My nominations for the Piggie Awards 2011

Don't know what the Piggies are? Go read this. Only a few more days left to get nominations in too, so if you were planning to add yours and haven't done so yet, it's time to get cracking! In fact, I haven't seen any other nominations posts yet this year, but maybe people are just sending them in by e-mail (I hope).

The Melting Pot is trying to spice things up a bit this year by accepting nominations for all MMOs, not just WoW, which sounds like a sweet idea in theory, but I'm a bit concerned how well it will work out in practice - after all WoW is still by far the biggest game out there, so it's likely to have an edge simply due to the amount of players that are familiar with it. I'm not sure how much enthusiasm there will be for including other MMOs in nominations. Not to mention that I'm not sure all MMOs are equally comparable... but we'll see how it works out. Myself, I'll mostly stick to WoW since that's what I know, and maybe make the odd point about SWTOR here or there where it strikes me as relevant.

Best raid instance

This one is easy for me and my vote goes hands down to Blackwing Descent. It didn't really have anything to truly amaze like other great raid instances of the past, but it was definitely my favourite of Cataclysm's offerings. It recreated some of that old school Blackrock atmosphere, the difficulty was nicely tuned in my opinion and all the bosses were interesting in their own way.

Least successful raid instance

My first instinct is to say Firelands, simply because that seemed to be the raid where most people had something to complain about this year, whether it was the bosses being too dance-y, too hard, or too easy after the big nerf.

However, I've said in the past that the truly unsuccessful raids, in my opinion anyway, are not necessarily the ones that people complain about, but those that they don't even bother with. In that category I think the winner should be Throne of the Four Winds. It being an instance with only two bosses that felt kind of out of the way of everywhere, even with portals to Uldum available in the cities, and crappy loot with random stats, I got the impression that few people ever went there once they had killed Al'akir... or even if they never killed him, they simply might've forgotten about it completely. (I know our raid group always scheduled raids for either Blackwing Descent or Bastion of Twilight in tier eleven, Throne was a complete afterthought that only came up whenever someone whined about wanting to go because they had never even seen a Conclave kill.)

Best small-group instance

I think Cataclysm has had some pretty nice five-mans in general, but this is where I'd like to give a vote to SWTOR's The Esseles, which I've seen people compare to the original Deadmines elsewhere - and it certainly gave me that same epic feeling that I got from the old Defias hideout back in the day.

Least successful small-group instance

Like with the least successful raid, this kind of depends on your definition of success. The Zuls got everyone riled up with their repetitive valor grind, but Halls of Origination sticks in my mind as "that instance where most people don't even want to bother killing half the bosses". A shame too.

Most longed for instance

I think the Dragon Soul five-mans were the most longed-for, simply because people wanted to have an excuse to get out of the Zulroics.

Silliest gold sink

LarĂ­sa gave this award to the Sparkle Pony last year, and in line with that I would give it to the Winged Guardian this year. The whole craze about store pets and mounts reminds me a lot of fashion trends in real life, which are something that I don't care for either.

Biggest game addition / improvement

I think the single biggest addition to WoW this year has without a doubt been the raid finder. However, since I'm still not convinced that this will actually be an improvement to the game in the long run, I'd nominate transmogrification instead - something nice that finally allows people to give their characters some individuality again, and there really is no downside.

In a more general sense, I think that SWTOR's more interactive quests and group dialogues have really made a difference to how people will perceive questing in the future.

Best quest

I can't think of a single quest that stood out above all others, but Silverpine Forest as a whole has been rewritten in a very compelling and interesting way.

Ugliest new piece of outfit

Probably hunter tier 11. There is trying to be creative and then there's trying to pass off a murloc suit as epic armour. Priest tier 11 with its shoulder bird baths was pretty awful as well though, especially since up until then priest sets had never been truly ugly.

Favourite non combat pet

I loved Mr. Grubbs and his silly bouncing when I picked him up in the Plaguelands while levelling new alts! Though an honourable mention has to go to the Lil' XT that was gifted to me by a guildie and that finally provided me with an easy way of getting rid of annoying train sets.

Most charming games company employee

I listened to a long interview with one of the people behind SWTOR the other day, but unfortunately I lost the link to it so I'm not even entirely sure what the guy's name was. I do think it was Daniel Erickson, the lead writer, and he sounded like an utterly charming fellow.

Best podcast

The Instance continues to amuse and entertain me at a level that is unparalleled by any other podcasts I've tried. I don't always agree with everything they are saying, but it's refreshing how the hosts always remain both positive and professional.

Most memorable blog post

Are 400 Pull Kills Good Design? Are They Fun?
by Beru.

Most noticed blogger breakthrough

Stubborn from Sheep the Diamond. He made his entrance sneakily by leaving thoughtful comments all over the place at first, and if you then clicked on his name you'd find an even more thoughtful blog, written in an interesting and unique style.

Most solid content provider

Nils from Nils' Blog. He just can't stop talking, but I'm very grateful for that because it gives me new things to read all the time!

Most hugged blogger

Probably the Gold Queen after that horrible ordeal she went through one and a half months ago.

Best writing

I would give this one to Stubborn as well, because he really has a way with prose. I don't think I've read a single post of his that didn't make me crack a smile at a pun or unusual turn of phrase. We need more teachers in the blogosphere...

Biggest controversy

I always suck at remembering these for some reason, though I always follow them with interest while they are current. Probably the Mists of Pandaria announcement.

Most appreciated announcement

That SWTOR wouldn't launch with a dungeon finder... *cough*

MMORPG Company of the Year

I want to say Bioware, because regardless of how SWTOR turns out in the long term, they've delivered a very smooth launch for a highly anticipated and so far very fun game.

Most “Er… what?” moment in MMOs this year

The announcement of Mists of Pandaria.

People’s Choice: Blog Post

Same as above.

People’s Choice: Games Company

Same as above.


Since some people asked for it...

Any further thoughts I have on SWTOR will now go here. Enjoy!


Fair Warning: World of Star Wars

Like many people in the WoW blogosphere, I'm currently trying out Star Wars: The Old Republic. For me this is a big step though, because unlike many other bloggers, I've never really tried out any MMO other than WoW. To be honest, none of them ever looked interesting enough to me to make me want to play them, and none of them looked like worlds I'd want to immerse myself in. Observing various MMO launches over the years and seeing pretty much every single game go from the hyped up Next Big Thing to just another small fish in a big pond hasn't really enthused me towards trying something new either.

SWTOR has been different for me however. I wasn't interested in it at all initially, but the closer it came to release, the more I learned about it that had me really intrigued. Now I even ended up in the early access for preorders, and I'm positively hooked. People are already nitpicking about all kinds of little things, and I can't honestly say that they are wrong, but a lot of it strikes me as akin to criticising a painting for the brand of colours the artist used and completely missing the actual picture. I imagine that very few people ever quit their MMO of choice because the chat window wasn't in their favourite place or the crafting system felt a bit bloated. And TOR's big picture is great in my personal opinion. In fact, I'm very much reminded of WoW the way it was when I first started playing: a beautifully stylised world, vibrant and teeming with activity; general chat full of people looking for groups, answering questions and sharing their thoughts on the experience. Group content that can actually kill you; elites out in the world that you have to keep a watchful eye on. People bonding in guild groups where nobody minds if one member gets lost on the way and takes a while to actually arrive. And to spice things up, some comparatively minor new features like more interactive quests and companion crafting.

Anyway, before anyone feels sickened by my gushing, let it be said that I won't be doing any more blogging about TOR on here. This was always meant to be a blog about WoW, and that's what it's going to stay. I think I'll be happy just enjoying TOR "blindly" for a while, without overthinking any of it, but if I do eventually feel the urge to talk about it more, I'll make a new blog for that.

To be honest, I initially expected to cancel my WoW sub by the end of this month. I still think that it's a great game in many ways, but over the years it has changed too much for my taste - the only issue was that I wanted to continue playing an MMO and until now there wasn't anything that looked even remotely like a viable alternative to me.

The only "problem" that remains are that social ties are hard to sever. I still owe someone a Sulfuron Hammer for which I need to grind Molten Core trash every now and then. My rated battleground team is still ace. For these things alone I'll stay subscribed to WoW for now. But I expect that I'll be playing a lot less, and as a result this blog might become quiet as well, as I'll have nothing much to talk about.

In the meantime, I hope that we can all continue to have fun in the game(s) of our choice.


Holy Priest PvP Patch Notes for 4.3

Yes, I know that I'm a bit late but I wanted to actually play around with the changes for a bit first to make sure that I knew what I was talking about.

In PvE, the general consensus seems to be that holy got a big, fat buff this patch. I think part of that is actually just the fact that unlike Firelands, Dragon Soul seems to be shaping up to be very "holy-friendly", but more than anything else PvE holy priests have been boosted by the buff to Divine Hymn.

Unfortunately this does very little in PvP, where interrupts are so prevalent that you're lucky if you can get a Flash Heal off. Channelling a spell for over seven seconds? Get real. There are exactly two occasions in PvP where I do use Divine Hymn: One, when I'm already dead, in Spirit of Redemption form and thus safe from interrupts, and there are lots of people around me who need heals. This doesn't tend to happen more than once a game, so it's not really worth investing extra talent points into it. Two, when High Commander Halford Wyrmbane in Isle of Conquest does his crushing leap and most of the raid inevitably fails to avoid it and gets hurt really badly. Yeah, not really worth spending points on either.

Still, holy has been buffed for PvP this patch, via the reduction of Holy Word: Serenity's cooldown. I hit that baby pretty much every time it's off cooldown, and I used to attempt to hit it when it was still on cooldown as well. Actually, that still happens even now, but less so than it used to. More instant healing? Yes, please!

On a side note, the patch notes also state that the developers reworked the functionality of Spirit of Redemption, presumably to address issues such as people not getting achievement credit for some things while in spirit form. Good plan, but in PvP this has apparently resulted in a bug that causes our deaths to never show up on the score board at all. It's silly, but I actually get a bit of a kick out of it. Oh really, you killed me five times? Well, you can't prove it! Zero deaths, see? I'm invincible! The thing that would really interest me is whether it's just a display bug or whether it actually affects the death counter on a functional level, as that would mean that holy priests could now potentially "cheat" their way towards getting achievements that require you to do certain things without dying (such as Ironman). I haven't really tried it.

Also, one stealthy change that wasn't mentioned in the patch notes is that they changed the Levitate animation so that when you run while levitating, your legs don't move anymore and you just float. I cast it on our warrior in Arathi Basin and he spent the next minute floating around the Stables flag going: "Boo, I'm a ghost!" Now that is clearly broken.


Deathwing is dead

I braved the raid finder a second time last night because I wanted to see how the story of the Dragon Soul ended. The following post contains spoilers for what happens in there if you're concerned about that kind of thing.

Once again I was thrown into a run that was already halfway done, so I was immediately faced with a brief cut scene of people jumping out of an airship (wait what) and next thing I knew we were on Deathwing's back. Can somebody tell me how you measure your progress during that fight? I sure couldn't figure it out at the time. People just killed tentacles and oozing blood over and over, and the raid leader said stuff like "just one more time" and then Thrall apparently kicked Deathwing into the Maelstrom.

Pro tip as an aside: If you want to be successful in the raid finder without having a clue, queue up as a healer. Seriously, I've now seen the whole instance and there wasn't a single fight where any healer was required to do anything but spam their AoE heals. I still don't know half the mechanics and it hasn't really been a hindrance. Occasionally a tank will die when they suffer from a damage spike and nobody bothers to provide them with extra healing, but since there is no identifiable tank healer, it's hard to place blame. Not to mention that that's what combat resses are for. At worst someone will decide to initiate a vote kick on whichever healer currently has the lowest hps (yes, I've seen that too), so you should be fine as long as you're not at the very bottom.

Anyway, unsurprisingly Deathwing wasn't dead yet, which led to the last encounter where he was sort of clinging to some rocks in the Maelstrom and you basically stab him in the toes. Above anything else, this fight led me to the conclusion that Deathwing is simply too large. I can appreciate Blizzard's attempts to directly correlate size and epicness, but there's a tipping point where you start to feel like an ant chewing on someone's ankle and that's just not cool. In this particular case I couldn't really see any part of Deathwing other than the claw directly in front of me, and that despite of having my camera set to maximum zoom. He pretty much makes Kologarn look like a midget. I heard the NPCs shout and I got warnings from DBM, but it was really hard to see what was going on. This is not good.

We wiped twice on this encounter, at which point about half the group left, but the raid filled up again within a minute and we simply tried again. I wasn't bothered by the wiping except that it always forced us to repeat a huge portion of the fight where there wasn't really much to do for me, which felt quite tedious, until we got back to the point where we'd all die very suddenly. (It was always when we were assisting the last dragon aspect, Kalecgos in our case, and the AoE damage would ramp up very fast and very suddenly.) Someone said that it was due to some tentacles not getting killed, but I don't think that anyone paid attention to them when we eventually did kill him either. The third time I just made sure to have Divine Hymn ready at the worst point of it and then we made it through. (Not saying that I single-handedly saved the group, but it did feel like it made a difference.)

After the final cinematic had finished playing, which I'll comment on at the end, I requeued once again to see bosses number five and six. I already said it in my last post, but I think it bears repeating that the type of storytelling Blizzard uses in this raid really suffers when the raid finder throws you at the bosses in an almost random order during your first visit. I mean, I had no idea why I had got from Wyrmrest Temple to the Maelstrom, but hey. I wonder what percentage of raid finder users could give a coherent summary of what they just played through at the end of a run. Not that many I bet.

Eventually I did find myself back at Wyrmrest Temple to face off against Ultraxion with a new raid, the infamous "button boss" I had heard about. I was nervous about messing up on this one, but in the end the button mechanic turned out to be really obvious anyway. (Just wish DBM hadn't constantly covered my button with timer bars which I then had to frantically click away every time I needed to access it.) Again we wiped twice, and people complained about button-push failure, though from what I could gather hardly anyone died to that. In the end it just seemed to once again come down to the healers saving all their big cooldowns for the very end, and once I made sure to do that, we won.

Deathwing then showed up and broke the Horde gunship (what is it with Horde airships getting shot down, damn Alliance bias), which is why we ended up on the Alliance one. A-ha! There we then had to fight off some Twilight attackers, which qualified as the third boss fight. This one actually had a bit of movement, but other than that it was once again just more AoE healing and Warmaster Blackhorn died on the first attempt.

And that's how I ended the Fall of Deathwing, by killing the boss just leading up to the Deathwing fight. Yeah.

Back in Wrath I wasn't very happy with the way my first Lich King kill turned out, but killing Deathwing through the raid finder was a completely different experience altogether. I was neither frustrated nor excited, I simply felt completely detached from the whole experience. In a way it doesn't really matter how epic Blizzard tries to make a boss fight if I end up doing it with a bunch of strangers who think it's a smashing idea to drop a train set just as the entire raid is gathering in front of the boss for the pull. It can't end up being anything but a joke.

But even that aside... seeing the bosses in a random order was a bit of a mood killer. There was also a lot of emphasis from the NPCs about how we, the players, were a bunch of goddamn heroes, and the only thing that was missing was Alexstrasza turning to look straight at the screen and pointing at me to emphasise that yes, I am the saviour of Azeroth! Go me! I suppose that's a step up from being reduced to the Lich King's plaything while Tirion Fordring saves the day, but it still felt a bit awkward. Just having someone say "You're a hero!" doesn't make me feel heroic if I didn't actually do anything particularly exciting. (And spamming Holy Word: Sanctuary really isn't that much of a feat.)

The overuse of the term "Cataclysm" also felt kind of fourth-wall breaking to me. I thought the Cataclysm as an in-game event was what happened when Deathwing broke out of Deepholm and broke everything. We can still feel its after-effects, but generally speaking it's over and done with. Having Thrall say stuff like "The Cataclysm is over now" just feels weird, as if he's proclaiming the end of the expansion. Also, "Deathwing begins to cast Cataclysm"? Really? Destroying the world is simply a matter of casting a spell? Again, that just seemed odd to me.

That the final cinematic showed the dragon aspects becoming mortal was a surprise to me. I wonder what they are going to do now? I can just picture Nozdormu settling down in Silvermoon and Ysera chilling in Moonglade.

Oh, and whatever happened to the young dragon that came out of the purified black egg from the Badlands? Does he only show up in the rogue legendary chain? That would be a tad disappointing. Also, in which book did Kalecgos officially become the new aspect of Magic anyway? It's a bit sad that the more attention I pay to WoW's lore, the less I feel I understand what's going on...

Anyway, in summary there's nothing outright badly done about the Fall of Deathwing, but I found nothing to get excited about either, and that's quite impressive for a last raid of the expansion. I just spent a lot of time standing around spamming my AoE heals while listening to NPCs talk and watching cut scenes. I suppose it's a fitting ending for what most people seem to consider the game's worst expansion so far.


So I tried out the raid finder after all...

... and it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. I mean, my initial predictions for this new feature were pretty dire, but the reality actually wasn't nearly as bad. There was a lot of rotation as players continually dropped out and were instantly replaced, but it all happened so fast that I barely noticed. A couple of people said rude things, but it wasn't anything particularly out of the ordinary for WoW (as sad a statement as that is to begin with). I didn't really look at the time, but I think I completed the whole Siege of Wyrmrest Temple in a little less than two hours and with only one wipe. On the whole I would say that the entire affair felt a lot like an average dungeon finder run - which isn't exactly glowing praise, I know, but I hope you get what I mean. It's not really particularly fun if you're looking to socialise, but if you just want to "get things done" and collect some loot, it definitely works as intended.

To start at the beginning, I had just completed a random heroic with a guildie and he mentioned wanting to "do a raid finder" next. I asked to come along since two guildies vs. 23 puggers is still better than a single person vs. 24 puggers, right? As we queued up, I had a brief moment of worry as I realised that I knew pretty much nothing about any of the fights, but I quickly reassured myself with the argument that this was probably perfectly in line with the audience the tool had been designed for.

We got into a run in progress and zoned in just as people were clearing the trash leading up to one of the squidiphant bosses. A few people said something about stacking and spreading out, but I didn't quite catch whether we were supposed to alternate this pattern between trash packs or during different parts of one pack - not that it seemed to matter. I noticed a mechanic that temporarily removed all my mana and then returned it later, but couldn't figure the details of it out on the fly.

In a way, these early trash packs were an amusing throwback to more old-school raiding for me, as one or two people died pretty much on every pull. Just being in a bigger group again was nice too - I do kind of miss the twenty-five-man atmosphere sometimes.

Then we got to the boss and he was pulled with no explanation. As a healer I just healed whoever took damage. Again, people shouted something about stacking up every now and then. I deduced that the tanks did some taunting at some point, purely because one of them died and then whinged at the other tank for not taunting at the right time. The main mechanic of the fight seemed to be a bunch of coloured blobs that spawned in different corners of the room and then crawled towards the boss. I gather that only one of them has to die, and someone was always kind enough to spam a raid warning macro to yell "Purple!" or whatever and as long as at least a few people were confident in their colour choice, the rest followed them anyway. Things seemed to go quite well until we lost the main tank a second time after a few minutes and then we wiped. A couple of people immediately started shouting abuse at whoever they thought was to blame. My guildie said that he wanted to try again from the start and left. I followed him and was surprised to not get any kind of debuff.

In the end my guildie ended up having to log however, and I was intrigued enough to requeue on my own. Since my healer queue was instant, I tried to requeue a few times to see if a fresh run would pop up, but there just seemed to be several different ones in progress. Eventually I just accepted a 2/4 and found myself clearing trash to Mr Squidiphant once again. This time things went more smoothly however and he died right away. Much to my surprise I ended up winning a pair of tier leggings.

Since I hadn't seen any other part of the raid except for this boss's room, I was a bit lost and blindly followed the throng of people through a portal and up to the top of Wyrmrest Temple. A lot of well-known NPCs were there and seemed to be having a talk about something important, but I didn't dare to pause and actually listen to them because I had enough trouble following what was going on with the raid. Suddenly we jumped through a portal and were in the Eye of Eternity. Bwuh? Really made me wish I had listened to the NPCs after all.

We started Hagara the Stormbinder with no explanation as usual. To be fair, someone had asked whether everyone knew the tactics, but nobody spoke up either way (myself included). I suppose it served me right that I died to an ice wave pretty early during the fight, along with about ten other people. One or two players suggested to wipe it since they weren't going to beat the enrage timer with half the raid dead, but in the end they kept going. I leaned back in my chair and continued to watch the rest of the fight for five minutes or so, in order to at least learn something, and yes, they did beat it with half the raid dead. I was actually kind of relieved that this one didn't drop any loot for me, because I would have felt bad about rolling on gear that I hadn't really earned.

After the group had disbanded, I immediately requeued again because the whole experience hadn't taken very long, and I now wanted to see the other two bosses that I was still missing. Presumably other people were doing the same, as I got into a fresh run right away. This helped to put the story of the raid into context somewhat, but I still found it very hard to pay attention to what was going on with the NPCs while trying to keep up with my group ploughing through the trash. Morchok really was just tank and spank with a detour behind a pillar every so often. I got a ring from him.

There seemed to be a bit of disagreement about which of the two squid bosses to take on first, but in the end the majority pulled the group towards the one I hadn't done yet (yay me), the General Vezax lookalike. I thought that this one would have some sort of mechanic to him (something about bouncing a ball around?), but someone said that this didn't matter in the raid finder and we just stood there and spanked him, except for the couple of times when everyone had to stack up on him to avoid dying in the void, or something. Basically, similar to the last boss of Grim Batol, only easier. I also dispelled some debuffs occasionally, but I don't even know whether that was actually necessary. My loot luck continued and I won a new trinket as well. Afterwards I left though, as I had seen everything there was to see in this half of the raid.

Three new pieces of loot for relatively little time investment, not too bad a deal. Even though I had no clue about how any of the bosses worked, I only suffered a single wipe. In a way that sounds way too easy, but after having experienced it myself, I have to say that this strikes me as as a decent enough difficulty for a pugging tool like this. In a way the reduced reliance on individual performance is actually very "old school" - I can still remember when you would sometimes down a normal raid boss with half the raid dead, like my group did with Hagara, but in normal raiding this isn't something that's generally possible anymore as far as I know.

So, is the raid finder a success? I honestly don't know. I can see how this must be awesome for people who like to use the dungeon finder but don't usually raid. No commitment but you get to fight more epic feeling battles with lots of people (the number of players does make a difference in that regard), see the bosses and gather tier gear. But if you're not that keen on the dungeon finder... it's really more or less the same, just scaled up in size. The whole experience has little in common with raiding in the classic sense: no camaraderie, friendly banter or the sheer joy of overcoming a challenge together. In my opinion you can't even experience the story properly because in typical "gogogo" fashion you constantly have to scramble to keep up with the rest of your group. Is that really "getting more people into raiding"? Not by my own definition, but your mileage may vary.


Impressions of Darkmoon Island

It took me a few days to realise that the new and revamped Darkmoon Faire still seems to follow the same old pattern of only being available for one week per month. It's easy enough to make the portals unavailable I suppose, but since the new Island is a dedicated zone instead of a temporary addition to existing scenery, I can't help but wonder how limited it will really be. What happens if you log out on the Island before the Darkmoon Faire is supposed to end? Do you get teleported out? Can you stay but find the whole site abandoned? Or will you be able to do dailies all month if you're insane enough to never leave the area? There's probably a very simple and straightforward answer to this, but I haven't seen anyone mention it yet.

My first impression of the new Island was actually very positive simply due to the sights evoking pleasant memories. The portal dumps you in a dark forest with scary eyes blinking at you from the bushes, with the faire in the distance, and the whole scenery reminded me a lot of Melee Island in the original Secret of Monkey Island, a game that I enjoyed very much.

A quick look around the place didn't really reveal anything amazing or surprising. The main impression I got was that the Faire as a whole has simply been streamlined and brought up to par with the rest of the game, so instead of trying to work out an obscure hand-in system for otherwise useless items, you simply do some dailies now. I reckon that Soft Bushy Tails and the like will soon be turned into greys - which is kind of a shame, as I still have tons of them, evil bat eyes, scorpid blood and whatever else there was, left in my bank.

The first thing I did was do the non-daily quests for professions. They are very simple along the lines of "pick five flowers" but award five profession skill-ups at once. Irrelevant to a level-capped character but probably nice for levelling alts. While they weren't dailies, I would be very surprised if they didn't end up being repeatable at least once a month.

The new daily quests are all little mini games which are decent enough fun. My favourite so far is Whack-a-Gnoll, which is incidentally also the only one where I can currently complete the whole daily in one go. I truly am a born healer. The only thing that bugged me a little bit was that I had positioning issues with some games. More specifically I would get an error message when trying to use the shooting gallery, telling me that I had to stand at the booth (even though I already was), and then I had to step back, forward and sideways a few times until the game would actually let me play. Not a big deal in principle but annoying when you have to pay for each attempt and it only lasts a limited amount of time, so time spent fiddling around in an attempt to find the right spot is wasted money too.

I was glad to see that they kept the big cannon, even though I'm terrible at it. I swear I got a bullseye once but the game disagreed with me and only awarded me three points.

They didn't completely get rid of the hand-in idea though, and I was pleased to see that there are several things that you can collect in PvP. I was just a bit disappointed that the drop rate for Grisly Trophies seems to be low and generally weird... I've seen comments from people saying that they managed to gather hundreds in a single dungeon run, but after a whole night of doing battlegrounds I had barely collected a dozen. At first I thought it was related to me being a healer and generally not scoring any killing blows, but I didn't notice myself getting any more trophies once I made an attempt to do more damage. In fact, sometimes I would still get them from enemies that I hadn't even touched, so I still don't really understand how it works.

Journals, banners and insignia dropping from enemy players in PvP is a strange adjustment as well, as I stopped trying to loot player corpses years ago (usually they are only a distraction and drop nothing but a few silver). Now it's suddenly worth doing again, but you have to be lucky to be the first one to click on a body and actually get a drop. I only managed to pick up one item all night but a friend was nice enough to gift me the other two needed for the Darkmoon Defender achievement.

Speaking of PvP, the new Deathmatch Pit is pretty fun. It's basically identical to the Gurubashi Arena except that you need to go through a click and a cast bar to actually enter it (presumably to avoid players falling in by accident) and that it's located smack in the middle of a new quest hub and thus always busy. In the Gurubashi Arena you can get lucky as a low level at a quiet time of day and grab the chest there unopposed, but I reckon that there's no chance of this happening at the Faire anytime soon. Even at 3am the pit was absolutely packed - I went in with a group of friends and we wiped everyone else out; I imagine that it must be very difficult to win this fight on your own right now. Of course only one person can actually get the loot, but nobody seemed to begrudge the mage in our group the achievement.

My absolute favourite part of the new Faire are actually the small things though, such as noticing a gnome mage NPC near the shoreline when I crawled out of the water after failing to hit the cannon target for the umpteenth time. When I clicked on him he offered to teleport me straight back to the cannon for a small fee of thirty silver. Thanks, Blizzard, for anticipating my repeated failure and giving me a shortcut to repeating it even faster!

And while I haven't really been playing Alliance very seriously in a while, there are some things that you never forget... and I actually burst out laughing when I spotted this little fellow in one of the animal holding pens:


Happy Patch Day!

I might not be particularly positive about the future of WoW, but I was looking forward to today's patch. While I've barely seen half of it so far (I haven't even looked at the new Darkmoon Faire), I don't feel disappointed so far.

The first thing I did after the game had patched itself up was log onto my main and start putting stuff into void storage. You can tell for how long some of my gear had been rotting away in the bank untouched because I had to repair most of it before being able to store it away... all because of a change to armour durability that happened what feels like aeons ago. I nearly filled up my new storage space completely, but it was nice to finally have some bank space again, even if the transfer cost me a lot of gold. I seems that they really wanted to make this another gold sink and as far as I'm concerned they succeeded at that. Too bad I didn't end up freeing up any more space in my bags, but that's really my own fault for carrying so much junk around. But hey, you never know when you'll need that MiniZep Controller or a Brazier of Dancing Flames!

Next I got started on transmogrifying. My priest's set was all prepared and easily done. My druid slipped into full tier four for feral spec and I spontaneously bought her the old merciless gear for resto, because I remember wearing that when I really got into PvP healing with her back in Burning Crusade. My death knight was also easy because I simply mogged her blue starter set on top of her current gear. However, after I was done with those three I was left staring at the rest of my characters a bit blankly. I already started collecting a few pieces for my shaman, but for most of the others I'm simply stumped for ideas right now. That's okay though, not everyone's gear has to be modified this way - if I'm happy enough with their current outfit, that's fine too. I also enjoyed wandering around Orgrimmar and actually taking a closer look at the people around me again and inspecting their cosmetic sets. It sure made the population look more diverse.

In the evening I put together a guild group for the new heroics. They were advertised as similar to the ICC heroics and from a technical point of view they followed the same pattern of being a sequence of stories that require unlocking the first time. Like the ICC heroics, I also found them pretty enjoyable, at least this first time around. I think it was a good move by Blizzard to give us something to do in the Caverns of Time again, because that setting allows for the telling of some great stories, plus they can let you get up to all kinds of silly hijinks because it's time travel and time travel be crazy, right?

We did the first one, End Time, twice because we had to swap group members out after the first run and their replacements needed "attuning" as well. This wasn't a bad thing though, as I got to see all the bosses that way - I hadn't been aware that you could get two out of four different ones each run. A few people died on Tyrande and we wiped once on Sylvanas because we didn't know what to do with the ghouls, but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing. Jaina's Echo struck me as kind of tragic because she was still nice even in a dystopian version of the future in which she had already died! Oh, and the rewind mechanic on Murozond was incredibly fun. Overall I felt that this was a great instance.

Up next: The Well of Eternity. Wait, what? I'm a night elf? Bwah! For extra hilarity I also underwent a sex change during the second half of the dungeon, though I suspect that that was unintended. It was an instance full of laughs either way, as there's something comically endearing about Illidan and his grumpy no-nonsense attitude. (My favourite bit was him playing "traffic warden" to allow the group to get past the legion of demons.) At the end he also provided us with some fun as we had a quest to hand in to him but he kept running away, which caused our entire party to chase him around in circles for several minutes in a Benny Hill-esque fashion.

My only slight concern was that it felt like there was almost a bit too much going on in terms of lore and NPC action. I'm perfectly happy to play second fiddle to important lore characters in an instance like this, but I felt like I could barely keep up with what was going on towards the end; demons attacking left and right; Tyrande needs help, where's Malfurion, Illidan is yelling something... and all that while we're actually trying to complete a boss fight. Maybe it becomes a bit clearer on repeat playthroughs - or more annoying.

Finally, the Hour of Twilight felt like the weakest of the three dungeons. You're supposed to escort Thrall to Wyrmrest Temple, but especially during the first and last third of the instance he kind of acts like the classic escort NPC, always moving a bit more slowly than you'd like and forcing you to run back to fight some "ambushers" whom you wouldn't have to deal with in the first place if he'd just hurried up already.

The voice acting on the first boss is also quite over the top and I mentally nicknamed him Asthmarion for the way he sounds as if he's about to breathe his last breath with every sentence. His insistence on referring to Thrall as "the shaman" was also a bit amusing because didn't they consider that there might be player shamans in the group as well? As ours put it, "I'm going to go where I damn well please... he is talking about me, right?

The fights were all pretty tank and spank, and the big "reveal" at the end wasn't that exciting as not even Thrall sounded surprised by the guy's sudden and inevitable betrayal. Still, it was a fun little romp that left me curious about how the story continues in the Dragon Soul raid. I'm not sure when/if I'm going to see that though, as my initial curiosity about the raid finder has been replaced by pure dread and I simply don't want to deal with it right now. Which is funny, considering that all the reports that I've heard so far actually make it sound a lot better than anyone expected. A guildie from our rated battlegrounds used it to go on his first raid ever today and told me afterwards that they cleared it. One has to wonder just how much the devs lowered the difficulty in there, considering that our raid group killed the first boss on normal mode on their first attempt as well. Oh well, not something I can really comment on anymore.


How's the guild finder working out for you?

This is something I've been meaning to write about for a while. I was quite excited about the introduction of the guild finder in 4.1. Of course it was never going to replace the full application process for a raiding guild, but at least people would be able to see that we were out there, right in the game, without us having to do any special advertising!

Right after the introduction of the thing, we actually managed to find a discipline priest who was kind enough to sign up for our guild website and ended up joining us as a somewhat infrequent but loyal raider. Then there were two or three people who applied to be social members and were invited straight away; they usually chatted for a few days and then left again or simply never logged in again.

Since then however, ninety percent of the applications we've received either contain no text at all or something like "i need a gild". I reject them with no comment, but it gets tedious. The other ten percent actually do write a line or two but then never seem to log in again either, as you can tell from the guy who applies at level 15 and says something like: "I'm a really fast leveller and will be able to join you guys at the cap in no time!" Twenty days later he's still 15 and inactive. It kind of makes you wonder just how serious the churn in this game is, or whether there are really that many people who keep rolling up new characters just to abandon them again after 5-10 levels.

I originally volunteered to take care of in-game applications, but I've been finding the task increasingly depressing. I've written so many in-game letters to people, telling them that they are welcome to join us and to just whisper any guildie next time they're online... and yet the recipients are never heard from again. It wouldn't be so bad if we still got some serious applicants every now and then, but I just haven't seen any in months. It feels as if all the energy that I'm putting into these attempts at being welcoming and friendly is being poured down a bottomless hole; it shouldn't be surprising that this gets draining after a while.

I don't know if that's just my guild, my server or what. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the guild finder is at the end of the day too much like a dungeon finder for guilds. Press button to queue apply, later press "accept" to join the group. No talking required. I would imagine that if you're running the kind of guild which only exists for the perks and to collect some money from Cash Flow, this could work very well. However, the "classic" guild is a purely social construct with no inherent gameplay elements, and you can't be social by just pressing a button and not interacting with people.

I could see it working much better if guilds could set up some simple filtering mechanisms for applicants, such as a mandatory "why do you want to join us" field to keep out the pure button pushers. On the other hand the tools for prospective applicants could use improving too - I can't imagine any half-serious raider (or PvPer... or roleplayer... or anyone who genuinely cares about what kind of guild he's going to join) trying to apply purely via the guild finder right now, where they'd struggle to find out anything about any guild beyond the little paragraph that the guild master can fill with information.


Pilgrim's Bounty and Cooking

Cynwise said something funny in his guide to this year's Pilgrim's Bounty: "doing those first 350 points any other way is just silly". I have to admit that at first that comment actually stung me a little. Why is it silly? I love cooking (in game; in real life I'm terrible at it), and have done so pretty much for as long as I can remember. I remember being a level six noob with barely half a clue about anything in the game and eagerly cooking up Herb Baked Eggs and Kaldorei Spider Kabobs. At around level thirty or so, my friend who was wisely levelling her cooking and fishing in sync gifted me a stack of Sagefish Delights one day and I was like, OMG, eating these gives me an mp5 buff? Crazy! I also have fond memories of winning the recipe for Runn Tum Tuber Surprise in Dire Maul East and being told that I was extremely lucky.

I've always loved cooking for how it was a profession that benefited from almost everything I enjoyed doing in the game anyway. Explore and find a vendor in a remote location who sells an interesting recipe, hoard anything that might look useful to find out later that you can turn it into a tasty meal with the right recipe, quest to raise your cooking skill beyond 225, and so on and so forth. It always felt very engaging to me, and to this day I've maintained one to two tabs in my private guild banks that are devoted to nothing but raw cooking materials, gathered in one place to redistribute them to alts for later use.

However, looking at it honestly, I had to admit that I've really been struggling to level cooking on my new alts whenever I tried. With the new levelling system, you zoom from one place to the next and past many zones so quickly that you might never even see many recipe vendors, and you end up killing fewer mobs that might provide you with raw materials as well. Having alts "help each other out" seemed to have a very limited effect too, as I found it hard to keep track of who needed which recipes (Altoholic is supposed to track that in principle, but for me at least its profession tracking has been buggy for ages), and somehow pretty much every character seemed to run into the same skill point humps, needing stacks upon stacks of the exact same raw foods and I never had enough. As much as I used to love it, it had become annoying in its current incarnation. It worked when levelling was slow and had you traipsing all over Azeroth, but in this brave new world... not so much.

So I thought what the hell, might as well get it done, and so I've been spending a good chunk of the past two evenings cooking up Pilgrim's Bounty foods on various alts. (I still have a couple left, but we'll see whether I get around to them tomorrow.) I didn't just level my cooking either; basically I did the following things on all of my characters:

- I did the quest line that sends you back and forth between the cities to deliver different foods to different places.
- I ate at a Bountiful Table to complete the Share a Bountiful Feast quest and did Sharing is Caring while I was at it.
- I completed each of the dailies at least once, which was easy enough since I was cooking up lots of food to level my skill anyway, and got the Pilgrim's Progress achievement on the side.

If there were other people at the table with me, I threw food at them for "FOOD FIGHT!", but I didn't hang around to wait if nobody else was eating. Fun fact: even though I've been participating in this holiday in some form or another ever since its inception, it took me until this year to figure out how this achievement actually works. I used to think that it was just a random chance whenever you hit the button to share food. D'oh.

I also got The Turkinator on lots of characters, though not all, as I didn't fret about it if I had a streak of bad luck. As long as I got enough turkeys to do my cooking I was happy.

I only did Pilgrim's Pouch on one or two characters as I considered getting to the Exodar too much of a hassle in addition to the repeated back and forth for the quest line (most of the alts that needed skilling up were Alliance). This rang particularly true after I tried to take the portal to the Exodar from Darnassus one time and accidentally sent myself to the Blasted Lands with my hearthstone on cooldown. Arrrgh.

However, even without such mishaps these little adventures turned out to be quite a time-intensive endeavour, with each character needing about an hour to complete the whole tour, mostly due to travel time and the time it took to gather sufficient amounts of turkeys. It was all pretty relaxed though, and I watched some tv on the side and went AFK while on flight paths. Missing the boat over and over again also gave me happy flashbacks to my newbie days, though I never fell into the water.

The only thing that really got on my nerves was, funnily enough... people standing in the fire. Seriously, you don't need to stand in the cooking fire to use it! I noticed that it was mostly max-level characters in raid gear who were doing that, which then made me wonder whether it's some kind of subconscious way of being rebellious? An "I have to move out of the fire all the damn time, this one's not hurting me so I'll stand in it all day long" kind of thing? The thing is, I don't really care whether they stand in the fire in their raids or not, but being audio-spammed with incessant "oof oof oof" sounds gets annoying really quickly. This then got me thinking whether bad stuff on the ground wouldn't be easier to avoid if it always made your character make that sound... you might find yourself moving out of sheer annoyance, or else your guildies would at least yell at you for the same reason. (I vaguely recall a bug in DBM during ICC I think it was, where it kept making a warning noise on Blood Princes even if other people were moving with the shadow prison debuff... you bet that had me shouting at them!)


Battleground tidbits

I still have a couple of different post ideas floating around, but right now it would feel weird to work on any of them because none of it actually relates to what I've been doing in the game this past week... which is pretty much nothing but running battlegrounds, both rateds and randoms.

Just for laughs I decided to pick up my paladin whom I've neglected in the past couple of months, reactivate her holy spec and throw myself into random battlegrounds with zero resilience. I think it says a lot about just how powerful holy pallies are right now that I still had a pretty good success rate. Of course, if someone really zeroed in on me I died quite quickly, but most of the time just being a paladin seemed to be enough of a deterrent that people didn't even bother attacking me, which I found quite amusing. Compare that to my druid who gets harassed by the enemy non-stop even though she's in full PvP gear.

I'm now maxing out both honour and justice points on several characters in order to be able to buy them as much of the new gear as possible once the new season starts. Saving up justice points to convert into honour later feels quite bizarre to me, considering that PvE always used to be my top priority. But the thought of running random dungeons doesn't excite me at all anymore, while the idea of gathering PvP gear now does.

The other night four of my team mates and I ran a couple of randoms after our rated matches, or rather we did Battle of Gilneas over and over again since it was Gilneas bonus weekend. At one point we got matched up against a nine-man Alliance premade, to much groaning, but at least we didn't go down easily. While they had an elemental shaman with the Arena Master title in their group, they weren't actually very good at battleground strategy and spent a lot of time simply zerging in circles. We fought them as well as we could and even managed to score a few points by continually assaulting whichever base their zerg had just left. In the end they overwhelmed us however and we got three-based. We shrugged it off and queued again.

Next match, the same premade again. Okay, this time we did groan. My damage dealing friends decided that if we were going to lose again, at the very least they were going to get some revenge on that Arena Master and annoy him with some focus fire and crowd control spam. Again we were getting dominated quite hard, but at least people seemed to be having fun annoying that shaman. But then, I don't know how it happened... suddenly we had two bases and they had only one. Everyone banded together and to everyone's surprise we actually managed to squeeze out a win! That was a true fist-pumping moment for everyone in the group, friends and puggers alike.

Next match, we met the Arena Master again, this time on his own. I guess he decided that premades that couldn't actually win weren't really worth the effort.


In which I come to a nice but surprising realisation

I frequently waffle on and on about how all the best times I've had in WoW happened during the Burning Crusade. If I had to pick one specific event or achievement during that time that had a bigger impact on me than anything else, it would without a doubt be the original Zul'Aman bear run. Mind you, I have a lot of happy memories from the BC days, but working on beating that timer week in, week out, failing over and over again until we finally had those ten Amani War Bears for everyone in the team definitely stood out.

(Incidentally, looking back at that picture of our "Team Bear" makes me kind of sad, as not one of the other nine people still plays with me anymore. They all either left the guild for one reason or another or simply quit the game entirely. I'm still in loose contact with most of them, but at least one guy has pretty much vanished off the face of the earth as far as I know. If you read this, Kordac, I still miss hearing your Irish accent on Teamspeak!)

Obviously I've had other good times in the game since then, but nothing that really lived up to those bear runs... until...

The other night I was thinking about how PvP season ten is ending soon and pondering our rated battleground team's performance over the last couple of months. And it suddenly hit me just how much of a good time I've been having and that I really, really care, in a way that I haven't cared about anything in the game in three and a half years. We've had our problems, sure, and for a while we had a couple of players that didn't really mesh with the rest of the team and who made things awkward sometimes, but looking at our regulars right now, there isn't a single person there that I don't like.

I don't exactly await every rated battleground evening with baited breath, but once we get started I tend to completely forget about the time (which is quite a feat, considering that I'm usually one of those people who look at their watch every five minutes) until someone says "well, that's it for the night I guess" and I realise that it's three hours later. I get completely immersed in exciting matches, and I laugh out loud at the silly banter that goes on during breaks between games. Who'd have thought that Cataclysm managed to bring back a little piece of my favourite expansion after all? That feeling of playing in a team, kicking butt and just having oodles of fun is back. I was honestly kind of shocked by this realisation.

The funny and slightly confusing thing is that I can't even really explain what makes these rated battlegrounds so different from everything else that I've done in the game since those infamous bear runs. The first things that come to mind that I enjoy about rated battlegrounds, other than the company, are the challenge and the pacing. Due to the matchmaking system almost every victory and loss push us to our limits in one way or another, but there's also plenty of time to chill out and be silly - between matches, at the start and towards the end of a game, as well as when you're simply waiting to resurrect at a graveyard.

As a bit of a side note, I've been thinking about challenge in games lately. Whenever WoW's difficulty is discussed anywhere, I tend to side with those who say that it needs to be harder, but at the same time I'm the kind of person who sets all her single player games to "easy", so am I being hypocritical? After a bit of soul searching I came to the conclusion that I don't really need challenge in my single player content (though I don't necessarily mind it either if I have to face it), but I absolutely do need it in group content because otherwise... it doesn't really feel like group content to me.

I mean, if I did a heroic Grim Batol through the dungeon finder right now, it wouldn't even matter whether I did it with friends or random strangers in terms of gameplay; just running along and AoEing everything down is boring. There is no interaction. I mean, I could chat with my friends while doing this I guess, but for that I don't really need to have the game running; we might as well go for a walk. For group content to be satisfying for me, it has to be at least difficult enough to require the assistance of another human being that can think for themselves, so that our goal is only achievable by working together. That is the true joy of having other people to play with, for me at least. And PvPing with a fixed group of people is like that all the time.

However, none of these things make rated battlegrounds truly special. Raids still have challenge and cooperation too! It's an interesting conundrum. Then again, maybe I just like riding around with a group of people who are all using the same mount as me. Vicious War Wolves, hoo!


Surprise zone reviews!

In my last post about the new low-level areas I said that I would look at a bunch of zones in central Kalimdor next. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but something else came up first: my undead mage! He's yet another character that I've been playing on and off; I just never had much to say about his adventures. I mean, "cleared the new Badlands for the third time, it's the same on Horde side"? Not very interesting. However, as I made it through his last couple of levels to sixty, I encountered some things that gave me reason to pause.

Burning Steppes

I briefly wrote about levelling through the Burning Steppes as Alliance in this post. On Horde side the story is exactly the same, and I still liked it. However, I was kind of surprised by the way the parallelism was handled. When I did the zone as Alliance, I already had a hunch that Horde might be going through the same motions, but I wasn't sure how they were doing it. I only saw one Horde base in the entire zone, and no equivalent to Flamestar Post where Corporal Keeshan hangs out.

Turns out that Flamestar Post serves as both an Alliance and a Horde outpost at the same time, not by being a neutral base per se, but by phasing pretending to you that only your respective faction is present. So as Horde, I didn't even see Keshan, but instead there was Ariok the orc. I thought that was an interesting approach... it makes no logical sense to me from an immersion point of view, but it still struck me as clever in its own way.

Speaking of Ariok, he made me feel really lore-dumb.

Wait, Eitrigg has a son? (Where are all the daughters?)
Wait, Eitrigg is a former Blackrock orc? (I guess the grey skin should have given it away; I used to think he was just really old...)
Wait, Eitrigg serves in the Argent Crusade now?
What the hell? When did this happen?

This was not a bad thing by the way; I thought it was rather amusing.

Also, I ran into some mobs that even in Cataclysm's simplified levelling game turned out to be real mage killers: the various types of Obsidian Elementals. They have a chance to spell reflect, which is all the deadlier the more powerful you are. Nothing like giving yourself a pyroblast to the face! Good fun, that.

Swamp of Sorrows

Swamp of Sorrows was once again largely what I expected it to be: several neutral quest chains and then the Horde/Alliance conflict from the other side, with the quests being exactly the same only for different mobs.

However, I was once again confused by whether one side was actually supposed to win, and if so, who did. On Alliance side you get to assault Stonard and then the quest giver gives you a pat on the back afterwards, which I always interpreted as "we won, well done". However, apparently Stonard actually reverts back to its original state afterwards (I have to admit I never checked), and on Horde side I was given the impression that the assault was successfully repelled. Which is it? It would be rather odd for the Alliance to just lose with no explanation or even acknowledgement after they had the Horde on the run for the longest time. Though to be honest, I also found the experience a bit unsatisfying from Horde side because I was apparently super successful at all these quests to kick Alliance butt but somehow we were still losing the entire time, until the very end at least. It just made me scratch my head.

At the end of the zone, there was a quest that surprised me by how it was basically a clone of an Alliance quest but still ended up with a totally different feel. On Alliance side you help a draenei who's trying to heal his sick friend, but he dies anyway. This is sad, but in the end Velen himself makes an appearance to provide some comfort, which is pretty cool.

On Horde side, you help an orc lady whose husband was mortally wounded and he dies anyway... and nothing happens. Most depressing quest in the game? I remember standing on top of the watchtower afterwards, looking out across the swamp and suddenly hating the zone - not for having bad quests or anything, but for being a place where good orcs die in the dirt (after I had done no less than four quests to save him, too) and nobody gives a damn.

Blasted Lands

The Blasted Lands were a bit more samey than I would have liked, though each faction had at least a couple of unique quests. And I still like the storyline about the demon hunter regardless, as well as the way I kept finding junk that I could exchange for greens every now and then. And saving tadpoles of course.


A Gnome's Life

Every now and then the WoW blogosphere is good for some in-game laughs. First there was Single Abstract Noun, the bloggers' guild (is that still going?), then there were the Real ID heroics (which I didn't write a separate post about, but I did participate), and now the latest craze are gnome clones, originally inspired by a nostalgic post by Alas.

Since I had yet to try out the new gnome starter area anyway, I decided to join in the fun as a gnome clone "impostor" (copying the look but rolling up a warrior, so I won't be able to be a fully armoured clone). While I've been playing a lot of alts this expansion, I mostly used already existing characters that had simply been sitting around at level twenty or so pre-Cataclysm; I haven't actually done a lot of levelling from one to ten. But holy crap, Nils wasn't kidding when he said that those first ten levels were hardcore!

I started off being confused by what was only the second or third quest in the gnome starter area. After I'd just made my way out of a gnome refugee camp, I was told to save some more survivors that couldn't make it on their own. "Okay, that makes sense!" I thought and went back to save all those injured gnomes that were lying on the floor. Nope, couldn't target them or they came up as "invalid target". Turns out that I was supposed to "save" some perfectly healthy and only slightly scared gnomes that were standing around outside. O-kay?

Not much later I was told to ask for a teleport to the surface. Why teleport when there's a perfectly serviceable elevator right next to me? Fortunately a vague memory reasserted itself to tell me that taking the lift would not be a good idea before I could do anything foolish.

At level three a warrior quest rewarded me with a Very Light Sabre. Yes, I know... cheap joke. But I really loved it!

In a cave full of troggs I had my first death as early as level... was it four or five? A rogue in full heirlooms had just mowed everything down in front of me, and then all the mobs respawned at once and I was buried under a pile of troggs. It's as if the game wanted to teach me early on that the presence of other players was only going to cause me headaches.

Getting Victory Rush at level five increased my survivability a lot, though I learned quickly that its use is limited when it comes to casters. Nothing like dying at the feet of the second Frostmane Seer that's attacking you a mere second before you manage to run over and hit it. That was death number two. On a side note, I'm impressed that the Frostmane trolls have survived as long as they have, considering that they appear to live on nothing but weed and fight by throwing snowballs at you.

Then there was the cave with the wendigos. I managed to overlook one of the quest NPCs near the entrance and (unnecessarily) went all the way to the back of the cave in search of him. However, I found something else there, a rare! Acutely aware of my vulnerability, I made sure to clear the mobs around him before attacking, but once I charged him I found to my dismay that he still had quite a lot of health relative to my puny damage output. So I died, again.

Since it had been quite a close affair, I immediately ran back in to try again, and this time managed to get him down with literally one hitpoint left on my own character. More exciting than any raid boss kill these days if you ask me!

I had one more death when I was asked to kill a yeti called Vagash. Non-elite, no adds... no biggie, right? Well, maybe if you have heirlooms, but as a warrior in whites he kicked my arse, and in a very thorough fashion. I went back to my trainer to pick up Thunder Clap, which I hadn't done yet, in hopes that this would help - though I'm not sure it would have, considering how I hadn't even come close to killing him before. Fortunately I was saved from any further embarrassment as I ran into a random gnome priest upon my return to the cave, who tentatively threw a heal on me and looked at me in what I interpreted as a hopeful manner. We grouped up and it was easy peasy. I couldn't help but wonder whether he hadn't got his arse kicked before as well.

Then I hit level ten, picked up prot spec, and the next cave I went into seemed to hold no threat to me at all. I also dinged eleven before I even knew it. I guess the really exciting levels are over. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing where the project as a whole goes.

On the whole, this starter zone was amazingly fun! The only thing that marred the experience ever so slightly for me was the how-to-use-the-flight-master quest line, which still told me that I couldn't fly anywhere where I hadn't been before (flat out not true anymore), and the quest text couldn't seem to decide on what exactly it was that I was transporting for the dwarves, as it alternated between cleavers and mining picks every other sentence. Okay, it's kind of fun to joke about dwarves cooking with mining picks, but really? That's one of those things that I would have expected them to have fixed nearly a year after release.


Random Karazhan Memories

I just noticed that I didn't even have a Karazhan tag yet before writing this post. The humanity! Like pretty much everyone who started raiding in Burning Crusade, I spent a lot of time in that place and it was a crucial part of my formative months of becoming a raider. I even remember one time, admittedly already towards the end of the expansion, where I did two full clears of the instance in a single day. Some guildies called me crazy for it, and I do remember feeling slightly dizzy afterwards.

But it wasn't always like that, breezing through the entire raid in a few hours. I remember repeatedly wiping on the trash to Attumen and being completely unable to get even the first boss down. I also remember learning to be sensible about aggro, because the last thing you wanted to happen when Attumen spawned or mounted up and the aggro reset was for you to stand out as the noob who couldn't wait for the tanks to get a solid grip on the boss (again).

I remember huddling on the stairs leading up to the ballroom, and having to trust the tanks blindly to pull the trash correctly because you literally couldn't even see what was going on up there. Most of the time it was fine, but sometimes there would be an exclamation of "uh oh" and we'd get more than we could handle. I also remember standing on those stairs when we first noticed that Blizzard had added music to the instance, and discussing our opinions on it.

I remember wiping a lot on Moroes as well, and learning how to kite, crowd control and use a focus macro. I'd position myself in a far corner and as soon as the tank pulled, I'd grab my CC target's attention with a Shadow Word: Death and then shackle it a safe distance away from any AoE. I was very proud of that at the time.

I remember Maiden of Virtue forcing me to fiddle with my UI and keybindings for the first time in order to be able to dispel her Holy Fire quickly enough so that people wouldn't die from it. Up until then the old point and click had always been good enough, but not anymore.

Everyone always seemed to love the Opera Event, especially the Big Bad Wolf - his "Run away, little girl!" was DBM's default warning for any bad effect that needed avoiding for a long time. Myself, I was never a big fan, and I vaguely remember never being very good at kiting him. My favourite was always Oz, because I loved how it gave different people different things to do, such as someone who did fire damage having to tank the strawman. I get the impression that a lot of people hated the idea of fights requiring specific classes though.

I remember the Curator and being exempt from flare duty as a shadow priest because we had absolutely no burst back in the day and switching targets actually harmed my main utility of regenerating other people's mana. I remember the trash afterwards that was immune to magic and all the casters meleeing with their staves and daggers.

I remember Illhoof's sacrifice always making me nervous and me reminding people to make macros to target the chains. Deaths remained frequent for a long time. I also remember what an extreme novelty it was to have a paladin tank the imps. Hah!

I don't actually remember anyone ever blowing up the raid by moving in the Flame Wreath in the Shade of Aran fight. Instead it was always people dying to the Blizzard, or the Arcane Explosion or what have you. He forced people to dance even back then.

I loved Netherspite because shadow priests were the best tanks for the blue beam after warlocks, and I enjoyed the way this enhanced my special class abilities. I became so fond of this boss that I was frequently happy to do the beam assignments for everyone during later runs, even if I wasn't the raid leader.

Wait, didn't I forget another dragon? Of course, Nightbane! I remember being so proud of getting my own Blackened Urn to summon him myself, and I felt my heart break when Blizzard turned it into a useless grey item in Wrath and encouraged me to vendor it. And yet another extremely gimmicky fight! Blizzard would never make a boss like that again, with a deadly cleave and an AoE fear on a short cooldown. I mean, you can't require a ten-man raid to have multiple fear breakers just like that! Outrageous!

The Chess Event: a fun little distraction, including the shame of "wiping on chess" (which we did, more than once).

And finally Prince Malchezaar and his infernal infernals. I remember wiping on him so many times simply due to bad infernal placement, and always people chucked it up to bad luck, though I could never quite shake the feeling that maybe we were just doing something wrong?

It's really kind of funny to remember all these little things. Karazhan is often cited as a "raid done right", and I actually agree, but at the same time it was chock-full of gameplay that Blizzard and many players would consider awful these days: Watching your aggro? How terribly un-fun! Crowd control? Boring and just slows things down. Having boss fights that heavily favoured or even required at least one of a certain class? Way too limiting! The thing is... while I understand why many of these things were changed, I don't think that their replacements are necessarily that much better. I mean, is needing a ranged dps with healing dual spec really that different from needing a certain class? And is it really that big a deal if your spec does kind of poorly on one fight due to its limitations, as long as there's another one where your strengths really get to shine?

Anyway, you might wonder why I'm feeling nostalgic about Karazhan in the first place. Before my boyfriend cancelled his subscription, we ran the place a few times for transmogrification gear, and after he stopped playing I wasn't in the mood to go back for a long time. However, I finally decided to go back to complete my druid's transmogrification outfit the other week, and it's been... interesting.

Opera still nearly kicked my butt on my own. Nothing like being little red riding hood on the Big Bad Wolf all the time, only having a chance to attack him for three seconds every thirty seconds or so. You'd think that he wouldn't hit that hard on a level 85 character, but it still adds up when you can't do anything to fight back or defend yourself for ages and ages. I was also terribly fail at interrupting Julienne's heals, but got there in the end.

But oh, the biggest problem when soloing Karazhan is definitely the Chess Event, that former joke. While Medivh moves his units all over the place and cheats left and right, you can only use one unit at a time, and you get a debuff that forces you to wait ten seconds before controlling another unit. And without your control, your pieces are dumb as rock, willing to auto-attack whatever's in front of them but nothing else - so if they get mutilated from the side, they'll be happy to just stand there and stare off into space until they die.

On my first run, it took me about four hours until I finally beat the game, and I was close to bursting into tears out of sheer frustration by that point. I had looked up a variety of guides online but nothing quite seemed to work. Yesterday I went back and beat it on the first try, though Blackhand only had 6k health left at the end. The sad thing is, I can't even tell whether I got better at it or whether it was just sheer dumb luck, as Medivh's moves can be quite random and screw you over big time at the worst moments.

The only things I've learned for sure are that the fire cheat always happens at roughly the same time, and you have to be ready to move your king (and/or possibly one other important unit) out of the fire patches as soon as they spawn, and that the castles are good pieces to push forward and then leave alone, as their main attack is a non-directional AoE and thus useful even if they refuse to focus on the "right" enemies. Otherwise it's largely about flying by the seat of your pants and hoping that your king and queen can kill the enemy king off before it's too late.

It's really funny how these things can work out, with the former joke boss becoming a soloers nightmare two expansions later.


A goblin in Azshara and Ashenvale

I rolled a goblin priest to see the goblin starter area some time ago. Those zones seems to be the kind of content that people either love or hate, and unfortunately my reaction fell on the negative side of the spectrum. Kezan and the Lost Isles just felt nothing like the Azeroth I used to know, and while I can generally appreciate pop culture references and the like, the goblins went overboard with it in my opinion.

So once I had seen what it was all about, I parked my little priest in Orgrimmar and didn't touch her for the next couple of months. I've found that not playing a character for a while gives them time to settle, and possible negative associations from the past are given time to dissipate. So I finally felt ready to play my goblin again the other week and took her to Azshara.

Azshara is a sort of continuation of the goblin starter experience, but officially open to all races and not quite as silly. Yes, the hyper-intelligent raptor that escaped into space with a rocket was a bit mind-boggling, and then there was that whole affair with Azuregos and the spirit healer. What the...? However, a lot of the zone was about fighting night elves and naga and typical wildlife, and I was happy.

I saw a comment on someone else's blog, I don't remember by whom, who said that Blizzard had "destroyed" Azshara with Cataclysm. It's certainly not the quiet and empty land it used to be, but... don't get me wrong, I certainly appreciated the old Azshara, but let's not kid ourselves: emptiness is cheap. Azshara was what it was due to Blizzard failing to do anything useful with it, not due to any intentional design making it awesome. They did the same thing again in Cataclysm in some areas, so if you miss that feeling of being lost in a landscape that is nothing else but land, you can always go for a stroll through Alterac. (Or actually, Gilneas works quite well too, due to so many things being phased.)

While Gallywix is ugly as sin, I have to admit that I still found this display oddly awe-inspiring.

Meanwhile, Azshara offers lots of questing fun now and I think it's a solid experience, though I had one problem here that I haven't managed to have in any other post-Cata zone: I managed to lose the plot. Suddenly I had no more quests in my log, even though I still had a good quarter of the zone left according to the quest achievement, and I was sitting out in the middle of nowhere, lost. I then spent about half an hour driving around the zone on my annoying-sounding trike, until I finally found a quest on a lonely mountain peak which then reconnected me with the rest of the story.

I wasn't sure how I felt about that. On the one hand it's nice to engage your own brain in search of quest givers every once in a while instead of blindly following a breadcrumb trail all the time. But if the entire zone is designed around the idea that you will be following the breadcrumb trail along fifty different mini-hubs, losing the plot is annoying because it could literally be anywhere. How I longed for just being able to check three different quest hubs for updates instead of having to peek into every nook and cranny of the zone in search of that lone missing exclamation mark.

I also felt bad about ending the zone by killing the former Alliance flight master.

I continued onwards to Ashenvale. For comparison, I wrote about how I experienced the zone on Alliance side in this post a few months ago. Horde side was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to me. Oh cool, I get to ride around on a kodo. Argh, why are we killing all these night elves and I'm not allowed to join in? Why am I doomed to watching passively as the cut scene plays out? Combat cut scenes seriously need to go, considering that's the basic unit of WoW gameplay.

There were a couple of NPCs that I liked, like that orc couple where the guy made me pick flowers for his lady and she made me collect fel fire. It made me like the Horde. I was quite happy to slaughter generic night elves by the dozen, and I was absolutely delighted to see that the three named beasts from The Ashenvale Hunt were still around and dropping quest items.

Around the third time or so when I walked through Silverwind Refuge, I noticed that there were actually night elf corpses on the ground still... and named ones. Agrnagvekf. I didn't really remember them very well, but I found myself wondering which one of them had sold me the expert cookbook back in the day. Suddenly I hated being Horde.

Emotional turmoil aside, seeing the Alliance vs. Horde conflict in Ashenvale play out from both sides was also a bit strange. I've talked about how quests running in parallel on both sides can make for a more interesting story, and to some extent this is happening in Ashenvale, but it's all very inconclusive. The Horde has you bombing Astranaar and then happily sends you on your way with a pat on the back. But didn't I put all those fires out as Alliance? Didn't I save Astranaar? So Alliance wins, technically? Likewise a Horde quest sends me to corrupt the Forest Heart, and I do, but I know from Alliance side that they cleanse it afterwards. At Splintertree Post I fought off not one, but two major night elf attacks, but the attackers never really went away entirely. And at Raynewood Retreat the Horde kills the local Alliance leader, but the Alliance lays massive waste to the Horde army on their side of the quest. They then say that I saved the place, but did I really?

Silverwind Refuge is the only area where it's completely clear who won, but that happened before I even got there. Anything I contributed to the war effort made no particular difference from what I could tell. That's actually not a bad thing in principle, but what bothered me a little was that I couldn't tell whether that was by design, or whether the developers simply didn't want to tell Horde players that they lost those fights... because knowing what I knew from Alliance side, it kind of felt like they should have.

Next zones coming up in review from Horde side whenever I get around to it: Desolace, Southern Barrens, Thousand Needles.


Pondering the MoP priest talents

Okay, so I might think that completely revamping the talent trees yet again is a really bad idea (I think Nils has a very good summary on the subject here), but that doesn't mean that I'm not curious about what new talents the developers are thinking of for my class. Let's have a look, shall we?

Tier 1 aka The Mass CC tier

You only need to take a brief look at the new system to see that every tier of talents seems to focus on a certain theme, such as survivability or crowd control. The first tier of priest talents appears to be designed around our mass crowd control, and sees Psychic Scream being turned from a baseline ability into a talent with alternative options.

The Good: I think that the three options given here, mass root vs. "fearing totem" vs. the old psychic scream are interesting alternatives to achieve a similar effect. Void Tendrils sounds like a good way of getting melee off your back in an environment where psychic scream frequently fails to achieve much because so many classes have been given counter-fear measures by now. (Though I noticed that they are also planning to give shamans an anti-snare totem in MoP. Clearly the class is meant to remain our nemesis in PvP.)

The idea of a fearing totem, which is what the Psyfiend basically sounds like, is a very funny one. It's nice to imagine dropping this on top of a flag carrier under pressure for example. I do suspect that it will need buffing though, because one single-target fear every two seconds for ten seconds is not that amazing, and most of the effect can still be nullified by a single tremor totem while it still has twice the cooldown of good old psychic scream.

The Bad: All the good things above refer to PvP only. In PvE this choice is likely to feel borderline pointless for all specs, because single target crowd control is already used rarely enough in group content, and mass CC is used even less. At best you can probably hope to get some use out of it if you get into a tight spot while questing, but I'm not sure how likely that is to happen anymore.

Tier 2 aka the Movement Tier

This one currently looks very boring to me unfortunately: increased movement speed after getting bubbled vs. increased movement speed while levitating vs. Fade removing movement impairing effects.

The Good: Body and Soul is a fun talent right now, and I guess it's nice that they are making it available to all specs - I miss it all the time on my shadow priest.

The Bad: As it stands, I don't see this tier offering any genuine choice. I just can't see anyone taking Path of the Devout. Body and Soul is the clear winner for PvE, because being able to get out of the fire sixty percent faster is amazing. And Phantasm will probably be the undisputed choice for PvP in the future, since snares are the bane of any priest's existence. The only reason it would lose out to Body and Soul right now is that the current PvP 4-piece bonus for priests has something similar baked in for whenever you shield yourself. Hopefully something will be done to make this entire tier less of a no-brainer.

Tier 3 aka... Shinies?

Aha! Finally something that affects the priest's actual role, whether it's healing or damage dealing. We get to pick between Surge of Light / occasional instant Mind Blasts that consume no shadow orbs, a shiny holy boomerang of healiness and Archangel with the mana regen aspect removed.

The Good: For healers, there's a genuine choice here between saving mana with Surge of Light or increasing your output with Archangel (assuming that all specs will get Evangelism as well, otherwise having this as a talent would be kind of pointless). Divine Star sounds like the kind of ability that might end up with an awesome spell effect that makes you squeal in delight every time you use it, though its usefulness remains to be seen.

The Bad: Shadow doesn't appear to have much of a choice here. Two of the three available talents give dps boosts, and it will probably only be a matter of time until theorycrafters figure out which one is better.

Tier 4 aka The Survival Tier

Another tier that I feel very meh about as a whole. From what I gather they intend to give all classes a pick of survival talents, but I feel that to a priest the whole concept is probably less exciting than it is to other classes. Shadow already has a good survival cooldown in Dispersion, and the two healing specs are already dedicated to guaranteeing their own survival with their default tools all the time. Anyway, the offerings are Desperate Prayer, +30% effectiveness for bubbles on yourself, or a bubble that gets auto-cast on you when you get low on health (once every 90 seconds).

The Good: I think there is an interesting trade-off between Desperate Prayer and Final Prayer. The former has a slightly longer cooldown and you have to actively cast it, but you can choose when to use it. The latter is applied automatically and occurs a bit more frequently, but you have no influence on it; it just happens when it happens. That sounds like an interesting choice in PvP.

The Bad: Unfortunately I suspect that Angelic Bulwark is always going to win out over both of the abilities mentioned above, since getting more absorption and thus protection against spell pushback from your shields all the time sounds like a lot more bang for your buck in almost any scenario I can imagine. Also, I don't like that Final Prayer sounds like they just copied over Sacred Shield from the paladins and increased its cooldown.

Tier 5 aka The More Damage and Heals Tier

Aha! Finally another tier that affects core abilities! In this one we have more damage and healing done to targets at or below 25% health, Power Infusion and Serendipity / a tweaked version of Mind Melt.

The Good: I reckon Power Infusion is one of those talents that every spec would be happy to be able to pick up. Disc priests might enjoy being able to grab Serendipity to boost their single target output even more when required.

The Bad: I thought that we were past the age of flat bonuses to damage and healing. I guess holy is going to be rebalanced either way, but at the moment I find it hard to even imagine functioning as a holy priest without Serendipity, which wouldn't leave me any choice but to take that. I think for shadow PvE Power Infusion is going to be a no-brainer; I don't know enough about its PvP side to be sure what a PvP-ing shadow priest would pick here.

Tier 6 aka The New OP Spells

This tier is exciting simply because everything in it is actually new, and a lot of it looks extremely powerful in its currently suggested implementation.

First we have Vow of Unity, which looks like it's inspired by Beacon of Light and Hand of Sacrifice. Then there's Void Shift, which swaps health percentage with a friendly target, and Vampiric Dominance, which applies free extra heals to three nearby friendlies every time you heal or do damage (though it doesn't say whether they have to be near you or near your target; I assume the latter).

The Good: Well, it all sounds very exciting, doesn't it? Void Shift would be another very powerful survival cooldown that can either be used on yourself or someone else. And Vampiric Dominance sounds amazingly powerful for a healer (kind of like the old Flash of Light glyph for paladins, except even stronger) - so powerful that I have a hard time imagining this talent making it live.

The Bad: Vow of Unity is really hard to judge since there are so many unknowns about it, such as duration. I suspect that Void Shift will be a no-brainer for shadow priests as the other two talents are both healer-centric. It also has enormous griefing potential in the currently suggested incarnation - in battlegrounds for example you could swap health with some poor random schmuck whenever you're close to dying and get them killed instead.

Final Verdict

I think that even if I agreed that another talent revamp was badly needed, I doubt that I would be happy with this system in particular. People are complaining about the prevalence of cookie cutter specs in the current system, but as a healer this doesn't affect me nearly as much. As a holy priest I'm free to choose between a variety of talents to boost my hps, mana regen, cooldowns or effectiveness of different spells, all depending on my preferred playstyle, and they are all equally valid.

A reduction to six talent points is less than what I currently get to contemplate, and about half of them don't even affect any core abilities. A few of the new abilities sound very cool in principle, but it remains to be seen how frequently they will be used.