My favourite and least favourite capitals

Pilgrim's Bounty is one of those holidays where getting all the related achievements requires you to pay at least one visit to every capital city of both factions. Doing Pilgrim's Peril the other night brought back all kinds of memories, especially as I haven't actually played Alliance for quite a while, and it made me think about what I do and don't miss about the various capitals now that I don't see them as much anymore, even more so as all roads lead to Dalaran these days (figuratively anyway).

I think that my favourite WoW capital in the history of ever is still Stormwind, though I'll admit that a large part of my affection for it is probably pure nostalgia. Which WoW player could ever forget the first time they walked into a big city?

My very first character in WoW was a human paladin, and when I created her I had never played an MMO before. I remember wandering around Northshire and being quite impressed: Wow, this really is like a little world, there's this abbey and some caves and a brook and a pumpkin patch... Then I left the starter zone and Elwynn Forest seemed huge in comparison, it just seemed to go on forever! Then I got a quest to go to Stormwind and... yeah, my jaw just dropped when I crossed the bridge, beheld the massive statues and the epic music started playing in the background. That really put the "massive" into "massive multiplayer game" for me.

Also, while I had never played an MMO before and thus had no particular expectations of what a city should look like in one, I did have this general idea that I was playing in a fantasy world, and it certainly helped that Stormwind fits the cliché of many a "fantasy town" (sort of medieval, only cleaner and friendlier) to a T.

Later on I discovered less pleasant sides to the city as well, like lots of dumb players clogging up the auction house, dancing on the fountain and generally spouting stupidity in /say, but it never managed to quite ruin my love for the place.

My second favourite capital would have to be Darnassus, probably because my second character, and the first one that I played up to the level cap, was a night elf. It wasn't just that though, I also liked the serenity and beauty of the place, grass and trees and critters everywhere, and the houses so open and welcoming! (Though that kind of makes you wonder about night elf standards for privacy.)

The only reason I like Darnassus less than Stormwind is that it's simply an incredibly inconvenient place to be. Located at the very northern tip of Kalimdor, it's an awful starting point for pretty much any journey, and even within the city itself many frequently used services are simply too far away from each other. (No other city has the bank and the auction house that far apart for example.)

My favourite Horde captical undoubtedly has to be Thunder Bluff. Tauren and night elves are united in their passion for druidism and their love for nature, and it shows in their cities as well. Another green and peaceful place, also located in a gorgeous zone. (I love Mulgore.)

In terms of taking care of "necessities", Thunder Bluff is also unrivaled in regards to how close together it places important utility spots: Which other town has the reagent vendor wandering right past the bank and a forge and anvil only another three steps away?

I suppose it also helped that my first Horde character was a Tauren.

Thunder Bluff's biggest problem in my opinion is that it's located somewhat off the beaten track - not quite as bad as Darnassus, but it still requires a detour to get there from anywhere really.

The Exodar, the Alliance's newest capital, has a special place in my heart simply because I love the Draenei and adore their starter zone. The Exodar fits right in and that's ace in my eyes, even though it's not a proper city, just a crashed spaceship with a couple of funny-talking vendors inside.

In terms of being in an inconvenient location it's worse than Darnassus and Thunder Bluff put together and thus pretty much almost always abandoned, but on my Draenei mage I loved to go there by teleport whenever I needed the auction house. There is something to be said for the serene atmosphere that isn't unlike the one in Darnassus. Or maybe I just like the colour blue.

Orgrimmar, despite of being the Horde's most important capital, is already a little bit down the list. All the frequently visited NPCs are reasonably close together and it's a great starting point if you want to get anywhere in the old world, what with being located in central Kalimdor while also having a blimp connection to the Eastern Kingdoms right in front of the gates.

I think the main reason I don't like Orgrimmar all that much is simply its architecture. I remember rerolling Horde and coming to Orgrimmar for the first time, expecting to be awed in a similar fashion as I was by Stormwind. However, you guessed it... I wasn't. Orcs and trolls come across as somewhat primitive to be honest, and this is reflected by Orgrimmar's buildings being rather plain and crude. Orgrimmar is probably about as large as Stormwind, but not nearly as grand.

I have to say that this is one reason for me to not completely dread the rumours about Orgrimmar receiving a makeover by Garrosh in Cataclysm. I don't like him any more than the rest of the Horde population, but I have to admit that when I first set foot into Warsong Hold I was impressed. If he can make me feel the same way about Orgrimmar that will finally be something that I can actually say in his favour.

The Undercity is a place whose gloomy atmosphere I actually find weirdly appealing, but it traumatised me very badly back when I was new to the Horde and bad first impressions are hard to overcome sometimes.

I was still relatively new to the game when one day my main server was down for additional maintenance and I did what many a WoW addict does under such circumstances: I rolled an alt on another server, an undead warrior in this case. I happily quested away in Tirisfal Glades for a while until I got a quest to go and see someone in the Undercity... and proceeded to get horribly lost. I think I managed to get inside the city actually, but then I couldn't find my way out anymore and eventually despaired and logged off.

You might laugh at that now - I do for sure - but for someone who isn't used to playing games in three dimensions the Horde capitals can pose a serious challenge during the first visit. All the Alliance cities are more or less completely flat, not counting the fact that houses have upper floors, which you kind of expect.

The Horde cities on the other hand require you to think in three dimensions: Orgrimmar has the Cleft of Shadows as "basement", there's that path that's level with the rooftops in the Drag, and the Valley of Spirits is one floor up from the Valley of Strength. Thunder Bluff has the three central rises which appear to be on the same level on the map but aren't in practice, and can only be accessed via the spiral staircase in the centre or by circling around the outside via the bridges. And the Undercity... well, if you've ever been there you know what I mean.

Ironforge is my least favourite Alliance city simply because dwarves and gnomes are my least favourite Alliance races and I absolutely can't identify with this whole "living inside a big, dark cave" thing. I used to have my hearthstone there pre-BC because the proximity to Menethil Harbor made it the most convenient place to get around, but I always missed my night elven home.

Dalaran is a pretty city, similar in style to Stormwind, but in my current situation I can't like it very much simply because my PC isn't very good and it's a pain to do anything there with the way it bogs down my frame rate. I always just try to take care of business there quickly and then I'm off to somewhere else.

My relationship to Shattrath, the Dalaran of the BC era, has changed a lot over time. I remember when I got there for the first time and found out about the portals that allowed you to travel all over Old Azeroth easily - at the time I thought that this was an absolutely amazing feature, though more convenient travelling options all over have diluted its value since then. Towards the end of BC I started to get a bit jaded with it since it started to become annoyingly laggy at peak times, and people were parking their bloody netherdrakes all over the place, making it hard to find anything. And nowadays... nowadays it's simply a ghost town, which makes it slightly creepy. The NPCs are happily chattering away about the Aldor/Scryer conflict and the war, but nobody's home to care. /shudder

Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, Silvermoon, without a doubt the capital I care about the least. Even though I play one myself I'm still not too crazy about blood elves, and their city is so out of the way of everything that it's hardly ever worth visiting. In terms of architecture it's overly pompous, and the layout just feels impractical and unnatural - I feel that no matter where I want to go, I'm constantly forced to make weird U-turns. Also, to this day I'm not sure where the reagent vendor is, but I don't think I care anymore at this point.


You know what needs updating?

So many things in WoW are constantly being changed, nerfed, updated, and yet we still have this:

The ugly default portraits for party frames. Did female tauren ever look like this? In the early beta maybe? Hell, the male tauren doesn't look all that much like its current live version either.

I still remember when my friend and I formed a party while being apart for the first time, back in our early night elf days, and how horrified we were by the way the other one had apparently suddenly acquired a zombie-like complexion and bright red hair.

Never mind nerfing cooking, this is the kind of stuff that needs looking at!


Icecrown gating and difficulty

There's been a lot of hubbub in the blogosphere about the news that the release of Icecrown Citadel will be slowly staggered and that people will only have limited amounts of attempts on several bosses even on normal mode. I understand that the top raid guilds are annoyed by this, but personally I don't think it will affect me much. My guild is not the kind to push for server firsts, and if running out of attempts forces us to stop for the week or to go back and farm Trial of the Crusader some more, so be it. Waiting a few more weeks to kill the Lich King won't make or break the game for me.

What amuses me slightly about this whole development is that it's basically a sign of Blizzard doing some massive backpedaling from their initial WOTLK raiding policy. Personally I thought that BC raiding was fine with its continual increase in difficulty and attunement requirements, but for some reason the developers thought that things needed to change and that it would be a good idea to make all the WOTLK starter raids super easy and immediately accessible to everyone. The result? People cleared everything really quickly and then asked: "What now?"

Seeing that this wasn't working as planned, Ulduar was designed to be harder again and to keep players busy for longer, though judging by how quickly some of the encounters were nerfed again, Blizzard soon had regrets about that too.

Along comes Trial of the Crusader, going back to super easy mode (though with a "make this really difficult" switch for the hardcore raiders), but not releasing all the bosses at once to make sure that nobody cleared the whole instance in the first week. And now we get more of the same in Icecrown, trying to make everything really accessible, yet at the same time not immediately accessible, like it used to be in BC because of attunements.

The difference with this new system is that it basically rewards long periods of inactivity. In BC things went like this: Want to kill Prince Malchezaar? Better get cracking and work on that Karazhan attunement! In Icecrown it will be: Want to kill Arthas? Well, wait a couple of weeks and he'll be unlocked automatically. Wait even longer and you'll get a powerful buff to defeat him more easily! It's like... rested XP for raids, except that there's no choice to keep going unrested. I think Blizzard have overshot their goal of appealing to the casual player if they make content that actively prevents you from playing more.

Also, it leaves me concerned about the difficulty of normal mode Icecrown. Surely if it offered a decent challenge you wouldn't have to erect such heavy artificial barriers to hold people back? Hard modes or not, if normal mode Arthas turns out to be as much of a pushover as Anub'arak, I'll be disappointed.

Anyone remember how at the start of WOTLK, Blizzard said that they would make the tiers coming after Naxx progressively harder when people complained that Naxx & Co. were too easy? They said that they just wanted to make things a bit more accessible overall, which I thought was fair enough, considering the insane difficulty of Sunwell at the end of BC. Ulduar lived up to that promise, but with the release of Trial of the Champion it all went out the window again. Sure, Trial requires somewhat better gear than Naxx (to make sure that your tank doesn't go splat on Gormok and your dps can kill Anub'arak before he enrages), but mechanics-wise it's a huge step backwards from Ulduar again and pretty much on par with Naxx. The impression I got from this is that Blizzard has kind of stopped caring about logical raid progression and just makes everything really easy so everyone can do it, adding a "really difficult" option for the hardcore, and leaving all the middle-of-the-road raiders in some kind of black hole where the normal modes offer no challenge and the hard modes are too hard. I guess we'll all just have to level some more alts instead then?


Remembering Azshara

Last night I took my shaman fishing in Azshara, to help with getting her cooking skill up to Outland standards.

Azshara is a strange zone. It's sad and desolate, full of elven ruins and completely devoid of players most of the time. Yet it's also hauntingly beautiful, what with the weather appearing to be perpetually stuck on a sunny autumn day.

I remember the first time I went to Azshara on my night elf priest. One of my friends had somehow stumbled across the quest Arcane Runes in Ironforge, which sends you to Azshara to investigate some naga-infested ruins and then call onto an NPC on a small island off the coast. So we set off to find this Azshara place... and then proceeded to get lost a lot. The zone really lends itself to that, what with all the cliffs that make it very easy to fall off somewhere and then find yourself stuck in some ravine with no easily apparent way to get back up. We also barely escaped death by murlocs and other wildlife more than once, what with all of them being three or four levels above our own at the time. We didn't get a whole lot done I suppose, but it felt like a truly epic adventure at the time.

On my mage I went to Azshara to do the quest to get Polymorph: Pig, a bizarre venture that required me to sheep naga and then kill lots of weak little sheep with arcane explosions... Imagine my surprise when I first found out about Archmage Xylem's tower! A whole freaking tower that I hadn't even known was there! And yet so easy to miss if you don't happen to talk to a certain elf NPC sat in the middle of nowhere...

Much later I remember coming to Azshara on one of my Horde characters, I think it was my priest, falling off a cliff somewhere while exploring and randomly landing next to Captain Beltis, who gave me a little stand-alone quest to protect her crew from a naga attack. Certainly not what I expected to find at the bottom of a random cliff.

Oh, and all the level fifty class quests that lead you to Azshara of course! I thought the hunter one was the worst. Hello there, wavethrasher scales with a horrible drop rate. Hello there, wavethrashers with a horrible spawn rate. Ugh.

Anyway, all this left me with the impression that Azshara was very big and empty, but held a lot of secrets if you only knew where to look and followed the right quest chains. To an extent that's true, but not entirely. There are some quests there, but still a lot less than in most other zones. Plus there are a lot of things that just scream "unfinished content", like the locked gate to what looks like another section of Timbermaw Hold, or the instance entrances with Horde and Alliance flags that were apparently meant for a battleground that never went live.

Even Blizzard basically acknowledged that the zone isn't what they want it to be right now, and that it will thus receive a drastic overhaul in Cataclysm. If I recall correctly they said that the goblins will build a settlement there, and that it will be turned into a zone for a much lower level range (twenties or so). I'm quite looking forward to that, picturing an Azshara that is less sad and more alive.

However, my inner explorer is also a little disappointed once again. There is something to be said for a zone that very much feels like just a place. A place where you can go explore, pick flowers, go fish and discover a secret here and there, but not somewhere you go just to knock out the next ten levels (because it simply doesn't lend itself to that kind of thing). I'll try to appreciate that while I still can.


Instance Review: The Blood Furnace

Behold, my first review of an Outland instance.

1. Accessability

The Blood Furnace is part of the Hellfire Citadel, located smack in the middle of Hellfire Peninsula. You're pretty much bound to come through here when you're roughly in the right level range for the local instances, and none of them is more than a stone's throw away from Thrallmar and Honor Hold, which is very convenient.

About the worst problem you could have is that not all members of your group might be able to find the entrance right away, or at least that used to be an issue back in the days before flight was available at level sixty. The thing is that the summoning stone, the portal to Ramparts and the one to Shattered Halls are all conveniently located on the same ledge, but getting to the Blood Furnace door without flying requires you to loop around the southern rampart and climb up some stairs west of the place, which is a bit counter-intuitive.

2. Atmosphere

Personally I find Outland instances in general less atmospheric than most, but Blood Furnace doesn't do too badly. You can believe that this is where some mad science is going down, what with the shady technicians, evil warlocks and corrupted orcs in cages.

3. Story & Quests

Both the Alliance and the Horde get two quests for this instance, one to collect blood from the fel orcs and one to "investigate" the furnace. Both of these quests require you to have completed pre-quests in the Ramparts but give pretty good rewards for the level.

As far as story goes, the Blood Furnace probably has one of the best ones of all Outland instances, and one that immediately egaged me the first time I did it. Basically both Horde and Alliance are wondering what's going on with all those fel orcs in the area and send you to the Furnace to find out, where you get to discover that - spoiler - Illidan has trapped Magtheridon in the basement and is using the pit lord's blood for his own nefarious purposes. Le gasp! (Though I have to admit that it took me many, many runs until I noticed that you can actually look down on Mags from where you kill the last boss.) So... that's pretty cool.

4. Length

Blood Furnace is what I'd call "standard Outland instance length", which means it should take somewhere between half an hour and one hour to complete, assuming your group doesn't run into any major problems. I always found that a pretty pleasant length, but your mileage may vary.

5. Layout

Like all Outland instances, Blood Furnace is very straightforward in terms of layout and it's completely impossible to even take a single wrong turn. Some call this "Shattered Halls syndrome" and deride it for being boring. I kind of see their point, and I think Blizzard has taken a step into the right direction by creating some more interesting dungeon layouts again in WOTLK, but I'd still take a straightforward instance like this over something as hopelessly confusing as say, Maraudon, any day.

6. Trash

The trash in the Blood Furnace is pretty damn brutal. It can be tricky enough on normal difficulty, but oh my god, heroic mode. Stealthed rogues are all over the place, waiting to pick off any clothie who dared to run too far ahead or somehow fell behind. Shadowmoon Technicians throw dynamite and put down proximity bombs which still hurt somewhat even at level eighty. Certain warlock mobs summon felhounds and succubi, and if that summon isn't interrupted you're in for a world of trouble. Oh, and who could forget those massive felguards with the random charges and aggro resets? This is the kind of instance people remember when they say that the trash mobs in Northrend instances don't put up enough of a fight.

7. Bosses

The first boss, The Maker is pretty uninteresting to be honest, just some tank and spank guy with a mind-control gimmick. The last boss, Keli'dan the Breaker isn't terribly interesting either, despite of being Magtheridon's jailer. Though I have to admit that he'll always have a special place in my heart, because back when I played WoW in German, fighting him always meant that I got to listen to the most awesome voice acting in all of BC ever.

The most interesting and memorable boss in the Blood Furnace is undoubtedly Broggok, or rather the "cage event" leading up to him. You pull a lever and four cages full of enraged fel orcs open one after the other - and they all hit very hard and stun. Oh, the wipes I had there... good times.

8. Loot

Being the Outland instance with the second lowest level requirement, Blood Furnace is pretty awesome for loot, as you'll likely still be wearing some levelling gear that you already would have liked to replace twenty levels ago. If you look at the loot table, it also seems that the designers went through some sort of checklist to make sure that there was truly something for everyone among the drops. There are of course a lot of snazzy caster drops, but also something for rogues, caster druids, caster shamans, hunters, and the obligatory odd paladin item.

It's also worth noting that for many people these will be their first items with sockets, and they are more powerful than ever now that you can cheaply stick some uncommon Northrend gems in there that are better than even epic quality ones were back in BC.

And then there are the quest rewards of course.

Overall I have to admit that Blood Furnace isn't an instance that I'd like to run over and over again, even now, but it's definitely worth visiting at least once during your levelling career, if just for the story and quests, plus a shot at a good drop or two.

It's unfortunate that it can be quite hard to find a group for this instance these days, as there aren't even sufficient amounts of levelling death knights around anymore. The increased levelling speed in Outland also means that it's quite possible to sit in Looking For Group for a few hours just to realise that you already outlevelled the early Hellfire instances while questing in the meantime. Hopefully this is something that will be alleviated by the arrival of cross-server LFG in patch 3.3.


Advanced general battleground strategy

Dear fellow battleground participant,

if you're reading this, I assume that you already understand the basic idea behind each battleground. You know that you can win Alterac Valley by killing the big dude at the other end of the map, and you know that Warsong Gulch is all about capturing the enemy's flag while protecting your own.

If you're reading this, I also assume that you actually care about these objectives and are interested in winning in battlegrounds (as opposed to say, aimlessly running around somewhere in the middle just to gank people).

Where you might still fail however, is understanding the bigger picture and stratetic implications of a battleground. You're the guy who makes a macro with some "guaranteed winning instructions" and spams it at the start of every single match. You're the guy who blames every loss in AV on someone tagging Stonehearth graveyard.

Let me tell you something: There is no one-size-fits-all guaranteed winning strategy for any battleground. Even in Warsong Gulch, the smallest and most basic of all battlegrounds, there are multiple ways of efficiently going about defense of offense, which are conveniently summed up in this article on WoW.com. And they can all work or fail, depending on the circumstances.

The thing with the enemy team in a battleground is that it's not a raid boss. You can't discover one way to beat them up and then repeat it in exactly the same manner week after week. The enemy team consists of thinking human beings, and while they may not all be very clever, sometimes it can be enough for a single one of them to smarten up, fight back and counter your strategy, rendering it completely ineffective. The proper response to this is not to stick to your original plan and try over and over again, or to insult others for not doing what you want, but to wisen up yourself and find a counter to their counter.

To give you an example of what I mean: A few weeks ago I tried to do the daily battleground on my priest, which happened to be Isle of Conquest on that day. In the first match I joined, someone immediately spammed a macro instructing everyone to rush to the docks and use the vehicles from there to take down the western gate of the Alliance base. It would be a guaranteed victory!

As it turned out, it wasn't, even though the whole team had faithfully followed the macroed instructions. We had only just taken down the west gate when the message popped up that the Alliance had won. I re-joined for another attempt and the exact same thing happened.

When I ended up in the same battleground as the macro spammer for the third time I decided that it was time to speak up as soon as he went through his pre-battleground routine again. "Dude," I said, "we did exactly what you said in the last two matches I was in and the Alliance always beat us horribly. They just rushed to cap the hangar and then parachuted into our base on masse. We've got to do something about that."

To my delight, several members of the team agreed, and when the gates finally opened, about half the team set out towards the docks, while the other half went for the hangar. Having fewer people at the docks didn't harm us at all, as the Alliance had long given up on even trying to cap them, but the sudden resistance at the hangar significantly slowed them down there because they hadn't expected it. Guess what? We won. Not because sending half the raid to the docks and half the raid to the hangar is a guaranteed winning strategy, but because in this particular case it was an efficient counter to what our enemy was doing. This is what you have to keep in mind.

Or to elaborate on the Stonehearth graveyard example mentioned above: in general, at least in my battlegroup, someone tagging Stonehearth graveyard will always lead to abuse from someone else in battleground chat. Supposedly it's stupid and makes our side lose. But have these people ever thought about why that is?

When you first rush forward to the Alliance base, it is indeed a bad idea to tag this particular graveyard, but not because there's anything inanely wrong with owning it. What happens is that attacking it means that the Alliance will only be in possession of the two graveyards at their base until they make the first cap of their own, which then in turn means that every single enemy that you kill during that time will resurrect back in their base, creating massive resistance in Dun Baldar. These are usually the matches where the Horde loses by reinforcements while vainly trying to fight its way across the Dun Baldar bridge while most of the Alliance team sits behind it. Not good.

However, once the Alliance has taken for example Snowfall graveyard, attacking Stonehearth will make little difference for their defense while giving the Horde forces a place to res further north. In longer matches that's not such a bad idea at all. And yet you still see people indiscriminately yelling at anyone who tags it, accusing them of "making us lose" and distracting people from things that actually matter.

In summary: Don't be that guy. Look at what happens around you and react to it, that is more key than following any predetermined plans that might not live up to expectations anyway.


Arthas: The Joke

Shayzani over at 2fps made a nice post about trying out the new instance Halls of Reflection on the public test realm (warning: slightly spoilerish). One thing that struck me about said post was the off-hand way in which he poked fun at Arthas and how he's apparently supposed to present a massive threat in that instance but doesn't really.

This made me think about the presentation of Arthas in general, and it made me realise: I'm not really very excited about the prospect of taking down Arthas in Icecrown Citadel. I mean, I'll be excited about getting a new raid instance that doesn't consist of a single room with some painful NPC dialogue in it, but as far as taking down the Lich King goes... eh.

To give some sense of perspective, I never played any of the previous Warcraft games, so all I know about Arthas comes from what I got to see in WoW itself and what I read on sites like WoWWiki after being intrigued by this or that and wanting to find out more.

When I first saw the WOTLK trailer I thought that it was pretty damn cool. Different, but cool. Clearly Blizzard wanted to make sure that everyone who bought this expansion knew who Arthas was, unlike it was the case with Illidan in BC. I remember a screenshot from Nagrand chat back then which showed someone asking who Illidan was and someone else replying with "some giant bat thing". Hell, I had no idea who Illidan was at the start of that expansion, what with my background and having only played WoW for about three months at the time. To me BC was just about going to some new place and killing lots of demons.

Once WOTLK was out and everyone started the journey to eighty, it quickly became apparent that Blizzard was really serious about Arthas being more accessible and visible to the "commons" than Illidan ever was. I first ran into him while doing a quest in Howling Fjord to kill King Ymiron's wife and to prevent her from reviving him. Just as you kill the queen however, Arthas pops up and basically goes: "Ha-ha! You may have killed Angerboda but you won't kill Ymiron (not yet anyway), I have other plans for him!" At the time I was pretty impressed by that.

However, Arthas kept showing up all over. There was the Wrathgate (which was pretty damn snazzy I'll have to admit, though the Forsaken traitors completely stole the show), the Drakuru quest chain, various quests in Icecrown and many more. By the time I first saw him turn Svala the vyrkul woman into a val'kyr in Utgard Pinnacle, the initial amazement had definitely worn off, and I was seriously starting to wonder whether the Lich King didn't have anything better to do than to constantly point and laugh at random adventurers.

This wasn't helped by his overall behaviour, as Blizzard seemed to have decided to make him into more and more of a cackling cartoon villain with every appearance: lots of talk and no action. I thought that the worst example of this was Betrayal, where Arthas has you at his mercy inside a freaking necropolis, but decides to let you go because your wreaking havoc on the place was "amusing". Rrright. I know he's not exactly sane at this point, but that shouldn't be equalled with stupid.

Along came the Argent Tournament and things managed to get worse yet again. Here we have the Black Knight, who's supposed to be one of the Lich King's most powerful servants, and he's a complete joke. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a good pop culture reference as much as the next person, but connecting something like that with Arthas is not the best way to make him appear genuinely threatening.

And then his appearance in Trial of the Crusader. Oh my. I think the first time he showed up I just rolled my eyes. Once again he does nothing much but make a pompous speech, with his voice having changed yet again, which led to many jokes about how sitting on the frozen throne all day must have made him seriously ill. Plus the whole thing gives Tirion Fordring and the other leaders another opportunity to look completely inane by just standing there and watching passively while the Lich King himself struts around the premises. It's pretty frustrating really.

I'm very fond of Azerothian Super Villains - it takes the slightly silly sides of BC's big bads (like Illidan's apparent habit of sitting around being emo on the roof of the Black Temple) and exaggerates them to the point of ridiculousness. Somehow I can't imagine anyone ever writing something similar about Arthas though - he's already too much of a parody as he is.


Shaman healing for beginners

I really like healing. I currently have a priest, a paladin and a druid at level eighty, all of whom have at least one healing spec and a set of healing gear that ranges from solid to awesome in quality. I've used all of them to heal in five-mans, raids and (with the exception of the paladin) PvP. I guess as such it was only a matter of time until I would turn my attention towards the one healing class that was still missing in my stable, the shaman.

I decided to mainly level as enhancement, since I once tried to level a draenei shaman as restoration and it was pure agony (though this might also have been related to the server she was on). Even this time I started to collect healing gear early on though, and mostly focused on keeping my fellow team mates alive in low-level battlegrounds. At forty I purchased restoration as my proper dual spec, but since finding groups for low-level instances is still such a pain, I never got to try it out in a PvE group environment - until I hit Outland that is, where I have now successfully healed Hellfire Ramparts, the Slave Pens and the Underbog so far.

I have to say, my first impression of shaman healing is that it's really kind of slow and boring. This might change once I get riptide, which I don't have yet due to prioritising some PvP talents first, but as it is... yeah. I'm still having a good time, but this is mostly because I'm excited about experiencing something new.

The thing is, I like how priests and druids have tons of different spells. It means that there are different ways to deal with every situation and always decisions to make. Paladins have fewer abilities, but if nothing else their healing style with the hasted holy light bombs is fast and still requires on-the-fly decisions about who to heal first, since you can only heal one person at once (two if you have beacon of light up).

Now, shamans... they only have few spells, but said spells are simply too good. If there's no aoe damage going around, you can just put earth shield on the tank and then go AFK for the next pull. Since it's "smart" and only consumes charges when the target actually takes damage, you don't even have to worry about regularly refreshing it after x seconds like you would with a regular heal over time effect. At first I couldn't believe that a single spell could be this good and kept trying to supplement the earth shield healing with the occasional lesser healing wave, but I just ended up doing a lot of overhealing.

When more than one person gets hit, things usually get interesting for the healer. Who should be healed first and with which spell? Is it feasible to heal multiple targets at once, and if so, which ones? As a shaman, as soon as you see more than one person taking damage, you just target someone, anyone, and then cast a slooow chain heal. Then you repeat this until everyone is topped off. Argh.

What did end up being more interesting than expected was totem management. Duh, you say, totems are what shamans are all about! Well, obviously I knew that, but it's still different to actually be walking in a totem carrier's shoes yourself. The first thing that struck me was just how often I had to drop my totems and then pick them up again; I swear I spent more mana on that during my instance runs than on anything else. I shudder at the thought of what that must have been like before the option to drop four totems at once was introduced...

The thing is, totems bring so many and such powerful buffs, yet non-shamans seem to be completely oblivious to them. I almost miss people nagging my paladin about whether they want blessing of kings or might - at least they care! When you're a shaman, nobody gives a crap about whether you drop strength of earth or stoneskin, healing stream or mana spring, and good luck figuring out which of your totem buffs are at odds with buffs that other people in your party give by default! Unsurprisingly, nobody pays attention to the location of your totems either. You try to drop them in a nice, central position so you can take down several pulls within their range, but people will run off and just out of range anyway. So into the bag they go (the totems, not the people), you run thirty yards ahead and then drop them again. Good times...

My final observation so far: Reincarnation is amazing and awful at the same time, kind of like spirit of redemption is for priests. If you've ever been a priest healer in a pug where you died, managed to keep everyone alive for the rest of the fight while in spirit form, and then had to make a corpse run on your own while the rest of the party congratulated each other on what an awesome job they did, you'll know what I mean.

Case in point, we over-pulled some Underbog trash and ended up with three groups at once. A few mobs went for me and started beating me up. I blew a nature's-swiftness-plus-healing-wave combo on trying to save my life while I ran to the tank, but I still died shortly afterwards. Of course I couldn't let the rest of my group die to vicious sporebats though! So I hit reincarnation, dropped a mana tide totem and successfully kept everyone up until everything else was dead. The tank started to apologise, saying it was his fault, but the dps death knight immediately interrupted with: "No worries, we're all alive!" Yeah, now we are, no thanks to you. Thanks for not even noticing my dramatic demise! Though I guess I can be glad that this method at least doesn't involve a lonely corpse run.


Questing in the Hinterlands

In today's installment of my not-really-a-series about questing in various levelling zones, I'd like to talk about the Hinterlands. The Hinterlands are another zone that I'm quite fond of, and I can't help noticing a certain trend: Apparently I particularly like zones that are lush and green and/or somewhat remote. I guess the Bartle Test wasn't completely off by pegging me as an explorer after all...

I always liked questing in the Hinterlands as Horde (my memories from Alliance side have become a bit fuzzy over time, I just remember saving Sharpbeak quite a few times and feeding a hungry little sprite darter with wolf flanks). You can pick up a ton of quests in Revantusk village as soon as you get there and then get them all done in only one or two rounds of the zone, which is pretty good going for the old world in terms of time spent actually questing vs. time spent running around.

It also has Jintha'alor, which used to be a pretty epic place before the removal of outdoor elites - it was pretty much a non-instanced dungeon. Still, the removal of the mobs' elite status was a nerf that happened quite a while ago, so I knew that I couldn't expect much more from it nowadays than having a bunch of quests nicely condensed in a small space.

What I didn't know before I took my shaman to Revantusk village the other day was that pretty much everything in the zone had been nerfed in the last patch. This quest for example used to require you to kill eighty trolls. Now, I admit that that's a bit on the high side. Not because I think that there's anything inherently wrong with a quest requiring a lot of kills, but simply because most of the time when you have to deal with such numbers there aren't even that many mobs in the entire zone, which makes the whole thing pretty stupid. "Please help us, these mobs are terrorising us, go kill them!" goes the quest giver, so you go out and wipe out their entire population, but because the quest giver wanted twenty corpses and the entire population only consisted of fifteen, you're stuffed and have to wait for respawns. Yeah, that's dumb.

Anyway, the requirement to kill eighty trolls was already lowered to a much more reasonable twenty-five in a previous patch anyway. Somehow that still wasn't good enough though, so now you only have to kill thirteen. The same was done to pretty much every other "kill ten rats"-type quest in the whole area, be it about Vilebranch trolls (now requires eight mobs, down from what was forty-five at some point), high elves (twenty mobs, down from sixty), savage owlbeasts (ten mobs, down from twenty) or wolves (ten mobs, also down from twenty). I'm honestly not entirely sure how to feel about that. On the one hand it's not like I find myself thinking "gosh, I wish that quest required me to kill another twenty elves, I don't want to be done yet", but on the other hand it's just another one of those steps that were taken with the intent of making everything take less time, which I don't like. Having to invest at least a minimum amount of time into certain tasks simply makes them feel more meaningful.

There was one quest requirement nerf that I can only endorse wholeheartedly though: that Another Message to the Wildhammer only requires one long elegant feather now. It used to be ten, which was a problem because the gryphons from which you were supposed to get the feathers were pretty sparse, and even if you found one the drop rate of those feathers was atrocious. I remember how I even took previous alts to farm hippogryphs in other zones because they had better drop rates for this quest. That's not something I'll miss.

One quest change that really baffled and confused me was the one made to the mechanical chicken escort quest (and its counterparts in Feralas and Tanaris). Having done it so many times before I only skimmed the quest text without paying too much attention, so imagine my surprise when the chicken suddenly flew off when I had only just escorted it a little bit down the road (instead of all the way to the coast like it used to go). Something about that just rubbed me the wrong way. Why does the bloody thing need escorting when it can fly? I can't fly in Azeroth, it's one step ahead of me as it is!

And finally, we have the silvermane stalkers, wolf mobs that both the Horde and the Alliance have to kill for various quests. These used to be pretty interesting as they were stealthed, which meant that you could run into nasty surprises on the road if you were a low level, and even if you were high enough to actually do the quest you'd actually have to do some hunting to find enough of them. Now they are not only not stealthed anymore, they are also black. I'll let that sink in for a moment: wolves called silvermane stalkers are black. Somehow that bugs me more than anything else, though I don't understand the removal of their stealth either. Did Blizzard really get that many tickets from players claiming that these mobs didn't exist because they couldn't find them or something?

All in all I still enjoyed my stay in the Hinterlands and doing the quests there, but I also couldn't shake a certain feeling of melancholy. Maybe I'm just starting to develop an old woman's "in my days, everything was better" mentality, but the majority of the latest changes to the quests in the zone simply felt like fixes for things that weren't broken to begin with to me.


The sound of silence

Spinks' latest post is about gaming and voice chat, with nicely coincides with a recent realisation I had on the same subject.

As a sort of introduction, let me say that I'm a fairly quiet person in real life and don't like talking and drawing attention to myself too much. Unsurprisingly, I'm not too fond of using voice chat either. This hasn't been helped by the fact that I'm not a native English speaker and have a pretty crappy microphone, so half the time people either don't hear me at all or respond with some variety of "What? Sorry, I didn't catch that" to any comments I try to make.

Still, I'm quite fond of listening, and I can absolutely see the benefit of using programmes like TeamSpeak or Vent for raiding. In fact I'm pretty sure that most raiding guilds use voice chat of some sort these days.

On Wednesday I came home from work and immediately jumped online to join one of my guild's raids. Having only just returned from hours of work in a busy and very noisy store, I wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet for just a little longer, so I decided that I could probably pass on logging onto TeamSpeak for Vault of Archavon; after all the bosses in there are all loot pinatas anyway. All went well and we continued to Onyxia. "Oh, it's just Ony," I told myself, "I know that fight too, no need to log on TS for that either". Afterwards we went to Ulduar. Can you guess what I thought? Yup, I decided that that didn't really require me to use voice chat either, and eventually ended up not using it all night. Once I missed the raid leader giving me an assignment, but since I knew that I was missing an assignment, I asked about it in raid chat and someone else clarified it for me. Otherwise my performance didn't suffer at all; I topped the healing metres, didn't stand in fires and so on.

The bit that surprised me however, was not so much that I could pull off a raid without listening in on TeamSpeak, but that this actually increased both my enjoyment of the raid and my focus.

As far as the enjoyment part goes... you know the saying that sometimes you don't miss something until it's gone? It works the opposite way too, sometimes you don't realise how much something bugged you until you suddenly find yourself free of it. In this case this something was simply "too much pointless chatter on TeamSpeak". Don't get me wrong, I'm not against people having a laugh now and then, but as of late we've had some members who really just can't seem to shut up and seem to feel the need to vocally share everything with the raid the very moment a thought pops into brain. It gets annoying. Imagine if everyone acted like that, we wouldn't get a thing done anymore! Not having all that idle chit-chat forced on me for a change was very pleasant.

And as far as focus goes, not being on voice chat made me realise just how overly dependent many people in our raid force have become on having everything called out loud. I'm not talking about unexpected things like a tank dying or a spontaneous change of strategy - that's what it's there for, to be able to quickly communicate those things on the fly. I'm talking about basic boss abilities - for example someone will always ask for people to call out the specials on the Twin Val'kyr in Trial of the Crusader. Why? Every raider is supposed to have Deadly Boss Mods or a similar addon installed anyway, which has warnings and timers for pretty much everything as it is - just how much redundancy do we need? On Yogg-Saron someone from the "brain team" went insane and then complained that there had been no call on TS to move out of the brain. Hello? Just look at his freaking cast bar - when he's almost done casting, run out. How hard is it?

Anyway, my point is that even I had got used to the constant calling out of abilities to an extent, and it had made me lazy. When you completely rely on someone else to tell you what to do all the time, you won't pay as much attention to things yourself. With voice chat gone however, there was suddenly no one to call out portal spawns or to remind me to check my sanity anymore. As a result I simply had to make sure to be highly focused myself, and to watch the DBM timers and my surroundings like a hawk in order not to mess up. I think it would do many of our less-focused raiders a lot of good to be forced to use their own brains more often again. I don't think that anyone who raids with us is dumb, but some people are really a bit too slack when it comes to paying attention during boss attempts.

I don't think I'll be able to convince the raid leaders to stop using voice chat altogether (they'd hate to have to type out all the instructions on a new boss for example I'm sure), but I'll definitely have to suggest cutting down on its useage.


Death knights ruined my PvP!

Attention-grabbing headlines aside, I mentioned before that I find death knights, their death grip and their chains of ice spam quite annoying in PvP, but this post is not about that.

I've also mentioned before that low-level PvP seems to be pretty fun these days, what with the twinks having been banished into the nether their separate battlegrounds. From my experience people joined in at whatever level they fancied, wearing nothing but their levelling gear (maybe a few heirlooms here and there), acted pretty laid back about everything and had fun.

I should have known that it was too good to last. In other words: My shaman levelled and entered the 50-59 bracket.

Now there may not be any "proper" twinks roaming among us lesser mortals anymore, but in this level bracket you get a load of death knights in their free tier two equivalent from the starter zone instead, two- or three-shotting people of any other class regardless of level, simply because everyone else is just wearing a bunch of levelling greens and blues. In short: You have twinks, only worse.

Why worse? Creating a twink requires some work at least, to find all the best gear for your level, get the right enchants and so on. All it requires to get a death knight ganking machine for the 50-59 bracket is to play through the death knight starter zone. In that hour or so you'll get ridiculously good gear for your level handed to you for minimal effort, so anyone can do it very easily.

Basically unleashing a bunch of newly-rolled death knights into the wild of the battlegrounds is like handing heavy sledge hammers to a bunch of toddlers and sending them to play in a china shop. There'll be pain, lots of it, and it doesn't even matter whose side you're on.

Case in point, a Warsong Gulch match that was looking like we would stand a decent chance at winning since we had about four death knights on our team. (I feel sick even thinking about it in those terms, but it's the unfortunate truth.) The Alliance was one-nil ahead however, from an early cap while we were terribly outnumbered. Both flags were being held, and our team fought teeth and nails to get the enemy flag carrier down. Finally the flag is returned to our base, the enemy flag is being held by a death knight who's in mid-field with nothing in his way. Everybody cheered him on in chat, this would be our moment!

Except... said death knight decided to just meander around mid-field for a bit and then ran straight back into the enemy base where he got killed eventually. Incredulous shouting in chat ensued, what was he thinking? His response was, mildly paraphrased: "lol I dun wanna cap, I dun wanna gain XP and level". My comment that he should just turn XP off then was completely ignored and chat just quickly devolved into an exchange of insults between the death knight and everyone else, while the Alliance happily capped the flag some more.

You can say a lot about twinks, but I don't think I've ever heard of them making their own team lose on purpose. To overpowered deathtards on the other hand, nothing is sacred.

Last I heard, the new LFG interface that's coming in the next patch is also going to incorporate a feature to "vote people off the island" a.k.a kick them from the group via majority vote. I wonder if that could be implemented for battlegrounds as well? Oh, I know that it won't happen because it would be abused too much, but man, what I wouldn't have given to be able to boot that guy.

I can't wait to hit sixty, when Outland will hopefully level the playing field again and make things somewhat less painful.

P.S.: In the next match I entered, the Alliance had no less than six death knights on their team. When I got into their flag room, they played death grip pong with me, yanking me up and down between the levels before killing me. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.


Hurrah for bugs! Sort of.

So my guild has been wiping on the twenty-five-man version of the Northrend Beasts fight on heroic difficulty for what seems like a billion years now. We've been going back to Trial of the Grand Crusader every week for at least one whole night and do nothing but wipe on that one fight there over and over again.

There has been some progress, but it's been so slow as to be almost undetectable by the untrained eye. I mean, if I look at our attempts last night they were a lot better than the ones on our first night ever, but not much different from our attempts last week. That makes each night by itself seem very unsatisfying, because taken by its own merits it never appears to have achieved anything at all.

Yesterday we started the night with five wipes again. On the sixth attempt we absolutely aced phase two for the first time and everybody was alive when Icehowl entered the arena. Then he turned around and took out three healers at once with his freezing breath and some melee got punted into a pool of poison that was still lingering after Dreadscale's death. The remaining people fought on valiantly (I sound like Tirion Fordring there), but with half the healers dead the tanks quickly dropped like flies as well. As the last tank bit the dust, I thought "aw shucks, and it was such a good attempt" and prepared to die too. Icehowl turned around once more to cast his frozen breath and spewed. Then he breathed out. Then he exhaled. Those of us who were still alive were starting to seriously wonder about his lung capacity. Nobody was actually taking any damage, but Icehowl appeared to be stuck spewing a cloud of ice over and over again.

So the dps went back to attacking him and the remaining healers joined in with smites, lightning bolts and the like. The enrage timer came and went, and still Icehowl continued to breathe out. We smote him some more. And then he died.

There were cheers and laughter on TeamSpeak and in raid chat, and I couldn't quite fight a certain sense of bemusement myself, but at the same time it felt quite unsatisfying. I mean, it wasn't real, you know? I guess everyone agreed in so far as there were no victory celebrations on our guild website afterwards, though some argued that it was karma making up for the many bugs we struggled with throughout the weeks that caused us extra wipes (mass DCs in heroic mode only, Jormungars spontaneously despawning etc.). I can't entirely disagree with that either, and if nothing else it was nice to spend some time wiping on Jaraxxus for a change, who looks a lot more manageable by the way. It will just be weird to go back to more wiping on the Beasts now to learn to actually kill them without lucky bugs.

Still, while I've seen some interesting things happen during first kills of bosses before (like someone accidentally taunting Sartharion towards the end of our first Sarth+3D kill and making him spin all over the place), this one has to go down as my strangest first kill of a boss ever.