Monday Random Thoughts

I hope the Grumpy Elf won't mind me stealing one of his frequently reused post titles... but it is Monday, and I have a couple of things to talk about that don't really warrant posts of their own.

First off, I was vastly amused when I saw this in chat on the Silvermoon server (where my little Draenei alt lives):

For all the complaining people do about the evilness of random lockboxes, they are apparently popular enough that people feel the need to make their own if a game doesn't provide them. I wonder if someone at Blizzard is watching and taking note of this demand... No, don't answer that; I'm aware that this type of gambling is more likely to break some kind of in-game rule than be adapted as an example to follow.

Speaking of my Draenei alt, I was questing in the Plaguelands with her and thinking about how despite its age and many issues, WoW is still amazingly beautiful and atmospheric in many places. Of course, then I approached the dead town of Caer Darrow and...

HI LOL LOVE IS IN THE AIR! This is just one reason I hate all those seasonal festivals in WoW. There is room for silliness in the game of course, but the way it has become ubiquitous and unescapable, even in places where it really hurts the setting - that annoys me. It makes the world feel ridiculous when it really doesn't have to be.

Speaking of ridiculous things, the amount of self-healing tanks and dps do in this game nowadays has become a joke. I've been thinking about that for a while, but it really struck me the other day when I managed to get stuck and found myself unable to die.

Continuing my little side project of showing my pet tank all the old raids he never saw, we decided to venture into Ulduar. I was a bit rusty on tactics and didn't explain some things very well, so I ended up trapped by a constrictor tentacle on Yogg-Saron and Pet Tank died. Oh well, we'll just wipe up and try again - or so I thought. Only one problem: I couldn't die. My sanity didn't go down any further, Ysera's Gift kept healing me, and I was stunned and unable to do anything. My pet tank eventually left the group to get his corpse kicked out of the instance and I Alt+F4ed out of the game. When I started it back up a few minutes later, guess what? I was still alive and trapped by that bloody tentacle. There were tentacles everywhere and yet they couldn't kill me.

Once I surpassed about a dozen debuffs, my health finally started to dip... just for Hodir to save my life with his flash freeze, and the moment it wore off I was immediately back in a constrictor. I've never missed SWTOR's /stuck command so badly (which allows you to "commit suicide" while in combat). Eventually I managed to achieve death by immediately clicking the flash freeze away the next time it saved me and instantly jumping towards a crusher tentacle so it could whack me dead. Death never felt like such a relief before.

Finally, on a more positive note, I've had some more fun on the Timeless Isle. I found a treasure-hunting quest in a mound of dirt, and when it became obvious that it was directing me towards the one part of the island I hadn't been to yet (across the broken bridge), I finally got off my butt to find out how to get there.

That bridge is a funny thing to the ignorant new player. You watch others run up to it and just fly across, as if by magic! If you're anything like me, you might think: aha, so it's like an Indiana Jones leap of faith thing; I just have to run straight off and... oh, guess not.

I don't expect to get a legendary cloak any time soon, and while there was an option to get across with a vendor-bought glider, I'm too attached to my timeless coins for other purposes, so I was delighted when I found out that there is actually a way to get up there for free: attack a passing albatross until it grabs you, then just hang in for the ride! It's such a silly thing, but in this case I really enjoyed it. It's nice to have an option to get around for players that aren't as advanced, even if it's slower and more of a hassle.

Another thing I found on the Timeless Isle was a quest for a "secret" noodle recipe. It's really old school, requiring you to run back and forth a lot and to complete two dungeons. It amuses me how Blizzard has repeatedly sworn off that kind of design, yet every now and then they still put stuff like that in. Anyway, it was quite fun, until it cumulated in another solo scenario, which required me to... serve noodle dishes to pandas. It's actually pretty fun as a mini-game; it just seemed kind of bizarre to me since I don't recall ever seeing anything this blatantly "gamey" in WoW before, for all the gamification it has suffered over the years. In fact, it reminded me a lot of an old C64 game I used to play, called Tapper, that required you to rush back and forth behind a bar to serve drinks to impatiently approaching customers. Just... weird. The only thing that drives me crazy about it is that the background music is the same little ditty that plays in all the Pandarian inns... and which is my least favourite bit of Warcraft music ever.


Braving Looking For Raid

I was feeling very ambivalent about whether I should even bother to give the MoP raid finder a try or not. On the one hand there was a certain appeal to the idea of "seeing the content" in some fashion, plus we had actually acquired a couple of quests that straight-up told us to go and do certain raids (such as the legendary quest line). In terms of gear, LFR also seemed to offer a smoother progression curve than continuing to grind things on the Timeless Isle in hopes of getting a suitable loot drop. On the other hand I remembered that the few times I did the Dragon Soul LFR back in Cata felt very disjointed and unsatisfying, and from everything I'd heard, the types of people you meet in the raid finder could be very unpleasant these days (to put it mildly).

In the end it was probably this post by the Ancient Gaming Noob that tipped the scales in favour in the end, as he describes his experience as going into LFR more or less completely blind and having no problems whatsoever, presumably because by this point in the expansion, a critical mass of players could do the fights in their sleep and a couple of clueless newbies don't really make a difference either way.

So my pet tank and I decided to queue up for Mogu'shan Vaults on Saturday afternoon, the first option on the LFR drop-down list, me as healer and him as dps for a change. (I had urged him to not queue as tank at least during our first time, as I was worried about that role making him a target for abuse if things went wrong, especially since neither of us knew anything about the fights.) We had to wait about twenty minutes, as there seemed to be a dps shortage - of all things! This pattern continued throughout most of the afternoon: always enough tanks and healers, never enough dps. Still, we ended up completing both halves of Mogu'shan Vaults in the end, as well as the entirety of Heart of Fear. It was a very smooth experience with no wipes, but with the queue times for each wing the whole thing still ended up feeling quite long.

When we first zoned into Mogu'shan Vaults, I was surprised to see a lot of people actually bothering to say "hi" in chat. While there wasn't a lot of talk throughout the rest of our runs, the atmosphere felt pretty relaxed and laid back. It was obvious that we weren't the only ones new to LFR, but as anticipated there were also more than enough players who knew what they were doing and they didn't seem to mind carrying a bit of extra weight. In the first half of Mogu'shan Vaults for example we had a shaman who got locked out and died during the second boss, and while he received a res afterwards, he didn't accept it, presumably because he was AFK by that point. Nobody said anything or even bothered to initiate a vote kick though; he just stayed there, dead, until the group had killed the last boss and disbanded.

There wasn't much talk of tactics, but what little there was felt good-natured and us noobs were happy to follow anyone who was willing to lead. The only time I saw people getting cross was during Blade Lord Ta'yak, when the whole group had to run across the room dodging tornadoes, and a hunter insisted on having Aspect of the Pack on, causing everyone to be permanently dazed and making it nearly impossible to move as we were supposed to. Still, I've seen insults a lot worse than "huntard" in my time.

I suppose it was easy to be agreeable since we never wiped. Personally I just died twice, once on the trash to Gara'jal the Spiritbinder, where I got caught by surprise by the first set of bombs, and a second time on the aforementioned Blade Lord, when he cast Unseen Strike on me and I instinctively ran away from the group when I actually should have stacked up to survive.

Running these two raids in LFR also provided both me and Pet Tank with the biggest loot rush since our first day on the Timeless Isle. Based on the many rants I'd seen from people about how they keep getting nothing but bags of gold, I thought that the item drop rate would be atrocious, but in reality we got an item pretty much from every other boss, sometimes two if we used a bonus roll. They weren't always useful (I got three near-identical cloaks for example), but there was enough good stuff in there that it definitely felt worthwhile.

All in all, I was ready for things to go horribly wrong, but not only did that not happen, I actually had fun. No, the healing itself wasn't very engaging (mostly just a lot of spamming AoE heals), but it was interesting to go in blind and to learn new boss mechanics on the fly. Everyone acted civil. And the raids themselves were... okay I guess? Heart of Fear seemed like a bit of an unpleasant place with the impaled yet still squirming bug people at the entrance and all the annoyingly squeaky-voiced bosses, but other than that it was alright.

I remember that one of the things I hated about doing Dragon Soul in LFR was how it kept putting me into runs in progress and due to the nature of the instance the whole thing just felt terrible disjointed, what with going from Wyrmrest through random portals to parachuting from an airship to crashing into the Maelstrom. I suppose we got lucky this time around in that the system put us into fresh runs every time, but I think that even if we had missed a boss or two, it wouldn't have felt as bad as it did back in Dragon Soul because both Mogu'shan Vaults and Heart of Fear are a lot more self-contained.

We'll see whether we'll manage to hang in there for long enough to get geared up for Siege of Orgrimmar.


Scratching My Head About Scenarios

Scenarios are another one of those features that have been new in Mists of Pandaria and thus new to me. I haven't done all of them yet, but I think I've seen enough of them (plus a couple of heroic ones actually) to be able to form an opinion. Generally speaking, most of them seem to be pretty fun the first time around - for the sheer novelty value if nothing else - and then become dull as dishwater once you start repeating them. I've been trying to put my finger on why that is.

I think one of the major issues I have with them is that they just feel a bit... clunky. In terms of gameplay, scenarios seem to fall halfway between a regular quest and a dungeon, but it seems to me that the aspects they chose to incorporate from both sides don't really go well together. Like many quests, scenarios seem to like telling a story, but unless you just happened to find the intro quest to that specific scenario out in the world, you'll be dumped smack in the middle of things with no explanation of where you are, what's going on, or why you're doing what you're doing. In a dungeon, not knowing the background usually isn't as much of an issue, since they all share the overall "theme" of clearing an area of bad guys and defeating a big bad or two, plus the dungeon quests tend to at least give you a brief summary of the most key points. In a scenario you got that little box to track progress and that's it.

To add to the confusion, many scenarios seem to like to make things "interesting" by requiring lots of special actions from you and your character, such as collecting supplies, planting explosives, firing cannons, swinging from ropes etc. They are always marked quite clearly and big red text in the middle of the screen usually tells you what to do, but still... let's just say that expecting people to figure out new game mechanics while being thrown into a typical "rush rush" style WoW pug was not the smartest idea Blizzard's ever had.

On top of that, scenarios seem to be extremely unrewarding, which makes repeating them feel like a waste of time. If you queue for a random, you do get a small reward for that, but if you do a specific scenario you get absolutely nothing for it, nada (unless you count the satisfaction of actually getting the one you had a quest for). The bosses drop nothing, and you won't even get a couple of silver off the trash. I don't know why that is; it's a small thing but it really leaves me feeling disappointed after every scenario completion.

The sad thing is, for all these flaws I could see scenarios make for an interesting addition to the levelling game, just to do something slightly different from questing or running dungeons all the time. Just getting XP for each one would already make doing them a lot more worthwhile. But no, Blizzard restricted all of them to max level, where players will have a dozen other things to do that are more fun, more rewarding or both at the same time. It just strikes me as a lot of wasted potential.


Enjoying Archaeology Changes

Since the last post was a bit of a rant, I thought I'd follow it up with writing about something that I've quite liked in MoP: the changes they've made to archaeology. I really like them.

That's the short version.

The long version is this: I've always liked archaeology. When I made a post about my five favourite Cataclysm additions, archaeology was one of them. (Though looking back, the profession dailies in the capital cities really should have been on that list as well as I absolutely looove them, but eh, I digress.) In one of my posts about levelling this newest set of characters I mentioned that I initially tried to keep up with archaeology as we levelled, but quickly found it to be too much of a hassle as it kept sending me away from where we actually wanted to quest.

I eventually picked it up again when I got swift flight, and I've also been dabbling around on a lowbie alt that I'm trying to level mostly through archaeology. (In short, it's slow and never getting any gear is sad, but the XP from dig sites is great once you actually get to one.)

It's quite amazing how quickly you advance the profession now compared to how it used to be. I'll always remember the way it was at Cataclysm launch, with each dig site only consisting of three digs, and each one only giving you three or four archaeology fragments. I know they increased the number of fragments relatively early on, but it's still nothing compared to now, where each site consists of six digs, with each of them routinely wielding seven to nine fragments. In practice that means that nearly every dig site allows you to create another artefact now.

Even bigger however is the fact that digging never stops giving skill-ups. Remember when that used to stop at 75 skill, and your only way to progress any further was through solving artefacts? Yeah, getting six guaranteed skill-ups per dig site makes a huuuge difference.

To be honest, I never understood the logic behind digging going grey so quickly. I considered it just as much a part of the process as the solving itself. It's as if mining suddenly stopped giving skill-ups completely at one point and your only way of progressing any further was through smelting. I would've understood it if they had done something similar to the way mining works, so that you needed to dig in an area appropriate for your skill level to get skill-ups or something, but everything going grey at 75 just never made sense to me. Blizzard changing that made me really happy.

So with every act of digging giving a skill-up and artefact fragments rolling in at about six times the speed they used to, those skill levels just fly by. I remember circling around a group of conveniently re-spawning dig sites in the Eastern Kingdoms, thinking that I'd just do "a couple more" before stopping for the day, just to find that I was nearly ready for Northrend before I'd even started digging in Outland. Considering that I remember longing for Outland, because skilling up was so slow and I was desperate for a change of pace, that was quite surprising.

I was ready to dig in Pandaria in no time, and that's where I discovered some more pleasant surprises. One of the few remaining annoyances with old world archaeology is the size of some dig sites. Some of them are so huge that - even with fast flying - it feels like a drag to be sent back and forth between their opposing ends. Compared to that, all the dig sites in Pandaria are positively tiny. You literally just have to take a couple of steps to the left or the right between digs, at the most. This makes them very quick to complete. Every now and then a Sha remnant will pop out of the ground too, attack you and drop some extra fragments to spice things up.

In the Seat of Knowledge, there are also some NPCs that give you a daily archaeology quest to do, usually asking you to solve a single artefact, sometimes to just hand them some fragments. And then comes the real kicker: common Pandaria artefacts can be recycled instead of vendored. Brann Bronzebeard is about again, and he'll trade you a boxed up Pandaria artefact for a crate of fragments from any other type. No more flying up and down Kalimdor in the hopes of eventually getting a tol'vir dig site - just keep working on those Pandaland dig sites and trade the results for tol'vir fragments. While the exchange rate means that you effectively trade a whole artefact for one dig's worth of fragments, it's just so much more convenient than doing it the old way that I can't see anyone going back once they've unlocked this feature.

I suppose it's a bit of a shame that they've effectively made one of archaeology's main features - an incentive to go back and see the world - redundant, as you're better off just doing all your archaeology business in Pandaria as soon as you're able. But they've certainly made the profession a lot less of a hassle in pretty much every respect.