Level 15 in Season of Discovery

Season of Discovery has been out for less than a week but apparently the no-lifers have already run the BFD raid to death and are bored. I haven't heard any complaints in my guild, but I've certainly seen my share of min-maxers there as well and I've got to admit it makes me a bit anxious. I'd forgotten how quickly the threat of "being left behind" looms when you're playing with people like that, and I'm glad they at least have nowhere else to go past level 25 for now. I hope Blizzard stick to their guns and give this phase time to breathe, without being tempted into raising the level cap too soon just to appease certain loud voices.

My little undead priest is level 15 so far and probably won't get to 25 for a while as SWTOR is deploying a major patch today. In my last post I talked about how I found my second rune, but I didn't mention what it was: it's called "Homunculi" and conjures three little mini-yous to fight by your side. The spell's cooldown and duration are the same, so you can have them up all the time unless they die. They don't hit particularly hard, but they do apply some very useful debuffs to your enemy and can serve as life-saving distractions in tough situations. Though they also do the opposite sometimes, by running off to attack a random mob by themselves that you didn't actually want to fight. I'm not sure about the logic behind that... either way, it's a fun little spell.

Around level 12 I left Tirisfal to pick up all the quests for Ragefire Chasm. One of them has a pre-quest in Skull Rock in Durotar. I wrote a bit about just how deadly that place is in the context of the orc voidwalker quest, but it's well-known as the deadliest place on Horde side in hardcore mode as well. Still, all the knowledge in the world couldn't have prepared me for what I encountered there in SoD: it was absolute carnage.

The moment I stepped inside I found the whole floor littered both with dead NPCs and player skeletons. There were both people and hyperspawns everywhere, which led to the bizarre situation of it being both hard to tag things and easy to get overwhelmed by respawns at the same time. An orc shaman threw me a group invite which I immediately accepted; later we were joined by two hunters. I was quite happy to let them do most of the killing and just do some healing. They seemed quite pleased with that and responded with friendly emotes more than once. However, both of the hunters left quietly the moment they'd completed their quests, so then it was just me and the shaman again. At one point I died - no shade on the shaman there, as I said it was weirdly easy to get overwhelmed out of nowhere - but then he just looted his quest item and also dropped group quietly, leaving me to run back to my body by myself. I've got to admit that felt kind of crappy.

I later joined another group and eventually got my own quest item, plus one of the mobs dropped a third rune for me. All in all, I must have spent about three quarters of an hour in that cave though, which is definitely too long.

On the plus side, getting into a group for RFC was fast and easy after that. When everyone arrived at the instance entrance I asked who was tanking since it wasn't obvious, and it turned out to be a shaman. Funnily enough, my first thought was "ah yes, I guess at low levels shamans can tank too" and only my second thought was "oh wait, in SoD shamans are meant to be legitimate tanks". It was only then that I noticed that they had a buff on them that indicated increased health and threat. Their tanking seemed to involve totems somehow - I'm not sure how it worked, but they did a good enough job with it. We only had one scary moment when we accidentally overpulled and the tank died... however, I managed to survive with something like five hitpoints, so we were able to res up and continue.

While in Org, I also saw Monty again, the priest who first gave me the Loa buff in Tirisfal Glades, asking for someone to /pray and give him the two buffs again. It felt like proper karma to be able to return his favour so quickly.

I've now moved on to Silverpine but will probably start working on the Barrens soon, if nothing else to get ready for Wailing Caverns. I haven't found another rune since the one in Skull Rock... but my plan is to just go with the flow until 25, and maybe then look up what I missed.

I've also been levelling all my professions on the side because that's the kind of thing I always enjoy. I've been surprised by how easy it's been to find herbs; I would've expected every zone to be absolutely picked clean with how busy it's been, but maybe Blizzard just made the respawns really fast in this iteration of the game or herbalism is a less popular profession than it used to be.


Kneel Before Me, Fellow Priest

My first day of playing Season of Mastery has been absolutely delightful. The combination of the familiar with strange new things that nobody knows what to do with is definitely a winner. To give an example of what exactly I mean, let me tell you about my experience with priest rune acquisition. This will contain what you could call early gameplay spoilers for undead priests I guess, if that's something you care about, but it all happened before level ten, so...

As I mentioned in my last post, you get your first rune at level two. As an undead priest, you're told to go to the Deathknell graveyard and kneel there to meditate. This involves doing a /kneel emote there, at which point you gain a four-hour buff called "Meditation on Undeath" with the description: "Your mind is expanded by your meditation, granting you the clarity to learn new spells from Memories found throughout the world." This allows you to use a green item in your bag whose name I don't remember right now but which is what actually grants you the rune.

I didn't give much thought to when, where or how I was going to find more runes but simply continued to quest as I would normally. However, while killing Scarlets near the Solliden Farmstead, one of them dropped a green item like the one that had taught me the first rune. Aha, I thought, I know this! Another rune for me! However, trying to use the item didn't work, so I double-checked the item description and it said that it required two meditation buffs to use. A conundrum! How was I going to get a second buff? I decided not to worry too much about it just then and once again simply continued as I was, figuring something would end up presenting itself sooner or later.

While doing a bit of reading up on reddit and forums to see more of other people's first impressions of Season of Mastery, I came upon a post that talked in vague terms about unlocking runes as a druid and how the poster thought that it was very appropriate for their class fantasy. This was the first time that it really hit me that the process for unlocking runes might actually be very different for different classes. I wondered what the devs had decided the priest class fantasy was supposed to be. Was it meditating at a graveyard? Did I have to meditate at other graveyards?

I tried /kneel-ing at the Brill cemetery the next time I was there and it did nothing. However, I also noticed one or two people in general chat asking for a troll priest, which was an... oddly specific request. Did I need to meditate on other races? That seemed a bit odd and like it would be very punishing later on when the starting zones were no longer heaving with people, plus how would you even mediate on a random troll anyway? I'd buffed a troll shaman earlier and it had done nothing for me.

As I left town, I walked past another undead priest... and noticed that he did in fact have a second meditation buff on him, called "Meditation on the Loa". Okay, that definitely had something to do with trolls, but how had he got it? I decided to go the direct route and simply whispered him to ask.

"I got it from a nice chap here," he replied, which made me raise an eyebrow a bit. I was thinking about how exactly to word a potential follow-up question when he threw me a group invite (which I of course accepted) and ran over to me. Was he gonna show me?

"Kneel" he whispered. I barely hesitated, having only the briefest flashback to 2006 and a male character pretending that my kneeling knight elf was fellating him... but who can you trust if not your fellow priests? I did as instructed, and he did another emote in return that stated that he was saying a prayer for me. And just like that, I'd gained the loa buff and my undead meditation buff had been refreshed to its full four-hour duration as well.

I immediately learned the new rune that had been waiting in my bag and thanked my fellow priest profusely and excitedly. I imagined him smiling as he simply said "help others" before dropping group. Thanks Monty of Wild Growth-EU! What a lovely little mechanic, and I really loved how it became clear to me slowly and gradually over the course of the play session. Plus it really made me curious how other classes get their runes now... but no, don't tell me. I want to find that out organically too.

Also, in hindsight the priest trainer totally gave a hint about all this that completely went over my head at the time, as the last paragraph of the quest hand-in for the level two rune says: "As you grow stronger I recommend spending some time with the trolls of the Horde. Though their culture is primitive, the 'loa' they revere have some connection to undeath. They may provide insight into our nature." Guess it's important to read quest text again!


Season of Discovery Is Here!

Season of Discovery was scheduled to launch at 9pm in my time zone last night. I'd been planning to be there right as the servers opened, but ended up making it home a bit later than expected. I logged on as soon as I had a chance (which was about fifteen minutes after the official launch time) and was immediately presented with a several-thousand player queue and an estimated wait time of forty minutes. Oh well.

I kept myself busy doing some other things, so it's not as if I was staring at the queue screen the entire time, but even just taking a look at the estimated wait time every so often showed some pretty wacky numbers. It started at about forty minutes, got down to about twenty, and after about forty minutes of actual waiting it was back up to predicting forty again. At some point, with more than 1.5k players left ahead me, it decided that from now on, it was going to say six minutes forever.

I think in the end it took me about one and a half hours to get in. I was excited to create an undead priest with my name on the European PvE server and jumped right in. During the flyover intro cinematic, I recognised the flash of another priest casting Penance and immediately got excited by the idea of how overpowered that must be at such a low level.

However, I wasn't really going to find out that night, because the launch night crowds were just as bad if not worse than they'd been for hardcore, and layers or no layers, it was almost impossible to tag any mobs. I ran around for five to ten minutes, getting credit for about three kills in that time, and then just logged off, deciding to not waste any more time on that but to instead come back the next morning, like I'd done with hardcore.

This morning, things were indeed better, though still very crowded. There was one quest in particular to kill Rattlecage Skeletons that was still pretty impossible to complete. I saw people trying to form groups for it in general chat, but in my entire time questing in Deathknell I only saw a single (un)living skeleton and even that died too quickly for me to get a tag in with my instant Penance. So I just did everything else and abandoned that particular quest. I gained a bit of bonus exploration XP from a quick detour to Orgrimmar to sign the charter for our guild, so I was still level six by the time I reached Brill, which is about where I'd expect to be.

Everyone gets their first SoD-specific rune (basically an extra ability or talent) for free at level two, with a simple quest instructing you on how the whole system works. As mentioned, priests get Penance which definitely added a punch to my early questing.

I also suffered my first death very early, at level three, as I unexpectedly found myself mobbed by four spiders in Night Web's Hollow even though there'd been scores of people around a moment before. I just considered myself lucky that this wasn't hardcore. In spite of this I wasn't off to a bad start in general as I'd found two six-slot bags by level four.

General chat was abuzz with people talking about runes and where to find them. There was one spoilsport who complained about people asking questions and that they should just use Google, but they were rightfully laughed out of general by everyone else. Do you even know what server you rolled on?

Just from listening to the chatter I gathered that a mysterious new chest that I'd noticed in the cave but couldn't interact with was meant for warlocks, that mages had to do something with melons, that warlocks were also after a "frozen murloc" and that some people were bamboozled by what to do with a bunch of severed heads. I also saw others link mysterious new items, such as scrolls with funny names that supposedly needed decrypting. I wonder what these are for and I'm happy that most of us have no idea right now. Season of Discovery working as intended so far!


Guardians of the Dream (Casual 10.2 Review)

Coming back to retail, one thing I really miss about the old days is the community interactions around newly released content. There's still plenty of WoW content being created, but as far as I can tell it's almost exclusively guides or speculation about the future, such as when and what the next patch will be. I miss the days when everyone would gather around the watering hole in comment sections to share their thoughts about the newest current content for example.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that patch 10.2 came out a couple of weeks ago and I basically have no idea how it's been received by the wider player base. Now, I've had to do some spoiler-dodging since I don't want to see the end-of-raid cinematic until I can see it in game for myself, which won't happen until the new raid is fully unlocked in LFR, and that's something that won't happen for another couple of weeks. But there's plenty of other stuff people could be talking about, and I haven't really seen it.

The first thing that really struck me when entering the new Emerald Dream zone for the first time was that there was a loading screen - which isn't really unusual, and we are entering an alternate dimension of sorts, but considering how smoothly all the other Dragonflight zones have been connected until now, it still felt a bit jarring. I guess I would've expected to be able to just fly though the portal seamlessly.

The zone itself is gorgeous and the predominant shade of green kind of reminds me of Zereth Mortis for some reason, which isn't a bad thing, as I quite liked that zone too. Except instead of being slightly alien and filled with strange tech, the Emerald Dream is flowery and druidic.

I have slightly mixed feeling about Amirdrassil, the new world tree central to the zone. I thought the story decision to burn down Teldrassil for shock value in BfA was bad, and the night elves kind of "deserve" a new home... but going from planting its seed mere months ago to having a ginormous tree so quickly feels a bit weird and unearned to me. I know magic is a thing in this world and all, but they don't even attempt to give any sort of explanation for it.

I would also say that the whole story up to the raid is a bit... cheesy? I don't expect particularly deep writing from WoW, but this was somewhat flat even by that standard. I will say that the big battle leading up to the raid had something going for it though. The husband had a good laugh blowing the Horn of Cenarius next to every single NPC to see what they would say, and while he joked about the reinforcements appearing "like the Avengers", I've got to say I appreciated that all those powerful characters actually did show up to help defend an important objective... unlike past expansions, where you'd wonder why e.g. someone like Jaina was a no-show when it came to defending the freaking planet against the Legion.

All that said, I really love the general activities in the zone so far. It's funny because my husband had a peek before we started questing there together, and he commented that the events in it seemed kind of boring to him but he had a hunch that I would like them, and he wasn't wrong. The zone's big public event, called the Superbloom, basically involves following a giant walking tree around while clicking on all kinds of shinies on the ground, with the latter being one of my favourite things to do in any MMO.

I also love the mechanics of the dream seeds. Again, the husband said he found it boring to just plant a seed and wait three minutes. But you don't have to just stand there, you can always collect more shinies around the plant during that time! I think it's pretty ingenious design to be honest, the way the various sources of dew drops appear the moment the plant starts growing. Also, while you can technically plant and boost a seed to its maximum capacity by yourself, it's quite resource-expensive to do it that way, so casual collaboration is heavily encouraged and pays off handsomely. I could happily fly in circles and contribute to other people's seeds for hours.

Speaking of flying, fully exploring the new zone unlocked regular flying on the Dragon Isles, and I've got to say it's been nice to have it available as a supplementary mode of transport. I still use my dragonriding mount most of the time because of how much faster it is, but it's handy to also have the regular flying mount on hand for certain occasions where you want to perform a precision landing on a small branch for example, or if you want to quickly hop around short distances between nearby objectives (such as several gathering nodes), for which mounting and working up momentum on your dragon would be overkill.

We're supposed to be getting more content before the next expansion, but this is supposedly the last major patch. I've gotta say there are worse places to spend the better part of the year waiting for the next expansion.


(Vanilla) Classic Class Personalities

The other day I was looking at a conversation in my guild's Discord and thinking to myself how these warriors always talk about the same things over and over when it suddenly hit me: All the classes seem to have a very distinctive personality profile when it comes to the people who prefer playing them. I wrote a post like this about SWTOR more than a decade ago, why have I never done this for WoW? Well, let's do it now.

Druid players live up to their class's hippie image in my opinion, in that they are usually very friendly and easygoing. They play druid because they like that the class is both self-sufficient while soloing and versatile in group content, and they are happy to play whatever role is needed to make things go smoothly. Just don't cause any stress, man.

Hunters have a reputation for being lazy and stupid, which means hunter players have to be willing to put up with that. In some ways that means the class is a great fit for anyone wanting to take an ultra-casual approach to the game, because if you unexpectedly go AFK, forget to enchant your gear or just generally don't know how to play your class, nobody's going to be surprised. However, if you actually like to min-max and play your class to the best of its capabilities, you won't last long as a hunter main, because you'll never get any buffs and will perpetually be tarred with the "huntard" brush. Dedicated hunter mains therefore stand out for having an outstanding ability to just ignore everyone and not give a damn about anything.

Mages enjoy that their class brings a lot of unique tricks to the table, and while they're not generally attention-seekers, they do thrive on the way their class's toolkit inherently grants it to them anyway. This can manifest in a number of different ways, from impressing random bystanders with flawless kiting of a dangerous mob to being the one to repeatedly plop down portals after a raid until the very last person has made their way home. The point is, you'll notice a good mage and they enjoy that.

Paladins are Classic's dreamers. Depending on which spec they choose, they may envision themselves as stalwart protectors, vengeful smiters of evil or as powerful healers... but of course, in Vanilla they can't really truly deliver in any of those roles. Still, they persist in their class fantasy, even as everyone else wonders why they didn't just roll a warrior or priest, and they take solace in the knowledge that their buffs at least guarantee them a raid spot.

You don't roll a priest in Vanilla if you're not a team player wanting to play nice with others, so priests are always the caring type... one way or another. However, being a priest also means depending a lot on other people's help, and anyone who's levelled one will have been repeatedly let down in that regard, which means they're also incredibly cynical and jaded. Whenever I wonder what a Classic priest player looks like in real life, I picture Hide the Pain Harold.

Contrary to what their class mechanics would make you think, the one thing rogues never do is just fade into the background. They can be naughty or nice, but they are always in your face. In the nice variant, that means constantly wanting to hang out or offering to help out in some way, while the naughty variant can manifest in anything from shit-talking to bullying to ganking. They'll just never shut up and be quiet.

Shaman mains are Classic's brainiacs and multitaskers. I suppose this comes naturally for a class that has to juggle more than a dozen buffs across four totems, some of which only last for mere seconds and constantly need to be refreshed or moved around. They will often find themselves in roles of responsibility, such as officer or master looter, or they may employ their talents more stealthily by acquiring rare profession recipes that others need or quietly carrying the healing team. You just know that you can always rely on your shamans.

Warlock mains always give off a vibe of being stuck somewhere between slight annoyance and confusion. All they wanted was to play an evil character who dominates demons and does massive damage, yet debuff limits in raids mean they're forbidden from using their tools to their full potential, while people keep pestering them for health stones and summons as if they're meant to be nice and helpful. It just feels wrong. They're at their happiest when they're allowed to just act insane and burn themselves and their enemies to death with hellfire.

Warriors are both the best tanks and dps in Classic by a mile, and players who choose to main a warrior usually know this. They pressed the "I win" button at character creation on purpose. Like a monarch dealing with peons, the average warrior has little interest in what "lesser" classes are doing unless the tax isn't paid on time they're missing windfury or some other dps buff. They will simply charge ahead, confident in the knowledge that they're the best and certain that everyone else will acknowledge this and follow their lead. They only really enjoy the presence of other warriors, with whom they'll be fiercely competitive on the damage and threat meters.

What do you think? Does this match your own impressions of people who main these classes? (Anyone can make an alt of any class of course.) Or do you completely disagree? Feel free to let me know in the comments.


I Started an Orc (Heritage)

I've been enjoying alt play a lot more in Dragonflight and have a whole bunch of them working on different things. One such alt is my orc warlock Kara. (Yes, apparently you can still get a plain four-letter name in modern WoW sometimes... creating the character on a low-pop server presumably helps.) I originally created her about two years ago because I wanted to see whether Exile's Reach was any different on Horde side compared to Alliance, to which the answer was no, which is why that didn't become a blog post. Then it occurred to me that I'd never seen the Horde-side story of Battle for Azeroth, which was completely different from Alliance side, so going through that content became her next purpose - this is a project that's still in progress.

The reason I made her an orc is that orcs are the only one of the original Horde races that I never played, mostly because I thought they were too ugly (sorry). Even if the ladies were very buff and all that, I just couldn't get over their weird little pug noses. However, I think it was after watching a video where someone was looking at all of the new character customisations that Blizzard added at some point in Shadowlands that I suddenly went: Wait, it's possible to make an orc now that I might actually enjoy playing? (The answer is yes!) I also made her a warlock because that's a class that never meshed with me in Vanilla, but which seems to have changed a lot in retail, and I just wanted to get an idea of what it was all about now.

Recently, when I was doing my research on heritage quest lines, I learned that many people considered the orc heritage chain one of the best ones, if not the best, so I thought getting Kara up to and through that chain might be another interesting thing to do with her.

And I gotta say, I can see why people like it, which is why I won't go into too many spoilers. It hits all the right buttons by having you go back to nostalgic locations in Durotar and featuring a lot of famous as well as lesser-known orc NPCs. It was interesting to see Thrall and his family again - I had no idea that his older son was almost a teenager (?) now. Based on how excited the lad was while following me around while I did the cooking quest, I can picture a future as a chef for him. Also, it took me until about halfway through the chain to realise that Aggra's voice actress sounded strangely familiar... turns out she's voiced by Athena Karkanis, aka the voice of the female Jedi consular in SWTOR.

I liked the bit where you get to choose a clan - I figured that for a warlock, representing the Bleeding Hollow was the most appropriate. My second favourite bit was probably when you return to the Valley of Trials and this dying young orc gives you a side quest to return her bag of cactus apples. For some reason the reaction from the quest giver hit me right in the feels... "No one is supposed to die over these! I just ask all the young orcs to do this! It's supposed to be easy!" Not to mention the flavour text on the reward:

Anyway, I still personally prefer the human heritage quest line simply because I've created so many human characters over the years. But I really liked this as well despite never having played an orc before, so I can totally see how it might end up being someone's favourite if they always had a thing for orcs in the past.


The State of Classic Era at the End of 2023

As I've mentioned previously, with Classic era being a "static" MMO, the passage of time is mostly defined by the ebb and flow of the player base, plus the arrival of the occasional client update that breaks things. We just had another one of those actually, in preparation for the launch of Season of Discovery at the end of the month. For era this has once again meant a bunch of new bugs and minor changes, such as the in-game map suddenly being much smaller (not sure if that one's intentional or not actually), and enemy cast-bars now being visible in the default UI (with a toggle) so you no longer need an add-on just for those.

Mostly I wanted to talk about how the community is doing, though. I mentioned back in July that the "hype" around Classic era seemed to have died down but that the population seemed stable. I believe that the last reliable 30-day census I conducted with the census addon showed the Pyrewood cluster having an active population of 7-8k characters. I think that must have been around May or so? As I started to spend somewhat less time in game, my scans became less frequent and less reliable, so I didn't think too much of my scan numbers going down again at the same time.

The other day someone pointed out to me though that our cluster's official population had dropped from medium back down to low, which made me a bit sad. Mind you, it doesn't feel significantly diminished in game. There are still more people signing up for raids than there is room for, and Org and LFG chat seem reasonably lively at all times. It's just... a little less I guess.

My initial guess was that hardcore had taken a chunk out of the regular PvE population, seeing how it's a PvE-only mode (I myself gave it a go too, after all), and maybe that was true in the beginning, but we do seem to have entered a slight slump in population for all modes at this point, at least from what I can see on the European servers. Even the ever-popular PvP cluster has been downgraded from "full" to "high" again. The two hardcore servers have also mellowed out since launch. Initially they were both marked as "full", but now Stitches is down to "high" and Nek'rosh even to "medium".

The reason I'm writing all this down is not to discourage anyone from playing or to give off any "OMG, the game is dying" vibes, but because I'm curious to see how things will develop in the coming weeks. I think that Season of Discovery will be massive, but it will likely cannibalise both era and hardcore at least initially. Again, I'm fully planning to at least check it out, and a few people from my guild are planning to do the same.

At the same time, I don't expect it to be as much of a rival to the regular servers as Season of Mastery was. After all, that was shortly after mainline Classic had progressed into Burning Crusade, and the number of people who wanted to go backward instead of forward was very small. Also, SoM's sales pitch was something along the lines of "fresh Vanilla servers with some improvements", which I think put it into more direct competition with the "old" era servers. Season of Discovery on the other hand is openly promising a very different experience, which I'm sure will be interesting, but I don't think it'll scratch that Vanilla itch the same way the era or even the hardcore servers do.

Also, I suspect that we'll see another influx of fresh blood to the Vanilla Classic servers of all persuasions once Cata Classic launches early next year, as some of those for whom that is "a step too far" will want to return to their old, familiar haunts in the old world, just like I did myself when BC Classic's end was in sight.

There are currently no plans for Wrath era servers - much to the disappointment of some. I completely understand how they feel, and there was a period where I wondered whether WotLK's popularity might generate enough of a push for the creation of Wrath era servers despite Blizzard's disinterest in doing the same for BC, but looking at it right now, it seems increasingly unlikely to me. While there are definitely more people posting in favour of era servers than there were for BC, the subject is still flying pretty under the radar compared to other concerns, and it doesn't look like the campaign will reach the kind of critical mass needed to get Blizzard to reconsider.