Raid Finder Theories, Part 2

When I first heard about the raid finder coming out in 4.3, I wrote a fairly cynical post summing up what I'd imagine this new feature to look like if it was exactly like the dungeon finder, only with more people. Since then more information about it has come to light, most importantly the fact that it will have a separate lockout on an easier difficulty setting, and I find that idea really interesting.

I still think that this feature will have a similar effect on the game as the dungeon finder in so far as it will be a smashing success in terms of numbers, because anyone can press the "queue" button and thus the number of people who have at least tried raiding in some form or another will go through the roof. However, I also believe that just like it happened to five-mans, the quality of the average raid group will plummet dramatically. We'll see what kind of long-term effect that will have on the game.

Anyway, the thing that really intrigues me is that I believe bloggers are interpreting Blizzard correctly as wanting this new raid finder to be a tool to teach people and encourage them to get into "real" raiding. If this is indeed something the developers are hoping for, I can only see them failing spectacularly.

First off, the teaching idea. Remember how at the start of Cataclysm, harder heroics were meant to be a stepping stone towards raiding? Well, it turns out that the average dungeon finder pug was totally overwhelmed by concepts such as having to use crowd control on most trash pulls and boss mechanics that could actually wipe you if you ignored them, so Blizzard had to nerf the content. In hindsight, I can even kind of understand why. Back when people formed their own groups for five-mans, it was easy to tell off whiners with lines such as "the difficulty is fine, you need to group with better players". However, if the expectation is that game mechanics will put together your party, then the developers are actually at least partly at fault whenever those groups don't succeed. It's just a shame that they seem to prefer the option of making bad teams viable to trying to actually create better groups.

Anyway, nowadays we're back to most heroics being AoE zergfests, and they teach people exactly nothing about good play. I'm pretty sure that this will be the inevitable fate of the looking for raid tool as well. Unless all bosses become more or less tank and spank, randomly formed groups consisting of people who don't want to talk to each other will fail. Players will complain about the fights being too hard for raid finder groups, they will be nerfed some more, and eventually they'll be about as instructive about normal mode boss mechanics as an AoE zerg is about using crowd control.

As for people feeling encouraged to get into "real" raiding, I don't think that this will happen either. In fact I'm pretty sure that the looking for raid functionality will be another blow to traditional raiding and decrease interest in it even further. Just wanting to see the boss, regardless of the details of the mechanics, is one of the major motivations to raid. If you can just get to see the boss event in easy LFR mode, why bother with all the extra hassle of being part of an organised raid group?

Better loot, eh? I don't think a few more ilevels will be enough to justify such a massive jump in investment for most people. I expect the whole thing to work similarly to the decline of 25-man guilds. Sure, those who are already doing it will keep going for a while, but fresh blood will become more and more rare as people are simply lacking another major incentive to make the jump to bigger groups/normal mode raiding.

Incidentally, I do wonder how exactly the looking for raid loot will work out and how it will compare to what you can get out of the new five-mans and valor points. Everyone knows that people gravitate towards wherever getting the loot is easiest, so I think that LFR and the dungeon finder being in competition with each other might become a bit of an issue.

More than anything I am curious to see how it will all work out, and I'll definitely hit that looking for raid button a few times once it comes out, just to see what it's like. However, on the whole I have to admit that I expect it to have more negative than positive effects on the game. Personally I just can't see the benefits of more people seeing the bosses outweighing the negative effects of the game gaining yet another incentive to play in crappy random groups.


After four years, I've decided to stop raiding

I've got quite a few people on my blogroll who don't actually play WoW anymore or who have at least taken a step back from it and play less now than they used to. None of them did so angrily, shouting "this is the last straw" and raging about how much the game sucks these days. It pretty much seemed to be a gradual process for all of them, where certain changes to the game bothered them, though never enough to make them want to quit - until one day they suddenly realised that somehow a lot of small things had added up to enough to not make them want to play anymore. All they were left with was a certain sense of melancholia about what they had lost, but they knew that there was no going back.

This is how I feel about raiding right now.

Ever since Wrath of the Lich King, almost all the major changes that were made to raiding have been things that I personally disapprove of: the removal of attunements, all raids having a ten- and a 25-man mode, the introduction of heroic raids, the changes to the badge system, the abandonment of older tiers in order to have all players playing together in whatever was the newest raid, the equalisation of tens and 25s. And yet, every time I just moaned about the changes and kept going anyway. As the Grumpy Elf is fond of saying, complaining about something is not necessarily a bad thing; it shows that you still care... it's when you don't even care to complain anymore that things have gone really bad. I suppose I should have known that something was amiss when the subject of the newest Firelands nerfs came up on our guild forum, and all I could get myself to say was that I didn't think they were a good idea but that I couldn't be bothered to elaborate anymore.

Last night I came home late after having been out all evening. I briefly checked my guild's website and was greeted by a screenshot of a Majordomo first kill, a boss that I haven't even seen yet. I mentioned the sting of missing out on first kills only about a week ago, so there was a brief pang of regret... but it was gone surprisingly quickly. The reason that I hadn't even logged into WoW in two days was that I had been working long shifts, and then spent one evening watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes with the boyfriend (really good by the way) and the other being social with my co-workers. And I wouldn't have wanted to miss either of those things in favour of raiding. In fact, I really enjoyed doing something other than raid on my raid nights for a change.

I've talked about how I generally haven't been that enthusiastic about raiding lately, at least not compared to other activities. It didn't feel like a chore to me, but I wasn't really having lots of fun anymore either. It was just something that I'd been doing for so long that it seemed strange to stop on no particular grounds, not to mention that I didn't want to hurt my guildies by making myself unavailable for no good reason. Ten-man rosters are such a frustratingly fickle thing, and after having helped with the back end of recruiting for one for the better part of the year, I definitely didn't want to be that person - the one who left completely out of the blue and suddenly tipped the guild from rolling along just fine to having to cancel every other raid due to not having enough signups.

However, seeing that screenshot was an epiphany. It was yet another first kill that had passed me by. But you know what? That's a sign of a healthy guild. They didn't need me. If anything, we've been having a bit much rotation as of late, with some people feeling slightly frustrated that they didn't get to raid as often as they would have liked. And suddenly it hit me that if I didn't really feel like raiding anymore, I didn't have to. I could quit without spoiling other people's fun. We have enough healers.

The other day it also really hit home for me just how little I cared about raiding itself anymore when I noticed that I had capped my conquest points without fail every single week since the start of season ten, and that I was in fact getting close to having a full set... but I still hadn't bothered to buy even a single piece of tier twelve. How much of a boon is a raider who cares so little anyway?

Gear has been another little thing that has been contributing to my raid blues in general. I always frown when people say that they don't care about the gear from raiding because I find that strange. It's not all there is to raiding of course, but finally seeing that upgrade drop and winning the roll is part of the fun. Unfortunately Firelands has been absolutely horrid to me as a holy priest. I've seen other people rake in oodles and oodles of gear for both main and off-specs, and the only thing I got after all this time was a BoE off-hand that didn't even drop while I was in the raid, it's just that nobody else wanted it at the time and it went into the guild bank. There is no spirit cloth in Firelands, period. There's something oddly discouraging about a whole tier that drops close to no gear for your spec at all. Completely irrational I know, but it's as if even the developers themselves are telling me that they don't want me there anymore.

And then the recent news about the incoming nerf. Like I said above, I don't even have the energy to be angry about these things anymore, just a little sad. Once upon a time raiding felt a bit like climbing a mountain to me. It was harder on the logistics and it took long to get to the top, but at the end you could look down at how far you had come and feel like you'd achieved something. If I'm still climbing mountains by raiding today, it's only because I'm surrounded by an ever-rising tide and I'm trying not to drown. I'm finding it highly ironic that Blizzard's constant attempts at making the content more accessible to the casual player via nerfs make me feel as if more and more demands are being put on me. Here's the thing, imposing shorter and shorter time limits on people's ability to complete a given task is in fact another way of raising the bar, not lowering it. Seeing tier eleven get nerfed after six months was already hard for me, but as they keep cranking up the pace I'm simply finding it impossible to keep up. Sorry, but I do not have the energy to complete your content within the imposed time limit, and I'm not going to waste my time trying if I won't see half of it until it's only a mere shadow of its former self anyway.

Taken by themselves, I wouldn't even have considered any of these things worth posting about, but without me even realising it at the time, their combined weight has by now become too much for me to keep calm and carry on. I'm not done with the game yet - I still want to quest, level alts and do rated battlegrounds.

But raiding... raiding had me, and it's lost me. I'm sad to hurt my guild leader, because I love him dearly, we've been through a lot together and I know he'll miss me being around regardless. But honestly, I'm done moaning and I think I have to accept that this particular part of the game simply isn't for me anymore. I am glad however to see that my guild is doing fine without me and that my departure from raiding won't hurt its progression. May they kill Ragnaros many times over.


On Wings of Nether

I'm really burnt out on the Molten Front dailies, even though I only completed them on a single character. To be honest I was kind of surprised by the strength of my own negative feelings. I mean, I expressed some disappointment when I first completed them, but at that point I still thought that I would keep going back to finish up the achievements at least, but when it actually came down to doing it, the mere thought of it was just too repulsive. Same with the idea of doing it on alts - even though every single one of mine would benefit greatly from the gear upgrades from the vendors, it's really not something I fancy doing at all.

I think the linearity of it all is once again the biggest problem for me. If I could pick and choose... do just the dailies I still need for achievements on my main, and maybe kill spiders for the Shadow Wardens on my hunter for the skins or something - I'd be all over that! But there's no way of bypassing the earlier quests and it just becomes too grating.

Like I said in a comment to Nils' post on the subject the other day, I don't mind dailies in principle, I just think that they should never feel like they are absolutely necessary to advance your character. They should be just one option out of many. With the Molten Front making me feel too pressured, I decided to go back to doing other random dailies that I found fun: A Tol Barad quest here and there, getting some Champion's Seals at the Argent Tournament... and for the first time ever, I started gathering reputation with the Netherwing.

Considering how often I've said that the Burning Crusade was my favourite expansion so far, it may come as a surprise to people that there are whole chunks of content in it that I never even touched. In part, I think that was part of BC's beauty: that I always felt that I had things to do even without participating in every part of the game, and with no achievement system there was no meta game to tell me what I should or shouldn't do.

A lot of people were madly in love with the Netherwing back in the day, seeing how they offered the first dragon-like mount in the game, back before Wrath started handing out dragon mounts like candy. Personally, I just thought that they were ugly and thus wasn't interested. But that was okay!

I decided to go back to them for a variety of reasons. I wanted to keep doing some dailies that didn't feel excessively grindy to me and that had little to no reward pressure attached to them. I wanted to get my mount count up to get the Mountain o' Mounts achievement. I finally wanted to see the story. Certain aspects of it, like the Booterang quest or the Skyshatter races, have become pretty iconic and I wanted to experience them myself. And with me being fifteen levels higher than the intended audience, they were easy to do even as a healer.

I was surprised by how many other people seemed to be doing the same thing. Pretty much every day I ran into at least one other person who was also busy on the Netherwing Ledge, and it wasn't always the same guy. For endgame content from two expansions ago, I think that's pretty good going.

Reputation gains have been buffed considerably over time, and as the Grumpy Elf remarked recently, you could pretty much get to exalted within a single day if you really wanted to. I took it easy and only did most dailies once as they unlocked, just to see what they were about, and pretty much skyrocketed towards revered solely by doing that. After that I only did the Netherdust Pollen daily and the Booterang every day, which slowed my progress considerably but I didn't mind. It was nice to be able to trade faster progress for the ability to only do the dailies I actually felt like doing. (Yes, that was another jab at the Molten Front.)

What did I enjoy most? Well, even though they are not dailies, the Skyshatter races deserve a mention as something that I felt was quite unique and different. I felt like a bit of a cheat with my 310% flight speed, I can barely imagine how hard some of the later ones must have been back in the day! Seeing Wing Commanders Ichman and Mulverick reunited with a shared hatred of Alterac Valley made me crack up.

The Booterang quest was every bit as fun as people always made it out to be, because the disobedient peons are just too funny. Work is da poop! WHY IT PUT DA BOOTERANG ON THE SKIN? WHY?

I loved doing the Netherdust Pollen daily because like many gatherers I'm quite obsessed with removing all those little yellow dots from my mini map, and I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed there actually being daily quests for it. I think I got at least one character to exalted with the Shattered Sun back in the day purely by doing Gaining the Advantage every day. I wonder why they don't make quests like that anymore? Gathering professions could definitely use some love like that.

Most of the other dailies honestly didn't seem that great to me. Flying all the way to Nagrand just for a daily quest in Shadowmoon? Eh. And the mines must have been a veritable death trap back in the day considering the sheer amount and density of mobs in there. But hey, maybe someone else enjoyed them - once again, there is value in having a choice.

Today I finally hit exalted, on a bit of a whim really - after doing my "usual" dailies I realised that I was only missing a little bit of rep to max out, so I did the mine dailies as well just to complete the whole thing. The final quest was striking in its simplicity, a lot less flashy than what we're used to these days for sure, but it still evoked a solid sense of "you're finished, well done" from me.

When it came to picking my personal mount in Shattrath, I was a bit taken aback. These weren't just random mounts, these were sentient creatures that wanted to be my friends! That struck me as quite touching. Nonetheless I couldn't resist having a little moan in guild chat about how their quest text claimed that I could pick only one, at which point a guildie informed me that I could actually gather the whole set if I visited a vendor in Shadowmoon afterwards, a Dragonmaw orc.

Now that felt like a weird ending: "Okay, I choose you to be my best friend, Zoya! And now I'll go buy the rest of your mates as slaves from our mutual enemy! Muahahaha!" Not to mention that I still think that they are ugly. But I'm still glad that I did the whole thing. I wonder if I should work on the Terokk quest line next, as that's something I never did back in the day either... not sure if there's much point though, as I did get to see the final fight multiple times when I helped friends with completing it and I'm already exalted with the Skyguard anyway.


Alas, Alterac

About two years ago I wrote a post about how I enjoyed questing in the Alterac Mountains. Considering that I used to be quite fond of the zone, it is with great shame that I have to admit that it took me nearly nine months of playing Cataclysm to notice that it is gone.

Dun dun DUNNN.

Oh alright, the mountains themselves are still there, but they don't count as a separate zone anymore (they are officially part of the Hillsbrad Foothills) and they seem to have been stripped of any and all content. I mean, it was obvious that the Alliance quests were going to go with the destruction of Southshore, but what about the Forsaken? Evidence suggests that just like with the Arathi Highlands, the developers simply ran out of time, because a Horde flight master and an orc NPC can be found standing in the middle of nowhere on the edge of Strahnbrad, suggesting that the place was supposed to become another quest hub. As it is, the quests in the Eastern half of Hillsbrad peter out somewhat quietly until you get sent on to Arathi to do the same quests there that you used to do before the Cataclysm. Strahnbrad and surroundings appear to have been forgotten.

When I first noticed this, I ran around the area a bit incredulously, trying to find some sort of sign that Blizzard had done something with it, but no such luck. Named quest mobs and the like have been removed, but otherwise the zone is still populated by the same generic mobs that have lived there forever (yetis, ogres and Syndicate). Not every mob in the game needs to have a purpose, and I'm perfectly fine with some of them just being there for flavour. But in this case it stung to remember the times when I had hunted yetis for their fur, killed ogres for a bounty and snuck into the ruins to reclaim lost treasures. When content just disappears, with nothing else to replace it, that makes me sad.

When I discovered to my great surprise that The Perenolde Tiara was still in the quest log of one of my lowbie Alliance alts, I felt a brief surge of hope. Had I missed something? Were there more quests still to do in the zone, for Alliance no less? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no. Even this one appears to have remained more due to an oversight than anything else, as the difficulty indicator is still tuned to the quest's old level range. By the time I sent my dwarf hunter to retrieve the tiara - while the quest was still orange in my log - it turned out that all the mobs in the area had already gone grey to her. Needless to say that completing the objective felt rather anticlimactic. I can't see many people going for this quest now, what with it being given in Stormwind Keep somewhat randomly and leading you to a zone far away from Alliance lands where all the mobs are grey.

I'd really love for Blizzard to actually finish their revamp of the old world before pushing us towards the next expansion, but I'm not holding my breath. Alas, Alterac, we hardly knew ye.


Firelands - Two Months Later

My guild downed Alysrazor today, taking us to 5/7 in Firelands. I wasn't there. I can't really complain about that fact since I was supposed to be there but cancelled on short notice because I was feeling exhausted and ill.

Still, missing a first kill always stings a bit, even if I don't find them as exciting as I used to. The time I missed our Kael'thas first kill back in BC due to my PC breaking down was the only time something WoW-related ever reduced me to tears. I'm used to pretty much always being present for our firsts due to having impeccable attendance, but my Firelands track record is the worst it's ever been, with Beth'tilac and Rhyolith being the only bosses that I got to see go down for the first time. With all the others I only got to see them die after everyone else had already done it and it felt a lot less exciting. I'm not sure why that is, as I think that my attendance is still pretty good and I feel that I'm pulling my weight despite of holy priests apparently not being that great in Firelands, but maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe I'm just unlucky. It feels a bit weird either way.

On the whole, I don't think that Firelands will become a memorable tier for me, though I struggle to put my finger on the whys. Difficulty-wise Firelands is just right for my guild, as the normal modes have kept us busy at just the right pace, feeling neither too easy nor too hard. The boss fights certainly all have something unique about them, and even the trash is fairly interesting. I've actually felt inspired to take screenshots again too, even though I initially recoiled at the way the scenery gave me Molten Core flashbacks.

But somehow, something is just missing for me. I've seen the Firelands fights get described as "gimmicky", and I wonder whether that isn't part of the reason. Mind you, I don't think that gimmicky fights are automatically a bad thing, but my impression of Firelands is that each fight is very much about one or two people handling a special mechanic (which they'll usually either enjoy well enough or hate with a passion) and the rest of the fight is fairly vanilla.

Shannox: This is actually the most universally interesting boss I've seen so far and probably my favourite because he does have some mechanics that (almost) everyone has to pay attention to, such as Rageface's face rage (say that ten times fast without getting tongue-tied...) or the enrages tied to the boss's and the dogs' various health levels. Still, it always seemed to me that the Riplimb tank probably has the most interesting job on this fight. As a healer it's pretty much: heal tanks, step away from fire and traps, top off raid, spam like mad in the final AoE phase.

Beth'tilac: This one is all about going up and down the web in time. I consider myself lucky in that none of the other healers seem very keen on it and I quite enjoy it, so I get to do it almost every time I'm there and it keeps the fight interesting. If I'm not on the web however it's nothing but: heal tanks, top off the raid, and spam like mad in the final AoE phase, again.

Rhyolith: Steering the boss is what it's all about here, and our dps doesn't seem to like it much. Still, once again the gimmick is pretty much the only truly interesting thing about the fight. As a healer, I (you may have guessed it): heal tanks, step away from fire, top off the raid, spam like mad in the final AoE phase.

Baleroc: This one is an interesting fight for healers, but I don't like him as the buff stacking mechanic feels like Valithria Dreamwalker version 2.0 to me. Nothing like spamming your biggest and fastest single-target spells for big numbers for the entirety of the fight... especially if you're playing the class/spec combination that is currently the absolute worst at single-target healing. I'll take Chimaeron's tight spell control over stupid stuff like this any day.

And finally, Alysrazor: While I haven't seen her die yet, the fight basically seems to come down to - surprise, surprise - healing the tanks, stepping away from (multiple sources of) fire, topping off the raid and spamming like mad in the AoE phase. I used mind vision on our mage during some of the more quiet stretches to see how he was doing with the flying around and even though I'm not sure that it's something I'd enjoy doing myself, it definitely looked to me like this was once again supposed to be the fun part of the fight while everyone else just goes through the motions. Okay, that and the hatchling tanking maybe.

Before anyone says that all boss fights in WoW can be summed up the way I summed up my role on these Firelands bosses, that's definitely not true. There can be importance in positioning (something that has hardly mattered to healing at all so far in Firelands, beyond not personally standing in the fire and not being out of range of everyone else). There can be frequent changes between AoE and single target damage (only seen on Shannox so far). There can be interaction with other raid members. As it is, it's all been kind of same-y from a healing point of view.

Still, I'm not sure whether I'm not being too critical of the instance because like I said earlier in this post, there are a lot of good things about it. It's just that it seems to me that unless you get to be the special snowflake to handle the boss's unique mechanic, most of them aren't really all that interesting... or maybe it's just a healer thing. Tier eleven felt more engaging to me anyway.

I'd be interested in other people's thoughts.


Adventures in Stranglethorn Vale

One of the last revamped low-level zones (not counting all the starter areas for the different races) that I had yet to investigate in any way, shape or form was Stranglethorn Vale. Not long ago I finally had a thorough look at it on my draenei warrior (I seem to have a lot of lowbie warriors it seems, they just never manage to get anywhere), and it was interesting.

Firstly, to put things into perspective, I was quite fond of the old Stranglethorn Vale (or "Strange-thorn vale" as I thought it was called initially) , though I wouldn't have listed it as one of my favourite zones. It's quite funny, considering that a friend who had been playing longer than me immediately told me upon entering the zone for the first time that it was an awful place and that on the PvP server he used to play on it was called "Ganklethorn Vale". Unsurprisingly, the purely PvE experience was very different. I remember having my first encounters with the opposite faction and actually helping them, because you know, trolls and tigers and stuff everywhere, man! I know how it is!

I generally remember Stranglethorn as a very social place. Seeing how it covered a huge level range back in the day (30-50, roughly), there were always a lot of people there, looking for help with one of the many group quests, or sitting in Booty Bay and asking whether anyone wanted to trade Green Hills of Stranglethorn pages (back when there were about a dozen of them instead of just one and the quest was a bit like a mini collectible card game).

However, I also understand why people hated Stranglethorn. For some of them, spending so much time in the same zone quickly made them grow tired of jungles and trolls. Quests constantly making you run up and down the entire zone over and over again (on foot, back when you didn't get a mount until forty) got tedious, and repeatedly being forced to run past mobs ten levels higher than you was generally a disaster waiting to happen. I do think that those things also added something to the game at the time, but I certainly understand why they annoyed people.

So how does the new Stranglethorn compare? I knew that it wasn't going to be a social experience for me and that I wouldn't spend nearly as much time in the same places as before, especially since the zone has now been split in two, but what else is there to know?

Northern Stranglethorn hasn't changed that much, on the whole. Most of the old quests are still there, even if they have all been streamlined in some form. Sometimes the quest text and story have changed, but you're essentially still doing the same things as before, like with the Kurzen quests: Kurzen himself is dead but you just kill his lackeys instead, basically. On the whole I was quite happy with this. Somehow, I always felt that Stranglethorn was one of those places where the "kill ten mobs" model just worked, and it still does.

The Nesingwary quests have some remote turn-ins now to save you from having to run back and forth between the different killing grounds and the quest NPCs. To be honest I didn't really think it was needed, considering that you don't have to stray that far from the hunter camp anymore anyway, but whatever. The lore justification for the remote hand-in was interesting however - instead of the quest givers constantly giving you new tasks to kill different kinds of tigers/panthers/raptors, they just tell you to prove yourself as a hunter and your character then "feels" that after killing ten young ones they should move on to the adults and so on. I just didn't think it made sense that my warrior magically "felt" that she should now go kill a named tiger that she realistically never even would have heard about.

The most interesting addition to Northern Stranglethorn is a new quest chain surrounding a little raptor hatchling that you find while in Kurzen's camp. It integrates quite seamlessly with the rest of the quests as the hatchling just kind of pops up and gives you a prompt related to what you're already doing. I was quite intrigued by where this story was going, and loved it when - SPOILERS INCOMING - I accidentally ended up resurrecting Bloodlord Mandokir. Damn low-levels and their resurrecting raid bosses. You'd think that I would have learned from the many times I accidentally helped with bringing back Hakkar back in old Tanaris.

What makes it even better though is that they make it personal by having Mandokir take your little raptor hatchling away. Nooo, not my pet! You then engage on an exciting and fascinating mission to get her back, only to fail right at the finish line, and you're left with nothing but a vague promise that you might be able to get her back if you manage to become strong enough to challenge Mandokir in Zul'Gurub directly. Indeed, if you go back there at 85 after having done this quest line, you get to rescue your baby, fifty-five levels later. Amazing.

Now, I can't really see my little warrior getting to that point any time soon, but this quest alone certainly made me want to level her a lot more. And I think that's great. If you read the user comments on the Wowhead page I linked above, you'll see that I wasn't the only one who had a very strong emotional reaction to this quest. And why not, it's got all the hallmarks of an epic quest line in WoW: it spans several levels, you have to overcome some serious obstacles on the way, you fail and suffer a setback, but when you eventually get to pick up your little Lashtail Hatchling it just feels all the sweeter.

I just couldn't help being somewhat surprised that Blizzard went through all this effort "just" for a mini pet. No offense to pet collectors, but non-combat pets don't exactly strike me as the type of content that yearns to have an epic quest chain attached to it. That's the kind of thing I used to expect from raiding and attunements. I guess this just proves that there is a real benefit to being a hipster in WoW and engaging in relatively niche activities like pet collecting. Whatever the developers want to make "mainstream" will inevitably end up getting declawed and nerfed because they are worried about anyone being put off by obstacles. However, as long as they don't create content with the expectation that everyone will do it, they can make it cool.

Maybe the loss of my pet raptor left me feeling a bit dispirited at the time, but Southern The Cape of Stranglethorn initially seemed considerably less interesting to me. That part of the zone never had as many iconic quests to begin with, and those that used to be memorable back in the day have long been stripped of what made them exciting.

Take Stranglethorn Fever, for example. Back in the day you needed to collect ten (low drop-rate) Gorilla Fangs to summon Mokk, and then he would come in with about a dozen apes accompanying him and wipe you out. Then you'd have to gather another ten fangs and try again, probably while asking for help in chat at the same time. Frustrating? Probably, but it was definitely memorable. Now it's just another quick kill quest.

Same with the quests to kill various giants given by Captain Smotts. I remember when you needed to have Barbecued Buzzard Wings to summon Negolash... you bet I was popular for having actually bothered to level cooking and having got the recipe in the Badlands! Funnily enough the pile of food that you now use to lure the giant still looks like Buzzard Wings when placed on the ground (I think they were even labelled as such if you hovered over them), even though it's supposedly something else.

None of these quests were bad. It's just that if, like me, you remembered having more fun with them back when they were more difficult, they seem a bit bland now.

So, I continued through the Cape of Stranglethorn, not finding anything particularly noteworthy, until there was a sudden and very noticeable shift in my questing as I was given a quest to infiltrate the Bloodsail Buccaneers for Baron Revilgaz. Suddenly everything was shiny and new and quests were varied and fun, making use of all the new tools that Blizzard has developed for a more interesting quest experience over the years. Most of it made me laugh, but at least one quest also made me feel quite distressed. It was good!

Finally it all ended with a big showdown between the Bloodsails and the Blackwater Raiders. I really enjoyed this as well, and this is one case where I felt that the devs really made an existing story a lot better by simply overhauling it big time. I didn't mind the old pirate-killing quests, but they always left me with the feeling that the Bloodsails weren't much more than a nuisance. In the new quest chain you actually get a real sense of them being a threat, and phasing is used to show Booty Bay under serious attack, which is when I took the screenshot at the top of this article.

Now, I've rambled a lot in this post. What's my final verdict? I think, all in all, both halves of Stranglethorn remain what they were to me before: not my absolute favourite zone, but solid entertainment. In revamping this area, Blizzard has managed to strike a good balance between preserving the old and introducing something new.

I'm still not entirely done with looking at the revamped old world, as I still have some starter zones left plus the view of some zones from Horde side, but I have at least a vague idea about most places now. One of these days I might have to write a more comprehensive summary of my impressions of the shattered world.