Is flying for everyone really such a great idea?

My (re-)exploration of Alliance lands continues. In fact I even brought my Draenei mage out of retirement as well, so as to have an excuse to quest in both Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra without having to move my priest back and forth between the two zones all the time. It's definitely been inspiring; expect more posts based on observations I made "on the other side" soon.

One of the things that provoked some deep thought in me was the experience of being forced back onto the ground while questing in Northrend, since I don't have a level eighty character on my Alliance server and thus no access to the Tome of Cold Weather Flight. Basically my feelings on the matter can be summed up in two sentences:

1. Argh, why can't I fly, this would be so much easier and faster if I could fly.
2. Oh hey, this place is pretty damn cool when you look at it up close.

Point one is pretty self-explanatory. I keep clicking on my flying mount icon just to be told that I can't use that here. People of my level zoom past me on their swift gryphons and finish the same quests visibly faster. It's kind of annoying.

Yet at the same time, I'm strangely enchanted by my surroundings as I'm forced to pay attention to them once more. I must have explored Howling Fjord about half a dozen times by now, and yet I'm discovering things that I still didn't know were there. Oh, look at that cute little waterfall! Wow, I had no idea there was a bridge here! Oh my god, there's actually a path that allows you to walk up that mountain? Etc.

I'm also a lot more in touch with the creatures around me, and not just literally. When you fly over everything, everywhere is kind of the same in a way. Things that could knock you off your flying mount are very rare, so it's all safe space. When you're bound to the ground on the other hand, you really appreciate the safety of a quest hub, or even the relief of stumbling into an area where most mobs are neutral. You learn to fear specific areas where lots of hostile mobs patrol. In short, you really have to pay attention to the world around you and the game feels more immersive.

Still, I miss the convenience of flying. But then I thought to myself... what if I hadn't done this content while being able to fly before? In fact, what if nobody had a flying mount? I actually don't think that I would miss it all that much. Most quests are designed to be done on the ground, and if we're being honest, all of Azeroth (and Outland) is pretty two-dimensional anyway. Yes, there are mountains and other elevations, but the time you spend climbing hills and going up stairs isn't even remotely close to how much time you spend moving on the horizontal plane.

The Oculus is an example of a place where flying makes sense because it extends about equally into three dimensions. Azeroth and Outland however do not, and all that being able to fly everywhere does to us in those areas is that it effectively removes us from the horizontal plane where all the interesting stuff is happening, and allows us to travel faster through a plane that is pretty much empty. Is that really so great?

I remember questing in Ashenvale for the first time over three years ago. I had no idea what it was like to have a mount, but I still found the long walks from one end of the zone to the other rather tedious and often wished for a speed increase. Getting a mount felt like a logical and welcome improvement of my gameplay experience. Going from riding to flying on the other hand was nothing like that, at least not for me. Riding from one end of the Barrens to the other can still get boring and I might occasionally wish that I could spur my mount to go faster, but I can't say that I ever longed for the ability to just fly over it and skip it all. (I'm not counting flightpaths here because while they allow you to skip selected parts, they don't completely remove the need for ground travel.)

Suddenly the thought of being able to fly everywhere in Cataclysm fills me with dread instead of anticipation. It will be impressive at first, no doubt, but once we've seen everything from above once, what's left? We'll just fly through more empty space most of the time, detaching ourselves even further from the virtual world our characters live in and from all the wonder on the ground that drew us into the game in the first place.


A plea for more stable servers

You know, I'm generally not too fond of just making rant posts that don't have much of a point, but I just have to get this one off my chest: What in the world is currently going on with my server (Earthen Ring - EU) and with its whole battlegroup for that matter? I tend to be pretty laid back about things like lag and overloaded instance servers, but the way ER has been completely and utterly broken in the past week is seriously bordering on the ridiculous.

Last Monday we went to ICC, killed Putricide, continued to Valithria Dreamwalker... and then the server went down. We stayed on TeamSpeak for fifteen minutes or so but eventually had to call the raid since there was no way to tell when the server would come up again.

On Wednesday we had a great raid and almost downed the Blood Queen for the first time. I was hyped again.

On Thursday I wanted to run a ten-man. Since we were short on signups it took a while to get the group together, but after half an hour or so we finally found a tenth person. A mere minute later, the server went down again. All that work for nothing.

Yesterday, Sunday, we struggled to get enough people for a twenty-five-man together but the officers pulled it off. We intended to start with clearing the plague wing, started by killing Festergut, but just as we were about to pull Rotface a bunch of people - including myself, the raid leader and the healing leader - got booted off the server. This time the server wasn't down and the majority of the raid was still online, but the people who had been kicked off for no reason were unable to log back on and so another raid had to be cancelled.

I checked the official forums and I could find nothing, absolutely nothing about those issues on there, apart from a few resigned posts about dead hamsters on our realm forums. The people of Earthen Ring are used to their server not always working properly, but come on!

I love this game and I want to keep playing it. With the next new and exciting major patch a long way off, it can be hard enough to motivate people to attend raids as it is, and all this nonsense with servers going down or randomly booting a quarter of the raid is not helping. When you finally get enough people together to raid and then it doesn't happen because Blizzard won't let you, people are even less motivated to try again - because how do they know that it won't just be a complete waste of time again?

For one of our warriors, last night was the straw that broke the camel's back and he decided to call it quits. With three out of four raids having to be cancelled due to server issues this past week, I can't say I can blame him.


Frikkin boats!

The lull does strange things to you. For example you might read a post by Tamarind about switching from Horde to Alliance and you might find yourself wondering whether trying to go back to the Alliance side of life for a bit yourself wouldn't make for a fun distraction. The short answer so far is yes - even though I don't know anyone on my old Alliance server anymore, the dungeon finder has made it wonderfully easy to just jump into a run and have some fun even without having any connections.

The longer answer is... I'm distracted, but more than anything by the fact that I absolutely hate what Blizzard has done to the Alliance's public transport system since I left, specifically to the boats.

You see, once upon a time, when I was but a wee little newbie night elf who had just discovered Auberdine, boats were very confusing. I mean, here I was, only just exploring my surroundings not that far from the starter zone and feeling relatively safe, and suddenly there were these things that could transport me to places on the other side of the continent - or another continent altogether - where the monsters were level "skull".

Yet at the same time boats made a certain sense in that they were very newbie-friendly. Since all the Alliance ports were connected, strictly speaking there wasn't such a thing as getting on the wrong boat. You might not immediately end up where you intended to go, but if you just kept jumping from boat to boat at each harbour you'd eventually get there.

Auberdine - Menethil Harbour - Theramore

Makes sense, right?

When I made the switch to Horde I discovered that their zeppelins worked in much the same way:

Orgrimmar - Grom'gol - Undercity - Orgrimmar

I often ended up hopping onto the wrong one initially, but it wasn't too big a deal because in the end I'd always get where I wanted to be; it just took a bit longer.

Then WOTLK came, and with it the need to establish connections to Northrend. The Horde dealt with this by erecting extra zeppelin towers in both Orgrimmar and Undercity. This struck me as pretty sensible because it only expanded on the existing blimp network. If say, you accidentally ended up in Warsong Hold even though you wanted to go to Howling Fjord, you could just take the zeppelin back to Orgrimmar, fly from there to Undercity, and then take the flight from there to Vengeance Landing. Everything was still connected.

Now, I was vaguely aware that the Alliance had changed things around a bit more with the addition of Stormwind Harbour, but I fully expected the old adage that you can get anywhere and everywhere by boat to still hold true. My night elf priest's hearth stone is still in Shattrath, so I portaled to Stormwind and made my way to the harbour. A guard informed me that there were boats going out to the Borean Tundra and to Auberdine. Hmm. I wanted to go to Howling Fjord, so I jumped on the boat to night elf lands, firmly convinced that eventually I'd end up at Valgarde, somehow. Until I got off at Auberdine and realised that I had run into a dead end unless I wanted to go to Darnassus or the Exodar. Crap.

This WoWWiki page eventually enlightened me on how to get where I wanted to go, which required me to sail back to Stormwind, fly up to Menethil and then take the boat from there. But really? Considering how extremely large and pompous they made Stormwind Harbour, I really expected it to offer more connections. There are three different boats stopping in Auberdine for Christ's sake, but Stormwind can't handle that kind of traffic? And why oh why did they have to ruin that nice circular system of boat connections that could take you anywhere? The Horde got to keep theirs after all.

Travel with the goblins today! Because humans apparently have no common sense.


Hurrah for patch day!

I've said before that I like patch days, especially for the little surprises they bring that might not even have been mentioned in the patch notes. Suddenly even meandering around Dalaran becomes interesting again.

For example, what's with those orange/brownish borders around several items in my inventory? Oh, they are quest items. Neat! I suppose it would be even neater if all quest items were actually marked as quest items, which they aren't (e.g. stuff like the Kor'kron Flare Gun), but for what it's worth it's nice to have the number of items that you might try to vendor by accident without being able to reduced even slightly.

Also, blue exclamation marks! They've been marking daily quests for a long time now, but if you actually clicked on the quest giver, the mark next to the quest title was still yellow, which could on occasion get a bit confusing if you were talking to an NPC that offered both regular and daily quests. No more, now the daily exclamation points are blue in that menu too. Rejoice!

I also noticed that all my high-level characters had gained a feat of strength called Emblematic, which is strange because earning an emblem of some kind is not hard at all, and more importantly still perfectly possible. So how is that different from Dungeon & Raid Emblem other than that it also applies to emblems that weren't looted off a corpse? (My level 72 alt has earned a few emblems from doing random dungeons but hasn't actually looted any yet, but she got the new feat of strength too).

One thing I didn't like so much was that Blizzard seems to have messed up the spawn rate of the cheese for Cheese for Glowergold. I've often had to work hard for my six wine glasses during peak times due to fierce competition, but getting that cheese was never a problem until today. This morning on the other hand I actually saw multiple people standing in the shop, vainly waiting for any cheese to spawn for several minutes. "I can't believe I'm spawn-camping a wheel of cheese," were my words in guild chat I believe.

And then of course there's the absurdity that Tobold has dubbed an "unnecessary click fest", aka converting your old battleground marks into honour. I agree that the system is annoying as anything, but on the other hand I can't deny that there's a certain hilarity inherent in watching people pile on top of the Horde Warbringer, emitting sparkles and being forced to do the train emote over and over again with every conversion they do.

What other small changes have people noticed?


Whiny Post Day: The lull

(What is Whiny Post Day?)

You may or may not have noticed that the number of posts I make per week has gone down quite a bit as of late. This is because the amount of time that I spend on WoW has gone down as well, meaning that I have less chance to randomly get inspired to write something about a bad pug or some other noteworthy experience. I guess I've been hit by the pre-expansion blues, the lull between patches, whatever you want to call it.

And I hate feeling that way, because it bugs me when other people pull this card on me. "Meh, I'm bored of the game." - "Sorry, but there's just nothing left for me to do!"

Now, being bored with something is a perfectly legit feeling to have, but if you're part of a group it tends to have negative side effects on the other people involved. Have you ever been to the movies with a group of friends and ended up sitting next to the one guy who thought that the film was utter crap and kept talking over the soundtrack to alleviate his boredom? Have you ever played a game of some sort with someone who didn't really like it and kept making stupid moves or missing important clues because he just didn't care? Have you ever gone out for the evening with a couple of mates but had trouble deciding on where to go because there was this one guy who would object to absolutely every suggestion with "that's boring"? I dread to hear the words "I'm bored" from someone I'm involved with because it's pretty much guaranteed to soon diminish my own experience of whatever we're doing as well.

They could of course do the logical thing and just stop participating, though this then carries the risk of making the group suffer in some other way, for example by being a player short for a game and being unable to play at all (*cough*raids*cough*). I'm not entirely sure which is worse, really.

And complaining that there's nothing left to do? Are you kidding me? I know there are a handful of people in the world who have completed nearly all the achievements in the game, but most people aren't anywhere near close to that, so there's plenty of stuff for them to do. Of course the problem with a game like WoW is that no matter how much there is to do, a lot of it simply won't appeal to everyone, so it's quite possible to run out of things you're interested in doing. Which is why we need those constant patches that add new options for everyone.

So yeah, I hate to hear those complaints from other people, and yet I'm thinking similar thoughts myself at the moment. I'm not entirely bored of the game, but I don't feel motivated to do much outside of our scheduled raids. Sure, I could grind frost emblems for all my alts until kingdom come, but... eh. I'm getting some enjoyment out of levelling my new baby shaman on Argent Dawn, but it's something that I like to do at a slow pace, for a few hours twice a week or so, so it's not exactly driving me to play the game all that much.

Why does it matter? It's a game, I should be able to start and stop whenever I like, playing as much or as little as I like! But then I think of guild chat being dead because nobody is online, raids getting cancelled because there aren't enough signups, and I feel guilty. I think of people checking my blog for new posts and not finding anything, and I feel guilty.

Curse those social games. Woe is me.


Dual spec confusion

So I read this post today, in which the author admits that she bought gold to finance her dual spec, which understandably spawned quite a discussion about why gold buying is bad. Now I may be weird, but the thing that actually struck me most about that confession wasn't the gold-buying itself, but the fact that the author did it because she felt that she absolutely needed to have dual spec at level forty to have fun. /boggle

I guess I was already sensitive to the subject since a guildie whispered me the other day with similar thoughts. She's someone I don't really know much about other than that she's been in the guild for a fair while now but still appears to be a perpetual newbie as far as her knowledge about the game is concerned. She's got a death knight at max level and was working on her priest alt, whispering me to ask some very basic questions about priesting, such as: "I've seen some priests turn into a shadow, how can I do that?" I tried to provide helpful answers... until she suddenly asked me if I could also loan her a thousand gold so she could buy dual spec. Sorry, what? You don't have a thousand gold after several months of being level eighty, don't really know me and want me to give you a loan? You don't even understand the talent options for priests yet but want to dual spec? Somehow that strikes me as wanting to learn how to ride a bicycle before you've even figured out how to walk.

So, for anyone who might find this by googling "How do I get enough gold to buy dual spec at level forty" or something similar, let me tell you: just don't!

Dual spec was implemented as a feature for people who a) have lots of money to burn and b) are playing in such a way that it really pays off to be able to switch between two very different specialisations on the fly (for example by being a raider who has to be able to fulfill two very different roles within the same raid instance). If point a) doesn't apply to you by level forty, then b) definitely doesn't either. And it's really no big deal!

First off, your spec really doesn't matter all that much at level forty - you'll still be able to do anything that your class is meant to be capable of in general, regardless of where you put your talent points. You can heal as an enhancement shaman, tank as a balance druid, whatever. When in doubt, choose a dps spec and you'll be fine all around. Your talent choices shouldn't really start to matter too much until level sixty or so, and even then you can still scrape by quite well as an off-spec.

Also, what a lot of people seem to forget these days is that you can still respec normally without having dual spec. The first time it only costs a whopping one gold too, and it only increases up to a cost of fifty if you do it frequently. Want to try tanking Ramparts but don't think your fury spec will cut it? Give one gold to the trainer, click some buttons and wham, you can be a protection warrior too. Yes, it's a bit annoying that you can only do so in a capital city, but since you can teleport straight to battlegrounds and instances these days it's really not that big a deal.

So yes, if you don't have enough cash to afford dual spec while levelling, simply don't worry about it! For a long time you'll be able to fulfill any role as any spec (if in doubt about your soloing capabilities, go with a spec focused on damage), and if you do feel like experimenting, a normal respec is only a few gold away until you feel more certain about which talents you want and about how to earn the money for the more advanced bonus features!

People just don't appreciate how easy it is to get things done in this game even without having all the bells and whistles. Back in my day, respeccing at all required you to walk uphill in the snow both ways... and we still liked it!


Valithria Dreamwalker - why I'm disappointed

So my raid force recently downed upped Valithria Dreamwalker both on ten-man and twenty-five-man. Everywhere I looked that fight had been touted as "the healer fight", a fight on which healers in raid forces all over the world would finally get their chance to stand in the spotlight. Maybe that made me expect too much from it, but fact of the matter is that I simply ended up feeling disappointed by the fight, for a variety of reasons.

Confusing raid composition is confusing

First off, I simply have to question how sensible it is to create a single raid boss in a large raid instance that requires healing instead of dpsing. For every other fight in the game you want to bring just enough tanks and healers to get the job done, that is to say as few as possible, and then fill the rest of your raid spots with damage dealers. More dps = boss goes down faster = win. On a boss that requires healing up instead of killing, this suddenly gets reversed. You only want to have just enough dps to keep the adds under control, but as many healers as possible. More healing = fight finishes faster = win. I see two problems with this.

Firstly I'm simply afraid that many people might not get it, not because they are dumb, but because they didn't give the problem too much thought and it's so counter-intuitive. I boggled when our raid leader announced that we'd only have six healers on our first attempt, and other people chimed in with comments about how the people doing the Tankspot video had also managed to do it with only six healers, as if that was something to be proud of - it's not; it only means that you'll draw out the fight to its maximum length before hitting the soft enrage. It's like suggesting that maybe we could do Festergut with only fifteen dpsers while using eight healers... I don't know, maybe we could, but why would we want to? I can only imagine what a nightmare that fight would be in a pug: "You can two-heal this, right?" Maybe we could, but it would also be utterly missing the point!

However, even leaving the issue of understanding aside, fights which favour a completely different raid composition than the rest of the instance simply suck. I know dual specs have alleviated the problem somewhat, but they shouldn't be required. Nobody liked suddenly needing five tanks in the middle of SSC back in the day and WOTLK had given me hope that the developers had learned from that and moved on. Pushing through most of ICC with five healers and then suddenly facing a fight where you want tons of them is neither fun nor good design in my opinion.

DPS by any other name...

One thing I like about healing is that it plays very differently from doing damage. I won't go into the whys and hows, and certainly won't claim that one or the other is harder or more fun... but me, I like healing, and I like it the way it is. The problem I have with Valithria is that unless you are on raid healing (which is business as usual), it doesn't really feel like healing to me, even if you are pushing your healing buttons. There is no target switching, no on the fly decision-making, no watching for damage spikes... all you do is target Valithria and then spam your highest single-target HPS rotation until she's healed up, as if you were a dpser in a tank-and-spank fight. Worse yet, dps rotations these days are generally designed to be somewhat interesting, but high HPS on a single target doesn't involve using more than one or two healing spells. Bo-ring. I signed up as a healer because I enjoy healing, not because I want to play pretend-dps with my healing spells. When we finally downed upped her, the healer who seemed the giddiest was a shaman who has restoration as his off-spec and makes no bones about not liking it very much. But oh, in this fight healing is so much fun, look at the big HPS numbers! I think that says enough really.

Lost in space

When the Oculus discussion was making the rounds, Miss Medicina made several interesting posts highlighting one of the things she dislikes the most about that instance: having to navigate in three dimensions. For me personally this hadn't been a problem at the time, neither during Malygos phase three, nor in the Oculus itself. To be fair though, what I did there was often still effectively two-dimensional movement, along the lines of "straight up, then straight left".

Now Valithria, she truly is one to instil hatred of three-dimensional movement in you. Most healers will have to take portals into the Emerald Dream throughout the fight, where they fly around and have to burst through green clouds to buff themselves. It's like some 3D Mario or Sonic game. And I think it stinks! This is of course my completely subjective opinion and I'm sure there are people out there who love it, but to me it's just another one of those weird gimmicks. Hey, I just flew right through that cloud, why didn't it pop? Up a bit? Down a bit? Oh look, my timer in the dream has run out again, aaargh. It's annoying.

Do we need healer fights?

I guess I have to give Blizzard credit for having good intentions with the Valithria fight, but at least for this healer they completely failed at actually making it an enjoyable "healer fight". But you know what? I don't think we need them anyway. Sometimes it's easy to feel underappreciated as a healer, but to an extent it's part of the job. If you want to be able to brag about your awesome performance all the time, you probably shouldn't be a healer, because that's really not what it's all about.

Also, personally I found that my favourite raid fights in the game so far were those that challenge healers simply in the same way as everyone else, by requiring awareness and good teamwork. Give me more of those and I'll be happy.


Adventures of a noobcow

I didn't think that I considered the daily emblem grind on my various alts a chore, since I still enjoy running instances despite of the repetition - but it's funny how quickly those emblems became (at least for now) uninteresting when I was suddenly presented with a fun-looking alternative way of spending my in-game time, also known as Tamarind's guild experiment. In other words, as soon as I read about it, I hopped over to Argent Dawn and created a little tauren shaman there to join Single Abstract Noun.

The guild, so far, feels like one of those unique social environments that you only seem to get on the internet - where people know each other yet don't, and it's mind-boggingly easy to have a good time with people who for all intents and purposes you don't really know, but you know that you all like WoW, and you know that you like to think and write about it, and you know that there are real people behind the avatars - and somehow that's enough.

It's also been a long time since I created a new alt, and even longer since I did so on a server where I didn't have any higher-level characters yet. As such I was quite surprised by a lot of things that I vaguely recalled skimming in recent patch notes but that I then didn't pay further attention to, like the new and improved tutorials for new players. I didn't need them of course but I couldn't be bothered to find the option to turn them off, plus I thought it was vaguely interesting to see what Blizzard had to say to new players these days. Most of their "tips" seem glaringly obvious to someone who's played for a while, and my boyfriend and I spent some time gently mocking some of the advice we received ("What, I can use the WASD keys to move while swimming too? Amazing!"), but I do think that they are a good addition for people truly new to the genre, and they tend to pop up at the appropriate moments. For example I got a warning that my bags were nearly full when I only had two or three free slots left, and another when they actually were full, advising me to see a vendor soon.

Another noticably useful change is the increased mana and health regeneration for low levels. I can actually move from one mob to the next without having to pause most of the time, and if I get in trouble by over-aggroing and find myself forced to run, I actually regenerate enough mana while running that I'll often be able to get one more spell off while running, which has saved my little shaman's life more than once already. It's easy to forget how difficult life can be at low levels, when you only have a two or three abilities in total and no cooldowns to use to compensate for mess-ups. The increased regen definitely helps though.

And finally... the neutral mobs! This was a funny issue that I saw get brought up by someone in guild chat literally every other hour (myself included). There has always been a bit of a "safe zone" around the spawning points for new characters, with the first and second level mobs in the area being neutral, so nobody ends up stumbling to their death before they've even figured out the movement controls. However, many of us didn't know that this "safe zone" had been expanded to include whole starter areas - which isn't a problem per se, but felt very strange when superimposed on stories that were originally written with hostile mobs in mind. Go slay those evil quillboar that threaten us! Except... they totally don't, they are minding their own business and bother no-one. In fact I felt pretty evil wandering into the middle of their village unharmed and then assassinating their leader. Aren't we supposed to be the good guys here? Other starter zones drew similarly bizarre pictures, with those magically transformed mobs in Eversong not actually harming anyone, and the Burning Blade being a bunch of nice chaps that are just fond of hanging out in caves in Durotar. One more thing for the "I hope Cataclysm will fix this" list, I guess!


Pondering those five percent

Last night my guild had its first raid with the buff. On a sidenote, what's the Alliance version called? And does it produce similarly amusing reactions along the lines of "Has Garrosh always been in Icecrown Citadel or am I going mad?" and "Can I stab him?".

Opinions on the buff are strongly divided, both in the blogosphere and in my guild. Just before we started clearing trash last night, my boyfriend whispered two different people, asking them what they thought of the buff. One said that being able to do five percent more damage sounded cool, the other one thought that it sucked and felt like using a cheat code. I'm a bit unsure what to think of it myself.

First off, I'm not against nerfing content after some time to allow more people to have a shot at it. I remember back in BC when they removed the attunement requirements for Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep. My guild's twenty-five-man raiding progress was still quite shaky at that point, and for us that particular nerf was simply awesome, because I'm not sure we ever would have got into those raids at all otherwise. We just weren't that organised yet, and running all the raiders through the attunement quest chain would have been beyond our abilities I think. Thus that nerf had no downsides for us, it was a hundred percent beneficial in that it allowed us to access content that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

By the time the same thing was done to Mount Hyjal and Black Temple, things were a bit different. We were still trying to down Kael'thas, and felt a bit ashamed when we started working on the first couple of MH bosses as well because it felt like we were unfairly skipping content. We did keep working on Kael at the same time though and eventually got him down, which fortunately ended all arguments about the matter.

When the infamous patch 3.0 hit and gave everyone access to the WOTLK talent trees while also nerfing all raid bosses by thirty percent, we had just downed Mother Shahraz in BT. We continued to take down the Illidari Council and Illidan after the nerf and still had fun, but not without that nagging feeling that it didn't quite count in the same way. I remember watching the raid take huge wads of damage on Illidan while I spammed my suddenly stupidly overpowered raid-wide circle of healing, and thinking "We are doing this completely wrong, if it wasn't for the nerf, people getting hit by those fires would be obliterated." We still achieved something, it just wasn't quite the same - there was always this nagging feeling that if Blizzard had only let us, we could have taken down those last two fights the normal way as well, given enough time. However, WOTLK was just around the corner and in all honesty we wouldn't have kept raiding BT after the expansion release, so we kind of shrugged it off.

And now we have the buff in ICC. What makes this one interesting and different are two things really:
1. It's optional, and
2. It's incremental.

In regards to point one, I feel a bit sorry for Blizzard because it's one of those things where you just can't win. If they hadn't added the option to turn it off, people would be complaining about having it forced on them, and why couldn't they allow the more hardcore guilds to raid without it if they wanted to? Now they've given us exactly that, and already people are wishing that they didn't have any choice, because it just leads to guilds arguing about whether they should use it or not.

There's also complaining about the fact that choosing any option one way or the other isn't recognised in any way, with some players suggesting that there should have been different achievements depending on whether you did things with or without the buff. Now, aside from the fact that this would be a bit of a logistical nightmare, considering that the buff increases over time so you'd need like seven different achievements for killing each boss (Saurfang with five percent, Blood Queen with twenty percent etc.), I also think that it's simply asking a bit too much of the achievement system. I mean, it also doesn't differentiate between whether you cleared the Deadmines at level fifteen or eighty, or whether you killed Marrowgar with a full raid or while five people were disconnected. I remember when killing Archimonde was an achievement without anyone actually having any text pop up that said "wow, an achievement". It just was. Not using the buff works the same way and I'm okay with that.

One thing I find interesting (and that others have commented on as well) is the fact that the buff is opt-out instead of opt-in, which means that it's on by default. It's interesting because it sends the message that Blizzard wants people to consider having the buff turned on the default option, while turning it off is a sort of hard mode. If you had to actively sign up for the buff, it would feel more like not having it is the normal way to go, while activating it is a conscious choice for "easy mode". This is a purely semantic distinction as the buff would still be the same, but that kind of thing matters to people. I would think that a lot of middle-of-the-road guilds especially must be quite torn about whether using the buff is hurting their cred or just means playing the game as intended.

The fact that it's incremental is a bit weird as well. I can see the logic behind it of course, as it should allow everyone to progress without feeling that content has been nerfed too hard. It buffs you just enough to get you past the wall you're currently hitting, and by the time you hit the next wall even with the buff, it increases some more just to let you overcome that next obstacle.

However, it also adds another dimension to the "should we raid with or without it" question. A guild that thinks that it should theoretically be able to clear ICC without any buffs might accept a five percent buff to make things go faster, but if it's ten percent a few weeks later, then what? Personally I'm quite inclined to accept a five percent boost for the time being, but I feel like it's leading me down a slippery slope, because a few weeks later it will be ten percent, then fifteen and so on... do I want to accept that boost as well or possibly set us back a boss kill or two by suddenly turning the buff off completely after all?

All in all, I find myself asking a lot of questions without being able to come up with definite answers. I think at the end of the day I value "seeing content" more than the perceived difficulty of the encounter, so I'm inclined to leave the buff on to help us progress, regardless of the slippery slope it might lead me down. Last night we killed Putricide for the second time - with the buff. And even though our first kill had been without it, we still struggled while having the buff to help us last night. Without it we might not have made it at all yesterday, but would that have made it a better raid night? I don't think so.

On the other hand I can understand why some of my fellow raiders might feel hurt in their pride if they think that we should be able to do it all "unbuffed". I'll cast my vote pro-buff if it comes down to it, but if the raid's final decision is to turn it off, I think I'll be able to accept that as well.


An Oculus pug made of awesome

You might have noticed that there has been a bit of a drought of failpug stories on this blog as of late. This is because the friend who originally introduced me to WoW has recently returned to the game after a break, and we've been spending a lot of time running heroics together instead of queuing alone. I know many people have said this before and it should hardly be surprising anyway, but signing up for the dungeon finder with at least one friend (even better if one of you is a tank) is an excellent way of avoiding complete fail. Obviously it can't protect you from ninjas and annoying "gogogo"ers completely, but just knowing that at least one person in the run is going to back you up if conflict arises is already very reassuring, and it makes it much easier to enforce at least a minimum amount of respect and consideration for each other in the group. As such most of our runs have been, if not great, then at least okay.

Today however we got into a group for the Oculus which I found noteworthy for just how nice it was. My friend and I immediately started joking in party chat about how it was the Oculus again - it's one of the dungeons that we've been getting a lot lately. I was tanking on my paladin and he was healing on his druid. While I started rounding up the first group of whelps, he greeted everyone in the party and asked if anyone had a "drake preference".

I have to say that this is a great way to break the ice in an Oculus pug, as it gives everyone an opportunity to politely speak up if they are going for some kind of drake-related achievement (like Experienced Drake Rider), without sounding pushy or demanding (unlike say "dibs on the red drake" or whatever). Alternatively, you could get another kind of interesting response, like we did (slightly paraphrased):

Elemental shaman: "Umm..."
My friend: "Well? Don't be shy!"
Shammy: "This is actually my first time in the Oculus, so I have no idea what you're talking about. :("
Friend: "Oh, then it's a bronze drake for you! ^^"
Shammy: "That's the most difficult one, right? :o"
Friend: "Nah, it's the easiest one!"
Me: "It's also the one that only does dps and if you mess it up we won't wipe. ;)"
Shammy: "Great, I'll have two of those then! :D"

We continued at a solid pace but also made sure to give the shammy short explanations of everything that was going on: how to get a drake, what they were there for, what we had to do on the next level of the instance, what special abilities the bosses had and so on. While flying around I also made sure that our new shammy friend didn't fall behind or got lost, but fortunately he didn't seem to have any difficulties navigating in three dimensions. The other two dps stayed relatively quiet, but they didn't try to hurry us up either, apologised if they messed up in some way, and added an extra piece of information here and there if my friend and I forgot something.

I couldn't help but smile when the shammy gasped at the way Mage-Lord Urom kept eluding us, or how he cheered when a trinket dropped that was a nice upgrade for him. There is something very refreshing and delightful about seeing someone else being awed by something that you've already seen dozens of times yourself, and it gives you a whole new appreciation for the thing. Makes you wish more newbies were willing to admit that they don't know something yet and allow themselves to be guided - and that more experienced players were willing to pause and teach.

For the last fight we made sure to explain all the bronze drake abilities and what to use when. Things didn't go perfectly as I let martyr drop off for a few seconds once, and one of the enrages didn't get time-stopped, but thanks to the numerous nerfs to the encounter we still made it through with little difficulty. Again, our shammy gasped with excitement when we told him to collect some extra badges from Eregos' treasure chest, and everyone agreed that it had been a really nice run.

I hope more Oculus newbies get to have positive experiences like that! Don't be shy to ask for assistance, you have little to lose - even the nicest players can't help you if they don't know that you need it, and if people aren't willing to help, they'll likely turn nasty later on anyway, so you're not saving yourself from anything by being quiet.


I don't understand the authenticator hype

And no, this post is probably not what you expect from the title, considering the most recent news...

I remember when authenticators were first released, most players didn't care too much about them. I was one of them, but unlike many people I haven't changed my opinion on the matter since then. Basically I think that authenticators are definitely useful - but no more and no less. They are sort of like home security systems: you may have valid reasons to believe that you should have one (because you are very rich/because you share your PC with your little brother who downloads all kinds of crap) and there are tangible benefits to having one, but it also costs money and causes a bit of extra hassle in your everyday life (having to turn the security on and off all the time/having to enter what is essentially a second password every time you log on). So even though it's a useful thing to have, many people still won't want or need one, and that's alright.

I don't have a home security system because I'm pretty poor and live right across the street from a police station. I also don't have an authenticator because I think that I'm pretty sensible when it comes to keeping my passwords and my PC in general safe, and on the very small off-chance that I should mess up anyway, Blizzard seems to be pretty damn good at restoring everything within a couple of days anyway. This is one of those cases where "it's only pixels on a screen" actually rings true for me, because well... they can be replaced easily. It's not like someone clearing out your house in real life, where the burglars might never be caught and even if the insurance company pays up it still won't be the same as actually having your old stuff back.

Lately I noticed a lot of what I'd call "authenticator fanboy-ism" emerge all of a sudden, especially in the comment section on WoW.com, but in other places too, where people say things like "People without authenticators shouldn't get support from Blizzard" or "If you don't have an authenticator, you deserve to get hacked". What the hell? Do you think people who didn't buy a mini Kel'thuzad pet shouldn't get support either, since you seem to think that support is a bonus feature for buying extra gadgets on top of the game instead of, you know, actually paying for the game? Do you think people deserve to have their stuff stolen in real life if they don't have a direct line to the police? It just strikes me as utterly out of proportion.

If you want to buy an authenticator and don't mind the extra hassle every time you log in, by all means go ahead! It does provide an extra layer of security. But don't talk about people who don't feel the need for that as if they were all handing their passwords out to hackers for free. As the latest piece of news on the subject shows, it still always comes down to what the person behind the keyboard actually does with their information. No security system can protect you if you actually invite the thief into your house.

There's also been some talk about Blizzard making authenticators mandatory in the future. I'd really prefer if it didn't come to that. I will accept it if it happens and will pay those extra five pounds or whatever it will cost because I do want to continue to play the game, but I'm convinced that it will not be the end of all hacking, and Blizzard's support team will be no less busy - they might have to deal with fewer keylogging problems and the like, but instead they'll likely get lots of calls about people not knowing how to work their authenticators, losing them, breaking them, or having them stolen by "that friend who originally made the account for me". Authenticators can make people feel better about the safety of your account, but they still can't protect anyone from their own mistakes.