Look at these character/mob portraits!

You may or may not remember that I made a post almost a year ago in which I lamented the terrible state of Blizzard's default party portraits. And I'm not talking about the layout of the UI or anything here, but about the actual pictures, which largely looked like something from the early alpha of the game (at best).

Well, imagine my delight when I noticed the other night that they've finally been updated. I think it must have happened in the big patch but mostly went overlooked because of all the other stuff that's been going on.

Female tauren actually look like female tauren now!

And male ones don't look like someone hit them in the face with a hammer anymore either.

I think they've updated all the races, but I haven't seen them all yet (nor would I bother to take pictures of them all). I just can't wait to see what replaced that sickly green night elf with the bright red braids...

On an only vaguely related note, has anyone else ever thought that the character portrait for ooze mobs kind of looks like a dog?

I mean, I can see what it's meant to be, an angry skull embedded in green goo...

... but I swear, I still often see a sad dog face instead. It's kind of like one of those black-and-white pictures where you can see something different depending on which part you focus on.



Discussing the raid and dungeon changes announced at Blizzcon

Blizzcon may not have brought us any amazing revelations this year, but the developers did provide us with some solid pieces of insight into what they are planning to do with the old world dungeons come Cataclysm.

Confirmation of more conveniently located graveyards and the addition of dungeon maps was not a surprise but still welcome. I remember desperately pressing the M key so many times during my very first Deadmines run, not understanding why there was no map for this zone, and have pretty much continued to make that same mistake over and over again to this day, even though I should really know better by now.

That said, I'm not sure I'm entirely sold on those so-called "enhanced" dungeon maps they've been advertising. In fact, my very first thought was definitely an "OMG, how much more do they want to dumb things down" knee-jerk reaction. I mean, 3D images of the bosses on the maps? Do they think we'll be unable to recognise them otherwise? Are they trying to appeal to kids that can't read the NPC names yet? Seriously...

I still find this feature rather strange, but I have to admit that the others definitely have some appeal. For example the addition of a list of boss abilities in-game: How many times have you had to explain a boss fight (or heard someone else do it) and it went something like "and then he does this thing, I forget what it's called, let me look it up..."? Might as well save people the tabbing out.

The same thing is true for the detailed loot lists. While I'm apparently in the minority as someone who never ran with any loot information addons because on the whole I rather liked the surprise, I'd lie if I said that I've never looked up a boss's loot on Wowhead for some reason or another.

Still, from an immersion point of view I find having access to all this information slightly strange once again. WoW is a fantasy setting with steampunk elements, not something set in the age of information. Not knowing what exactly lies ahead in the dungeon you're about to enter but doing it anyway is one of the things that makes adventurers stand out as truly brave. If we know our target's exact coordinates and its abilities, aren't we more like hired assassins? Or secret agents? /hums the Mission Impossible theme... actually, that's kind of cool. Maybe we can just look at it as a sort of evolution - as the gnomes and goblins develop more technology we tend to have more information available.

Now, the other major topic was that of how exactly they intend to streamline the old world dungeons to bring them more in line with Outland and Northrend ones. First off, I was really glad to see this quote: "We don't want dungeons to be left behind in the redo, we want them to be up-to-par with everything else", as this was something that I had been kind of worried about.

They said that they want to make currently confusing dungeons less so, with Wailing Caverns being cited as a prime example. I can honestly say that I'm definitely in favour of this, as there's no love lost between me and WC's winding tunnels, even though I've become reasonably good at navigating them by now. I just hope that they don't swing too far the other way and turn something that's supposed to be a natural cavern into a straight and boring tunnel. I do believe that there's a solid middle ground to be found here, where you can make a place appear to be reasonably complex while still avoiding structures that might actually cause players to get lost. I think they did a pretty good job at this in WOTLK already - while most dungeons were still very linear, they didn't suffer from "endless hallway" syndrome nearly as badly as most of Outland.

Then there is the issue of shortening dungeons, in particular by splitting them into wings. Now, in general I approve of this, but I have to say that I found the fact that Utgarde Keep/Pinnacle was quoted as a good example of this rather amusing, because I thought if anything Utgarde is an example of how not to do it. I mean, there you are, questing in Howling Fjord and getting into this whole Vyrkul storyline, you try to kill King Ymiron but Arthas whisks him away to Utgarde Pinnacle, you clear out the lower levels of the keep... and then you go and have to gain ten more levels in other zones, running other dungeons, before you can come back and get on with the story. Sorry, but I don't think that works very well. Different wings of what's supposed to be considered the same dungeon should be close together in level so people can run them right after each other and get the whole story in one go if they choose to do so. That said, places like Scarlet Monastery and Dire Maul already pulled this off very well in the past, so I have faith in Blizzard being able to get this right.

Now, a few more instances that are going to get this treatment were discussed in a bit more detail. Uldaman for example will be split into two parts, with Ironaya ending the first half and what's currently called the back door being the entrance to the second half. Now, this sounds pretty sensible to me. I do have to say though, I really hope that they buff dungeon mobs significantly, otherwise this whole split thing might turn out to be a bit pointless. I mean, I too remember Uldaman as this endless winding maze from my WoW youth, but when I recently ran it at level again, for the first time in ages, we breezed through the whole thing while killing all the bosses in about twenty minutes. If it were to stay like that, splitting a twenty-minute dungeon into two ten-minute ones would just be silly.

Then we have Maraudon, another candidate for a logical split. To be honest I always thought that the whole "two entrances" structure that forced you to backtrack considerably if you wanted to do a full clear was kind of annoying. Two halves sound about right. Currently the dungeon finder splits it into three parts, and from what I hear this separation is rather awkward. Personally I only entered the instance through the dungeon finder for the first time tonight, and just found that the purple section felt extremely short. The rest of the party seemed to agree as we simply continued past Lord Vyletongue (the purple section's only boss) and continued all the way to the princess, just not bothering to go back for the orange section. Again this actually didn't take us all that long, even though we were doing very poor dps (one guy was on /follow the entire time and me and the other remaining damage dealer were about five levels lower than the mobs we were fighting). Again I hope that they will buff the mobs so the instance will still feel like a worthwhile undertaking even when cut in half.

Hearing that they want to cut out Sunken Temple's bottom floor made me a little sad to be honest, but I'll admit that the "elemental section" as we called it was always my least favourite anyway. Still, I'm one of those strange people who always loved Sunken Temple, even back when I kept getting lost in it. I just loved the whole Indiana Jones adventure feel of the place.

The comments on BRD raised more questions than they answered in my opinion. Apparently the developers think that this one is too hard to split into sensible sections, so they added teleporters instead. I don't mind those as an addition (after all, why shouldn't the Dark Iron dwarves go with the times too), but doesn't that leave the instance at the same length at which it is now? Or will nothing prevent groups from zoning in and teleporting straight to the Emperor? If not, what do these teleporters really solve, other than shortening possible corpse runs?

We shall see.


I wish I could stop ranting about holy priests, but I just can't

Tonight we finally went back into ICC for the first time since the patch, and I was curious to see how the new holy would perform in what's currently the closest thing to "current" content (even if it's nearly a year old by now). At heroic Lady Deathwhisper I finally ran into the mana problems that a commenter brought up in response to one of my previous posts. Up until then I hadn't really noticed much of a difference in my mana regeneration rate while running lower-tier content, so I was very surprised when I suddenly got a "not enough mana" message halfway through phase two. I hadn't popped my shadowfiend yet, so I did that and was okay for the rest of the fight, but it still felt strange considering how much I overgear the place and that we had the thirty percent buff up.

I suppose it's not crippling right now, but it still kind of irks me to be honest. I'm all for the slower healing model with nerfed mana regen that's been advertised for Cataclysm, but suddenly running out of mana on WOTLK fights that you've been doing easily for months feels kind of... unfair. Still, as I said, not an unsurmountable problem; I reckon it should be okay with slightly more careful mana management.

However, looking at the healing meters was outright depressing. I've been duo-healing with a resto druid for a while now and our output has always been very close to equal. I liked that, because it meant that we were both doing our jobs and nobody was being carried. However, since the patch he absolutely pwns me on the meters, doing about twenty-five percent more healing than me across the board. I feel like I've got a freaking brick tied around my neck and am bringing the whole raid down, and that we could be doing so much better if I brought my own resto druid instead. (It seems to be pretty much common consensus on the forums that resto druids are about a mile ahead of everyone else at the moment.)

And of course I still can't get over just how clunky my whole spell arsenal feels right now, what with the clumsiness of the Chakra states and so many talents having no synergy whatsoever. I could ignore the sudden mana issues and get over the throughput nerf if I was still having fun, but I swear holy priesting has never felt worse and less fun to me than it does now.

I decided to turn my attention to the forums to see how other priests felt and whether I could get any helpful advice. On the EU forums at least I found relatively little complaining, a few happy comments from people who absolutely love the new model, and a couple of concerns from others based on holy priests having the lowest mana regen of all healing classes right now and being absolutely terrible in level 85 raids on the current beta ("10khps behind and going oom still" as one poster put it").

On the US forums I found a similar thread bemoaning the current state of holy priests, where the poster was told off with arguments such as "it is you" and that "holy is fine". What I found interesting in this case however, was that one of those commenters backed her claim up with a link to World of Logs, which showed a twenty-five man raid where two supposedly holy priests were topping the healing meters. I was actually happy about this! There was hope after all; I'd just have to adjust my play style to follow the example of those amazing priests!

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a sham. What the poster neglected to mention was that both priests had a discipline dual spec that they were using for the Lich King, and at the end of the night thirty percent of their healing done was made up by shield spam from that one fight, making the numbers of their oh-so-great holy performance look artificially inflated.

They did do well as holy on several fights though, so I investigated that, and it turns out that they mainly managed to get high numbers because there were no resto druids in the raid and they spammed Renew. I went to look at a couple of logs from other raid guilds on my server and found similar results. I found one log where a holy priest had topped the meters on a night of heroic Sindragosa attempts with no resto druid in the raid, but under any other circumstances holy performance was usually anywhere between lackluster and outright terrible.

So, in summary: holy priests are fine, if you can afford to just spam Renew and there's no resto druid in the raid. So much for increasing complexity and encouraging us to use our amazingly large toolbox, eh?

I have half a mind to just heal with my druid for the rest of this expansion. I'm not usually a "flavour of the month" person, but at the moment holy priesting doesn't just feel underpowered to me, it feels plain not fun.

I know it's not supposed to be balanced around level eighty content; I know they are still tweaking things for level 85 on the PTR as we speak, but well... considering I have all healing classes at eighty and they are all reasonably geared, I just see no reason to stick it out with one that I just don't enjoy right now. I still love the class for its many great spells and for representing the ultimate healer in WoW, but as it stands I think I'd be better off just giving it a rest until the developers figure out how to do holy priests some justice again - for my own sanity more than anything else.

(Oh, and I never cared much for disc in PvE, so I'm not keen on going down that route either, even if it's supposed to be reasonably powerful right now.)


Pug encounters of the newbie kind?

Last night wasn't the best night to pug with my death knight. As usual I got a group instantly the moment I queued up for a normal random dungeon. I wasn't too pleased when I got the Halls of Stone loading screen, however. I just don't know what it is about that instance; it's not even about skipping bosses... as someone who's never cared that much about titan lore I just find it incredibly boring (and always have).

I sat down to eat and top off my health and someone immediately charged ahead into the first pack of mobs. I didn't interfere but they managed to down it just fine without a tank. As we moved on, it quickly became apparent that pretty much everyone in the group seemed to be of the "gogogo" variety, and no matter how speedily I tried to pull, someone would always run ahead and pull even more "for me". When even the healer joined in eventually, I finally did something that I don't remember ever doing before - I dropped group without a word. I generally prefer to give people at least a chance, ask them to adjust their play, but that night and with the whole party acting like that... I honestly just couldn't be bothered. They probably continued just fine without me anyway. And people wonder why tanking isn't that popular...

Anyway, I got the deserter debuff (and noticed for the first time that the icon for it looks like a dead canary in a cage) and kept myself busy for half an hour until I could try again. Again I got a group instantly, again it was Halls of Stone, but at least the rest of the group seemed decent this time. Except that, the moment we zoned in, the male orc shaman said that his baby had just started crying and he needed to be right back. Not the best way to start a run, but I tend to be pretty laid back about real life interruptions so I figured, whatever. He /followed the healer and we moved on.

We were getting close to Krystallus by the time that I realised that even though the shaman was still following and hadn't done any damage, he was very quick to roll on any loot that dropped and had even needed on several greens. "I thought you were AFK?" He admitted that he was not but that he was feeding the baby. I have to admit I was slightly miffed that he was "AFK enough" to not play but still present enough to gather up the loot. But still, who wants to be a jerk to a parent taking care of their young? We moved on.

Someone asked whether the orc shaman was a mother. He, not she, said yes and that she had two children, which the questioner considered "cool". I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that someone saying that they are taking care of their baby automatically leads to the assumption that the person must be a woman, even if it's a male character, or about people still finding it noteworthy that normal people of both sexes play the game, but I guess it's better than "there are no girls on the internet" or any variations thereof.

The shaman eventually started to participate a little, but really, really little. She didn't do much damage but mostly just knocked any mobs that I pulled away into multiple different directions and then cast earthquake on a single mob somewhere. Yay. It got quite annoying but I bit my tongue.

At the Tribunal of Ages she didn't seem to do anything at all except stand in the fire beams of doom without ever moving. The healer healed her through it and laughed, snarking that she shouldn't teach her children to play WoW because they likely wouldn't turn out to be any good.

The last boss dropped a nice tanking necklace, and I felt that I was finally getting rewarded for my patience (especially as I've had trouble getting any tanking drops from instances). Except... the shaman needed on it too and won. So, why are shamans allowed to roll on tanking gear in pugs again? Argh. I politely told her that this was a tanking item and no good for her and that it would be sensible to let the actual tank have it. She ignored me and dropped from the group.

However! I had noticed that she was actually from my server, so I whispered her again to pursue the issue further. She laughed and invited me to a group, immediately trying to queue us up for another dungeon. When I declined the role check she put us into the raid browser instead - beats me why. I met her in Orgrimmar and again tried to remain calm while still getting my point across. She seemed to be willing to hand over the necklace after all, except that the moment I opened the trade window she asked me whether I would give her some gold for it. I was speechless at this display of unbridled greed. Eventually she said that she was just kidding and handed the item over.

Before I left I asked her whether this was her first character and she said yes, which led me to reiterate that it's not a good idea to roll need on things that aren't appropriate for your role (she seemed to be geared like she knew what she was doing) before we parted.

I'd like to say that I felt glad that I had been so patient with a self-confessed newbie, but in all honesty I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd just been had. Everything seemed to go together way too conveniently for "her" (I'm not even sure I believe that bit anymore) to get all the loot with little to no effort and be excused. I guess the fact that I ended up being from the same server just caught her off guard and she eventually gave in to avoid recriminations. I'm not sure I prefer that kind of charade over people being outright rude - I just hate liars.

Fortunately today's random restored my faith in newbies somewhat, as I ended up in a Violet Hold with a healer who was running the instance for the first time but was perfectly nice and polite, played well (he even had DBM installed already and was gushing about how useful it was), and seemed genuinely interested in the game. I was more than happy to answer his questions about what "all these elites" behind the force fields were all about, who the Kirin Tor were and why the blue dragonflight was suddenly evil. I almost squeed when he said that the blue dragon he met in Magister's Terrace had been nice... someone actually paying attention to the story? Be still, my heart. <3


Ugh, I hate The Undying

My guild never cared much about Undying and similar achievements when they were current content, because we've just never been big on raid achievements. Just getting the bosses down has always been the priority.

A few months ago we finally did an Undying run since the option to earn that title is going away soon, which I tanked on my paladin at the time because we were short on tanks. Since then we've occasionally tried to get another run together to get the achievement for those that missed out on it before (like my main), and it's been nothing but a major pain in the arse. Tonight was our third failed attempt in a row.

Whether someone pulls aggro on Patchwerk or stands in a shadow fissure on Kel'thuzad, there's always something, and it's slowly driving me batty. We have three times as much health as we had when we first ran this content, do six times as much damage, and still people can't get the basics right? I'm not someone who tends to get angry easily, but it's hard not to feel a certain seething rage when this kind of thing happens over and over again. After all that person's death just completely wasted an hour's worth of effort.

The Ulduar version where you don't have to get it all right in a single lockout is a lot more forgiving, but it's still infuriating when you only need one more boss in the whole instance (usually near the end) and that ends up being the one where someone messes up, once again by doing something really dumb like standing in Mimiron's shock blast or pulling aggro on Vezax. I actually managed to get my own Champion of Ulduar title last night (after someone had messed it up the week before), but this time it got borked up for someone else who still needed a different boss.

And then, on top of feeling angry, I feel guilty for feeling angry. Because, at the end of the day, I like my guildies, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes. It just feels wrong to get that mad over them dying a single time. It happens to everyone sometimes, right? Too bad that it happens to them when the whole effort of the night hinges on nobody dying... which just makes me hate the whole achievement in the end.

In a way this is kind of weird, because achievements that reward you for playing well and getting it just right have always been among those that I approved of the most. After all I loved the Zul'Aman bear run, and we spent a lot of time messing that one up as well. I suppose the main differences between that and something like The Undying are:

1) Since nobody ever got to do a bear run while outgearing the instance by multiple tiers, it wasn't as utterly humiliating to mess up, and some of the loot from the other three chests was still useful to people even if you didn't get the fourth one.

2) People were generally better at watching their threat. During this expansion even a lot of dpsers that I value a lot seem to have completely unlearned how to watch their aggro, because it simply didn't matter most of the time. I'm hoping they'll get back into the groove come Cataclysm, because having a whole run turn out to be pointless due to someone pulling aggro is just stupid.

3) As tough as it was, the Zul'Aman bear run still allowed for a bit of leeway and compensating. I remember on the run when we got our first bear we actually had two or three deaths, but managed to make up for those precious seconds that we lost while resurrecting people. There weren't really that many insta-gib mechanics either, where a person standing in the wrong place would die instantly. (Maybe Jan'alai's fire bombs...)

People often like to rant about having to carry bad players and I agree that it can severely affect your fun when you have to compensate for someone playing truly terribly, but not being able to compensate at all, completely having to rely on everyone else to not stand in the wrong place and to not pull aggro on the untauntable boss or else your entire evening is ruined... that's even worse in my opinion.


Fun with Hallow's End

Very much to my own surprise, I've really been enjoying this past week of Hallow's End activities. I mean, as far as WoW holidays go it's been one of my favourites for a while, but considering that I tend to feel somewhat "meh" about seasonal events in general, that's not really saying much. And in this case I figured, hey, I already got almost all the meta achievements on my main and I don't really care much about collecting achievements on my alts, so whatever. Yeah, that's what I thought.

First off, trick-or-treating at the innkeepers is just way too much fun. I understand that the pressure to log in every hour to maximise your treats if you're after something specific is not particularly great, but if you approach the whole matter more casually, it's really entertaining. You can do it on characters of every level, receive all kinds of costumes, and those masks...! I love masks, especially for alts that are too low-level to wear proper hats yet, but I'm also not afraid to have my level eighty tauren wear a tauren mask for example. There are few things that look wackier than that.

Wanna be my friend? OoOoOooo...

The only problem is that you get so many "rubbish" items that way that they seriously start to clog up your bags after a while. Sure, you can just destroy them, but then I think it's kind of a shame when free items turn into a sort of "spam" that you have to filter and clear out! I'm honestly not sure whether reducing the number of items would really be a solution though; after all the guaranteed reward (even if it's useless) is part of the fun.

Then there's trick-or-treating. No, wait, candy buckets. Am I the only one who's perpetually perplexed by the fact that the Trick or Treat! achievement is not actually about trick-or-treating? Anyway, I'll admit that the candy is not particularly interesting at level eighty I suppose, but since the buckets give great experience, they are almost like an alternate levelling path for lowbies. Stuck at a level where you don't like the current content much and wishing you could gain another level or two somehow, without having to do much? Candy buckets are the way to go. The various candy bucket trick-or-treat achievements also work well in conjunction with the exploration ones. On my hunter for example I ended up finishing off Tricks and Treats of Azeroth and World Explorer at the same time.

G.N.E.R.D. rage also inspired me to do some PvP again. I found it to be rather broken in certain level ranges but in others it was actually good fun. Though I was less pleased when I found that the random bugs of 4.0.1 extended to the battlegrounds as well, for example when I didn't get credit for Warsong Gulch Perfection on my death knight even though I did achieve it. Oh, and let's not forget the battleground queue bug that currently causes the system to prioritise by group size for some reason, meaning that if you're in a party of five you'll get into a battleground within less than a minute, but if you're on your own you can get stuck waiting for anything between five and forty minutes...

The Horseman is amazingly bugged as well of course. I'm pretty sure everyone's heard of the infamous "cogwheel bug" by now, which can cause people to crash out whenever their cursor hovers over something that causes it to turn into a cogwheel, such as... the pumpkin you have to click on to summon the Horseman. I've only had it happen to me once or twice fortunately, and am thus quick to volunteer to do the summoning in my groups now. Watching people shuffle their feet uneasily as they wait for someone else to start it because they don't want to crash out is only fun for so long. Once I also ended up in a run where apparently my whole party disconnected! Fortunately I was tanking on my paladin and thus more or less managed to solo the boss - a warlock came back online just before the end and helped me to finish him off.

I haven't been too happy with the loot drops, but again, since I'm not a hardcore achievement hunter I'm trying not to let it get to me too much. My main still hasn't got the squashling for Sinister Calling, while I already had to destroy three or four extras on my alts. My druid, of all my characters, ended up getting The Horseman's Reins - the one character that never uses a flying mount. That's sod's law for you I guess. More than anything though, and this really surprised me, I missed having actual emblems to take out of my goodie bag at the end, because without them I already had to encounter several cases where the so-called Loot-Filled Pumpkin I got actually ended up being completely empty. What a letdown.

On a side note, while the Horseman is another boss for whom we are way overpowered at our current gear levels, he never felt as boring as Coren to me, probably because you're at least forced to change targets occasionally... you've got to be grateful for small blessings.

And finally, I've been having a lot of fun saving the newbie villages from the Horseman's fires. I was really surprised by how much I suddenly enjoyed this little mini-game, considering how simple it is - get bucket, throw it on fire, repeat. I guess that's still more engaging than some of the other content available at the moment...

It's also interesting to see how player participation affects the outcome. During one round in Brill we had so many players that they put all the fires out within seconds, causing the Horseman to bug out and claim that the town had burnt to the ground. Another time I tried to save Falconwing Square (pro tip: really, don't), but hardly anyone else was there and the other players completely ignored the event. On my own I was completely powerless. Now, you could criticise this as being a bad thing and say that it should scale with the number of players around or something, but I kind of liked how the way it's currently done added a certain excitement to the scene. Several times saving the town actually felt like a close call and I got the feeling that I had accomplished something, knowing that my contribution might have made the difference between victory and defeat. Plus, my inner roleplayer really can't stand to see those places burn!

I also noticed that Blizzard changed it so the Horseman doesn't automatically come around every fifteen minutes anymore (or whatever it used to be), but instead only gets triggered when someone starts the quest to put out the fires. This is kind of nice because you don't have to helplessly watch beloved newbie villages burn to the ground over and over again while nobody is around. Just make sure to pick your battles wisely, and don't start the event when the place is completely empty.


Low-level play is seriously out of whack right now

Nils made a couple of posts on this subject already which got me curious, especially this one. After playing some of my own low-level alts in the past couple of days, I can only confirm that he's not exaggerating. The power inflation at low levels is absolutely insane at the moment.

Example one: I took my level thirty-one protection warrior out to explore and do some mining. In Desolace I aggroed three mobs that were red to me while trying to get to a node. I don't remember the exact level difference, but I believe they were five or six levels higher than me each, maybe even seven. I fought them for about thirty seconds, by which point I decided that this wasn't going to lead anywhere as I was losing health faster than I could reduce theirs, what with the high level-imposed miss chance. So I retreated, ate until my health bar was full again, and then killed the same three mobs comfortably one by one.

Now that just strikes me as wrong, and not just because I couldn't have done that "back in my day". The colour scale is supposed to be an indication of difficulty: grey mobs are trivial to beat, green ones are easy, yellow means medium effort is required, orange means they will be a reasonable challenge, red should be near impossible. At the moment it feels more like everything up to yellow is trivial, and even red mobs only require a couple of button pushes. It's just silly.

Being a warrior, I also found that my rage generation had gone through the roof. Even when I was fighting mobs that died in two or three hits, I was gaining rage faster than I could spend it and as long as I kept fighting my bar was pretty much perpetually stuck at one hundred. So much for rage "normalisation"...

Example two: I noticed that my rogue was getting close to level forty and decided to hop into a battleground before he'd level up into the next bracket, both for fun and to have a shot at the G.N.E.R.D. Rage achievement. I ended up in a WSG match in progress where fifteen of the twenty players were rogues... and they were all one-shotting each other. It was pretty ridiculous really, and I got my achievement very quickly - when people die in one hit, even if it's you sometimes, that leads to a lot of honourable kills. However, gameplay-wise that match was a complete and utter failure. Nobody could run the flag as they would get one-shot the moment someone managed to hit them. There were actually healers on both sides, but they were unable to make a difference in any way, as people went from full health to dead in one global cooldown. I had no urge to go back for another match.

Example three: On the same rogue, I decided to queue for a random instance instead and got into a Scarlet Monastery - Cathedral run. Our tank was a protection warrior on the lower end of the dungeon's level bracket, but he just barrelled through the place like a force of nature anyway. He couldn't always hold aggro, but that seemed to make little difference. The AoE damage from his Thunderclap spam meant that he was top of the damage meter too, as nobody else had any AoE.

Inside the cathedral itself we cleared out the front half of the building in a manic free-for-all as people just aggroed more and more mobs without any negative consequences. Then the warrior ran up the stairs and charged Mograine. "Oh no," I said in chat as the entire second half of the building aggroed on us at once. I hit vanish, fully expecting us to wipe, but the warrior used his Thunderclap spam to get them all on him, and even though he was tanking a dozen mobs three levels higher than him at once, he lived through it quite comfortably. I rejoined the fight when it became clear that he wasn't going to die and we finished the instance.

Once again it was kind of funny in a "this is amazing compared to what I'm used to" kind of way, but at the same time very sad, because from the looks of it this is what all low-level dungeon runs will be like for at least the next two months. Once Cataclysm gets released... who knows? The developers actually don't seem massively concerned, though I also found this quote from Kalgan, where he says that "nobody should be one-shotting at any battleground level" and that those issues will be addressed.

Only a little more than a month ago I said that running Gnomeregan is not like running heroic Nexus in ICC gear, but it seems that even that isn't true anymore now. I'm trying to be positive, but the whole situation does leave me with an uneasy feeling in my gut. After all there's little point in having all these cool abilities if we can just kill anything and anyone with just one hit from our biggest nuke. And saying that the low levels don't matter just doesn't make sense when improving the levelling experience was supposed to be one of Cataclysm's major selling points.


The Cataclysm cinematic in a nutshell

Deathwing destroys stuff. The end. You can watch if here if you haven't yet.


- It's very well rendered.

- Seeing zones you know and love getting torn apart at the flap of a wing tugs at the heart strings. Personally I felt the biggest pangs when Auberdine got swept away (a major site of wonder for newbish me back in the day) and when that zeppelin crashed in Orgrimmar.

- Deathwing looks fucking scary.


- Lore confusion. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wondered about those metal plates and battering rams. I vaguely recall from Day of the Dragon that Deathwing chose to have his skin "reinforced" ages ago, but what's this all about now? And he doesn't seem at all happy about it either... I don't know, I can probably read up on this on WoWWiki, but for a character-centric trailer it really leaves us kind of in the dark about Deathwing. He's a huge scary dragon and...? Whatever you thought of the WOTLK trailer, if nothing else it gave you a solid introduction to Arthas, even if you knew little about him before.

- Where are all the people? Seeing all those iconic locations, but completely empty, felt weird. I didn't expect Blizzard to animate huge crowds (as someone pointed out elsewhere, that might have ended up being too costly), but... anything at all? There's usually a guard at that guard tower in the Barrens. And nobody is even near the zeppelin? When does that ever happen? Where are the muted screams of terror as Deathwing descends upon Stormwind? The emptiness of the world kind of takes away from the emotional impact listed under "pros".

- The voice acting and lines are so-so. This expansion has completely spoiled me for baddies grumbling in a deep voice, as we've heard way too many of those in the last two years.

- Deathwing looks fucking scary. Wait, didn't I mention that under pros already? The thing is... he's almost too scary. Looking at that cinematic, I don't want to go out and challenge him, I want to find somewhere to hide. How can we ever hope to defeat an aspect of nature, a monster that can tear entire continents asunder, with a raid of ten? At a guess, Deathwing will end up like Arthas, where in the end we're all just pawns and some important NPC will do all the real work, making us feel useless. Boy, am I already looking forward to that...

My conclusion:

I think it's a solid trailer all in all, but if I compare it to all the previous cinematics it's actually my least favourite. The original WoW cinematic was all about pulling you into the world, showing you all the awesome roles you could take on and places you could go. The BC trailer followed a similar pattern by showing you the new races in action, but also bringing in a bit of lore by adding some information about the major villain of the expansion, if not much. WOTLK decided to ditch the player involvement entirely and focus purely on telling the story of this expansion pack, but at least it did this very well.

The Cataclysm trailer... feels to me like they were trying to backpedal a little bit compared to the Arthas trailer but missed the mark somewhat, which means that we didn't get a comprehensive intro for Deathwing or enough character action to make us feel more involved as players.

That said, it's still fun to watch and I'm still excited about the expansion.


More holy priesting... and rantings about Chakra

I've been trying to practise the new holy healing style some more, but I'm having a hard time finding environments where this feels in any way meaningful. We're all pretty tired of ICC and only go there occasionally now, and in any lower tier raid we're simply ridiculously overgeared. It's even worse when I queue up for a random heroic - you can't practice healing when nobody needs any. I kind of envy the damage dealers for being able to practise on a target dummy.

Still, I'm starting to understand this whole Chakra thing a bit better now. Unfortunately, better understanding has not resulted in bigger appreciation so far. In fact I only found myself increasingly frustrated during our Ulduar run last night, feeling as if my own spells were conspiring to make me heal more inefficiently.

I admit, a large part of it is probably just me struggling with the more generic changes. For example my two most used spells before the patch were Circle of Healing and Prayer of Mending, both of which have had their cooldown increased significantly (or rather, in the case of PoM, the holy talents that used to reduce its cooldown have been removed), so my muscle memory keeps trying to make them go off when they are not ready. I also miss my frequent Surge of Light procs and hate having to actually stand still to cast Flash Heals. Give me my mobility back, damn it!

But back to Chakra. So you have these three Chakra states, which are triggered by using it in conjunction with either Heal, Renew of Prayer of Healing; you can extend their duration by using the same spell again; and they give you an extra spell to play with plus a more generic healing boost to your existing spells.

I think Heal Chakra is the one that sounds the most solid right now, to make priests better single-target healers when this is required. Unfortunately Heal is completely and utterly useless in current content, so it's not really viable to keep this up. I reserve judgement.

Renew Chakra is easy to keep up and seems to be the "default" for many people, but it's also kind of boring. I love Renew but the reduced global cooldown kind of encourages you to do nothing else but spam that one spell really fast so as not to waste the bonus (or at least cast extra Renews when they are not needed, just to keep the buff up).

Prayer of Healing Chakra gives you a boost to all your AoE heals and reduces the cooldown of CoH by two seconds (which still leaves it at two seconds more than it used to be, woe). It also gives you access to the very interesting Holy Word: Sanctuary, which I haven't had a chance to try yet but which is apparently awesome. From the sounds of it it's also seriously unbalanced though - just like all the new "area" heals - because their effectiveness varies so greatly with the size of your raid. If your puddle of healy goo on the ground heals for one thousand damage and you have a party of five stand in it, it's pretty lackluster in terms of throughput. If you have a raid of ten, it suddenly doubles in efficiency, and if you can get a whole twenty-five-man raid to stack inside of it it's insane! I reckon Blizzard will have to implement some kind of "cap", like they did for AoE damage, so that the effect on the individual is diminished once you go over a certain number of targets. Otherwise it's just going to be crazy.

Anyway, my main beef with this Chakra is not the Sanctuary, it's the Prayer of Healing trigger, because it's such an extremely situational spell that I think it's rubbish to encourage people to cast it just for a bonus to their healing. In ICC I use PoH on Precious and Stinky's Decimate, just before Festergut expunges his gas, and maybe during the Blood Queen's air phase, and that's it. It's good if you want to wind up a big burst heal just before everyone takes a large chunk of predictable damage, but as soon as the AoE damage keeps coming more steadily, a mix of CoH, PoM and Renew is much more effective, while also allowing you to maintain your mobility and not causing too much overheal. Standing still to chain PoH is just asking for mana problems and something bad to hit you while you're rooted to the spot for ages.

So what does this leave us with? One Chakra that is currently useless but may be useful later, one that is kinda boring and spammy, and one that is interesting but requires pointless overheal and wasting of mana to access the most fun bonus spell of the lot. Sorry, but I don't think that's going to excite me even once I get more used to utilising it.

Last night I was browsing the official forums for other priests' opinions on Chakra, and minds seemed to be about equally divided between those who thought that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread and skeptics like me. I got rather annoyed though when some Chakra fans started accusing anyone who criticised the spell of supposedly being too stupid to use it and simply hating complexity. Give me a break. The large and complex toolbox has always been one of the main things that attracted me to holy priest healing, but there's a difference between having a large toolbox and trying to work with a bent hammer just because it looks different and having twenty different screwdrivers but being unable to find them because they are all buried somewhere behind the sofa. To me it seems like the Chakra system is shaping up to be more like the latter situation to be honest. Or, as a EU forum poster put it very aptly when responding to the question whether Chakra was fun: "it's about as "fun" as stances are for warriors, except stances where you have to rub your stomach and say "Mississippi" every 4s".

In fact, I think the problem is quite similar to the problem Tam sees with discipline's new smite spec: smiting is supposed to increase your healing, but at the same time casting Smite by its very definition equals not healing, which is an obvious Catch-22. Likewise Chakra is supposed to make our heals better, while at the same time encouraging us to waste mana on heals that might not be needed or choosing spells inappropriate for the job just to maintain our improved healing status. Confused much?

Also, the more I think about it, the more I can't help but wonder what exactly is supposed to be the point of Chakra. When I first heard about it I thought that it was supposed to be a sort of healing cooldown, a bit of an "oh shit" button to increase your healing output when needed. However, for that it requires too much faffing about to set up, while not being powerful enough and having too short a cooldown. In fact, with the cooldown supposedly getting lowered even further, down to thirty seconds, it seems that Blizzard wants us to maintain some sort of Chakra state pretty much at all times. But if we're balanced around having Chakra bonuses up at all times, why do we have to hit all these buff buttons anyway just to stay on par with other healers? It just doesn't quite add up to me.

I really want to like it but I can't help feeling that it's more trouble than it's worth, increasing the spec's complexity by a huge chunk for only very limited benefits.


Return of the hunter?

Don't worry, I'm not considering switching mains, even if my initial impressions of the changes to holy priests were a bit of a mixed bag. However, I think the hierarchy of my alts might change significantly, because I suddenly find myself wanting to play my hunter again, without a doubt the level eighty alt that got the least playtime this expansion.

But let's start at the beginning: My hunter was actually my very first Horde character, and my second Hordie to reach the level cap at seventy. She never came close to threatening my priest's status as my main, but as far as alts go she was very fun to play. There were basically three things that I really liked about huntering:

First off, the pets. While the Beast Master spec never appealed to me (I started levelling as Marksman in late Vanilla and stayed loyal to it until WOTLK), I still loved the hunter's ability to tame lots of different animals and the micromanagement they required. I remember running all over the world, taming seemingly random beasts just to learn the next rank of Bite or whatever. I remember levelling with two pets at once, back before they auto-adjusted to your level and took huge amounts of XP to level up, when it was very much not recommended to have more than one pet while levelling. I remember keeping several stacks of "pet food" in my bags, because not all of my pets liked to eat the same things. I remember the art of keeping an eye on my pet during boss fights, calling it back and casting Mend Pet at the appropriate times to prevent it from dying. As Marksman spec it didn't exactly make a massive contribution to my damage, but I still prided myself in taking good care of it.

Secondly, I liked the way Marksman hunters did damage. (Beast Masters had the reputation of being one-button spammers at the time, but they weren't the only ones.) It wasn't hugely complex, but it did require a minimum amount of attention and not clipping your auto-shots was a bit of an art back then, before Blizzard changed it so that this couldn't happen anymore.

And finally, I liked the hunter's utility. I've always been a group player and was never the most attracted to the classes and specs that could pwn on their own, but instead loved those that could bring something to a group that would really make a difference. Misdirection was a unique skill at level seventy, and with threat still being a genuine concern, tanks really appreciated the extra boost. On some fights it was even preferable to have the hunter pull for the tank that way.

And the traps, oh the traps! They were an amazingly good form of crowd control, seeing how you could trap almost anything but the occasional water elemental, and you could refresh it too! At the same time they had a reputation for being a bit unreliable due to inexperienced hunters frequently breaking their own traps and causing hijinks. But I had become quite good with practice and people were always impressed by my trapping. It was engaging and fun.

When WOTLK came out, I switched to Survival spec because my formerly shadowy priest had gone holy, and I liked the idea of my hunter becoming the mana battery instead. It was fun at first, but over the course of several months it turned out that a lot of the things that I had enjoyed the most about huntering had been more or less completely eroded.

I don't want to bemoan the fact that pets have become more convenient to keep, but in all honesty... I did miss having to put in some effort after a while. The Glyph of Mend Pet is amazing, but when I realised that it was so good that keeping pet food around had in fact become completely pointless, I was kind of disappointed. (I recently played with a lowbie hunter alt for a bit and it actually took me some time to get accustomed to having to feed my pet again... until I hit level fifteen, got the glyph and vendored all the food. Go figure.) In group PvE pets had become nearly indestructible as well, so you could just send them in and forget about them - what with the massive AoE damage reduction and all the "smart" raid heals flying around. (Gal'darah, Svala Sorrowgrave and Ick stand out as the few heroic bosses that I can remember off the top of my head that actually will kill your pet if you're not careful.) But if pets don't need training, feeding, healing or guidance anymore, what more are they than a passive extra damage ability?

The Survival single target damage rotation was actually reasonably interesting, but considering most of my time in five-mans was spent spamming Volley and nothing else, that didn't actually count for that much. And doing nothing but spam Volley the entire time? Bo-ring.

Do I even have to mention the utility? I still misdirected out of habit, but unless the tank was actually freshly dinged, threat was never an issue anyway and MD was in essence a wasted global cooldown (and a fair chunk of mana to be honest). And traps... who even knows how they work these days? I remember exactly one instance where I was asked to use my Freezing Arrow in WOTLK, namely the Pit of Saron run mentioned here. Conversely I've run into people that don't even know what "CC" stands for anymore. Sad times.

So, with all these factors taken into consideration, I played my hunter less and less (except to upgrade her helm occasionally). I kept her gear reasonably up-to-date just in case, and I did get to take her to ICC once or twice, but it wasn't particularly exciting.

Cue patch day. I logged onto my hunter before many of my other alts simply because I was curious about the focus change. After selecting a Survival spec once again I went to a target dummy, started attacking it, and was disappointed that I was out of focus after only two or three shots... for about three seconds, by which time I had realised that the resource was regenerating pretty fast anyway, especially with regular use of steady shot, and even the rotation didn't actually feel all that different. The basic rule of "use your specials when you can and use steady shot when there's nothing else to do" still applies.

More importantly though... Volley is gone! One of the guys in my guild was moaning about this very heavily, but I was actually really happy. As it turns out, Multi-Shot has been adjusted to serve as our "new" AoE since it hits an unlimited number of targets now, but it's not nearly as stupidly spammy as Volley, since you'll be out of focus after two or three uses. I went on a few heroic runs and my dps was about the same as before the patch too.

And then I followed a link from Rades to this post today, which contains this amazing flowchart illustrating the new buffs that different types of pet provide from now on. Now, I'm not sure whether hunters having all the buffs isn't a bit crazy, but - from a hunter's perspective... it's finally a reason to pay more attention to your pets again! After seeing this flowchart I immediately went out and tamed a raptor, a ravager and a wind serpent, which provide the only buffs that I was missing in my non-Beast Master stable, and then ran a couple of random heroics to start levelling them up. And as I was doing so I immediately started thinking about the group composition of each run, and which buff would be the most appropriate - finally something brainy to do again!

Now all I need is for Cataclysm instances to truly require crowd control again (the threat nerf in this patch already makes Misdirection useful again, even as - or maybe because - people continue to AoE everything), and my hunter will suddenly look like a very attractive and fun alt again.


Of tabards and tiger lilies

Patch day bugs can be very annoying, but they can also be funny. In case you haven't heard, there's currently a bug that can cause characters to appear as if they are wearing a guild tabard even though they actually aren't. If you're the kind of person who wears a guild tabard on occasion, but not always, this can seriously mess with your mind.

Seeing my priest wear a guild tabard on the character selection screen initially only made me frown ever so slightly, since I last remembered her wearing her Green Trophy Tabard of the Illidari. Had I swapped it out for the guild tabard by accident or without remembering? Nope, in game she still wears the trophy tabard. I shrugged it off as a display error or maybe even an intentional change to emphasise guild allegiance and moved on.

Later I was doing some business on my death knight and as I looked at her I found myself thinking: "Good thing she's wearing that guild tabard now, it finally covers up that ugly chest piece that's been bugging me for a while... wait, when did I get her a guild tabard?" Turns out she wasn't actually wearing one, but nonetheless appeared to do so, even in-game. In the end I decided to just get her one for real so that the illusion would actually match the reality and to make my brain stop hurting.

Speaking of my death knight, I've been running around picking flowers with her like mad, because there's never been a better time to get off your butt and max out your inscription than now. During this activity I got to experience one of the patch changes that hasn't been advertised much as far as I'm aware - that you get experience for herbing and mining now.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think that's a pretty cool idea in principle; I'm all for alternate levelling paths, but the current numbers definitely feel a bit off to me. On my death knight, killing a mob three levels higher than her, while fully rested, nets me about 2000 XP. Bending down to pick the flower at its feet afterwards (which shows up as green in regards to my herbalism skill level) nets me more than 4000 XP. Sorry, but that just feels wrong.

My boyfriend had a similar experience when he logged on his low-level warrior alt who was questing in the Arathi Highlands - he pretty much got more XP for picking flowers than killing the mobs in his way. In fact, he even kept getting experience for herbs that had gone grey and weren't actually giving him profession skill-ups anymore... madness, I tell you.

Though I'm now tempted to make an alt with mining and herbalism and level it purely by gathering...


A holy priest's first day in 4.0.1

It started with the character selection screen. Did you notice that your characters don't just stand idle all the time anymore? I squealed in excitement when my priest suddenly started doing random casting animations - yes, I'm easily excitable.

I was pleased with how crisp and clean my UI looked upon logging in... probably because all the usual addon clutter had been disabled as "out of date". I took the opportunity to change my screen's layout a little after updating my addons, getting rid of some old ones and reorganising my action bars. I was actually quite happy with how Blizzard removing some abilities freed up some bar space on all of my characters; on more than one of them things had started to get a bit messy and crowded by now.

First order of the day was to see my class trainer and get my talents sorted out. I really liked the changes they made to the spellbook. Reminders that you need to see your trainer and no more worrying about spell ranks = win. The new, larger talent panel was very nice too. You get a much better overview of your talents with all three trees next to each other, and no longer should newbies end up putting all their points into the "front" tree just because they are oblivious to the other two talent tree tabs.

When the devs originally announced their plans to slim down the talent trees, I was very much in favour. Still, I hadn't really followed the actual development of the new trees since then, so I was curious to see how things had worked out in practice. In all honesty... I think they actually did a good job. I hadn't read up on other people's suggestions for new talent builds and decided to just try and build my own on the spot. It was an interesting process and really made me think. There were only one or two talents that were purely there to increase numbers, and I did feel that I had to make interesting decisions along the way. It wasn't just a priest thing either, as I felt the same way when I worked out my hunter's and my druid's talents later on. I don't know how well the new talents will actually end up working in play, but the process of talent selection itself felt considerably improved to me.

Glyphs were in a similar boat, though the way the auction house went haywire on my server, with glyphs suddenly going for several hundred gold, was a bit annoying. I could see what Blizzard tried to achieve with the prime/major/minor system and I think they managed to pull it off. It seems to me that swapping out glyphs depending on the content will feel much more natural now - and I like that Vanishing Powder made a comeback! When I first read that, I was so confused and wondered why they were bringing back rogue reagents!

Looking at my gear, I noticed that I had lost several socket bonuses due to intellect gems turning red. I replaced them with haste instead, as I was relatively low on that anyway, what with most of my current healing coming from instant cast spells. I figured that with Heal being supposed to increase in importance again, some more haste would be good.

My guild decided to do a Naxx run tonight to give people a chance to get a feel for the changes to their class and give The Undying another shot. We borked up the achievement in more than one way, though Thaddius bugging out and deciding to pwn the tanks with ball lightning even though they were standing right in front of him certainly didn't help. We also discovered one of those funny random issues that patches sometimes cause, in this case the Shades of Naxxramas suddenly freezing into bizarre statues upon death instead of dissipating as usual.

Buffing was a slightly confusing affair to me. I know priests have been asking for Inner Fire to drop its charges for ages, but actually seeing it without them felt strange. I kept thinking that I had been worn down to only one charge somehow and as a result felt the urge to refresh it over and over again. Not needing candles anymore and automatically buffing the whole raid with Fortitude and Shadow Protection was handy as well, though I was confused why the candles were still white (unlike the hunter ammo, which had turned grey). Does anyone know whether they still have a use of some sort? Shadow Protection lasting two hours now made my jaw drop a little. And my Fortitude kept getting overwritten by our warlock's stupid imp and his Blood Pact. With the loss of the talent for improved fort, my buffs aren't even as good as those of a pet. Woe is me.

Being rather impressed with the new default raid frames, I wanted to give healing a shot with just the default UI and Clique installed, instead of using my usual Healbot setup. It was... not quite as good as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, the new frames are a vast improvement over the old ones, but they still aren't quite customisable enough for me. Spotting debuffs took me way longer than usual for example. I'm not sure whether I'll just go back to Healbot or try to find some sort of addon that just lets you customise the new default frames some more (to make them change colour for example).

And healing itself... was slightly awkward. In hindsight I think that I would have done just fine if I had continued to heal in the same way as I have for the entirety of this expansion, but I was both worried about mana regeneration being a problem as well as strongly convinced to teach myself how to use my new abilities. The results were rather underwhelming, though I'm not sure how much of that was me just not getting the hang of the new spells yet, the new healing system being designed for Cataclysm content, not WOTLK content, or due to genuine problems with the design that still need tweaking.

Take the new/old Heal spell. We've been told everywhere that this will be our bread and butter healing spell in Cataclysm. It's also been advertised as a "medium" heal, which might have given me a wrong impression maybe, but basically I was hugely disappointed with how it was both really, really slow (the same speed as Greater Heal) and healed for absolutely piddly amounts (about half as much as a Flash Heal). Its only advantage is that it's dirt cheap, but I find myself wondering just how dire the mana situation will have to be for anyone to really prefer Heal over its alternatives most of the time. Maybe 2.5k heals per second are going to be the norm in Cataclysm, but in the current content that just doesn't cut it. Even while running freaking Naxx-10 in ICC-25 gear I felt that Heal just did so little as to be nearly worthless. Since I didn't really have mana problems either, I think I'll just go back to using Flash Heal instead until Cataclysm actually comes out. When my mana really runs low, we can talk again.

Chakra was... weird. I didn't like the strange geometric patterns around my feet that were the spell animation for being in a Chakra state. I also forgot to use it most of the time; it's only on a one-minute cooldown for heaven's sake! I have to admit that triggering the different Chakra states, remembering their effects and then using Holy Word in whichever form it changed into was a bit much to take in at once. Being the only healer in our raid and having to be very versatile, I also felt that I couldn't really take as much advantage of the Chakra states as I would have liked. For example I would trigger the Heal one to focus on the tank, just to have an AoE hit the raid the next moment or the other way round. Maybe this will work better in Cataclysm content if it is indeed less hectic and more strategic, but right now I really had a hard time seeing the benefits, other than that it gave me more buttons to press and some flashy new spell animations.

I wasn't really happy with the new Surge of Light and Serendipity either. I miss being able to use surge procs to smite, and the fact that it now only procs off Smite or Heal is annoying. (I think I got about five procs throughout our entire Naxx run, and I tried to use Heal whenever I could.) And Serendipity just feels weird when I'm not supposed to use Flash Heal that much anyway. Why am I being rewarded for repeatedly casting a spell that I'm only supposed to use in emergencies now? Errr, just weird.

Still, I'll continue to practice with the new abilities and see how it goes. At least I know that many other classes and specs are in the same boat.


The day that tree form died

I was going to write about something completely different today, not at all patch-related (especially as we Europeans don't actually get it until tomorrow), but as my Alliance priest rode through Dalaran this evening, I came across something interesting... a "farewell to the trees" parade. I immediately felt inspired to switch to my own druid and joined in.

We slowly walked around town a few times, yelling slogans like "save the trees", with more and more druids of both factions joining in over time. The non-druids observed the event with curiosity as well, some of them reverently following behind, others joining the yelling - sometimes in support, sometimes actually praising the upcoming change. (I do have to admit, "wtb chainsaw" made me chuckle.)

Eventually we lined up on the stairs of the southern bank in an attempt to take a nice picture, which of course meant that some individuals immediately felt the urge to park their mammoths on top of us to be disruptive. Good thing that some people seemed to have brought large supplies of baby spice. Someone also used a piccolo of the flaming fire on us; nothing like two dozen trees doing the twist at once! And then we all hit tranquility at once at the command of our self-appointed leader. OMG SPARKLES.

I haven't really said much about Blizzard's decision to remove the permanent tree form as I only play my druids as alts, but it does make me somewhat sad. I still remember when patch 2.0.1 hit and my friend, whose main was a druid at the time, excitedly sent me a screenshot of his new tree form. It's always been there since I levelled my own druids, so it's definitely going to be strange to spend most of my time in caster form from now on.

You won't be forgotten, tree form!


Six signs that you haven't played this alt in a LONG time

1. Your action bars have some very distinctive holes in them.

I'm not talking about missing skills that you're used to having on your main, but about finding holes where you know you used to have abilities on this character. Blizzard rarely removes spells, but even when they rework one (which they do reasonably often) it often gets taken off your bars and you'll have to manually put it back. A holey action bar is usually a good indicator that the class has probably gone through not one, but several revamps since you last played it.

2. You're missing skills that you really should have.

For example you might take your level fifty-two warrior to the warrior trainer just in case and find that she offers you an ability that's trainable at level six these days. But you never had it. Awkward.

Even better is logging onto a character in her thirties and realising that you don't have the basic riding skill or a mount, because you haven't played her since level twenty mounts were introduced. Bonus points if you're on the other end of the world from your race's riding trainer and have a long walk ahead of you while people ten levels below you zoom past you on their spiffy mounts.

3. You have lots of glyph slots and they are all empty.

Meh, last time I played this character, glyphs didn't even exist! Depending on your class it can take you a long time to actually notice this one from my experience, unless you have a frequently used ability that gets changed noticeably by a glyph (like a resto druid who is suddenly surprised to see swiftmend actually consume a HoT again).

4. You have a completely inappropriate seasonal buff on you.

A guildie recently helped me out on one of his rogue alts... and he was a turkey, in late summer. Most of my own Alliance alts have had fire festival fortitude on them for years now.

5. You have quests in your quest log that don't even exist anymore.

Daily battleground quests, daily Northrend dungeon quests, you name it. One of my Alliance alts had one of the last steps of the old Onyxia attunement chain in her log for ages.

6. When you look at your achievement panel, it tells you that you did a lot of impossible stuff today.

So, you've only just logged on, but apparently you've also run Uldaman, acquired a coin of ancestry and opened a Winter Veil present. All in October. Yes, you haven't logged on in so long that the achievement system introduced in WOTLK is only now catching up with all the stuff that it knows you did before its introduction. Neat!

When was the last time you reactivated a character that had been abandoned for that long?


Ten months of dungeon finding in review

Today the dungeon finder has been out for ten months (in Europe). I looked back at my "first impressions" post about it the other day, and it's strangely funny to be faced with those initial thoughts again, because in many ways they are very different from the way I look at the whole thing now. For example I was highly worried about players from the other realms in my battlegroup not being as skilled, and then there was all the hoohah about people needing on frozen orbs... all yesterday's news. Many of the things that people consider downsides of the dungeon finder these days also became apparent very early on, but I think I wasn't the only one who simply didn't foresee just how bad things were going to get over the course of a few months.

But let's start with the good stuff: The one thing the dungeon finder has done brilliantly, and I don't think anybody can deny that, is revitalise five-man instances throughout the whole game. I'm not just talking about how convenient it is to find a heroic group these days, because while it requires considerably less effort than it used to in the past, it was still very much possible to get level eighty groups together before the introduction of the new LFG tool.

Levelling instances however have been the real beneficiaries of the change. I vaguely remember trying to put a Zul'Farrak group together way back in the day... and when I did a /who 40-50, I couldn't even find four other people in the right level range online, and that's without even getting started on the question whether they were even interested in running the instance or whether we had the right classes to fill all the necessary roles. These days I can hop on an alt of any level, queue for a random or specific instance, and even as dps I'll find myself in a group for Scarlet Monestary or whatever within only a few minutes. It's absolutely amazing. I don't have any numbers for this, but I reckon that most levelling instances see a lot more traffic now than they ever did before. And I think that's a good thing, because I consider them fun content and anything that helps people to experience that is good.

Unfortunately it hasn't all been rainbows and sunshine, and the dungeon finder quickly started to show some ugly sides too, for example a major loss of immersion. The developers made no effort whatsoever to disguise the new tool as anything than what it is: a UI feature. You press a button and you get to play, that's it. In hindsight I really find that kind of strange, because it's so easy to explain things in WoW away with the good old "a wizard did it" excuse without breaking immersion, but for some reason they didn't bother in this case. Imagine if instead of having a hearthstone, you just had a UI button to take you back to your home location, and instead of taking those portals in Dalaran, you'd just open a tab with a drop-down menu to take you to the city of your choice from anywhere. Wouldn't that be kind of strange?

I know that not everyone cares about immersion in the same way - I didn't actually care that much myself at the beginning, but my concern quickly grew as time went by. Back on that first day I was kind of surprised to just be able to teleport at will, but it didn't particularly bother me because I had run to all those instances a dozen times before and was just eager to get into the action. It wasn't until later, when I realised that I was hardly leaving Dalaran anymore, that I began to feel a little awkward about the whole thing, wondering whether it was really such a good idea. Running into pugs where people didn't even know where they were, as if they were the confused victims of some kind of magical teleportation accident, or groups where people couldn't find their way back into the instance after a wipe because they didn't even know where it was, only asserted those feelings.

In Cataclysm one will need to discover the instance entrance first before being able to queue for a dungeon - we'll see how much of a difference that will make and whether they'll dare to take any further steps afterwards.

However, the biggest issue with the dungeon finder hasn't been immersion, it has been how it's changed people's behaviour. Again, it's kind of funny to look back at my initial worries about getting grouped with bad players... because player skill is the one area where I haven't noticed a major difference in the average pug. Instead it's everything else.

People hardly talk anymore. And I'm not just referring to idle chit-chat here; I've been in many groups where people were just completely ignoring anything said in party chat, even if they were being asked direct questions. This was unthinkable pre-dungeon finder, because if you didn't talk, you didn't get a group.

People are more prone to ninja-ing and generally being inconsiderate of others, because there are little to no consequences for being bad and few rewards for good behaviour. Even if you pissed off your whole party, you won't get called out in trade chat for it because the people you offended were all on different servers anyway. Worst case you end up on someone's ignore list, but that only has so much room and what are a few ignores in a mass of thousands of players anyway? In the same vein kicking someone for even the most trivial of reasons often has no repercussions either, because the dungeon finder instantly gets you a replacement anyway.

On the other hand, if you pass on a piece of loot for the undergeared guy from a different server, you can't go on another run with him tomorrow where he'll help you get your piece. Even if you get along really well with someone from a different realm and just want to play with them again, you won't be able to once the group disbands, because you can't be cross-realm friends without Real ID.

I've seen people suggest to limit the dungeon finder to the server you're on, or at least give the option to build a group that way. I don't think this would work. Yes, I do think that people would tread much more carefully around players from their own realm regardless of everything else, but it would also completely negate one of the dungeon finder's main benefits, the revitalisation of low-level instances, because many servers simply would't have sufficient numbers in the right level range most of the time if they only had their own population to draw from.

Personally I would mainly focus on two things: making people care more about the instance itself and allowing more positive cross-server interaction.

As far as "caring about the instance" goes, I think that at least part of the bad attitude many players display is not just down to lack of social cohesion, but because they simply don't actually enjoy dungeon runs that much. It's only natural to be happy and friendly when you're doing something you enjoy, and more prone to crankiness when you feel forced into something you don't want to do. The thing is, Blizzard tried so hard to make the dungeon finder attractive to people to ensure that enough players would use it that I think they went kind of overboard with it. Press that button and be teleported to a place where you can gain two levels in twenty minutes - you'd never level that fast from questing or grinding. Press that button and you'll be rewarded with currency that allows you to buy some of the best gear in the game. People will do anything if you only dangle a sufficiently large carrot in front of their noses, but that doesn't make the experience in itself that much more enjoyable.

How often have you heard the argument that "we're all just doing it for the two frost emblems anyway" or something similar, especially when people try to justify skipping a large part of the instance? I think it says a lot that so many openly admit to not enjoying the content, doing it only for the rewards, and even assume that everyone else must feel the same! As someone who enjoyed running instances for their own sake almost from the moment I first set foot in one I find that incredibly sad and off-putting. It's not fun to play with people who don't actually enjoy your game and are only participating in it as a means to an end. Don't push them quite so hard, Blizzard. Enough people will still do five-mans if they take a little more work and aren't quite as rewarding - have a little faith in the quality of your content!

Positive cross-server interaction is an easy one. Allow people to not just ignore players from other realms that they dislike, but to also friend those they do like, without immediately requiring Real ID. It doesn't necessarily have to be unlimited cross-realm chat (though that would have something going for it too, I suppose), but even something as simple as being able to send instance invites to friends on another server would already help a lot - as long as you allow people to connect in a positive way instead of just promoting /ignore as a solution to everything.

Looking back at the dungeon finder's release with all the knowledge that I have about it now... I'd still want it to be introduced again, because I think the basic concepts of automating the group-finding process and enlarging the pool of available players are absolutely worth it. I just hope that the developers don't close their eyes to the problems that the tool still has and will continue to tweak and improve it. (And just fiddling with the vote-kick cooldown doesn't really count.)


Officer Blues

It's been nearly two months since I was made an officer in our heavily shrunken guild. Things are kind of quiet now, but at the current point in the game I think that's okay. We're still running raids, even if a lot of them end up being retro raids or alt runs instead of progression.

Still, I have to admit that the initial shine of the officer badge has worn off quite quickly.

Human Resources

I used to think of myself as a pretty friendly and sociable player, but the way you have to judge people by their function an an officer and raid leader really doesn't play well with that ideal. I hate treating people like tools... but if you need another healer, you need another healer, not just another friend or guildmate. I have to spend a lot more time talking to people that I don't like as much, simply because of the role they fulfill, and I can't show my affection for those I do like a lot quite as much, because from an officer-to-raider point of view I should treat everyone equally. Leadership is srs bsns.

And it cuts both ways as well. I'm not just one of the healers anymore, I'm much more defined by my role as officer. On one occasion I was assumed to take responsibility for something that another officer did long before I was even raised to that rank, because clearly all officers share knowledge and responsibility across space and time, right? And if I get cranky with someone it's not just me being cranky, it's an officer bearing down on a poor guild member. I can never separate rank and person anymore, which is awkward at times.

It's all my fault!

Responsibility is another thing that I find quite challenging to deal with right now, especially while leading raids. As someone who mostly plays healers, I'm used to the concept of being responsible for other people and actually get enjoyment out of it, but when you're leading a raid it's all hugely magnified, and I haven't quite hardened my skin enough yet to not feel a little overwhelmed by it.

I mean, when I'm healing I feel responsible for people, but at the same time I know that there are limits to how much I can do. If someone gets one-shot, it's no fault of mine. If someone gets two-shot - well, I suppose I could have theoretically landed a heal right in that half-second between the hits, but realistically? No. I think this is something that players new to healing often struggle with, being able to judge these things correctly and to differentiate between when they actually messed up and when it's really not their fault.

Raid-leading is similar, except that at the moment I seriously do feel responsible for absolutely everything. Even if someone dies to a completely avoidable mechanic, I just find myself questioning my own part in it. Did I not explain the mechanic well enough? Maybe I should have called out a warning? And so on, and so forth. This isn't helped by the fact that many fights in ICC are very healing-intensive and I often feel that I don't have the time to spare to press push-to-talk instead of spamming heals. Hopefully this is an area where I'll manage to find my balance in time.

I thought I told you...

And finally, communication. This is something for which I criticised our old officers quite frequently, or rather for what I felt was a lack of it. Nothing like having a new plan or rule dropped on your head out of nowhere.

Walking in their shoes however, I find it much easier to see where they were coming from. First you discuss your idea with the guild leader, then with some friends, then on the forums... it gets bloody redundant after a while, so you eventually start to skip some steps or simply forget. Which works alright for a while, until something goes wrong and someone says "Well, how was I supposed to know?" and you realise that this is indeed something that wasn't posted anywhere where that person could see it. It's pretty tiring.

I think I'll have to take it easy in the next couple of weeks. I knew that becoming an officer would be a burden to a certain extent, but I didn't expect to feel it quite so quickly. I'm still convinced that I'll be able to handle it in the long run, but I think I need to be careful not to let too many things bog me down too soon.


A trip to Mount Hyjal

No Cataclysm spoilers here, this is about the old Mount Hyjal, the instance. My guild didn't have enough people for a "proper" raid last night, so we gathered what we had and went for a trip down nostalgia lane by fighting the battle for Mount Hyjal once again.

I had a feeling that it would be a fun run when our mage discovered that there were Brewfest banners on the tower in the Alliance base.

Time travel and impending doom can't stop Brewfest!

It did indeed turn out to be a fun run; we revelled in nostalgia and so on and so forth - but it also made me think.

The feelings of nostalgia that I experienced in Black Temple not long ago for example were bittersweet. It was nice to see the bosses again, and kicking butt with ten more levels under our belts was fun in a "getting revenge for all the wipes back then" sort of way, but the realisation how much the game had changed and how a lot of mechanics had become completely obsolete was also accompanied by a certain sense of melancholy, knowing that we'd never get to experience the game that way again - because even if it had been hard and frustrating at times, it used to be fun too.

Mount Hyjal evoked almost nothing of the sort. Maybe it's the scenery, as I'm generally less prone to feeling down in a bright and sunny environment, but there was little that I felt we were missing out on, even as we were steamrolling the instance with seven people of a way higher level than intended.

Take the trash for example: Hyjal was always the home of AoE, the main difference being that this heavily favoured paladin tanks, warlocks and mages back in BC, seeing how they were the only classes with spammable AoE damage abilities. For everyone else it was just pretty dull, single-target stabbing or nuking a lot of relatively low-health mobs, while only a select few people in the raid got to bask in the glory of their unbeatable AoE dps. Going back there at level eighty, with everyone being able to make a contribution, actually felt nothing but right, and almost as if we were only now able to finally clear the content the way it was meant to be played.

Likewise all the bosses except Archimonde were always pretty much tank and spank with only one major gimmick and a couple of minor abilities - they kind of had to be that way back in the day, seeing how the trash made every single boss attempt take about half an hour, and if they had been much more difficult, nobody would've ever got very far without going insane. When coming back at level eighty this has the advantage that even though the fights are obviously still considerably easier, they don't feel completely different and trivialised (unlike several fights in Black Temple for example, which used to have lots of fiddly mechanics that can mostly be ignored these days).

The NPCs also got me thinking, as I watched them die pathetically during the trash waves because nobody really gave a damn about saving them.

Back in the day they were actually really well balanced when I think about it now, because they were genuinely valuable. We used to have people dedicated to kiting single mobs into the NPCs to get them to help out and tried to save them if they got aggro, because they really contributed - but at the same time they were nothing without the players. Jaina and Thrall were powerful, and again, strategies often included positioning that would help to get them engaged, but they still died quite quickly without the rest of the raid.

I do wish that this was something that Blizzard remembered, as I feel that they've thrown way too many NPCs at us during this expansion that were either totally useless in a fight (like the guys "helping" you to get to Valithria Dreamwalker) or so powerful that they could solo everything and made you feel redundant (the leaders in the Battle for Undercity, Tirion stealing the show on the Lich King). Friendly NPCs can be cool, but only if their power is balanced correctly against the player characters.

And then there was Archimonde, oh yeah. I know some of my fellow raiders hate him with a passion, but I still love the fight to this day, despite of the many weeks we spent wiping on him before we finally killed him. I just love fights that force you to think on your feet, where you start with a strategy but have to be able to make small adjustments on the fly depending on circumstances, while at the same time not descending into complete chaos. (Why hello there, Doomfire!)

I also felt a weird sense of pride, always timing my tears correctly so that I didn't even take the tiniest bit of falling damage. It's hardly a transferable skill, but maybe it's because of that that there is something deeply satisfying about still remembering how to do it. Shows just how much time I spent on that fight, when the right way to click is still ingrained in my muscle memory years later.