Classic Burning Crusade... Yay, I Guess?

It's been a week since BlizzConline came and went, and faithful readers may well be wondering why I haven't said anything about the Burning Crusade Classic announcement, considering how excited I've been about this prospect for almost a year.

Truth be told, I thought the actual announcement was somewhat anticlimactic (though I didn't help myself by only watching it on my second screen while tormenting my class leader's newest tanking alt in Strat Undead). We all knew it was coming; it was just a matter of getting the details, most importantly the actual launch date - and that we didn't get. On the one hand I'm a bit disappointed because I was really hoping to be able to book time off work soon (hah), but on the other hand Blizzard not wanting to commit to a date yet implies to me that the rumours about an early summer launch may well turn out to have been overly optimistic, and that wouldn't be an entirely bad thing for me as it would give my guild more time to clear (and re-clear) Naxx.

What we did get is confirmation of how expansion/character progression is going to work, and I have to hand it to Blizzard on that front as it seems like they managed to find a solution that should at least come close to satisfying the maximum number of players. By default the existing Classic servers will progress into Burning Crusade, but you'll get a prompt for each individual character whether you'll want to take them along for the ride or transfer them off to a perma-Classic version of your server instead. The character copy option I wanted will exist too though, if only as a paid service. And there'll even be level 58 character boosts!

You could be cynical and call those last two things greedy cash grabs, but to be honest I think the restrictions put on these services make sense. As much as I would have liked to be able to just copy everything to save myself from having to worry about making any wrong choices, if this was the default for everyone it would probably clog up the servers and databases with millions of effectively "dead" duplicate characters that people didn't plan to play anyway, and I can see why Blizzard wouldn't want to do that. By putting a price tag on the service it'll be limited to those who actually want to use those characters and I guess that makes sense. I'll definitely be copying my hunter main and possibly some alts as well, depending on the pricing (which we don't know yet either).

It's a similar thing with the character boosts. I'm not really a fan of that kind of thing in general - though probably not for the reasons people usually cite - but I can see the appeal in this particular instance. Does anyone who started playing Classic with existing friends not know someone whose interest fizzled out before they hit the level cap but who might be interested in coming back for Burning Crusade? There are sensible restrictions in place to cater to this particular audience without opening the doors for people to skip ahead or boost farm bots (only once per account, no draenei or blood elves, no professions trained etc.).

The other major reveal was that unlike current Classic with its #nochanges approach, Burning Crusade will have #somechanges. I would have been worried if this had been the direction for the current game from the start, but to be honest after one and a half years Blizzard have shown themselves to be respectful of what Classic means to people. They have in fact made some small changes to the current game as well, such as increasing the spawns of Black Lotus to align better with how much more populated Classic servers are compared to Vanilla, but these changes were always made with great care and have made a lot of sense.

From the sounds of it they'll take a similar approach to Classic BC, for example by giving the faction-specific paladin seals that turned out to be horribly unbalanced to both factions, or by not having Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep open on launch day. Draenei and blood elves are also supposed to be released with the pre-patch instead of the actual expansion launch to give people time to get their new shamans and paladins caught up in time for the opening of the Dark Portal. While that's definitely a departure from how things were "back in the day", it honestly sounds great and I'm perfectly happy with those tweaks.

So yeah, basically the reason I haven't had much to say about the official BC Classic announcement is that it all sounds very solid but what details we've had aren't very exciting to me personally. Without an actual release date my focus will remain on Naxx and simply getting more of my alts levelled up for now.


Riding the World Buff Train

I've mentioned Classic's "world buff meta" before, but for those not in the know, it basically works like this: With the general difficulty of outdoor content, Blizzard thought back in the day that temporary buffs were a good way to reward players, because you really do feel them making a major difference to your performance and survivability.

They were mostly designed in an organic and fun way, without any real concern for balancing. You slay the dragon and hang its head from the city gates, so everyone in the city is happy and excited and gains a buff called Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer for two hours. Makes sense, right?

The thing is that those buffs are incredibly overpowered. For example the Rallying Cry gives 140 attack power among other things - for reference, my hunter in a mix of tier two and three gear has about 1300 attack power unbuffed - so even for someone who's already pretty geared, that one buff alone still increases their power by ten percent. In a way the buffs are even more attractive for lowbies though (at least in cases where they don't scale with level), as a levelling warrior with 150 attack power hanging out in Stormwind for example can turn themselves into murder machine with twice their regular power level for their next round of questing!

The problem is that players realised that they could control the timing of these buffs and use them to their advantage by simply holding on to those smelly dragon heads for a bit. Sure, it may be a one-time quest, but with forty people in a raid group you can easily start your nightly raids by having someone hand in the quest and trigger the buff for weeks or even months in a row, and that's without taking into consideration that multiple guilds can cooperate to coordinate their timings.

The dragon head is the easy part though, because assembling in town before the raid is easy. But then you also want to go to Booty Bay for the heart of Hakkar drop, do a Dire Maul tribute run and get the buffs from there, find and cleanse a songflower in Felwood... considering the amount of travel time in Classic and the fact that all these buffs only have a limited duration, wanting to min-max your performance turns into a logistical challenge before the raid's even started, something to tackle potentially even days in advance, though you then have to make sure to stay logged out until raid start once you've acquired your buffs.

It's a very odd meta and I was very uncomfortable with it at the start, especially when the content was so easy that people in greens who weren't even max-level could clear Molten Core just fine. As some players described it at the time, it basically meant spending two hours gathering buffs to finish the raid fifteen minutes faster. Relevant to speed runners going for records for sure, but surely not for the wider population?

And that's without even getting into the fragility of these buffs, and I'm not even playing on a PvP server. As I noted the first time I went to AQ20 with my guild, I picked up the head and heart buffs because it was a low-effort thing to do, just to lose them five minutes into the raid when we wiped on a bad trash pull. Imagine how that feels if you spent hours setting up travel all over Azeroth to get those buffs!

My guild being truly casual, nobody's ever been required to pick up any world buffs, but getting the head and heart just before raid time has always been considered a good thing to do. The guild mistress and a few others also used to advocate for Dire Maul Tribute runs before AQ40 sometimes, but those seemed to be a lot less popular, what with the effort of getting down to Feralas (since you couldn't necessarily count on a warlock summon being available) and back to town (again, since you might not be able to catch a mage portal). I did them a few times and admittedly the first time it was pretty exciting to see my threat and damage shoot up (especially back when my gear wasn't great yet), but ultimately I still decided that it wasn't worth the effort of making it a regular occurrence. After all, few others ever seemed to bother, we'd often lose the buffs early due to wiping on something silly, and we could clear the instance just fine without them, so what was the point? The allure of just being higher up on the damage meters by the end of the night wasn't enough for me.

Naxx has been different though. None of us really bothered with buffs the first couple of weeks because we all knew that we were going to wipe early and a lot (and we did), but once we started to have at least the first few bosses on farm, speed did become a concern. My guild raids Naxx twice a week and the instance has fifteen bosses in it. Speed runners clearing the place in an hour notwithstanding, we knew it was always going to be a challenge for us to clear things fast enough to have consistent progression time on the newest bosses. (I'm amused every time I see some meme that lists "three hour AQ40 clears" as shorthand for a guild being unacceptably bad and slow. Whenever we cleared AQ40 in three hours we thought we did pretty well!) Plus some of the fights in Naxx are hard enough that going in with world buffs can actually make a big difference to whether we can get them down with ease or not at all.

So the drum beat to gather world buffs more often has become louder - not in a top-down way, but presented as a "we need to do everything we can to beat these bosses" team effort. Tribute runs have become more frequent, and warlock alts were placed to be able to offer summons. Last week the Darkmoon Faire was in town, and you can get one of a selection of buffs there as well by having your fortune told. The fact that it was making camp in Mulgore, a Horde starting zone, did not put the guild mistress off and she organised another bunch of alts to taxi people over there as well.

A lot of other guilds were doing the same, so there was a plethora of lowbie alts with names like "Summonbot" in attendance. I remember one particularly bizarre moment when a conversation ensued in /say about which of the available buffs to pick from the fortune teller. Someone from another guild commented that the resistance buff was best for Sapphiron, to which our guild mistress countered that we needed the damage buff for Loatheb - we were way too casual to worry about Sapphiron yet. At that point I felt the urge to chime in with: "Yeah, we are the casual Mulgore summoning squad!"  and then I had to laugh at myself because of how absurd it sounded. Surely there's nothing casual about parking alts in three different locations to ferry your guildies around Kalimdor for faster buff pick-up.

But then, this is how it always goes for me. I'll never be a top player and I despise the kind of min-max culture that looks down on anyone who doesn't follow the current meta even if whatever they're doing instead is perfectly fit for purpose. But when I care about the game and I find that what I've done so far isn't good enough anymore, then I step up. Even if that includes gathering temporary buffs in odd places, or farming awkward consumables from frost giants in Winterspring and giant scorpions in the Blasted Lands. Because I want us to win. And as bizarre as this whole buff meta is, there is something satisfying about approaching it as a team: from the warm fuzziness you feel when a guildie hands you a stack of consumables for free, to the relieved smile of another guildie who was late to log on but you held the cleared Tribute instance open for them anyway.

It almost makes me wonder whether I'll miss these odd rituals once Burning Crusade comes around...


It's Complicated

According to the guild's invitation log, I joined <Order of the Holy Fork> on the 18th of August last year, meaning that I will soon have been in my current WoW Classic guild for six months. Like many things during these strange times, it simultaneously feels like no time has passed at all and like I've been in the guild forever. Either way I wanted to do some musing on how things have been going.

When I joined the guild, the best way to describe how I felt after a few days is to say that I fell in love, as strange as it may seem to some to use that particular term for a whole group of people or even an institution. Everyone just seemed so great, making me laugh, helping me see and achieve new things in game; I wanted to be online to chat and play with them all the time.

Even so, there was a more cautious voice inside my head as well, warning me to not fall quite so hard and quite so fast: Sure, they may be fun to hang out with and make you laugh, but you don't know these people (yet). Don't expose yourself to potentially being hurt by assuming too much and trusting too much, too quickly.

And that wasn't entirely wrong, because the honeymoon phase during which everything and everyone seemed perfect couldn't last of course, not in a guild with this many people in it. That's not to say that anything turned out horribly wrong, but there've been conflicts and personality clashes, and sad times over people leaving (whether quietly or angrily), and at times it really got to me! I actually think that my online relationships have become more intense in general since this whole pandemic/lockdown thing started - I've always taken them no less seriously than IRL friendships, but let's just say it's easier to shrug off an argument over Discord when you spend more time being out and about than when you spend all day cooped up at home, as that makes it much easier to end up brooding over what so-and-so might have really meant when they said XYZ... if you know what I mean.

In case the previous paragraph may sound a bit disillusioned, make no mistake: While a couple of relationships with guildies may have turned a little sour over the past few months, others became (even) better. Most notably there were a number of people who mostly ignored me at first - not out of any malice I think, but probably because they'd seen too many new raiders wash out after a couple of weeks to get invested in anyone's company too quickly. As it became apparent that I was planning to be a more or less permanent fixture though, they started to warm up to me and that's been nice to see. Also, I learned that friendship can blossom in the strangest of circumstances... such as spending most of an afternoon arguing with someone about how to pull trash in Naxx.

The situation as a whole has given rise to some rather philosophical thoughts for me. You know how there's all this talk nowadays of social media trapping people in echo chambers? Well, being in a 40-man guild feels a lot like the opposite. Sure, there are some common threads running through the lives of Classic raiders (many are parents trying to catch a break from their spouse and kids for example), but there are just as many differences and you often can't really know what sort of person is hiding behind the avatar beyond "someone who wants to raid". But even if someone suddenly reveals something about themselves that strikes you as negative, well... you can't very well leave over something like that if you want to keep raiding, right? So you stick it out, and then maybe one day that same guy who made you really mad the other week suddenly helps you out with a quest and you go "hmm".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people should be forced to spend time in the company of others they don't get along with, but it's been interesting to me how gritting your teeth on occasion to tolerate behaviours you're not fond of can also give you a chance to maybe see another side to that person after a while and reconsider your stance on them.

Twenty years ago when I was an awkward teenager who didn't know anyone in real life who shared any of her dorky interests, finding people that were more like me online was a godsend, and I still think that easily being able to find like-minded people on the internet is a good thing. But I've also come to think that it's not bad to occasionally butt heads in a shared space and maybe find some sort of respect for each other after a while.

And once again I wonder what'll happen when the raid sizes go down in Burning Crusade and there'll be less need to put up with certain individuals to fill out the raid, and you'll ideally want your Kara team to just consist of your closest friends if you have a choice...