Scattered thoughts on Cataclysm beta news

I can't help but wonder: are there still people who are trying to avoid Cataclysm spoilers completely? I imagine that it must be quite hard by now, considering how omnipresent spoilers appear to be on the news sites and how casually people like to drop them into discussions of completely unrelated subjects as well.

Anyway, no story spoilers here, as I'm still trying to avoid those. I don't mind finding out about gameplay-related changes really, because I don't consider "being confused by my vastly changed talent trees" a fun feature of new content patches anyway. Better to be able to prepare yourself a little ahead of time.

Biggest gear reset ever

One thing that's pretty old news right now but that nonetheless hasn't ceased to amaze me is the absolutely massive gear reset that's coming in Cataclysm. To give an example, these are the leggings my main is currently wearing. They are the tier 10.25 legs for healing priests (or whatever you want to call them), acquired by running normal-mode ICC-25 or heroic ICC-10. Not the best item currently available in the game for that slot, but pretty close. This is what they look like in the Cataclysm beta, with the spell power mostly converted into stamina. And this is a green quest reward from Mount Hyjal, for a quest that you can do at level eighty. The stats are pretty damn close.

Now, this doesn't so much annoy me (though I will probably moan a little when I have to replace my epics acquired through raiding with quest greens), but it does confuse me. Remember the Burning Crusade with its also pretty considerable gear reset? If you don't, just compare this blue quest reward from Hellfire Peninsula with this robe from AQ40. Ouch.

The thing is, Blizzard agreed afterwards that this was a bad idea. This is why the gear replacement curve in Northrend was so much smoother. A green quest reward from Howling Fjord didn't really hold a candle to something from Zul'Aman for example (and not just because of the weird itemisation). And again, people mostly seemed to agree that this was a good thing.

And yet, here comes Cataclysm and they go back to the "massive gear reset" model and nobody seems to do as much as bat an eyelash about it. Or maybe they did and I've missed it; personally I haven't seen any discussion of the subject on blogs or read about any official Blizzard statements explaining this complete turnaround in attitude. It just seems strange.

Fear those normal world mobs

Larísa made a nice post last week about the fact that Blizzard has been ramping up the health and damage output of normal world mobs in the high level zones in the Cataclysm beta. Many seem to welcome this change, but I'm a bit undecided - which is ironic considering that I asked for a "healthy buff" for all outdoor mobs myself before.

I still think that it's a good idea in principle, but judging by some of the comments I've seen on the forums it could be that Blizzard has gone too far into the other direction right now. It's one thing to not want to be able to two-shot a mob of equal level and quite another to be two-shotted yourself by that same mob instead.

Plus, one has to consider that mob difficulty varies a lot depending on what class and spec you play. My holy priest still takes her sweet time killing normal level eighty mobs, even in ICC-25 gear. My hunter can kill the same mobs quickly, but can still get into situations where she'll have to feign and reset if she gets too many adds or tries to take on a powerful elite on her own. And my protection paladin could just run through any group of mobs, including elites, and tank them to death without even losing any health or mana. So I'm a bit worried that if Blizzard tunes things in such a way that they'll be challenging to even the most powerful characters, my weaker toons might just not be able to solo at all, which would obviously suck.

Also, you have to keep in mind that these characters are all at least in a mix of triumph and frost level gear, so that is a factor as well. If you tune things to push people in ilevel 264 gear to their limits, any alts that get levelled after the release of Cataclysm and try to progress into the level eighty-one zones in greens and blues a hundred ilevels lower will run into a massive brick wall all of a sudden, which doesn't exactly make for a smooth levelling curve either.

Personally I would only increase the difficulty of normal mobs a little, but bring elite areas back into the world and generally increase mob density in areas that are supposed to be "scary". Many mobs that give levelling players trouble in the old world don't actually hit particularly hard on their own either, but they come in packs and like to do things like run away and call for help, which keeps you on your toes.

Holy priest, Batman!

On a completely unrelated note, you might remember me ranting quite heavily about what holy priests looked like in the Cataclysm beta one and a half months ago. As such I'm quite happy to hear that Blizzard has finally got around to paying some attention to the spec, trying to make sure that the talents actually make some sense and just generally making holy sound interesting again.

Personally I'm not worried about the spec becoming too difficult to play, but I do sort of wonder about how much point there is in adding too many new healing spells for priests. After all, resto druids were denied any new additions to their healing arsenal with the argument that they already have enough, and while priests need a little more variety since their spellbook has to cover two healing specs focusing on different spells, there is still such a thing as overkill. Don't get me wrong, the huge variety of healing spells is one of the things that really attracts me to holy priest play, but there comes a point where spells start to look too similar and you just can't make them all equally viable. Don't introduce more spells just for the sake of having more, they are likely to just end up on the edge of people's action bars where they never get used because another spell pretty much already does the same thing anyway.


More lessons from the old world

I'm getting closer and closer to becoming The Seeker now; less than a hundred quests to go. Polishing off all the Horde starter zones and their low-level neighbours was an interesting experience.

For example I wasn't surprised to only find two quests left in Silverpine that I hadn't done yet, since I distinctly remember levelling my priest through that area back in 2007 (and repeatedly getting my butt kicked by the free-roaming Sons of Arugal). However, I was rather bewildered by the discovery that I had already done a couple of quests in the Ghostlands as well. Judging by the fact that the quest givers in question were all located relatively close to Zul'Aman, I can only guess that I decided to waste some time with them back in BC while waiting for a raid to form, but I don't know for sure. It feels strange not to remember!

Another thing that struck me as interesting about the blood elf starting zone was that the biggest difference compared to the other Horde starting areas didn't seem to be anything inherently different in the way the quests were designed, but that there were simply a lot more of them. I checked on Wowhead to see whether this impression was based on facts or just a delusion, but Eversong Forest does indeed contain nearly twice as many quests as Durotar, Mulgore and Tirisfal Glades. Maybe that's the real secret to "better" quest design, simply making more of them? After all, running to the other end of the map feels a lot more justified if you're doing it for the sake of three different quest givers instead of just one.

In Ashenvale I found myself suddenly convinced that the developers definitely favour the Alliance over the Horde. Why? This quest. Not only does my preferred faction get a second Green Hills-type quest, but in this version, pages of the same type don't even stack (the Stranglethorn pages at least stack to ten if you get extras). I mailed any copies off to my bank alt whenever I got anywhere near a mailbox (which, in Ashenvale, was not a lot, unfortunately), and didn't even try to sort them out until I was done with everything else in the zone. Even then I was still missing several pages and had to buy them from the auction house for several gold a piece. For comparison purposes, the actual quest reward at level eighty is twenty-two silver and a green item that you can vendor for another twelve. Questing in the old world is strange in terms of effort and reward sometimes.

And on a final note for this post, I was also reminded of just how much I loathe all barrow den-type caves. Through what I can only think of as a streak of bad luck, I ended up having to go through something like three of them in a row, and god, I hated it. Caves are something that you learn to fear early on as a newbie, as the high mob density often spells death for a hapless low-level, and it's easy to lose track of where the exit is. Once you've accumulated a bit of experience you learn that most caves are based on only a handful of different models and not as confusing as they might seem at first. But those barrow dens? Argh.

I remember spending what felt like hours in the one in Teldrassil on my night elf back in the day, and even now I still manage to get lost in the damn things. All those criss-crossing tunnels and bridges in tight spaces make it really hard at times to figure out which level you're supposed to be on. In my opinion the Wailing Caverns feel like a walk in the park in comparison. I hope Deathwing makes them all cave in.


Guild update

I realised that I should probably say a few words about what's been happening to my guild since my last post about it. It still feels odd to talk about my guild like that at all. For one and a half years I didn't have much of a need to talk about it simply because it was working so smoothly. Sure, we had our occasional argument or loot drama, but nothing that really endangered the guild's integrity as a whole.

Also, I think part of me doesn't actually like talking about my guild's problems too much. As soon as you mention any people involved in anything less than a glowingly positive way (even without naming them), there's the risk that someone will view it as "airing dirty laundry" or something and start a fight about it.

Still, in this case I do think it's worth mentioning that about two weeks ago our inactive guild leader finally agreed to hand guild leadership over to the remaining active officer, whose first act in his new position was to promote me and another very active guildie to officer status so we could help him breathe some life back into the guild. I think that we've been quite successful at this task so far, getting both "fun" and ten-man progression raids going each week and giving our somewhat outdated guild website a much-needed overhaul. Guild chat also seems more alive again in the evenings. This is good.

Nonetheless I remain cautious. I have to admit that the idea of officially downsizing to being a ten-man guild leaves me feeling a little insecure. There's strength in numbers. In a twenty-five-man raid, a single person is unlikely to make or break a raid, but if you're only running ten-mans and, say, one of your healers stops playing, you'll be in some trouble, even if you have more than ten raiders to allow for a little rotation. Two or three people leaving at once could be disastrous! With a roster of thirty-odd people to cover our twenty-five man raids we had a much bigger buffer for that kind of thing.

I also got word of former members who left to join Another GuildTM about two months ago to continue twenty-five-man raiding bombarding people that remained with us with whispers to leave us and join their new guild instead. This kind of thing is exactly why claims about wanting to stay on good terms with the guild just before you leave often sound so hollow. If you want to stay on good terms you don't go and undermine the place two months later!

I used to be pretty laid back about "poaching" attempts like that because it takes two to tango and you can't convince people if they don't really want to leave anyway, but I have to admit that after putting in the work trying to get the guild back on its feet I can understand why our old officers would often become so outraged when stuff like that happened. If you put personal effort into making the guild what it is and then people whom you thought were your friends go around telling others that your guild sucks and that people should join theirs instead - yeah, that is bloody personal. Fortunately I think that the ones that remain in the guild right now are not easily impressed by the allure of more hardcore raiding, easy achievements and better epics.

For now I'm cautiously optimistic until the end of this expansion at least; and I don't see much point in worrying about what Cataclysm will bring because so many things will change that it's hard to make any reliable predictions about our future guild size, raiding habits and what not anyway.


Questing and travelling

My dabbling in old quests continues. In fact I found myself a lot more enthused about the idea than I originally thought, and finished off both the Barrens and Stonetalon Mountains yesterday. I didn't discover any new quests in either zone, that is to say that I had done all of them before on some alt or another, just never on my main.

Initially I found myself groaning at the long travel times, and wondered how I ever managed to get other characters through most of these quests back when you didn't get a mount until level forty. The effect was heightened by the fact that I had just completed the Zul'Drak quests on my night elf only two nights ago, which made for a very stark contrast in terms of a sleek gaming experience.

In the end I acclimated quite quickly however, and realised to my great surprise that all that running around actually added something to the experience too. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it did feel pointless and like it was only there to make the quests seem longer than they actually were. Running back and forth between the Crossroads and the Dry Hills three times just to kill a different bunch of harpies each time felt silly. When Kadrak at the Mor'shan Rampart asked me to plant a Horde banner in a cave somewhere in the Stonetalon Mountains, I really wanted to tell him that he had more immediate threats to worry about. And realising after completing Raptor Horns that I had to kill a whole nest of exactly the same mobs for Stolen Silver was annoying.

But for every quest-related frustration like that, there was another situation where the old quest design system actually added something enjoyable to the experience with the way it made quest givers stand around in odd places and forced me run around a lot. For example, having a crazed hermit living in a tent in the middle of nowhere and giving out a single quest may not be the most accessible way of going about these things, but it really does drive home the point that he is a crazed hermit. If he lived conveniently close to a village or people were sending messages to him, he wouldn't really be much of a hermit, would he?

Likewise, a goblin in Ratchet sending you to collect spider eggs in Stonetalon might not make for the most streamlined gaming experience, but you really get a sense that he is a smart entrepreneur who likes to hire other people to do the grunt work for him. If he was already sitting in Windshear Crag himself just to save you running time, he wouldn't appear to be nearly as clever. After all it doesn't take a genius to come up with the idea of picking up what's already right in front of you.

Or take this quest: All it does is tell you to go talk to someone else, since the quest giver feels that he's too old to handle the matter, a completely unnecessary step that could have been cut out very easily for the sake of convenience. As it is however, it makes you feel that NPCs are people too, and may simply not always have all the answers you want. There were a lot of quests like that in the Barrens region, with people telling you to ask someone else for help or seek the expertise of someone who lives elsewhere.

This certainly gave me pause and made me realise for the first time just how strangely isolated and completely self-sufficient most "quest hubs" in Outland and Northrend are. No matter what strange discoveries you make, there's almost always someone around who can make sense of it in close proximity. None of this "uh, we should report back to Orgrimmar" stuff, with the notable exception of the Mag'har quest line. I don't know why that is, are we just meant to assume that all the communication happens off-screen? Are the player characters too good to serve as messengers these days? But why? Blizzard still puts in breadcrumb quests to lead you back and forth between different zones, they just happen to be a lot less meaningful in comparison and can almost always be summed up as "go report to Guy McGuyson at [faction outpost], he might have work for you". Why not let us report some more interesting news?

Also, having to travel a lot simply makes things feel more epic. Frodo's journey to Mount Doom wouldn't have been half as interesting if he had already been living right next to it at the start of the story. I know people might argue with this, saying that travel in WoW is just a boring chore and adds nothing, but I suspect that it's simply something that we don't think about consciously most of the time. We know that we're willing to go to great lengths for things that are important to us, so we assume that if someone else asks us to do the same for them, it must be important too.

I thought a decent example of this in the Barrens was the Samophlange quest line. I mean, if you think about it it's just a goblin asking you to steal some gadget from the Venture company, completely trivial. But then he sends you to someone in the northern Barrens to repair it, and that lady then sends you to Orgrimmar, and you get asked to recover a torn manual in a mine, and so on and so forth, and you can't help but feel that this samophlange thing must be quite powerful after a while, because if it wasn't nobody would bother with all this stuff, would they?

I'm also convinced that the real reason that the Crusader Bridenbrad quest line is so popular is not that it tells a touching story, but that it makes you run all over the frikkin place: to Moonglade and into the emerald dream, to Wyrmrest temple, to Outland! If all the remedies that you try to save him had been conveniently available right there in Icecrown it wouldn't have felt half as epic I tell you.


Do I want to be a Loremaster?

I recently decided to start doing old quests on my priest. I won't say that I'm trying for Loremaster, because I'm really not fretting about it... though if I did manage to persist that's what I'd be going for eventually. Maybe I'll just get to Seeker, or maybe I'll grow bored after two zones. I'm just experimenting with the general concept.

I really like quests, but the problem I always have nowadays is that I like instances even more, and ever since BC Blizzard has worked on making the latter much more appealing. Even back at level seventy when heroics were hard and not nearly as popular as they are now, they were still rewarding to run, with new badge of justice rewards getting added with every major patch and reputation gains actually being kind of a big deal.

But quests? I remember running quests past the level cap back in Vanilla, simply because there wasn't that much else to do for a newly dinged sixty. In BC I always cleared the first couple of zones very thoroughly whenever one of my characters made it to Outland, but never completed all the quests in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley because as soon as I hit the level cap they just stopped being rewarding. I did a few more while playing with friends and to get decent starter equipment for dungeons and raids, but after that... eh. Now with the dungeon finder out, I struggle to make my alts above seventy complete more than one zone worth of quests in Northrend, and even my low level toons have discovered chain-instancing as a more worthwhile activity than questing.

It's kind of sad really. I love exploring the world and learning about all its little stories, but at the end of the day I also really like to advance my characters. And once a quest goes grey and/or you hit the level cap, quests just don't have anything to give you but a bunch of gold, which is pretty worthless in today's hyper-inflated economy. Dungeons on the other hand almost never stop rewarding me with better items (even if the rate of acquisition slows down considerably), plus I get to play with other people and be social. It's just no contest.

So, from that point of view, going back to do quests in the old world is a very odd thing to do. After all it would be much more rewarding to simply roll up a new alt and do it all at the right level, so I get to see new content and actually gain experience from questing at the same time. The only problem with that is that it's very hard to keep track of which quests you've done on which character. I reckon I've probably done quite a few out of the overall total, spread across all my characters, but with the current quest tracking system I can't very well know. Better to just get it all done on my priest once and for all, so I can say that I've been there and done that.

I do have to say, riding around Mulgore on my Amani war bear and killing level five mobs in my full Sanctified Crimson Acolyte outfit makes me feel like a bit of a tool though. You'd think that I'd enjoy showing off to the newbies or something, but in fact I just feel embarrassed. Whenever I spot a low-level character, I flush quietly and then give them a wide berth. I feel bad about destroying their private immersion of the quillboar being a genuine danger (because to a low-level character they are) by one-shotting them with my caster dagger. I feel like I'm shooting pigeons with a rocket launcher, while attending a sport festival in an evening dress - out of place in so many ways.

It is an interesting experience though. For example it makes you realise just how much of our questing time is actually taken up by running around. Contrary to what you'd believe, killing the mobs ten times faster doesn't make you complete the quest ten times faster, because you still have to run all around the zone to find just the right kind of kitty to extract a femur from, and then back again to hand it all in. That's not all bad though. It's nice to just move through the old world again and take it in in all its glory before the Cataclysm will change things forever.

And of course you do find little gems among the quests. So far I'm only working my way through the starter zones, which I already know pretty well - being an altoholic and all - but even there I haven't seen everything before. For example I was quite surprised to discover this quest a little northwest of Razor Hill, on top of a watch tower. And here I always envied the draenei and blood elves for their bag-rewarding starter quests... without knowing that the orcs and trolls had one too, providing them with nothing less than an eight-slotter!

It really doesn't seem to matter how long I play this game, there's always something left to discover that I simply didn't know yet. It's just harder nowadays to motivate yourself to actually go out and look for these things.


How bad is the summer slump really?

It's widely agreed upon that WoW is not at its most popular at the moment. People are looking forward to Cataclysm, but the content currently in the game feels worn out. Is there anyone who wanted to see ICC and hasn't actually done so yet? It seems that there's little left to do if you aren't an altoholic or a dedicated achievement hunter. People are playing less and less.

Or are they? I mean, I have yet to see anyone disagree with the notion, but at the same time we don't seem to have anything solid to back it up. As far as I'm aware Blizzard hasn't released any information about their subscription numbers in quite a while, and anecdotal evidence of someone's guild going quiet doesn't really prove anything, does it? Dalaran still seems reasonably busy to me on my server, and while dungeon finder queues on my healers were instant the other day, that doesn't necessarily mean that fewer healers are running dungeons. (Maybe more people have switched to tanking instead?)

As we were discussing the summer slump in my guild, one of my guildies had the brilliant idea of using WoWProgress as an indicator of current raid activity. Raiding isn't all there is to do in the game, but it's definitely an important part. The statistics for my home realm Earthen Ring were an eye-opener for sure.

Let's start with the newest raid, the Ruby Sanctum. It's been out for one and a half months now, and only twelve guilds on my server have cleared it on 25-man, one of them on heroic. Considering that the site has records of no less than 91 Earthen Ring guilds killing bosses in 25-man ICC, that's a pretty poor turnout. Few people seem to care about Halion.

The ten-man stats paint a pretty similar picture. 31 guilds have successfully cleared the Sanctum on ten-man (two of them on heroic), but compared to the 110 guilds that have been active in ICC-10, that's pretty much nothing.

The ICC statistics themselves also show a very obvious slump in activity. Of the forty most progressed 25-man guilds, only eight have recorded any sort of progression in July or August (meaning a new boss kill or an achievement). Before the summer pretty much all of them had at least one progression kill a month, usually more. No less than sixteen of these "top" guilds haven't achieved anything remarkable since May or even earlier. It's unrealistic to think that they just hit a brick wall that they simply couldn't get past, all at the same time and at completely different points of progression. (Only five guilds are on 11/12 heroic.) They just don't seem to have the numbers and motivation to push on anymore.

Again, the ten-man picture is slightly less dire, presumably because these runs are easier to organise and can serve as a fallback for 25-man guilds that end up being short on numbers. But still: of the forty best guilds that are still progressing (that is to say, discounting the two that have killed the Lich King on heroic mode), less than half have killed anything new in July or August. Clearly interest in this format is currently on the decline as well, even if not quite as steeply as in the case of 25-man.

I do think that this is a strong indicator that in-game activity is on a sharp decline, at least on my server. Presumably the statistics for other servers paint a similar picture, though there might be variations of course.

Of course now I wonder how this compares to previous summers, or to the months before the release of the current expansion. I know my guild didn't fall apart the way it did recently back in previous summers, and before the release of WOTLK we were actually franticly trying to clear the Black Temple just before the final nerf. We didn't bother working on the Sunwell anymore after killing Illidan, but that drop in interest happened about two weeks before expansion release, not six months ahead of it. Too bad I don't have any numbers from other guilds for those times.

What are other people's experiences in that regard?


Book review: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King

Not long ago I abused the occasion of my birthday to let someone else buy me a copy of Arthas: Rise of the Lich King. Now, I still remembered Tam's review of the book and the hilarious follow-up in which he reiterated just how much he hated it, but that didn't stop me from wanting to read it myself. To be honest I've always suspected that my own literary tastes are a lot less refined than Tam's...

In a way I was right, and I did enjoy the book, but at the same time... something felt more than a little off about it, for reasons that had nothing to do with lavender-hued prose or the occasional awkward line.

Basically, I really liked the first half, which introduces us to Arthas the young prince and his budding romance with Jaina Proudmoore. I don't really buy into the cliché of children becoming so infatuated with one another after only a few days that they then spend the next couple of years thinking about each other until they are finally grown up enough to engage in proper romance, but that aside I actually enjoyed this part of the plot. It's kind of cheesy I suppose, but it didn't strike me as particularly unrealistic (aside from the aforementioned childhood-friendship-equals-love-later trope), and I liked seeing Jaina display traces of having a proper personality for once. While her love for Arthas was obviously central to the story, she was still her own person, with interests and responsibilites that had nothing to do with the prince of Lordaeron. In fact, I found myself thinking that I'd be quite happy to read a book solely dedicated to the love triangle between Arthas, Jaina and Kael'thas, but I suppose that's my girly side coming out.

However, around the time the story got to the culling of Stratholme, things started to change. The culling itself wasn't actually that interesting to read about, seeing how I've played through it in WoW over eighty times by now, and Christie Golden pretty much copied the well-known opening scene word for word, with only a little bit of narration added in-between the lines. It's kind of strange, because I always appreciated tie-in novels giving nods to the in-game world before. I suppose the problem is that this wasn't so much a nod as it was a whole transcript.

Following Arthas to Northrend and reading about his adventures there, the feeling that something was slightly off lingered and became even more pronounced after a while. The flow of the story seemed a lot less smooth than before, choppy in fact, with a lot of details appearing disjointed and not really adding up. For example Arthas enters Frostmourne cavern with several of his soldiers, yet when he sees Frostmourne itself he's suddenly alone with Muradin and nobody is there to question the fact that Arthas is happy to leave the old dwarf bleeding in the snow.

This is when I remembered that these were all events that had taken place in Warcraft III (which I never played myself), so I decided to search YouTube for some videos to see if they would clarify things for me. In a way they did, but not as I had hoped. As it turned out, Christie Golden had faithfully copied the dialogue and the events from that game too, including some things that don't really make sense outside of the game, such as Arthas's soldier units disappearing for cut scenes when they are not needed and conveniently showing up again later. Oh dear...

And so things basically continue for the rest of the book, with everything feeling more and more rushed towards the end, leaving little room for actual characterisation between all the summarising of game missions and cut scenes. A lot of things don't get explained at all, probably under the assumption that the readers will "get it" anyway. As someone who's been playing WoW for several years now but never played any other Blizzard games, I felt kind of left out. In more than one case, the random YouTube videos about Warcraft III gave me a better impression of what the hell had just happened than the author's narration.

Also, a lot of the dialogue as copied from the game felt, to me at least, like it was completely at odds with the image of Arthas that Christie Golden herself was trying to convey, which again led to more strangeness whenever Arthas randomly started to mentally angst about Jaina's love and his lost humanity while his faithfully transcribed words and actions were completely contrary to that.

In the end I simply felt slightly disappointed. The book had been an easy read and reasonably entertaining, but even as someone who has only ever played WoW and none of the previous Warcraft games, I felt that I hadn't learned a whole lot of new information about Arthas that I couldn't simply have read on WoWWiki for free. Unless you're a huge fan of Arthas, Jaina or Sylvanas who devours every piece of content related to them that they can find, or conversely you've somehow managed to make it through WOTLK without having much of a clue about who this Lich King chap is, you won't get a whole lot out of reading Arthas: Rise of the Lich King. See if you can borrow it from someone or somewhere for free if you'd like to read it anyway, but if you can't, it's probably better to save your money.

Oh, and did anyone else feel a random urge to read Arthas/Kel'thuzad fan fiction after finishing the book?


Random Outland musings

Yesterday my boyfriend decided to revive the old shaman that he abandoned in early Outland, and I joined him for the ride on my rarely played death knight. It was great fun, and not just because it had been a while since we last played together as a team.

I just love Outland. Maybe it's because TBC was when I really started to get into the game, experiencing the expansion from start to finish, but I just have a huge fondness for all the content released during that period. At least part of it is probably mere nostalgia, but I do think that Outland quests also just happen to hit the perfect spot for me in terms of balancing challenging gameplay with convenience.

I was delighted when our characters cut their way through a dozen different denizens of Terokkar Forest, and it didn't matter what we killed, it almost always seemed to update at least one quest. People seriously underestimate the fun of "kill ten mobs" quests sometimes. Killing monsters is one of the absolute core features of WoW; it's just what we do. Getting extra cash and a new hat for killing a particular bunch of wolves is simply a bonus and gives us a bit of direction as opposed to just killing things randomly.

In comparison, a quest that has you use a quest item in a cave instead, watch a cut scene, and then run back to hand in, may teach you something interesting about the lore the first time, but the replay value is rather low. Maybe that's why I struggle to repeatedly quest through Northrend on my alts, whereas my Outland experience feels incomplete if I haven't cleared out at least three or four zones worth of quests before moving on to Northrend.

With that in mind, Outland levelling happens way too quickly for my taste these days. I can't be bothered to constantly turn XP gains off and on again, but I do wish it would simply be slower. I already passed on wearing my heirlooms yesterday, and still my death knight gained two and a half levels during our play session. Things like this make it annoyingly hard for me to experience a balanced variety of content while levelling these days. Run a dungeon and you'll have outlevelled all the quests in the zone; focus on questing and before you know it another couple of dungeons will have dropped off your level range. And that's not even factoring in things like battlegrounds... Sure, you can always go back and do it all after it's turned grey, but that's not nearly the same as actually playing through it at level.

In the Bone Wastes we picked up this quest for the Tomb of Light without actually re-reading the quest text properly. It was only after we had cleared a path all the way down into the tomb and I was searching for the quest item to start the event that we realised that it had been completely redone and there was no quest item anymore. What used to be a very challenging quest to defend a friendly arcane guardian type mob against waves of angry draenei spirits has been reduced to nothing but a mission to kill five random draenei ghosts. That made me sad. The commenters on Wowhead suggested that it might be Blizzard's lazy way of "fixing" the bugs with that quest, but while I remember it being atrociously buggy in early TBC (initially you had to wait for a complete server reset to unbug it), I never had any problems in later playthroughs and assumed that it had already been fixed. It's a shame either way.

On the way back to the quest hub we ended up musing about scorpid bonecrawlers and how we were making a point of avoiding them since they weren't the objective of any quests. Wildlife that doesn't serve any particular purpose? What a strange concept.

A bit later I also returned to Hellfire Peninsula to clean up a couple of quests that I had left over there. When I went to hunt bonestripper buzzards for this quest I was confused by their complete and utter disinterest in me. They used to be attracted to the smell of death, which meant that if you killed anything in their vicinity, they would emote and fly over to you (and then attack). I always thought that this was an interesting mechanic and also made the pulls a lot more interesting. Once again, no more. The buzzards have been nerfed. Why? I have no idea. I can only assume that this decision was made by the same department that thought that silvermane stalkers should be black and not stalk anymore.

Finally, I picked up a couple of motes of shadow and a primal life during my quests. When I checked the auction house for their value I was flabbergasted to see that they were worth as much as if not more than their Northrend equivalents. Surely something that's only really good for levelling professions anymore can't be in such high demand?

I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that the demand probably isn't that large, the things are just a lot more rare. Eternals in WOTLK have become completely trivialised to the point where they are even available from vendors with an unlimited supply. Does anyone even farm for them anymore? I remember back in BC I pretty much had to farm for all types of primals at some point or another, whether this involved flying circles around Shadowmoon Valley with my engineer or killing mana wraiths in Netherstorm for hours on end. I'll be honest and admit that I'm not entirely sure whether I miss that - farming does have its reputation for being tedious for a reason - but I do wish there were more things in the game again that forced you to interact with the world in some way or another. You shouldn't be able to get everything you want without ever moving out of a capital, buying from vendors or the near limitless supplies on the auction house.


Return of the search terms

More strange search terms that led people to this blog:

cap the amount of death knights allowed in one pvp match - You know, I could totally get on board with that, especially for the 50-59 bracket. I shudder to think back to my shaman's Warsong Gulch experiences in that level range...

celestial steed floppy legs - I believe the word that I used to describe the sparkle pony's legs was "spindly", but yeah, I agree that something about its legs looks off.

drakes oculus cannot dismount - Well, there is this button with a big red arrow on the right side of the vehicle interface; pressing that should dismount you. That said, I have heard of cases where it bugged out for people and pressing the button seemed to do nothing. Puggers that I ran with seemed to be able to solve this problem by either reloading their user interface (/console reloadui) or by relogging.

eu stormscale jerks - Now, now, no need to be so harsh. As my almost scientific observations of pug composition showed, Stormscalers simply like to pug a lot in general, which is why you seem to meet more rude players from that server - simply because there are a lot more of them around. Don't judge them too harshly.

humminghippies.com - I had to go and have a look at that website after spotting this search term, but it only has a front page that seems to have been under construction for several months and nothing else. Just going by the overall look of it, I'm guessing that it's probably meant to be about proper hippies though. I'm only a hippie in the eyes of certain rage-quitting tanks.

lalapala - Okay, I made fun of a guy with that name once, but am I missing something here? Is he someone famous? Or is this actually a proper word in a language I don't know? I'm not sure why people would be googling for this repeatedly...

lfg tfa/cit - Assuming this wasn't meant to go into general chat instead of Google, I'm guessing that people searching the internet for this are trying to find out what that acronym actually stands for. It means "looking for group for Threat From Above/Battle Before The Citadel" (though on my server they tend to shorten the latter to bbc instead). These are daily group quests in Icecrown that become available once you've become a champion of your home city at the Argent Tournament.

old guild feels betrayed - Yes, yes, we do. Especially if you've been raiding with us for a year or longer and then just leave without as much as a word of goodbye. Hmph.

pukaja sport day - Pukaja is the name of my tauren hunter, and upon reading these words I couldn't help picturing her in a tennis outfit - something that makes for a very bizarre mental image, let me tell you. My curiosity was piqued enough that I investigated a little further and from the looks of it pukaja is actually a word or a name in a language that I don't speak. Anyone happen to know anything more about that? I think it's kind of ironic, since her first incarnation was called Pünktchen (German for "little dot"), but when I mentioned this to a friend he told me that it was against the naming rules for roleplaying servers, so I deleted and re-created her with what I considered a completely random name instead. Seems there is no escaping those pesky real words.

running around zul drak and sometimes all objects disappear and and i only saw the main frame of the terain i hope this is only a 1 time error - Holy convoluted search term, Batman! I really don't know what else to say to that.

tail sticking out near the drakkari colossus / elemental room in gundrak - Well spotted, though it looks more like a giant snake to me. One of my friends pointed this out to me during one of our earliest Gundrak runs and we got all excited about what it might be, but there's nothing in the game that gives us any further information about it. I've only heard vague speculation about how it might have been part of a scrapped plot for Zul'Drak involving a raid instance, but nothing official.

what is the weekly raid quest this week - I really hope that this one was meant to go into general chat instead, because Google isn't going to tell you the answer to that one, buddy.


Revisiting the Black Temple

Tonight my guild decided to visit the Black Temple again, partly for nostalgia reasons, partly to show some people around who had never had a chance to go there before. It was great fun, but it also highlighted how different TBC raids were to WOTLK ones in places.

For example almost all the bosses and a lot of the trash mobs were completely immune to taunt. I noticed this pretty quickly since I was tanking on my paladin, and our aggro-happy cat druid in particular was very good at pulling mobs off me again and again. He died a few times and always apologised somewhat sheepishly afterwards, saying that it was alright to let him die for getting aggro all the time. The thing is, it wasn't actually my choice. If people pulled aggro off me and the mob was taunt-immune, there simply wasn't much that I could do about it. It was oddly frustrating and made me feel... emasculated, which is quite a feat considering that I'm a woman. Maybe that's why Blizzard made pretty much every mob and boss tauntable in WOTLK, as part of their project to make tanks feel more powerful and fun to play? In hindsight I'm not so sure whether it was such a good idea though, considering how careless it has made people with their aggro. After all, if they mess up, the tank can always just taunt it back, right? I think this is another area where I'd like Blizzard to go back to forcing the dps to think a little, even if it comes at some cost for the tanks.

Nonetheless we breezed through most of the trash and bosses with ease. On Naj'entus I had fun dragging the boss all over the place to collect the spines, since most people didn't seem to know what to do with them. I still had my old "/use Naj'entus spine" macro too! Popping the bubbles was completely trivial, but I remember when you actually had to wait for the healers to get everyone topped up before doing it. Waiting for the healers? Another strange concept these days.

Supremus was an uneventful exercise in not standing in the fire (not that it really mattered), though the sight of the volcanoes still made me twitch. I remember dying to those buggers so many times back in the day; their radius always seemed to be larger than was visually apparent!

The Shade of Akama was a lot quicker than I remembered, but as easy as expected. It was also a reminder that some jokes never get old. "Nobody talk to Akama!" "What was that? Talk to Akama?" Hands up if your raid ever wiped to him because someone chatted to Akama when they weren't meant to. Yeah...

I didn't bother to explain Teron Gorefiend to people as I expected us to kill him quickly enough that shadow of death would never become relevant. Since our group was very small this didn't turn out to be correct however, and one of our healers nearly got buried in a pile of constructs but was fortunately able to heal through the damage. I can't say that I miss mechanics like that. Nothing like throwing one person in the raid into a finely-tuned vehicle and expecting them to figure it all out within two seconds or the raid wipes. When you need a non-WoW game to practise for a raid, something is a bit off. (Too bad the original flash file seems to be gone; I would have liked to give it a go again.)

I remember Gurtogg Bloodboil being an extremely challenging fight back in the day. People had to watch their aggro and healing was intense, with non-tanks being forced to tank at regular intervals and the bloodboil DoT requiring constant dancing around and targetted healing (back in the day before all those raid-wide heals, bah). Not much left of that, alas, but then encounters whose defining difficulty lies in how much damage they deal are always among the ones that are easiest to brute-force once you outgear them by a sufficient margin.

The Reliquary of Souls was where we had our first wipe - and in a somewhat hilarious manner too, as nobody bothered to interrupt the spirit shocks in phase two, which led to most of the raid being permanently disoriented and doing no damage, until everyone's mana bars eventually reached zero and we died. It was an obstacle that was easy enough to overcome, but once again the whole fight struck me as very... unlike WOTLK raids. We remembered that back at level seventy the boss had to be debuffed to slow his casting as well, otherwise it was impossible to stay ahead of the interrupts, but of course you can't have requirements like that in current content anymore since you can't guarantee that you'll have the right classes for it in the ten-man version. (We didn't have a rogue or a warlock in our run either.) Phase one was also interesting with its complete inability to heal, the random aggro switches and the enrages that used to be tanked by a rogue with evasion up. Again these struck me as things that simply don't fit into the current raid philosophy anymore. What, you can't blame the healers for not healing enough? Aggro isn't firmly in the hands of the tank at all times? Non-tanks tanking? I think it's a bit of a shame to be honest, as I'll always remember this as a very interesting and challenging encounter, and I think the fact that it can still wipe you at level eighty if you're sloppy says a lot.

Mother Shahraz nearly killed us as well, though this time it was because someone pulled before we had a chance to remind people of her fatal attraction gimmick, which caused several deaths. I had to laugh when the aforementioned feral druid hesitantly looked at the purple line connecting him to two other people and asked whether he was supposed to run towards them or away from them, and I couldn't remember either. Encounters like Yogg-Saron and Blood Queen Lana'thel have definitely conditioned us the wrong way for this fight!

We spent a little time scratching our heads in front of the Illidari Council, trying to remember what they were all about, seeing how even those of us who knew the Black Temple inside out had only killed them two times or so before. Eventually we just bumbled in and attacked things at random, and as we died a slow death to all kinds of annoying abilities, the memories came flooding back. Oh right, the rogue vanishes! The mage has all these annoying AoE abilities (which still hurt at level eighty by the way, at least if you don't bother to move at all), the priest needs to be interrupted etc. On our second attempt we planned things properly and the fight went a lot more smoothly.

Illidan himself was a pushover in comparison, though an ardent defender proc while tanking one of the flames of Azzinoth let me know that I was doing so very sloppily. We also giggled at the way he was sitting there, all emo with Gul'dan's skull in his hand... and his dialogue and voice-acting sound so much like a cliché villain, Azerothian Super Villains pretty much asked to be written.

Overall it was a very enjoyable trip down memory lane, but as I said it also made me realise that there are some things that I miss about TBC raiding, such as threat actually being a concern for dps, as well as the fact that the demise of twenty-five-man-only raids in WOTLK meant that a lot of the crazier mechanics, like rogue-tanking or large council-type fights had to be abolished because they couldn't realistically be transferred to a ten-man format. I mean, the closest thing we have to the latter at the moment are the Blood Princes in ICC, and even I admit that they are more annoying than fun on ten-man because there are so many specialised jobs to do that you have few people left to do any actual killing. But in the larger raids I always considered that kind of specialisation very entertaining, maybe because my first ever twenty-five-man raid boss was High King Maulgar, and I thought that the whole idea of having a mage tank, a lock tank, two hunter tanks and what not was simply awesome.


Of puppy-men and big-tongues

After I wrote my post talking about why I think that the Battle for the Undercity isn't all that, I found myself wondering which quests in Northrend I would consider to be among the best ones of this expansion, or at least my personal favourites. I couldn't come up with an answer straight away, but as I continued making my way through the various zones on my Alliance characters I soon came across a quest chain that I had almost forgot about, even though it would definitely make my top ten favourite WOTLK quests: the sequence that introduces you to the Oracles and the Frenzyheart in Sholazar Basin, starting with Playing Along and ending with A Hero's Burden.

Now, I admit that this might seem odd at first glance. It's set in a backwater jungle zone where people only ever seem to go to farm crafting materials, it involves no important lore characters... in fact it doesn't involve any previously existing lore at all, not to mention that your actions have no impressive and far-reaching consequences either. And where other quests impress with advanced phasing, this one only offers what feels like a cannibalised version of TBC's Aldor vs. Scryer reputation conflict.

You can say what you like about the Aldor vs. Scryer thing - maybe you hated it because you regretted your choice when they introduced new and improved reputation rewards later in the expansion, or maybe it made your best friend hate you forever, but at least it was a somewhat meaningful choice that created a little variety. (After all it influenced where in Shattrath you would set your hearthstone, oh yes.) Looking at the Oracles vs. Frenzyheart thing in WOTLK however I can't help but imagine two developers arguing during the early stages of the expansion whether this kind of reputation divide was either the greatest thing ever or an absolutely terrible idea, until they eventually agreed to the weaksauce compromise that yes, they'd have another mechanic like that in Northrend, but it would be in an unimportant zone and completely irrelevant except for the reputation rewards. But then, one faction gives you loads of non-combat pets and a chance at a freaking drake mount while the other one doesn't, so it's not even as if there's much of a real choice to make on that front.

Anyway, having said that, I really like the quest chain that introduces you to the two factions. Khadgar's boring City of Light doesn't hold a candle to this. I'll admit that it starts off looking a bit weak, or weird at best, when an angry wolvar asks you to report to his village as "the new slave" because you stole his kill and anyway, how dare you?! That's... really not the greatest motivation to help someone out, is it? At most you could argue that your character is both baffled by the wolvar's behaviour and curious just how far his people's superiority complex goes, and that's why you "play along" as the quest title suggests.

The Frenzyheart come across as pretty rude and arrogant. Your first task after agreeing to help them involves scaring some baby monkeys (who are friendly to you) just to lure out their mother and kill her. However, as you overcome challenge after challenge, they slowly start to treat you more kindly and show at least a little respect for you. Zepik the Gurloc Hunter even admits that it was fun to hunt with you at the end of your time together. You also get to discover their more whimsical side as you help them re-capture a bunch of escaped chickens and get to listen to words of wisdom such as: "Seem like there more wasps every time Dajik come back. Why they not run out?" I've often wondered that myself, Dajik... Plus, you get to surf a crocolisk. How cool is that?

Then you get sent on a quest to capture a wounded Oracle so High Shaman Rakjak can torture question it. You find one near the river, but as you approach it, a crocolisk attacks. You kill it of course, which leads to the gurloc thanking you for coming to his rescue and a nearby wolvar screaming bloody murder and how you must be a traitor. The trusting Oracle invites you to follow him home, and so you get to see things from the other side.

Unlike the Frenzyheart, the Oracles are welcoming and friendly, but also a bit dumb and superstitious, obsessed with anything that glitters and how their shinies will appease the great rain stones. They even ask you to offer peace to the Frenzyheart in their name, but Shaman Vekjik won't have any of it and prefers to shove you off the nearest cliff (literally, though he at least makes sure you land in the water).

So you continue to work with the Oracles and go to investigate the fate of Mosswalker village, which as it turns out has been completely overrun by the Scourge. You get a quest to rescue as many Mosswalkers as you can, but many of them are too gravely wounded and the way they keel over, often muttering last words about how they don't understand and are so sorry, is absolutely heart-breaking. Then you venture into a nearby cave to take out the local lich, Artruis the Heartless... and have to discover that he holds two NPCs you know as captives: the aforementioned Zepik who enjoyed hunting with you, and Jaloot, the cute Oracle that killed wolvar with you in turn. But that's not enough, no, he mind-controls them as well, and you can't defeat him without killing one of them.

I remember deciding that I wanted to be a Frenzyheart during my first playthrough, but nonetheless that quest broke my heart. It wasn't just that I had changed my mind and wanted to side with the sweet, peace-loving Oracles instead. The Frenzyheart may come off as the "bad guys" to a certain extent, but we're told that they themselves have been driven from their original home by the Scourge, and I could understand how that might have shaped their aggressive, no-nonsense personalities. More importantly however, by the time you get to that cave, they aren't just two factions anymore, they are personalities, people. Both Zepik and Jaloot are characters that you interacted with, that fought by your side while happily chattering away about all kinds of things... and you absolutely have to kill one. It just felt wrong, and all I really wanted to do was make peace between the two factions.

And that's really what I thought was so great about that quest, that it elicited such a strong emotional response from me when I least expected it. All this time it plods along being very whimsical, with both factions acting a bit silly and entertaining you with all kinds of cute sayings, and then wham, suddenly it's serious business and you have to kill or be killed. Even doing it for the third time, I was still upset about having to kill one of my former companions, and hated Artruis for setting me up the way he did. And that's what made Sholazar memorable for me, more than any fancy game mechanics.