4.2 - First Impressions

For some reason I always seem to come up with a whole lot of post ideas shortly before a major patch comes out, but then once the patch actually hits I can't think about anything but the new content and end up discarding them. So, to immediately get it out of my system, my initial thoughts on 4.2: (Don't read on if you're concerned about quest spoilers.)

I wonder how many people besides me immediately stopped at the character selection screen and started shuffling. Being able to change the order of your characters is one of those small quality of life changes that just feels like it's been overdue forever. I don't care about visually preserving the order in which I created my characters, I just want the ones I play more often to be on top, damn it! I was very happy to finally be able to do that.

Not everything in the new patch is for max-level characters only. One of my guildies immediately found this little gem for level tens and up for example, which rewards you with a balloon that counts as a non-combat pet and has a rather amusing ending if you hang around to watch after handing in the quest.

Probably not a patch feature, but my guildies only discovered today that doing Ahune in a guild group counts as a full dungeon run for the purposes of the weekly guild challenge. We swapped alts in and out to get goodie bags for all of them and earned over a million guild experience in about ten minutes. I'm not sure that's working as intended, but if it is that's a handy way of racking up the XP in a short amount of time.

Starting work on the new dailies in Hyjal didn't feel very exciting, but I guess it simply takes some time until you get to unlock more. We'll see what things will look like in a few weeks. For now, I don't consider it a problem.

Now, the Thrall quest line was a lot more interesting. I was surprised to see Nozdormu in humanoid form for the first time and immediately decided that he must be evil. Don't get me wrong...

... he looks pretty badass for a man elf dragon, but... he's got a goatee. An evil goatee. He clearly can't be up to anything good.

During the initial cinematic I couldn't help but giggle at Malfurion's reaction to the intruders basically being, "I cast roots on all of them!" Sorry mate, but I can see why Staghelm had trouble taking you seriously there.

The following quest takes you all over the world, to Uldum, Vashj'ir, Deepholm and the Firelands, which would feel quite epic except that Aggra magically teleports you everywhere. I really felt rather torn about this. Part of me was definitely glad that I didn't have to manually go to all those different places just for one quest, but on the other hand I didn't really feel as if I was going anywhere. That's the eternal dilemma with features like this, isn't it?

Blizzard's new phasing-but-not-quite worked very well in my opinion, as you could see all the other players around you and it felt busy, but the NPCs still changed for you personally, depending on which part of the quest you were on. I also thought that the mechanics of the elemental fighting quests were very well suited for the patch day crowds, as mob tagging wasn't really an issue and your "kill credit bar" or whatever you want to call it kept building up as long as you did at least some damage to some mobs. I can imagine it feeling a bit slow though if you end up doing it later when there aren't as many people around.

The only thing that really caused me any grief were other players, as lots of Alliance on my server decided to turn their PvP flag on, and as the elementals were dying in seconds and everyone was maniacally fighting to get a hit in, it was way too easy to hit another player by accident and get flagged without meaning to. I accidentally hit a draenei death knight with a smite during the Firelands portion of the chain myself, which promptly caused him to come over and gank me, so I lost my entire quest progression of what felt like several dozen kills (the bar resets if you die) and then had to take an enforced break of five minutes while waiting for my flag to wear off. Yeah, that wasn't that much fun. When I did the chain on my hunter, my pet randomly decided to go after an Ally as well, without any direction from me, and got me flagged this way, though I managed to escape death that time. It was still annoying. I guess one person's fun world PvP is another one's obstacle.

Also, was I the only one who wondered about Aggra's totems during the Firelands part of the chain? Where the hell does she keep totems that are twice as tall as a tauren? It's funny how some NPCs and items in WoW have increased in size over the years, for no apparent reason other than to make them more obviously visible to players. Most of the time I don't even think about it anymore and just accept that Tirion Fordring is a giant for example, but those totems gave me pause for some reason.

The entire quest chain gives Thrall some interesting characterisation in my opinion, as you basically find out about his most secret thoughts about a lot of issues. A lot of it wasn't exactly unexpected, but I was actually pleasantly surprised to hear that he's had doubts about Garrosh messing up the Horde as well.

And Aggra... well, I'm kind of in two minds about her. I haven't read The Shattering yet so I don't know how she gets introduced, but looking only at the game, she's basically this complete nobody that very obviously only gets shoved into our faces to be Thrall's love interest. I didn't mind her at first, but her new 4.2 voice really grated on my nerves, as it sounded unnecessarily sultry, whiny and somehow entirely un-orcish to me for some reason. On the other hand she's kind of cool, and manages to display some character even while under duress, occasionally snarking at Thrall even while she desperately fears for his life.

The only thing I didn't get was why the big ritual for which we were called to Hyjal in the first place wasn't completed after we saved Thrall. I thought it was supposed to be important?

The quest reward cloak you get at the end is very nice, though I couldn't help but feel like there was suddenly a certain cloak overload going on. Epic cloaks for justice points, cloaks from Ahune, cloaks from this quest, and did you see the first rep reward from the Avengers of Hyjal? Yep, more cloaks.

Speaking of the Avengers of Hyjal, in the evening my guild had its first Firelands raid. I took one step inside and immediately felt like I had ended up in Molten Core 2.0, with the only major difference being that it's open to the sky. But otherwise it's all there: flamewalkers, core hounds, molten giants - lots and lots and lots of them. I guess it's been a while since we last had a raid instance with silly amounts of trash, so fair enough. What with it being our first time, we didn't mind that much anyway because it was all new and amusing to find out about the mobs' different abilities, such as little turtles punting the tanks halfway across the instance.

Our raid leader decided that we should start off with Shannox, aka the guy whose face they pasted onto the tier twelve hunter helm. He doesn't actually appear until you've killed a certain minimum amount of trash, and then he keeps patrolling the entire zone, with each round taking about four minutes. This certainly made for a very different kind of boss fight, as we basically waited in the area that we had cleared out for the fight every time, discussing tactics until he came around again, and then everyone scrambled frantically to be ready immediately while the tanks had to make a good run for it to catch him in time since he moves quite fast. I can foresee a lot of whining about that on the forums and wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard ended up changing it. I think it would be a shame though, because while my first reaction was to find it quite annoying, it also feels a lot more dynamic. Why should all bosses just stand around, waiting for us to kill them?

We didn't make much progress on the fight, but considering that there are only seven bosses in there, I would have been disappointed anyway if the first one had fallen over immediately, on our first night of attempts.


A Halls of Origination story

I just noticed that almost all of my posts this month have been of the more thoughtful variety, so I think it's about time to have a plain old pug story.

This morning I decided to queue up to tank a random heroic on my paladin since the Call to Arms for tanks was up. I know others have ranted about how much of a failure that system is, but on my server at least it's actually been working better than I expected, so that half of the time CtA isn't even active because the queues are short enough already. I was hoping to get Grim Batol so I could finally complete my Cataclysm Dungeon Hero achievement, but ended up in Halls of Origination instead. Oh well!

I immediately noticed that there was another Earthen Ringer in my group, a warlock called Spiffy (that wasn't actually his name, but it was something similar) who had in fact also been in my Ahune group only about five minutes ago. "Hello again, Spiffy!" I said happily, though I got no response.

Actually, let me go off on a tangent here right away, in regards to the changes to the dungeon finder that are supposed to make it more likely for you to get grouped with people from your own server. Personally I haven't seen it make much of a difference, but then Earthen Ring isn't exactly a high population server these days. Only when I'm tanking or healing do I occasionally get grouped with a dps from my home server, presumably because there's a pretty large pool of them to draw from.

However, what's been more interesting to me is who I don't get grouped with as often. I used to get grouped with people from Stormscale all the damn time for example, and they didn't have the best reputation. They practically seemed to own the dungeon finder in my battlegroup. Lately however I've hardly seen any trace of them - presumably they all get grouped with each other. I'm not sure whether that's actually made a difference to the quality of my pugs, but it does feel to me as if players from the smaller servers tend to be a bit more laid back.

Anyway, back to Halls of Origination. Zinn wrote a nice guide the other day on how to handle the first trash pull in there, and I completely managed to mess it up. Mobs were all over the place, but thankfully the rogue had been clever enough to sap one of them, which limited the ensuing chaos at least a little. Oh well. We progressed reasonably smoothly anyway, and killed the first boss without any problems.

At one point during the trash Spiffy lagged behind for a bit, and explained afterwards that he had been disconnected for a minute. The same thing had happened to him on Ahune earlier and almost left us with too little dps to avoid a third add phase, but he came back in time and it was fine, so I shrugged it off in this case as well. However, one of the other dpsers made a comment about wanting to kick him once their cooldown was up. I said nothing, but when the vote actually came up I voted no and it failed. Spiffy seemed a bit flustered, apologising for his connection problems and offering to leave if people wanted him gone. I told him that no, it was all right, and nobody argued. Sometimes it's good to be The Tank.

To go off on another tangent... kicking someone for disconnecting once on trash? Really? People really ought to put some more thought into these things. No wonder that there are so many complaints on the forums about the vote-kick cooldown being too long. I don't even have a cooldown, and I've never had a problem getting rid of someone who acted like a douche. I've even kicked multiple people in quick succession if they were a problem. However, fact of the matter is that in the vast majority of runs, I have no reason to kick anyone. Someone disconnecting briefly is not a reason. The system is working fine. If you've got a two hour cooldown on your vote-kick function, the problem is you. End rant.

Back to Halls of Origination, again! As we moved up to the elevator, I asked whether anyone wanted to do any of the optional bosses but didn't get a single answer. One could consider that rude, but I prefer to think that people were simply stunned into silence by a pug tank actually asking for their opinions. I told them that I took their silence as a no and made straight for the Vault of Lights.

On the trash pull in the hallway leading up to it I borked up once again and faceplanted, as the healer couldn't keep me up through the crazy damage I was taking. I immediately apologised, assured him that it wasn't his fault and told everyone else that they were doing a great job finishing off the rest of the mobs without me. I guess it's very obvious that I'm mainly a healer.

I was slightly worried about Spiffy disconnecting in the Vault of Lights and getting eaten by troggs, but nothing of the like happened. In fact, I don't think he disconnected again for the entire rest of the run. We killed Anraphret without any problems and finished with Rajh. I didn't actually look at Recount, but the dps seemed pretty low, considering that the latter went through two of his AoE phases before dying, while some groups can kill him before he even finishes the first. No matter, it was good enough.

Now, some people drop group as soon as they get the dungeon complete message and don't even wait for the loot rolls to finish, but I tend to hang around a bit for no real reason other than that I want to still be there in case anything unusual happens. Also, for some reason I don't like being the first person to leave - it's as if I need confirmation from someone else that we're truly done.

In this case this turned out to be a good thing, as I noticed that nobody else was leaving either and people started to move down the stairs back towards the centre of the floor. "Let's do the optional bosses!" someone suggested and I quietly shook my hands at my monitor in exasperation. Why did nobody say anything when I asked about this exact thing earlier? But hey, my offer still stood, so we ended up going back to do most of the instance after having officially completed the instance. Not something you do every day!

I half expected someone to drop out and leave us stranded and unable to replace them, but nobody did. It was only then that I noticed that the three people who weren't me or Spiffy were all from the same server and guild, which explained why they were so happy to stick together. How did I make it through the whole run without noticing that? For shame. At least it explained how my single vote had been enough to prevent Spiffy from being kicked.

Doing the optional bosses in Halls of Origination is always quite funny in my opinion, because you pretty much inevitably end up with someone who's way overgeared for the place but has no clue about the boss fights because they've only ever gone straight for Rajh. Setesh is and was very good in this regard, as I saw the feral druid clumsily going after the adds instead of attacking the boss for example. Again dps was low and my game was starting to lag from all the adds I was tanking but eventually he died after all and I laughed with relief.

They were even happy to go back downstairs and kill Ptah, as I had noticed that I didn't have the camel achievement on my pally. Of course then I ended up losing my camel just before the boss died, but such is life.

Overall this was one of those runs that made me feel really good. What friction there was ended up being resolved amiably, and the fact that the entire party happily stuck together to clear out the rest of the instance after Rajh was one of those things that always gives me hope that at least some WoW players still care about other things than simply getting the optimal amount of badges per minute.


I'm grateful for rated battlegrounds

Rated battlegrounds have been getting some bad press lately: Gevlon advises you to quickly throw the match whenever you encounter a far superior opponent - which will happen a lot due to various problems with the matchmaking system - and Cynwise bristles at upcoming patch changes that are clearly meant to push people into rated battlegrounds instead of arena. I'm not here to argue either of these points, but I did feel like simply writing a positive post about rated battlegrounds, because I feel that - regardless of their faults - their mere existence has been a truly enriching addition to my WoW play.

I've said before that I'm a PvE player to the core. Out of the over three hundred posts on this blog, this is only the tenth one that carries the PvP tag. Overall my preferences haven't changed, but rated battlegrounds have shown me that PvP actually has a lot more to offer me than I thought it had.

I used to say that I prefer cooperation over competition, and I do, but just like PvE has competitive aspects (topping the damage metres, beating other guilds to a boss kill), PvP requires cooperation, namely between you and your team mates. The problem is that I rarely got to see any of the latter.

We like to moan about how the dungeon finder ruined WoW's community, but compared to the PvPers, us dungeon runners still have it made. PvP has been based on a dungeon finder model since freaking vanilla! I don't know what battlegrounds were like during the year or so during which they were same-server only, but ever since I first set foot into one myself in late vanilla, they've been cross-realm, meaning that you get thrown in with a bunch of random strangers who actually have very little interest in cooperating with you. In many ways that is actually worse than the dungeon finder because in a dungeon there's usually (most of the time anyway) at least some kind of agreement about the distribution of roles. Battlegrounds don't have even that, so if you queue up with the intention of being the flag carrier in Warsong Gulch or personally guarding the lumber mill in Arathi Basin, you might end up with a team that has a completely different idea of how the game should go.

Accordingly, random battlegrounds have had a reputation for being cesspits of stupidity and rude behaviour for as long as I can remember. Their only saving grace was that it was the same for both factions, so it was at least a fair fight, and that each match had a timer and would eventually end one way or the other regardless of how badly people were playing. (Or at least that's how it works these days. Anyone remember Warsong Gulch before timers? There's a reason I always hated that place.)

And the biggest bummer? There were no alternatives. In PvE, you can avoid the dungeon finder for the most part and just go raid with your friends instead. However, there was nothing comparable for PvP. Pre-mades existed of course, but they weren't actually supported by the game. There was no reward for playing with a fixed team other than getting to roflstomp a bunch of hapless opponents that were thrown together at random, and just like ganking lowbies that kind of thing never held any lasting appeal to me. Blizzard even tried to actively discourage queueing up in larger groups, and people had to make addons in an attempt to circumvent the developers' restrictions. WoW PvP was not designed as a game that encouraged camaraderie.

But then came arenas. And while I'm still not a huge fan of them, they certainly showed me for the first time that there was real fun to be had in pvping as a team. What with mostly playing healers, I already knew the rush of saving another player from the brink of death, but in arena I finally got to experience someone else doing the same thing for me. It was intense! More intense than most things I had done in PvE actually.

If you think about it, most PvE encounters are more about being a cog in a well-oiled machine than they are about actually interacting with other people. You'll have to agree on a basic battle plan of course, but spontaneous reactions to other players' actions are comparatively rare, such as when someone dies and needs to get a combat res. The encounters themselves are rarely about paying attention to the other players. One of my favourites in this regard has always been Lady Vashj's phase two. If you've never had the chance to do this fight, what happens is that she becomes immune to damage and in order to remove her shield you basically have to "play ball" with an item called tainted core that drops off certain elemental adds and roots you to the spot if you pick it up. I'm sure many people hated that mechanic, but personally I loved the hell out of it because it actually meant people had to pay attention to and react to each other instead of just the boss. Unfortunately, boss mechanics like that remain rare to this day.

In some way I'm still not sure why I actually don't like arenas more. I think that in some ways, they are simply too intense for me. I get really into the bonding experience they provide, but with how many people do you really want to be that close, week after week? I've only really played a significant amount of arena with one guy over the years, and we've been friends for years. We never had a problem chatting away about different things in-between matches, or not getting mad at each other if either of us messed up. I don't have the same faith in things working as well with someone who's only a loose acquaintance however, and how much of your time do you want to devote to private time with loose acquaintances anyway? So whenever my friend loses interest in the game, I lose interest in arena.

Also, if I'm being honest I always found arena a bit difficult myself. Players like to complain about the difficulty of raiding sometimes, but personally I've found that even a fairly low-ranked arena match tends to have much higher twitch requirements than a moderately difficult raid. In addition, optimisation requirements can get quite harsh in smaller groups, and it's easy to start feeling like you stand no chance simply because you're playing the "wrong" class. I hear that many people like to play arena casually but to me the mere idea is hard to fathom, considering the sheer amount of time you can end up spending with just a single person in a regular 2v2, and how much harsher the requirements for progression are compared to small group PvE content.

Now, after all this rambling... enter rated battlegrounds, and I finally have something that combines some of the best elements of PvE raiding and PvP in general into a fun new mix for me; so I get to enjoy the interactive nature of team PvP, but in a large group. In many ways, this has only worked to highlight for me just why I prefer playing WoW in larger groups.

For one thing, it creates a nice group atmosphere, where you can be social and have fun while still maintaining a certain distance. Since your enjoyment doesn't depend on the company of a single person, one player quitting the game doesn't necessarily ruin the whole activity for you, like it happened to me with arena. It also feels more justifiable to set aside a specific time to play together, as coordinating the schedules of so many people is hard enough as it is, and it carries none of the awkwardness of, "Oh god, why am I reserving time to play with this one guy I hardly know every single week?"

Also, larger numbers add complexity to a point where individual min-maxing and optimal play becomes less important because it doesn't make as much of a difference. If you lose a 2v2 arena match, it's got to be the fault of at least one of you somehow, whether you're playing the wrong spec, didn't hit your cooldown in time or attacked the wrong target, and the only way to get better is for one of you to up your individual performance. In a larger group things aren't as clear-cut a lot of the time, and while you obviously still want to work on improving yourself at all times, you don't have to feel as if every single loss is potentially your fault because you don't have enough resilience yet.

And that's why I'm grateful that Blizzard introduced rated battlegrounds. I think it's kind of bizarre that they are basically doing the opposite in PvP of what they've been doing in PvE, where raid sizes keep shrinking and the devs keep thinking of new ways to emulate group play without actually requiring any social interaction (dungeon finder, elite quests with NPC helpers etc.), whereas random battlegrounds become less and less important as Blizzard tries to encourage players to play nice with others in order to get better rewards.

If you're a PvE player who's disillusioned with the way group content is going, I'd recommend giving rated battlegrounds a try. You might be surprised by the experience. (Assuming that the matchmaking actually improves in the next patch, because I agree that just getting beaten into the ground by superior teams over and over again is not very fun.)


Redoing the 80-85 quests

My focus in WoW is ever-changing as ever, and in the past few weeks or so I've mostly spent my time questing on my max-level alts. I've commented on the linearity of Cataclysm's questing in the past (and so have many others), and as a result have shied away from repeating many of the quests on my alts. I don't like reading the same book or watching the same film over and over. While my main has been a Loremaster of Cataclysm for a while now, my level eighty alts mostly levelled up by engaging in other activities: exploration, gathering, instances. I'd do the first couple of quests in each zone to unlock the portal in Orgrimmar, but afterwards I was happy to never look back.

Well, until recently that is, when I was looking at what ways I had left to progress my alts' gear without raiding and realised that my best options were really things like getting the Therazane shoulder enchants and working towards exalted reputation epics. And how do you get those things? By questing.

So I buckled down and started repeating zones. I've always been someone who at least skimmed all the quest text, even upon repetition, but with the new linearity even I just ignored most of it because I didn't really need a reminder of what I was supposed to do - it was obvious. In many ways it was also boring and tedious, though a couple of zones turned out to be not nearly as bad as I had expected, which was a pleasant surprise. I also couldn't help but be reminded of part of the original purpose of quests - to give players the feeling that they could achieve something even if they only had very limited play time - which is something that I've definitely benefited from when my real life week ended up being busier than I had anticipated.

Mount Hyjal actually turned out to have surprisingly high replay value for me. It's linear, but still less so than other zones. For example there's a point where you can decide to help out at the shrine of Aviana or take another one first. As I said in my initial review of the zone, the gameplay of the quests is varied and fun, and as far as the story goes it really feels like you are achieving something tangible, bringing the ancients back and reclaiming Hyjal bit by bit. I don't mind doing that again.

Vashj'ir on the other hand feels like a massive drag upon replay. I still stand by the good things that I said about it originally, but it really fails to impress a second time. The linearity of progression is very rigid: you spend fifteen minutes at a mini hub and then abandon it, never to return again. The story also doesn't hold up well when experienced a second time. In a nutshell it can be summed up as "you get shipwrecked and discover that the naga are working with the old gods", and it relies heavily on building up suspense about what's going to happen next. Working your way through 150 quests of "golly gosh, whatever are we going to do" when you already know exactly what's going to happen just doesn't cut it.

Deepholm is a lot like Hyjal in my eyes, with a story that emphasises that you're doing something worthwhile at every step of the way and thus feels worthy of repeating. My only problem is that the quests feel a bit too samey to me (it's all about killing earth elementals and twilight cultists really), so I tend to get bored halfway through and then the rest starts to drag a bit.

Uldum is the only zone that I've only managed to repeat once so far, and I think it's pretty much the cut scenes alone that are to blame for this. I don't mind the Ramkahen half of the quests (in fact, I love just hanging out with High Priest Amet and enjoying the view of the underwater world from inside the dam), but the Harrison Jones quest line with its constant clunky cinematics drives me absolutely bonkers. See You on the Other Side! says the quest, "follow me" says Harrison Jones, but then you don't get to do anything at all because clearly moving up the hill yourself is way too strenuous so they just show you a cut scene of your character running and you automatically reappear in the right spot. What the fricking frack. It was annoying the first time, but it only gets worse upon replaying.

Twilight Highlands was another pleasant surprise, but for different reasons than I expected. It has both slightly more lenient and more linear bits, so my enjoyment of those varied. It also had one quest that keeps annoying me in a new way every time I do it, due to having hidden quest requirements that aren't mentioned anywhere, and my characters having suffered repeated deaths due to the helpful NPCs despawning or getting lost whenever I needed them the most. However, one thing that really works in the Highlands' favour are the item rewards. Yes, all the zones shower you in quest rewards, but with how fast you level and how quickly the ilevels go up, many of them don't feel like significant upgrades and don't last very long. Twilight Highlands however offers the best rewards you can get before hitting max level instances, and it's a great way of getting characters up to speed that have fallen behind in terms of gear progression. I ended up taking both my shaman and my death knight through this zone in quick succession without feeling any annoyance at all, simply because getting both their gear sets up to speed for level 85 within an evening felt rewarding enough on its own.

Now, this is one of those topics where I'm really interested in other people's experiences. How many alts have you levelled to 85 yet (if any)? Did you repeat a lot of quests? If so, did you enjoy it? Which zones did you find the most fun to play through repeatedly?


An annotated history of the badge system

It seems that the blogosphere is in the mood for talking about badges/emblems/points and things associated with gathering them! Reading these posts got me thinking about just how many changes the badge system has gone through since I started playing, and just how absurd some of them are. This in turn made me wonder how many people are even left who remember all of these changes. So I thought I'd write down what I remember, in order to preserve the knowledge and maybe educate some readers for whom this might be new.

In the beginning... there was vanilla WoW, which had no badge system, or heroics for that matter. After you hit the level cap, you could do some gearing up from drops in normal five-man dungeons, but that was pretty much it. Afterwards the only ways left to progress your character were raiding or PvP. Initially this wasn't a problem as the game was all shiny and new, and people were happy to explore, do leftover quests and roll alts. After a few years people started to get fidgety though, and Blizzard decided to release an expansion, and that in this expansion they were going to provide people with an alternative to raiding at max level: heroic five-mans.

The dungeons were going to be the same ones you had levelled up in, but much, much harder and the last boss would drop an epic. Sweet, getting epics just like a raider! However, someone at Blizzard HQ decided that this epic alone wasn't going to be enough, probably because only ever fighting the RNG for that one item you want and never get can get frustrating quickly, but also because the dungeons were so hard that you might not even end up completing them every time and then you'd feel like you just wasted a lot of time for nothing.

So they came up with the idea of badges of justice, little marks that would drop off all the heroic bosses for no discernible reason and that you could use as currency to purchase further epics from a vendor. There were only very few of them, and it would take quite a few heroic runs to accumulate enough badges to buy anything at all, but at least people would always feel like they were getting something out of each run.

Note that these badges were not dropping off raid bosses. They weren't meant for raiders. Raiders got multiple shiny epics off each boss anyway!

However, the raiders still wanted badges, because some of those epics from the vendor were best-in-slot items for them too, with no raid drops coming even close. So they ran heroics too, presumably while moaning about why they had to bother with this stuff when they were raiding anyway. And lo and behold, Blizzard agreed with this sentiment! So they made raid bosses drop badges too, so raiders could buy the couple of items they wanted without having to farm heroics on top of it all. If you think about Blizzard's current heroic strategy, the thought of the developers willingly letting raiders get out of heroics might give you a headache. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This worked alright for a while. Heroics were hard, and getting a capable group together required effort, so people geared up slowly. Still, after so many patches even the most casual of players had managed to buy all the vendor items they wanted (remember, there weren't that many anyway). People were running fewer heroics, mostly to keep trying for that one specific item that never dropped.

Also, the chasm between raiders and non-raiders in terms of badge acquisition rate was increasing. While heroic runs became less frequent, raiders gained access to more and more raids that they could gain badges from. A tier six guild could go back and do a full clear of Karazhan in only a couple of hours, gaining more badges this way than anyone could realistically get from running heroics all day. Blizzard tried to encourage heroic running with the introduction of the daily heroic quest, which gave you extra badges for completing a specific heroic each day. This did help at least a little, as the psychological trick of "having a quest for it" worked wonders - you'd be surprised at the kinds of things people do when they have a quest for it! Except heroic Shattered Halls maybe, that took at least three quests.

In patch 2.4, Blizzard decided to revitalise people's interest in badges by adding a load of items of tier six quality to a new vendor, though they were considerably more expensive than the old items. Basically, the players' reactions to this could be summed up like this:

Raiders: "OMG, you're giving tier six level gear to non-raiding scrubs? Fail!" (But then they were secretly glad to be able to buy some decent mail leggings after Azgalor refused to drop the ones they really wanted for the umpteenth time.)

Non-raiders: "OMG, you expect me to grind out 150 badges for a crossbow that looks like a dead bird? Do you know how many daily heroics that is?" (But then they did it anyway and secretly felt really cool for having a raid-quality weapon. Also, Blizzard tried to help them out by making it so that even some daily quests had a chance of randomly giving out a bonus badge.)

This kept people reasonably happy and busy until the release of Wrath of the Lich King, but in this expansion the developers decided that they were going to handle this whole badge thing differently. For one thing they wouldn't be called badges anymore, and for another there would be what you could call "heroic emblems" and "raider emblems", to avoid the aforementioned issues of raiders gaining currency much faster than everyone else and from doing content that was trivial to them. (Ten-man raids were lumped in with the heroics at this point, but that's a whole other kettle of fish.)

This sounded good in theory and also worked alright at the start of the expansion. Raiders gathered some heroic emblems at the start to help with getting ready for raiding, but afterwards they never had to worry about them again. Non-raiders would have their own "thing" again.

The problem was that the major changes in design philosophy in Wrath of the Lich King threw a whole new spanner in the works. Where the first tier of justice gear in BC had kept people busy for ages due to the slowness of gearing up, WOTLK was too fast and streamlined. Nothing required attunements anymore and the content was so much easier that experienced players just blew right through it. (This is where someone usually pipes up with a comment like: "You're wrong, at the start of WOTLK those heroics were hard too!" Sorry, but no. They were certainly not as faceroll as they became as time went on, and I did have some painful wipes on Loken and Eregos, but it was still an entirely different league compared to BC. In my first heroic Slave Pens run, we wiped three times on the first trash pull until we got the crowd control just right. In my first heroic Utgarde Keep run, we used no CC whatsoever and didn't wipe even once.)

What this meant for the emblem system was that people geared up really quickly and then had no reason to keep running heroics. Raiders weren't running them because they had their own tier of emblems to worry about anyway, and non-raiders simply ran out of things to buy. I can't remember for sure whether the original daily heroics in WOTLK rewarded heroism or valor and couldn't find any data about it, but even if it was valor already, people weren't hugely enthused to keep grinding at a rate of two emblems a day, what with the difficulties of finding a group and everyone only really wanting to bother with certain heroics for their daily. This problem wasn't really new, but it was rearing its head much faster in the new expansion than it had back in BC.

Things only got worse when Blizzard introduced another tier of raider emblems for twenty-five-man Ulduar, as it sent the message that the developers were only interested in letting the raiders advance further, while leaving the dungeon runners in the dust. This is where the system really started to show its cracks in my eyes, because by now it was becoming clear that what had started out as an alternative advancement system for non-raiders had instead turned into a way of giving more gear to raiders, while actively blocking the non-raiders from any further progression because that would mean that they'd be getting the same kinds of goodies as the raiders and we couldn't have that now, could we?

However, Blizzard was aware of the problem, and in patch 3.2 they decided to change things around yet again. They introduced raider emblem tier number three, but converted all the places that used to drop lower tier emblems to emblems of conquest (raid tier two). This meant that everyone suddenly had reason to run heroics again because with the new currency they could now buy gear of the same level as Ulduar twenty-five-man drops, which was a big jump up. Even raiders went back to heroics now, because right up until the patch dropped, many had been working their way through Ulduar only at a slow pace and for many of them conquest emblems still provided some upgrades too. In other words, Blizzard decided that the non-raiders could have the same goodies as the raiders after all, as long as they stayed a tier behind. An improvement in some ways, but at the same time still kind of insulting considering the original purpose of the system.

Another notable change was that the number of items that were available via emblems started to increase with every tier. Presumably the idea was simply that if people had more things to buy, they'd keep gathering currency for longer and thus stay entertained for longer. This was true, but it also caused a slow shift in focus, and for many people the emblems started to become more important than the actual item drops. You could even buy some tier pieces with emblems now. They weren't a bonus that you received during your item hunting anymore; instead you occasionally received a good item drop while grinding for emblems. This development reached its peak during tier nine and ten, when you could buy entire tier sets with nothing but emblems of triumph and frost.

But I am getting ahead of myself. 3.3 repeated what 3.2 had done, introduced raider emblem number four and made everything else drop emblem number three. Interestingly this seemed to cause a bigger outrage than in the previous patch from what I could tell, presumably because it happened that much sooner. By 3.2 everyone could tell that non-raiders were starved for some sort of progression and that it was getting hard to gear up new players for raiding, but when 3.3 gave them even better gear so soon afterwards, it might have seemed too soon for many. The shift in emblem rewards being geared towards raiders and becoming more important than actual raid drops also made it look like dungeon runners were effectively being given raid rewards without raiding.

This is interesting when we compare it to the situation back when the tier six equivalent badge rewards were introduced at the end of Burning Crusade. As I mentioned above, there was some QQ from raiders back then as well, but it wasn't nearly as bad. I think the important difference is that even though both raiders and dungeon runners used the same badges to buy items, the overall loot focus for raiders was still on drops, and those were strictly separate. A raider might scoff at the idea of a non-raider having access to an item that was as good as raid gear, but it still wasn't the same as raid gear. The raider essentially retained a cosmetic reward for having acquired his gear via raiding. Also, heroics in BC never reached the same level of triviality as they did in late WOTLK, so non-raiders were still working hard for their badges. It didn't feel unfair, somehow.

In 3.3 on the other hand, the combination of massive stat inflation due to hard modes and the introduction of the dungeon finder made heroics more trivial than ever, giving people the exact same rewards that raiders had worked hard for only a few months ago. A full set of tier gear was mostly bought with emblems, by raiders and non-raiders alike. In fact, the dungeon finder made things so easy that it even became worth grinding the daily heroic for those two raid tier emblems you'd get as reward every day. Basically, aside from not mainly being targeted at non-raiders anymore, emblems had also ceased to be just a little bonus on the side. Instead they had become the main reward, and this same reward was given to raiders for hard work one month, and then for dungeon runners for running trivial content a few months later.

The sad thing is that Blizzard did not seem to view that as a problem this time, and completely copied that system over into Cataclysm, only doing away with the constantly changing emblems and instead calling them valor points (=current raider tier) and justice points (=heroic tier, current raider tier minus one). On, and you can't buy a full tier set just with points anymore.

So, what do we have now?

A system that was designed as an alternate progression path for non-raiders has been turned into a system that now gives more raid gear (tier pieces etc.) to raiders, while giving the scraps to non-raiders every couple of months.

A system that was meant to complement item drops has largely replaced them.

A system that was meant to leave you at least with a little reward if you couldn't kill the end boss of an instance was given an additional layer that only rewards you if you kill the end boss.

A system that was once designed to be redundant for raiders, now works increasingly hard at bringing raiders back into five-mans they have no interest in. Satchels, anyone?

A system that once wanted to do away with raiders gaining currency from running trivial content now rewards everyone with currency for running trivial content.

You can consider the current badge system good or bad, but I do think it's rather odd that it's basically doing the opposite of what it was originally designed to do now. Do the devs themselves even remember why they started doing things the way they did? Or are they in urgent need of a historian to remind them just how strange some of their decisions appear now when you're looking back at them?


What if WOTLK had never happened?

Klepsacovic expressed some interesting thoughts about Cataclysm last week. In particular he suggested that a lot of the expansion's apparent failings are not so much things that can objectively be classified as problems, but rather that Wrath of the Lich King has changed our views of the game in such a way that we now dislike features that we would have loved only a couple of years ago. Or, as he so distinctly puts it himself in his last sentence: "If WoW had Cataclysm, minus LK, it would be in a much stronger position."

This immediately sent my mind reeling. What if Cataclysm had been the expansion after Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King never happened? I'm not saying that I actually wish that this was the case, but it's an interesting thought experiment. WOTLK introduced so many new mechanics to the game that it's actually quite hard to imagine WoW without them now. But what if?

This kind of speculation is always going to be vague, simply because many of Cataclysm's features are directly based on changes that were previously made in WOTLK. Take raid size for example. If WOTLK hadn't made every raid available in both a ten- and a twenty-five-man version, then Cataclysm's raids would also still only be either one or the other (and going by their overall feel, I'm inclined to say that they were all designed primarily for the larger format). Guilds that were limited to ten-mans in Burning Crusade would have felt left out by this expansion then.

However, I'm pretty sure that nobody would be complaining about Cataclysm raids being too difficult if they had come out straight after Burning Crusade, considering that BC had ended with Sunwell, one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult raid ever at the time. After that, Blackwing Descent & co. would have seemed like good "intro" raids for the new expansion. In fact, hardcore raiders probably would have complained about the content being too easy, especially since BC's attunement requirements are gone and not slowing anyone down anymore, and in this alternate universe there'd be no hard modes either (since that's another WOTLK invention). Since people like to complain regardless, they'd probably have criticised BWD and BoT for their comparatively bland interiors and lack of music.

Likewise, heroic five-mans occasionally wiping people would never have been an issue in a world where most players still remembered spending hours in heroic Shadow Labyrinth, and without a dungeon finder having trained people to expect quick runs involving little personal responsibility. We also wouldn't have started facerolling things quite so quickly if Blizzard had stuck to the old ilevel progression. Did you know that heroic five-mans didn't used to have their own tier back in BC? You basically went in there for badges, crafting materials and the chance of getting an epic from the last boss - which was only good due to being an epic, its actual ilevel was lower than that of a blue drop from normal mode!

With no random dungeon finder there'd still be daily quests for the dungeons, and people would probably feel the lack of max-level normal mode instances even more painfully than they do now. Oh look, the daily is Lost City of the Tol'vir again, what a surprise. Nobody would do the heroic daily if it was Stonecore or Grim Batol, while Vortex Pinnacle would become the new Slave Pens. I just can't decide whether Halls of Origination would be popular or hated - if you actually still had to put work into assembling a group for the daily, then getting badges for seven boss kills would present a pretty sweet reward, but people might still be put off by the length.

You wouldn't be able to accumulate reputation just by wearing the right tabard while instancing, so getting to exalted with all the various factions would actually be slightly more difficult than it is now. Dungeons would only give reputation for an appropriate faction, so Throne of the Tides could give Earthen Ring rep for example, but a place like Halls of Origination doesn't really feel connected to any particular faction and would give nothing. People would probably ask why Blizzard didn't create more alternative ways to get reputation. (Item hand-ins, anyone?)

The old world revamp would probably have been welcomed with less enthusiasm because while vanilla content already started to feel somewhat old in Burning Crusade, I don't think people would have been okay with seeing it replaced with something else just yet. The change in questing style would have felt even more dramatic and off-putting for some people, considering that there was no phasing at all back in BC, and levelling was still a little bit slower back then as well.

Archaeology would still feel incredibly grindy, but people might've been slightly less annoyed with it right after Burning Crusade, seeing how that had some very grindy aspects to it as well that would've still been fresh in people's memories.

So would that have been a better game? In some ways yes, in some ways no. I do agree with Kleps that it's all relative. If you felt that WOTLK was the pinnacle of WoW's development, then it makes sense that the ways in which the developers deviated from that path in Cataclysm won't be appealing to you. However, if (like me) you felt that WoW was at its best during the Burning Crusade era, then I think it's important to be a bit more selective with criticism of the current expansion. You don't have to like all of Cataclysm's features either, but it makes more sense to compare them directly to Burning Crusade than to whinge about things that were already set in motion during Wrath.


Guild Alliance

When I last talked about my guild's raiding, I was moaning about the difficulty of recruitment. Unfortunately, it didn't help in this case. We reached 9/12 normal modes in mid-April and then just couldn't progress anymore because we kept having to cancel raids. We had lost a couple of key players that we couldn't find replacements for, and even though we still had enough people to form a raid in theory, there was always someone who couldn't make it, leaving us with eight or nine sign-ups and unable to have more than a couple of farm nights. I'm sure a lot of guilds are familiar with this problem.

However, then something surprising happened! We were approached by another guild, asking us to form an alliance. We were quite familiar with this guild, as a couple of our players had raiding alts there, and some of its members had also been members of our guild in the past. Up until then our two guilds had been progressing through content at a nearly identical pace, but as it turned out they had run into the same problem as us, only worse, as they were missing even more players.

We agreed to the alliance, and while we're still working out some final details, it's been great so far. We're very much on the same wavelength in terms of skill and attitude, and the other night we finally got Cho'gall down and are now ready to start working on Al'Akir. It's also great to see more than ten sign-ups per night again. Truth be told, the roster of our combined forces is almost too large for ten-man raiding now, but considering that we're pretty loose with attendance requirements, bigger is definitely better. The other night I was signed up to raid but came down with a headache in the evening - it was a big relief to be able to drop out with the knowledge that there was a replacement to cover for me, and that I wasn't ruining the raid night for nine other people.

Despite of this success we're currently not looking to merge our guilds, but after thinking about it for a bit, this is actually not as much of a disadvantage as I thought it would be. The only "problem" is that our raids aren't recognised as official guild raids for either guild by the system, which means that we don't get guild experience or achievements for it. However, guild experience accumulates with or without raids, if a lot more slowly, and I've met few people who really care all that much about guild achievements (*cough* goblins *cough*). The actual achievement of downing the boss is worth so much more than a text pop-up telling me that I did it, or access to yet another vanity mount.

Still, it feels highly ironic that Cataclysm, the expansion that was supposed to be all about guilds, has made us go beyond the boundaries of our guild for the first time in years and actually revived the concept of the raid alliance for us.


The language of pugs

I read an article on Cracked.com once (no really, bear with me), in which the author explained that road rage is caused by us perceiving other drivers as disproportionally rude due to a lack of visible body language during their maneuvers. Now, I don't know how much of that is actually based on fact, but I do have to say that the basic idea that a lack of subtle signals can lead to a lot of miscommunication between people sounds very logical to me. I also can't help thinking that this is what must be happening in a lot of pugs gone bad, especially as I've observed a lot of surprising reactions to things that I've said and done in my own random groups over time. Keep in mind that I'm someone who tries to be mindful of these things, so how much worse must it be when people don't even think about it?

For example, I was healing a normal Drak'tharon Keep run the other night. The tank's health hardly moved while we made our way through the first hallway, and I settled in for a fairly relaxed run. Then we came to Trollgore's room, the tank pulled, I saw the dps taking some damage from the abominations' aura, healed them as well... and suddenly the tank's health plummeted like a rock, as apparently we had got the entire room or something close to it. I wasn't fast enough to get him back up and we wiped. As we ran back the tank said that I should just spam him, and I responded with "sorry, I was trying to heal the dps as well". This was my attempt to summarise in a nutshell what I just spent a whole paragraph explaining on here: that there was some AoE going around, I hadn't anticipated such a damage spike on him etc.

However, I quickly realised that these words could also be interpreted in a completely different way, for example: "It's not my fault, I had to split my healing because you weren't soaking up all the damage like a good tank should be doing." It's not what I meant at all, but it soon became clear that this or something similar was what the tank had actually read. We didn't fight about it and just moved on, but it sure made me think. At first it seemed silly to me that the tank had interpreted my words that way, but after some thinking I had to admit that I might have done the same in his position. Who hasn't been burned by a pugger who criticised them mercilessly for the smallest of things? Who isn't prepared for a certain extent of bad play and mean behaviour when grouping up with strangers? Assuming the worst as soon as someone speaks is almost natural, and so is getting defensive.

If we want to do everything we can to be on good terms with our fellow puggers, we have to try to communicate more clearly, instead of trying to make the run a few precious seconds shorter by only typing a couple of words. We have to think about how our words and actions could be interpreted from a different point of view and try to make our intent as clear as possible, more so than we would usually do in real life that is. Add smilies! I know many people look down on them, but a simple ":)" at the end of a sentence can add so much to your message. The people in your group can't hear or see you, and continuing with the conclusion from above that people will always assume the worst, they'll probably think that you're grouchy and aggressive. Adding a smiley can instantly defuse that tension, showing everyone that you're friendly and not out to ninja their loot or insult their play style.

I have seen how much of a difference these little things can make as well. For example I keep getting hugely positive reactions to something as simple as announcing that I'm about to make an off-spec roll. I always wait to see if someone needs the item for their main spec first and only roll need if nobody else did, so some people might say that my intent should be obvious anyway and that talking about it is just overexplaining. But it's not, and the fact that I waited to see other people's rolls first is easily overlooked. By stating explicitly that I only want the item for my off-spec I'm putting possible main spec competitors at ease. It says, "I respect giving main specs priority over off-specs, don't worry. I won't be that dps death knight who ninjas your tanking trinket from the last boss." Those who just roll need on everything won't care, but those who still care about main vs. off-specs will, and they'll immediately have a much more positive attitude towards you than before.

Hell, even the little "hi" at the beginning of a dungeon helps. I have to admit, I had given up on it for a while some time ago because it felt pointless. Nobody talked for the rest of the dungeon anyway. But then I read a discussion about the quality of pugs somewhere (I forgot where) and one of the people defending them as not all that bad said something like, "I always make sure to say hello at the start of the dungeon and most of my groups are pretty polite. Maybe that makes all the difference?" It seemed silly, but I did pay more attention to it afterwards, and I actually always feel better when the majority of the group says hello at the instance. It's a last concession to the fact that we're still playing with other people instead of random NPCs, and it always gives me hope that the other players will be more likely to remember that there is a real person behind the avatar if anything goes wrong and tempts them to lash out.

In conclusion, don't be that guy who never says anything. In theory there is such a thing as talking too much in an instance, but it's been a long time since I've seen anyone who came even close to deserving such a description. Talking in a friendly manner is so valuable these days, as it reminds everyone that you're a person and want to deal with them on the same level. I'll admit that in a run where everything goes smoothly it doesn't matter as much, but if anything goes wrong at all, I know that I'm not happy when all the other avatars just stare back at me silently, pretending that they didn't see the question I just asked in chat. And I don't want to give others that kind of treatment either. I think it would make a lot of runs a lot better if more people kept that in mind.


More Kalimdor Questing

I don't seem to be very good at keeping up with writing a series of posts, but as far as my project of writing about levelling alts through the new low-level content goes, I haven't given up on it yet - I just took a break from it.

Last time I wrote about how I had taken my human rogue through the Southern Barrens and Dustwallow Marsh. After that I continued to Thousand Needles, but something about the story in that zone confused me (more about that later), and I found myself wondering whether the alternative available levelling path through Desolace and Feralas might've explained events better, so I decided to take my warlock down that route before writing about Thousand Needles, to make sure that I had all the relevant info.


Before the Cataclysm, Desolace was a zone with a less than stellar reputation. I always thought that the quests themselves weren't too bad (though I only ever finished the Magram/Gelkis rep grind once, while working on Loremaster at level 80 - that definitely wasn't one of Blizzard's brightest ideas), but there were two downsides to the zone that I definitely took note of as well. One: it was ugly as hell. I'm not saying that everything has to be lush and green (though I love those zones myself), but there is barren... and then there's Desolace, which is seriously nothing but a depressing grey wasteland. Two: it has always felt somewhat out of the way to me, especially whenever I was playing Alliance. Even with the accelerated levelling speed I wanted to return to a capital city once in a while questing there on my warlock, and the return trip always took bloody forever. Before the Cataclysm I mostly just ended up getting my levels elsewhere during that level range, often not even due to a conscious decision or anything. I'd just kind of automatically make my way through Stranglethorn or Arathi and not even realise that I had completely skipped Desolace until I was well into my forties.

When the Cataclysm promo video first came out, it included a shot that had the camera panning across a rejuvenated Desolace, and to me, that was easily one of the most exciting sights in that video. Unfortunately, the reality didn't really live up to the dream. Yes, there's a lush glade in the centre of the zone now... but all around it, the place is still the same it's always been. Also, the Cataclysm hasn't really made the zone any more accessible.

The quests were enjoyable enough, but then as I said before, to me they've always been pretty decent. The zone seems to offer a pretty even split between quests that are completely new, quests that are based on old ones but have been revamped a bit, and old quests that have pretty much been left untouched. I honestly don't know how I feel about that. In some ways it's an awkward mix. Then again, I kind of enjoyed running out to some lonely hut without having any kind of breadcrumb quest, and finding that it was still inhabited by the same old goblin wanting me to round up kodos or gather ghost-o-plasm. On the latter quest I even managed to get myself killed once, not a mean feat in today's levelling world. But at the same time it doesn't really fit. When all the other quests have been streamlined into one big storyline (the naga story in this zone is quite interesting by the way, as is the new centaur plot), then those others just stick out like sore thumbs. I couldn't actually find a follow-up quest to lead me into Feralas, which was a first for me in the post-Cataclysm world, but I continued down there anyway.


I have an old post somewhere in which I declared my love for the old Feralas and how it continued to surprise me even after years of playing. Obviously I can't say with any certainty that the revamped Feralas will never surprise me in the future, but considering that it follows the new linear quest model, I'm not getting my hopes up.

This is also one of the two neutral zones that I've already done on characters of both factions (the other one was Stonetalon), and I have to say that, in that regard, it's been rather disappointing. One of the biggest appeals of rolling an alt of the other faction in the old world was that it gave you access to some very different content. I'm not saying that there was never any overlap, and neutral quest givers have always been available to everyone, but if you had separate camps for the two sides in a zone, you could generally count on being tasked with different things. For example, while both factions used to be sent to the Ruins of Ravenwind to kill harpies, the Alliance would be sent there to assemble the staff of something-or-other, while the Horde was out to kill the leader of the harpies. The night elves wanted to save fairy dragons, some orc in Camp Mojache just wanted the horns of Grimtotem. On Alliance side you discovered the local silithid hive while on a mission to rescue a lost elf, on Horde side you followed the trail of the gnolls' aggression back to the silithid. And so on, and so forth. They were separate stories.

Not much is left of that, and I find that quite sad. The vast majority of the new quests are identical across factions, down to even the basic ones to kill x amount of dragon whelps, stags, ogres, gnolls, silithid or what have you. Once again Blizzard seems to be operating under the principle that everyone has to see all the content, and thus we couldn't have any quests on one side that might make people on the other side feel as if they are missing out on anything. In some cases this felt quite forced too: For example the Alliance now also gets the same quests as the Horde that have you killing mobs east and north-east of Camp Mojache. While the Alliance has a flight path much closer to the Horde base now, it was still fricking annoying to have to run through tons of gnoll camps in order to sneak past Camp Mojache over and over again, as the quest chain had you running back and forth about four times. In the old days I never had any quests to go there, and you know what? It was not a bad thing. I do hope that not all zones have become like that.

That said, the quests themselves are still enjoyable enough, and there's some interesting lore that has you meeting Ysondre and Cho'gall. Also, if you're a herbalist, this place will drive you crazy with how many herbs it's got. I kept following the golden dots on the mini-map and would always find myself in a completely different place than where I had intended to go. By the end I simply had to force myself to ignore most of the herbs or I never would have got anything done.

Thousand Needles

Now, Thousand Needles. This zone is weird now. Not bad, just weird. I did it on my rogue, and as I mentioned at the start, I came here after doing the Southern Barrens and Dustwallow Marsh. The breadcrumb quest leads you to the very western edge of the zone, where the night elf outpost supposedly needs help, but then they only ask you to kill a few attackers and immediately send you away to the local luxury speed barge owned by a gnome and a goblin. Because that's the logical thing to do with desperately needed reinforcements, send them away on holiday. Bwuh?

So then you get sent to the very eastern end of the zone, where you get quests to work your way west again, and then back east again. This didn't feel like good flow to me. Also, everything being covered in water didn't help. The quests are partly on land and partly on water, and like in Vashj'ir the designers tried to make the latter as painless as possible by giving you increased swim speed, underwater breathing and a mount. Except that the mount isn't actually a mount, it's an item in your inventory that you have to use to activate a boat vehicle, and it still feels depressingly slow in the vastness of the sea, especially compared to the insanely fast and mysteriously powered night elven speed boat that initially takes you to the barge.

The quests themselves are almost all entirely new, mostly good fun and quite memorable. Among other things, there's a gnome who wants to open an ice cream emporium in the middle of nowhere, and you run into Tony Two-Tusk again, whom Horde players might remember from the Northern Barrens. However, as Alliance I was also quite confused that I was told to help the Horde fight back the Grimtotem that had taken over Freewind Post. I mean, excuse me? You just spent the better part of three zones telling me that the Horde is my mortal enemy, in Stonetalon I had to work on forging an alliance with the Grimtotem, and now this? Unfortunately Desolace and Feralas didn't explain this sudden development either. On the border between Feralas and Thousand Needles there is talk of the Grimtotem suddenly attacking for no reason, but that's still quite a 180 degree turn. Helping the Horde after all they did to us... /grumble. (And that's coming from someone who mainly plays Horde.) If anyone could enlighten me about why that's supposed to make sense, I'd appreciate it.

Towards the end of the zone you also forge an unexpected alliance with a not particularly friendly lore character (I don't want to spoil it), which once again left me wondering where this particular story was going, as the ending is somewhat open.

I have to admit, so far my trip across Kalimdor has felt less exciting overall than the revamped Eastern Kingdoms, but I still have zones to cover, so we'll see how it goes.


The voices around us

I was going to write a post about the joys of pugging today, but after a Zul'Gurub run on my hunter left me fuming due to an extremely patronising druid who was tanking in cloth, I felt that I wasn't exactly in the right mindset for the subject anymore.

I've finally managed to catch up with all the blog posts that people have made during my absence, and this post by Rohan was an interesting inspiration to me. In it he talks about how one's impression of the state of the blogosphere is affected by personal experience. If you read a lot of blogs that have shut down recently, you might be tempted to assume that this is what's happening to blogs everywhere. You might also conclude that WoW as a whole is dying. Now, Blizzard did report losing a fair chunk of subscribers lately, but by itself that's hardly a sign of the incoming WoW apocalypse just yet.

Nonetheless a lot of people seem to agree that Cataclysm has done more bad than good for the game. Wait, who are these "lot of people"? Looking at my blog roll, it has half a dozen blogs at the bottom that have stopped updating, and at least another half dozen that still update frequently but whose owners have stopped playing WoW and regard it with a critical eye these days. Nonetheless I still enjoy reading all of them, and often find myself nodding my head in agreement with whatever points they make. Yeah, the game has really gone downhill...

Except then something funny happened: I discovered The Instance. Okay, "discovered" is a bit of an exaggeration as I had been vaguely aware of its existence before, but now I actually started listening to it. And wow, what a different picture of WoW did I get from that. I guess it's easy to love something that doesn't cost you any money (the hosts seem to have been given a lot of free play time by Blizzard), but still, their enthusiasm sounds very genuine. It's not that they are never critical of anything the developers do, but on the whole they spend a lot more time being excited about the parts of the game that they love than focusing on what bothers them. And you know what? I agreed with them as well. WoW is great!

But wait, which is it? I can't agree with both of them, can I? It certainly made me think about where my own opinions come from. Obviously I'm not just blindly following whatever someone else says, but I am pretty empathic, so it's generally easy for me to identify with different points of view. And it made me wonder what kind of voices I'm listening to as of late. Am I really thinking that the game is less fun than it used to be or am I just automatically nodding along when others say so?

When I started reading WoW blogs, they were all pretty positive and fun. However, over time a lot of writers that I follow have become disillusioned with the game. I'm still reading them because I enjoy their writing style, but it does make me wonder whether I'm not sucking some of my own enjoyment out of the game by spending too much time reading about how much things suck in the eyes of certain bloggers. Wouldn't my experience be enhanced by reading blogs that remind me of the things that are fun?

I'll have to be on the lookout for some more enthusiastic blog writers and podcasters. I'd like to have some sort of balance on my blog roll, so that if I ever get truly bored of WoW, I want it to be because of my own feelings, and not because I let other people's negative opinions of the game affect me too much.