stuff, like the way in which they seem to be able to spam their chains of ice non-stop. Or that time I was trying to defend a tower in AV against a gnome death knight one on one and finally seemed to get the better of him... at which point he popped army of the dead and I died. I want an "I win" button too.

PvP armour sets are ugly as hell.

I remember how people were complaining in BC that the PvP armour sets didn't have original looks anymore and were just recolours of the PvE tier sets. I think I was one of them to be honest. But oh god, how I long for those days now. I mean, at least they all looked (mostly) good.

I was browsing the various PvP armour vendors the other day, and at least for priests all tiers of PvP armour are boring recolours of the same set now, which is so bland and ugly to begin with that you might mistake it for a bunch of levelling greens when you see someone wearing it in Dalaran (at least that happens to me all the time). Bring back recolours of good-looking models at least, I say. I shudder at the idea of replacing my shiny tier with a garishly-coloured, run-off-the-mill robe and cowl just to stand a chance in PvP.

Strand of the Ancients is not terribly fun.

Yes, during my whole year of playing WOTLK I never did Strand of the Ancients, until now anyway. (Un)fortunately I had to come to the conclusion that I didn't miss much. The worst problem for me was that I seemed to get booted off the server or crash out every time my side was on the offense and just about to dock, which was not at all helpful. I'd have to do more testing to find out if that was just bad luck or a persisting problem, but I'm not sure I can be bothered.

The thing that bugs me most about this battleground is that it's too vehicle-heavy. I don't mind a bit of vehicle action, but in SotA there are so many of them and they are so important that a large part of your raid will end up in one, rendering you kind of obsolete as a healer since you can't heal friendly vehicles, and the only thing left to do is to join the attack on the enemy vehicles with your rather ineffective damage spells. Or try to pilot a vehicle non-stop yourself. Meh.

Isle of Conquest is pretty fun.

I joined my first IoC without having a clue what it was about and ended up doing a lot of running around doing useless things. Yet somehow we still won, so I felt inspired to look it up on WoWWiki to find out what had actually happened.

I've seen a lot of people refer to it as "like AV, only better", "like AV before they changed it" or "like AV, only Horde wins", which is all pretty good in my book, coming from someone who plays Horde and kinda likes the large scale of AV but frequently gets annoyed by the way in which people completely ignore important objectives.

Plus, you know, IoC lets you do some pretty ridiculous stuff like hurl yourself off a zeppelin into an enemy fortress or throw yourself out of a catapult. Much win if you ask me.


Instance Review: Scarlet Monastery

Today I'd like to look at a classic instance and why it is awesome. So far Blizzard hasn't announced any intentions of making a heroic version of this old five-man, but if they intend to do more after the Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep, the Scarlet Monastery strikes me as a prime contender due to how iconic and popular it has become over the years.

So, let's look at all the things that are great about it:

1. Accessability

For Horde players, getting to the Scarlet Monastery is extremely convenient, as it only requires a two-minute walk ride from the Undercity, even at level.

For the Alliance it's very much the opposite and to be honest I'm not sure why the instance is so popular with them despite of it, but I guess it offers enough incentive to go there to make it worth it. As it is, an Alliance player who wants to kick some Scarlet behind has to fly to Southshore and then cross three zones on their own, one of which is enemy territory. Nowadays you can at least ride, maybe even already at 100% speed increase, but back when I played Alliance you usually had to walk all the way, which considerably increased the risk of getting ganked by a passing Brill guard. And yet people still did it en masse even back then. Go figure.

2. Atmosphere

The Scarlet Monestary is very much not a dungeon in the classic sense, but it's definitely atmospheric. Even though the place isn't much to look at, it does look and feel like a monastery, with its sun-filled courtyards and quiet alcoves stuffed with bookshelves.

3. Story & Quests

The Scarlet Crusade doesn't have a story with a beginning and an end, but they are simply an entity that will be present as a common enemy throughout your whole levelling career. If you start as Forsaken, you'll encounter Scarlets as early as level three. They are all over the plaguelands and in Northrend you'll end up facing the Scarlet Onslaught, which is just a fancy name for "Scarlet dudes who went to Northrend". As such taking out some important characters belonging to this faction feels quite satisfying. Kelpsacovic would call them "well-crafted" I guess.

In terms of quests, there are quite a few connected to the Scarlet Monestary. Both factions have a quest to actually take out all the bosses except the ones from the graveyard, and most of the others are about finding books in the library. Makes perfect sense and adds a nice chunk of XP!

4. Length

The Scarlet Monestary was the first instance to be split into different wings, four in this case: the graveyard, the library, the armoury and the cathedral. This was quite a stroke of genius as it meant that you can basically choose the length of your instance run. If you've got a lot of time on your hands you can clear all four wings in one go, but it's just as acceptable to stop after only one wing. Since they are all separate it's not like someone suddenly bailing halfway through BRD, leaving the party with the awkward question if anyone even remembers the way back to the summoning stone to get a replacement.

What this means is that the length of this instance is simply... ideal. It can be short, relatively long and anything in-between just as you require. If that isn't a great design then I don't know what is.

5. Layout

You'd be hard-pressed to get lost in any wing of the Scarlet Monestary as it's quite linear - either you go further in or you run back out. Fortunately that doesn't mean that it's just a boring tunnel, it still feels like a real place: The library has little alcoves with bookshelves and extra mobs inside for example, and the cathedral has a massive cloister with fountains, through which you can choose your own path at your leasure without having to kill off all the trash in it.

6. Trash

Speaking of trash... the Scarlets are actually reasonably challenging at level, mainly because almost without exception they will run away when they get low on health, making it very easy to get adds when you really don't need them. A lot of them are also able to heal, which makes getting adds even more annoying as you'll have to deal with multiple opponents healing each other up all the time. Some of them also have other annoying abilities like stuns and kicks.

On the plus side, if you've ever been annoyed by paladins' seeming invincibility in PvP, you can have a field day in here by killing them in droves. It's obviously not the same, but still satisfying.

7. Bosses

The Scarlet Monestary has some very iconic and memorable bosses, the most important ones being Herod with his "blades of light" and Whitemane and Mograine. "Arise, my champion!" See? I'm really bad at remembering quotes but even I know these without having to look them up.

As far as difficulty goes, none of them are very hard, but you have to consider that this is a relatively low-level instance where people are still learning. Newbies to WoW at least get an early chance to familiarise themselves with some basic strategies like "moving away from spinny blades of death" (Herod) or the relevance of kill order (Whitemane and Mograine).

8. Loot

Loot from any levelling instance is obviously always going to be temporary, but some of the drops from the Scarlet Monestary are likely to last you for a long time. Whitemane's Chapeau is such an awesome caster hat that you might keep wearing it until Outland for example. Any drops from Arcanist Doan are going to make the clothies drool. Plate wearers that can't wear plate yet will be delighted by any piece of the Scarlet set. Ravager and Mograine's Might are lovely weapons for anyone who likes to smash face with a big two-hander (though the proc on Ravager gets a bit annoying after a while). And Loksey's Training Stick is one of the first instance drops you'll find that is specifically tailored towards hunters and feral druids. There is more of course, but these are some of the nicest and most common drops.

It's worth mentioning that an extra, max-level boss can be summoned on the graveyard during Hallow's End, the Headless Horseman. He's not hard to kill and drops lots of fun stuff, making the instance worth a visit for all ages levels.


Four tips for getting into heroic pugs quickly

One thing I've noticed with my frequent heroic pugging is that I've become a bit spoiled in regards to the speed of group assembly. I used to just hang out in the LFG channel while questing or doing something else and wait for an opportunity to come my way, but these days I often find myself logging on just to quickly do the daily heroic for example, and if I can't get a group for it within ten to fifteen minutes I'll lose interest. Fortunately I've noticed some rules of thumb that seem to help with faster group assembly:

1. Consider the time of day.

It's probably kind of obvious that you'll find more people to group with during the day than in the middle of the night for example, but there are other, more subtle shifts in activity. For example the pool of available people on LFG always seems to dry out around mealtimes (lunch, dinner) as people log off to eat and those that come on later haven't logged on yet. At least on my server, evenings during the weekend also aren't the best time to pug. Friday night is presumably a popular time to go out, and on Saturday and Sunday nights for example pretty much everyone who can is raiding, not leaving many people available to run five-mans. So try to assemble your group during a time when most people won't predictably be occupied with something else.

2. Consider the instance.

Anything that isn't the daily heroic will be considerably harder to get a group for, but even the daily heroic itself isn't always a guarantee for an easy group. The shorter ones like Azjol-Nerub are much more popular than the longer ones like Old Kingdom. Easy ones like Utgarde Keep are more popular than harder ones like Halls of Stone (though the massive gear inflation is making everything kind of easy by now). The number of emblems that drop is relevant as well, Gundrak for example is hugely popular from what I've found, because it's short and wields five badges. (My record for that one sits at completing a pug run in fifteen minutes.) Oh, and everybody hates the Oculus of course.

Keep this in mind before wasting too much time trying to assemble a group for a heroic that is known to be unpopular, though it can sometimes also work out to your advantage. For example it's always harder to get into a group as dps than as tank or healer, so listing yourself as available to dps an unpopular heroic increases your chances of getting snatched up by that lone group that does want to do the instance instead of drowning among all the other little sword icons.

3. Do it yourself.

This is actually an important rule for any kind of group activity in WoW, not just heroic pugging. If you want to make sure something happens, take the initiative yourself. I'm always baffled when I check the "looking for more" section of the LFG panel and there are ten people there, at least one tank and healer, but nobody has bothered to actually assemble them into a group. Lazy!

This is particularly important when you play a dps role. Tanks and healers can afford to let others court them a little because they are so sought after, but dps is a dime a dozen, so your best bet to get into a group quickly and be chosen over all the other death knights/hunters/mages in LFG is to start the group yourself.

4. Don't start with nothing but dps.

I always /facepalm when I see someone advertise that they are looking for two more people for their party, they only need a tank and healer! I once read a nice guide on grouping on another blog (unfortunately I can't find the link anymore), and one of the most remarkable things it said was that if you have three dps, you don't really have a group yet. The key to an instance party is to fill the three roles of tank, damage dealer and healer, not to have five people. So whether you're a lone hunter or are grouped with two other dps, your group still only has one role covered. The only difference is that you're making it harder for yourself to join another group, because if they are looking for just one more dps, well... you're kind of already attached, aren't you? (Not that this has ever prevented people from forming a "three dps" party and then bailing instantly as soon as a dps spot opens up somewhere else.)

Similarly, if you find a tank who wants to bring his dps friend - again, you can't take them. In short, inviting the dps first massively limits your options and slows you down, so try to avoid it if at all possible. Always make sure that the first person you invite will cover the second role in your group, then finding someone for the third slot will be comparatively easy.

Happy pugging!


PvP and me

I think I said on Blog Azeroth that I'd never write about PvP, but today I feel like doing so anyway. Or rather, I feel like writing about why I don't usually engage in it. The thing is, I don't hate PvP; every now and then I even enjoy it. It's just that I generally enjoy PvE content more, and there's so much of it that I rarely run out of things to do. Usually this only happens as the game nears another expansion or patch, I start to get a bit bored with the current content and find myself thinking: "Hey, I haven't been to Arathi Basin in a while! It could be a laugh."

However, it never takes long to remind me of why I prefer PvE over PvP:

1. I'm a "carebear" at heart.

I want everyone to be happy and wish no harm on anyone. By default this means that a game where the main goal consists of smashing other people's faces in is not exactly my cup of tea. I much prefer things like PvE raids, which are focused on co-operation. This is not to say that PvPers don't need to co-operate at all, or that there's no element of competitiveness in PvE play, but the focus is definitely different.

2. I'm not very good at it and not likely to get much better.

There are games that you can enjoy even if you're bad at them, but WoW PvP definitely isn't one of them unless you're a grade A masochist who enjoys dying over and over and over again.

Hardcore PvPers often scoff at PvE as being too easy and that PvP is the domain of people with real skill. I agree and disagree at the same time: I believe that both require skill, but of different kinds. PvE is a sort of brainy, theoretical thing. The key to it lies in acquiring knowledge: which stats to gear for, which dps rotation to use, where to position the boss, where to stand during a phase transition. Obviously it'll still need some work to actually put all of it into practice flawlessly, but generally the things that are required from you as an individual are not awfully difficult: push this button and move a little.

PvP is exactly the opposite. There is some theory behind it about things like what to dispel when, who to kill first in a group and the like, but these are pretty loose for the most part. On the other hand your reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination will be tested massively, as even a split-second delay on a key ability can make the difference between victory and defeat. And this is something that you can only improve by actively practising it over and over again; no amount of reading about it will help you.

Which brings us to my problem: my reflexes are not very good to begin with and I'm a so-called keyboard-turner (le gasp!). Why not? I'm a PvE healer and have to move only very little (like to take two steps out of the fire). To get better at PvP I'd have to change my playstyle... but getting better at PvP would also be the only reward, and since we've already established that I don't like it all that much to begin with, why bother?

3. PvP involves too much loss of control.

This is about stuns and crowd control, something that certain people complain about endlessly to this day. You can call them QQers and cite examples of games that don't have these mechanisms and how their gameplay suffers from it, but balance issues aside, let's be honest: losing control over your character in major ways and over longer periods of time is simply not very fun.

I've found that this has become worse than ever in WOTLK with things like death knights yanking you off your mount from thirty yards away and freezing you in place, or abilites like Thunderstorm allowing players to physically push you off the edge of cliffs and the like. It's fun to laugh at maybe once, but if you get a bunch of these spells chained at you it just makes you want to walk away from the keyboard since you can't do anything anyway.

4. WoW PvP is very isolated.

It has been said in the past that WoW is mainly a PvE game and PvP feels a bit tacked on. And it shows. In PvE, everything seems to be connected to something else somehow. I do quests for the Kalu'ak to get rep so they give me a great fishing pole, which I can then use to fish up more useful fish, which I can then use to cook better food, which I can then use to get better raid buffs... and so on. The only reasons to PvP are 1) because you're really into it or 2) to earn honour and buy gear that will make you better at PvP (which then kind of leads back to point 1). There's little connection to anything outside those little battleground and arena boxes that we can join at the click of a button. For this reason I find it very easy to just completely forget that PvP even exists, as whether I do it or not has no influence on the rest of my game experience.

Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I've seen how attempts to lure PvE players into PvP have gone horribly wrong. BC gave us PvP epics that were better than a lot of PvE rewards, causing lazy PvE players to join battlegrounds and then go afk while their team mates earned them honour. Children's week saw people desperate for a violet proto-drake joining battlegrounds en masse and sabotaging their team just to get an achievement. This is obviously not a good way to go about it.

However, Wintergrasp for example does something very right in my opinion, even though I don't do it that often and am not too fond of VoA. It makes PvP meaningful to more people (even those who don't participate) and offers a wide variety of rewards, some of which are even useful for non-PvPers. A lot of my guildies participate in VoA whenever they can (and do their best to help the Horde win it) even though they don't care a lot about battlegrounds or the arena. That shows me that Blizzard did something right there.

5. PvP tends to bring out the worst in people.

We've all been to a raid where someone snapped after the umpteenth wipe and drama ensued. We've all had a pug with some jerk who made us lose another part of our faith in humanity. But for each and every one of those bad experiences I had a lot of good ones.

In PvP, I've found, it's the exact opposite. Every now and then you'll run into a battleground where people actually work together and talk nicely too each other, but the large majority of them will be filled with abuse about how people need to "l2p", how everyone in the raid is made of fail and so on. And that's just your own team mates, the people who are supposed to be on your side!

Let's not even get started on your enemies. Sportmanship, what's that? An opponent who realises that he can beat you once will continue to hunt you down just to kill you over and over again until you give up and log off. If he can't kill you he'll call for reinforcements who'll then stomp you into the ground over and over again. All is fair in love and war, and as far as people's behaviour goes, WoW PvP is definitely a lot more like war than a friendly competition.

Why do I PvP at all then? Sometimes it does make for a nice change of pace to escape from the grind into another little world within the World of Warcraft. Sometimes I can smile at an opponent who shows an amazing amount of skill. Sometimes I team up with some random guy and we do great things. But it never takes long for me to miss PvE again.


Waxing philosophical about levelling

The other day I ended up prowling through Tobold's archives to read about his initial reaction to the release of World of Warcraft. It was quite sweet to read his detailed log of his first months of play, full of enthusiasm and meticulous recordings of quests he did, dungeons he visited and loot he earned. It reminded me a lot of my own first couple of months of playing WoW, except that I was a lot more noobish because I had never played an MMORPG before.

Towards the end I started to skim a bit, but he basically hit the level cap with his first character, tried a bit of endgame and rolled up a lot of alts, but eventually his interest decreased somewhat. He also noted that the game was becoming top-heavy quite quickly, with players suddenly facing a very different kind of game once they hit sixty than the game they had played while levelling.

I'm inclined to agree that levelling and endgame are very different experiences, but I don't think that's a problem per se. They should be able to co-exist quite peacefully, with people who love levelling just rolling another character every time they hit the cap, and people who love the endgame just levelling up once and then enjoying the various activities at the level cap. (And people who like both could opt for anything in-between, obviously.)

The problem is that a lot of people, including the developers themselves, don't acknowlege this and insist that endgame is the only game worth playing. "The game starts at eighty", say the regular players, and there go the devs and double experience gains yet again to speed levelling up even more. Why diminish the levelling experience like that? If it's all about being at eighty, we might as well get rid of levelling altogether, though I doubt many people would consider that a good idea. So why not acknowledge that levelling is a major part of the game and try to improve it instead of making it matter less and less?

One of my friends who is also levelling another alt right now told me yesterday how much he loves the faster xp gains since they made him gain eight levels in a day. I can't really share his enthusiasm. I bought heirloom items for my alts too, but I'm starting to have second thoughts about the increased experience gains, even if the scaling is still awesome. Maybe I'm unusual in this, but whenever I roll a new alt I like them to explore the world as if I, the player, was seeing it for the first time too. They run instances and train in professions. None of them is "just another character that I want to rush to the level cap", I want to develop them on their own terms. Thus I often shudder when I encounter other people's alts without professions and missing important flight paths all over Azeroth for example.

The point I'm trying to make here is that making levelling faster and faster is counter-productive to making it in any way meaningful. Here I am, wanting to explore a lot of different zones with my character in her thirties, but by the time I've finished questing in one zone, I've already outlevelled two others that I've never even been to. Getting new gear doesn't feel exciting at all because you'll discard it again by the end of the day anyway. And what's the point of even trying to get a group for an instance together if you'll already be too high level for it before you even manage to assemble a full party?

Cataclysm is supposed to revive the old world but I'm starting to wonder whether it will actually really change anything in that respect. Sure, people will roll up new alts, but that's more because of the new races and race-class-combinations than because of revamped low-level quests; they did that at the release of Burning Crusade too. But unless Blizzard drastically reduces the amount of available quests in old Azeroth or increases levelling time again, they are basically setting themselves up for creating and revamping a lot of content that people will just skip anyway due to how fast they progress in the old world these days. And the people who want to focus on endgame will still rush to the level cap as fast as possible anyway... so what will really be that different?


A pleasant surprise

A week ago I made a post about how repeatedly missing out on killing Yogg-Saron and my chances of ever getting to do it diminishing rapidly every day was making me lose my will to raid. I couldn't really make up my mind about whether to stay or go even after getting some encouraging comments in response to my last post, but at least I managed to formulate a plan: In a little less than two weeks I'll go on holiday for a week and thus have an "enforced" break from raiding. I'd sign up for all the raids until then, enjoy my holiday, and then make my final decision after that, based on how my last few raids went and whether I missed raiding at all during my time off.

Somehow just having a plan already made me feel a lot better, less put upon and more in control. I didn't expect the outcome of all this to be positive, but even if the last couple of raids continued to frustrate me, I'd at least know when to stop then. I also sent our raid leader a private message to inform him about my plans... not to make a "go kill Yogg now or I'll quit" type of threat, but simply to keep him up to date. I realise that no raid guild can keep all its members happy all the time, but at the same time you can't expect people to hang around if they are not having fun anymore.

Anyway, tonight was normal Trial of the Crusader farm night. Both of our usual raid leaders were unavailable but two other officers did their best to make the raid happen anyway. I was under the impression that this caused some people to actually play better than usual, being aware of the extra effort the officers put in and trying to do their best to do their own part as well. Either way we cleared the raid quickly and with no issues and followed it up with a twenty-five-man Onyxia kill. "Now what?" came the inevitable question and the acting raid leader decided that we'd go to Ulduar.

Wondering how far we'd get in two hours I made my way to the instance, when my boyfriend suddenly whispered me with "you'll like this" - he had convinced the raid leader to extend our previous raid ID which only had Yogg-Saron left alive. After having to disband and reform the raid to get everyone into the same instance, we were off to Yogg's prison.

I tried not to get excited but couldn't help myself. Maybe he would die tonight? People seemed to be playing well... but no, I mustn't get my hopes up; I had been disappointed too many times! And just sorting out the strategy took so long again, surely by the time we'd actually start the fight everyone would have lost focus again.

On our first attempt we aced phase one, phase two also went pretty well except for a few casualties, but in phase three everything fell apart as usual with Yogg constantly healing up until we were all dead - an all-too-familiar scenario unfortunately. On our second attempt we actually wiped before we even made it to phase three properly as multiple people got mind-controlled or died in other ways during the brain phase.

"This time he'll go down" a rogue friend assured me in a random chat channel. I had my doubts, but as I started to dodge evil clouds again I tried to pull myself together once more. I could actually feel myself losing focus due to the disappointment, but this was the content I wanted to do - if I couldn't focus here, where else? We executed phase one flawlessly again. In phase two there were one or two deaths again but we had combat reses available. Then came phase three. I sprinted towards the door, targetted Yogg to watch his health and started healing and dispelling my little heart out.

And suddenly... everything seemed to come together. The adds were dying so quickly that we never had more than two out at a time, if that. Yogg's health was going down slowly but steadily and we were well ahead of the enrage timer. "Keep it up, guys", the leading officer reassured us cheerfully on TeamSpeak.

And then he was finally dead. Even though it was somewhat belated and with better gear than you should need for this kill, I was happier than I've been about any boss kill since Archimonde. But the best thing was the way in which people reacted: I had felt so alone and abandoned in my quest to kill Yogg, but suddenly everyone made a point of congratulating me specifically on finally achieving my goal.

A Fragment of Vala'nyr dropped, and with both our main fragment collector and his backup not being in the raid the acting raid leader suddenly piped up with: "I think we should give it to Shintar, just so she'll always remember this night." I was quick to assure them that I wouldn't have any problems remembering this night either way, but before I knew it the fragment had landed in my bags. "Put it on your mantlepiece," one of the shamans joked. Nobody wanted the tier eight shoulders either since everyone (including myself) had bought tier nine already, so I got those as well just for show-off value.

More than anything I'm feeling extremely touched. I posted this scribble on my guild's forum afterwards to express myself better than I could right after the raid - I was too giddy really - but I still don't think it quite does the whole thing justice. For all the complaining I sometimes do, I'm really lucky to be in the guild I'm in.