Playing Catch-up

I've been playing so much Classic lately; it feels almost embarrassing. I pretty much could have been writing daily blogs about all the things I've been doing, but instead I've just been spending all my time actually playing the game. I haven't been in this deep for a while.

Since that first AQ20 I've been to quite a few more raids: more runs of AQ20, one Zul'Gurub, two Onyxias and two Blackwing Lairs. In the last BWL run I won Ashjre'thul, Crossbow of Smiting, the best weapon for hunters until Naxxramas. My little nelf hunter is starting to kick some serious butt.

Unsurprisingly, the gentle nudges to join the raid team proper have continued, and not just from the hunter class leader either. I was quite surprised for example when, after watching one of the priests stream an AQ40 run, he commented to me that it was a shame that I was only watching and that I should be there with them next time. It's been strangely flattering to be courted this way.

At this point I'm about ready to cave, because I'm a firm believer in embracing serendipity, and that if life gives you something nice you should appreciate it to the fullest while you can. I wasn't looking to raid, but I also wasn't looking to join a guild that would turn out to be an awesome fit for me - it just happened. It's not that I absolutely can't raid "properly" in WoW, I've just been prioritising my hobby time differently. I think it may be time to make some changes in that regard.

So with that in mind, I've been looking at what it would take for my little hunter to be raid-ready for current content. Unfortunately, the answer at this point in the game is: more than I expected.

In general, gear level isn't as much of an obstacle as you'd think. I got myself hit-capped through dungeon drops and quest rewards, and everything else is pretty much a bonus. In terms of dps, the tuning in all the Classic raids up to Naxxramas is so low that there isn't really that much pressure to perform. More is nice of course because it makes things go faster, but it's not a big deal unless topping the meters is a personal motivation for you. It's mostly just tanks and healers who have to worry about having enough stats to stay / keep each other alive.

But there are other obstacles. For example, a big hunter utility in Classic is the use of Tranquilizing Shot, an ability that is key to preventing certain bosses from smooshing the tanks while "frenzied". The ability has a cooldown, and on the bosses that frenzy, it happens often enough that you need several hunters rotating their tranq shots.

The ability is learned from Tome of Tranquilizing Shot, a guaranteed drop from the first boss in Molten Core that binds on pick-up. While people were doing MC regularly, it was trivial to get this for every hunter in the raid. However, one year later, people are mostly sick and tired of farming MC and I still haven't been on a full run of it even once.

On the bosses that require tranquilising in BWL, one of the officers has repeatedly called for me to tranq, just for me to have to remind him yet again that I don't have it. It was fine because we had enough other hunters to cover it, but more than any lack of gear, it really highlighted how much I relied on others to carry me and that's something that makes me feel kinda bad every time. The guild finally put an MC run up for next week, so I'm hoping that I'll at least be able to fix that particular problem soon. This is relevant because tranq shot is still used in AQ40 as well.

A seemingly even bigger hurdle is the nature resist gear though. Resistance gear as a whole is a bit of an odd beast in Classic. In Vanilla it was commonly assumed that you needed fire resist gear for Molten Core for example, but in Classic hardly anyone seems to bother except for a few pieces for the tanks. Similarly, nature res for AQ40 doesn't appear to be quite as big a deal as it was back then, but it's still recommended for some bosses at least. I asked in guild what would be required for a hunter and was told to aim for 200 NR buffed, mainly for Princess Huhuran, which may not sound like much to some, but you have to consider that resistances in Classic are generally parcelled out in stacks of 10-20 per gear piece at the most, so that's a lot of different gear slots that need to be filled.

My heart kinda sunk when that realisation hit me. My understanding is that the guild worked on building up everyone's resistance gear for weeks and months before the opening of the gates, so that's potentially quite a lot of work to get done just to get caught up. People have of course been kind enough to offer help, but a grind with help is still a grind, and proper catch-up mechanics are largely absent, so it really is all about farming materials for crafts and going back to old dungeons for rare drops.

Maraudon is one major go-to for nature resist gear, so I trundled over to Desolace last night to see what I could solo in there. I was relieved to see that I could run past pretty much all the trash mobs (the only time I aggroed any of them was when I had my pet out and doing its "running into places I didn't want it to be" thing) but the bosses were still somewhat of a challenge. I couldn't get Noxxion down for example, and while I found a video of a hunter soloing him, that seemed to require a very specific setup. Razorlash was easy enough, as was Meshlok the Harvester (who was actually up), though the latter only gave me a pretty dress instead of the mail helmet I had been hoping for. Celebras the Cursed was very doable as well, though I didn't handle the adds very well so that we ended up knocking each other out simultaneously, which was at least amusing.

In the end I'd had a decent refresher of the earlier half of Maraudon, and the value of the things I vendored just about covered the repair bills for my multiple deaths, but in terms of gear I wasn't really much better off than before. (Razorlash dropped a pair of leather leggings, but the legs are one slot I would've been able to cover with crafted stuff anyway.)

In short, my whirlwind romance with being guilded and trying raiding in Classic continues, but at times it's also emotionally confusing and finding myself face-to-face with some of the more... eclectic-seeming design choices definitely makes me more sympathetic to why the devs decided to change these things later on to make it a bit easier for people to play together.


Classic Burning Crusade Rumoured to Launch Middle of next Year

It's been about six months since a Blizzard poll "accidentally" revealed that they're already working on a classic version of Burning Crusade. We haven't heard anything else about it since then, but pretty much everyone I've talked to in Classic seems to take it as a given that it's coming, and probably not that far off. This week I've become aware that there are even more specific rumours on the subject, saying that Classic BC will be announced at BlizzCon in February (which will now be fully virtual), with beta set to start in March. If it were then to follow a similar timeline as Classic, which went into beta three months before its launch, an early summer release would be likely.

Considering that we haven't even had the last bits of Vanilla content released in Classic yet, this seems mind-blowingly soon to me, even considering that Classic BC is something I'd be looking forward to. Considering the speed at which Blizzard has been pumping out the Classic content patches though, it would fit the pattern, and the rest of the timeline seems plausible as well. WoW Classic was in development for two to three years, but J. Allen Brack stated that after they figured out how to run one older version of WoW, doing the same for other expansions would be a lot less work, and by summer 2021 they would have had nearly two years to work on BC as well, assuming they started development shortly after Classic's launch success.

I have really mixed feelings about this. As much as I'd enjoy a Classic Crusade, it just feels too soon to me. I can see why raiders who've been clearing all the content might disagree, but as someone who's just kind of been bumbling along, the thought of a progression to BC making everything obsolete already - in a way - is a bit worrying nonetheless. I have no doubt that servers for the "original Classic" will continue to hang around, but in terms of endgame I'm sure there'll be a steep drop in active population. In fact, even Naxx might end up being short-changed a second time if it comes out only a couple of months before people's focus starts to shift towards a potential BC beta.

And that's all without even mentioning the question of just how Blizzard is going to handle the matter of letting people progress into BC as per the original question posed in their poll. I'm still hoping for the full server copy option, but considering that wasn't even on Blizzard's radar at the time I'm not holding out too much hope that we won't end up with something less appealing to me personally.

Still, not much point in worrying too much before we've had anything official. It's just interesting to think about.


AQ20 Adventure

With how well I've been finding my footing in my new guild, it was only a matter of time until I'd come along to one of their social raid nights. Currently the most popular destination is AQ20 (as the "Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj" are informally called) because like Zul'Gurub, it's an easy catch-up raid with no attunement and low gear requirements. So this was my own first destination as well. Considering that AQ20 was the first raid I ever set foot in, it seemed oddly appropriate.

I was actually starting to suffer from a slight case of nerves just beforehand as I really wanted to make a good impression, though I kept reminding myself that I knew very well what it was like to inspect a new recruit from the other side, and - considering that it was a social night - people weren't actually very likely to care as much about any details that I might be worrying about as I did myself.

I knew that no consumables were required, but I did have to face the world buffs question for the first time. I've long been aware of the "world buff meta" as a vague construct, but I hadn't really been pursuing any myself. I decided that I wasn't going to start now, but the head drop coordination Discord for the server (which I'd joined after winning the Heart of Hakkar in my first ZG) stated that there were going to be both a head and a heart drop shortly before raid start, so I thought that I might as well pick those up.

They lasted for exactly one pull, as we wiped on the second one, which made me laugh and just highlighted the futility of that meta once again.

Me saying that we wiped on the second trash pull may not sound like it went very well, but it was actually an OK run overall. As I was saying to the hunter class leader later, I was surprised by where we had pain points, such as that trash pull, and the wipe we had on Moam, which is an extremely easy boss. On the other hand we dealt just fine with Ossirian the Unscarred (whom I didn't hit once, as I was tasked with running up and down one side of the room and clicking crystals), and a ninja-pulled Buru for example. Basically, there were no real problems other than people being a bit silly.

Much to my surprise I was instantly given the responsibility of pulling trash at the start, despite of there being a more experienced hunter in the group, which made me raise an eyebrow as I wondered whether I was being tested in some capacity. I certainly wasn't left without instruction though, with one of the officers in specific sending me frantic whispers to "pull now" or "don't go any further" all the time. Despite of that one trash wipe, I don't think my performance came up wanting, as I was told that the wipe had more to do with dispels not being done in a timely manner than anything else.

There was also a funny moment later when we were pulling the Anubisaths on the way to Ossirian and I was once again asked to pull - so I ran up on my mount to get aggro and tried to quickly get back to the group but wasn't quite fast enough, so I was splatted by a meteor just before I reached them. (The damage from the meteor ability they do needs to be shared out among the whole group to be survivable.) I was actually uncertain whether I'd done something wrong or had just fallen victim to some sort of newbie hazing ritual. I think that ultimately the answer was neither, and it was more a mix of them still trying different pulling tactics for these and not fully having thought their request for me to pull alone through to the end.

I didn't get any loot on that run other than a Qiraj Spiked Hilt, which is a token that can be turned in for a melee weapon... once you hit exalted with the Cenarion Circle. Not likely to happen to me anytime soon! In fact, I didn't even really want it for that exact reason, but we had several drop in a row and by the end there was nobody else who could have used it even potentially, which was the only reason I agreed to take it.

Still, the whole experience definitely left me with a taste for more once again.


Fitting In

I've been feeling the pull of Classic more strongly recently, and it's largely due to my new guild. Before then, I was kind of hitting that "endgame funk" on my hunter again, with solo content opportunities drying up and me not being sure how badly I really wanted to try running places like Stratholme or Scholomance with pugs just to get my quests in there done. Somehow, the thought of going anywhere with a bunch of friendly faces changes everything.

After only a few weeks, I already feel more at home in <Order of the Holy Fork> than I ever did in <Group Therapy> on Pyrewood Village. This isn't meant to diss the latter in any way; they were always perfectly friendly in their interactions with me, but I just never really made any real connections. On the few occasions when I joined GT members for dungeon runs, they were often talking about raid-related stuff that just confused me. (I guess it also helps that I have a somewhat better understanding of how Classic endgame works than I had a year ago.) And even if I found some players there quite likeable, this never seemed to be reciprocated. I don't remember people greeting me when I came online, asking me to join their group, taking an interest in who I was beyond "a tauren hunter", or engaging in any playful banter with me. Yet all of these things have already happened in the Forks.

Again, to be fair, the whole situation is different. In GT I was just somebody else's hanger-on who took ages to level compared to everyone else and was forever behind the curve. It's a bit different when you're a raid-ready level 60 and were actively recruited. I actually found myself wondering why one of the officers seemed to be paying so much attention to me, until I realised that he's also the hunter class leader and the guild is actively recruiting for two more raiding hunters right now. He's probably still holding out hope that I might want to make the jump to raider at some point. However, a lot of the regular members have also simply been nice to me without any apparent ulterior motives and we've shared quite a few laughs.

Another thing that's different though is that I've also made more of an effort from my end. Wriggling your way into the social structure of a guild is more "work" than you'd think, which is why I'm not surprised whenever I see people complain about feeling left out of their guild's activities when groups and friendly interactions don't just emerge effortlessly the moment they adopt a new guild tag.

You've got to learn the names and quirks of the officers, the raiders, and those who might be neither but are still online a lot and therefore somewhat influential. You've got to learn to connect alts with their respective mains - guild notes can help with memorising who's who, but god help you if any characters aren't tagged correctly. (If anyone involved ever reads this, whoever set the guild note for Reso's rogue to "Tony the Tigah!" caused me so much confusion at first...)

You learn to identify people's voices on voice chat - and oh, voice chat is a whole other kettle of fish. My impression so far is that similar to the way it works in my SWTOR guild, you could technically be a member of the Forks without ever coming on voice, but people like to hang out there to be social and as a result it's a good place to get first dibs on dungeon runs. Initially I was very quiet, not because I'm shy but because I think it's polite to listen first, to get a feel for the general tone and people's personalities, but as time's gone by I've become a bit more confident when it comes to speaking up, not least because I liked what I heard and people made me laugh.

I don't really know where this will be going in the long term - how many more names and personalities can my little brain realistically memorise when I already have so many cats to herd in SWTOR? - but for now I'm enjoying that giddy feeling of actively looking forward to being online again, not necessarily to achieve a specific piece of character progression that night, but just to play with some friendly people in a way that I know will be fun.


AQ Gate Opening Event on Hydraxian Waterlords - EU

Same event, very different experience.

For one thing, actually being a member of a guild as opposed to just timidly peeking in from the sidelines made a big difference, as I found myself invited to a raid group pretty much the moment I logged in, which was nice.

However, the timing of the event was also very different. I found it very convenient that the gong was rung at 20:35 on Sunday evening on Pyrewood Village, but on Hydraxian Waterlords the hand-ins had been timed in such a manner that it happened at 10:55 on a Monday morning instead. The guild mistress relayed that there had been some drama surrounding this, as apparently certain people had been supposed to do the last hand-ins earlier but failed to do so, leading to others kind of "going rogue" and doing it themselves.

From the sounds of it, it wouldn't have made much of a difference to the inconvenient start time though, as the idea seemed to be to start the ten-hour war between the banging of the gong and the actual opening of the instance early in the day, so that the raids would become accessible in the evening at the raiders' convenience, never mind people actually wanting to take part in the event.

Fortunately I'm working from home indefinitely now, and since I didn't have any meetings that morning, I had the luxury of moving my lunch break to a convenient time to attend the banging of the gong. One advantage of the timing being rather unfriendly towards working adults - combined with Hydraxian Waterlords' slightly lower population compared to Pyrewood Village - was that the zone wasn't overflowing quite as badly during the event. Sub-60 characters were still getting kicked out, but from what I heard no level 60s were ever teleported out the way it happened to so many (including me) on PV.

As things were actually somewhat playable and I was in a raid group this time, we got involved in the killing of the Silithid colossi. This was something I had only vaguely heard about before: three humongous, tick-like Silithid spawning in each of the three hives and needing to be taken down. Our group of course didn't get the tag on any of them, but they were so massive and had so much health that it really made you want to help out regardless.

To my great amusement, they also had a huge knockback attack that would send dozens of people flying halfway across the zone, resulting in everyone dying from fall damage who didn't have some sort of ability to counter this (such as a mage's Slow Fall). Fortunately I'm the sort of person who finds falling to their death in a video game hilarious, so I had a grand old time.

Once all three colossi were dead, NPCs in Cenarion Hold handed out temporary quests to deliver colossus samples to people in the Eastern Plaguelands, Searing Gorge and Booty Bay. These were available to all, regardless of whether you helped with killing the colossi or not, but only for two hours. The biggest initial challenge was that everyone wanted to pick up the quests simultaneously, burying the quest givers in a sea of mounts, which of course inspired some players in that pile to flag for PvP and well... you can imagine how that went.

Eventually we were able to pick up our quests though and they were quite rewarding, as each one paid out about six gold and a goody bag full of food, potions and gear. Certainly made up for my own repair bills from repeatedly going splat at least. 

We then returned to Silithus to farm some elites around the obelisks. As it was still quite busy we made a detour through Un'goro and Tanaris, but for some reason we couldn't find a single obelisk in Un'goro, and in Tanaris we killed some mobs near Gadgetzan but everyone was kind of dissatisfied with getting only five rep per kill when some of the mobs in Silithus had given fifty or more a pop. Thus we moved back to Silithus anyway, even if it meant facing some competition for spawns.

Camping at the obelisks was both pretty chill as mobs only respawned every fifteen minutes or so and endlessly entertaining due to the obelisks' mind control ability constantly turning random raid members against their friends. I'll hand it to the mages for being fairly disciplined and sheeping (or pigging, or turtling) affected people fairly quickly to neutralise them, but since it was an ongoing affair it was simply impossible to get everyone. Personally I whacked my poor pet to death a couple of times while controlled, and got killed by a gnome mage once who was standing behind me when she suddenly got MCed and blew me up with a fireball. I laughed a lot. 

I eventually had to get back to work for a while, but I did log back on in the evening once my shift was over. To my great incredulity, several of the guildies I had been grouped with earlier had kept going all afternoon and were still at it, happily letting me rejoin their little group - except that it wasn't so little anymore and eventually grew to a full 40-man in fact, as the bear druid who was raid-leading kept picking up strays.

With bigger numbers it was less of a struggle to kill the bigger/stronger groups of enemies (though the mind controls remained as entertaining as ever), and we also started elbowing out the Horde players that had also been trying to camp the obelisk. You see, the mind control also had the side effect of making you hostile to everyone without counting as PvP, so whenever we saw a Hordie getting MCed, they soon became the target of a swift and opportunistic gank.

On another amusing side note, after people had spent hours farming Silithid Carapace Fragments for our Scarab Lord, two to three drops at a time, it was funny to discover that the bugs spawned for the event dropped them literally by the hundreds. Once we noticed, I made sure to fetch my Agent of Nozdormu badge from the bank so I could collect them too, and then passed them on to the rogue who I knew was also working on the quest chain (even if he wasn't going to be a Scarab Lord).

As the last hour of the war began, a zone-wide announcement asked for all forces to gather for the final assault. This being an RP server, we were of course game for this, and people started to pile onto the NPC army south of Cenarion Hold. It took a while for them to get going, but once they did we all rode along with them.

Then we reached the gate, more Colossal Anubisaths began to spawn... and that's when it turned into a lag fest at last as the server buckled under the numbers. I didn't really do much during that last hour except aim my bow at Anubisaths while hoping that my auto-shots would go off eventually, but people were meme-ing about the whole thing in chat as if it was 2005 and it was still highly amusing. We also saw one guy finish the Scarab Lord quest chain and ring the gong about ten minutes before the end of the event, which was a pretty impressive feat.

Finally there was a bit of NPC RP at the gate and then the instances were open and even if I had no interest in going there myself right then, I felt a certain sense of satisfaction watching the first groups of players snake their way inside. That whole day was definitely one of my most memorable WoW experiences ever.

Addendum for a little bit of extra serendipity: I ended up fighting next to an orc shaman called Gnawgrim at some point, which caught my attention because I used to raid with an orc shaman of the same name back in Wrath of the Lich King. (The main thing I remember whenever I think of him was that he had his Astral Recall macroed to say "Screw you guys, I'm going home", which amused me to no end.) I did a bit of asking around and it turns out it was actually the same guy. Small world!


Gone Fishing

I've enjoyed fishing in WoW for a long time, and that is the case in Classic too. Knowing that, you may or may not be surprised to hear that I never took part in the Stranglethorn Fishing Extravaganza before. It just wasn't really on my radar as something I had reason to care about.

That changed a bit over a month ago, when I was trying to fish in the Bay of Storms and found that while it was technically possible, every single fish I hooked at the time instantly got away. Now to be fair, I had somewhat foolishly only brought mid-level lures with me, but even so I was annoyed and started thinking about how else I could raise my fishing skill.

While Horde gets a pretty good fishing pole from a simple quest in the Hinterlands, it turns out that the Alliance has no equivalent to this, so that the best way to upgrade my measly +3 fishing pole was to win the fishing tournament.

I'll give you a spoiler right here: I haven't won it so far. But it's been interesting to try.

I started off by not researching the whole thing very well. I ended up watching a video about the tournament by a YouTuber I follow, but it was about the retail version, and while the basic idea is still to be the first person to catch forty Tastyfish and deliver them to Booty Bay, some things have changed. For example the retail video showed the guy fishing in Lake Nazferiti and saying that this was in fact a great spot for pools.

In my first tournament in Classic I therefore started by the riverside, just to discover that in Classic, schools of Tastyfish don't spawn in-land, only on the coast. This meant that I lost the first five minutes or so of that first contest to just running along the river and lakeside, looking for pools that weren't there. Despite of this, that first attempt was actually the closest I've come to winning ever since, as I was on 36 Tastyfish myself when the yell about someone else having won went out.

The next week I decided to start near Booty Bay, but this was a bad idea, as it was insanely crowded in that area. Specifically there was a group of Hordies who I believe were working together, trying to boost one person's score by having the others act as spotters and such. One of them got very annoyed with my presence and kept spamming me with duelling requests, which I found easy enough to ignore, but ultimately the number of people in the area meant that I had only caught less than twenty fish by the time the contest ended.

The week after that, I decided to go for the opposite approach and started at the very northern end of the zone. That went a bit better in terms of competition, but there was still some, and the pools seemed to be more spread out, meaning that I was once again only on a measly 25 fish by the time the competition ended. On the plus side, I caught one of the special fish for the first time and was able to trade it in for a Lucky Fishing Hat.

After that I missed a week because I forgot to log on at the right time, but last week I once again started up north. This time it went even better, because I was completely on my own in the area for quite a while, but unfortunately I got super unlucky with my pools. One thing people rarely seem to mention is that beside the randomness of the pool spawns and of how many people are in the same area as you, what you get from the pools themselves also has a degree of randomness to it, as it's possible for them to give you things other than Tastyfish. That week I just had the worst luck and all those schools that I had to myself kept spitting out things like Oily Blackmouths.

I was on thirty Tastyfish and competing with a gnome mage for a pool when both of our bobbers bounced at the same time, and we both reeled in at the same time as well. Then I saw her hit her hearthstone, and a few seconds later the yell went out announcing that this very same gnome had won the tournament. Hopefully that's one more person who won't feel the need to come back next week.

I'll just keep at it, because even when it goes badly, it's only twenty minutes out of my Sunday and the little goblin lady in Booty Bay pays good silver for the Tastyfish either way. I just remain kind of surprised by how competitive it is, considering that this is Classic, a medium-pop server, and that fishing's never had a reputation for being a sport for the masses.


Going Fast

I reached another milestone in Classic the other day: I got my first epic mount. Once again, if you had asked me at the start of the year which of my characters would be the first one to get theirs, I certainly wouldn't have bet on a night elf hunter that I hadn't even created yet at that point.

I didn't even really farm for the mount money either; I just made sure to save up as much as I could after buying my level 40 mount and avoided spending on other things. Just continuing to play the game and selling whatever I gained from that eventually did the trick.

There was also a positive surprise in so far as I didn't end up having to pay as much as I expected: I remembered epic riding in Vanilla costing 90 gold, and then having to pay 900 gold for the mount itself. The cost for the mount applies in Classic too, but the riding skill is actually the same regardless of mount speed, so you don't need to train a second time. Instead each race just has a race-specific riding skill (horse riding, tiger riding etc.) so you only need to pay up again if you want to ride another race's mounts (on top of the exalted reputation requirement for that).

I found this Wowhead news article in which they quote Blizzard as explaining that this was a conscious decision they made for Classic, because while the system I remembered was indeed in Vanilla, added with patch 1.12, apparently it was mainly implemented in preparation for Burning Crusade and flying skill, so they decided to stick with the earlier version for Classic instead.

This was nice, as it meant that instead of going completely broke like I had expected, I actually had a solid buffer of about a hundred gold left over. I guess this also means that my tauren hunter is much closer to her own epic mount than I previously thought... maybe I should grind out those last few gold some time just to be able to tick off that box.

I will say though that mount speed is one area where the years have definitely erased my sense of wonder. I still vividly remember getting my first epic mount in Vanilla, and how I found the speed increase from my old tiger so dizzying that I actually had trouble manoeuvring at the start, like someone unexpectedly finding themselves in a race car instead of their usual vehicle.

Fifteen years later though, I can't really say that I found the faster riding speed all that exciting - I mean, I was still happy to get it because it's obviously beneficial, and it was another milestone that gave me a sense of accomplishment, but as I cruised along the roads of Darnassus on my new ride I couldn't help but think that at this point, I'm used to going much faster than this a lot of the time anyway.