12/07/2024

Fifteen Years of WoW Blogging

I haven't been very good at keeping track of milestones on this blog. Partially I think this is due to the fact that I'd only been posting for a little over three years by the time that I originally decided to step away from WoW. After this the blog lay fallow for a while, even if it never went completely quiet (I'd still find excuses to occasionally comment on BlizzCon announcements and stuff like that), and it seemed odd to celebrate so-and-so many years of blogging when I hadn't really done all that much for a good chunk of those years.

This year I remembered to make a note in advance though... that today, the blog turns fifteen years old. What a crazy ride it's been. I thought it would be fun to look back on those years a bit.

When I started this blog in July 2009, I was 26 years old, working a part-time job in a bakery and still living in Austria with my mother, though I was saving up to relocate to the UK and move in with my then-boyfriend (whom I'd met in WoW, of course) at the end of the year. World of Warcraft was probably close to the peak of its popularity with its Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Blogging was quite popular as well, and blogging about WoW was a solid niche.

I'd been reading and leaving comments on other people's WoW blogs for a while (many of which have sadly been lost to time since then), and finally figured that it was time to set up my own space to share my thoughts about the game. My very first post was about heroic Oculus, which was certainly... a choice. In those early days I had a lot of free time and not much else going on in my life, so I posted 12-20 times a month, which seems slightly insane to me now, looking back at it as a 41-year-old with a full time job.

It's hard to summarise all those posts in a few sentences as I wrote about a lot of different subjects. I guess one thing I can say is that my posts were perhaps slightly shorter on average than they are nowadays, and I didn't seem to have as many reservations about just how much "meat" there needed to be to a topic to make it worth its own little post. I wrote about random game mechanics I liked and disliked, good pugs and bad pugs (I spent so much time pugging dungeons back then), raiding with my guild, commented on WoW-related news, and talked about pieces of gear I liked. I basically just really enjoyed the game and almost every aspect of it. I wrote about day one of the dungeon finder, which honestly feels like something of a historical document at this point. At the end of the year, I went through with my plan to move to the UK.

I spent most of 2010 unemployed, and therefore continued to have a lot of time to play and blog, maintaining my cadence of publishing a post pretty much every other day. I continued to write about the same kinds of things, though I think if you look closely, you can see a slow decline in the amount of joy I expressed. There were fewer happy stories, and more rants about inconsiderate pugs and changes I didn't like. Plus my guild wasn't doing so well either. Incidentally, WoW did help me get a job in November though - that post was also the first time I heard of reddit, as someone linked it there and I went to investigate the source of that sudden traffic spike.

At the end of the year, the Cataclysm came, and my boyfriend's physical copy of the expansion got lost in the mail. (If I remember correctly, Amazon refunded him but then the parcel randomly showed up in May the next year or something.) The new content gave me a lot to talk about, something that lasted into 2011.

However, somehow things weren't quite the same. I still posted quite a lot that year, but 12 posts a month went from being my lower limit to being my upper one, with the average being closer to 8. I posted about lacking lustre in February, and nostalgia and doubts in July. When Mists of Pandaria was announced, I was decidedly underwhelmed. I stepped down from raiding and focused on my rated battleground team instead, which brought with it a brief revival of the joy I used to feel when playing. But then Star Wars: The Old Republic came out, and my interest in WoW just petered out. I only made 6 posts in 2012, the last of which was me declaring that I was done with the game and retiring the blog. Funny how that worked out, isn't it?

I did indeed not post for more than one and a half years after that, but things changed in my real life during that time. I broke up with my boyfriend (insert some snarky comment about how he was my "WoW boyfriend" so naturally I had dump him when I stopped playing) and started a relationship with the guy who I'm now married to. This included moving house and being unemployed again, which was not so great. As my new love scrambled to find ways to keep me from being too depressed by the circumstances, we ended up realising that he'd also used to play WoW at one point, and we rolled up a new pair of alts at the end of 2013 to check out the changes since both of us had last played. This ended up keeping us busy a few months into 2014, but it wasn't long until we both lost interest in the game again, so I only got a little over a dozen posts out of the whole adventure. In real life, I also got a full time job a couple of months later.

The next revival of the blog came from an unexpected source in mid-2015, as Nostalrius took the private server scene by storm and really made the whole concept of going back to Vanilla go mainstream. I actually never played there myself, as I rolled up on its much smaller competitor Kronos instead. That was super exciting for about a month or ten posts, but then my interest flagged again... though not so much due to lack of appeal this time and more a general lack of time to engage with multiple MMOs at once. At the end of the year I posted about BlizzCon (and shared a video by some medium-sized YouTuber I'd found, called Asmongold) and felt an urge to get back into the saddle on Kronos. I continued to post about my private server adventures at a rate of a couple of posts per month throughout 2016.

By 2017 my enthusiasm for that was starting to dry up again though. I'd left Kronos the previous year since I couldn't stand life at max level on a PvP server, and there always seemed to be something wrong with every other server I tried, so I only made about half a dozen posts throughout most of the year. That November of course was when Blizzard officially announced Classic. I made a few posts related to that in a flurry of initial excitement, and then set in for a long wait until Classic's release, only checking in with the blog occasionally throughout 2018.

The release of Classic in August 2019 is when I feel the blog was revived "properly", as that's when I started posting several times a month again (even if I only made half a dozen posts or less, it was still more and more regular than I'd been for the last seven years before that). I was all in on playing Classic on Horde side for more than six months, followed by me levelling a night elf on an RP server by myself, but I did start to feel the doldrums a bit by spring of 2020 as I didn't have any real friends left to play with.

Through a series of fortunate events, I ended up joining a pug raid in August, and found myself recruited into a great guild shortly afterwards. I also ended up checking out retail again for the first time in more than six years. Hanging out and raiding with my Classic guild - plus an increase in working from home time due to the pandemic - carried me through most of 2021, though things started to go a bit pear-shaped during Classic Burning Crusade as the vibe of the guild changed and Blizzard decided to soft-close the server I was on by enabling free transfers.

I got a few more months of enjoyment out of that expansion in 2022, but my guild eventually folded and when it became clear that there would be no BC era servers, I felt I was done with Classic as it was. I decided to try my luck on Classic era instead and once again fell in with a great guild, though I also kept playing retail on the side and got excited for the Dragonflight expansion.

Throughout 2023, I continued to post about my adventures on Classic era, mixed with posts about retail, which started to gain more ground. Changes at my work meant that raiding with my era guild didn't really work anymore and I had to give up on that, which provided even more of an incentive to focus on retail with my husband and some friends instead. I also tried out Hardcore when it launched, and got excited about Season of Discovery in December.

Sadly, that excitement didn't carry over into 2024 for more than two months, so since then it's mostly been retail with the occasional dip into one of the Classic modes sprinkled in here and there. We'll see where things go from here, but it's certainly been one hell of a journey.

08/07/2024

Re-evaluating MoP Content in Remix

All the content people are engaging with in Mists of Pandaria: Remix right now has been in the game for ten years or more, but I reckon with how little reason WoW gives people to go back to old expansions, most players haven't actually seen or thought about any of it in a long time. Or they might never have played through it in the first place if they only picked up WoW for the first time at some point after 2014.

I've seen quite a few "I forgot how good this was" comments around the internet when people talk about Remix, so I wanted to give my own re-review of some of the content. I did play through most of MoP back when it was the current expansion, and I do have blog posts that talk about my initial impressions from back then to fact-check myself when it comes to what I actually thought of it at the time.

Quests & Story

Looking back at my writings about Pandaria's early questing zones from 2014, I was somewhat more critical of them than I remember, in the sense that after I'd just spent the last two years playing SWTOR almost exclusively, WoW's questing felt a bit clunky and dull in comparison. I did think the zones were beautiful though, and it did occur to me in Remix that I was somewhat reminded of Dragonflight in terms of how much the world is just pleasant to spend time in.

I also liked the pandaren more than I expected, though I was rather put off by the way the factions were portrayed. I saw someone say while talking about Remix that Pandaria showed how to do the faction conflict right, and all I could think was "haha, no". I hated how the introductory quest to the expansion has you machine-gunning down enemies from a helicopter, both for stretching the definition of "steampunk elements" to its limits and for making both factions look like horrible warmongers. No, their behaviour is not portrayed as a good thing in the context of the story, but it's not exactly condemned either? You bring so much suffering onto Pandria and except for Taran Zhu, everyone's just weirdly chill about it. Making me dislike my own faction is not great writing in my opinion.

Speaking of not great writing, I'd forgotten how MoP was also the era of... certain other narrative choices, such as Jaina's "I'm gonna be really mad and kill people" arc. Which, you know, is a valid direction to take her, I just never thought it was well done at all, and it still didn't feel that way upon replaying that storyline in Remix either. Mostly it felt like someone saw how people made fun of Jaina's weepiness in ICC at the end of Wrath and decided to make her do a 180 by making her a "badass" instead, even if it felt forced as hell. And oh, I remember all the grousing about the "A Little Patience" scenario and Varian lecturing a night elf leader who is thousands of years his senior about how to be patient...

Still, after recently spending some time in Cata questing zones and realising just how dire they were, Pandaria was definitely a step up in many ways.

Scenarios

On the subject of scenarios, this is another feature that I saw several people comment on with lines like "gosh, scenarios were so fun; I don't know why Blizzard didn't carry them forward into future expansions". Not me! For me it's really just been a reminder of how clunky and awkward they were and that I don't miss them one bit. Though Blizzard did improve one thing about them in Remix: unlike in original MoP, in Remix, mobs in scenarios actually drop loot.

Dungeons 

I apparently never wrote much about MoP's dungeons, and I didn't have any particularly strong memories associated with any of them. On re-visiting them, they are a pretty varied and fun bunch, even if having the revamped Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance in the mix just because they were redone during that expansion seemed odd, considering that they have nothing to do with the expansion story otherwise. I do have a slight dislike for Mogu'shan Palace, because for some reason it's always that dungeon where I end up with an extremely weak group and everything takes forever to die, a problem I haven't had to the same extent anywhere else.

Raids

My experience with MoP's raids back in 2014 consisted of doing a couple of them in LFR, which went fine at the time. I apparently didn't write about it, but I'm reasonably sure that I must've done at least a couple of wings of Throne of Thunder as well, as it seemed quite familiar upon revisiting it. I never set foot into Siege of Orgrimmar.

Now, you can't really pass any judgement on raid mechanics in Remix, considering that LFR quickly turned into a zerg that has bosses dying in mere seconds, and even when we tried to under-man higher raid difficulties, we weren't too worried about mechanics and basically just wanted to see whether we could burst things down before they could kill us. I do think the first tier of raiding being split into three raids was a good decision back then and also makes that tier more enjoyable in Remix because you get to see a greater variety of environments, in smaller chunks. Comparatively, Throne of Thunder and Siege seem impossibly long with their 12-14 bosses, even when you're just zerging through them. I can't imagine how much of a drag that must've felt like when people were actually raiding those places properly.

Also, it's interesting to see how Blizzard clearly hadn't quite figured out how to handle the RP bits in raids yet back in 2014. Some might complain about things like Lorewalker Cho's endless monologuing between encounters in Mogu'shan Vaults, but I think that actually kind of works in Remix as it provides pacing and gives slower members of the group time to catch up, preventing the resident demon hunter from just rushing to the last boss with no care for anyone else. However, boss fights that are hard-coded to take a certain minium amount of time while some RP plays out, regardless of how fast you kill things, do not seem like great design. I'm looking at you, Galakras. Waiting for Lei Shen to finish humping his pillars is another one that I'm particularly un-fond of.

Isle of Thunder

I didn't write much about the Isle of Thunder back in 2014, other than to mention that I found it kind of disappointing after the way a friend had advertised it to me, and that I hated the chain of solo scenarios required to unlock it. At least I was mentally prepared for the latter this time, though I still wasn't a fan of the mechanic. The Isle itself was... fine, though? It's weird that fighting the forces of the Thunder King is made to be so much more annoying than fighting the enemy faction, but in general, the level of OP-ness in Remix makes it a much more chill place than it was back in the day. Back then, the mob density made it kind of dangerous, but in Remix that's not really a problem. While I haven't spent any Bronze on upgrading my shaman's gear, thousands of threads in her cloak still make it a breeze to waltz into the enemy camp and AoE everything in sight. I also got to see the Trove of the Thunder King scenario through to the end for the first time.

Timeless Isle

The Timeless Isle was somewhat interesting to me in 2014, and I praised it back in the day for encouraging grouping and providing an amazing loot rush for newly minted max-levels (among other things). In Remix, I've admittedly found it a lot less compelling. It's nice to finally have a cloak for easy access to Ordos, but in terms of Remix-specific rewards it doesn't really have much to offer. Similarly, it's convenient to be able to solo all the mobs with ease, but it makes hunting for rares even more of a futile endeavour than it was back in 2014. If a star mob doesn't spawn right in front of you, you'll basically have no chance of ever tagging it, and even then it can fail if someone else manages to one-shot it before you can even get your own instant cast off.

Obvious gameplay differences aside, I've got to admit that Remix has done a pretty good at letting people relive the general "vibe" of late Pandaria, encouraging you to zoom around a beautiful landscape to hunt down rare mobs and grinding endless dailies for rewards. I wonder whether another expansion would have worked quite as well with this framework.

21/06/2024

The Fresh Vanilla Initiative

One thing I've learned from WoW over the last few years is that people apparently love starting over on a new server. I do get the appeal to some degree, because there's definitely a special kind of energy in the air whenever a new server is opened - it's a bit like an expansion launch, only without the new content. On the other hand though, it still surprises me sometimes just how popular this concept is, simply because being able to keep your progress is a big part of an MMO's appeal in my opinion.

Personally, I'm definitely over getting too excited about that kind of thing at this point. I'm the cliché of that person who has no time for MMOs anymore because she's just too busy nowadays... except for me it's not three jobs and a bunch of kids; it's the fact that I'm already playing multiple MMOs that I'm emotionally invested in, so I just don't have the time or energy to go no-life for a new launch, whether it's a new game or just a new server. And no-lifing definitely seems to be the order of the day on these occasions, or else you just end up being left behind. Me, I just want to be able to drop in once or twice a week to have a bit of fun, which is why a more static and less frantic environment like the era servers are much more up my alley.

Nonetheless, it's undeniable that there is a considerable audience that is always clamouring for the next new thing... or for a new round of the old thing as it might be. In the case of Classic WoW, I'm pretty sure there were people interested in fresh Vanilla servers at least from the moment Classic Burning Crusade was announced, but at the time, they were a very tiny minority. Five years later though, with the Classic train having moved forward three expansions, to the point where some people don't even consider it Classic anymore... the cries for a repeat of the Vanilla launch experience are definitely growing louder. I actually think that this was a big part of Season of Discovery's initial appeal, the promise of "Vanilla again, but with a twist". It quickly turned into something quite different though, so the search for that "fresh Vanilla experience" continues.

The other day I learned that some players have decided to take things into their own hands since then, by launching their own "fresh" community experience, similar to what people did with hardcore one and a half years ago. Since there are enough servers/clusters on era that are just kind of empty, picking one and having lots of people start over there together is effectively like starting on a new server. Sure, someone might still have an old Naxx-geared character lying around somewhere, but they are unlikely to have much of an impact on the new starters, especially in PvE.

Unfortunately the server of choice for this project was not a PvE realm though, but rather the old RP-PvP servers, which are Deviate Delight on US and Zandalar Tribe on EU, respectively. Curious to see the situation for myself, I created a night elf on Zandalar Tribe, spawned into Teldrassil and killed a few mobs while my census add-on ran. It didn't take long to complete its scan though, only detecting a little over a hundred characters online - this was on a Friday at lunch time though. I checked in again later in the evening, by which point the character count was close to two hundred.

I would have liked to check in on the Horde as well, but I forgot that era still has the old restriction that prevents you from creating characters of the other faction on a PvP server, and since Zandalar Tribe isn't connected to any other realms, there's no way to circumvent that limitation. So as for the question of how the Horde is doing, I can only shrug.

I'm not sure how much success this project will see, because while two hundred concurrent players per faction is not bad, it's a far cry from the kinds of crowds I saw on Hydraxian Waterlords when it was the unofficial hardcore server... then again, things started small there as well, so DD and ZT certainly have room to grow.

I guess their biggest problem is going to be that there is so much else going on in WoW right now. Classic Cataclysm launched only a few weeks ago, and Season of Discovery players can look forward to phase four raising the level cap to 60 soon. Meanwhile in retail, there are two months left in Pandaria: Remix, and then the game will segue straight into the next expansion. Unless you're an absolute Vanilla purist, chances are that some other mode of WoW may be vying for your attention already or soon.

Still, I'm a big fan of community projects like this, which is why I wanted to post about it at least. I'm not going to pretend that I have a huge reach, but every little bit to spread the word should help I suppose. I was honestly quite surprised when I first learned about this project and realised that it had been going for a month without me ever becoming aware of its existence. I do think more people should know about it at least so they can make their own decisions about whether it's interesting to them or not. Here are some other resources for you to read/watch if you want to learn more about the project:

13/06/2024

Remix: FOMO and Culture Clash

There are a variety of things I'd like to be doing in WoW right now: I haven't worked on my hardcore priest in a while for example - in fact, the other day I logged in to find that I'd been kicked from the guild for inactivity. However, Pandaria: Remix keeps pushing my FOMO buttons every time I log in. "67 Days Remaining" it declares right there on the character selection screen, so there's always that feeling that everything else can wait. It's annoying, but that's just one of those things about marketing: simply being aware of how the trick works doesn't automatically make you immune to its power.

One of the criticisms I've seen levelled against Remix is that people think Bronze shouldn't be the currency for everything. I didn't really get that at the beginning, and maybe the devs had a similar line of thinking as I did: that making Bronze the currency for everything would allow collectors to focus on getting mounts and cosmetics, while people who don't care about that kind of stuff could upgrade their gear and be OP instead. I guess the devs didn't anticipate that so many players would feel that they absolutely had to do both.

However, even if people are happy to just focus their efforts on one specific path, the system creates quite a chasm between those who care about the gearing and those who don't. My goals have settled on earning as many mounts and cosmetics as I can with a casual time investment, as well as levelling a few alts over the next couple of months. I haven't invested any Bronze into upgrading my gear because that just feels like a waste to me at this point. However, seemingly everyone in my guild is the opposite, and I keep getting dragged along to do normal and heroic raids under strength, content where I'm worse than useless and just end up dying on every boss because I'm too squishy to survive most of the mechanics. Meanwhile all everybody talks about for hours is their gear and how much dps they're doing. I know I shouldn't be complaining about a free ride to some achievements and Bronze, but ultimately it's not really what I want to be spending my evenings on right now.

My shaman dreams of questing on greener pastures instead of inspecting the floors of Siege of Orgrimmar.

And that's all in the benevolent environment of playing with friends. Pugs are just totally dominated by over-powered speed-runners now that care little to nothing about anyone else in the group. I did the second wing of Siege of Orgrimmar in LFR the other day and after the third boss, people just charged ahead without even fighting any of the trash, so that those who were unable to keep up (thanks to +speed on the gear and cloak it literally becomes impossible to keep up with certain characters) got locked out of the last boss room, and the gate didn't re-open after he had died either. After I'd collected my loot, I felt rather bad seeing the half dozen people or so who were still locked outside as they couldn't even enter to pick up their stuff. I can only hope that the Postmaster mailed it to them.

Dungeons are pretty much the same. For example, I made a little bear druid and queued into Scholomance as my first normal dungeon. I pulled the first two trash mobs, but a dps just ran past me, jumped down the stairs and instantly pulled the boss while ignoring all the trash. I pushed myself through the ice wall she spawns, taking massive damage in the process, and only survived because I levelled up when the others killed the boss. The rest of the run was then just more frantic running after the dps who were simply AoEing everything. Basically, Remix dungeons are just like normal retail dungeons now: no gameplay, just speed-running. I said previously that I don't mind getting a bit of a boost from someone stronger than me, but at some point queueing into any of these activities simply doesn't actually involve any actual gameplay anymore, it's just a chore to jog through the exact same hallways over and over again for more threads and Bronze. Not a very tough or time-consuming chore, but still a chore. And that's the situation we're in with the event having been live for less than a month, with two more months left for people to get even more overpowered.

Earlier today, I was in Valley of the Four Winds when the world boss Galleon spawned, so I flew right over. Nobody had attacked him yet, and since I wasn't confident in my survival by myself, I stood around for a few seconds to wait for others to show up. Then the boss just fell over in front of my eyes before I could even blink, never mind getting a hit in. Someone else had literally just landed and one-shot him. I didn't realise we were at "one-shotting at-level world bosses" degrees of power yet.

Ironically, on the rare occasion when you end up in a group that doesn't have anyone OP in it, it doesn't end up feeling good either, just super slow. More than once I've zoned into heroic Mogu'shan Palace (and for some reason it's always Mogu'shan Palace) with damage dealers that couldn't out-dps a healer with zero gear upgrades, and it just made everything take forever. It's not like there were suddenly real stakes or anything, it just meant that I stood there pouring my piddly healer dps into what felt like a damage sponge for five minutes per boss fight.

I just see all this as a reminder that Blizzard has never really managed to square the concept of getting everyone into the content and keeping queues popping with the reality that throwing people with vastly different interests and power levels into groups together - while also providing zero incentive to be social and treat those other people as human beings - can lead to some pretty crappy experiences. I wish their motto in regards to group content wasn't always quantity over quality. I'd rather have five actually enjoyable dungeon runs than fifty LFD hallway jogs.

03/06/2024

Mess of Pandaria

Pandaria: Remix has been out for more than two weeks now and it's been quite a wild ride.

Our initial levelling duo hit level 70 after a little over 19 hours /played. The best personal reference I have for levelling speed is this post from when the husband and I first levelled characters just after the pre-Shadowlands level squish, at which point it took us over 26 hours to get to level 50 (the cap at the time). So our levelling in Remix was indeed sped up, but not by as much as I would've thought, especially considering that I did read all the quest text in BfA, while I'm mostly just skimming it in Pandaria. I'm sure there are people who level much faster than that even in regular retail.

Of course, I figured maybe the real speed levelling was meant to occur with alts, since the cloak with all the stats (including an XP bonus) was meant to be account-wide. This turned out to be somewhat false advertising though, as it doesn't actually work that way. Once you push your first character's cloak past a certain threshold, new alts do start with a bit of a boost, but it's much smaller than your main's numbers and static, so they still have to build up their own cloak from scratch after that. The levelling still goes quite a bit faster the second time around, but still... it was just a little bit disappointing.

The second pair of characters we made was a protection warrior (me) and my husband on a resto shaman. They're level 38 right now, as we're basically just doing a random dungeon every other day or so. Because he had last week off work and (as I mentioned before) always goes all-in on this sort of project, he also levelled a paladin to the cap without me during my work hours.

Happenings in the wider community have been pretty wild. Blizzard nerfed the "froggers" and keeps playing whack-a-mole to nerf new bronze farming spots as they emerge, but it doesn't really seem to matter, because at this point the first no-lifers and professional WoW players have ground out their gear one way or another and once you're at maximum item level, you're meant to be OP. The lofty days of week one when heroic dungeons actually felt kinda hard and LFR bosses would at least get to do one mechanic before dying are long gone. Everything just dies in seconds and every group just zergs to the end.

And that's... alright, I guess? I'm not here for the challenge so I don't mind getting a free carry towards some rewards. But I have been questioning my purpose with this game mode a bit. I don't care about using my bronze to upgrade my gear as it's only really useful in the extreme short term anyway (as is often the case in WoW) and to get all the transmogs and mounts you'd need something like over a million bronze, which is a lot. I honestly don't even feel like I need all of these cosmetics anyway, but since I'm unclear on just what my goals are, the sheer number of things I could miss out on is still daunting somehow.

In the usual way of retail WoW, they make it very easy to get a quick dopamine hit from a reward that only takes minutes to earn, but you're then meant to repeat that process hundreds of times during a specific time window, which is the point where I usually nope out. The rush of quickly levelling an alt can be fun for a while, but again... to what purpose? I have no particular interest in having a stable of alts at the level cap "just because". It'll just mean that I'll have fewer character slots available to level alts through other content later.

The only thing I know for sure is that I'll want to keep completing content with our first levelling duo, in order to polish off most of the questing for our nostalgia tour, and that I'll probably want to level at least a couple of alts for a different gameplay experience. Being a healer quickly started to feel pointless with all the self-healing that characters do in Remix, and on the rare occasion where healing could still be useful it doesn't scale well with the mode's massive stamina numbers, meaning that my biggest heal fills five percent of a tank's health bar at most, which is effectively useless. It's all just a little bit crazy and I suspect not entirely in the way Blizzard intended.

29/05/2024

Draenei Heritage

It tickles me that every post I made on this blog in May has been about a different version or mode of World of Warcraft. First I talked about Classic Cataclysm, then Hardcore, then the upcoming War Within, then Classic era, and finally Pandaria Remix. The only thing missing at this point is something about what's currently going on in regular Dragonflight, so why not do that?

I wrote a little about what I thought of various heritage quest lines last year and always meant to continue doing more of them, but other things ended up distracting me and caused that particular project to fall off my radar again for a bit. However, the most recent patch added heritage quest lines for both Draenei and trolls, two races I associate with characters that are particularly dear to me, so I figured it was a great opportunity to have another go at this. I decided to start with the Draenei.

My first ever Draenei lives on the same server as my original priest and has gathered a similar amount of dust over the years. I originally created her back when Burning Crusade came out, and levelled her with a group of friends I'd made early in the game and who also rolled new Draenei alts for the expansion. (I also met them in real life at one point... those were different times. I was always a bit sad that we didn't really manage to stay in touch after that.)

I remember we jokingly referred to our little posse as "The Blue Man Group". One person quickly lost interest in that particular alt, but the rest of us levelled all the way to the cap together from what I remember, even if that meant doing dungeons with a group of four and without a dedicated healer. Our pally tank mostly spent a lot of time healing himself... For some reason I have a particularly vivid memory of us struggling with the last boss in Uldaman due to this but we eventually figured out a way to beat him. (This was before any of us knew about the trick with pulling him into the room upstairs to make add management easier.)

Anyway... even after the group drifted apart, I kept levelling my little blue mage through the following expansions as I quite enjoyed playing her. Though I must have given up in Cataclysm as she was level 30 post-level squish, which would have been something like... 83 in the old times? Which would mean that she saw some play time in Cata, but not enough to get to the cap.

I accepted the gear upgrade at the character selection screen and chose to stay arcane spec, though I was surprised to be presented with this as I thought she'd been frost or fire last I played. Since I'd opted not to clear my quest log, I had a breadcrumb to talk to the guy in the Cataclysm portal circle, which I thought was the introduction to Deepholm, but when I handed it in, there was no follow-up. I decided to go there anyway, first questing in the "regular" version of the world and eventually switching to Chromie Time when things started to go green.

Finishing Deepholm felt like it didn't take all that much time, though it also struck me that Cataclysm really was kind of a low point for the game's questing, regardless of whether you prefer Vanilla's more "worldly" approach to questing or the more modern storylines. By Cata they had streamlined the hell out of the process so there was no exploring or finding quest hubs involved at all anymore, but at the same time the voice acting and cut scenes were still pretty sparse, so you didn't exactly get a "cinematic" experience either... just a looong chain of formulaic quests (always in sets of threes, usually one kill quest, one collect quest, and one that required you to talk to someone, use an item or kill a boss), many of which gated access to things like portals or quartermasters back in the day and required doing on every character.

Anyway, after completing the zone storyline I was still only level 45, so I started doing Therazane dailies for nostalgia's sake, until it hit me that levelling up without collecting any more gear upgrades was probably not a good idea. On returning to Stormwind I found intro quests for Hyjal and Vashj'ir waiting for me, which confused me because surely I must've done at least one of those back in the day? Either way I opted for a bit of questing in Mount Hyjal until I hit level 50, though I didn't get many gear rewards there either.

I just mention this as I've often expressed annoyance with the way Blizzard's scaling really affects your character's performance if your gear can't keep up with your levels, and by the time I hit 50 I reckon my gear was about 40 item levels lower than it should've been once again. Combined with the fact that I found arcane spec confusing and didn't really know what I was doing, this didn't make for the best experience with the combat portions of the heritage quest line.

For example there was one part where I was suddenly put in combat with two mobs and managed to die... on top of a ledge. I spent a couple of minutes trying to get back to my body until I gave up and just took the spirit res, just to be reminded that the debuff you get from that in retail only lasts a minute nowadays anyway. And the final fight with the add waves followed by a boss was quite a pain too. I actually thought it was kind of funny that I complained in the context of the night elf heritage quest line that it felt kind of boring to have three powerful NPC escorts, and as if someone from Blizzard read that, the NPCs you get to help you out in the Draenei scenario do almost nothing and might as well not be there in terms of how helpful they are in combat.

Anyway, my 100th rant about awkward world scaling aside... this quest chain was really good. It starts a little slow, and I was once again reminded that I've become too good at recognising certain voice actors as I immediately spotted Darin De Paul and Max Mittleman again, but things quickly became more interesting.

Because it was such an enjoyable quest line, I don't want to spoil too much, but I'll say that it was interesting that the Draenei quest chain used the same framing device as the orc one, that of a people reviving an old celebration to look towards a better future... though the Draenei's problems are of course a bit different from those of the orcs.

We got to revisit several important Draenei locations, including the Exodar, Auchindoun and Bloodmyst Isle, a lot of known Draenei NPCs returned, and there were some nice touches with the dialogue. For example the Soultender in Auchindoun noted that he could sense that I had "already partaken of our ritual to see the dead", which I think was a callback to that one Burning Crusade quest line which I clearly must have done back in the day. I'm told there are also some dialogue variations for characters that have one of the new red skin customisations. I didn't look up anything until after I'd finished the quest line myself, but I wasn't surprised to find that reddit absolutely loved this one as well.

The ending definitely tugged at my heart strings... though I wonder if anything will ever come of the Draenei's plans to build a new city for themselves in game. Either way, it was a great piece of content that really struck the right tone and did a lot of world building.

24/05/2024

Pandaria Remix Impressions

Pandamonium Mists of Pandaria Remix launched last week, and it's been an... interesting experience. The husband and I were quite keen on another opportunity to level a pair of characters together in a different context and agreed to create a shaman/druid pair. Even though I knew what I was getting into, I was rather startled by the height difference between us when I first logged in. Also, neither of us could believe that he managed to snag the name "Bearie".

Timerunning characters start out at level ten on the Timeless Isle, where you're given a few introductory quests to explain the most important Remix-specific mechanics to you as well as a bit of lore to justify the whole thing, though I didn't pay too much attention to the latter to be honest. Something something time travel... I'm just treating it as a spiced-up version of Chromie Time.

Then you're spat out at the start of the Mists of Pandaria campaign and off you go! If questing is what you actually want to do... because the dungeon finder also unlocks almost immediately, including heroic dungeons, which struck me as kind of absurd, but I figured maybe jumping into those straight away makes more sense if you're on a subsequent character who has some bonus cloak power right from the start.

We did however jump into normal dungeons right away, and did also try some heroics later. Mostly I was reminded of how odd it is that places like the revamped Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery are considered Pandaria dungeons when they have absolutely nothing to do with that continent; they just happened to be redone during the Pandaria expansion. Gameplay was enjoyable as at least initially, enemies actually seemed a bit tougher than in regular retail dungeons, and we actually wiped a few times when we over-pulled. Overall though, incoming damage seemed a bit confusing and random, with my husband's bear sometimes going for long stretches seemingly without taking any damage at all, and then suddenly requiring spam-healing while his health bar bounced up and down like a yo-yo. I don't know if that has something to do with the mode's special gems or is just scaling strangeness... I forget that compared to other MMO devs, Blizzard are actually comparatively inexperienced when it comes to scaling content to groups of all levels, and I read accounts of raids getting wiped by certain mechanics doing way too much damage if they target characters of a specific level, as well as general complaints that characters get significantly weaker as they approach the level cap, which would certainly be on brand for Blizzard's current approach to scaling.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. While we spent a lot of time in random group content (including scenarios and raids, which are actually levelling content in Remix), we also did some questing, which triggered a peculiar kind of nostalgia in me. I only played Pandaria during its original release for less than six months, and while it was better than I'd expected it to be in some ways, I wasn't all that impressed in others. At the time, it basically just reaffirmed to me that retail WoW was a completely different game from the one I originally fell in love with and that I was happy to move on. On the other hand though, the whole reason I picked up MoP to begin with after originally swearing off WoW in Cata was that my husband wanted us to play together (at the time, we had only just become a couple, I was unemployed as a result of my move, and it was something to do together), and revisiting that part of the game rekindled fond memories of the early days of our relationship. I was kind of surprised by how well I still remembered certain quest lines even though I only went through them that one time over a decade ago.

Whenever my husband and I take on a project like this, his passion is like a sprint while mine is more of a marathon, which leads to a certain degree of conflict, as he wants to play 24/7, while I still want to do other things on the side even when I'm having fun with the new project. We probably would've hit level 70 already if he hadn't caught a bug that kept him from wanting to play games for a few days. As it is, our characters are "only" in their 60s... after clearing only about one and a half zones worth of quests, but the group content pays out well in terms of experience gains and power.

When you first start out, levelling doesn't feel that different from "normal" retail in terms of speed and power, but the XP bonus on your special cloak adds up over time, and gear pieces come with more and more gem slots that allow you to equip wacky extra effects, ranging from extra movement abilities to all kinds of passive shields and sources of damage.

And it's... been surprisingly fun! I say surprisingly because I've long given WoW grief for making the levelling process too fast. The reason for that is that I feel - based on how WoW itself trained me to view things back in Vanilla - that levelling should be about more than just making your numbers go up. In the original game the process synergised well with exploring, doing professions, running dungeons... basically doing a little bit of everything. As levelling was sped up, all of that fell by the wayside, but I still wanted to do it, and that conflict between my desire to see more of the world and the game always pushing me onwards long before I felt ready to move on lies at the heart of my frustrations with modern WoW's levelling.

With that in mind, I was kind of positively surprised by Remix's approach to this, which is to simply remove all worries about out-levelling content and get rid of all distractions. The scaling may be a bit wonky in places, but everything is scaled from 10-70 (with the exception of some dungeons and raids not unlocking until you're a bit higher level), so you can level any way you want and still continue to earn rewards from all the content once you hit 70.

The game starts you out with huge bags so you'll never have to worry about pausing to make room (though the sheer amount of gear that is showered upon you does require the occasional bag clearing break - however, you never need to look for a vendor, as you can dissemble everything at any point, anywhere). There is no loot other than quest items, Remix-specific gear and Bronze, the special currency, so you never have to think about what to vendor and what to mail to an alt. The auction house and mail are entirely disabled, in fact. So are professions (with the exception of fishing for some reason, though this also only just yields more Bronze), which was initially a bit disappointing to me as I was hoping to pick flowers and skin things while making my way through the zones - even if the materials were just going to be virtually worthless MoP-era stuff - but it certainly helps to keep you focused. Daily reputation grinds are also removed or drastically reduced - our Order of the Cloud Serpent egg literally hatched the same day we picked it up instead of requiring days and weeks of care, and the farm at Halfhill is entirely inaccessible from what I understand.

It's a strange case of "less is more" for me, where even though I like the traditional approach of having all these different things to do and think about, it's not much fun if the game doesn't really support that way of playing anymore, so I was surprised to actually find myself appreciative of the devs simply taking all that stuff out of Remix. It's like they were going "Look, we're not even gonna pretend that there's any point to levelling professions here or whatever... just focus on the stuff we did put in for you to play around with" and I can actually respect that.

I initially wasn't planning to level more than one character through Remix, but considering how fast our shaman/druid duo has been flying through the levels and that there are almost three months of the event left, I might end up going through it on another character or two. I'm also planning to keep playing my shaman at the level cap though, to revisit more of the content while earning more Bronze to buy transmogs and mounts.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in week one around an "exploit", as seems to have become the norm with these new event/server launches for Blizzard. Frogs on the Timeless Isle were apparently insanely good for farming Bronze and stats, allowing people to power-level their cloaks to have stats in the thousands within a day. Blizzard quickly hotfixed this of course, which then led to a bit of an outcry from people who were complaining that they could now never "catch up", which was just absurd to me, considering that there is absolutely nothing competitive going on in Remix. Any power gains are only temporary for the duration of the event and won't carry over into regular retail, and PvP is another thing that's entirely disabled, so an overpowered "frog farmer" literally can't hurt you. If anything, having a character like that in your group benefits you... I had to laugh earlier when I queued for an LFR wing and was baffled to see all the bosses die within seconds - the entire thing was done in something like five minutes, most of which was taken up by NPC roleplay conversations. I loaded up Recount to see what was going on and in our 20+ person raid group, one guy had done 70% of the overall damage, another had done about 20%, and everyone else was sitting somewhere between 0 and 1%. Froggers I suppose! I just thought it was incredibly funny and was rather amused to be given such a "boost".

I can understand why Blizzard wanted to stop everyone from getting so insanely OP within less than a week, but I personally saw no harm in letting those who already had it keep their power - but I guess that might've been too much fun, so those cloaks are due to be nerfed now and everyone else will just get some bonus Bronze. Either way, I'm enjoying the mayhem.