03/07/2020

Level 60 Hunter, Round 2

My night elf hunter hit 60 today, hurray! In real world time, it took me a while to get there (almost six months), but in terms of /played the journey was actually about 16 hours shorter than on my tauren hunter. I guess not worrying about mount money this time around really paid off?

She dinged from handing in a quest in Eastern Plaguelands, though she hasn't actually done anything in that zone yet... the quest in question originally came from Winterspring and I only handed it in because the quest items took up four bag slots and I really wanted to get rid of them. Silithus is also still completely untouched. Once again, I can't really relate to people running out of quest content at the higher levels (though being rested a lot of the time definitely helps).
I already did a partial review of my levelling journey when this one hit level 40, so I'll just post a few more screenshots that I've taken since then:
I am easily amused, as evidenced here by me feeling the need to screenshot mine and another hunter's pets being shrunk by a curse in Uldaman. I'm pretty sure I have a similar screenshot of characters being affected by this in my original screenshot folder from Vanilla, because some things never get old.
In southern Stranglethorn, in the hills with the Venture Co. miners that throw explosives, I ran into a priest called Love who got herself into trouble with an accidental overpull. It was a situation I could relate to very well, so I quickly swooped in and saved her, which resulted in several grateful emotes. Being loved by Love tickled me.
Still the best escort in the game. Also, I actually managed to get my mechanical chicken this time around! On my tauren I remember the Tanaris beacon dropping once when she was still very low level and I was low on bag space, so I didn't pick it up at the time, figuring it would drop again soon enough, and then I could never get it to drop again, meaning I missed out on the third chicken escort you need to complete to get the pet. You bet I didn't make that mistake again.
Just as I was starting to wonder whether everyone's just that good in Classic and that's why we never wipe in any of the dungeons anymore, this Zul'farrak pug managed to wipe to Antu'sul in a pretty spectacular manner.
I remember this quest in Azshara being quite a pain back in the day because - being unsure of just which island I was supposed to go to - I spent a lot of time swimming around the coast in confusion. Fortunately I knew what to look for this time around. Also, while I recognise Xiggs Fuselighter as an obvious Star Wars reference now, I totally didn't get it back in the day and that makes it okay and not annoying in my book.
After the poor show I was treated to after saving Sharpbeak on private server Kronos a few years ago, it was nice to see him get rescued properly this time around.
Speaking of things that Kronos got wrong: Rexxar doesn't aggro on Alliance players! I'll never forget him and Misha chasing me halfway across Desolace on Kronos and how annoying that was...
In the ruins of Andorhal I found my first epic of Classic, but it was sadly underwhelming. I think I ended up selling it for twelve gold or so...
Wilhelm commented on this the other day, but it's always funny to get stuck in "rush hour" when you end up on the same boat as some guild on its way to Onyxia's lair (presumably). Makes the server feel very alive.
Talking about my tauren's levelling journey, I noted that Un'goro had been strangely devoid of devilsaurs, presumably hunted to extinction by keen skinners and leatherworkers. I don't know if this is less of a thing now with even better gear in the game or whether it's just because Hydraxian Waterlords has always been a bit quieter, but either way Un'goro wasn't nearly as empty there and I had to dodge out of the way of roaming devilsaurs more than once. One time I even ran into King Mosh himself.
Flying up and down the coast of Kalimdor I got to find out what happens if you get disconnected mid-flight - I thought you would appear at the nearest flightmaster or something, but nope - I reappeared in mid-air without a gryphon upon reconnecting and ended up plummeting onto what I think is an otherwise unreachable plateau in Stonetalon Mountains. I had a bit of a look around and then hearthed out, since I was nowhere near where I wanted to be and there didn't seem to be a safe way off.
I had virtually no memory of this escort quest in Felwood; I suppose I might have done it back in Vanilla but I'm pretty sure I didn't run into it on Kronos. Pretty sure I would have remembered the giant tree...
We'll see what I'll decide to focus on next.

17/06/2020

Quo vado Classico?

In case your Latin isn't up to scratch (or in case mine isn't, hah), that subject line is meant to say: "Where do I go in Classic?"

My night elf hunter is slowly but surely approaching the level cap, and I finally gave in and rolled up another Alliance alt as well, a pally. I don't know what it is with me and paladins...

Nonetheless, I can't deny that I'm feeling a bit of ennui in regards to Classic. I've had a great time casually levelling to sixty on both factions, and I certainly wouldn't mind doing it again either - but probably not immediately, or with much haste. Maybe I should let my subscription lapse for a bit once my nelf hits sixty?

More than anything I've been feeling lonely in the game as of late. The other day I found that I had been kicked from my Horde guild for inactivity. That probably sounds more dramatic than it was, but still... Basically, I always knew that they had pretty strict activity requirements, so when I first started playing my nelf I still made sure to log into all my Horde characters at least once a week - but eventually I forgot, and was therefore removed. They didn't boot me from their Discord, where I'm still tagged as "guild friend" so there are no hard feelings or anything, but it still made me a bit sad in a way I hadn't anticipated.

I hadn't chosen this guild myself and just kind of ended up staying there after the friend who'd got me in stopped playing, and I never really got that tightly integrated due to my casual play style... but I did run a few dungeons with people, during all of which everyone was friendly and helpful, and of course being there when the main tank got his Thunderfury was exciting and memorable. I guess that despite of my limited involvement, I liked the feeling of belonging that being a member of the guild gave me. Playing completely on my own, without any attachments whatsoever, just makes me feel unmoored.

But do I have it in me to get attached again in Classic? I don't even know. For one thing I'd have to choose a faction/server to focus on - and despite of having more Horde characters, I find myself leaning more towards Alliance when given the choice. Horde has always been the faction I played because other people asked me to.

I'm just not sure I can bring enough value and regular activity to a guild to be a worthy member. I only really know how to be part of a guild in a pretty hardcore way, the sort of person who "lives" in that particular MMO and logs in every day, which is not how I've been playing Classic. I have of course observed other players being more casual members, but the kick from my Horde guild has been a harsh reminder that it's all too easy to be disposable when you're not around often enough, and as someone who gets pretty invested in guild matters I don't want to set myself up for more heartache if I forget to log into a particular character for a few weeks.

09/06/2020

Night Elf Hunters Everywhere

A few weeks ago my night elf hunter had just landed in Searing Gorge and was about to go off in search of some incendosaurs when a call in general chat caught my attention: Someone was looking for exactly one more for the quest Overseer Maltorius, which I knew to be a pretty tough group quest. The request for exactly one more struck me as slightly odd because it seemed to imply that they already had four people, and surely that was enough to take him down, pretty tough or not?
Never one to pass up an opportunity for easy group content completion however, I asked for an invite and soon found myself partied up with two other night elf hunters, who were both dead, causing me to deduce that they had tried to take him on with the two of them and failed. I guess they figured that just one more person was going to be enough to tip the scales and that "LF1M" sounded more enticing than a generic "LFM".
After reviving near the boss, they partially fought their way back out to meet me on my way in. We felt pretty powerful: Three hunters with their pets is almost like six players! We hatched a plan to use ice traps and our pets to distract all the adds and nuke down the boss. We executed it pretty well too, but unfortunately it wasn't a good plan: the boss had so much health that he was still far from dead when our traps ran out and our pets died, resulting in another wipe.
After we had revived ourselves and all our pets, we decided to take the weakest of the adds on first on the next try. I think the boss then ran into one of our traps kind of by accident so that we ended up killing all the adds first... and suddenly we were able to finish the whole thing smooth as butter, with nobody dying at all.
We then proceeded to run out of the area and kill other mobs around Searing Gorge for other quests for a bit before saying our goodbyes. Hunters for the win!
The other night I had another amusing encounter of a similar kind. Having just landed in Un'goro I saw someone call out for help with "the elite elemental quest". I asked if they meant It's Dangerous to Go Alone and they replied in the affirmative. I threw them a group invite... and they were dead by the elemental's cave. I couldn't resist joking: "I take it you tried to go alone?"
Once again it was another night elf hunter with a cat. In fact, she couldn't help comment on how similar we looked: not twins exactly, but we were both girls with green-ish braids and wearing several pieces of identical gear. Together we managed to make short work of Blazerunner - though my newfound friend managed to die again in the process - and after she'd revived I took a quick picture of us together before once again saying my goodbyes.
It's funny to me that there seems to be a theme here of all the soloers levelling nelf hunters and then coming together to help each other with the elite quests. Classic can be quite peculiar that way.

29/05/2020

The Rogue Question

One type of item that drops in Classic but not in the live game - and that isn't common in more modern MMORPGs in general - is the lockbox. And I know that as soon as you read that word your mind probably went to what gamers have come to associate with the term in recent years, which is microtransactions with uncertain outcomes, but I'm actually talking about old-school lockboxes, which is to say items that are simply locked containers that need opening in the world, either via the lockpicking skill or use of a key.

I'm always a bit conflicted when I end up finding/winning one of these, because I know they are a hassle to deal with that probably won't be worth the reward, but at the same time I hate to vendor anything that has a use, not to mention that vendors only pay an absolute pittance compared to even the cheapest drop you're likely to get if you were to actually open the box (presumably to give you an incentive to open them).

Keys are technically accessible to all (though they require crafting by blacksmiths), however the way the material cost of crafting them works out compared to the rewards from the boxes they can open, it doesn't appear to be a good business model to buy or sell them.

Ideally I'd love to just put every box I find on the auction house - presumably some rogue somewhere would be quite happy to make a profit while levelling their lockpicking skill - but alas, "you can't auction lootable items".

So that just leaves the option of finding a rogue. I used to just wait until I'd end up in a dungeon group with one, at which point asking them to please pick a lock while the mage distributes water or whatever feels like a natural part of the grouping dynamics. The only problem with this has been that rogues don't seem to like dungeoneering very much and I only encounter them in my groups quite rarely compared to how commonly they are played, which means that any lockbox can end up sitting in my inventory for quite a length of time before I get to open it, taking up precious bag space in the meantime.

More recently I've taken to just doing a /who rogue Ironforge whenever I'm in town myself and then looking around the Commons for a suitable target, which never takes very long. I then politely whisper them to ask if they would mind opening a lockbox for me, and I've actually never had a negative reply to this (though I think a couple of times I've whispered people who were AFK).

It still makes me somewhat unreasonably anxious though. I'm not at all shy when it comes to approaching people about grouping up, but something about bothering a rogue about a lockbox just feels... different. I can never help but remember having read one too many rants from people feeling pestered by strangers wanting to use their class's services (also see mages re: portals and water). To make up for any imagined transgressions, I try to always give an appropriate tip (appropriate to my level that is... if I'm on a lowbie alt I just don't have that much money to give away). Of course what happens then is that I open the box and the contents are actually worth less than the money I just spent on opening it; though I've got a little better at judging how much of a tip I can reasonably give without going negative even if the drop from the box is not great.

I do remember all of this being a non-issue back in the day when I had friends who played rogues - they were usually happy for me to just send them any boxes I found in the mail, and they would unlock and return them to me free of charge. I remember one rogue in my old guild also tended to include funny little RP-style notes about how each lock had been challenging in particular ways.

Ultimately, I don't know how I feel about this mechanic playing as more of a loner these days. It is interesting in many ways, but in others I also find it bothersome. What about you?

13/05/2020

A Quiet Month & Arathi Basin

As you may have been able to deduce from the fact that I haven't actually posted about anything Classic in over a month, I haven't been playing it very much recently. It's not that I lost interest in the game or anything, but as I've learned in the past, I'm just not really able to devote time to more than two MMORPGs at a time, even in these exceptional times of having extra gaming hours available. I may still try to play as many as three simultaneously, but ultimately something always slides onto the back burner, and for the past month this has been WoW.

Right now its fortunes seem to be on the rise again however, as I recently finished the latest campaign in Neverwinter and don't currently feel motivated to spend all that much time on alts there, meaning that my playtime in that is likely to drop off again soon. Plus with all the (sometimes quite hectic) running of group content I've been doing in SWTOR, logging on my hunter to just grind some mobs in Tanaris has been positively relaxing in comparison.

That said, the only really noteworthy thing to report about my Classic activity in the past month or so has been that I tried out Arathi Basin. My hunter was approaching the end of level 49, and this seemed like a good time to have another go at a bit of midbie PvP, especially since I had fond memories of AB.

I'll admit that I was thoroughly wrong about that one. Or as someone in my most recent instance pug said in a completely different context: "Your opposite faction memories are bleeding through." Just like the map design of the original Alterac Valley quite clearly favoured the Alliance, classic AB gives an advantage to the Horde because of how much easier it is to defend the farm-blacksmith-lumbermill triangle than the corresponding Alliance mirror. In fact, I did have flashbacks to happier days in Cataclysm and how my rated battleground team would stand poised at the crossroads between the three bases to rush to the defence of any of them at a moment's notice.

This is not Cataclysm though, and I'm not playing Horde. Or in other words: With Alliance already having a reputation for being rubbish at PvP in Classic, having that situation exacerbated by the map design just resulted in a complete shitshow. We didn't simply lose all three matches that I played, but got completely roflstomped every single time. I think at one point we were even five-capped. It was... not very fun and left me with no desire to queue for AB again.

For all the things I love about Classic, I really don't think that PvP is one of its strong points, and I think I'll continue to scratch that particular itch in SWTOR instead. In Azeroth, I'll be back to chilling out while grinding bug parts.

29/04/2020

My Raiding History, Part 4: Cataclysm & SWTOR

As explained in my last post, my guild didn't have the best start into Cataclysm, what with an enforced downsizing to ten-man due to a mass exodus of core players. That said, the new expansion started off pretty well from my point of view despite of that.

The old world revamp provided a great incentive to level new alts, and the new, harder dungeons actually gave people a reason to form guild groups again instead of simply hitting the dungeon finder queue button as soon as they logged in. The first tier of raiding was really good as well, consisting of no less than three different raid instances and offering up what I considered a decent challenge. (I seem to remember Blizzard saying later on that Cataclysm's normal raids were tuned close to what later became heroic mode - there was no real "entry level" at the time.) I also got into rated battlegrounds and really came to love them.

That said, all was not well. There was a certain malaise in the air around the expansion, with everyone citing different reasons for their discontent. Looking back at this blog, I was surprised to find just how well I articulated my annoyance with Blizzard's forced obsolescence model as early as February 2011. It got worse when they decided by the end of June that everyone should be done with tier eleven now and swung the nerf bat hard. Re-reading that last post, it sounds a lot less negative than I remember feeling at the time, but even so I got people in the comments telling me that my guild was just bad if we hadn't managed to clear the tier within six months and that it was time to move on. I remember finding that whole attitude - both from Blizzard and other players - incredibly patronising and annoying.

Firelands was another decent raid tier... but somehow the passion wasn't there for me anymore. I think I got closest to figuring out what was wrong in this post when I concluded that I was still having fun, but couldn't help but feel that based on past experiences, it should be possible to have way more fun than I was having. In hindsight I think it was too many small factors finally coming together: holy priests not being in a great place performance-wise, little useful loot for my class/spec in Firelands, missing some of the camaraderie I used to have with guildies that left (I liked most of the ones that remained a lot as well, but it just wasn't the same with the much smaller numbers), and feeling beat down by Blizzard's constant push to finish new content on their schedule instead of on my own. In September that year, I decided to call it quits on raiding.

I continued to play WoW for a few more months however, with my rated battleground team more or less taking the place that raiding used to occupy in my evenings. At the end of November Blizzard released Dragon Soul, the last raid of Cataclysm, right alongside the new raid finder feature, which I tried and rated kind of entertaining in an odd way but I also concluded that it had little to do with raiding in the traditional sense. The most obvious expression of this was when I saw Deathwing die and felt nothing.

In December, Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, the first new MMO to release since I'd started playing WoW that interested me enough to try it. Like with Warcraft back in the day, I didn't get into the game with the intention to raid (though unlike back then, I did know what raids were this time around and had a general idea of what I was getting into), but the small, friendly guild that included some friends that had formerly been in my WoW guild too (before they stopped playing) soon had me hyped, and when I actually joined my first raid soon afterwards, I had an absolute blast.

In fact, I was loving the endgame in general, despite of the game's general focus on alt play. Not just that - I loved it so much that when my friendly social guild fell apart a few months later, I actually set out to find a new home just so that I would be able to continue to raid, and found it in Twin Suns Squadron - where I eventually ended up meeting my husband, who actually runs the guild these days, and where we are still raiding eight years later.

Both the guild and the game have undergone a lot of changes throughout those years (with the biggest one probably being the introduction of level sync in 2015, which made all raids valid endgame content, even the oldest ones), but in a way it's felt much more stable than anything I ever had in WoW. I think in a way that has served to crystallise just what it is that still attracts me to raiding after all these years.

Throughout my raiding career in WoW, I often found myself wondering just what it was that really mattered to me. When Blizzard seemingly got raid difficulty "wrong" it frustrated me at times, but did that mean that I was looking for a different challenge level than they were providing? Lack of useful gear drops for my class/spec annoyed me, but did that mean that I was only in it for the gear?

I think SWTOR has taught me that above all else, I raid for the social aspect. I guess it should have been a hint that my best times raiding in WoW were when my guild was also at its strongest and most unified. Concerns about things like progression and loot distracted me, but I think ultimately even those things were only really an issue for me in so far as they affected the guild's social cohesion.

SWTOR has little to offer to anyone looking for constant novelty when it comes to raiding, as they only release a new operation once every couple of years at the current rate. Challenge levels are (relatively) consistent across the board (though Bioware has been pushing the envelope somewhat with more recent releases) and are limited by the game not supporting add-ons, so that no fight can throw more at you than a human brain can easily process. For several years now, raids haven't even been the best place to get gear anymore either, just one more supplementary source of it.

So while you do get people that look for novelty, challenge or gear from raiding in SWTOR, they tend to fade in and out relatively quickly as it doesn't take long to satisfy their particular itch and then there is nothing left for them. The ones who stick with it are those that just enjoy the experience of hanging out and cracking stupid jokes with a group of friends on a Sunday evening, and don't necessarily mind that the boss fight they're wiping on has been in the game for seven years already. After all, if it ever gets a bit too much, we can always go and fight something else for a few weeks, what with all the raids being valid endgame.

It's been an interesting journey to say the least.

13/04/2020

My Raiding History, Part 3: Wrath of the Lich King

While Burning Crusade was technically my first expansion, I was still too new to the game when it came out to really appreciate how much it was changing things. Wrath was the first time I actually knew about an expansion well in advance and could have some some appreciation of what it was going to bring to the game. I don't think I was particularly hyped, however... unlike many who look back on Wrath with a lot of fondness, I hadn't played any of the Warcraft RTS games and therefore had no clue who Arthas even was (it's not like he came up a lot in Vanilla questing or anything).

Also, many of the announced changes sounded more like "let's wait and see" than immediately exciting to me. For example Blizzard had proudly proclaimed that Wrath of the Lich King was going to turn shadow priests into "real" damage dealers, and that they were going to get rid of the whole "mana battery" role by simply making replenishment a buff that multiple classes could bring to a raid. This sounded sensible to me at the time but not particularly fun considering that I enjoyed the utility and didn't care that much about dps numbers. I ended up switching to holy.

Questing through the new zones was enjoyable to me, but we nonetheless lost some guildies to "having to level up again". My favourite healing buddy, an undead holy priest, only made it to level 71 or 72 before giving up and quitting the game because he just could not stand levelling. The new dungeons were varied and interesting, but also laughably easy on heroic mode compared to BC heroics, with no attunement requirements and pretty much everything being AoE tankable.

The revamped Naxxramas and two new single-boss raids kind of had the same issue - mind you, we were not so good at the game that we breezed through them all in a week or anything, but we did actually kill everything on regular difficulty before Ulduar came out, which was a position we had never been in before. At the time Blizzard had said that they had a plan to revamp raiding in Wrath though, and they had stated that the entry tier of raiding was intentionally supposed to be easy, so we rolled with it.

The one thing to keep us busy for a while was the first "achievement raid" which required you to kill the black dragon Sartharion with all three of his drake adds up instead of killing them beforehand - I thought this was a stupid concept because unlike the ZA bear run it basically required you to "do it wrong", intentionally handicapping yourself, but since there was nothing else to do we did it anyway. Being the second person in the guild to get the much-coveted twilight drake that dropped from doing the achievement wasn't half bad either.

Ulduar came to be considered one of WoW's best raids ever - if not the best - but for me it was once again a mixed bag. Overall the fights were fun, but I didn't really get to enjoy the beautiful environments until much later as my old PC was really struggling in 25-mans at this point and having to dial my graphics down to low meant that the experience largely consisted of me walking around in a grey haze. The new optional hardmodes were clever but also a point of contention at times, e.g. when people argued that we should work on Deconstructor's (the fourth boss's) hard mode instead of trying to push onwards to actually fully clear the raid first. I wrote a whole post about my love/hate relationship with Ulduar in the past.

This time we weren't "done" by the time the next raid tier released, and the fact that there was once again no attunement required, combined with it being much easier on normal mode than Ulduar while also giving better loot, led to more contention about what progression should look like. As I had actually just started this blog around that time, I wrote a whole post about my frustrations with this.

Trial of the Crusader was not a very fun time for me in general - it was accessible and gave good loot, which is why it felt like you should do it multiple times a week if need be, but the fights were meh compared to Ulduar, and the new system of having multiple difficulties for the entire raid still felt kind of half-baked. Normal mode was pretty easy for my guild, but then 25-man hard mode was like an absolute brick wall. I don't remember if we ever even got the first encounter down beyond that one time when it bugged out on us in a helpful way.

Icecrown Citadel felt better again, both in terms of difficulty and in terms of general fun, though the constant AoE healing spam required on some fights was starting to stress me out a bit. (This was something that had started early in Wrath but slowly got worse as the expansion progressed.) Unfortunately, it was also the time when my guild broke apart.

Another one of the new concepts introduced in Wrath was that all raids came in both a 10-man and a 25-man version, with the 25-man giving higher level loot. We were still a 25-man guild and just treated the 10-mans the same way we had Karazhan and Zul'Aman in BC: as optional content that people could run in smaller groups on off-nights and on their alts. This mostly seemed to work okay too, but I think in hindsight the fact that it wasn't actually different content was what first planted the seed of discontent in some people's minds. After all, they clearly could do Naxx, Ulduar etc. with just their small group of friends... 25-man mode only scaled up the numbers for better loot.

So when Blizzard announced that in the next expansion, Cataclysm, 10- and 25-mans were now going to drop the same level of gear, a good chunk of our core raiders decided that they were going to nope out of playing with us right then and there, with the idea being that they would form their own, smaller ten-man guild for Cata. They said that they simply preferred the smaller format but soon seemingly put a lie to this by expanding to 25-man again early in Cata - apparently they just hadn't liked certain people in the guild and wanted to leave this "chaff" behind.

This was a big blow to those of us who remained, especially as the leavers took our former main tank with them. Sindragosa was the last boss that we killed as a 25-man raiding guild. The couple of officers that remained scrambled to keep things going and I did see the Lich King and later Halion dead on 10-man at least, but it wasn't quite the same. (Plus it didn't help that I found the ending of the Arthas fight thoroughly underwhelming.) With less than half of our roster remaining, the guild just felt gutted, and I couldn't help but go into Cataclysm with a certain sadness.

For me, Wrath of the Lich King will always be the expansion that made raiding divisive in the name of giving people options. There had always been arguments and drama, but knowing that you needed those other people to see the content and get the bosses down at least served as a sort of unifying force. Wrath was all about giving people more choices, but as it turns out making choices as a guild is hard and presenting people with too many diverging paths along the way just leads to squabbles:
  • The introduction of 10-man raiding reduced 25-man to something some people only did for the better loot, and then promptly ditched the moment Cata allowed it.
  • The introduction of dual spec made it easier to change roles, but also meant that people were suddenly expected to be good at and gear for multiple roles, and that raids could be designed around e.g. having a different number of healers on different bosses. Some players did not mind this and were happy to switch, but at other times it felt like pulling straws as for who had to switch to do the "sucky" job now.
  • The removal of attunements and every raid tier being instantly accessible from Trial of the Crusader onwards meant that the only reason to go back to places like Ulduar was for achievements and to "see the content", again leading to arguments depending on people's motivations.
  • The introduction of the option to extend raid lockouts helped slower progressing guilds to advance through Ulduar but also suddenly caused arguments about whether to extend or reset.
Ultimately this is why I can't look back on Wrath raiding with too much fondness. It did have a lot of good fights and I did have a lot of good times, but it was as if everything good had to come with a "but" attached all of a sudden, where Burning Crusade had just felt like pure fun from start to finish.