Friday Night Fever

Since I was very enthusiastic about getting back into WoW, I threw myself into a bunch of pugs last night, and - as if through a miracle - there was at least one aspect about each of them that made me happy.

Things started in heroic Stonecore with my hunter. The run wasn't exactly amazing, but we actually had a tank who was friendly and talked to the rest of the party instead of just silently ploughing through things. When we wiped on Ozruk, nobody got mad and instead we discussed what went wrong. When we wiped a second time, the dps death knight said, "okay, can someone explain to me how I avoid getting killed here because clearly I'm not getting it", and everyone piped up with helpful explanations. People being happy to teach others and willing to discuss strategy? Be still, my heart.

Then I decided to tackle my biggest challenge for the evening: since I was home alone and had plenty of time, I was going to tank a Zul heroic pug on my druid. Lady RNG decided to put me into Zul'Gurub. Admittedly the run didn't start out too great: we had a couple of wipes on trash and people kept dropping out. However, I had pretty much expected this and wasn't really fazed by it. I was the tank, I knew this place, and I was going to finish the instance. I didn't care if other people chickened out at the drop of a hat, after all I could always requeue for replacements. (My favourite was the healer who rage-quit after I pulled a named trash mob that most of the party - including the guy himself - needed for their quest but that he didn't want to kill for some reason. I mean, seriously?)

As we approached Mandokir, the group finally started to settle down. We now had a paladin healer who confessed that it was his first time in the instance but who did a fabulous job anyway, a dps warrior from my server with whom I bonded quite quickly ("Earthen Ring pug power!"), a hunter and... I forget what the last dpser was, either a warlock or a shadow priest. We killed the next couple of bosses without any major problems and I got a nice pair of new healing leggings.

Jin'do was where things eventually got hairy and we had a couple of wipes. They didn't feel too bad to me though, if that makes sense, as we always got pretty close to beating the encounter and there didn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with what people were doing. We only had to reset phase one once, after the paladin had stood outside of the deadzone and died, which he sheepishly explained with a friend distracting him at the worst possible moment. Most of us just laughed it off.

The hunter however started to get increasingly cranky, always blaming the healer for everything that went wrong. Finally he declared that the next attempt was going to be his last one and that the paladin should better not mess this one up. Then the hunter himself botched it by standing in the wrong place and wasting a body slam, and we wiped again. He raged some more, but I just said, "Wasn't this going to be your last attempt?" He responded by shouting "fine, do it without me then" and left the group. We got another hunter as replacement, and downed the boss easily on the next attempt. Funny how it's always the pompous gits who end up holding everyone else back. Jin'do rewarded me with a nice new tanking weapon as well, which was welcome as I had had terrible luck with heroic weapon drops and was still using an ilevel 333 blue.

Still, that run had taken over two hours and I wanted something more relaxing now, so I decided to tank one of the old heroics on my paladin next. I got dropped into heroic Throne of the Tides, with the rest of the party already zoned in at the entrance, which gave me the impression that their previous tank had left as soon as he saw where he had landed. What is it with tanks dropping from that one as soon as they see it? I've definitely noticed that one happening quite a lot. And it's not even a particularly hard instance or anything... When the rest of the party started chatting, I noticed that they were all in the same guild. I commented on this as a positive fact and they joked that I should wait with getting too excited until I saw their dps. I didn't care though, I was just happy to be playing with a group of people who were bound to be interested in working together.

We killed the boss that most pugs skip since one of the guildies still had the quest to save Erunak, and he was very pleased. I had fun educating the mage about the wonders of spellsteal when applied to the swell buff. On the last boss things got kind of messy when I died just before the last sapper was killed (not sure whose fault it was really) and at least one of the dpsers had trouble targetting the giant squid. In the end everyone was dead except for the warlock, who easily took care of Ozumat's remaining health and stayed alive through massive self-heals. I also got rewarded with a new chest for my healing gear, which was a nice cherry on top of what had already been a very pleasant run filled with friendly banter.

Up next I ran a quick normal with my shaman. We got Grim Batol and it was a pretty smooth and uneventful run. What impressed me at the end however was that there were two need rolls on each of the two drops from the last boss, but then both winners traded the item to the other person because "it's your main spec" and "I think this is better for you than for me". Quite a change from the usual greed and selfishness that has people needing on stuff they don't even want just for the gold.

I decided to finish up the night with a random heroic on my death knight. (Fun fact: I started gearing up my shaman and my death knight at the same time, but while my death knight has been running heroics for some time now, my shaman is still stuck in normals because even though I'd technically be allowed to queue her for heroics, I'm still having such massive mana issues that I simply don't dare. The joys of being a tank or healer vs. being a damage dealer...) I got Stonecore again, and while this run wasn't as good as the previous ones, it was still alright. I got another upgrade and saw the Reins of the Vitreous Stone Drake drop for the third time or so, though I didn't win them.

There was one funny moment when we managed to get nearly everything in the hallway behind Corborus at once, everyone but the tank and healer died, and mere moments after the healer had resed the warlock afterwards, the poor guy got killed again by a bunch of Rock Borers that spawned right on top of him. He started swearing in all caps and for a moment I wasn't sure what to think since it sounded pretty angry to me, but then everyone just started laughing like crazy and eventually I couldn't help it either. Let me tell you, it's a pretty strange feeling to sit in front of your PC and giggle at your screen like a lunatic...

That concluded my night of pugging and in all honesty, I was pretty damn satisfied. It's good to have that kind of experience every now and then, considering how much doom and gloom about the state of the WoW community is going around, just to remind you that it's actually not all that bad.


12 days without WoW

So, I mentioned at the end of my last post that I was going on holiday. I did, and I am now back! I'm fairly poor and don't get to go on holidays often, but I was still somewhat surprised when I realised that this was the first time since I started playing WoW that I was going to be away from the game for over a week, as well as from the internet in general. I mean, that's kind of crazy if you think about it, isn't it? Logging on to a game almost every day for over four and a half years! Not even moving to a different country disconnected me from things for that long.

As it happened, my subscription was due for renewal only a few days before I was going to leave, so I decided to let it run out and then renew it after coming back. No sense in paying for the game while I wasn't going to be around, right? The only problem was that since my subscription had been running continuously for years, I didn't know how to cancel it and couldn't find an option on the account management page to do so.

I did some research on this and it was rather... interesting. I found a couple of old forum threads on the subject and they were bordering somewhere on the edge between amusing and insulting. Basically, someone would ask where the link to cancel your subscription was located, and people would respond as if the poster was stupid. "It's right there!" they would say, sometimes even including screenshots, but these certainly didn't match my own screen. Yes, I'm sure that I do have a subscription; I've had it for over four years. No, I don't have any pending payments. And no, I do not have a cancel subscription link! The best theory I saw someone come up with was that Blizzard has been sloppy with transferring really old subs onto Battle.net and that's where this problem originates. I don't know, it made more sense than anything else. Fortunately I realised in the end that I could simply delete my credit card information and stop the payments that way, but the whole thing still felt slightly awkward to me.

You might think that someone who's been playing the same game with such regularity for four and a half years must be pretty addicted to it. However, I'm quite happy to say that my holiday was pretty good evidence of the opposite, because I didn't really miss WoW at all. I had two dreams that featured the game during that time, and I occasionally wondered how some of my guildies were doing (as people, not necessarily in the game), but that was it. I did miss the internet in general however. Not having internet access these days when you're used to it is just annoying. I saw some statues that I couldn't identify while in town and I knew that the internet would have been able to enlighten me, but of course I couldn't check. I actually had to read the newspaper and listen to the radio to get access to any kind of news, and they often only offered limited coverage of the things that I was actually interested in. Outrageous!

So while I had a good time during my holiday, I was also happy to be back home and have my computer back afterwards. I immediately checked my guild's forums to make sure that nothing too bad had happened in my absence, but I actually hesitated a little when it came to resubscribing to WoW. I thought it was telling that I hadn't missed the game for its own sake, and it had been kind of nice to devote more of my downtime to other things in its absence, such as reading. Also, the latest bunch of WoW-related news that I had glimpsed since my return hadn't exactly been encouraging either. (More premium services? Massive raid nerfs? Meh.) However, in the end I also had to admit that spending all my evenings reading had got a bit boring in the past week as well, and I really wanted to play with my guildies again.

So I tried to resub, and Blizz wouldn't let me.

Oh, now you're on! Whatever doubts I had had momentarily, they immediately vanished as I furiously wanted to subscribe to the game again simply because I wasn't allowed to. In specific, it kept rejecting my credit card for no discernible reason, and after three attempts I got locked out of trying again for the day. Who knows why? This morning it went through just fine, and I was actually rather happy to log back in. The graphics seemed crisper than ever, and I even enjoyed slipping back into my guild admin duties, dealing with some of the guild finder requests that had piled up in my absence. Having habits is not a bad thing as long as you remain aware of them.


Normals are where it's at

My last post was about a very enjoyable normal mode dungeon run, and normals have continued to deliver in terms of fun. My last couple of heroics have been... okay, though a bit bewildering in a way. I've become more confident in my paladin tanking abilities again, but the better I understand what's going on, the more I end up being confused by the things other players do. One pull ago that hunter was happy to trap the square, why is he now trapping the skull and nuking the cross? Just why am I soloing Ozruk and Asaad for their last ten percent because everyone else somehow managed to get themselves killed? It's even funnier when I'm the only one who gets the dungeon achievement popping up at the end, shouldn't the others have known better already?

But normals, normals are cool. The other night the dungeon finder put me into a cross-server party in normal Halls of Origination that meshed so well that we ended up sticking together for several more runs in a row, and I would have gone on even longer if it hadn't been so late already. It immediately struck me how much less likely I would have been to have that kind of experience in a heroic. Not because there's no chance of meeting nice and skilled people in heroics - though The Grumpy Elf recently made a point about thoughtful dpsers being more likely to stay in normals to learn the ropes, and I've made the same observation. But heroics just throw too many people with completely different goals together. I mean, what are the chances that a heroic tank will like his random damage dealers enough to give up his satchel in favour of requeueing with them instead of alone?

There's been some discussion about player segregation lately (I particularly liked this post by Kleps), and I think normal mode instances at max level are a great example of how well it works when you do make sure to limit content to a certain group of players, and this has nothing to do with elitism. Normal instances have a minimum requirement to enter, and a point where you'll usually want to stop running them - probably once your gear (and hopefully skill) are good enough for heroics. But it's not just gear level that unites people, it's also overlapping goals. Basically, everyone who's running normals has two goals: learning how to perform their role in this particular instance and in general, and gearing up. The latter can be divided into sub-goals such as accumulating justice points, getting boss drops, completing instance quests and gaining faction rep, but the important point is that none of these are at odds with each other.

Compare this to a heroic, where you won't just have people who've never done the instance before mixed with those who could do it in their sleep and expect the same from everyone else, you'll also have a pretty harsh divide between those who only want the last boss (for their satchel, valour points or the chaos orb) and those who want to do something closer to a full clear of the instance (be it for drops, justice points, reputation or achievements). While there are more reasons to be in the latter group, they become obsolete much more quickly, while the former motivators last for quite a while. In the end this means that the chances of everyone in the group wanting the same things are pretty small, as there'll always be people who want one or the other.

I really wonder how much heroics would improve if Blizzard removed all the mechanics that make it desirable to go straight for the last boss and ignore everything else. As it stands, it seems to me that your chances to have a truly enjoyable run are much higher in a normal mode instance simply because you don't have that kind of incentive there.

The only downside of normal modes right now is that there simply aren't enough of them. In fact, at level 85 there are only three: Lost City of the Tol'vir, Halls of Origination and Grim Batol. If there aren't enough max level players online to queue for them, you might also find yourself in Stonecore and Vortex Pinnacle due to being grouped with a lower level character, but the loot there is lower level too and not very desirable once you've hit 85. Burning Crusade was released with seven normal mode instances as max level, WOTLK cut it down to only four, and now we're down to three. Rotating between those same three over and over gets old quickly even while playing with nice people; no wonder that players just want to jump into heroics as quickly as possible.

(P.S.: There won't be any updates for about ten days or so since I'm going on holiday for a little over a week. Just so nobody thinks that I've suddenly stopped playing!)


Gogogo indeed

It's been a while since I had a pug that simply made me happy, so when it unexpectedly happened last night, I was left with an urge to share.

Basically, it was gone one a.m. in the UK here, and for some reason I was wide awake, so I decided to log back onto WoW and heal a normal random on my shaman. I was rather surprised that the dungeon finder couldn't even give me an estimated waiting time, and as I saw icons light up and go dark again while the system tried to put a group together, I noticed that we were short on dps of all things. Fancy that. Still, in the end it didn't take longer than a few minutes until a full party had been formed and I found myself zoning into Grim Batol.

I have to admit that I had a good feeling about the run right away when one of the other party members made me crack a smile by responding to my greeting of "evening" with "morning". That's one way to look at it, isn't it?

I made a fool out of myself early on by accidentally aggroing a group of mobs that we didn't have to fight at all, but the death knight tank picked them up with no issues, I apologised and it was all good. As we were making our way towards Throngus, I suddenly noticed one of the damage dealers typing "hurry" in chat. "What are you in a hurry for at this time of night?", I was tempted to ask... but then I scrolled up and saw what had triggered his sudden sense of urgency:

[SERVER] Shutdown in 15:00

Aw, crap! I've been living in the UK for over a year now but I still forget about the one hour time difference to CET sometimes, and it's also been a while since I was actually online just before server maintenance time anyway. Okay, so this was only normal mode, but we had only killed one out of four bosses so far; what were the chances that we could finish in less than fifteen minutes?

It seemed that everyone was willing to take their chances. We skipped what trash we could, though we once got an extra group anyway and our hunter died. I saw him release and was hesitating whether it would be more time efficient to res him or to let him run back, but the warlock saved me from having to make a decision by using his soulstone to combat res the hunter. (They can be used after the person has died now? Awesome!)

Our pulls seemed to get faster, and I dropped mana tide on cooldown to save myself from having to drink. Fortunately people had bombed very efficiently during the dragon flight, so we didn't have a whole lot of trash left to kill anyway. When we got to Drahga, it looked for a moment as if one or two group members were just going to run past him, but the tank pulled the boss anyway.

"Do you think we can make it?" he said as he hit Drahga in the face with his big two-hander. I looked at the timer. Seven minutes to go. "Hell yes!" I replied.

People took care of the adds swiftly and didn't stand in the bad. That's one of the nice things about pugging in the middle of the night, nobody queues up for a run at that time unless they are both confident in what they are doing and actually enjoy running dungeons.

We continued straight on to mow through the trash before the last boss. Four minutes to go. "Gogogogo," said the hunter... and for what I think might have been the first time ever, I actually thought that this was perfectly appropriate. After all, we were in a race, and so it didn't so much sound like a patronising command to the tank as an encouraging battle cry directed at the entire party.

A Faceless Corruptor was still trailing after the tank when he pulled Erudax. I hit bloodlust and I reckon that everyone else mashed their cooldowns like mad as well. When the add came in, I didn't see anyone go for it, with people focusing on a quick burn instead, seeing how the boss was already low. (In any other group I would have assumed that they were simply playing badly, but this party had already convinced me that they knew damn well what they were doing.) I made sure to frost shock the add to keep it slowed and buy us a few more seconds. And then, just before it could finish hatching any eggs... dungeon complete! With about one minute to go until server shutdown as well.

People briefly congratulated each other on a job well done, rolled on the loot and then left. No time left for any idle chatter after all. Still, I logged off happily. Sometimes challenges can arise in the strangest of places and at the strangest of times - but it's great when you've got a group that's willing to tackle them with enthusiasm.


Crowd control changes in 4.2

I generally prefer not to talk too much about upcoming features because I'm someone who's fairly focused on the present. In fact it bugs me when blogs or podcasts (whose main purpose isn't to just report the hottest news) do nothing but give opinions on things that aren't even released yet. After a while it starts to feel as if they're not even playing the same game as me anymore - usually because they literally aren't and are just spending all their time on the PTR... but I digress before I've even started.

There is one feature of the upcoming 4.2 patch that I wanted to talk about, namely the change to crowd control aggro mechanics. In a nutshell, almost all methods of crowd control will now work like sap and not cause surrounding mobs to aggro. This is a pretty big change if you ask me, and I'm surprised that I haven't seen more backlash in response to it, or any kind of commentary at all. Then again, maybe I'm just not looking in the right places.

I have to admit, part of me is definitely a little peeved. It's silly. We all know that mobs don't display a lot of intelligence to begin with and are very short-sighted, but at least rogues not getting aggro after sapping made a little bit of sense. Sap is not a big flashy effect after all, and the rogue remains in stealth afterwards. With their bad eyesight, it's no wonder that the mobs don't notice if their companion's eyes have glazed over, and even if they did notice it's not as if they could pinpoint the origin of the problem. However, if my hunter sticks a freezing arrow into a guy and turns him into a massive ice block and the surrounding mobs still don't react, that adds a whole new level of ridiculousness to it in my opinion. It makes me sad how the devs don't even seem to consider immersion in relation to game mechanics anymore.

Also, yes, it is dumbing down the game and I think Zarhym's arguments in favour of the change are appallingly poor. Players have been able to cope with crowd control causing aggro for years, but now it's suddenly too difficult? He also says that "there are basically two choices: make the dungeons so easy that they don’t require communication, or make the communication easier", implying that this change is the latter, when it is in fact the former. Making it so that crowd control doesn't aggro the group anymore does nothing if not remove the need for communication.

Right now my hunter can't really trap a mob without communicating at least at a minimum level. If I just start the pull with a trap, without the tank having agreed to it, he's likely going to be unpleasantly surprised and pissed. On the other hand, if the tank just pulls without having acknowledged that he's in favour of using CC, I'll have a hard time trapping as mobs are likely to be moved around, get hit by AoE etc. We have to come to an agreement and work together. With this new system, everyone will be equally independent of each other. I'll be able to just run up to a pull, trap something, and then let everyone else sort their crap out. Hurrah for independence. I think it's pretty sad when having to talk to other players in an MMO gets described as an unnecessary "logistical challenge".

With all that complaining out of the way... I'm actually not opposed to this change, simply because I know the realities of the dungeon finder. I mentioned only a few days ago that while I like crowd control in general, I'm glad to be back to everyone AoEing everything for the most part. How does that make sense?

The thing is, I do like CC, I do like difficult dungeons and I do like having to co-ordinate things. I was over the moon during those first weeks of Cataclysm when everyone actually ran heroics in guild groups, we made our way to the instance the old-fashioned way to summon in the one guy who hadn't discovered the entrance yet, and we spent hours wiping in heroic Grim Batol without even completing it. It was almost like being back in Burning Crusade! Almost.

Unfortunately, there were still things that were different: the dungeon finder, the daily random dungeon reward, the developers' changed attitudes... and fact of the matter is, these things didn't mix well with trying to go back to the BC era in other aspects. I liked Burning Crusade era dungeons best, but WOTLK was okay in its own way. However, the way Blizzard has tried to mix and match aspects of both expansions in the new Cataclysm instances has unfortunately been neither here nor there, leaving fans of either style somewhat disappointed I believe.

With that experience in mind, knowing that the devs are in love with the dungeon finder and its anonymous instant teleports, I realised that we'll never really be able to go back to the way instances worked in Burning Crusade. This leaves us with the alternatives of "okay" WOTLK runs or the annoying mish-mash that has been Cataclysm's style lately, and in that case I think I prefer them to just let us go back towards the silent and easy runs. The 4.2 CC change is perfectly in line with that. You can't very well support grouping without communication and then throw a wrench into the works by having one mechanic that absolutely requires people to talk to each other.

So I'll be happy to just place my traps whenever, and when I'm tanking I'll just let dps figure out their own crowd control if they want to use any - either way the other players' actions won't be my business anymore and I can live with that. Though I think that there's a chance that the average run might not change that much anyway, based on what I see with rogues and sap right now: either the rogue doesn't ever use it anyway, or if they do, the tank will inevitably make a beeline for the sapped target and break it, so I pretty much expect the other crowd controls to end up being treated the same way.

I just don't like the idea of pretending that it all makes perfect sense because bonking someone on the head from stealth is totally the same as turning them into a sheep in plain sight, or that it's somehow not going to affect the difficulty of the instances.


School of Not-So-Hard Knocks

Let me start off by saying that I think that the School of Hard Knocks is a very badly designed achievement. I thought so when I first saw its requirements; I thought so even more when I read people's accounts of how it was giving them a terrible time year after year. One of my friends even quit the game for several months after he had failed to get the achievement despite of hours of trying. For these reasons I decided that I wasn't even going to bother; I wasn't going to support what I considered an inane achievement by working towards it. I got all the other Children's Week achievements, just not this one.


This year, I read this post by Vidyala and these posts by Cynwise, and they gave me reason to pause. Cynwise in particular impressed me, because here we have someone who is a dedicated PvPer, the kind of person whom you'd expect to hate this achievement the most, seeing how it fills up the battlegrounds with tons of people who don't actually want to pvp... and yet he has retained an amazingly positive attitude towards the whole thing, and not in a "yay, I get to gank some noobs" kind of way either. Not only is he encouraging people, telling them that it's all very doable, he also comes across as believing that it's doable without actually hindering your own team - the one fear that has been putting me off this achievement more than anything else.

So I decided to give it a try after all. I'm not completely inexperienced in PvP and actually have pretty decent gear for current levels, so it's not as if the battlegrounds themselves scared me. But some of those tasks required for the achievement... returning the flag in Warsong Gulch? I'm a healer, for god's sake, my job is to protect our flag carrier, not to chase the enemy. Can my role in the battle be any more diametrically opposed to what Blizzard wants me to do? How stupid. But well, no harm in trying, and I vowed to myself that I would not do anything outright stupid just to gain those achievement points. I wanted to see if it was indeed possible to get it done while playing the "proper" way.

Unsurprisingly, Arathi Basin was by far the easiest one, as base assaults are something that happens frequently throughout the game and no class or role is at a massive disadvantage while making them. In fact, I only had to ride straight out of the gate and up to the farm flag. Only one other person tried to go for it, and I managed to start capping about half a second faster. Done! I hung around for the rest of the game of course, and it didn't seem much different from the way Arathi Basin matches usually go. Bases changed ownership reasonably often, but then they always do. And Horde won, as we almost always do in this battleground. Nice.

Alterac Valley was one that I expected to be very difficult, considering that there are only four bunkers to assault, they rarely get retaken, and there were thirty-nine other people in the battleground who might potentially be competing with me. To make things even worse, Healbot pretty much crashed my game the moment I zoned in, since it couldn't cope with so many people in one place after the recent patch. By the time I had managed to disable it and the game was in a playable state again, the rest of the team was already halfway across the map. Not good.

I more or less got trapped in a defensive position, dying a few times and feeling rather unhappy when it started to look like it was going to be another one of those games where the Alliance perpetually choked everyone trying to go north off at Iceblood, slowly grinding the defence into paste as they advanced towards Drek'thar. Never mind achievements, that kind of thing is just painful.

However, after a while I noticed that the Alliance assault didn't seem to be as fierce as usual, and both towers and bunkers kept getting retaken. Of course! All the orphan minders were going towards the enemy objectives to get their 'cheeves done, and all the serious PvPers were suddenly playing defence because it meant that they got to gank clueless achievement hunters, which meant that nothing much actually got done on either side.

Miraculously I managed to slip through a hole in the Alliance force at Iceblood, with only a lock throwing a couple of dots on me, and made it towards mid-field. I was actually approaching some bunkers! Of course I then got ganked at the next choke point at Stonehearth, but since the Horde held Snowfall for a change I at least didn't get thrown back all the way down south. Eventually me and a couple of other Hordies managed to break the resistance at Stonehearth, and suddenly the world was open to me. Too bad that both Stonehearth and Icewing bunker were already tagged and swarming with people... but lo and behold, both Dun Baldar bunkers were still bright and blue.

I didn't really think that I would stand much of a chance on my own, but since I'd never know if I didn't try, I decided to simply ride up to Dun Baldar. Much to my surprise nobody bothered me on the road, and to my delight I found that all the archers in the bunkers had already been killed during a previous assault. A lone mage took a few shots at me but then turned away again - I don't know if she decided to just let me do my thing or got genuinely distracted by something else. Either way I had Dun Baldar north all to myself, and managed to assault it shortly before my side suffered a crushing defeat, as usual. Still, getting that part of the achievement done on the first attempt was a pleasant surprise!

Eye of the Storm was where things got harder. I half expected my entire team to go straight for the flag, but instead they decided to all crowd onto one base, which I found plain odd. The best theory that I could come up with was that we did indeed have a lot of PvP-inexperienced achievement hunters in that battleground, but that they had read somewhere that you couldn't run the flag without having at least one base, so getting exactly one base was what they focused on first. After we capped that one base, everyone kind of dispersed into all directions, and I found myself getting stunlocked and ganked by about four people at once every time I resed up anywhere. Looking at the scoreboard I got the impression that we were fighting a partial premade that had identified me as the only healer on Horde side and was thus having a field day. It wasn't encouraging and I decided to take a break from EotS for a bit.

When I tried again a bit later, people started out doing that single-base-capping thing again, but I managed to lure a couple of them towards the Draenei Ruins and soon we were holding at least two bases. I stayed there for a while, pondering how I was ever going to cap a flag when bases needed defending and so few of my team mates seemed to be willing to do it, when I saw a gnome mage emerge from the kerfluffle in the centre, trying to carry the flag north towards the Mage Tower. However, he had about half of the Horde team hot on his heels and it was obvious that he wasn't going to make it. I mounted up quickly and rode over. He blinked one last time to escape his attackers in melee, but a couple of ranged shots finished him off mere seconds later and he expired right at my feet. I picked up the flag and quickly ran back towards the Draenei Ruins, with my fellow Hordies who had also been trying to get the flag providing a magnificent meat shield. One cap later, I could tick the third item off my list. As the cherry on top, we won that match as well.

This only left the dreaded Warsong Gulch. I really couldn't see how I was possibly going to pull that one off as a healer, but then I hadn't expected Alterac Valley and Eye of the Storm to be so forthcoming either, so I was strangely optimistic. In my first match I simply rode towards mid-field with the majority of my team and assisted them with killing Alliance there for a bit. However, after a few minutes I noticed that nobody had bothered to pick up the flag on either side. A quick look at the map revealed that aside from the people engaged in mid-field, everyone else was camping the flag room, waiting for an enemy to try anything so that they could gank them and get the achievement. Presumably the Alliance was doing the same, so of course nobody was making any progress whatsoever. /facepalm.

Staying true to my vow to play properly, I decided that if nobody else was going to go for the flag, I was going to do it. The Alliance defenders appeared to have fallen asleep out of boredom, so I managed to run the flag and cap it without anyone bothering me much. Of course, when I tried this for the second time, everyone had woken up and soon the entire Alliance team was forming a big dog pile on top of my dead body. Oh well, at least someone on their side got their achievement I guess? At this point a friendly resto shaman decided to join me in my efforts, and together we managed to run the flag another two times despite more enemy attempts to stop us, seeing how they weren't particularly good or coordinated. I was quite content to end the match with a crushing 3-0 victory, even if I had got nowhere close to actually returning our flag.

During my next WSG match, I was pleased to see that the entire team actually left the flag room at the start, deciding to take the battle to the enemy instead of sitting around and hoping for some sort of miracle. I briefly helped the skirmishers in mid-field again but quickly noticed a lonely paladin making an attempt at grabbing the enemy flag. I felt conflicted for a moment, seeing how supporting the pally would only take me further away from any enemies that might potentially pick up the flag, but my rule to not play stupidly for the sake of the achievement still stood, so I joined her and helped to keep her alive.

As we were making our way back to our base across mid-field, I suddenly spotted a gnome mage - once again - trying to carry the Horde flag away. He was about to pass us on a parallel course only a few yards away, and I immediately had a flashback to Eye of the Storm as I saw the majority of my team working hard to bring him down. (I wish people were this focused on returning the flag during the rest of the year!) Since the paladin seemed safe for the time being, I ran over again... and yep, the mage blinked out of range of the melee just like in EotS, preventing them from getting that final grab in, and died right at my feet. One quick click later, both School of Hard Knocks and For The Children flashed up on my screen - after only six battlegrounds in total.

The pally and I continued to run the flag, and only on our last run did I notice the sad human hunter that had been in the Alliance flag room all along - that is to say, I had noticed him there before, but it took three assaults on his base for me to notice that he wasn't even attacking. Instead he kept spamming a macro asking people to /wait and /point-ing at his orphan. I felt very bad as I saw other people killing him mercilessly and making fun of him, and I barely had time to emote a /sorry to him before he died. If I had got that last flag I would have dropped it once, just for him, but the pally beat me to it again and had no interest in helping the poor guy out. I generally agree that battlegrounds are for fighting, not for co-operating with your enemy, but I'm also a hopeless sap. Here's to you, human hunter; I hope you got your achievement eventually and that it wasn't too painful.

Conclusion: Cynwise was right, it is possible to get those achievements while working at winning the battlegrounds at the same time, though I think that while doing so I probably used up my entire supply of good luck for the rest of the year, what with getting it all done so quickly and often against the odds. I should probably play a couple more matches before the end of Children's Week, just to make a point of helping other people get their achievements, in the interest of balancing my cosmic karma.


Call to Arms: the first week

Patch 4.1 lured me back into running dungeons at max level again, partly to see how the new Call to Arms feature was working out, partly to see what else was new. (For example it took me several runs to figure out what that weird fire animation was that I kept seeing on the floor, until I finally realised that it's the new animation for hunters' explosive trap. Personally I think that it's hideous, but maybe it will grow on me.) On top of that, patch days tend to encourage me to get back to working on goals that I've been neglecting, such as gearing up my umpteenth alt, which is similar to the way people feel inspired to make resolutions on New Year's Day I suppose.

Call to Arms isn't actually active on my realm a lot of the time, which shouldn't have come as a surprise to me in hindsight. I mentioned before that I could never really relate to the complaints about forty minute dps queues, as my own were usually barely half of that, even before Call to Arms. From what I can tell, the "magic number" where the system considers the wait time too long and will activate CtA is around ten minutes, and with many tanks returning for the same reasons I mentioned above, queue times are often shorter than that anyway.

Of course the result of this is that I'm checking the dungeon finder window continually, while refusing to queue up as tank or healer while CtA isn't active. I reckon that a lot of people are doing the same, as there'll be no CtA indicator for ages, and then it suddenly appears for both tanks and healers at once. It's a bit like trying to find the best deal while going shopping. Yes, I do want a suitcase my valour points, but next week in an hour or so there'll be a special sale Call to Arms where I'll also get an umbrella a goodie bag for free, so I'll wait until then. It's a funny psychological trick that works because people like to get free stuff even if they don't need it. I've collected about half a dozen satchels of exotic mysteries so far, and not one of them contained anything but rubbish, i.e. nothing but a little gold and a single gem or two to three cheap potions. /yawn.

I was a bit wary of taking up tanking again, but so far my runs have been surprisingly pleasant. CC has definitely gone the way of the dodo by now, but in a way I'm glad. I do prefer using it, but as I said last time I ranted about tanking frustrations back in February, it's no fun when "should we use crowd control or not" is just another thing for the party to fight over. So if everyone would rather AoE everything I'll consider that fairly boring, but after the last couple of months I'm just glad that everyone is on the same page again. I do feel somewhat bad for the healers - my paladin is still on the lower end of the heroic gear curve, and when I AoE-tanked heroic Lost City of the Tol'vir today, I was rotating through my tanking cooldowns non-stop as I anxiously watched my character hovering on the verge of death on pretty much every single pull. I expected the healer to complain about my squishiness or ask for CC at any moment, but he seemed happy and his mana bar barely even appeared to move. (Actually, the latter might explain why I was constantly hovering on the verge of death...)

On the whole, everyone in the runs I've had has been pretty bearable. Yes, I've had a guy in full tier eleven roll need on blue dungeon drops. Yes, I've had a tank in full pvp gear. I've had people drop group mid-pull if things weren't going their way, and I've had others start insulting the group the moment something went wrong. I've seen people run right past bosses in order to "save time", just to go AFK for five minutes afterwards. I've also had people who declared that they wanted a fast run, but then didn't even know which way to go (which I found rather hilarious). But I've also had players who joked around and were patient when my screen froze or when I missed the jelly-vator in Throne of the Tides, making else everyone wait. (There seems to be a new graphical glitch where it becomes invisible when it's at the bottom, which made me think that it was still at the top.)

I actually found myself wondering whether any of the 4.1 changes might be contributing to people behaving better, and I do think that the valour cap from dungeons being a weekly thing instead of daily might be a positive influence. If you're not in the mood for a dungeon, there's no pressure to get it done now or else - instead you can run several instances in a row when you actually feel like it and still get the same reward. And well, fewer people running dungeons when they don't actually want to be there can only be a good thing.


Playing without Recount

Tobold talks about fear of the sub-optimal today, and incidentally I was going to sort of write about that as well today. Or rather, I wanted to talk about Recount. This and Healbot are two addons that appear to have been broken quite significantly by 4.1 - even though I downloaded versions that were supposedly compatible with the patch, they've both been quite good at turning the game into a slide show for me, so I eventually decided to disable them for the time being whenever I didn't need them, and this made me think about when I need Recount at all.

It's fun to think back to what the game was like for me before addons. Being a healer, I could afford to run without a combat log parser for quite a while, but a hunter that I was playing with quite often was always talking about these mysterious numbers that he got from some addon, so out of curiosity more than anything else I eventually got it too.

Since then I've slowly gone to having it running pretty much all the time. While soloing I generally don't look at it, but as soon as I get into a group I want to know whether my performance is up to snuff. So I was rather confused when I ended up pugging a few instance runs with my low-level warlock and realised that, without a combat log parser, I had no way of really telling how I was doing. My general impression was that I wasn't doing very well, as a mob with 4k health was usually down to 3k before I'd even finished casting two dots on it, but I couldn't tell for sure. This made me rather uneasy for a while, but seeing how nobody yelled at me about it, I eventually managed to relax and enjoy the ride. Things were dying quickly and smoothly, so what did it matter what percentage of the damage was mine? Everybody was participating and seemed to have fun.

Pugging heroics on my hunter was a slightly different case, because unlike my lowbie warlock, I know how to play my hunter, so even if I couldn't see any numbers, I was sure that I was pulling my weight simply based on past experience. In fact, I was probably doing more so than many of the other damage dealers I ran with, but I didn't really know so I didn't care. The Grumpy Elf made an interesting comment about pugging the other day, saying that when I DPS and my DPS is more then the tank and the other two DPS combined it is annoying thinking I have to do all the work. Talk about a problem created purely by numbers in your head! If you didn't have the dps meters to look at, would you really feel annoyed by having to attack a mob for a little longer? As long as it doesn't cause problems or even wipes, I doubt that many people would even notice. And of course nobody would berate anyone for their dps or stress about their own with no numbers to back them up. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Though there is another side to this of course. Last night I was in guild group for ZG that was having real trouble on Jin'do for some reason. I have to admit that I did miss Recount then. It wouldn't have been able to solve all our problems of course, but there were certainly a lot of things I was wondering about that could have played a role in our failure. How much dps were people doing? Was everyone attacking the spirits? Why did the tank go down so quickly there? I keep running oom way too quickly, am I overhealing or using my expensive spells too often? These are all things that are very difficult to gauge in a fight like that, yet they do matter. And that's why we do need addons like that I guess, and why people are afraid of the sub-optimal - because sometimes you have to play very close to optimally to beat the game. It's just a shame that it trickles down into the easier aspects of the game so readily, making people fret even when it really doesn't matter.