31/12/2021

Classic WoW & Me in 2021

When I wrote this year in review post last year, I ended it by saying, "for all we know Classic Burning Crusade could already be out and maybe I'll be raiding Karazhan on a brand-new Draenei shaman!" While that particular prediction did not come true exactly (Classic BC did come out and I've been raiding in it, but not on a shaman and to be honest Karazhan is already old hat by now), it has certainly been another eventful year in game.

From our drama-tastic clear of Naxx just before the BC pre-patch to the struggles and shifts that came with the expansion, to almost wanting to quit to finding love again (or something), just to then have Blizzard mess it up by emptying out my server... but ultimately, I am still here, and have been able to enjoy the Classic BC content with some lovely friends.

Tirr, Champion of the Naaru

  • Level 70 Hunter
  • 54 days, 9 hours played
  • 375 Skinning, 375 (Dragonscale) Leatherworking, 375 Cooking, 375 Fishing, 375 First Aid

I guess it's somewhat surprising to me that my hunter is still my main, considering that I still tend to think of myself as someone who mains healers most of the time. But I guess the hunter identity in this version of WoW does suit me as well in a way. It's an easy job that doesn't put too much pressure on you even in environments like progression raiding, because if things go wrong, you can often just feign death and don't even have a repair bill to be annoyed about, which makes it easy to maintain a friendly and laid-back attitude at all times. Plus hunters are generally perceived as a bunch of goofballs, so that mess-ups like accidental pet pulls are easily brushed off as just part of the role. On the other hand, if you do make yourself useful by misdirecting things without needing to be asked or showing skill with using your traps, people will appreciate you all the more.

I did get that Beast Lord set bonus eventually (I think the helm dropped on my 14th or 15th run), and I'm still wearing it until I can get my fourth piece of tier five. I even respecced to Beast Mastery, a spec which I actually rather dislike (odd one out as I seem to be in that regard), just to be able to bring a bit more dps to the raids. I'm looking forward to getting attuned for Mount Hyjal and Black Temple. Tirr had to gain an exrtra r in her name as part of the server transfer, but she's still here.

Jehna, Champion of the Naaru

  • Level 70 Mage
  • 17 days, 20 hours played
  • 375 Enchanting, 375 (Shadoweave) Tailoring, 375 Cooking, 315 Fishing, 375 First Aid

I wrote about the oddness of my main alt also being a dps before, so I'm not going to repeat all of that. It is worth noting though that since then I even bothered to spend the time and resources to max out both her tailoring and enchanting, which was no mean feat. I do love being able to be useful by providing (dis)enchanting services, feeding thirsty paladins and providing portals after a sucessful dungeon run.

Sarell

  • Level 70 Paladin
  • 26 days, 23 hours played
  • 375 Mining, 361 Weaponsmithing (Mace spec), 375 Cooking, 330 Fishing, 375 First Aid

My third character to 70, my little pally has been reminding me of how much I do love healing, even if it brings out my bossy side a bit. I even scraped the money together to make her my first alt with epic flying. She's also been doing well in Karazhan in terms of loot (healers always seem to) and even got her Light's Justice only last night. I have yet to replace my dragon shield from BWL, but I guess it makes for a rather unique look...

Faly

  • Level 70 Druid
  • 13 days, 17 hours played
  • 375 Herbalism, 368 Alchemy (Elixir Master), 375 Cooking, 256 Fishing, 368 First Aid

I'm not quite sure yet where I'll be going with this one in the long run as I don't enjoy tanking as much as healing, but I also don't mind doing it every now and then. Mostly I'm glad to have a tank at 70 now just to be able to provide tanking services when they are needed. Of course I won't always have the time or be in the mood to tank dungeons for other people... but I do want to help where I can. I want to be what I wished for more tanks in the guild to do when I only had my dps character to work with.

Shintar

  • Level 45 Priest
  • 3 days, 4 hours played
  • 219 Mining, 209 (Gnomish) Engineering, 225 Cooking, 173 Fishing, 240 First Aid

Been making slow progress on this one, but the increased levelling speed in the old world that was introduced with BC keeps throwing me off. I know most people have cited it as a positive change, but I've been used to a certain rhythm of alternating solo questing and dungeons, but now I always end up outlevelling the dungeons before I got all the quests for them and it throws me off. Recently I've been motivated to work on her more though, as all my previous level 60 characters are at 70 now, so she's the obvious next choice to work on getting up there as well.

Razorr

  • Level 34 Warrior
  • 2 days, 5 hours played
  • 154 Mining, 225 Skinning, 168 Cooking, 57 Fishing, 196 First Aid
My little warrior is still there and still little. She did gain a few levels since a year ago, but not many as warrior still isn't really my cup of tea, and to be honest I kind of use her as a semi-bank alt for food storage. Getting sweeping strikes at level 30 was fun though.

Shintri

  • Level 30 Shaman
  • 1 day, 12 hours played
  • 127 Mining, 130 Jewelcrafting, 167 Cooking, 24 Fishing, 180 First Aid

I made a shaman when the pre-patch came out and levelled her through the Draenei starter experience... and then just kind of stopped because my focus was on other things, which was honestly pretty much what I expected to happen. Recently she's seen a bit of renewed attention though as I've been doing some of questing on her with my levelling buddy's shaman. I do kind of like the idea of making her resto and eventually having a second healer at the level cap one day.

Kanni

  • Level 12 Paladin
  • 7 hours played
  • 74 Mining, 43 Blacksmithing, 12 Cooking, no Fishing yet, 19 First Aid

This is the little paladin I originally made on Nethergarde Keep when I thought I wasn't going to server transfer but wanted to stay in touch with my guild. Why a second paladin? To make her a tank, perhaps? But it's early days and with all my "proper" characters transferred now, she hasn't got much love.

It's not worth saying anything about Horde, because I haven't played my Horde characters at all last year. Alliance is simply where it's at now.

As for predictions of where I'll be this time next year... who knows? Blizzard seems to want to push us through all the phases pretty quickly, so I reckon we'll either be in Sunwell or might even already be loooking at a Classic Wrath of the Lich King by the end of the year. And what I'll do when that happens, I genuinely don't know. That subject will warrant its own post whenever it actually gets announced.

16/12/2021

Naga and Nerfs

I've been spending a considerable amount of time in Serpentshrine Cavern and The Eye over the past few weeks, especially considering that I haven't actually returned to core raider rank. The guild has managed to find some promising new recruits on Nethergarde Keep, but with several people having to sign as absent for real life reasons every night, there was usually still a spot for me. And in my head it still matters that I haven't committed to being there - I just happened to have time.

SSC in particular has felt like a good place to be. Practising the Lady Vashj fight reminded me of how much I loved it back in the day too - I generally like fights where a lot of players have to fulfill different jobs, and where a certain degree of unpredictability forces people to communicate. Back in the day my shadow priest was one of the people burning down striders; this time my hunter was the dedicated elemental hunter for the southern side of the boss's platform. I enjoyed myself either way.

We'd gotten to the point where we could make it through phase two reasonably smoothly, but then things tended to fall apart quickly during phase three once the unstoppable mind controls kicked in (affected targets receive a huge buff to their damage done and couldn't be crowd controlled, only tanked). A few weeks ago there was talk from Blizzard about nerfing this slightly so that the mind controlled characters could at least be CC-ed, but they quickly backpedalled on that particular suggestion for reasons unknown to me. Instead they decided to wait a little longer and then apply one massive nerf bat all at once, with the associated changes going live yesterday.

Going into SSC after this nerf felt very weird. The trash absolutely melted. Lurker died in half the usual time. Morogrim Tidewalker's murloc adds, which had previously been a tight AoE dps check, were reduced to about a quarter of their previous health and our warlocks struggled to get even two Seeds of Corruption off before they were all dead. When we got to Vashj herself, we one-shot her, and the cheers on Discord were very subdued. Where her third phase had previously been a crescendo of chaos after an already challenging phase two, it was now just another tank and spank similar to phase one, making the fight conclude with a whimper instead of a bang.

I found myself remembering the day we killed the final bosses of tier 11 back in Cataclysm, as well as the massive Black Temple nerfs hitting just after my BC guild had killed Mother Shahraz (something I also discuss in the linked post). In hindsight, I was right that none of those post-nerf kills were ultimately very memorable to me, as I can recall virtually nothing about any of the mentioned bosses that I first killed in their post-nerf state.

I can't help but find myself wishing that Blizzard hadn't decided to push us forward quite so hard. Trawling my way through old patch notes, it was interesting to see how targeted and gradual their raid nerfs were originally: remove a trash mechanic here, tone down the damage of an ability there. The aforementioned mind control mechanic on Vashj for example was initially changed to allow players to be crowd controlled after all, and only removed entirely much later. And I think the big nerfs to mob hitpoints didn't actually come until the Wrath pre-patch back in the day. Seeing it all applied at once was honestly a shock to the system as it just changed everything so much.

Yet at the same time I can't claim to not understand their intent behind this. With BC's attunements, there is some sense in doing everything to ensure people could kill Kael and Vashj in time, as this is required to be able to enter Mount Hyjal and Black Temple at all - and people expect those raids to open early in the new year. Might as well make sure that players have the appropriate gear and that all raiders can get attuned in time. And I'm not going to lie - I'm looking forward to seeing Hyjal again! It was another BC raid that I really enjoyed - Black Temple was more of an "eh" from me.

Monday will be the guild's last progression raid before the Christmas break, and they're planning to clear Tempest Keep (I'll be busy elsewhere). I'm thinking that might still be a bit ambitious, because as far as I'm aware they haven't had a chance to practice Kael at all and he's still got a lot of mechanics to wrap one's head around. But even if he doesn't die before Christmas, I'm sure we'll get him down in the new year for sure.

I suppose I'm just feeling a little melancholy about how much Classic has turned into just another rat race. I mean, I've kind of known this for a while, but nothing drives the message home like Blizzard nerfing the content hard to make sure you move on already, damn it. My original dream of Classic being this evergreen MMO that we'd all be happy to come back to now and then on a casual basic is pretty dead at this point. However, I'll try to enjoy what's there while it lasts, because looking at the Classic era servers I don't expect Classic BC to have much of a future in the long run either.

12/12/2021

Notes from Nethergarde Keep

Many Classic players may be familiar with ironforge.pro, a website that tracks WoW server populations by combining data from combat logs and arena tables to calculate the number of active max-level characters per faction on each server. By its very nature its data is of course always going to be incomplete, but it does do a good job of painting a general picture of a server's overall situation.

In the week immediately following the opening of free server transfers off Hydraxian Waterlords, the site showed a population drop of about 20%, and I honestly thought that was going to be that, which is part of why I thought that staying behind was still going to be viable. However, as it turns out the server's depopulation was far from complete. The week after, the active endgame character count dropped from about a thousand to fifty. The week after that, it was ten. Considering that it's always said that the majority of MMO players don't pay attention to things going on outside of the game itself, I did not expect the exodus from Hydraxian Waterlords to be so absolute. It's still kind of shocking to me to be honest.

On the plus side, the guild with the friend that I had left behind packed up their bags too and followed us to Nethergarde Keep, so the dungeon gang is back together, yeah!

Life on Nethergarde Keep has been alright so far. Picking Terocone, especially without epic flying, is pretty impossible, but other types of gathering have turned out to be surprisingly okay. While the endgame population may be four to five times of what it used to be Hydraxian Waterlords, I reckon that a lot of those characters just log on to do instanced content at this point and generally aren't all competing for resources in the open world.

The number of new character and guild names has been somewhat overwhelming to deal with at times, even if it's nice to get quicker responses to LFM requests in the LFG channel. Interestingly, I've noticed that the whole situation has brought me closer to some people/guilds that moved with us from Hydraxian Waterlords but with whom I didn't really interact much before. In this sea of strangers, any familiar guild name is an island of refuge, and something to cling to while trying to get to grips with the wider server population in this new place.

That said, the server "culture" as a whole seems less different than I expected it to be, at least so far. Now, unlike some I was never worried about people on a regular PvE server not being nice enough or anything, because I never had an issue with that when I was playing Horde on Pyrewood either, but it is a commonly cited cliché that there's a certain je ne sais quoi to the sort of community that chooses to play on an RP server.

However, in a funny reversal of those expectations, we ported home to Shattrath after a raid on our new home one night to find a load of druids engaging in some sort of flash mob around A'dal - not something I'd ever seen on Hydraxian Waterlords in all my time there! Also, we used to joke about how many hunters on HW were boring min-maxers who all just had ravager pets called "Ravager", while here I've seen them bring everything from carrion birds to wolves to dungeons already.

Druids on parade

In general, things have been feeling invigorated. I hit level seventy on my paladin shortly after transferring, and the other day I got there on my druid as well. My previous discomfort with the viability of holy paladins and bear druids in the current climate slowly dissipated while doing dungeons with my levelling buddy, because knowing that someone's got your back no matter what can make up for a lot of shortcomings in a class.

And we've been running a lot of dungeons... after all the anxiety I had about not getting into groups early in the expansion it feels almost shockingly easy now. My mage got revered with all the factions to unlock heroics with relatively little effort, is attuned to SSC and only one heroic SL and Mag run away from being a Champion of the Naaru just like my hunter. My pally is already attuned for all the heroics bar Lower City as well and has healed her way through exciting destinations such as heroic Blood Furnace and heroic Black Morass. Being my newest alt to seventy, the druid hasn't done much yet, though she did ding while tanking a normal Botanica.

The end of another "just for fun" heroic Blood Furnace, this time with me healing. And again, no wipes!

And the best thing is, friends and guildies are in the same boat and gearing their own alts at this point, meaning that we can mix and match characters to put all kinds of guild runs together and it's just been a blast. The fun and banter is absolutely worth not always getting your first choice of destination or bringing your favourite character - plus we take turns to help people achieve different goals, so it all evens out in the end.

This is the Burning Crusade that I remember being so much fun back in the day and what I wanted from my Classic experience. Considering how close I came to quitting altogether back in September, I'm still a bit incredulous that it all just came together now after all. One Shadow Labyrinth pug to get me talking to my levelling buddy again... one bit of guild drama resulting in an unexpectedly long chat with a friend... always at the mercy of those butterfly wingbeats.

01/12/2021

Of Soul Searching and Eating Crow

I wasn't really able to stay away from my guildies after they transferred, and already made a lowbie alt on their new server Nethergarde Keep the day after they moved. I did a bit of questing in Elwynn there, but it felt odd. Having got used to my stable of alts on Hydraxian Waterlords, I didn't much enjoy being poor and having no bags anymore, not the way I used to when Classic was new - though a kind guildie sent me five gold starter capital, which helped a lot; bless his soul. However, aside from that I was just kind of there... with my guildies, yet also not. I could see them online and chat, but at the same time I was still distant and useless - it wasn't like my level 10 paladin could help out in Karazhan or SSC.

I had one eerie encounter when I was looking for help with Hogger and suddenly a level 70 night elf hunter called Tir-something appeared out of nowhere to help me out, told me to have fun levelling and then ran off again. It felt a bit like encountering a future version of myself, which led to my levelling buddy joking that I now had to transfer my own hunter to Nethergarde and help a lowbie in Elwynn or else risk a time-travelling paradox.

But for the time being, my focus remained on Hydraxian Waterlords. My out-of-guild friend there was extra sweet to me, concerned about making me feel included in his community and even offering to give up his Gruul/Mag raid spot if that would help to get me in there somehow, even though it was against all their priority rules. I told him to calm down and not worry so much, as much as I appreciated all the love from his end.

I mentioned at the end of my last post that something distracted me from re-attempting that heroic run in the evening, and that something was a chance at a full five-man group for normal Old Hillsbrad and Black Morass. I was going to heal on my paladin, we had a tank and three dps express interest on Discord, no additional randoms required! Let's go!

It was a bit odd to me that I as the newcomer ended up actually forming the group, and that I was at the summoning stone before anyone else had even left Shattrath. I thought of the way I'd repeatedly felt dissatisfied with my guildies this expansion because it seemed to me that they were always pushing to do things harder, better, faster than me and I found it a struggle to keep up. Maybe this community of slower-paced, more relaxed players would actually end up being more to my liking?

Our Old Hillsbrad run went fine. It was slower than I was used to, but our tank was a bit insecure in her new role so it made complete sense, and we had no real issues. We were all on voice together and the chatter was amicable. I was keen to find some common ground in conversation and we did.

However, then we wanted to continue to Black Morass, which was actually supposed to be the main event, in order to complete the moonkin's alchemy quest, and I had a bad feeling considering that our damage output had already been relatively low in Old Hillsbrad and looking at the fact that two of our dpsers were only level 68 and 66 respectively. "Can you even go in there at 66?" I asked. The answer was yes and they were keen, so we went anyway.

Without going into too much detail, it did not go well. We fell behind on the portals almost immediately and ended up wiping on the first boss. We knew then that there was no point in trying to continue, but we reset the instance anyway just to kill a few more rift lords for the druid's quest. On that next attempt we blew our beacons on the first few waves just to keep up and then managed to kill the boss just before the adds could take down Medivh's shield, so we left having achieved at least something.

We parted ways with friendly words, with me and the mage of the group hanging back because he'd expressed interest in a riding crop so I logged on my hunter to make him one. It should have been a nice end to the evening, but I felt miserable. That Black Morass run had been my worst in Classic yet, and we had failed in ways I hadn't experienced since the original Burning Crusade, when the instance had actually had a reputation for being hard because we were all worse at the game and struggled to meet its dps checks. I'd been so desperate for some joy, to affirm my decision to stay behind, and this was not it. I couldn't help making comparisons and wistfully thought of my levelling buddy: I never would've gotten into a run like that with Kyllah; he would have put his foot down at the beginning, knowing that going in with a level 66 and 68 wasn't going to go well and would be a waste of time!

At the same time, I felt bad for feeling bad about a run with these friendly new people who'd warmly welcomed me into their community only earlier in the day. What sort of elitist was I to be so salty about a bit of failure, just because I couldn't imagine it happening with my old guildies? Plus I felt bad for missing my old guildies so fiercely and wishing that I could be with them when I had only told them days before that I wasn't transferring with them for reasons.

In real life, I sat down next to my husband and told him that it might be easier to just never log into WoW again rather than deal with all the unhappiness and embarrassment it was generating for me. I told him the whole story and he was understanding to a limited degree, but also told me that I should just transfer already, since I was clearly missing my guildies, and that I should stop worrying about all these first-world problems that I was creating for myself. He wasn't wrong, but at the time, that didn't make me feel any better. Instead of cutting down on potential for WoW drama and stress, I'd just created my very own flavour of it.

Still, this was ultimately the turning point at which I knew that I didn't want to stay on Hydraxian Waterlords. I bit the bullet and whispered my levelling buddy as well as a couple of other guildies to let them know that I missed them and was going to transfer after all. I had a long talk with my out-of-guild friend, whom I knew I was letting down somewhat, considering how hard he'd tried to make me feel welcome in his own guild's community. I posted messages to explain myself on both his raid force's and my own guild's Discord, fearing a certain degree of scorn or ridicule for flip-flopping like I did within days, but nobody seemed to mind much. And when I did actually make the move, all my guildies just seemed happy to see me.

Ultimately I do not regret that extra week I stayed on Hydraxian Waterlords. I wanted to see for myself how things were going to go there, and I did. Solo questing was still fine, and actually quite immersive in my opinion - I do like it when meeting another player out in the wilderness is actually somewhat rare and exciting. Raiding also continued, if on a casual level. However, the middle between those two levels of engagement collapsed completely, and this does make me worry for the future of those left behind. I wouldn't expect many players who'd be happy to level from 1 to 70 entirely on their own to then flip to "ok, now I'd like to raid", so I don't see how the remaining raiders can have any hope of dealing with attrition, especially if transfers off the server end up staying open indefinitely.

The time I spent questing and farming on my own also gave me a lot of time for reflection. At the start of BC, I'd initially got great joy out of spending time in Nagrand farming leather and levelling up my leatherworking. I really liked the idea of this being helpful to my guildies. But then a new guildie with seemingly unlimited gold supplies swooped in and power-levelled both leatherworking and enchanting within only a few days by buying out all the materials on the auction house and quickly became everyone's favourite supplier. I'm not proud to admit that I was envious... but it did kind of make all my farming for others feel pointless when someone could just throw an apparently unlimited gold supply at the problem and get there faster. It's a feeling I never quite recovered from... until those days on the emptied out server, with little on the auction house, and everything I went to farm feeling like a meaningful acquisition. I think it did kind of allow me to make peace with the fact that I'll never be hardcore or rich enough to be a big deal in terms of crafting, but that I can still find joy in doing it for its own sake.

Just being around some raiders who were even more casual than the Forks also made me realise that maybe I've been wrong to scoff at their tightening the requirements to raid in Burning Crusade compared to Classic. I'm still not entirely happy with them, but I also realised that a completely laid back attitude about these things might not actually be my cup of tea either. It's unlikely that I'd ever find a group of people who are exactly on the same wavelength as me in every respect, but perhaps the Forks aren't as far off my ideals anymore as I thought.

When I wrote that angry post about Blizzard killing my server, part of me didn't care if staying behind would eventually result in me stepping away from the game... I'd already considered it a few months ago anyway, right? But I was feeling adrift back then, as opposed to the last month, when I'd been running dungeons with friends on a daily basis who missed me and kept poking me when I wasn't there to run with them. Depriving myself of that only added another layer of misery to an already uncomfortable situation. I've become too entangled in my guild's social web to be able to just turn my back on it from one day to the next and act as if nothing happened.

Finally, during the initial upset about the transfers, when my levelling buddy got a bit cross with me at the thought of us being forcefully split up, I said something to him along the lines of: "You realise there's always going to be an end, right? Eventually there'll be a Wrath Classic, which I won't be keen to play, but even if I was, that would come to an end too." It was meant to make a point to him, but in a funny way I ended up thinking about my own words more than he probably did - because keeping in mind that our time having this particular kind of fun is limited, why not make the most of it while we can? It's going to end eventually, but I might as well stick with it while circumstances allow it. Life's too short anyway.

26/11/2021

Life after the Transfer Apocalypse

If various third party sites are to be believed, the free transfers took a big chunk out of my server's population, but not as big a percentage of players as it feels like. As I said to commenter Blairos in response to my last post, Hydraxian Waterlords was a small town before all of this happened... now it feels more like a post-apocalyptic wasteland where you're startled if you run into another person at all.

Nature's had a chance to reclaim the world to an extent - in the last few days alone, I've seen so many new mining and herb nodes that I didn't even know existed because they'd always been harvested already by the time I would've run past them.

The auction house is not dead yet, but it feels like it's dying, as the way it's designed kind of requires a critical mass of players to sustain itself. I've never played one of those MMORPGs, but I've heard that there are games out there where auctions/trades don't expire or at least not for a very long time, so when you put something up for sale it stays there until you either cancel the listing or someone buys it. Since WoW's auction house only allows listings to remain active for a maximum of 48 hours and charges a hefty deposit fee for most items, listing anything that doesn't sell within that time frame is just a money sink, and the fewer potential customers there are around, the more limited the number of items that are likely to sell in time.

It's also been a stark reminder of how much of the economy is driven by raiders/high-end players. Sure, some of it is simply self-reinforcing - raiders make and sell flasks to other raiders, but not many other people are likely to need them so it's not much of a loss to more casual players if that part of the market disappears. But as another example, cut gems have completely gone from the Hydraxian Waterlords auction house as well... and plenty of levelling gear has gem sockets, which must now remain empty unless you're gonna fill them with one of three crappy and overpriced vendor gems. I'm guessing this is because there wasn't much incentive for anyone but high-end players to level Jewelcrafting as a new profession from scratch and to hunt down rare recipes for it. They felt compelled by a desire to outfit their raid force with blue quality gems, and sold some of their cheaper wares to the wider server population as a way to recoup costs. That's something that's just gone now.

Like in any good post-apocalyptic video game wasteland, there are nonetheless some survivors. The out-of-guild friend I mentioned here stayed behind with his guild and raid force for example - I think they may have literally been the only ones. It's kind of funny because while many guilds were struggling to recruit for progression before all this happened, based on the stories he told me, his raid group was probably worse off than any others, trying to drastically underman content and not getting much done. But now that there's nowhere else to go, all the lone remaining raiders are flocking towards them, and for the first time in ages they are not just raiding at full strength but even have a bench. Kind of makes me wonder how the Forks could have done for themselves if they'd stayed.

Anyway, I asked my friend for an invite to his Discord, introduced myself, and everyone was very lovely, though there was also a certain Fin de Siècle mood in the air - just after I made my introductory post for example, another person posted about how they were just going to stop playing because of all these transfer shenanigans.

There was also an LFG channel on the Discord, and people expressed interest in running a heroic. I hadn't done one in a few days and had seen that the daily was Underbog, a heroic I hadn't actually done yet in Classic. Great opportunity to see something new and get to know some people in this community! We had a tank and two other dps interested, so all we needed was a healer.

Later, me and a shaman were sitting next to the Coilfang summoning stone, while the group leader was asking for a healer in the server LFG channel every so often. Meanwhile I poked some people on Discord, and did a /who 70 (which yielded less than 50 results) in order to whisper every single person of  a heal-capable class to ask whether they were the right spec and if so, whether they were interested in healing the daily heroic. Most of the replies I got were very friendly, but nobody was able and willing to come.

There was a brief suggestion of someone switching to an alt to heal, but this was quickly shot down as impeding people's fun and unacceptable. To me this was slightly strange as with my Fork friends I'd got quite used to switching roles on the fly to facilitate group formation, unless someone needed the dungeon on a particular character for a very specific reason. We sat there looking for a healer for about forty minutes, until we eventually gave up as I had literally run out of people to whisper.

Having to give up on a dungeon run because you can't find the right people isn't something new to me and I'm quite used to it being something that just happens sometimes... but seeing that there literally wasn't another person online on the entire server that we could even ask certainly added a new level of finality to this particular endeavour.

We talked about maybe giving it another try after they'd had their evening raid, but that didn't happen. I admittedly got distracted by something else, but I didn't see or hear anyone else bring up the heroic again either.

To be continued...

23/11/2021

Blizzard Killed My Server

The fuckers.

Literally the day after I made my last post about being worried about my little server's health and community, Blizzard announced free server transfers off Hydraxian Waterlords to nine different destination servers.

In the past, free transfers used to be a way to balance server and faction populations by making players leave where there were too many and encourage them to move towards places that could use a boost, but that just seems to be a thing of the past nowadays. From what I can tell, at this point free transfers are simply used as a tool to placate angry forumites threatening to cancel their subscription if Blizzard won't give them a free transfer off their low-pop server to one of the bigger ones. And as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, even if you end up destroying the experiences of other, previously happy players in the process.

Watching the whole process unfurl over the past week has been one giant shitshow. The majority of players had actually been quite content with the population (at least on Alliance side - I'll admit that Horde was a different matter into which I don't have much insight), so overwhelmingly the initial reaction on display was a sense of confusion and uncertainty. Some attempts were made on the server Discord to get a dialogue going between different guilds about who was going to stay vs. who was planning to leave and where, perhaps with the idea to keep as many Hydraxians together as possible.

However, a small number of guilds jumped ship pretty much immediately, which in turn got others worried about what this meant for the server and over the course of the next few days created a sense of rats fleeing a sinking ship, which in turn caused a failure cascade of more and more guilds leaving "because everybody is". Some guild leaders even did complete u-turns, holding speeches about how much they loved the server, were never going to leave etc. on one day, just to then go "welp, guess we're going after all, bye suckers" two days later (that's not a literal quote, but it's certainly how the sentiment came across). There was no consistence in the chosen destinations either, with departing guilds scattering almost evenly across the three English-speaking PvE realms.

Reading the LFG channel during those days was an absolutely miserable experience, as seemingly everybody and their dog felt the need to make an announcement about how they were leaving and declaring that with their departure the server was dead now. (Followed by the same person being back the next day on one of their alts to tell us repeatedly about what a good time they were having strip-mining the server of resources for a few more days to flood the auction house on their new destination realm.) I hated every minute of it and couldn't resist making some snarky replies, even though this is usually something I try to avoid.

During the last couple of days, with most of the big guilds gone by now, there's been a slow shift towards unhappy commiseration among those who've remained behind, with occasional visitors popping in on level 1 alts to gush about the awesomeness of their new home server and getting snapped at in response. (If it's so awesome there, why are you coming back to hassle us instead of playing there?)

The Forks tried to stay calm and took their time attempting to have a reasonable discussion, but it was still not a pleasant experience, with people panicking as if Blizzard were going to close the free transfers again any minute, and a couple jumping ship to their personally preferred server of choice without waiting for an official guild decision.

(Though I will say that in terms of gameplay, I still had a great time running dungeons over the course of that week - I was probably in more full guild runs than I'd had since the start of BC Classic before that, simply because there wasn't much actual group-finding going on in LFG and if people wanted to do anything, asking guildies was their best bet.)

The sad reality of the opinion polls was that few people actively seemed to like the idea of moving server, but many viewed it as simply inevitable, plus those who had a preference for staying were more willing to change their stance for the sake of keeping the guild together than the other way round.

What did I do? I voted in the polls and participated in the discussions to some extent, but ended up being the only person choosing to stay behind regardless, which tended to prompt a confused "why" from pretty much everyone I talked to. I've given different people different answers, all of which are true but don't necessarily paint the whole picture. I shall use this blog post to lay it out in full. Basically, these are the points I had against moving:

  1. Simply put, I had no desire to move to begin with. Yes, the free transfers have greatly changed the situation on the server, but as someone who wasn't desperate for raid progression anymore, raiding guilds leaving is not the be-all and end-all of my personal enjoyment. I want to see what actually happens now. People have been calling the server dead since before all of this went down, when we were all just busy having a good time, so basically I'll believe it when I see it. I've come to realise that I prefer lower population servers in Classic, so the thought of transferring off to somewhere with four times the population I'm used to simply does not appeal. I happily played on the private server Kronos back in 2016, which only had a population of a few hundred active players. I can make do with fewer people than most, and I want to see if that's something that'll still be viable on Hydraxian Waterlords after the big exodus.
  2. My name(s). I reserved "Tir" as my hunter's name the day before Classic's launch back in August 2019, and you don't get to keep a three-letter name by server-transferring to a high-pop realm two years into a game's life. For some people character names are unimportant and just a place to meme (we had someone name their warlock alt "Sweatygooch", which promptly got reported by one of our very own officers and then had a name change enforced, which we all thought was hilarious), but to me character names are important. It's not just Tir either - I checked the destination realms and most of my chars would need to be renamed. This wouldn't exactly be an unsurmountable obstacle if I was otherwise keen on transferring, but I'm not so it's just another thing adding to me not wanting to do it.
  3. I'm pissed off by this whole situation and have a desire to express it. I'm mad at Blizzard for killing off our realm pop to appease some forum complainers. I'm mad at all the Hydraxians praising the server community to the heavens one day and then transferring off the next. I'm mad at the lemming-like nature of everyone running away because "everyone else is doing it" and nobody having been willing to make a stand because they're too scared of being the last ones left. I can understand why people felt that way, but I don't have to like it, and I won't imitate it. Taken on its own, being contrarian would not be a reason to stay, but it's just another thing on the list.
  4. I'm kind of emotionally exhausted by Classic and all the dramas it's been throwing at me. Burning Crusade launch was an emotional rollercoaster for weeks, and eventually I just felt disenchanted with the whole thing to the point that I was already thinking about quitting the game anyway. Then certain individuals managed to reignite my passion and I was playing like crazy for a few weeks, just to have this metaphorical nuke land on my head all of a sudden. I just can't be bothered with it anymore. This is a game and it's supposed to be relaxing and fun. I have other things going in my life. I want to take time to be excited about the new SWTOR expansion coming out next month, not deal with the anxieties of starting over on a new server yet again (after moving from Pyrewood Village to Hydraxian Waterlords in early 2020) and risk watching what's left of my guild wither and die. I'd rather step away from it all if need be, at least for a while.

The two main arguments in favour of moving were these:

  1. Wanting to stay with my guild and doing my best to help it survive. This was a big one considering what the Forks have meant to me over time, but... I've got to admit the events of early BC already worked to diminish my faith in the guild somewhat. When the server was at its busiest, my guild was somehow at its least lovable, with everyone just jumping straight into LFG to get shit done without caring much about things like "running with guildies because it's fun" or helping each other out. Gotta tick those boxes, yo! I don't think it's unreasonable to fear a repeat of this situation when the guild transfers to a server with four times the population. And I don't want to move "for the sake of the guild" just to then feel left out in the cold again. This isn't a diss on any of my guildies by the way, simply an observation about game design and human nature. If there's no room for downtime between chasing personal goals, you'll always be too busy to think about how other people could fit into things; that's just how it is.
  2. The other matter is my levelling buddy, who is technically part of the guild but whom I feel the need to call out separately because he's awesome and I do not doubt that we'd keep doing stuff together even on a server with ten thousand people. However, to put it simply, he thinks that transferring to a bigger server is good and the only way to go, while I do not. He was hurt that I'd abandon him like that to make a point and he has every right to be. This is without a doubt the saddest part of the whole thing for me, and I still hope that we can salvage something of our friendship going forward. But also... and I do feel a bit bad saying this, but it might actually be for the best to take a bit of a step back here as well. Playing with him again has been fun, but at the same time our adventures have encouraged me to play with an intensity that I do not find healthy, similar to what I wrote about at BC launch - it's fine to go on a binge for a few days, but if you find yourself not getting enough sleep and neglecting other hobbies or tasks you should be doing because of the game - which I have been doing recently - it's not good.

All of which adds up to a pretty overwhelming urge to just stay behind, see what happens, and chill out. To any guildie who might be reading this: I'm sorry if any of this hurt your feelings. I've greatly appreciated all the good times we've had, and I do want you to still have fun in the game and the Order of the Holy Fork to thrive. I'm also not completely discarding the idea of an opportunity to reunite with the guild in game at a later point. However right now, all of this has just been one straw too many. Blame Blizzard.

16/11/2021

"Dead Server" vs. Community

When I first started playing on Hydraxian Waterlords back in January 2020, I immediately noted how - being a medium-pop server - it was much quieter than Pyrewood Village had ever been... and that I actually quite liked that. I've been thinking about that again recently as I've had to listen to some very contradictory opinions on the current state of the server in the past few days.

I can't deny that it's probably more quiet than I've ever seen it. Last time I checked, the server's population status on the server selection screen had actually been downgraded from medium to low, and with that has come a new wave of "this server is dead" complainers in LFG chat - while there has always been the occasional troll to that effect, it's definitely a lot more prevalent now, even if to me it seems silly that those complaints are often based on evidence such as being unable to get into an Uldaman run at 2pm on a work day.

On the other hand, I honestly like it this way. I like that outside prime time, the LFG chatter isn't scrolling past so quickly that you can't take any of it in, and that people will sometimes engage in random discussions in the channel, even if they are often somewhat inane. I like that you run into the same people every so often and form new connections that way. Just today I did a random Mechanar pug where I recognised the name of a druid and reminisced about that time his hunter and my pally did all of BRD in one afternoon. Several people in the group mentioned how much they love the server, especially the newly dinged ret pally who said that he'd previously played Classic up to AQ on a different server, but that he was so much happier to be here now.

However, I can't deny that all the Debbie Downers have me a little worried. I do think it's ridiculous to declare a server with 30+ raiding guilds "dead" just because you want a population of 5-10k to be able to treat chat as your personal dungeon finder at any time of day. As I observed during the attempted Nostalrius relaunch, if you cram enough players onto a single server, player interactions and grouping become oddly impersonal regardless of a lack of automated grouping tools, and I've definitely felt some of that during Classic's busier times. I prefer my server to be classic in size too... but I do worry a bit that too many modern players might not and what that might mean for the future of Hydraxian Waterlords.

12/11/2021

A Trip to SSC & Tales of Attunement

When I stepped down from progression raiding, I didn't intend for that to mean that I wasn't planning to set foot into another Burning Crusade raid ever again - I mentioned I've been enjoying the casual tier four community runs, and I also wasn't opposed to the idea of visiting some of the later raids at some point. I just didn't want to put in the effort that was expected of core raiders in my guild anymore and commit to dedicating two days a week to being at the (relative) cutting edge as it were.

The little guild drama not too long ago combined with some other happenings left the Forks' core raid team somewhat below strength recently, and with my SWTOR ops team going on a break with the expansion looming close, I suddenly found myself with a lot more free evenings and told one of the officers that I'd be happy to help out in SSC on Wednesdays in the meantime - better for them to have a slacker along than to underman it for sure.

So it happened that my hunter made her first trip to the Serpentshrine Cavern a week ago, and I'm not going to lie: I had a good time! I thought I was off to a good start when - despite of remembering very well that the elevator at the door was an infamous death trap - I promptly stepped onto it too late, something that was followed by a long fall during which I had plenty of time to think about and regret my mistake before going splat at the bottom, right in front of two of the officers. Glorious!

We killed all the bosses bar Vashj with little fuss - if anything it was the giant bog lords between them that still gave people some trouble. Tidewalker was pretty hilarious as we were drowning in a sea of murlocs by the end and it was just AoE and fears and shouting on Discord and I loved it. At the end we even had time for a couple of tries on Vashj herself. I was pretty happy with my own performance too, considering my non-raid spec and the fact that I still haven't even got my four-piece Beast Lord set bonus. (I've run the Mechanar more than a dozen times and have seen every single drop from Pathaleon the Calculator except for the helm...)

That aside though, I was also touched by how many whispers I got from people excited to see me in a progression raid again, though I also felt a little bad letting them down by reaffirming that I wasn't returning "properly". I'm not exactly hugely chatty in raids, so I didn't think people really had reason to miss me.

I actually kind of liked the idea of doing this a few more times, but then I overheard them talking about swapping Wednesdays to The Eye and moving SSC to Mondays, one night on which I'm still busy. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to help out in The Eye because I still wasn't attuned (insert sad trombone noise here). I was at the stage where you need to do two group quests in Shadowmoon Valley and both of my previous attempts to get into a group for them had ended in failure.

For the briefest moment I was starting to think thoughts like "maybe I could make a push for the attunement now to be able to help out more", but even as I did so another part of me was cringing away in terror. I wanted to earn my Champion of the Naaru title on my own terms and in my own time, not rush through it in a desperate attempt to get to spend some more time wiping in 25-mans again. Not to mention the amount of begging and arm-twisting I feared I'd have to do to get through all those group stages sooner rather than later, when it might not necessarily be convenient for other people.

It did make me think about the Eye attunement in general though. I guess back in the day I didn't find it so bad because my guild didn't actually go there until attunement had become optional, so it was just a cool quest chain that earned you a title. I still think it is that, but as a requirement to even enter the raid it's honestly pretty harsh, not so much due to the overall length but due to the strange mix of solo content, group quests, heroic dungeons and raids, which forces you to change gear at several steps along the way.

And you can tell that guilds are struggling, based on the recruitment spam and LFM requests to plug those last few holes on progression night that fill the looking for group channel night after night. I wonder if all those guilds aren't missing a trick by not advertising with something like "guaranteed attunement runs every Sunday" or whatever. Yeah, it would be work for them, but at the same time it might draw in some more people with a casual interest who just don't have the stamina to spend days in the LFG channel, repeating "looking for more for heroic Shadow Labs/Shattered Halls/Arcatraz".

I know that immediately after launch the "raiding economy" was effectively an employer's market, with more people looking to raid than guilds had room for with the reduced raid size, but recently things seem to have shifted the opposite direction, and if you're desperate for people to commit to raiding, maybe offer them something in return other than a bunch of rules about how to gear and what consumables to bring? Guild membership should involve both give and take, and while it's possible to keep both of those to an absolute minimum if you don't want to get involved, I don't think you can ask players to put that much effort in while not giving much in return.

And on that somewhat sour note the first draft of this post would have ended, but the day after I'd written it, I happened to be online in the early evening alongside only three other guildies, and somehow the subject of my lack of Tempest Keep attunement came up. I explained how I was stuck on the Shadowmoon group quests but didn't want to stress about it. Imagine my surprise when one of the guildies online at the time - our sole raiding shadow priest since I'd first joined the guild - spoke up to say something like: "Why not do those quests now? I could tank them on my alt and I'm sure the others wouldn't mind helping!" I was positively abashed that someone else actually cared more about my attunement than I did, and within a few minutes we had a group and gave both Ruul the Darkener and Cyrukh the Firelord a proper spanking. I thanked everyone for their generosity and time and got the - again very surprising to me - reply: "We're just being selfish in our own way, wanting you back in our raids."

Finishing those two quests unlocked the Trials of the Naaru - three quests to complete four heroics, followed by a raid quest for Magtheridon. I think the heroics are generally considered the most unpleasant part by most, but not for me - after all, I have friends now (?!) that also enjoy running heroics, so we blasted through them all over the next couple of days without any major issues. I expect to have my Champion of the Naaru title and Tempest Key by tomorrow evening.

And I'm feeling very conflicted about the whole thing! I am, above all, grateful for the friends who reminded me how fun this game can be and have shown that they clearly value me as a person regardless of what class or spec I play. However, my emotions about the wider guild are more confused. I didn't feel like there was actively bad blood between me and anyone when I stepped down from core raiding, but there was definitely a certain sense of not belonging and not fitting in anymore. None of that came from the people who are now telling me that they've missed me, but it definitely felt like their way of thinking and approach to raids were on the way out.

I do wonder whether things have somehow reversed course and the Forks are actually working their way back towards something closer to what they were before TBC launch in terms of atmosphere? I would certainly welcome that and would want to help with it too, even if there's a more cynical part of me that's like: "Oh, now that all those other people have left, they suddenly care..." I suppose I'm just not entirely sure how much I trust it, and how much I'd really want to reinvest myself into guild progression business at this point.

06/11/2021

A Year of Playing Retail

With the Halloween event having come and gone recently, I suddenly remembered my silly quest in search of candy from Darnassus from a year ago, which in turn made me realise that it's been more than a year since I reinstalled retail WoW... and that I'm still playing it (sort of).

It was never meant to be more than a quick exploration of the newly level-squished world, but what I hadn't been aware of was just how keen my husband was going to be on getting retail WoW back into the rotation as a game for both of us to play together, so a year later, here we still are. Our play is irregular and extremely casual, but I'm already subscribed for Classic, so I guess why not?

I still think of myself as a Classic player who sometimes plays retail too rather than a retail WoW player, but it is what it is. I even made a couple of new alts at this point! So I thought it would be interesting to do a "year in review" post for my retail characters similar to what I've done for Classic for the past two years.

Shinlu

  • Level 60 human monk
  • 15 days, 12 hours played
  • Shadowlands professions: 150 Skinning, 100 Leatherworking, 75 Cooking (that's all of those maxed out in case the very different numbers don't make it clear), 135 Fishing
  • Other professions: 65 Outland Skinning, 40 Cataclysm Skinning, 175 Kul Tiran Skinning (with 3/5 maxed out at three stars, the others are at a 1 and 2 stars respectively), 40 Outland Leatherworking, 139 Kul Tiran Leatherworking, 221 Old World Cooking, 43 Kul Tiran Cooking, 237 Old World Fishing, 3 Outland Fishing, 16 Pandaria Fishing, 148 Kul Tiran Fishing, 82 Archaeology

Originally meant to be a bit of a throwaway character to check out the new starting zone Exile's Reach and do a bit of levelling with my husband, this little monk has effectively become my retail main for what it's worth. And I have become somewhat attached to her! She did most of the BfA content after the Shadowlands pre-patch had made it accessible without an expansion purchase and has maxed out her Renown with the Kyrian covenant. I still think of her as a healer but I eventually gave in and started playing dps sometimes while questing as there just wasn't any real healing to do even while duoing with my husband's warrior.

Mehg

  • Level 60 night elf demon hunter
  • 5 days, 1 hour played
  • Shadowlands professions: 105 Mining, 24 Jewelcrafting, 50 Cooking, 15 Fishing
  • Other professions: 7 Old World Mining, 100 Legion Mining (with 3/9 maxed out at three stars), 72 Legion Jewelcrafting, 17 Old World Cooking, 26 Legion Cooking, 73 Old World Fishing, 70 Legion Fishing, 800 Archaeology

My first Shadowlands alt, I created this one to see what playing a demon hunter was like and to explore the Legion content with my husband. She's also in Shadowlands now, a Venthyr and at 28 Renown somehow even though I've barely done any of the max-level content with her.

Tidella

  • Level 39 Kul Tiran shaman
  • 1 day, 3 hours played
  • Professions: 92 Old World Mining, 79 Old World Engineering, 40 Old World Cooking

This is the elemental shaman I made for our little levelling group, and while one person seems to have dropped out recently, we're still continuing to four-man things for now. At this point we've done all the old world dungeons plus all the Cata ones bar Grim Batol, which will be our next target come the next dungeon night. It's been an interesting little adventure, and hey, the other level I even got an ability to finally use that Maelstrom resource that I've had for 28 levels.

Shinnins

  • Level 38 Worgen druid
  • 15 days, 23 hours played
  • Professions: 300 Old World Alchemy, 75 Outland Alchemy (Transmutation), 75 Northrend Alchemy, 75 Cataclysm Alchemy, 75 Pandaria Alchemy, 300 Old World Herbalism, 75 Outland Herbalism, 75 Northrend Herbalism, 75 Cataclysm Herbalism, 75 Pandaria Herbalism, 300 Old World Cooking, 75 Outland Cooking, 75 Northrend Cooking, 75 Cataclysm Cooking, 75 Pandaria Cooking (with all the different "cooking ways" maxed out too), 300 Old World Fishing, 75 Outland Fishing, 75 Northrend Fishing, 75 Cataclysm Fishing, 75 Pandaria Fishing, 600 Archaeology

This is the Worgen druid I levelled with my husband (before we were married) back in MoP - you can tell that those were very different times from the fact that her /played time still exceeds my new main's (even though I only hung around for six months or so back then) and from the way she's got all those different professions maxed out. She was level 35 or 36 after the squish, and I had this idea that we could play through the two Pandaria zones we'd never actually completed together, but we only really did one session of that before losing interest again. Maybe some day...

Tilarea

  • Level 28 Lightforged Draenei priest 
  • 5 hours played
  • Professions: 49 Old World Tailoring, 25 Old World Enchanting, 2 Cataclysm Enchanting

When we were first talking about our little levelling group, I thought that I was going to be the healer and that's why I created this priest, but then someone else asked to heal instead and I was like "sure, whatever". Still, I really liked this little char, so I occasionally take her out on a spin in the old dungeon finder just to see how crazy those low-level pugs are nowadays. The answer is: they're still quite crazy (I'm thinking of the lower BRD group that was extremely proud of just skipping 90% of the dungeon and being allowed to leave again after only five minutes or so), but sometimes I've also been positively surprised.

My favourite memory so far is the Zul'Farrak run where we got a pally tank who was level twenty or so, aggroed half the instance at once, died (naturally), ran back in to repeat the whole thing two more times and then left. This was followed by me and the remaining dpsers blinking in confusion and re-queuing for a tank, just to then get a Worgen death knight who seemed to have every single one of his abilities macroed to some sort of RP yell (such as "Your mother was a murloc and your father a gnoll!" for taunt). I mean, he was nice enough and we did complete the dungeon successfully with that person, but it was just such an utterly bizarre experience.

Tharisa

  • Level 21 human hunter
  • 12 hours played
  • Professions: 54 Old World Leatherworking, 160 Old World Skinning, 61 Old World Fishing

This hunter must have been sitting on this server since Cataclysm times, probably as a result of me randomly trying some of the then-new race/class combinations on different servers. Post level squish, she was level six and hanging out in Westfall. I decided to get her a haircut and play her a bit, just to see what being a hunter is like in retail nowadays after maining one in Classic for the past two years. (The answer at low levels was "incredibly boring" by the way.) I also did some more quests for the sake of Cataclysm nostalgia (?!) and just to see how it would feel compared to dungeoneering. The answer to that has been "incredibly slow".

30/10/2021

New Life among the Ashes

The last few weeks of Classic have been quite interesting for me. I've been meaning to talk about what's been happening for a little while, but found it difficult to place it all in a coherent narrative. I might still fail at doing that, but I'll at least give it a try.

First off, taking those weeks mostly off from the game has been good, as that really gave me a chance to finally let go of any lingering bitterness about the fact that Classic BC hasn't worked out for me the way I originally wanted it to. I still think that there's a fun MMO there; I just needed to figure out how I wanted to approach it, now that I'd decided that progression raiding was off the table. At the same time this wasn't an issue I could "reason my way out of" so to speak... as cheesy as it sounds, I had to let things play out and see how I felt.

Interestingly, the beat of the butterfly wing that set things in motion in a new direction for me was a bit of guild drama on Discord. Two extremely senior and (until then) outstandingly loyal raiders announced within the space of two days that they were both taking their mains out of the guild to raid elsewhere, and while they did their best to be nice about it, it's not surprising that this turn of events stoked panic among some of the other raiders. What's going on? Why is everybody leaving?

This then lead to some pretty intense discussion about the state of the guild and raid team, and again, while everybody tried their best to be polite, I think it's pretty impossible to deliver passionate criticism about the way things are being run without hurting someone's feelings. However, the thing that really stood out to me was that one of the secondary complaints that was raised as part of this was that guild spirit had been missing recently and that nobody was online anymore outside of raid times.

The former was something that I'd been bemoaning pretty much since early July, but at the time I'd got a fair amount of pushback when expressing that sentiment, some of it from the very same people who were now seemingly sharing it! So that was oddly fascinating. And nobody being online? I mean, I obviously hadn't been online myself, but the general vibe since Classic BC's launch had been that we had too many members for which the guild had no real use anymore and that leadership seemed to almost be rooting for certain people to just leave already. Again, the idea that this might have actually gone too far and caused people to regret what had happened intrigued me. In fact, I found myself logging in just to check who else was online outside raid times and indeed, often there were only one or two other characters around in guild - sometimes I was even the only one. Somewhat bizarrely, this actually made me want to be online more again, knowing that I wasn't just going to be lost in a sea of a million (slight hyperbole) dpsers looking for dungeon groups anymore.

Some changes happened within the guild after that slight drama as well. The old recruiter position was re-filled for example, and more members were deputised to help out with other small tasks. I myself volunteered to take over maintaining the crafting channel on Discord, a small thing I was happy to look after and that was independent of my actual time in game anyway. Community raids were also put back on the menu for the first time since late Classic - this was actually something that had already been set in motion just before the drama happened, but after the issue of lack of community was raised, they received additional attention.

This meant I could return to running Karazhan on Thursdays, and I also got my mage signed up for Gruul and Magtheridon on Fridays. With these being "old" content now and having been nerfed, they are chill and fun again, with people bringing alts and nobody sweating about parses. Even though a lot of the people who show up to these runs come from outside the guild, I've enjoyed every single one of them so far.

Speaking of people outside the guild... I noticed that one of the two leavers had gained a guild tag that was completely unknown to me, and as it happened another friend from outside the guild suddenly sported the same tag as well. I whispered the latter to ask what was up with this new guild he was in now. I thought he'd maybe reply with a line or two about how it was a newly formed raiding guild or whatever, but instead his reply was something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing): "Oh boy - we can have a proper chat about that after this Kara!" And indeed, later that evening he gave me a call on Discord (we'd actually never chatted one to one on voice before, only in open channels), and we ended up talking for over an hour! Not just about his new guild of course, but also generally about what we'd been up to recently, both in game and in real life. It was really nice, and when we eventually hung up I was smiling. I don't think anyone in game had been this excited to talk to me since before BC's launch.

Another day - and I'm not sure anymore where this sits chronologically, it might have happened just a bit before or a little after - I saw a group looking for dps for a normal dungeon while on my mage and I asked to join... just to suddenly find myself grouped with my pre-TBC levelling buddy. In fairness to him, throughout my entire struggle with this expansion, he has been one of the maybe two people who did make a point of whispering me and wanting to group with me sometimes, even when they didn't "need" anything from me, and a fair few of the most enjoyable runs I did have involved him. However, he was still also levelling and grinding dungeons and rep with an intensity that I found alienating, so with me just feeling a bit fed up with the game altogether recently, we hadn't really talked in a few weeks, and it felt refreshing to run into him like that. The dungeon went well and I told him that it was nice to see us play as a team again, just like the "old days" (a whole five months ago now...). He replied that he shared the sentiment.

After that we ended up talking a bit more again and running some more dungeons together. With activity on the server having fallen off somewhat, he wasn't jumping into pugs during every waking moment anymore. One run that really stood out to me though was a heroic Blood Furnace with him and the same out-of-guild buddy I mentioned chatting on voice with me earlier. Because we did it purely for fun. It wasn't the daily dungeon, and nobody needed any loot. Out-of-guild buddy just really wanted to run it because he found it extremely challenging, and while he'd successfully tanked it on his warrior before, that had been with three mages for crowd control, which we all agreed was cheating a bit. Basically, he wanted to prove that he could do it with a less optimised group setup as well.

So I came on my hunter, my levelling buddy hopped on his warlock, we got a feral druid from the guild to join, our tank invited one of his healer friends, and off we went. And we were fucking pro, the way we pulled, interrupted and controlled things just so. I'd try to trap a mob, see it resist, and just before it would hit me, a perfectly timed fear from my friend's warlock would send it running off the other way. It was absolutely beautiful.

When we got to the gauntlet before the second boss, we lined up like good little soldiers while our tank explained his battle plan in great detail. And we executed it nearly flawlessly. We finished the instance without a single wipe, and had only suffered a small number of deaths when hard-hitting mobs had twitched to one-shot a damage dealer on a few pulls. We posed for a silly screenshot after killing the last boss and my levelling friend joked that we were the new bosses in the instance now and that the next group would have to kill us so we'd drop our badges. It was glorious.

So am I back? I'm not entirely sure. I'm a bit wary of this newfound joy shining too brightly and quickly burning itself out again, especially after I ran something like eight dungeons this past weekend (I honestly lost count), which is very unlike me. But it's given me hope. Many people see things slowing down and the game's population dropping off as a bad thing, but to me it's been strangely heartening to see who's still around after the vanguard has got all their reputations to exalted and either quit or dropped down to just logging for raids. It's certainly much closer to the sort of environment that I enjoyed about Classic.

25/10/2021

More on Legion

The meat of this post has apparently been sat in my drafts folder for more than four months at this point, but I guess when you're writing about content from an expansion that's already more than five years old, a few months more or less don't really make a difference anymore. If anything, talking about Legion is about to become more relevant again, with Blizzard planning to retune some Legion content to become replayable at level during Shadowlands... or something.

Still, the focus of this post was actually meant to be on the demon hunter alts my husband and I created earlier in the year and our progress through Legion. We didn't quite "100%" it, but we did complete the quest content for all the major patches and duoed all the old raids. We always meant to do the same for the BfA raids actually, but just never got around to even trying.

It's been quite fun, because while regular attacks basically didn't hurt our characters even a mere two levels above the content, some special mechanics could still kill us and actually introduced a bit of challenge. Me just about finishing off Fallen Avatar with my husband's character already dead and just as the boss's last platform was disappearing into the green goo was certainly a moment.

Not having set foot into a WoW raid, not even in its LFR version, since Mists of Pandaria, I was also surprised by how story-heavy some of these have been. Nighthold and Tomb of Sargeras for example definitely had more going on than us simply killing a big bad. I can see how that wouldn't have been popular with a certain segment of the player base.

But anyway, I'm only four paragraphs in and already digressing. What I really wanted to focus on was that the Legion content has been surprisingly fun, and I feel that even with all the borrowed power mechanics stripped out or made irrelevant, you can still tell why it's the modern expansion that people look back on with the most fondness. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if not having to deal with systems like legendaries and artifact power actually improves the experience, considering that those seemed to be the main things I remember hearing people gripe about back in the day. (My demon hunter did find three legendaries by the way, but they might as well be greens at this point in the game.)

One thing I liked is that Legion felt extremely thematically coherent, which is something that BfA was not. The core of the base expansion content is basically: The Burning Legion (demonic bad guys) are invading and we need to find these MacGuffins to defend ourselves! Also, some ancient elves in this land are actually working with the demons because of course they are. And after that the progression is: dealing with the demon-loving elves (Nighthold), pushing back against the demons themselves (Tomb of Sargeras), taking the fight to the demon home world (Argus).

The intro to Argus was bloody brilliant by the way. The scale of it all was impressive and the music bombastic, giving the whole thing a real feel of the end times. If anything I think Blizzard probably took that too far, because it's hard to dial things down again in a meaningful way after dealing with those kinds of world-ending stakes, something that I recall people criticising about Mists of Pandaria in the wake of Cataclysm as well, even if public perception seems to have changed to look back on MoP with a degree of fondness now.

Anyway, it's commonly accepted that most WoW players don't care much about lore and I agree, but I think there's a difference between caring about the intricacies of the lore and having at least a vague idea of what's going on, what your character is doing and why. If the game fails at conveying the latter as it kind of did in BfA with its weird meandering from faction conflict to adventures under the sea to old gods, people won't take to the forums en masse to complain that the story is bad (edit four months later: apparently it takes a cut scene with Sylvanas for that), but I'm 100% convinced that it does result in the average player feeling less engaged by the game.

Legion definitely didn't have that problem. Some details may have been confusing (Why does Turalyon talk about fighting the Legion for thousands of years? Surely he can't have been with the Army of Light for more than a couple of decades, tops?) but you could always follow the main throughline.

The way major lore characters were involved was also pretty well done for the most part in that they fight by your side and provide some guidance, and there are interesting things happening to them, but you don't need to like them or care about the details of their stories for things to work. The closest the game came to violating that rule was with Illidan, and it's no coincidence that I thought the "travel around the world to watch selected two-minute cut scenes of Illidan's life" quest chain was not a great piece of content, and not just because the removal of most portals from Legion-era Dalaran made it a pain in the butt from a gameplay perspective as well. The point is, even if you thought that Illidan was annoying, smug and generally overrated, the rest of the story still worked (more or less).

This is something that has shaped up to be a problem in Shadowlands, with the plot being heavily focused on Sylvanas Windrunner and Anduin Wrynn, both characters that have had almost no interaction with the player character up to this point in the expansion. At the same time the threat being posed by the Jailer is poorly explained and also feels very distant, meaning that players are essentially left to tread water in the covenant zones, with the occasional foray into the Maw, which is supposed to be a hellhole and it's never our plan to make it nice or anything, so why are we here again? It all just feels extremely unfocused, which is quite a feat for an expansion that is all about us spending all of our time on a different plane of existence with none of the usual old world concerns around to distract us.