Just how fail is YOUR Halls of Lightning pug?

Answer the following questions honestly and add up the number of points next to your answers. Consult the table at the end to find out just how badly your pug rates compared to the worst possible case. Note that general pug failures like the tank being unable to hold aggro or unnecessary wipes are not included in this questionnaire, because these things can happen anywhere. This is about people showing a very specific kind of incompetence that can only be observed in Halls of Lightning.

The test

1. Is your tank trying to skip groups of trash mobs by hugging a wall very tightly and outmaneuvering patrols, and it inevitably backfires?
Yes 1 / No 0

2. Does this happen more than once?
Yes 1 / No 0

3. Are people running around like headless chickens whenever they get arc welded?
Yes 1 / No 0

4. Does anyone actually manage to kill themselves that way?
Yes 1 / No 0

5. Is anyone but the tank getting hit by General Bjarngrim's whirlwind?
Yes 1 / No 0

6. Are the ranged dps and/or the healer getting hit by General Bjarngrim's whirlwind?
Yes 1 / No 0

7. Are people attacking the slags the moment the tank aggroes them or is the healer spamming heals on the tank before the group has made it to the stairs?
Yes 1 / No 0

8. Are people standing in the slags' blast waves as you dps them down?
Yes 1 / No 0

9. Are the ranged dps and/or the healer standing in the slags' blast waves as you dps them down?
Yes 1 / No 0

10. Does anyone die due to this?
Yes 1 / No 0

11. Are people trying to kill Volkhan's adds instead of dpsing the boss?
Yes 1 / No 0

12. In the hallway with the statues that come to life, do people run ahead of the tank (being feared doesn't count)?
Yes 1 / No 0

13. Do you observe anyone using any sorts of anti-fear measures available to them in this hallway (warriors breaking it, will of the forsaken, tremor totem, fear ward etc.)?
Yes 0 / No 1

14. On Ionar, do people inexplicably hug the rest of the party when they get static overload?
Yes 1 / No 0

15. When Ionar disperses, do people run away from him?
Yes 0 / No 1

16. Does anyone run off to the side and aggro an extra group of mobs during the disperse?
Yes 1 / No 0

17. Is your whole party getting hit by forked lightning from Stormforged Constructs?
Yes 1 / No 0

18. Is anyone except a hunter repeatedly getting charged by Titanium Vanguards?
Yes 1 / No 0

19. Are poison tipped spears and/or sleeps getting dispelled?
Yes 0 / No 1

20. Are charged flurries getting interrupted?
Yes 0 / No 1

21. Does anyone die to a charged flurry and then express complete bewilderment about what happened to them?
Yes 1 / No 0

22. Are the ranged dps and/or the healer getting hit by the Stormforged Giants' thunderstorm?
Yes 1 / No 0

23. Is anyone taking any visible measures to decrease the damage they take from Loken's lightning nova (running out, ice block, nature resistance aura or totem, survival cooldowns)?
Yes 0 / No 1

24. Is Loken getting more than two lightning novas off?
Yes 1 / No 0

25. Did you not know how to answer several of these questions because you weren't actually paying attention yourself?
Yes 1 / No 0

How did your pug score?

0-5 points: Admit it, that wasn't actually a pug. Can I join your guild?

6-10: Eh, some people were slacking a little, but things weren't too bad overall.

11-19: Someone's going to be in for a harsh wake-up call come Cataclysm. There's still a good chance that you managed to complete the instance though, simply due to overgearing and/or someone compensating a lot for other people's failures. Unfortunately this is pretty average these days.

20-25: Holy crap, are you alright? That can't have been good for your sanity! Did you at least make a blog post about that run?

And in conclusion...

If so desired, this test can also be turned into a drinking game, where you simply take a shot every time someone does something that would score a point.

Interestingly enough, the pug that inspired this post "only" scored a 13... I guess it wasn't that bad after all.


Sunday night pug musings

Last night I took my death knight out to pug a few instances, to balance the large amount of solo-play that I've been doing lately. Since I gave her a tank spec I've found grouping with her much more enjoyable - I just think that melee dps is kind of annoying and boring. In fact, I've generally started to warm up to her a little.

I've complained in the past that I didn't like death knights because they felt too much like pre-made characters to me and getting all those abilities right from the start just confused me. However, after (very, very, slowly, over the course of nearly two years) gaining sixteen levels since her creation, my death knight is finally starting to feel a bit more like she's truly "mine", and I also couldn't help learning at least a little bit about the class's abilities after two years of playing with other death knights - I suppose you could call that mental osmosis. So things aren't quite as bad now.

But to get to the pugs. They were actually all pretty pleasant, and I don't think we had a single death, but that's not to say that nothing interesting happened. I started the night by queuing for a couple of specific Outland instances, since the dungeon finder won't let me do random normal modes anymore at my current level.

I expected a bit of a queue even as a tank, since healers tend to be the bigger problem in that level bracket, but I actually got a group very quickly. My first run took me to the Arcatraz. I don't know what it is about that instance, but I swear every time I run it these days it elicits cries of joy from at least one member of the group. People love the bickering demons, laugh at Millhouse Manastorm and gasp at Harbinger Skyriss. In this case our priest was particularly fond of them all. It's really weird in a way, because I remember that instance not being one of the most popular ones back in BC, especially on heroic mode, since it had a lot of absolutely murderous trash pulls, and Zereketh the Unbound was without a doubt one of the worst heroic bosses of that expansion (even if he could be skipped). It's funny how our perceptions of what's fun can change.

I also noticed that our healer had to drink a lot, which is perfectly fine and I was happy to wait of course, but I realised for the first time that this is another one of the things that I miss about crowd control - it gives the non-casters something to do while the mana users drink. I mean, I stood there in front of the next trash pull, trying to be patient but admittedly being a bit bored, and found myself thinking that I never had that problem back in BC because back then, while the healer was drinking, the tank and dps were marking up the next pull and discussing strategy. I do think this is why nerfing mana regen and requiring more crowd control have to go hand in hand in Cataclysm - because just forcing the healer to drink after every pull while everyone else taps their feet and waits to be able to do more AoE wouldn't really cut it I dare say.

Anyway, my next run took me to the Old Hillsbrad Foothills. I had run that one before, but went again because I had forgot to complete the Nice Hat quest. Two other people in the group had it too and everyone was perfectly happy to take a quick detour to get it done. I miss that kind of co-operation in many runs these days.

I was also really hoping that I could get people to continue to the Black Morass right afterwards but had no such luck. I've said in the past that Escape from Durnholde is hard to get a group for these days because it requires you to do a boring attunement quest that nobody tells you about, in a zone that's way out of the way when you're in the right level range, but after careful consideration I've come to the conclusion that Durnholde isn't so bad. Black Morass is much worse, for the simple reason that it requires you to do all the things you have to do to unlock Old Hillsbrad, and you have to complete the Escape from Durnholde quest, and you then have to be at least level sixty-eight to enter BM, by which point most people are already off to Northrend.

My last Outland instance for the night turned out to be the Mechanar. Again we had a pretty smooth run, though one thing pissed me off: When the other death knight in the group, level sixty-seven and dps, looted the crystal from Gatewatcher Iron-Hand, I told him to hold on to it because we'd need it later. Then, after we killed Capacitus, that same death knight suddenly announced that he would leave because he felt that he was too low-level for the instance and couldn't hit anything, and anyway, we should get a replacement quickly. I thought this was a slightly strange, but not entirely unreasonable complaint, but quickly typed out "wait" in chat because I wanted that crystal first. Too late, he had taken off already, taking our key to the loot chest with him. Grrr! Damn you, cross-server pugs and the way you allow people to just vanish into the nether!

After these three runs I decided to finish the night by giving Utgarde Keep a go. Even though I was level seventy-one by then, and keep in mind that I'm the kind of death knight who actually bothers to collect defense gear before starting to tank, my health went up and down like a yo-yo throughout the entire run. In the previous instances I had sometimes chastised myself mentally for not using my survival cooldowns enough, but in that UK run I was spamming them like there was no tomorrow. Being so squishy was just scary. It's really ironic how the normal Northrend instances are so much tougher at level now than the average heroic run of the same place. I have to give massive kudos to our priest healer, who never let anyone die even when the going got tough and who pulled through even though our dps was rather low.

That was the other interesting thing about that run - why was our dps so low? Right after we entered, I noticed that our "dps" paladin was sporting a sword and board combo. I inspected him and sure enough, he was protection spec and not changing. I asked him why he was dpsing if he was geared and specced to be a tank and he said that he just hadn't felt like tanking when he signed up. Now okay, I get that a tank might not always feel like tanking, but maybe he should make sure to also gather some dps gear then? The really daft thing was that it turned out that he was actually dual-specced prot/holy. Why in the world would you queue as the one role out of three for which you have neither gear or spec?!

I do have to admit that this annoyed me and I kind of wanted to get rid of him, but at the same time I felt that I should at least give him a chance. And to be fair, he did behave himself - he didn't use righteous fury or tried to pull aggro off me, he just attemped to do damage. Unfortunately he was still very much dead weight, as he only did about two hundred dps, which was about a third of what I was doing while tanking very amateurishly. On Prince Keleseth we must have gone through about ten frost tombs, that's how slowly he died. I couldn't hold it against the healer that he bickered at the paladin to pick it up, but the latter assured us very earnestly that he was trying. We did complete the instance despite of the paladin's rubbish performance, but I felt bad about the healer basically having to make up for the other guy's fail pretty much the entire time. Going into group content with strangers while intentionally gimping yourself is just wrong.


My ravasaur and me

Let me start this off by saying that I'm not a mount collector. According to the armoury I currently have seventy-six mounts on my main, but that's mostly due to feelings of "well, these vendors want to sell me some mounts and I have cash to spare, so why not" than anything else. In practice I've been riding the same land and flying mount for nearly two years.

Unsurprisingly I didn't care much when the Venomhide Ravasaur mount was released a couple of patches ago. I caught some information about it being intended to give the Horde an equivalent to the Alliance-only Wintersaber grind, but that was about it. It just wasn't something that interested me.

During my Loremastering however, I inevitably ended up running into Mor'vek in Un'goro at some point and well, he did have some quests to offer. I was kind of wary of him to be honest, going by what little I knew of the Wintersaber grind. I just knew that if he asked me to do anything more than once I was so going to be out of there.

I was surprised to find out that unlike the Wintersaber trainers, he didn't have a faction associated with him, he just told me that venomhide ravasaurs were too toxic too ride and that I'd have to become immune to their poison if I wanted to make one my mount. The following quest was pretty funny to do as a level eighty, as I was initially very confused about what to do - all the venomhides I approached died way too quickly to do anything to me. I then learned from the comments on Wowhead that I needed to let them hit and poison me, but level eighty strength posed a problem to this. Even meleeing them with my caster dagger and no strength killed all the raptors in only a few hits. Eventually I ended up in a pathetic fist-fight with one venomhide which managed to give me most of my debuff stacks. I thought it was most amusing.

Next I was asked to retrieve a couple of eggs, and before I knew it I had a venomhide hatchling in my bags. I summoned it and discovered that it used that relatively new "baby dino" model with the ridiculously large head, while being absolutely tiny and... it just looked too funny and cute. It also offered me a daily quest to collect some silithid eggs. Hey, I thought, that doesn't even require me to kill anything, I'll do that.

Days went by. Since I was still questing in the area anyway, I also continued to do my little hatchling's daily quests, especially as there seemed to be a couple of different ones for variety. (Though I swear that in the end, about two out of three times I got the one for roc feathers anyway.) After a while I started to wonder... was it growing? Surely not, but I seemed to remember it being so tiny, and it did look a bit bigger now... I got a definite answer on the eleventh day or so, when it actually changed model into that of a normal raptor, only still a lot smaller. It was growing!

I still had a couple of days of questing left by the time I finished with Silithus, but hopping through the Caverns of Time portal in the Violet Citadel made it easy to get down to Tanaris quickly if I wanted to. Also, I was starting to feel quite attached to the little bugger. The fact that it seemed to like feathers more than food gave it a sort of personality, and watching it grow as the days went by felt strangely fulfilling.

Yesterday it finalled shed its last baby tooth, and as I stood in front of it (picture above), I realised that it had - most appropriately - almost reached the size of a normal raptor. Handing in the quest to get my mount actually made me really happy. With the way things had been going, the game had truly given me the feeling that I was raising my mount myself, and finally being able to put the bridle on its head so I could ride on its back was a most memorable moment.

Me, Harvey the venomhide ravasaur, and Mor'vek with his own mount.

For the first time in years I'm actually riding a different mount around Dalaran again - I don't know whether I'll stick with it, but I like that this one isn't just a prize for grinding a reputation to exalted or getting lucky with the RNG. This little dino has a story.

I can only heartily recommend this experience to other Horde players, even if they are not usually ones for collecting mounts. Seeing that little bulge-headed hatchling grow into a fearsome raptor has been an experience unlike anything else I've done in WoW.



This German word literally translates into "gate-closing panic" and if the internets are to be believed, it originated in medieval times, when peasants were afraid of the city/castle gates closing before they could make it inside, leaving them outside where it was unpleasant and dangerous. Nowadays it's used to express a fear of being left out or more specifically, of being afraid of not having enough time left to achieve one's personal goals.

I'm looking forward to Cataclysm, I really do, but as it's creeping closer I also find myself suffering from a little bit of Torschlusspanik. Up until now every WoW expansion has been purely additive, adding new content but not taking the existing one away. Sure, game mechanics have changed and Blizzard has removed some items and quests (like the Amani War Bear or the Alliance's Onyxia attunement quest chain), but as a general rule, most things were here to stay once they'd been introduced.

Cataclysm will change that and overhaul the old world big time. It's a bold and exciting move for sure, but... there is also a small part of me that doesn't like it. With Auberdine destroyed, will I never again get to experience a certain tale of tragic love? With Thousand Needles flooded, will I never again get to hurl myself off a huge cliff to test my faith? Maybe I should roll some new alts now to appreciate these quests one last time? But my main is still chasing some leftover quests all over Azeroth and Kalimdor, I need to do them now before they go away or I'll never get to see them at all! And oh, my Alliance priest is not that far off becoming a Loremaster of her faction as well, I wonder if I should... but oh god, not enough time!

This goes hand in hand with the fact that I've actually somewhat enjoyed these last couple of relatively quiet months in WoW. Don't get me wrong, I've experienced the lull and some boredom at times as well, and you'll find plenty of mentions of me wishing for the Cataclysm to come soon on this blog. Yet at the same time, the lack of new content and general slowing down of the game also took me back to an earlier time when I played the game more casually and still had fun on my own time.

The thing is, I think WOTLK has been an extremely hectic expansion. It's not just people running three dungeons an hour instead of one, but also things like the introduction of more daily quests than ever, often featuring very unique rewards, like the jewelcrafter's tokens or the cooking awards - I felt that these put a lot of pressure on you to do those dailies every day, since there was no other way to get these items and if you passed on a day of doing them, it basically meant falling behind and never being able to catch up, precisely because you could never do more than one per day. The ever-improving emblem rewards for five-mans also kept putting new carrots in front of my max-level alts to work on improving their gear, even if I had no plans to raid with them. As a result I spent a lot more time chasing better and better rewards at all times instead of smelling the roses or levelling new alts.

For comparison purposes, I started BC with one character at the old level cap and a few low-level alts, and ended it with five at the new cap. My main was the only one who truly participated in any kind of endgame, so any alts felt "finished" rather quickly and I could get started on something new. Throughout the entirety of WOTLK on the other hand I only managed to level two additional characters to eighty, and one of them had already been in Outland by the time the expansion hit. With the emblem rewards it was hard to feel like any alt was ever truly "done", leaving me with little time to invest in anything else.

Basically, I realise that it's part of the nature and even the appeal of an MMO that it never truly ends, but sometimes it's still nice to get the feeling that you've reached all of your in-game goals and are done for at least a while. WOTLK rarely allowed for that kind of respite for me, except during the last couple of months, where I found myself once again just marvelling at the world, trying out new things or engaging in activities that I hadn't found the time for in a while, because for once there was no point in worrying about emblems or raid progression anymore. But now the Cataclysm is coming and makes me fret once more about having to complete certain goals soon - or else! And of course the expansion itself will also introduce even more daily quests and even more zones to explore, and so on and so forth...

Okay, even I thought that last sentence sounded a bit whiny. Am I really complaining about getting new content to play with? In a way, I guess. As I said at the beginning however, on the whole I'm still very much looking forward to the expansion. I just have to acknowledge that there's also a part of me that's actually not that keen on too much change. Sometimes just wandering around the world you already know and not feeling terribly driven by anything at all can be a good feeling too.


How the raiding scene is like the job market

Generally associating raiding with a job is not considered a good thing. After all the game is supposed to feel fun, not like work, and those two often appear to be mutually exclusive. Still, even if you feel that raiding is not a chore to you, certain parallels to a real-life job can't be denied. In most raiding guilds you have fixed times during which you're expected to show up and contribute your part to the team's success. Guild applications also have a lot in common with job applications - they are all about assessing the candidate's skill, experience and whether he fits in with the established crowd.

The similarity really hit home for me when I had a job interview the other day, during which the interviewer seemed really nice and pleased with me, but then mailed out a rejection e-mail without giving any reasons for the rejection almost the moment I left the building. I was quite pissed off, not so much about not getting the job, but by how dishonest it felt that he hadn't even given me the slightest hint that he didn't like something about the way I presented myself and that he didn't have the guts to tell me afterwards either. Give me feedback, people!

The next day my guild received a very lackluster application from a paladin, containing curt and badly spelled answers to our questions as well as a paragraph that was basically just slagging off his former guild. All officers agreed to reject him, so I did... but in my reply to him I only said that we didn't have room for another paladin and nothing else - which wasn't a lie, but not exactly the main reason either! The irony of me doing exactly the kind of thing that had pissed me off about my own job interview the day before didn't escape me.

Today Larísa made a very interesting post about what she called "the phobia of inefficiency", talking about the urge of the player base to min-max every little aspect of the game and berate or exclude everyone who doesn't. It was quite the epiphany for me when I realised that, even though I share Larísa's dislike for this particular behaviour, it makes perfect sense if you apply the "the raiding scene is like the job market" analogy once again.

First off, there's the simple matter of supply and demand. In the real world, if you need to hire someone for a specific purpose and you get ten different applicants, you can pretty much pick your favourite of them all, even if they are all theoretically capable of doing the job. Conversely, if you're desperate to fill the position and only one guy with mediocre qualifications applies, you might take him anyway just to have someone.

Back in BC, attunements and gear being hard to acquire limited the pool of raiders a lot, and people couldn't be as picky as they are now. Mind you, nobody pugged Black Temple when it was current content anyway, but even guilds that were looking for recruits couldn't necessarily afford to be too picky. Finding someone who had all or at least most of the necessary attunements and gear was rare enough, so you snatched them up if you got the chance and hoped that they were decent (though to be honest, it was quite hard to get that far in raiding without having any kind of clue back then anyway).

Nowadays, with people being ready for ICC after running a couple of heroic runs, the pool of potential raiders is absolutely huge, and it's often impossible to tell whether you're facing someone who dinged eighty two weeks ago and has never set foot into a raid in his life or an experienced long-term raider. No wonder people make up silly things like GearScore... but the point is, with so many people being good enough to go to ICC, the raid leaders can pick their favourites and a lot of people will be left out, even if they feel that they could do the job just or nearly as well.

But halt, you say, unlike jobs in the real world, raid IDs aren't limited! (As long as Blizzard's instance servers can keep up, anyway.) The problem is that way, way more people want to raid than actually lead a raid. So you end up with lots of people sitting around in Dalaran, moaning about not getting to go to ICC, but not feeling confident or motivated enough to actually put a raid together themselves. (Though to be fair, there probably wouldn't be enough tanks and healers for all the dps anyway.)

People also complain about many a raid leader's methods of selection, like the aforementioned GearScore, achievement linking or whatever else is en vogue on some servers. Again, I feel a very similar pain on the job market. For example I found that employers in the UK are really keen on personal and professional references, unlike in my home country. What do you do if your previous employer can't speak for you because they live in a different country and don't speak English? Well, then you're out of luck and your application goes straight in the bin.

Is it frustrating? Hell yes, but again, it makes sense. As annoyed as I am, can I really blame the employers for not caring to give me a chance when they have so many other applicants who fulfill their requirements perfectly? Again, it's a matter of supply and demand. You'll notice that tanks and healers are rarely scrutinised down to the last talent point for pugs, simply because there are fewer of them and the raid leaders can't be quite as picky.

I suppose another factor that adds to the frustration in WoW is that it wasn't always like this - simply because things like the armoury, achievements and GearScore didn't exist. Imagine a guild application in ye olden days... the guy could tell you some things about himself for sure, but you couldn't actually tell what gear he wore until you inspected him in-game, couldn't tell what spec he was until you saw him use some give-away ability, couldn't tell how good he was until you actually observed him or played with him. Large-scale pugging wouldn't have worked so well then, eh?

Knowledge is power and unfortunately, power often corrupts. People like to know as much about you as they can, but the more they know about you, the more reasons they can find to reject you. "What, he hasn't specced into talent X? Terrible!" In the past that kind of thing never even would have come up and you may have happily played alongside that person for years without knowing.

Again this is something that I've observed in my job search here as well, with companies presenting applicants with stupidly long application forms, asking questions that aren't even relevant to the job just because they can. I'd spend half an hour filling out a form for a job that I'm perfectly capable of, just to get an automated rejection the instant I hit the submit button, simply because the system clearly flagged me as unacceptable the moment I checked a ticky box answer they didn't like. Even the government recognises this, and I found out that it's technically illegal to ask about things like age, nationality or religious orientation during the interview process, in an attempt to weed out at least a couple of the most obvious factors that could lead to arbitrary rejections. ("Fifty-five? I don't want to hire such an old geezer!")

So, after all this rambling, what can we learn about WoW from these analogies? Several commenters on Larísa's post suggested to cut down on the publically displayed information and stats again - after all if they can't tell, they can't judge you by it. Likewise I reckon that simply making raiding less accessible again would alleviate this particular problem as well - though of course it would open a whole other can of worms. For this reason and because Blizzard generally doesn't like taking features out of the game, I don't think that they'll cut back on things like the armoury or achievements.

I believe that in theory the best solution would be to hook onto the fact that unlike the job market in the real world, the amount of total raid spots in WoW isn't limited; the problem is that people just expect raids to happen and way too few try to put them together themselves. Imagine turning supply and demand in WoW around... everyone making their own raid, struggling to get other people to join them! ("No no, join my raid, we have cleared the instance before!")

Unfortunately I can't ever see that happen simply because "leader" is a role that's impossible to qualify within the context of the game. This also came up during the discussion about the ten vs. twenty-five-man loot normalisation, when even most hardcore ten-manners admitted that perhaps the ones organising and leading twenty-five-man raids deserved some sort of extra reward, but that this was hard to measure - partly because a lot of raid organisation still happens outside of the actual game, but more importantly because in a raid, "leading" basically consists of thinking and communicating, which you really can't measure in game terms. And if you can't tell who's the leader, you can't give them special rewards either. The people at Blizzard are pretty clever, but I don't think even they could come up with something to produce a system like that.

Maybe we'll really have to reconsider whether we want to know all these things about other players, or if a little ignorance wasn't actually bliss in this case.


Just some Direbrew thoughts

Brewfest is upon us, and with it Coren Direbrew and his cronies. He used to be one of my least favourite seasonal bosses, because trekking all the way to the middle of BRD for a two-minute fight? No, thanks.

However, just like with Ahune, having him accessible through the dungeon finder has completely converted me to the cause. Getting a Brewfest mount or any of the other goodies has never been easier, and my priest already found a kodo in her bag after her second run.

It's kind of scary just how easy he is to kill though. I already thought back in June that it was a bit silly to give out frost emblems for the five minutes of effort it took to kill Ahune - though I came to the conclusion that it didn't really matter much either way so shortly before the next expansion - but Direbrew is just... this isn't even a five minute fight. So far all of the groups I've been in have killed him in about twenty seconds, sometimes before he even had time to do his disarm move even once. I'm starting to feel like a fool for even bothering to buff, because by the time I've cast all my buffs the boss could already be half-dead. On my druid I "healed" the fight in feral spec today, because there didn't seem to be any point in even hitting my dual-spec button. I really didn't think that Blizzard could make getting frost emblems any easier at this point, but Coren Direbrew is the living quickly dying proof that they can. Cataclysm is going to be a harsh, but hopefully interesting, wake-up call after the extremes to which Blizzard went in order to shower us with gear upgrades this expansion.

I was disappointed to see that the loot table still consists of the same ilevel 200 trinkets by the way, but even more so that they still can't be vendored, unlike the cloaks from Ahune. I suppose they might still be of use for newly dinged alts if nothing else.

I was also surprised to see how many people pushed to immediately requeue for the same boss every time I killed him. Don't they know that all the special drops come in the loot bag now? You'd think they'd already know by now, considering that this isn't the first seasonal boss to be accessible via the new system. Or are there really that many people who are after the trinkets? There seriously isn't anything else to be gained from killing him over and over again on the same day.

On a side note, I wonder if there are other people who've accidentally queued for a heroic when they meant to join a group for Coren? I was hitting the dungeon finder for Direbrew on my shaman and wondering why it was taking so "long" to get a group (I had been in the queue for over a minute, as a healer /gasp) and when I finally got the ready-check pop-up, I ended up being faced with the Trial of the Champion loading screen. Oops? I expressed amusement in party chat but stuck around to complete the instance - no point in punishing others for my stupidity, and it's not like TotC takes more than ten minutes anyway.


Five things I liked about WOTLK

I liked this post over at Tank like a girl and decided to make my own version of it. Even if WOTLK wasn't my favourite expansion, I still think that it improved the game in some ways. So, without further ado, my five favourite WOTLK changes (with the reservation that I might have forgot about something that I really liked, in which case I'll probably feel the urge to edit it in later).

1. Raid ID extensions

This is one of those features that didn't get a lot of press as far as I'm aware, even though it transformed the face of raiding quite considerably. Probably there wasn't much discussion simply because people couldn't think of anything to complain about. It was truly an improvement for everyone: hardcore guilds could choose to skip farming to push progression that little bit harder if they wanted; super-casual guilds that never would have been able to make it through all of Ulduar or Icecrown Citadel in a week were actually able to see the end bosses of those instances. "Medium" guilds like my own benefitted from having a choice as well, instead of having to wade through the first couple of bosses every week while lacking the speed and efficiency of a more hardcore guild and thus never having much time left to work on new bosses.

I suppose the one "downside" one could list is that having to kill all the bosses every week used to add to the epic feeling of having to overcome big obstacles, but that particular aspect of challenge is something that even I don't really miss.

2. Guardian Spirit

I was quite skeptical when I first saw this new top talent for holy priests. It seemed powerful for sure, but also extremely situational. I did struggle to get myself to use it first - with a three-minute cooldown it was way too easy to get trapped in the "must save it for later" line of thinking where that "later" never comes. However, the first time I managed to save our kite tank's life in Naxx ten-man (he had been a bit too slow and got debuffed by the locust swarm), I knew that I was in love. The whole "giving healers survival cooldowns" mechanic has generally worked out nicely in my opinion, truly adding something unique and fun to our already large arsenal of spells.

3. Dual spec

I actually don't even use my main's dual spec - at first she was holy/shadow but then the raid leaders always picked someone else to dps when it came up, so I went holy/disc for PvP, but quickly grew tired of it after the introduction of the dungeon finder, as I didn't want to PvP badly enough to sit in the considerably longer battleground queue instead of lining up for an instance.

However, several of my alts have made good use of it. For example I could never really decide whether my druid was to be feral or resto and respecced her quite a lot back in BC - now she can be both and change within a couple of seconds. When I levelled my shaman as enhancement, I also gave her a resto dual spec as soon as it became available and enjoyed the convenience of getting to practice restoration in instances without feeling completely gimped while questing.

4. The item icons you get while quest tracking

Sometimes it's the simplest of things... I don't know which patch added this, but when you track a quest now and said quest has you using a quest item, that item also shows up as an icon next to your tracker, so you can click on it easily without having to dig through your bags every time you need to use it. When my boyfriend pointed this new feature out to me I was simply stunned. Amazing!

5. The Sons of Hodir

I know they've received a lot of flak for being grindy and juvenile, but I genuinely liked the Sons of Hodir. I think the quest line to unlock them as a faction is great fun, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I found all their silly quest titles rather amusing. Until the release of the Argent Tournament, Dun Niffelem was also the only proper hub for daily quests in Northrend - I still don't know what Blizzard was thinking when they placed most of the early dailies in seemingly random locations all over the map - bleh! I got six characters to exalted with the Sons and I'm proud of it. I just think they were wasted on being tied to shoulder enchants. They definitely should have had some sort of tie-in with Ulduar, especially since the quest to reconcile them with Thorim simply ends when he gets abducted by Loken. Seriously, after all the trouble I went through to get them to forgive each other, they can't even be bothered to send anyone out to search for him? Silly giants.

I might make a list of things that I didn't like as well later on, but I'll have to think about that one a bit longer, as a lot of WOTLK changes just left me feeling ambiguous more than anything else.


Silithus sure sucked

Putting the title of this post in the past tense is not entirely correct since Silithus still sucks at the time of writing this, but since Cataclysm is supposed to come out in less than two months or so it seemed kind of appropriate.

There's been a fair bit of talk about nostalgia and the like in the WoW blogosphere lately, and I'm guilty of frequently feeling quite nostalgic for the Burning Crusade myself (I thought WOTLK has been a decent expansion, just not as good). As a bit of a counterpoint I want to write a post about a piece of vanilla WoW today that I consider to be utter rubbish, and I think no matter what Blizzard does with it in Cataclysm, it can only get better: Silithus.

I generally prefer the lush and healthy-looking zones in the game, but Silithus isn't just barren, it's seriously dull and ugly. Sand, rocks and... giant twitching insect legs sticking out of the ground WTF? The zone's soundtrack is boring and grating as well, and not just because of the incessant buzzing in the background. I suppose you've got to give the Blizzard designers credit for creating a zone that feels truly unpleasant and unwelcoming, but when it makes your players feel so alienated that they'd rather go play somewhere else, you've kind of overshot your goal a little.

I remember going to Silithus to quest when I hit level sixty for the first time. I had a friend with me so it was reasonably fun (even if we wiped to Deathclasp way too many times), but I still found the zone so unappealing that I never returned on any of the characters that I levelled afterwards. I always just go there once to grab the flight point at Cenarion Hold, but then I'm off and never look back.

However, when my recent Loremaster adventures took me down to Silithus I was strangely looking forward to it. Maybe my memories were tainted and I'd simply forgot about all the good times. I thought that I might even have a moment of revelation like I had in Gnomeregan!

Alas, it was not to be. I got excited when I saw all the exclamation marks on my minimap the moment I entered Cenarion Hold, but that excitement quickly turned into frustration when I realised that many of these quests were what I'd consider "fake" quests to turn in some raid currency from Ahn'Qiraj for epic gear. I mean, I admit that you can call these things quests from a purely technical point of view but... imagine if all those emblem armour vendors in Dalaran and at the Argent Tournament presented their activities as quests instead of just being vendors. "Bring me so-and-so many emblems of frost and I shall reward you with a new headpiece!" And that for every armour slot and every class - it would be a confusing and convoluted mess! Which basically summed up my feelings as I was trying to find anything at Cenarion Hold that I could actually just go out and do, instead of being asked to run a couple of old raids by every other NPC.

I did finally find a couple of good old "kill these mobs and bring me their body parts" quests, but they didn't last for long. I even did that silithyst collection quest - did anyone seriously do these even when they were current content? The whole concept just seems incredibly lame.

One NPC "gifted" me with a couple of combat task briefings... to kill 120 silithid in one of the hives. Are you kidding me? I mean, I'm really quite fond of simple grind quests in general, but 120? Keep in mind that these used to be elite too... even at level eighty and being able to one-shot all the mobs I must have spent a good hour scouring Hive'Zora for the right mobs, especially as one type seemed to be incredibly rare. The amazing reward then consisted of one Cenarion Combat Badge per assignment, which turned out to be one of the many currencies that one of the vendors wanted, but I didn't have any of the other things he asked for. If you think the current emblem system is complicated, you've clearly never tried to get anything done in Silithus.

One more thing that was left to do was to farm Twilight cultists. I had two quests for their encrypted texts, and had a bit of an a-ha moment when I quickly found my inventory filling up with weird green outfits as well. I actually managed to reconstruct their purpose from memory: some kind of weird fashion pyramid scheme, where you wear three items to summon what was formerly an elite elemental, kill it, and after you've done it a couple of times one of the vendors disguised as quest givers will give you another piece for your outfit which you can then use to summon an even more powerful guy... or whatever. I think you needed a raid for the biggest ones but can't remember for sure now. It seemed like a rather lacking endgame occupation though. I think I summoned a couple out of curiosity, but when my bags overflowed with dozens of cowls and mantles for the umpteenth time (the abyssals wouldn't talk to me if I didn't have the right chest piece as well, boohoo) I grew bored and gave up.

The one thing that I thought was vaguely cool was the quest The Calling, which resulted in a friendly dwarf NPC giving me a massive info dump about the history of the zone, which is admittedly quite interesting. The problem is that I never got that far back at level sixty, because back then this quest required a full-fledged raid to complete and was thus simply impossible to do for a lot of people. Good job at hiding the most interesting thing about the whole zone, Silithus.

Seriously, just bring on the Cataclysm. I only hope that Brann Bronzebeard remembers to pick up his pet monkey.


WOTLK - not worth screenshotting?

When I spotted this article on WoW.com the other day and went through the attached gallery of the writers' earliest screenshots, it made me want to look at my own old screenshots again. I still have all of mine, going back all the way to when I started playing the game almost four years ago (not counting ones that I intentionally deleted because I thought that they weren't worth keeping)... 716 to be exact.

My first screenshot ever was of the first character I made, a human paladin, standing in the inn in Goldshire at level six. I had just started playing and wanted to show my character to my friends on my personal blog.

My first screenshot of my night elf priest shows her standing in Shadowglen at level two - I had just rerolled to play with some friends, and again I felt the need to show off.

My first screenshot of a Horde character shows my tauren hunter at level one, dancing in sync with my friends' druid and shaman. There would always be time to level later... then was the time to dance!

My first screenshot of Shintar, who is now my main, shows her in her twenties, standing in front of the Dalaran bubble in Alterac. I don't think that it was a deliberate attempt to preserve its memory - at the time we didn't even know that it would disappear one and a half years later. I just thought that it looked pretty.

It was also interesting to see how the objects of my attention changed. At first I took a lot of pictures of myself on gryphons and hippogryphs for example - flying just seemed way too cool. Once I started raiding, images of boss fights and kills took over. In general I took a lot more screenshots during my first few months of playing than later on, which makes sense as everything was still shiny and new back then. Still, comparing the amount of screenshots I took in BC and WOTLK was an eye-opener. 436 during the former, 172 during the latter. Now, WOTLK still has a few months to go so its count might still go up a little more, but even so that's a huge difference.

I may not have liked WOTLK as much as I liked BC, but I certainly didn't play significantly less during this expansion, so what changed? Thinking about it, I believe that there are mainly three reasons for me not being as much into taking screenshots of the game as before:

The need for speed

I think WOTLK as a whole has made the game faster. I don't actually believe that this always equals easier or more casual-friendly, but it does mean that people have become twitchier and more impatient.

Five-mans are the most obvious example of this. I have quite a few screenshots from BC, showing people chatting away and being silly while in instances - and this wasn't always with friends either, as I did a fair bit of pugging with people I'd never see again even back then. But it took time to assemble the group, it took time to get everyone to the instance, it took time to plan pulls, it took time to dish out shards at the end of the run. Nowadays all these things are instant and you have to hit the ground running the very moment you port into a dungeon. No time for idle chit-chat or to take in the scenery.

The number of raid shots is what decreased the most however. For example I counted a grand total of five ICC screenshots in my folder: Rotface and Sindragosa dead on 25-man, my paladin standing in front of the Lich King, an Arthas kill shot, and what appeared to be a bit of a graphics bug on the Lich King fight. Considering that we've been raiding that same instance for over nine months now, that's practically nothing!

The armoury and achievements

Once upon a time, before people received in-game badges for killing bosses, they still considered these achievements something to memorise and show off. So they took screenshots of themselves standing in front of dead bosses, put them in their private photo albums and posted them on their guild websites.

I think achievements changed that... not that I think that nobody takes pictures anymore - hell, I just admitted that I still do it myself sometimes, but in a way there is a lot less pressure to do it. The game remembers all your achievements anyway, so you can always check your achievement panel to be reminded of the exact date when you took down the Lich King for the first time; and sites like WoWProgress read the data from the armoury and update their guild rankings no matter if you ever make an effort to tell anyone or not.

Normal vs. heroic

Finally, I think the division between normal and heroic modes has diminished the value of screenshots as well. On the whole I feel that normal mode raid bosses have been a fair bit easier to overcome this expansion than they used to be in BC. There are exceptions of course, but that's been my impression of the general rule. I'm not saying that this is all due to actual difficulty either - before we were able to extend raid IDs we had to reclear the whole instance every week just to get to the boss we were working on for example, which took up a lot of extra time. (And there was also Mount Hyjal, where you had to sit through eight waves of trash before every single boss attempt.) Still, the end result was that it took longer to kill things and it felt like you had overcome a bigger obstacle. In WOTLK quite a large number of bosses went down for my guild within a single night of trying or even after just a few attempts, so I didn't feel any particular urge to take pictures of these "great victories" - most felt shallow compared to how it used to be.

Hard modes are a different matter of course, but as far as screenshots go they have the problem that the bosses look exactly the same no matter which way they died, so unless you want to quickly press the screenshot button with your whole UI up the moment the achievement screen appears, you're out of luck. If you wait to take a picture of the boss's corpse afterwards, you won't actually be able to tell whether it was normal or heroic mode later on, not just from looking at the image anyway.

Have other people found themselves taking fewer screenshots this expansion as well? Or is it just me being a disappointed old fart?


Outdoor mobs and me

The recent news and discussion about Blizzard buffing monster damage output in the beta got me thinking. I don't want mob-fighting in the open world to be completely trivial, but I don't want it to be too hard either. What do I want then?

To be honest, I don't think I actually want the average mob to be truly challenging, assuming it's of the same level as my character and on its own. I'm not saying that you couldn't make a good game where every single fight pushes you to your limits, but I don't think that WoW should be that game. It wasn't even that way back in Vanilla, back when many other things were generally harder.

Still, killing monsters should cost you some resources at least, so it shouldn't be a case of waltzing in and insta-gibbing things with two dagger stabs. I guess to me personally "a third" sounds like a completely unscientific but decent rule of thumb. If killing a mob takes off a third off your health bar (as a melee class) or costs you a third of your mana bar (as a caster), I'd consider that quite reasonable.

However, at the end of the day I think it's actually a mix of other factors that eventually decides whether I enjoy going out into the world to kill things. For me these factors are: variety of mob types, positioning and dangerousness. Let me illustrate what I mean by example of Redridge Mountains, a zone that I feel does all three of those things pretty well (or at least used to, before they removed all the outdoor elites).

As far as mob types go, Redridge offers a decent amount of variety. Leaving aside the human settlement, you'll encounter three kinds of humanoids: murlocs in and around the lake, gnolls in the hills and Blackrock orcs spilling forth from the Burning Steppes in the north. In addition there's a solid amount of wildlife: boars, black dragon whelps, condors, tarantulas and threshers in the lake. There are even some undead, demon hounds, a rare giant and a rare elemental spawn. The differences between these mobs aren't purely cosmetic either. Some of them cast spells, some frenzy, some poison, some stun and so on. This guarantees some variety as you quest your way through the zone, and different mobs encourage you to use different abilities based on what class you play.

It should be a bit of a no-brainer that this is something that makes the game more fun, but somehow this hasn't prevented Blizzard from making zones where a single type of mob dominates so strongly that it gets tedious rather quickly. For example silithid aren't strictly the only type of mob in Silithus, but considering how much of the map is taken up by their hives it often feels that way, and it makes the area a very boring place to quest in.

Then there's positioning. As a general rule, mobs in WoW are positioned in a very "gamey" way to make it convenient to pull them one by one, while leaving as little map space as possible completely empty. That's always pretty unrealistic of course, but to a certain extent willing suspension of disbelief works around it. To use the Redridge example again, gnolls tend to band together in camps, where groups of them sit close together around campfires, and others patrol around the edges of the camp. This makes at least some sense, and provides some interesting opportunities to practice proper pulling and crowd control. Can I get this patrolling guy without aggroing any other mobs? How can I get past this group of three without dying?

In other parts of the world however, especially in the more barren areas, you'll often look out across the land and the mobs will look very much artifically arranged to stand at a certain distance from each other, often not even moving much. Again, that makes for pretty boring gameplay regardless of how difficult the mobs are to beat on their own, as you can do little but simply pull one after the other.

And finally, there's the sense of dangerousness. This is the aspect where variety is more important than anywhere else. To use Redridge as an example again: when you're questing there (as Alliance), the town of Lakeshire is obviously the ultimate "safe space". But the world outside isn't equally dangerous everywhere, regardless of the mobs' levels. For example there are a lot of neutral boars in the immediate vicinity of the town and near the roads, mingling with the hostile mobs there and lowering the average danger per sqare mile so to speak. With neutral mobs among the hostile ones you're less likely to overpull by accident, and if you suddenly need to go AFK for a minute it's easier to find a reasonably safe spot to stand. One step up is the area around Alther's Mill, where all the mobs are hostile but still somewhat spread out. The densly populated gnoll and orc camps are a lot more dangerous already, but the ultimate danger used to lie in Stonewatch Keep, back when all the mobs inside it were elite. You just knew that this wasn't a place where you wanted to go alone.

Different areas threatening you with different degrees of danger keeps you on your toes and makes the game more intersting and immersive. The reason variety is so important here is that veering too far into either direction has a negative effect as well. If you make everything neutral and unthreatening, like Blizzard has done in the starting zones a few patches ago, the game leaves you bored and bewildered (because those "evil" quillboar not minding your presence makes no sense). If you make every monster really dangerous on the other hand, you discourage solo play, which isn't really what WoW is about either. I remember old Silithus being a nightmare before they removed the outdoor elites, simply because all the silithid were elite, and with a couple of additional elite monsters and elite Twilight cultists the whole zone just felt like a place where you couldn't do much on your own. I quested there with a friend for a few days and then never came back, not even on my alts. It was just too off-putting.

Assuming that a zone presents the player with different types of mobs; some grouped and some alone; some neutral, some hostile and some really hard; I don't think Blizzard needs to turn every individual mob into a hard hitter. As long as the mobs are not completely trivial, easy and challenging areas can be implemented simply by adjusting the aforementioned factors.


Zalazane's Fall vs. Operation: Gnomeregan

So I want to talk about the world event that started with the latest patch, partly to simply record my thoughts on the matter so I'll be able to remember them later, but also to share them with others. This post will be pretty spoilerish, so if you haven't participated in Zalazane's Fall or Operation: Gnomeregan yet and want to be surprised once you do the associated quests, don't read any further.

I started off with Zalazane's Fall since I mainly play Horde and my main is a troll as well. They also happen to be, if not my single favourite race, then at least tied for first place with the tauren. I also really like Vol'jin and hate how he always seems to get treated as nothing more than Thrall's appendix, so this event had me pretty thrilled. I even put on a set of roleplaying gear before I went to Sen'jin, something I hadn't done in a while.

The first quest for the trolls has you collecting frog critters and imbuing them with magic at the local shaman's sentry totem. I can only assume that this was meant to be a nod to shaman players and their love/hate relationship with what's undoubtedly one of the least useful abilities in all of WoW. That made me grin. You then get to ride a bat and "deploy" the magic frogs on the islands to work as spies. Frog-bombing... I thought it was funny.

Meanwhile the local captain also sends you to Razor Hill to gather some troll volunteers for the cause. I was childishly delighted by the fact that the NPC followers I collected were clever enough to mount and dismount in accordance with what I was doing.

Back in Sen'jin you get a quest that imbues you with a tiger spirit, which makes you look like a sort of were-tiger and allows you to walk on water. In this form you discover a hidden troll druid on the Isles who agrees to join your cause. One of my guildies complained about this, saying that he thought it was a "lame" way to introduce troll druids. I'm a bit undecided - I liked that Blizzard bothered to give them a lore introduction at all, but does this mean that these druids won't join the Cenarion Circle? Since their shapeshifting was apparently learned elsewhere... would be a bit of a shame.

Finally you were supposed to consult the spirits for support, but I hadn't even figured out what I was supposed to do for that quest when I already got a "completed" message. Apparently the point is just to trigger some NPC talking, but he was just finishing up from someone else starting it and I got credit automatically. Oh well.

And then came the actual battle: it was a lot like the Battle for the Undercity, which is a quest that I consider overrated, as I mentioned before. I have to give credit where credit is due though and admit that I liked this quest better, and not just because it's about trolls. I think the main thing that made a difference for me is that due to this being a limited-time event, everyone is doing it at once and you're likely to almost always have quite a lot of people around. This means that everything dies quite quickly, so the event doesn't take as ridiculously long as the Undercity battle, and being surrounded by lots of other players generally makes the whole thing feel more fun and like a real battle (as opposed to some NPCs soloing everything while you can pick your nose).

That said, I still didn't feel like I was making a meaningful contribution, especially as a healer. I was actually trying to heal people at first, but with the massive survival buff nobody needed it anyway. And throwing piddly smites at zombies just didn't feel very satisfying.

Eventually I decided to just lean back, run along and try to enjoy the story being told. There were considerable NPC walls of text (though they were fully voice-acted also, which I found commendable), and those are always a mixed bag. I mean, I was absolutely willing to get into it and tore up a little when Vol'jin emphasised that he was asking the help of the spirits only for his tribe, not himself, but other players interjecting with random comments about how bored they were (one guy felt the need to yell "BLA BLA BLA" for example) was rather off-putting. And this is with Earthen Ring supposedly being a roleplaying server! It was rather shameful.

Still, overall I enjoyed the experience and I'm looking forward to seeing what the Echo Isles will look like in Cataclysm, fully taken back so to speak. Operation: Gnomeregan had a lot to live up to.

I started the Alliance version of the event with a slight sense of embarrassment: the letter in my mailbox told me to help the gnomes in Ironforge and immediately got annoyed when I couldn't instantly figure out where in Ironforge the quest givers were. Where are my easymode quest markers to show me where to go? /cough. The quest starts in Tinker Town, which makes sense of course.

The gnomes start off with a recruiting quest like the one for the trolls, except that, being gnomes, they use technology to "convince" people to help out - and typical for gnome technology, it doesn't always do what it's supposed to do. One of my potential recruits got turned into a rabbit for example. It made me laugh. This trend continued when the next quest sent me to participate in "brutal and rigorous" gnome training, which consisted of things like emoting /cheer at the drill sergeant in unison.

Gnomes being gnomes, all the rest of their quests were about doing something or other with their machinery: testing ejection seats, controls and weapons of their tanks. Nothing special but not boring either. There was also a "bombing" quest to measure the radiation coming out of Gnomeregan's vents. Gnomer has vents? Since when?

Finally you're supposed to test some drafts of a speech for Mekkatorque, which is again pretty amusing, as some of them are quite silly. Then you deliver the final speech to the High Tinker near Gnomer and get ready for the Alliance version of the second Battle for the Undercity.

Now, I kind of liked that this one felt more fast-paced as there was less NPC chatter going on, and the messages you did get from Thermaplugg were pretty amusing. However, it did have one big disadvantage as it bugged out just as we were about to go underground; the High Tinker just stood at the entrance for ten minutes or so until he finally reset and anyone with good sense suddenly had to make a run for their life, being faced with respawned elite mobs and no invincibility buff. If one raging player who apparently experienced this before was to be believed, it's caused by people running down into the tunnel too early. I don't know if that's true, but there you go.

On the second attempt I managed to complete the event, but the ending was a bit disappointing in a way. Unlike the trolls, the gnomes don't actually get to kill their big bad, and Mekkatorque's pride in having taken back the surface feels hollow, considering that said area only contained a couple of buildings with leper gnomes in them. I can understand Blizzard wanting to keep Thermaplugg around so Gnomeregan can remain an instance, but couldn't they have allowed the gnomes to retake most of the city and at least push him back into deeper tunnels or something? As it is I feel kind of sorry for the gnomes; they definitely got the short end of the stick here (no pun intended), only being able to retake a really small area while their archenemy continues to hold most of the city and in fact managed to take the radiation levels in it to new heights.

All in all I think I liked the Horde version better, but that's probably largely due to my racial bias and the annoying bug in the Alliance version. I also think that the trolls tell a more engaging story, but I do have to give the gnomes credit for making me laugh. What did you think of these quests?


Elemental invasions

One thing I encountered during my Loremaster-ing and which I hadn't taken notice of in a while were the elemental invasions. Have you ever seen one? According to WoWWiki they are quite an old feature (added in patch 1.4) but personally I didn't actually take note of them until my fourth alt or so noticed an odd yell in Winterspring one day.

Basically what happens is that every couple of days or so, a named level 58-60 elite elemental spawns in one of four zones on Kalimdor (earth in Azshara, water in Winterspring, fire in Un'goro and air in Silithus), surrounded by a lot of non-elite mobs of the same type (called invaders), and then patrols the area while yelling the occasional taunt at the zone in general. They are pretty tough at level, but if you outlevel them by a significant margin they quickly become trivial, just like normal mobs.

Nonetheless I still love looking for them whenever I see the familiar signs: It's like finding an exceptionally rare spawn. The loot is pretty damn good as well, they all tend to drop five or six items at once, usually a bunch of crafting materials of their respective element (elemental/essence of earth/water/fire/air) and some BoE gear, which still adds up to a couple of gold. Talk about loot pinatas.

I've killed Princess Tempestria multiple times by now, Avalanchion and the Windreaver once each, but I don't recall ever catching Baron Charr even though I've seen his invaders around - I guess someone just beat me to the punch each time. There may not be an achievement for collecting elemental kills like this, but it still feels like one to me.

With the upcoming expansion paying more attention to the elemental plane, I wonder if these elemental lords will make a comeback as serious challengers at the level cap? It would certainly fit with the overall theme, and if they were hard enough so people would actually have to team up to kill them... ahh, the possibilities. I'll try not to get my hopes up though, as I wouldn't be surprised if even Blizzard themselves had kind of forgot about these guys at this point.


Loremaster conclusion

So, as of last night, Shintar is a Loremaster. I finished Loremaster of Kalimdor down in Silithus and then quickly hopped over to Outland to polish off thirteen more quests for the Shadowmoon Valley achievement. I accidentally got ten tabards too. Funny how these things work out.

I do have to say that I felt very accomplished at the end of it all. This is definitely one of those achievements that really does feel like an achievement, instead of just another badge assigned to some random thing that you were going to do anyway. I don't recommend doing it if you don't really care about quests and lore though, as it's quite time-consuming and you'll probably just find it tedious. I remember a former guild member of mine going through the whole process just because he wanted to have as many achievements points as possible, and he was complaining about "stupid quests" and how annoying it was the entire time. Then he displayed his Loremaster title with pride and I could only facepalm. It just felt so wrong.

Grindiness aside, I thought that the difficulty was definitely overrated though. I had heard a fair amount of comments about the Kalimdor achievement being tough for the Horde, with people saying that they had to do the old Onyxia attunement chain, upgrade their old dungeon sets and/or do the Sceptre of the Shifting Sands line just to reach their quest tally. I didn't find that to be true at all, as I haven't done any of these things and still hit my 685 Kalimdor quests quite comfortably while running a couple of plain old kill/gather errands in Silithus.

I didn't use any questing addons either. I just turned on low-level quest tracking on the mini-map and then worked my way through the zones, going from low to high levels to make sure that I properly completed prerequisite quests for higher-level chains without having to give it any special thought. Once per zone I'd have a quick look at the Wowhead map to see if I missed any quest givers standing in obscure places or item drops that start quest chains (most of the time I hadn't missed anything) and then moved on. So don't let perceived difficulty deter you.

I thought the experience was quite educational in terms of lore. I don't remember reading anything that was completely new to me, but I did notice a lot of minor details that I had overlooked before, and many overarching stories just kind of "clicked together" much better than before. While I like talking about lore and always do read quest text, I have to admit that whenever I'm levelling I'm still more focused on the XP and the rewards than on the story; plus I realised that the way WoW questing works simply doesn't lend itself all that well to great, overarching storylines: even if you're interested in what's going on, it can be quite hard to keep track of everything while you're progressing through ten different quest chains at once. It's kind of like trying to read ten books at once, one chapter at a time, before swapping to another book after each chapter. It's not impossible, but at the same time it's easy to get things a bit mixed up after a while.

That said, I don't actually feel like a Loremaster now, regardless of the title. The number of quests that I discovered and had honestly never done before on any of my characters was relatively low, and instead of fulfilling my dream of an empty quest log, I was left with it being more crowded than ever before. I can only look at the large number of stories that I still haven't tackled with a strange mix of dread and wonder. I intend to keep questing for a while now, even if the game won't acknowledge my efforts beyond this point, as I really do want to know what else I've been missing out on all this time. It seems that the real lore mastery is hidden in what lies beyond the achievement.


For the love of whites

I realised the other day that I have a bit of a strange quirk: I absolutely hate to vendor white quality items. This goes back to my earliest adventures in nub land, where one of the first lessons I learned was that grey items are safe to vendor because they are useless, but white items always serve some sort of purpose and are valuable to other players. Armour was a bit of an obvious exception to this rule during the early levels, because even Flimsy Chain Boots are better than going barefoot, but that point becomes pretty moot once you are out of the starter area. White good, grey bad.

Now, in principle there's nothing wrong with this idea, after all white quality items do have some sort of use, but the problem is that there can be quite a big gap between the theory of usefulness and its practice. With anything of green quality or better you pretty much know where you're standing (Strength and spirit combined? No, just no.), and at worst you can disenchant it. Old raids will sometimes drop greens or blues that have no real value anymore because their only use is to craft outdated best-in-slot gear that nobody wants anymore (e.g. Sunmotes), but in that case the fact that it's coming from an old raid is usually at least a good hint. With white items there are so many and their usefulness can be so arbitrary that you can just never really know.

For example, Core of Earth and Naga Scale are both not massively common white drops that are used for low-level crafting. But while the former will likely go for several gold a piece on the auction house, not least because it's a crafting component for an engineering non-combat pet, the latter is only used to create a pair of green cloth shoulders, which are pretty mediocre in this time of heirlooms and the pattern can only be learned via a rare random drop. You can't very well deduct that kind of information from the game itself, however; you'd have to read up on Wowhead for every little thing.

Still, at least you always have the auction house to offer an estimate. Core of Earth going for five gold? Okay, selling. Naga Scale going for five silver? Eh, not so much I guess. This is where my quirkiness comes in though, because I'm not purely profit-driven in my sales. I like to put even cheap items up for auction instead of vendoring them simply because I'm always worried about there not being enough of them around. Everything that we acquire from monster drops is ruled by the random number generator, so every time I get something useful I consider myself lucky. I mean, maybe that Thick Spider's Silk isn't worth that much right now, but what if it stops dropping tomorrow? Better to not throw it away for nothing.

Also, many things that aren't worth much nonetheless sell like crazy, so someone clearly has a use for them. Linen Cloth is one that always astounds me for instance. That stuff is so easy to get and all over the place, yet it always sells no matter how many stacks I happen to acquire. What do people do with it? I have no idea; after all you can only level first aid so many times. But the point is that I'm happy to provide. I've been in the position of the buyer who really wanted some white item quickly to craft something, while none were available on the auction house, and it sucks. Knowing that I'm contributing to avoid that kind of thing happening to others makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Only sometimes... when the stack of Thick Murloc Scales comes back in the mail for the third time, not selling even at eight silver a piece, then it really gets annoying. Because really, clearly nobody wants that stuff! And yet I can't help thinking thoughts like, "but it's used to make Thick Murloc Armor; I remember crafting that for my shaman - it's pretty nice". I also remember searching the auction house for scales and being disheartened because I couldn't find enough. I don't want that to happen to other people... so up for auction they go yet again, even though I know that it's most likely pretty pointless. It's an embarrassing urge to have, especially in today's age of goblinism.

On the plus side, it's nice to be able to get excited about things as stupid as Dreadfang Venom Sacs, and after a while you get really good at random white-item trivia. "Are these actually good for anything?" - "Well of course, if you're currently exalted with the Aldor and want to go for Hero of Shattrath."

Am I alone in this or do others share my strange love for white items?


Instances shouldn't just be mini games

Some days you have good pugs, some days you have bad pugs; some days you have pugs that make you angry, some days you have pugs that make you sad. Today I had one of the latter.

I queued up to tank normal Sethekk Halls on my death knight. Even though my death knight tanking involves a lot of flailing around as I still can't always decide on which ability would be best to use next, things went quite smoothly overall, until we got to the area with the trash mobs that fear... I died, the rest of the group got feared into all directions, it was a wipe.

The healer left the party and we queued up for a new one... just to get the exact same guy back a minute later. When someone asked him why he had left, his response was:

"Because we wiped lol, I dont have anything against u guys"

Another party member responded with "??", which reflected my own feelings pretty well. Does this guy also log off every time he dies while playing on his own? Or does he have a different version of the game where dying in an instance presents him with a pop-up that says: "Game over, press ok to start a new game?"

I mean, as much as I hate it, I can at least vaguely understand the idea that some people are so used to steamrolling everything that the slightest hitch makes them want to quit, but this guy seemed perfectly happy to continue with us after he had rejoined. He seriously made it sound as if quitting when you wipe was just some sort of compulsion that he simply had to follow. It made no sense to me.

We should have been able to continue at this point, but two of the dps had decided to port out of the instance and started questing instead. At first we waited for them, then I made a small pull that the three of us that remained should have been able to handle, but the healer had gone AFK without a word and we died again. Then we spent the next fifteen minutes or so mucking about as people left, disconnected, new players joined but the old ones couldn't be arsed to actually port back in and rejoin us... it was somewhat infuriating, considering that we could have continued so easily if everyone hadn't run off to do something else the instant we had that first wipe.

Finally we got a full group again, and everyone but our retribution paladin was back in. The pally told us that she was doing an escort quest and would rejoin us later. /groan. (I would have considered booting her, but I had already used up a kick to remove a DCed player from the group a few minutes earlier.) Nonetheless we managed to move on eventually and cleared the rest of the instance without any further problems.

Ikiss dropped his Crow Wing Reaper and my eyes got wide at the thought of filling all those sockets with Northrend gems, but the paladin rolled need on it as well and won. I politely asked why she had needed since she was using the heirloom axe anyway, to which she just replied with "I'm so dirty" and dropped group. I thought the average player was supposed to be way past high school age... /sigh.

Still, the thing that stuck with me the most was the massive grinding halt we came to halfway through the instance, when our first healer left "because we wiped lol" and everyone else immediately ran off to do something else, even though they stayed in the party. It really made me wonder if the dungeon finder wouldn't simply be a lot better without the teleportation feature. Keep everything else, just make it so that moving to the instance actually requires at least a little bit of brain power - even if you put some sort of summoning stone right inside the instance portal so you don't have to wait for every single person to make the run - and force players to actually move to the instance for real.

I bet that a lot of people wouldn't drop group over every broken nail if they actually had to invest at least a few minutes into moving their arse to the dungeon and if they knew that dumping the group would leave them sitting outside the entrance, possibly in the middle of nowhere, and not take them conveniently back to whatever else they were doing.

At the moment queuing up for an instance is sort of like playing a game of Bejeweled during your lunch break - one button press to join, one button press to leave, and it makes no difference to what you were doing before. I don't think a dungeon run should be like that though - it should be an activity in the world you're already playing in and affect that accordingly. Want to go to an instance? Well, then you should actually have to go to that instance. Doesn't that sound absurdly self-evident when put like that?

It would add a couple of minutes to each of our runs for sure, but I'm almost certain that we'd make that time up again with people being a little less likely to leave on a whim, so you wouldn't have to wait for replacements after every minor hiccup. (And maybe people wouldn't want to kick quite so easily either, knowing that they might have to go back to the summoning stone to get a replacement in. The horror!)

More news from the Loremaster front

I reached 3000 quests completed a few days ago, and today I became a Loremaster of the Eastern Kingdoms. The latter felt really premature though, as I still have a ton of quests left in Burning Steppes and both plaguelands. I might just do them anyway, even if it doesn't count for anything. I just have this vision now of my quest log being empty again for the first time in ages, not because I abandoned anything but because I simply completed all of it. First I'll work on completing the other Loremaster achievements though.

While clearing out all the starting zones was relatively quick and easy, the higher level areas were where things started to become a bit tedious. While I talked about the value of doing a bit of travelling as part of our quests just after finishing the Barrens, constantly being sent back and forth between zones of similar level that are located on different continents felt kind of meh. This quest was a good example: it starts in Searing Gorge and has you collect some quest items there, then you have to pick something up in the Swamp of Sorrows (three zones away), collect something in Dustwallow Marsh (on the other continent), and then cross another two zones to finally hand in in Tanaris.

I was also surprised to see just how many quests I'd already done nearly everywhere I went. I mean, my priest was already sitting at nearly 2500 quests completed before I started this project so I knew that I had done something already, but for some reason I assumed that I had mostly focused on the zones that I like. So I went to Searing Gorge for example, thinking that there'd be loads to do because I hate the zone and must have skipped it before, just to find that I had already completed everything but the aforementioned annoying delivery quest and this rather bizarre quest, of which I could have sworn that it simply hadn't been there three years ago. Unlike with the low-level zones I had to actively start searching for leftover quests in obscure places to get anything done at all.

The quests that I did find were a bit of a mixed bag. There were gems like this, which made me laugh out loud:

Or the apothecary in Tarren Mill who keeps talking about all the cute fuzzy animals that he's using for his experiments. (I love animals in real life, but he's just too morbidly funny.)

On the other hand I also found myself getting rather annoyed with some of the changes that Blizzard has made to old and memorable quests. Take the one to summon Shadra, the spider god: (On a side note, I wasn't surprised that I hadn't done that one yet, how did anyone manage to pick up on that little venom bottle back before that stuff sparkled?) I remember walking into Shadra'Alor once and nearly having a heart attack when I saw this huge spider sitting in front of the temple, almost as high as the temple itself. In fact, I think this is how I first found out about the quest, because I was obviously curious what that was all about. So I summoned Shadra myself this time around, anxiously awaiting her appearance, wondering why nothing happened... until I noticed that she had appeared next to another spider, completely normal-sized and unimpressive. That's no way to treat a god, Blizzard! Sometimes size does matter!

The only thing worse was what they did to the Tanaris Field Sampling quest - basically the whole quest chain is centred around acquiring a "field testing kit" to examine tissue samples of some wildlife; you used to have to collect eight usable samples from three different types of animal, and they all had a chance to turn out unusable. The developers apparently decided that this was too much work, so they changed the quest to require only one guaranteed drop from each animal, called an untested sample. After all the work to get that stupid testing kit working, you don't even get to use it. What the hell, that just makes no bloody sense!

Things like that really make me look forward to Cataclysm and Blizzard overhauling all this stuff. Hopefully none of the new quests will feel as pointless as that.


Running Gnomeregan is not like running heroic Nexus in ICC gear, guys

The title of this post might make you go "duh", but well... some players apparently aren't actually aware of this fact.

Apologies for writing about Gnomeregan again so soon - it wasn't entirely intentional to be honest. I was quite happy to consider the subject over and done with, but then I logged onto my rogue alt today for a bit of a change of pace, levelled his lockpicking, did some quests, queued for a random dungeon and... oh look, Gnomeregan again!

I landed smack in the middle of the instance, in combat, but everything seemed to be under control. We had a paladin healer, a hunter and a warlock for dps and a druid tank who really seemed to enjoy chain-pulling large groups, which was the first thing that gave me the idea for the title of this post. I mean, it didn't seem to be a huge problem per se, but in all honesty the benefit of this sort of pulling was limited as well, because two of our three damage dealers simply didn't actually have any AoE attacks yet, so with the exception of the warlock who was spamming rain of fire and thus doing marginally more dps, we had to pick off the mobs one by one anyway. Thus the main result of the druid's pulling style seemed to be that he just took a lot more damage and the healer had to do a lot more healing. That's not really going to make the run any more faster or fun.

Still, it worked alright until we got to the tunnel leading up to the last boss, you know the one, with the dark iron dwarves that drop mines. Tanking several of those mine-droppers at once, our bear took even more damage than before and soon the paladin was running out of mana. "Mana break, please!" she announced in chat and sat down to drink, even as the rest of the party plowed on without her. I sat down next to her as a show of solidarity, which earned me a /smile emote.

Unsurprisingly the tank went splat in the meantime, and mayhem ensued as we tried to stave off a wipe. We managed to avoid a corpse run by a hair's breadth, largely because the warlock had the sense to put a soulstone on the healer in time. Afterwards our pally resurrected half the party and put blessings on everyone, which unsurprisingly meant that she was oom once again. Again she asked for a mana break, again the tank ignored her. This time he managed to survive a pull or two because he actually turned around and ran back when he got low on health, but eventually he charged too far ahead again as the pally had another drink, and this time we wiped.

The druid and the hunter dropped group, and the three of us that remained made our way back to the instance while sharing feelings of something between amusement and exasperation about the tank's behaviour in chat. Here's another way in which Gnomeregan is not like running heroic Nexus in ICC gear: even in heirlooms you are simply not totally invincible; you do need your healer, and since said healer has little to no mana regenerating abilities yet, they might also have to drink every now and then. Just live with it.

It only took a minute or two after we had re-entered the instance until a new tank, a paladin, and a replacement dps, another rogue, appeared. In what was probably a bit of an oversight on our part, we didn't think to tell them that we had already cleared a considerable part of the instance, but then it didn't really feel like it would have made much of a difference as we were surrounded by respawns anyway. Oh hey, another thing that you won't usually encounter in level eighty heroics! I wonder if people who are used to today's heroic and raiding culture find them off-putting. After all, seeing respawns at level eighty is a sure sign of big fail. But really, in some of the low-level instances, the mobs near the entrance can be on a respawn timer that's insanely short; it doesn't have to mean anything. The vast majority of the instance will still be cleared once you just take the time to swipe those lame "gatekeepers" out of the way.

To get back to the run in question, our new tank seemed to assume that it was a fresh run and just started pulling things, also in relatively large groups... sigh. I felt so lame with my single-target attacks. He then made a beeline for the "tunnel event" with the troggs, and it turned out that the group had originally skipped that one anyway. The warlock silently left all of a sudden, presumably because he thought that we were going to do the whole instance all over again or something, and immediately got replaced by a shaman. Just before Grubbis spawned, the tank suddenly stopped moving and appeared to disconnect. We managed to kill the boss anyway, but when the tank didn't come back after that we removed him from the group, and the other rogue left as well, leaving just the paladin, the new shaman and me.

We three-manned our way into the Alliance base, but when I stopped to clean a couple of grime-encrusted objects, the shaman quietly disappeared too. The paladin and I weren't so easily discouraged however and decided to stick together since we were both from Earthen Ring (and it's quite rare that two players from our server meet via the dungeon finder). We re-queued, /danced and killed a couple of carefully pulled troggs with just the two of us. It was a nice opportunity for me to practice things like sapping and kicking.

Eventually our party filled up again, with a hunter, yet another rogue and a warrior tank. The warrior was quite a chatty sort, telling us that he was from Sweden and raging in ALL CAPS about how he had just come out of another Gnomer run and that the last boss hadn't dropped his shield - all in a friendly way though, if that makes sense. Then he charged into a dead end and admitted that he had no clue where he was going.

We managed to steer him into the right direction eventually, and he expressed bewilderment when we started to get into corridors that had nearly no mobs in them. This is when we explained briefly that we had already been close to the end boss at some point but that things had got a bit manic since then. The paladin promised that she wouldn't let this tank die because he was so nice and that she'd try harder. Then the warrior charged out of range and died. We lived through it though, and mostly just thought that it was funny. Our final party was really quite friendly, and several people went on to do another instance together right afterwards (I was too tired myself). Thermaplugg failed to drop his shield once again though. Poor tank.

I didn't exactly time the run, but from what I remember in regards to reapplying my poisons, it must have taken somewhere between one and one and a half hours. What a nightmare for level eighty heroic standards! For Gnomer it really wasn't all that terrible though - sure, it could have gone much faster, but considering that we had a wipe close to the end and had to replace half a dozen people it didn't strike me as hugely out of the ordinary. Many old world instances will simply take a bit longer than twenty minutes, and yes, wipes can sometimes happen as well. These runs are simply not for the impatient - though personally I don't really consider that a bad thing. Embrace the challenge!