Lacking luster

My posting frequency has been lower in the past month than it's been in a long while, and to be honest it's not due to a lack of time but more due to a lack of enthusiasm - not for blogging, but for WoW itself. I'm still playing and having fun, but it feels a bit like going through the motions and somehow I don't find a lot of things engaging enough to want to post about them.

I've always had times when I was less into the game than during others, so that's not worrying by itself, but I did find myself pausing when I heard the latest news about the patch 4.1 PTR going up and instead of getting excited about any of it, it just made me unhappy. Not because the return of the Zuls will be rehashed content, but because I simply don't want that patch to come out yet.

Are you crazy, you might ask, why would you not want new content? I actually wrote a post about the fear of change and being worried about missing out before, but that was about the revamp of the old world in specific. Nothing wrong with a major expansion shaking things up a bit.

The thing is, since around patch 3.2 and the introduction of the automatically upgrading badge system, I felt that each new patch has been like that, not so much introducing additional content as directly replacing old content with new. Blizzard might not literally remove the old stuff from the game every time, but they'll still work damn hard to make you feel like it's pointless. These days it feels to me that each new patch isn't so much adding new things for me to do, as it's stomping on everything I've worked to achieve in the last couple of months and telling me to go do something else instead.

Looking back at my blog archives, I was actually suffering a major crisis of faith back after the release of 3.2 too, what with everyone getting herded into Trial of the Crusader while I still had unfinished business in Ulduar. I did get that Yogg-Saron kill eventually, luckily. Leaving Trial of the Crusader's hard modes unfinished in favour of moving to ICC didn't bother me because I hated them anyway. And ICC was around for so long that I felt well and truly done with it by the time Cataclysm came out, even if I didn't kill the Lich King on heroic.

I'm not ready for tier eleven to become obsolete yet though. My guild has barely killed half the bosses on normal mode. I don't want to feel that I should go get my epics from heroics instead because that'll be more efficient.

Speaking of heroics, I have less enthusiasm for running them than ever, and it's got nothing to do with difficulty or bad pugs. Instead it's knowing that no matter how much time I put into running them to upgrade my gear now, I'll be starting over completely in only a month or two, running them again to replace all the gear that I got from them in the first place. And then again whenever 4.2 comes out. Better to not bother too much or I'll just burn myself out.

It's really rather disheartening. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a hoarder in real life and enjoy collecting things, but I always liked improving my characters, gathering gear, seeing my efforts pay off. I never expected these virtual accomplishments to last forever, but getting to enjoy them for at least a decent while used to be nice. Thing is though, Blizzard has decided that this kind of gameplay is too unfriendly towards new and returning players. People shouldn't have an advantage for having played a long time. I understand the reasoning, but when you're a loyal and dedicated player yourself, it kind of sucks.

I've been continually subscribed to WoW for four and a half years now, with no interruptions. I used to enjoy watching my stable of alts grow and gear up. But lately... it just feels like I'm treading water and not getting anywhere. That nice gear I worked my arse off to get raid-ready is vendor trash only a few months later. To stay up to date you've either got to work harder, grind more, be better, so you can always push the edge of progression before Blizzard decides to trash the content... or you can give up trying until the next patch, when you'll be able to get access to all the same things with only a minimum of effort anyway.

The other day I looked at my subscription status page for the first time in years and saw that my game's currently paid until May anyway. Still, I'm seriously starting to wonder. I don't think that WoW has become a bad game, but it might have become less of a game that I want to play every day. I know that many people would say that it's always been a treadmill, but I used to feel that I was at least gaining something from running that virtual treadmill - getting fitter in a metaphorical sense and becoming a player that was better (off). I just don't feel that anymore. There doesn't seem to be any benefit to loyalty anymore.


Pug tanking frustrations

I'm continuing to tank normal mode pugs with my paladin, but it's starting to get a bit tedious, and I'm not at all keen to make the jump into heroics, despite of having passed the minimum gear requirement for it the other day. I think there are mainly two things that are sapping the fun out of it for me, beyond the normal "well, it's a pug, what do you expect" factor.

The first is simply that I don't enjoy feeling like I've regressed in terms of skill. What I mean by that is that I was a pretty decent tank in late Burning Crusade, but two years of racing through Wrath heroics while AoEing everything and calling that tanking has left its mark on me. I don't know how to tank around crowd control anymore, how to best handle a pull with CC and how to avoid breaking it. The way the game has changed since BC isn't really helping either, as most of my tanking moves nowadays are one-size-hits-all AoE attacks, which makes it very easy to accidentally break something. (For example I might think that I'm fine, having maneuvered the CC target out of Hammer of the Righteous range, just to have my next Holy Wrath break it because it affects a slightly larger area. Gah!)

Maybe it's also simply too early for me to tank. Tanking has never been my primary role and in previous expansions I never really got into it until I had already run all the instances to death as healer or damage dealer and knew all the mobs and pulls by heart. I'm not quite at that point for Cataclysm yet, so when I went to tank the Lost City of the Tol'vir for the first time for example, I was scratching my head before every pull trying to figure out which of the mobs was the annoying hunter type, who was the guy that fears and so on and so forth. Often I guessed wrong and the pulls got messy.

In general I like learning new things and I don't mind dealing with failure on the way, but seeing how this is something that I know I was capable of before, it's just frustrating to struggle with it now. I do love tanking instances that I know well enough, such as the Stonecore, because I've already run it so many times that I know exactly where all the patrols are, which mobs to focus and why, and dancing with Ozruk is great fun.

The second thing that's really getting on my nerves when tanking pugs right now is that people's expectations of how a run should go are further apart than ever. This was already a topic of discussion at the end of WOTLK when people clashed about issues such as whether to kill all the bosses in an instance or just make for the final boss as quickly as possible. I got cranky over that during more than one run, but somehow it never felt like a massive issue to me.

The problem is that in current Cataclysm content, we not only have those who want all the bosses vs. those who just want their valour points, and those who want to go at a steady and safe pace vs. the gogogo people (yes, they've already made a return - sad but true); we also have people who want to use CC vs. those that think it's stupid and unnecessary, and those who know how to CC vs. those who haven't even got the right abilities on their action bars.

When tanking I've always tried to adjust to whatever the majority of the group wanted and roll with it, but with the addition of the "CC problem" this has become harder than ever, because somehow I always end up with

- at least one guy who thinks that we don't need CC, it's a waste of time and he'll refuse to accomodate it
- one guy who plays a class with easy to apply and very handy CC but will refuse to use it unless I specifically tell him to do so every pull, and then he'll cast it on a different target than the one I marked
- one guy who absolutely loves to CC and will cast it on a random target on every pull, causing hijinks when the skull suddenly turns friendly due to mind control, or I have to struggle to pull three casters out of range of a lovingly applied but unexpected hex.

In other words, not only am I unsure of what I'm doing myself, I'm somehow also expected to juggle a party of people who might not know what they are doing either, while having very strong and sometimes opposing opinions of how things should be done.

Yeah. Sorry, but sod that. I don't mind leading, but people must be willing to follow, instead of everyone doing their own thing.

I'm almost looking forward to everybody being comfortable with AoE fests again. Yes, it will be boring, but at least people will be able to agree on how we're going to play.


Coming down the mountain

Continuing my inofficial series of belated Cataclysm zone reviews, I'd like to talk about Mount Hyjal today. Like Deepholm, it was another zone that didn't leave me with a strong impression after the first playthrough. It didn't wow me like Vashj'ir did at first, and it didn't tick me off like Uldum. It was just... okay? I guess?

Once again playing through it for a second time made it easier for me to realise what I liked and what I didn't. For example, I really liked the quests in terms of pure gameplay. I don't think I can remember a single quest in Mount Hyjal that bored or frustrated me, aside from Cindermaul being a bit buggy on my first visit and causing a huge congestion in his corner of the cave as nobody could continue without having looted his tome. I also enjoyed the jousting quest line, even if it made my fingers hurt a little.

The main thing that I didn't like was that the zone felt a bit schizophrenic to me in terms of mood. I mean, I really loved the first third of it or so. You do that introductory quest to fly to Mount Hyjal from Moonglade and oh my god, there's Deathwing and Ragnaros and everything's on fire... serious business for sure. The initial quests also put a heavy emphasis on the large scale of the battle, making you battle elementals right outside the inn, getting you involved in fighting Baron Geddon (an ordinary quest that can easily kill you if you're not careful) and restoring the Shrine of Goldrinn. Phasing is used intelligently to show that you've really "won" in certain areas, such as the shrine or "The Inferno" turning into "The Regrowth".

Here and there some funnies are sprinkled in for comic relief, such as that guy who calmly hangs from the ceiling in the cave with the ogres (I was most disappointed to find that there's some kind of bug that made it impossible for me to pick up his quests on my second playthrough) or the dryad whose only concern is saving all the wee animals, but the overall tone of the quests is mostly serious.

But then, as you start getting towards the "middle" section of the mountain, I felt that implementation was starting to get a bit lackluster. The phasing seemed to stop and even after I totally kicked Twlight butt according to the quests, cultists and dragons remained all over the place. I don't actually need phasing to show me how I've changed the world to feel accomplished, but when it's done so well for the initial quests and then just stops that's rather disappointing.

It gets worse when you get to the part where you're supposed to infiltrate the Twilight cult and there's this unbelievably huge and unchanging area that's dedicated to nothing but training recruits, and all the quests are highly silly. Again, I don't mind silly fun at all and I thought the quest where you get a crowd to riot with your public speaking skills was hilarious. But to me, it just didn't fit with the rest of the zone. One moment I'm involved in a serious battle against elemental lords, the next I'm in the middle of a slapstick comedy about incompetent cultists? Meh.

Once you're done with this chain, the zone then goes back to serious business and I actually really liked the final quest to beat Ragnaros with the help of Cenarius and the two archdruids, as it didn't feel to me as if the NPCs were doing all the work for me and there are a variety of things to pay attention to instead of your character just nuking the boss. It's just a shame that getting there involved such a long and bumpy road.

In summary: a zone with fun quests, but the heavy focus on story doesn't always work as its tone and execution are fairly inconsistent.


Rated battlegrounds... harumph

About ten days ago I wrote about doing some PvP and how I had been enjoying a couple of rated battlegrounds. Since then Gevlon has written about how he thinks that the rated battleground system is a big failure, and I'm afraid I have to admit that he might be on to something this time. The parts that I enjoyed about it in the past weeks - the socialising and learning together - are still there, but the game itself hasn't been very supportive of making our matches a fun experience.

Tonight we got together to play some rated matches again and it was pretty damn terrible. Our only decent game was the first one, a Twin Peaks battle that ended with a nil-nil draw and the timer running out - which was sort of tedious in its own way, but I didn't mind too much because there are definitely worse things than playing against a team whose ability is so even to yours that you end up with a stalemate. For example... getting pitted against teams whose average rating is more than six times that of your own team, which is what happened for the rest of the night.

Ten minutes wait for each match, and then about fifteen to twenty minutes of desperate flailing about as our healers got focused over and over again, while our damage dealers struggled to make a dent in people whose gear was so good that they could keep themselves up against a full nuke from us by using nothing but their class-specific self-healing abilities. I was nothing but relieved by the time we called it a night.

I don't mind losing, as long as I feel that we at least stood a chance. It's fun to learn new strategies and consider what we could have done better. But being outclassed by people way out of our league and receiving trashing after trashing for over two hours is just demoralising and teaches you little. I mean, this kind of thing can happen in an arena match too, but then you usually die within two minutes, go "Huh, what was that?" and move on to the next game. The way the process gets drawn out in battlegrounds is a lot harder to deal with. And are you really telling me that those were the best matches that the game could come up with for us all night?

Of course, getting Twin Peaks three out of four times didn't help to make the evening any more entertaining either. I can't blame Blizzard for trying to downsize more battlegrounds to tens, because getting the same "random" battleground over and over is pretty damn boring.

I have to admit I was kind of hoping that rated battlegrounds would turn out to be an "in-between" stage between normal battlegrounds and arena in terms of difficulty, but the way it looks right now they might end up being even more exclusive and hardcore than arena.


Revenge of the search terms

Been a while since I did one of these, and people have found their way to this blog with quite a few, erm, "interesting" search terms since then.

big tongues - I do hope that whoever came here for these was looking for articles about the Oracles in Sholazar Basin, and not... you know, other things.

can a priest be your friend - Of course! I'll be your friend!

cast into a pit of bees wow pug dungeon blog - I think you're looking for the Murloc Parliament. I wouldn't call them a "pug dungeon blog", but they certainly cast people into their bee pit if they piss them off.

days of thunder headlamp roleplayer us for master toast given here - ... Excuse me?

dead kings vs druids - My money would be on the druids simply for not being dead.

dragon age bad pug - A multiplayer mode for Dragon Age would certainly be interesting... or you could consider the entire adventuring party in it a bad pug I guess, considering how much they bitch at each other at times.

dungeon finder bang script - I got up to "bang" and then my brain shut down.

get gabbin or get going - Shut up! Nobody talks like that!

got loremaster now what - Now you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done and then focus on a different part of the game... or unsubscribe. I'm kind of surprised you have to ask...

heroic gnomer - Ack no, don't give them ideas!

how come silithus wasn't shattered - Have you ever been to the place? It's all sand and rocks, hard to make that look any worse.

how to stop ranting - Tell me if you find out!

is there any way for a holy priest to not be so squishy - Yes, it's called "rerolling paladin".

jaina and sylvanas slash - The sad thing is, I'm almost intrigued. I can hardly think of two women in the Warcraft universe who could possibly be any less friendly with each other.

monasteryporn - ... Of course I'm making it worse now by reposting this here.

my priest doesn't speak english - Neither does mine, but she's fluent in Troll and Orcish.

orgrimmar has changed and i have no idea where to go anymore - Aw, I know the feeling. Don't be disheartened; see it as an opportunity to explore the game as if you were a newbie again. Just ask the guards for information, or even general chat if you're desperate. You'll quickly find that many important facilities are actually more convenient to access than ever before.

proxy lama - Hm, that's one kind of llama I don't know. Will one of these do instead?

stop ranting - No!

taelan big butt - Hang on, are we talking about the same Taelan here? The son of Tirion Fordring that joined the Scarlet Crusade and died tragically after he finally turned his back on them? Why in the world are you concerning yourself with the size of his rear?

the lich king killed my computer - The bastard! With any luck he'll resurrect it as more powerful than before though.

varian and jaina get together spoilers - Won't someone think of the poor people looking at their Google Analytics? Maybe they don't want to be spoiled?

when are the most people online in my guild? - Do you really think Google will know the answer to that?

zul'farrak heroic - Now this I could get behind. Hmm, heroic pyramid event...


Balancing stubbornness and flexibility for progression

Back in our twenty-five-man days (and oh, does it feel weird to talk like that) we had an excellent raid leader for several years. He really did a great job most of the time, and the occasions when I disagreed with his strategic decisions were pretty rare. When I did disagree however, the thing that I usually tended to get annoyed with was how seemingly stubborn he could be about going through with his plans no matter what. Every wipe felt like such a huge waste of time then. Why couldn't he see that this obviously wasn't going to work and let us do things a different way already?

Sometimes I was right; sometimes I was wrong and his strategy actually worked just fine. The only point I'm trying to make is that I didn't like what felt like an insistence on doing things the same way over and over, even if we had already wiped a few times. I didn't understand it. Lately I'm developing a whole new appreciation for this line of thinking however...

Our current raid leader is made of a very different cloth and very open to suggestions. I thought that this would be a great thing! I'd just tell him what to do if I noticed a problem, he'd follow my advice and everything would be peachy! Yeeeah, right. Aside from the fact that I'm obviously not always right, there are still eight other people in the raid who also have opinions that are often conflicting. While we're civilised enough to not shout each other down or anything of the like, I'm quickly finding that "let's just try out all kinds of different ideas in rapid succession" actually feels much worse than stubbornly following the same strategy for try after try.

Last night for example we had a pretty bad raid. We had a new drake combo on Halfus Wyrmbreaker and didn't get him down. Worse though, I felt that we didn't learn anything from all the wiping, or at least I didn't, and that's because we kept changing strategy every couple of attempts. Two tanks, three tanks, two dragons out at once, one dragon out at once, dps interrupting Halfus, all dps on the dragon, and so on and so forth.

The problem from my point of view was that I couldn't even tell what was and wasn't working by the time we changed strategies yet again. The thing is, most players will make mistakes, and often they can be completely unrelated to the actual strategy. If someone misses a crucial interrupt, that fact might be related to the strategy, depending on what else that person is supposed to be doing, but it could also just be a random botch. Same with things like a healer forgetting to heal themselves, a damage dealer pulling aggro or a tank taunting at the wrong time. You won't know unless you keep trying to see whether a pattern emerges or if it was just random.

People are particularly prone to making mistakes like that when they are learning a new fight, because they have to pay attention to a lot of things at once that aren't part of their muscle memory yet. And whenever you change the strategy, you force them to learn something new yet again, leading to more chances for random mess-ups... and so the spiral goes on and on, as people get more and more confused about what exactly they are supposed to do this attempt, make more random mistakes, and the raid leader decides yet again that we should probably try something else because clearly this strategy isn't working either as people keep messing up. Never mind that we wiped after twenty seconds because the tank disconnected, not because of anything related to the actual strategy.

Or I don't know, maybe I'm just particularly sensitive to this kind of thing as a healer because healing is such a balancing act right now. As I said before, I'm happy to run myself oom early on during a new fight and then slowly throttle the healing on subsequent attempts to see how much mana I can conserve without letting people die. However, if damage patterns change on every attempt, if I have to move a lot while healing three tanks and on the next attempt there is heavy AoE on top of only two tanks... I just can't get a grip on anything. Last night I actually started to have more mana problems as the night went on, because things started to feel more and more unpredictable and I was just panicking about people dying.

At this point I was really just longing for someone to put their foot down and say "this is how we do it", and even if it's not the best strategy there is, we can at least practice it. I'd rather master a strategy that is less than ideal than discard ten others just because they don't lead to miracles after two attempts.

Clearly it doesn't matter how our raid leaders handle things: I'll always find something to complain about.


Deepholm is not so bad

I felt the need to write about Vashj'ir and Uldum after I first quested through them, but not about Mount Hyjal, Deepholm and Twilight Highlands for some reason. There was nothing terribly wrong with them, but there also wasn't anything that left enough of an impression on me to make me want to write about these zones while I was still distracted by the levelling experience as a whole. Now that I'm going through the those same zones again on my alts however, I'm trying to formulate a bit more of an opinion on their questing.

I have to admit, my first impression of Deepholm was largely one of "ew". Some people have compared it to Outland, what with the floating rocks and all, but even though I love Outland in general, I was never particularly fond of the really darkly coloured zones there (Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley) either. Deepholm is worse because it doesn't even have Outland's beautiful skies. In fact, it has no sky because it's effectively a huge cave. I hate caves in WoW.

With that in mind, I wasn't exactly predisposed to like the zone. In fact, my dislike incrased when I realised while levelling my first alt that Deepholm was a bit of a bottleneck in terms of questing. At eighty, you can choose between going to Mount Hyjal or Vashj'ir, and around eighty-four you can choose between Uldum and Twilight Highlands. But around eighty-two or so, when you've completed the first Cataclysm starter zone of your choice, your options feel kind of limited. Yes, you could do the other starter zone, but the mobs will feel weak and the quest rewards likely won't get you any upgrades. At the same time going to Deepholm and unlocking Therazane for the shoulder enchants (which are not BoA yet) is a bit of a must. A choice that is so obviously biased towards one option is not much of a choice.

However, once I overcame those reservations and actually played through Deepholm a second time, I was pleasantly surprised. It doesn't apply many of the "revolutionary" new techniques that bugged me in other zones, such as cut scenes or forcing the player through a wonky storyline. The phasing is comparatively subtle, you spend a lot of time flying around and killing things the old-fashioned way, and the whole thing about having to repair the rift between the planes actually feels like a serious threat (as opposed to being ship-wrecked or captured by pygmies). Also, while the progression through the zone is still very linear, it doesn't feel quite as bad as in other zones, simply because it's not underlined by the geography. Or in other words, you get sent all over the place instead of slowly meandering from mini hub to mini hub, never to return to where you were before. I never thought that I'd long for the experience of quests making me run around, but there you go.

Other things that the zone has going for it are the fact that Therazane is one hell of a woman, her daily quest hub is quite solid if you like doing daily quests (like I do) and, of course, Pebble. Who'd have thought that you could create such a thing as a cute rock?

I did have a couple of quests bug out on me in annoying ways during my first playthrough, but the second time around things mostly went smoothly. Except for Quicksilver Submersion. A quest that forces you to hide in a very specific but not specified spot barely out of aggro range of some killer elites just to overhear a conversation is just poor design.


Dabbling in holy priest PvP

I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of PvP, but lately I've been giving it a try again, mainly for socially motivated reasons. Cataclysm has heralded the return of several guildies of mine that had stopped playing in late WOTLK, and while they are very dear to me, they aren't really interested in doing PvE content (anymore). Getting stun-locked every so often still feels like a small price to pay to have an excuse to spend some time with them.

While I've acquired a few pieces of PvP gear, I'm playing in my holy PvE spec, only occasionally swapping some glyphs around - I should really do that more often in fact, but I tend to forget because it's simply not something that I'm used to doing on a regular basis. I have no idea what the expert opinion on holy priest PvP is at the moment, but my overall impression is that it's less sucky than it used to be. Discipline might still be superior, but at least holy has some fun tools to play with such as Body and Soul - which is great for helping flag carriers along and to generally escape from attackers - and Holy Word: Chastise. Forget Chakra states for PvP, enjoy being able to stun someone briefly every 17.5 seconds (with two points in Tome of Light)! PvP is also the only content where I've really got any use out of Leap of Faith so far, again mostly to help flag carriers along... but I still don't use it as often as I should because I somehow feel bad about yanking other people around. It may be done with good intentions, but I know how much I hate being pulled around by death knights and I'm not sure people will like it that much more just because it's being done by an ally.

An old warrior friend convinced me to do some 2v2 arena with him, something I hadn't done since late Burning Crusade. For all the changes made to healing and health pools, the way our games play out doesn't feel much different from how things used to go three years ago. Whoever we end up facing will ignore my warrior friend except to apply some crowd control and then try to kill me. Even in the games that we win I often die, but some healing from Spirit of Redemption (another useful PvP ability, who'd have thought) and the insane self-healing that warriors have at the moment can still be enough to tip the scales in our favour.

The reward system for arenas has improved a thousand-fold since BC times, however. Back then you got arena points regardless of whether you won or lost. Of course you got more for winning, but unless you were particularly competitive you didn't really care about that because everyone could get all the gear eventually anyway. Later they introduced rating requirements for some items, but that didn't change things all that much for me either. Plus, you still needed to play at least ten games a week to get anything at all, and then you had to wait for your "point pay check" to arrive at the end of the week, which gave the whole thing a very chore-like feel in my eyes.

With the new system you only get points if you actually win, which I found does wonders for my motivation, because if we lose I actually have a tangible incentive to do better. You also receive the points right after you earned them and can immediately go out and spend them on something fun.

We've also been participating in some rated battlegrounds. Even though there is little to no reward for me in those, seeing how I reach my weekly conquest point cap much more easily through the arena matches, I've been enjoying them quite a bit. To me it's a bit like a reverse of the development that I've seen in PvE content, where there's been a shift from guild groups towards anonymous pugging for a while, even if it's been halted a bit with the release of Cataclysm. In PvP I never used to bother with premades and only did random battlegrounds with a friend or two (and always thought that they were absolute cesspits). Doing rated battlegrounds with a premade group is a great exercise in team play however, and I never have to worry about randomly being abandoned by the dps whose butts I just saved or finding that I'm the only one even trying to achieve the battleground's goals.

Since we haven't been able to put an entire rated team together within the guild it's also a good way of rekindling connections to the server community at large. Our PvP organiser has a pretty sizable list of friends from different guilds, and I have to say I kind of enjoy being out and about for a bit, encountering different attitudes and play styles. It just feels "healthy" somehow, in the same way that it's healthy to mingle with different kinds of people in real life.

Difficulty-wise rated battlegrounds are quite intense though, and on our first night we only won two games where the system bugged out and gave us no opponents, resulting in considerable spam of "flawless victory"-type achievements. All the other games we lost. Two days ago we already did a lot better though, actually scoring a couple of genuine victories as well. It's a learning process, but just like in a raid it's beautiful to see things come together in the end.