A Shaman's Life

Wilhelm writes about taming his first hunter pet and Syncaine is forced to learn how to play a rogue. One of the great things about Classic is that all the classes are very unique both in terms of gameplay and in terms of world view/narrative as it's portrayed through their class quests.

Shamans for example have their totems, and those totems have meaning to them. To you they may just be glowy sticks on the ground that give you buffs, but to a shaman, every totem they've acquired had its price.

I mentioned in my post about picking a class that I didn't actually level a shaman to cap until Wrath of the Lich King, but I did at least dabble in the low levels back in the day. Also, a lot of class mechanics were still intact in early Wrath anyway, though there were additional conveniences such as a decent UI for totem management.

One thing I'd completely forgotten though is that totems took up bag space back in the day. What, these items that my character is supposed to be carrying around with her at all times actually go into my bags? What does this game think it is, some sort of roleplaying game or world simulation? Shocking.

Something I hadn't entirely forgotten were the quests to acquire each elemental totem, though apparently I'd forgotten when you get the first one. I actually made it all the way to level ten without acquiring a single totem and was then surprised when my trainer offered me the quest for the fire totem, which I knew to be the second one. Turns out I'd completely missed the one for my earth totem in the starter area, something I immediately had to go back and rectify.

Shamanism mostly seems to be about imbibing strange liquids and then seeing things that other people don't see. The earth totem quest has you going to a place where all you see is a rock, but then you drink some sapta and ooh, a giant elemental appears! Groovy.

Shamans also like going to weird corners of Azeroth that you wouldn't even know exist if you're not a shaman yourself. For example the fire totem quest has you climbing an extremely narrow path in the very corner of Durotar to visit an elemental shrine on top of a high mountain. I actually thought I might have mentioned that one on the blog when I did it for the very first time back in the day, but I can't find any evidence of it now.

The quest also asks you to steal something from some cultists in a cave in Durotar, and I went to completely the wrong cave at first and spent about twenty minutes killing mobs inside until it started to dawn on me that something might be wrong. Then I googled the correct location, yet still had trouble finding it for ages because again, it requires you to follow a very specific path just to find that one small cave with half a dozen cultists in it who are just there to have their stuff stolen by shamans.

But the worst/most interesting one is the quest for your water totem that you get at level 20. Ask any shaman about their call of water and watch them break out into cold sweat at the mere memory. It's not actually hard... but for some reason it involves a ridiculous amount of running around.

You start just south of Ratchet, then get sent to the Southern Barrens, then to Hillsbrad Foothills (!), then back to the Barrens, then to Ashenvale, then back to the Barrens again, then you get sent back to Ratchet and since that's where you started you think that you might finally be done but nooo, one more detour to Silverpine Forest (!) please before it's back to Ratchet once again. And all that on foot, because remember, in Classic you don't get mounts until level 40. I suppose the fact that shamans also get the ghost wolf ability at level 20 soothes the pain a little, but it's still quite a trek to make for a single low-level quest chain.

Ironically, the call of air is then really easy from what I remember... though I might be wrong, as my tauren shaman hasn't gotten to that one yet.

Anyway, while all that may sound a bit ranty, I actually think that these quests are really neat, and the fact that you have to pay attention or overcome some obstacles just makes them more memorable. That every class gets these little stories that form a shared experience among all members of that class - and that class only - is pretty cool.


A Cow Goes To Westfall

After two days of binging on World of Warcraft Classic, I've already got so many stories to tell that I hardly know where to begin... but since what I'm thinking of today is a particularly easy post to make, I'll jump right ahead and tell you how my little shaman and friends went to run the Deadmines as Horde.

Basically, Nemi and I were undecided last night: we wanted to run another dungeon but couldn't decide which one. We'd just done Wailing Caverns in the early afternoon (and it had taken quite long), so we didn't want to do that again right away, and we weren't really of a high enough level yet to go for the next obvious targets, Shadowfang Keep and Blackfathom Deeps.

Then she had an idea: How about... doing Deadmines as Horde? It's quite a hike and there are no quests, but it would certainly be an adventure! A quick shout-out in the guild we've joined immediately yielded some volunteers.

After a brief discussion about what would be the quickest way to get to Westfall as Horde, we took the zeppelin to Grom'gol and made our way from there, trying a number of different routes. Personally I went for "trying to swim up the coast", but being too close to the beach I got killed by crocolisks and murlocs multiple times. I should have followed the example of our priest, who had ventured much further out into the water and didn't die once from what I could tell.

I found it quite interesting to see this giant gate at the very Northern edge of Stranglethorn - presumably that's where the Defias ship actually goes out into the sea (if you ever wondered how and why there is a ship inside a cave).
We hung out at the meeting stone for a few minutes while some members who had travelled differently had to wait for their res sickness debuff to wear off. A number of Alliance came over and gawked at us, understandably. I'd been similarly surprised when I crossed a group of Alliance players upon exiting the Wailing Caverns earlier in the day.

Our group was quite a nice one, and the rogue amused everyone by insisting that the mage should conjure water for him too because he was thirsty, and then sat down to drink with the casters every time. (We're not on an RP server by the way.)

Also, at one point another guildie noticed our location and basically broke out in giggles in guild chat about what a mad bunch of nerds we were.

Most of the run was pretty smooth (not least because we were on the high end of the level range for Deadmines) but we did suffer two near wipes: one on an accidental pull of Captain Greenskin with loads of trash and one on Van Cleef himself. Someone with a res always managed to escape by jumping off the ship though, which caused the mobs to evade and then the rest of the party could be revived without having to do a corpse run.

As mentioned there are no quests for Hordies in the Deadmines, but I briefly got excited when I could loot the quest item that drops from Van Cleef. It turned out to just be a racist letter though.

Overall, it was a fun little adventure to occupy our evening. It's not something I'd ever done back in Vanilla or on private servers. However, one thing that's quickly becoming apparent about Classic is that it invites people to be playful and that old content is no reason not to have new adventures.


Classic Launch Night on Pyrewood Village - EU

As mentioned previously, in Europe the Classic launch was scheduled for the not particularly convenient time of midnight / 11pm (the latter if you were in the UK like I am). As it was a holiday here, I had the day off anyway and found it increasingly hard to focus the closer the launch came.

Half an hour before the whole thing was supposed to go live, the first reports of queues started to come in: Apparently people were already clogging up the pipes on some servers just to get to the character selection/creation screen.

Wanting to avoid getting caught up in something like this on our own server, my friends Nemi, Ollie and I decided to already log in as well (there was no queue on Pyrewood Village yet) and passed the time by creating additional level one characters to make sure we wouldn't get kicked for inactivity.

Then the final seconds ticked down, the "Enter World" button lit up... and everything froze. "This is where we crash the server," I commented on Discord, but actually the servers did hold up alright to begin with. There was a noticeable pause of about half a minute on the initial loading screen, as the system clearly laboured under the pressure of thousands of people wanting to log in at the exact same second, but eventually the intro cinematic started.

And I had to laugh, seeing the huge, teeming mass of tauren. My husband came over to look at what was causing such hilarity. That said, the crowds dispersed relatively quickly, and to me at least it felt nothing like my main point of comparison, the re-launch of the Nostalrius PvE server (which is a good thing by the way).

"Woot" seemed on point.
Sure, it was busy and not exactly easy to find mobs, but I guess it helps that the tauren starter area is so large and open - as long as you always kept ambling across the next hill, you'd find a mob to tag sooner or later.

Relatively speaking, I'm also pretty sure that it was actually the quietest of starting zones, as tauren are the least popular Horde race from what I remember. (Or was it trolls? But they share a starter zone with the orcs in any case.) Nonetheless, it wasn't a good night to be a plainstrider or mountain lion.

While there was a little bit of lag initially, this went away remarkably quickly, and after that everything seemed to go quite smoothly - until I was suddenly kicked back to the character selection screen with this message:

I got back in almost instantly and then proceeded to play just fine for a while, but my friend Nemi, who had also rolled a tauren but immediately hit the road to Durotar in order to maximise her reputation gain with the orcs, got kicked out even sooner and was unable to log back in for hours. At a later point I was eventually kicked out long-term as well.

Checking sources like Twitch and the forums, this seemed to be a problem uniquely affecting the EU servers - on US everyone was just complaining about queues, and while we had some of that as well, it was weird to have the game completely breaking down on one side of the pond but not the other. It certainly didn't help the ancient prejudice of EU players being considered less important than US ones.

Even though it was going on silly o'clock, we persisted with our attempts to log in again and eventually Blizzard must have fixed whatever was going wrong. The "world server down" message seemed a bit misleading as the problem never actually seemed to affect the entire "world" of the server. Best I could tell, based on the fact that both of my DCs happened when I was crossing from one sub-zone into another, there seems to be some sort of instancing going on in the background that went haywire.

I think in total the problem persisted intermittently for about three hours, during which everyone affected was super grumpy and complaining bitterly... just to instantly forget about it all again the moment they were finally able to log back in.

I stayed up until gone 4am (yes, I admit it - I binged, especially as I had taken the next day off work specifically for this purpose) and managed to reach level ten on my tauren shaman in that time.

Population control seemed to be working fine, at least in Mulgore on my server. As I said: it felt busy, but not too busy. As soon as people got off Red Cloud Mesa they spread so far and wide that no quests were really problematic anymore.

The only quest that felt like a bottleneck early on was the one to kill quillboars in Brambleblade Ravine. The narrow, tight corridors forced everyone there into way too small a space, and where I previously mostly remembered that area as being quite deadly to new players, my experience this time around was that the quillboar didn't stand a chance against the onslaught of tauren forces.

Particularly interesting was the quest to kill the named chieftain, who was spawn-camped to hell and back. Unlike what I've heard from other servers, many of the early Pyrewood players weren't inclined to form an orderly line or even to group up, the latter of which I found very odd.

While standing in the crowd I asked about grouping up in /say but received no response. Eventually I just started manually targeting every single character around me and attempting to invite them. Some were already in groups but a surprising number were not, which meant that I quickly assembled a full five-man, which managed to nab a kill soon enough.

That still left the problem of the generic quillboar killing quest though. Two people left as soon as the chief died and a third quickly walked away even though he didn't leave the party, but me and the one remaining other guy seemed to share a quiet sense of frustration as we ran in circles over and over again, failing to tag anything.

Eventually we found a slightly out of the way precipice, which I think people were avoiding intentionally as it had three or four mobs on a fast respawn right next to each other, but with the two of us together we were able to take them on and killed them as many times as needed to get our quest done.

At one point my questing buddy also suddenly opened a trade and simply handed me a white shield that was better than the one I was using at the time. Feeling like I should reciprocate, I found a pair of grey boots in my bag that was slightly better than his and traded him those in turn. Simple gestures.

As I already mentioned, once people dispersed across the plains, things got a lot better, though I was also reminded of how incredibly annoying those early Mulgore quests are in terms of bag space. Not only do you get half a dozen quests to collect different animal parts, sometimes they are different parts of the same animal, so of course you feel that you should have them all in your log at the same time to benefit from synergies, but the end result is simply that you have no bag space for anything not quest-related and I ended up jogging in and out of Bloodhoof Village to vendor things every handful of mob kills for a while.

When a small green pouch dropped from a Flatland Prowler later in the evening, I actually gasped out loud and took a screenshot. This immediately made so much of a difference that I decided I needed to fill all my bag slots nau.

Fortunately this was handily facilitated by a friendly tauren tailor that had been advertising in general chat that they were happy to craft linen bags for the small fee of one silver as long as the customer also provided their own linen. So I sought them out and filled out my remaining bag slots, while also supporting local business. It immediately felt sooo much better.

Oh, and speaking of chat, as someone who usually turns off or ignores general chat in most MMOs, I was pleasantly surprised by how civil it was all night. There was some banter ("Is this Barrens chat?" "No, it's just a tribute") but everyone remained relaxed and in a good mood.

And that was my launch day/night experience - I've since had a whole day of even more play behind me, but that will have to be a story for another day.


How Does This Work Again?

I said that I probably wouldn't have anything else to post before Classic launch, but I resubscribed today and thought that the whole experience was kind of amusing.

First my initial credit card payment refused to go through, only yielding an extremely vague error message. I was already halfway through writing a ticket to Blizzard support when I happened to check my phone and saw that my bank had texted me about "potential fraudulent activity" on my card - basically they'd blocked the transaction because they thought it too unlikely that I actually wanted to give Blizzard money! Once I actually confirmed to them that yes, I did want to subscribe to WoW, the payment went through just fine.

First order of the day was to log into Pyrewood Village on Classic and create my tauren shaman there. I'd forgotten that female tauren only had literally four face options back in the day. For me, less is probably more in that regard though, as I tend to spend a significant amount of time at character creation anyway, even with such a limited number of options.

I got my first choice of name but was a bit concerned to see the server already marked as full. With Classic launching at 11pm local time tomorrow, I won't really have the time to sit in queues for three hours before playing. So I made a night elf hunter on the RP-PvE server as a backup, since that one was still flagged as having only a medium population. If Pyrewood Village is too full tomorrow night, I should be able to at least log into Hydraxian Waterlords to spend some time in the night elf starter zone, before braving Pyrewood queues again on Tuesday morning (I took the day off work).

After that, curiosity won out and I also logged into the live game to remind myself of where I'd left off there. I was immediately taken aback by the sheer amount of servers on which I had one or two characters each. Since the first character I selected also had a name with lots of numbers attached to it, I actually worried for a moment that a gold seller had gotten into my account somehow since I last played, but then I remembered that Blizzard did free up some names from inactive accounts at some point in the last seven years, so I guess those alts' names fell victim to that. In the end I only found two that were afflicted in such a way anyway.

Still, clicking my way through those character selection screens was a real workout for my memory as I tried to recall just why I had a level 6 tauren shaman on Aggramar or a level 6 draenei priest on Nagrand. Most of it did come back to me eventually (oh yeah, I even made a blog post about how I accidentally kicked someone from a Halls of Stone run and then made an alt on his server purely to apologise) but some did remain a bit of a mystery to be honest.

This is why blogging is important to me: In the moment it might seem silly to worry about ever forgetting what you're doing right now and why, but give or take five to ten years and it's quite a different picture. This is also why I greatly admire historians for trying to make sense of people's actions from centuries ago, because I can barely remember what motivated me less than a decade ago.

The next thing that struck me was that I'd forgotten just how bad the female tauren models came out of the big character model revamp of 2014. Just... yikes. So many of my characters were female tauren and I can barely even look at them now.

Eventually I decided to actually take the plunge and log into the character that I played the last time I was subscribed for a short while during Mists of Pandaria, my level 90 Worgen druid. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had given her what I thought was actually a pretty cool transmog. The little mail icon next to my mini map kept telling me that I had mail from several NPCs but nothing actually showed in my mailbox, and generally getting to grips with all the UI changes that Blizzard made since the last time I played was pretty overwhelming.

Even the quest log looked totally different, making it so that you can't just look at your quests anymore without also having a giant map take up two third of your screen. Personally I thought that the general theme was that everything was too busy visually, with illustrations and icons and pop-ups for everything. I don't remember it being that bad last time I played. I chose some talents and killed a couple of mobs in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms (which is where my druid was parked) but the oppressive feeling of too much input didn't want to go away.

While flying around a bit, I accidentally went right into the local Horde base, where I quickly died to the guards and found myself flagged for PvP. I thought that wasn't a thing anymore with war mode?

Anyway, at that point I logged off again, to come back for Classic tomorrow I guess. I know coming back to an MMO after several years of absence is always going to be tough, but I honestly didn't expect things to feel that bad to me. It's an odd thing that the six years since Mists of Pandaria seem to have only widened the chasm between me and the game further, while slipping back into a gaming mode from almost fifteen years ago feels entirely comfortable. Maybe this is what it's like to get older, when you can remember things from twenty years ago as if they happened yesterday, but events from five years ago are barely more than a fuzzy memory.


Final Preparations

Blizzard opened up name reservations for WoW Classic with more than two weeks to go until launch - one has to wonder what exactly prompted that decision, though I could certainly think of a number of reasons: whether it's trying to coax extra subscription time out of people they suspect may not actually stick around for that long or wanting to gauge somewhat in advance just how much interest there is in order to better prepare for the launch day crowds. There is certainly evidence that the latter has been a concern, considering that they've already gone and added additional servers more than once.

Speaking of launch day crowds, we also got an official server list and it's... quite short. It's understandable that they want to avoid starting with too many servers and then having some of them become ghost towns, but six servers for the entirety of English-speaking Europe just doesn't sound like very much to me. (EDIT: Since I originally wrote this, two more have been added.) Even if their layering tech works and effectively allows these to become "mega-servers" without causing performance problems, one still has to wonder how much of that old-school community feeling you'll get to enjoy with 50,000 other players on your server... but I'm not complaining (yet) - we'll see how it goes.

I had another chat with my friends from back in the day and we ended up having this whole circular conversation about which server to roll on. I had assumed that it was going to be either PvE or RP-PvE since that's what we played on back in the day, but suddenly they told me that they wanted to go PvP instead. This I staunchly refused, based on my experiences on Kronos, but they had almost convinced me to try and give RP-PvP a go (in hopes of encountering less random griefing there), when it turned out that someone's girlfriend apparently really hates RP and we ended up circling back round to regular PvE anyway.

So it looks like I'll be playing a Tauren shaman on Pyrewood Village, though I haven't created my character yet as I refuse to "waste" paid subscription time purely for the privilege of reserving a name early. The only thing that makes me a bit sad is that I'd completely forgotten that Blizzard enforces a strict separation between US and EU accounts and servers, so I won't get to play with any of the American bloggers who've been sharing in the early excitement. Oh well. We can still exchange stories on our blogs - that's what we do, after all.

Anyway, with only a week left to go I expect that I won't have anything else to add until launch, so I'll see you on the other side!


WoW Classic and Streamers

I'm not into streaming at all and the only times I get to see any streamer's content is if someone records a particularly interesting clip and uploads it to YouTube, but even so I can't deny that they clearly have a following and considerable influence these days.

The WoW Classic interaction with streamers has been oddly split. On the one hand a number of popular streamers have been big fans of the concept of Vanilla servers for a long time, actively advocating for them and helping to bring the notion to the attention of a wider audience. On the other hand, a not insignificant number of the Classic crowd seem to view streaming culture as an annoying new-fangled thing that should have no place in Classic, and there's been talk of actively avoiding the servers that certain streamers want to play on or even forming "anti-streamer guilds" who would aim to gank and disrupt streamers wherever they can be found in the wild.

I can actually somewhat understand the latter sentiment, not least because I don't get the appeal of streaming myself and can absolutely see how a streamer roaming the lands with hordes of devoted followers could be disruptive to other people's gameplay. Yet at the same time... this doesn't inherently strike me as incompatible with what Classic is all about. They'd basically be like celebrities on their own server, and isn't the Vanilla community spirit all about knowing the people on your server? How is the annoying streamer different from the known trade chat troll or leader of a big social guild? I'm not saying you have to like them as people, but having someone on your server who is infamous for one reason or another is perfectly in line with the Vanilla experience everyone has been pining for.

As far as the streamers' interests go, anti-streamer guilds or no, Classic might actually be a pretty good fit for streaming as I understand it, for a number of reasons:

- The average moment-to-moment gameplay is pretty slow-paced and simple, meaning you can play and interact with your chat at the same time. You also don't have to worry about pausing your chatting in order to watch cut scenes or listen to dialogue.

- The open world makes it easy for viewers who also play to join in (unlike in purely instanced, session-based games like Fortnite), and unlike in current WoW, where this is also technically possible, you might actually find it beneficial to have people to group with! Imagine picking up a group quest as a streamer and a bunch of viewers come and help you get it done. Neat!

- At the same time time, the subscription requirement and levelling time required to be viable beyond the starter zone should keep the amount of completely random trolls wanting to grief streamers to a minimum.

- The slightly sandboxy nature of Classic means that you can organise events that allow a flexible number of people to participate and can make for memorable moments, such as when I attended a duelling tournament on Kronos, or when streamer Asmongold had some of his viewers kite a world boss to Stormwind in the Classic beta.

What are your thoughts on streaming? And do you think it will have a noticeable impact on Classic, both in terms of changing the average player's experience and by how it will providing free advertising for the game?


What Will Come After Classic?

It may seem pre-mature to worry about this when the game hasn't even launched yet, but with MMOs the long-term prospects are always interesting to consider and Blizzard are clearly already thinking about them as well.

Syp made a pretty good post about this a few weeks ago, which I'll use as a jumping-off point. Like him, I see four overall options, though I'd group them slightly differently.

1) Do nothing

Likelihood: If Classic is even a moderate success, I'd say the likelihood of them not doing anything with it except maintain it is pretty low. They've clearly given it zero marketing spend, so I'll be surprised if they don't fully recoup their costs and then some from the subscription uptick on launch day alone, at which point ActiBlizz will want to know what they could do to make even more money from it.

My preference: Honestly, I would actually be OK with this. I'm not going to no-life Classic, nor is it going to be my only MMO, so assuming that I dip in and out of it to casually level multiple characters, just the content that's there will be enough to keep me busy for years. To be honest I find it kind of funny how many people seem to be concerned about lack of new additions when the average MMO player doesn't spend nearly enough time in any game to even get through just the launch content.

2) Fresh start servers

Daybreak has made a proper business model out of launching new Everquest servers, sometimes with special rule sets, and then merging them back into the existing ones once interest dies down. People just love that rush of a pristine new server where the world feels fresh and low-level zones are buzzing. We see this in the private server scene too, where many people love to jump in for the launch of a new server even if they've previously played a lot elsewhere, just to be part of the launch day crowd.

Likelihood: Medium. While it's obviously a proven model, I also think that it feels very obviously cheap, an easy way of wringing some fun and engagement out of very little effort. If the Classic team is really devoted to the game's old-school charms, I don't think they'd be in favour of this, as it goes counter to maintaining a sense of persistence and community cohesion. Generally speaking, "seasons" are all the rage in a lot of modern Blizzard games though, so I can see the idea finding traction among ActiBlizz decision makers. The question is who'd win out.

My preference: I like that "fresh start" feeling as much as the next person, but I also like persistence, and if I'm only going to play casually I'd probably rather continue working on my "main" characters than do Elwynn Forest for the umpteenth time. So while I don't think this would harm my own experience (unless they force everyone to start over somehow), it doesn't particularly appeal to me either.

3) Give more expansions the Classic treatment

Likelihood: High. To quote from a Forbes interview with J. Allen Brack:

Interviewer: So there's the opportunity for, if folks wanted it, the vanilla server, the Burning Crusade server, the Wrath server?

Brack: Yes. I don't want to trivialize the amount of work that's required to do that, or the amount of time. It's not something we can just dial up and dial down at any moment. But assuming a wildly successful Classic, we'll see what the future brings.

My preference: This would be my personal favourite option. I'm looking forward to Classic because Vanilla WoW is what I originally fell in love with, but Burning Crusade was easily my favourite expansion. So I'd like it if they made an entirely new BC server where people can either re-roll or copy existing Classic characters over to start at a higher level. I do think that the original Classic server should be preserved though, and nobody should be "forced" into a new expansion that they might not even like.

4) Start developing Classic in an alternate timeline

Also known as the Old School Runescape option.

Likelihood: Low. Again, while there is a precedent for this working successfully, it would require the largest effort and carry the biggest risk. I just think that all of the other options must look that much more appealing to Blizzard.

My preference: I get why people like the idea of this, but to me personally this is my least favourite option. First off, tacking anything new onto Classic would go counter to their original intent of (among other things) treating the Classic project as a restoration and preservation effort. We'd lose the original game a second time! Plus, and this may sound harsh, but I don't trust the team to come up with new content that's sufficiently in the spirit of Classic to not "ruin" the game for me a second time as well.

Which option would you prefer to become reality? I think the odds for my own preferences are pretty good right now!