The End of an Era

Today my WoW subscription runs out and I won't renew it. For many people that wouldn't be a big deal, and I'm sure there are a fair number of players around for whom it's completely normal to let their subscription lapse repeatedly and then just renew it again whenever they feel like playing. Not for me though. I've been playing this game pretty much continually for five and a half years. I was devoted to it, and paid Blizzard hundreds of euros for the privilege of continuing to play, but now that I'm done I think I'm done for good. I'm not good at enjoying things in half measures.

To be honest, it had been a long time coming. Basically, I've only been logging on for the rated battlegrounds for months anyway, and ever since I started playing The Old Republic, I'd find myself stalling even then, thinking, "I like my rated battleground buddies, but I'd rather be playing Star Wars to be honest."

However, social ties are extremely powerful. Just because I didn't want to let the team down, just because I have only limited ways to talk to some of my WoW friends outside the game, Blizzard got another couple of months worth of sub money out of me. I really do think they've got their priorities all wrong by not caring more about the social aspect of the game.

Anyway, eventually it became too frustrating regardless, and I decided that I wasn't going to keep paying for what had basically become a fancy chat client for me at this point. I only have so much free time to spend on MMO playing, and I'd rather be spending it on a game where I actually have fun with the game itself too.

So I made a goodbye post on our guild forums, which I tried to keep light-hearted and positive, emphasising that I still wanted to stay in touch on a personal level if at all possible. Most of the people who replied seemed to take it well, but some also seemed to take it harder than I expected - in writing it can be a bit hard to tell sometimes whether someone is completely serious or adapting a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone.

Two days after I made that post, our rated battleground team leader also threw in the towel. I've been assured that it's not my fault, and I could definitely see signs of his growing frustration long before I made my announcement, but it still left me feeling extremely awkward, as if I had personally gone and ruined the game for a whole bunch of other people as well.

Logging in one more time on my last evening also felt very strange. There was nothing different about the game of course, but knowing and thinking about how it's the last time makes all the difference in a person's head. I felt waves of nostalgia wash over me as I looked at all my characters, and I may even have become a little teary-eyed, soppy fool that I am. However, it was telling that when a friend asked me whether there was anything I wanted to do on my last day, I couldn't think of anything. Everything that I really used to love about WoW is in the past now.

I put most of my gold into the guild bank because I didn't see a point in having it all just sit there when it could at least be funding guild repairs for a few weeks or something. I didn't delete any of my characters however. Never say never.

Since I couldn't think of anything else that I wanted to do, I just sat down on a rock in Nagrand and chatted a bit. As it was getting late and I found myself wondering what would be the best time to log out, a call went out in general chat from a little orc who was looking for help with the Ring of Blood. We grouped up and I healed him through it; he thanked me and continued on his merry little way. It felt like an appropriate point to stop, after having brightened a stranger's day a little bit.

Since I won't be playing anymore, I'll also be retiring this blog, though I'll still continue to read and comment on some WoW blogs at least for a while I guess. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read any of my posts and shared their thoughts on my writings over the years. I'll now be adventuring in a galaxy far, far away.


Six Screenshots

Saga kindly tagged me for a screenshot-sharing meme today, and I shall oblige, though in my own way. I find the very premise of taking the sixth image out of my sixth screenshot folder vaguely amusing, because how many screenshot folders do people have? I only have one, with three sub-folders in it called Desktops, Games and Webcam. I'm not sure why I ever thought that it was a good idea to take screenshots of my desktop, I haven't actually done anything with that folder in years. Anyway, in Games... the sixth folder in there is called Grim Fandango, and it only has four pictures in it. Let's stick to WoW I guess.

I take care to sort, resize and rename my freshly taken WoW screenshots at regular intervals, but I still have over a thousand of them crammed into a single folder. Unfortunately Windows 7 doesn't let you save sorting preferences for individual folders, so every time I change sorting method while looking at anything on my PC, all my WoW screenshots get shuffled around as well, so I'm not entirely sure which one should really be the sixth. Let's make it six sixth screenshots, depending on how you sort them!

If we start alphabetically, the sixth screenshot is this one simply called "A warlock and his pet". It shows my first ever real alt, Wilson the warlock, sitting in an inn, possibly even in Goldshire, and I thought that it looked cute how he appeared to be hugging the imp that had jumped on his lap.

On the reverse end of the alphabetical sort, the sixth screenshot is one of our Zul'Aman group preparing for a bear run by transforming into ninjas. The German titles are a reminder of how I used to play with the German client until Wrath of the Lich King, when I got tired of people being either confused or in stitches every time I linked an item in chat.

Sorting by date, the sixth oldest screenshot that comes up is one of my night elf priest jogging through Ashenvale with two friends. I remember this zone being the one where I was first introduced to the term "World of Walkcraft" - keeping in mind that this was back when you couldn't get your first mount until level forty, and Astranaar offered the only Alliance flight path in all of Ashenvale. I remember how scared we used to get every time we had to run past Splintertree, because we had a knack for accidentally aggroing one of the wandering guards and getting ourselves killed. Nonetheless, those were good times. You just made sure to turn on autorun, chatted a bit... and panned the camera around to take screenshots of your characters running.

The sixth most recent screenshot I took is one of a bit of guild chat in which my guild leader, in his own special way, expressed that he misses having me around in raids (or at least that's how I interpreted it).

Finally, let's sort by size - something I pretty much never do, but I want to have a reason to post six screenshots! The sixth biggest WoW screenshot I have is apparently this picture of my Worgen death knight at Light's Hope Chapel. I just thought that the scenery looked cool, and I didn't think of taking any pictures on my first death knight.

Unsurprisingly, the sixth smallest screenshot... is one of the old thumbnails I use to link to my characters' armoury profiles on the sidebar. Heh.

Thanks for this opportunity to share a few random memories! I won't tag anyone, but if you're reading this and would like an excuse to post some old screenshots with commentary, this is obviously your chance.


My five favourite things about Cataclysm

We probably still have quite a few months of Cataclysm left before the next expansion hits, but still, many players already have their eyes firmly on Mists of Pandaria by this point. ("Mists will fix it!") I've been reflecting a bit on what I did enjoy about the current expansion - while I still think that it's the weakest of the three released so far, it also brought some things to the table that I had a lot of fun with. So without further ado, my top five Cataclysm game additions:

1. Rated Battlegrounds

No surprise here, this is basically the only reason I've remained subbed over the last couple of months. I still think it's extremely strange that Blizzard decided to introduce rated battlegrounds when they did, considering that they are moving the PvE game further and further away from anything to do with preformed groups. And here they come and introduce a PvP feature (and work hard to push players towards it via rewards) that requires you to put together a proper team of ten people or more the old-fashioned way? It's strange.

Nonetheless, I'm grateful because I've really enjoyed having a reason to PvP with friends and come up against a good challenge week after week.

2. Transmogrification

I've never been one to collect lots of different outfits in WoW, but I did care about the way my character looked, especially whenever I found myself "forced" to wear a particularly ridiculous or hideous outfit. Fortunately for me, priest sets have had a reputation for being very pretty in the past, but this expansion I felt that the tier set designers went a bit overboard with the crazy for pretty much every class, and in many cases the results were simply extremely ugly in my opinion. Though to be honest, as a troll priest I often felt that even the nicer looking sets didn't really look quite right on a troll. I'm no worshipper of the light, I should look more like the bosses in Zul'Gurub or Zul'Aman!

Well, now I finally can, and it's been most satisfying. In addition, transmogrification has also turned out to be something that appeals to my inner socialiser, which actually surprised me a little bit. Since its introduction I'm paying attention to random strangers in the city again, and I've struck up more than one conversation starting with: "Nice transmog you got there..."

3. The revamped levelling game

This one might be a bit controversial, as a lot of bloggers at least have ended up absolutely hating the revamped old world as far as I'm aware. And I agree that a lot of things did go wrong with the 1-60 revamp: The levelling speed feels out of whack, nothing poses any kind of threat after level ten, the quest chains are very linear, and the story is way too focused on the current expansion, which means that story-wise, a lot of 1-60 will already be obsolete again once Mists of Pandaria comes out.

However, despite of all those flaws, I really got a lot of enjoyment out of the Shattering. I had fun discovering what had changed and what hadn't, and I brushed the mothballs off low-level alts that I hadn't even touched since Burning Crusade. I probably spent more time levelling alts than doing things at endgame, and I had fun doing so. That's got to count for something.

Incidentally, I also really liked the Cataclysm talent trees. They didn't completely get rid of the "+x% damage/healing" talents, but they did reduce their numbers greatly, and while levelling my alts I actually felt that getting new talent points was always fun. The effect was almost always noticeable immediately, whether it was that I gained a new proc, or an ability gained an extra effect, or one of my base moves just became noticeably stronger. The whole "signature ability at level 10" thing was also a great idea in my opinion, even if it seemed to create lots of balancing problems in low-level PvP.

4. Archaeology

Once again, I think that this is a feature that ended up being a bit of a let-down for many people. At the start of the expansion it offered some extremely useful pieces of gear, but trying to purposefully grind anything out via archaeology is simply madness and created a lot of resentment in players. I mean, I must have solved hundreds of projects by now and still haven't seen any of the items I actually wanted.

However, once you manage to let go of the desire to achieve anything specific with this profession, it can be very zen and relaxing to just fly from dig site to dig site and "dps the ground". It's not something to focus all your attention on, but it's great if you're just waiting for a queue to pop but don't want to spend all your time twiddling your thumbs in a city. I wouldn't want to miss this option.

5. Endgame as it was upon Cataclysm release

I actually liked the hard heroics. For a few glorious weeks I got to enjoy something similar to my best days in the Burning Crusade again, as guildies preferred forming guild groups over pugging with strangers, and we actually flew to the instance and used the summoning stone to summon the ones who hadn't discovered the dungeon entrance yet. Inside the heroics, people coordinated their play, and we wiped if we messed up. Yes, I actually am nostalgic for wiping in heroic Grim Batol!

Similarly, I actually thought that tier 11 was a really solid raid tier. The devs stuck to their promise of releasing multiple smaller raids to allow for a frequent change of scenery, and the bosses were varied. Normal mode was difficult enough to keep us busy for months, and I could almost pretend that heroic modes didn't exist.

Yes, I understand why they changed it - because players like me aren't their target audience anymore - but I would still like to go on record as saying that I actually liked things the way they were.

What did everyone else like about Cataclysm as an expansion?


Fan Club

As if I needed any more reasons to adore the crazy clowns that make up my rated battleground team, I found out the other day that two of them recently created a 2v2 arena team called "We love Shintar".

I was simultaneously very flattered and deeply disturbed. I just had to share that with the world.


There's bad matchmaking, and then there's this

Bad matchmaking in rated battlegrounds is something that people have moaned about at length in the past, including myself, but it's actually been a while since I've had any major problems with the system. The devs seem to have found a good way to make it work.

Last night however, it bugged out on us big time.

If you can't be bothered to look at the screenshot in detail, basically our team with a matchmaking value of 1842 got pitted against a team with a value of 2702. Yikes! Lending more credibility to the theory that this was a glitch instead of a major flaw with the system was the fact that their character and server names all showed up as "???". One of our team mates claimed to have found out their names at the end and said that they were one of the top rated teams in the EU. I can believe it.

It's quite amazing just how much of a difference skill can make. (Yes, they had much better gear too, but still...) We rode into battle to face them regardless of the odds, and they just wiped us out with seemingly no effort at all and then proceeded to graveyard camp us while their feral druid quickly capped the flag three times. All in all, the whole affair barely took five minutes, and unsurprisingly, neither team gained or lost any points. A pointless game in the most literal sense of the word.

At least we got a good laugh out of it. Our team leader, a feral druid, was particularly proud as he managed to give the graveyard camping team the slip once, snuck up on their flag carrier, and apparently managed to get him to half health before the rest of the team showed up to obliterate him. He sounded quite chuffed when he told us that one of them gave him an /applaud emote before he died.

Personally I was just grateful that they made it quick.


I do love the Darkmoon Faire Arena

Last night my rated battleground team assembled for the first time in the new year. As we were queuing up for our last match of the night, we had a bit of a wait while we were swapping people out, and since it had just gone midnight in-game I decided to pop onto Darkmoon Island to see whether anyone was fighting for the chest in the arena. I was quite surprised to find that not only was there fighting going on, but at ten past twelve there still hadn't been a clear winner and the chest remained unopened! A couple of my team mates came to spectate with me, and we commented on seeing some familiar faces in the rumble. Finally our queue popped, I yelled one last encouragement to a friend whom I had spotted fighting in the cage and disappeared.

We came out of our rated battleground match twenty minutes later and the fight for the chest was still going on. Amused by this, the entire team decided to show up and put an end to the affair by wiping out all the other competitors in one fell sweep. It felt a bit cheaty to go in there with a full team of ten, but at the end of the day that's one of the fun things about world PvP - that "bring more friends than anyone else" is actually a viable strategy. As it happens, I got lucky and snagged both the trinket and the achievement. A few stragglers kept coming back into the cage, maybe because they were hoping to get some revenge once the group dispersed, but we stuck together so they eventually gave up.

That could have been the end of the entire affair, except that just as things got quiet, one of our death knights suddenly dropped group, ran into the middle of the cage and started yelling that we could never take him down! Of course he got dogpiled within seconds and everybody laughed. More people began to leave the group, and before we knew it, we were having a mad free-for-all against each other. Of course people soon began to form new alliances in the madness, but it was all in good fun and the spirit of friendly competition.

Me and the resto shaman alternated between forming a healing team to keep each other alive and trying to kill each other. I spammed mana burns on the holy paladin who always complains about mana burns, and he hammered me on the head on cooldown. Our warlock kept dotting people up and then cheekily used Demonic Circle to teleport out of the cage every time his health got low. Our warrior and ret pally ran around bursting people down and I was convinced that I was going to have nightmares of them chasing me across a desert while I was whimpering something along the lines of: "Not Avenging Wrath! Not Recklessness!" None of it served any particular purpose, though our tank said that he thought that it was probably some good general PvP training, but oh god did we have fun. There were no rewards and no honour to be gained, but the whole experience felt very visceral and primordially playful. The closest real life equivalent I can think of would probably be a snowball fight. Or children flinging mud at each other in a sand pit maybe.

The cherry on top was when I was standing at the edge of the arena, and suddenly a feral druid friend whom I hadn't seen in months popped out of stealth behind me and murdered me. She must have seen me online and decided to see what I was up to. I laughed so hard! She and one of her friends then joined in the fighting as well.

Two hours later, we finally said good night to each other and collapsed into our beds. Yes, we really did keep ourselves busy doing random free-for-all PvP for that long, and it was the greatest fun I've had in WoW in a while. I wouldn't have seen it coming.