27/02/2016

The Fifties

My levelling has slowed down lately, and it's not just because fifty to sixty takes a while. There's a good reason and a bad reason.

Let's get the bad out of the way first. I just don't really like most of the Vanilla level 50+ zones. The Plaguelands are depressing, the Burning Steppes are dull, Silithus with its grating soundtrack and ongoing bug noises is just freaking annoying. I actually find myself wondering if WoW had been as "sticky" for me if Burning Crusade hadn't come out relatively soon after I hit max level, sparing me from having to spend a significant amount of time with the level sixty endgame. If nothing else, I probably would have focused even more on rolling alts. This means that right now, I do a lot of flitting back and forth between zones and get tired of them really quickly. A couple of quests in Searing Gorge, then one in Azshara, then a few in Felwood, but nowhere really sticks (though I haven't done Un'Goro yet, at least that should be fun). It's not that there's a lack of content to level up, I'm just not keen enough on a lot of it.

On the plus side, part of why my levelling has slowed down is that I'm finding myself thinking a bit more about things other than max level. It may be slow, but I'm getting there, and while I have no plans to raid, there are still a lot of goals to achieve. First off, there are professions. My ongoing battle with armoursmithing will deserve a post of its own, but let's just say right now that levelling certain professions requires a serious investment of time and effort. I'll also need lots of money to get my epic mount, and of course pallies have their own special quest for that. So I'm finding that I'm less focused on gaining maximum XP during a play session and instead tend to get distracted by other concerns, such as making money or levelling fishing for a bit.

I even tried a bit of PvP. I saw people campaigning very heavily in the past for everyone of level 51 or above to queue up for Alterac Valley on AV weekend, so when it came around again and I was finally of a high enough level to join in, I gave it a go. I only played three matches, all of which were losses, and I felt pretty damn useless at my level... but it was still kind of fun simply because it was so chaotic, with all those actually powerful NPCs killing people left and right. I just tried to throw out a few heals before dying. I did get a couple of the PvP quests done in the process, and I had fun watching a hunter slowly kite Galvangar to death.

But that's part of the beauty of Vanilla, that it's so multi-faceted and that getting to max level is not the only thing on your mind.

21/02/2016

Invaded

The 7x XP event started this weekend, and as expected it's drawn attention to the server and brought an influx of new players. So far, so good, though I'm still doubtful about the long-term benefits of this kind of thing... not to mention that more players are not a good thing if they all act like a bunch of idiots.

The conversation in world chat is rarely of high quality, but everyone's in it anyway for the LFG requests. This weekend though, the level of non-stop stupidity in there was just too much for me, to the point that I chose to leave and forfeit any opportunities to form groups just to be spared the inanity. From the quality of the talk (along the lines of "I have a girlfriend, I'm sure you nerds don't have a girlfriend"), you'd think that all the new characters were created by badly socialised thirteen-year-old boys. Which is all the weirder on a nostalgia-driven server like this because these guys had barely been born when we were playing original Vanilla WoW! Are they really only showing up to troll?

At least there was still guild chat, though even that suffered at least a little, mostly from people constantly playing Captain Obvious and going: "Wow, after setting my experience rate to x7, I'm getting so much XP for everything!" You. Don't. Say.

I haven't touched any of it of course, as the whole point of this project has been to re-experience the joys of Vanilla levelling. So I spent my entire playtime this weekend grinding mobs in Azshara and Felwood. Yay! On the plus side, the auction house immediately became a lot more lively, as all the noobs were very eager to buy bags and gear while flooding the market with low-level mats. Can't complain about that.

14/02/2016

The Trinity in Vanilla WoW

Liore revived one of the classics of MMO discussion this past week, the question of whether the "holy trinity" of classes being divided into tanks, healers and dps is a good or a bad thing. I'm on her side on this matter as I personally love to heal, though I'm also a fan of leaving room for additional roles such as support or crowd control. I just don't like it when people whine about the trinity without having any realistic/appealing suggestions for how to do things differently.

Anyway, I don't actually want to dive into the question of whether the trinity is a good or a bad thing myself, but seeing so many people get involved in discussing the subject made me want to talk about the differences I've observed on Kronos in regards to trinity gameplay compared to more modern MMOs.

The thing that I've found the most striking is that people are often extremely flexible. Calls like "LF2M" will go out without specifying any roles. Anyone is welcome! You still need a dedicated tank and healer, but getting a group together takes effort in itself and people are willing to be flexible to make the process easier. Warriors may like to do damage, but I've yet to meet one that didn't also have a shield in his or her bag and was willing to assume the tanking role if that was what's needed to get the run going. Likewise druids and paladins may not like being pigeonholed into the healing role, but they are often happy to do it for a five-man nonetheless.

I have a suspicion that the sort of crowd that is attracted to private Vanilla WoW servers may be unusually skewed towards people who are willing to make compromises and take on responsibility in order to make a group succeed - the amount of comments I've heard about characters being levelled as tanks or healers is astounding (and I'm a prot/holy hybrid myself).

But it's not just that - Vanilla WoW was also both not very demanding of tanks and healers while levelling, while at the same time being extremely generous towards hybrids (hybrids in the definition of "any class that can do more than just do damage"). Tanking was largely about being sufficiently armoured to be able to withstand some damage and making at least an effort to hold aggro, while healing was about casting single target heals on the tank and occasionally on a dps. No special tools were required. The warrior tanking as dps spec would take a bit more damage and the healer healing in dps spec would run out of mana more quickly, but in most situations that was perfectly manageable.

At the same time, while many hybrid talent trees were really lacklustre in terms of what they provided if you wanted to specialise, this also meant that there wasn't that much difference between someone specced for healing and someone who wasn't, making it easier to switch to another role for a while even if it wasn't your main specialisation.

I remember back in Vanilla retail I was told that it was perfectly fine to level my priest as shadow while playing the healer in dungeons. Once I'd hit level sixty, a guild even took me along to AQ20 as a pug healer (while fully aware of my dps spec). It just wasn't that big of a deal.

I remember being rather miffed when I briefly returned to retail WoW in MoP and found that Blizzard had made this kind of thing completely impossible with the talent changes in that expansion. If you're a feral druid, you're fully feral now, with little to no mana and no reliable healing abilities. Of course by then the game had dual spec instead, but you can't get that until you're a bit higher level and it's not quite the same, as it still requires you to make a conscious choice between roles instead of being able to do multiple things out of the box.

I enjoy re-experiencing this Vanilla attitude of people being open about what roles to play as it runs counter to the worst outgrowths of individual min-maxing and emphasises working as a group to achieve success. In my Uldaman run, one of the dps took over tanking for the last bit since our tank up to that point was a bit low level for the instance and was starting to have trouble holding aggro - it was the most natural thing in the world. Sometimes pets do some off-tanking or a dps does some off-healing. It's not about maximising your individual performance but about getting through the whole thing together. It makes my inner socialiser very happy.

The only times I've seen people be oddly specific in their group requests (e.g. "looking for one more caster dps"), it usually seems to be motivated by concerns about loot, which is a bit greedy but also understandable when you consider how much more precious every bit of loot was in Vanilla. Nonetheless these calls seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

09/02/2016

Level 50, Zul'Farrak, Uldaman

Not long ago my paladin hit level 50, after a /played time of six days and 18 and a half hours, which means that getting from 40 to 50 didn't take me that much longer than 30 to 40 (two days and nine hours as opposed to a little less than two days). Apart from the previously mentioned world PvP shenanigans, it was a pleasant ride. Like I predicted, I really loved revisiting Tanaris, Feralas and the Hinterlands. In the end I got my mechanical chicken pet too, plus the sprite darter hatchling. (I always thought it was bollocks that they took away this cute quest chain in Cataclysm and replaced it with a random drop, especially since the original story was all about saving the sprite darters, not killing them!) Remember when pets took up space in your inventory and having even one felt truly special?

I also ran a bunch of dungeons again, mostly Zul'Farrak - at the end I even tanked one run, since I once again felt secure enough as soon as I sufficiently outlevelled both the mobs and the rest of my party. I also healed an Uldaman run.

Zul'Farrak was one of my favourite dungeons in Vanilla and it was fun to revisit it. It just has it all: a straightforward layout, easy access from a zone in which you'll spend a lot of time questing, a whole bunch of dungeon quests, lots of bosses with great drops and an interesting setup. The stairs event worked great. The only issue I've had, every time, is with Witch Doctor Zum'rah. I remember back in Vanilla, the very first rule I was taught the first time I did this dungeon and got close to this guy was "DO NOT TOUCH THE GRAVES". When we came back later, at a higher level, we would loot them for fun and AoE the zombies that spawned, but in general it was accepted custom to leave them alone. I can't recall the boss himself ever giving us any trouble - yes, he spawned a bunch of adds, but they weren't too bad.

Yet every time I've run this dungeon on Kronos, the witch doctor is easily the hardest fight in the entire instance. I've repeatedly wiped on this guy. He summons zombies really quickly and they hit like absolute trucks. Some groups I've been in have tried to avoid the issue by emptying every single grave beforehand (which seemed outright bizarre to me, considering the seriousness with which the "do not touch the graves" lesson was driven home back in the day), which does seem to help but takes up loads of time (and since the zombies hit so hard, the healer needs to drink pretty much every other pull). I don't know what exactly is wrong with the fight, but I do know that this is not how things went down in Vanilla.

Actual Vanilla screenie from when we did decide to open the graves.
If Zul'Farrak is one of my old favourites, Uldaman is the exact opposite. I remember really disliking that place back in the day. With no map view for dungeons back then I tended to get lost all the time, though this is significantly less of a problem ten years later with me being quite familiar with the general layout by now. The intended level range of 38-53 was also a terrible idea, as it meant that you either got no XP for half the dungeon or would run into a massive brick wall towards the end of the instance. Oh, and of course you had to go back there again and again due to the way the different quests were designed and the fact that enchanters were looking to visit their trainer. (I'm still baffled that anyone thought that putting a profession trainer inside an instance would be a good idea!)

All that said, I was surprised by how good a time I ended up having with my pug. It helped that I had a good group that was undeterred by the fact that the server was having hiccups just as we started, crashing repeatedly just as we were doing the "pre instance" and resetting quest progress. I was only disappointed that Grimlok didn't shout: "Me Grimlok King!" The last boss, Archaedas, has remained in my memory as the first truly involved dungeon boss fight I ever encountered, as he spawns multiple sets of adds that need to be controlled. I also recall him summoning a copy of himself near the end (or something like that) which didn't happen in this version and made me doubt my memory a little. We wiped the first time anyway, which caused our tank to pull him out of the room the next time. (Again I found myself hesitant: Shouldn't those doors lock when you engage him?) This completely circumvented the add spawn and turned him into a simple tank and spank, which was slightly disappointing but also intriguing.

"Only" ten more levels to go...

06/02/2016

Private Server Community Management

One thing I've found interesting to observe over the past few weeks has been Kronos' community management. What, you think that simply putting in the effort to re-build the Vanilla WoW experience and letting people play through it for free is enough? Oh no, people want ongoing bug fixes, in-game support, forums to discuss the game, staggered releases of Vanilla patch content, community management, positive marketing for the server... the list goes on.

The fact that this isn't Blizzard and it's not 2005 anymore can lead to some... odd results. Like a few weeks ago, when an announcement was made that people had been making additional accounts purely to create low-level warlock alts and use them to summon themselves all over the place, which the server owners have now decided to curb by imposing restrictions on warlock summoning.

I was initially a bit annoyed with this, as the original announcement stated that "low level 20 warlocks are no longer able to summon high level characters", which is kind of vague and which I understood to mean that warlocks would only be able to summon characters of equal or lower level than themselves from now on. After digging a bit deeper while reading up on the subject for this post, I came upon a clarification that said that the limitation actually only kicks in if the character is sixteen levels higher than the warlock or more. That was a bit of a relief, as it shoudn't affect regular dungeon groups, where a warlock's ability to summon group mates is one of their core utilities.

Nonetheless I have to admit that the whole thing left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Looking at the 21-page forum thread, those warlock alts were apparently a real competitive issue among some hardcore guilds, with the ones with an alt stable being able to get to newly spawned world bosses much faster than any potential competitors. I can understand why this came to the GMs attention and why they felt the need to do something about it, but at the same time I can't help but worry about the effect this might have on more casual warlock players levelling up. I for one simply wouldn't expect to find such restrictions on a server that prides itself on being as "Blizz-like" as possible and would find them off-putting if I ran into them.

Last week, it was announced that the green dragons of nightmare as well as the AQ war effort would be upon us soon (ooh!) - and that Kronos would be implementing a seven times XP boost, lasting for a month. What?! My panic subsided when I read that it was optional, but I still couldn't help shaking my head about it a little bit.

I completely understand why they are doing this - they want players from other private servers to roll alts on Kronos and then be pulled into endgame via the fast levelling. Maybe it will even work on some people. But once again, this goes completely against Kronos' biggest strength: that of enabling players to re-live Vanilla WoW. Vanilla WoW didn't have people in your dungeon group levelling up three times. Why would I want to roll on a server with such a ridiculous levelling curve, even if I can opt out of it myself?

I don't remember where I originally read it now, but someone said that the reason Nostalrius has so many more players than Kronos is that Kronos targeted its marketing at people who were already playing on private servers, a niche group, while Nostalrius has been targeting former WoW players nostalgic for Vanilla, who may never even have played on a private server before and are a much, much bigger group. In hindsight it feels like an odd stroke of luck that I ended up on Kronos myself. Unfortunately I can't see the server having much success at increasing its population if its marketing sabotages its own strengths just to get players to server-hop from other private servers instead of pushing the "you too can re-experience Vanilla WoW" angle to draw in some genuinely fresh blood.