Trap Dance

I realise my last few posts have sounded a bit maudlin, but lest you think that I'm feeling entirely disillusioned with Classic BC, I'd like to talk about something that's been exactly as much fun as I remembered, if not more so: doing heroics as a hunter.

At the time of writing this I've unlocked access to heroics for three of the five dungeon factions and completed five heroic runs so far: Ramparts times two, and one each of Slave Pens, Shattered Halls and Black Morass. All of them have been successful and all of them have been highly enjoyable.

I'm not someone who needs everything to be challenging for it to be fun, but Burning Crusade heroics did offer a challenge that I used to find very enjoyable back in the day. It's very simple really: Everything hits so hard that you can't just tank everything, you have to use some sort of crowd control, at least at this stage in the game (it'll probably be different once everyone's kitted out in tier six gear). And I love being one of the people to provide it.

Hunter traps were never the most popular form of CC in Classic, and for good reason. They are very versatile in the sense that unlike things like sheep, shackle etc. they aren't limited to a specific mob type, but also unlike any other form of CC, they can't just be cast on the target from range - instead you need to manoeuvre the enemy into the trap, which can be challenging with ranged attackers in particular. Traps also have a medium-length cooldown that is longer than the actual trap duration, meaning that you can't just keep re-applying them seamlessly. In OG Classic, traps could also only be placed out of combat, which meant that if you wanted to re-trap a mob after combat had started, you needed to feign death, hope it wasn't resisted and be really quick with laying down that new trap (or have a macro). It was definitely awkward.

In Burning Crusade however, traps can now be placed in combat as well, making chain-trapping much easier, and Marksmanship spec has also been given the talented ability Silencing Shot, which makes it possible to move caster mobs around even when there isn't a convenient corner around which to break line of sight. I decided to defy the Beast Mastery meta in order to have access to this utility as well as to keep my beloved Scatter Shot, and in short, I've been having a blast!

I just enjoy that feeling of being able to handle a dangerous mob by myself, controlling and perhaps even slowly killing it without ever letting it touch me. I don't think it's really difficult given the amount of tools available to me, but there's still some skill involved when it comes to knowing when and where to place your traps to make sure the cooldown is up again at the right time and you don't end up with the wrong mob accidentally triggering the trap, or with a whack to the face if the trap gets resisted or breaks early. Even with the small number of heroics that I've done, I've had several people express admiration for the ease and confidence with which I keep my CC target under control for however long is required.

But even when I'm not being asked to CC anything, I find useful things to do, such as looking after my healer. It's something a hunter friend made me appreciate back in Vanilla when I was the one doing the healing and which I've since always strived to emulate when playing a hunter myself. Being a ranged dps, it's natural for you to hang back with the healer, and it means that you can serve as the first line of defense if a mob breaks loose and gets attracted by healing aggro. A quick Scatter Shot or trap dropped in front of the healer (even if you weren't meant to CC that mob) can buy valuable seconds to give the tank time to get the situation back under control and makes your healer feel loved and cared for. (Plus it could make the difference between survival and a wipe!) It's just something I really enjoy.

Finally, let's not forget that Burning Crusade also gave hunters Misdirection, aka the ability to transfer the threat of three attacks to someone else every two minutes, which is a great way of helping the tank establish a threat lead on a boss, or when combined with multi-shot on trash, can help non-paladin tanks with initial AoE aggro.

Basically hunters don't just do good dps in BC, but they are a great utility class in dungeons, particularly heroics, and I'm finding that to be even more fun than I remembered. Now if only I can get those last two attunements done...


The Karazhan Rollercoaster

I didn't mark the date, but I think my hunter hit level 70 the day after my previous post. That means that in reality, only a few days have passed since then, but somehow it feels much longer already. Time in Outland seems to flow faster somehow, with people achieving within hours what took me days or even weeks to do back in the day.

Those not yet level 70 feel they're already miles behind those who are. Those who only just hit 70 feel they're miles behind those who've already maxed out their reputations. Those who've already maxed out their reputations are (probably, I have no idea) wishing that everyone would stop accusing them of no-lifing just because they're enjoying the game and have a lot of free time. Either way, there's constant tension in the air, or that's how it feels to me at least. It might be that I'm projecting, but let's just say I've been in similar situations before...

It's funny actually, because the other day I thought to myself in slight exasperation: What happened to the Classic community? I don't remember people fretting so much at original Classic launch! But then I immediately paused and realised that I was lying to myself. People were like this at original Classic launch too; I was just in a different place myself.

I was a social member in a guild where I didn't really know anyone and was perfectly happy to trundle along at my own pace, but even from my very limited point of view I could see that some new sort of drama erupted pretty much every week, about how people were supposedly forming cliques that only helped each other, or accusations of the guild being too casual or hardcore relative to its mission statement (yes, there were people complaining from both ends). Remind you of anyone you know? It just feels a bit like some kind of blow-up is inevitable sooner or later.

Anyway, to get back to my actual story, I hit 70 in a beautifully chill way, by helping a druid healer from the guild complete the Nesingwary chain in Nagrand. One of the rewards is a nice healing idol, but he found the idea of slaughtering 100+ mobs by himself in healing spec a bit daunting. Good thing I'm always happy to help out with killing things that I can skin.

The first official Kara sign-up appeared on the guild website around that time. I felt a bit wistful and asked if anyone was up for the Arcatraz (which was the attunement step I was on) but got no responses. I was happy to leave it until later, but then a friendly raid tank whispered me and asked if I'd got a group yet. I said no and he offered to join. A few more friendly souls followed and much to my own surprise, I got the last two instances in the chain done in no time. The key to Karazhan was mine!

I added my name to the guild sign-up and it brought the number of signed characters to exactly twenty. I had a quick look at people's roles and we seemed to have a good balance of tanks and healers as well. Yes, we could run two Kara teams right away and it was going to be great!

My excitement turned out to be premature though, as the officers ended up fiddling with the sign-ups and moving one group to Thursday to accommodate some people that couldn't make the Wednesday... but this of course meant that now some of the Wednesday sign-ups wouldn't get to go, and that included me. I'm sure there was some sort of logic to it, but since it wasn't really fully transparent and the sheet had looked like my sign-up had been "just in time" to get into the second group, I was bummed. Yeah, a day ago I'd thought that I wasn't going to get to run Kara at all, but somehow getting the key quest done and then being sat out was worse. This wasn't like being on the bench for Naxx either, where there was some rotation and you earned EP for being online. It was just a simple "no run for you" sign.

I always knew that something like this was likely to happen since we were unlikely to end up with the exact number of sign-ups for multiple ten-man teams with no spares and that it wasn't personal, but that didn't make it feel any better to be benched for the very first official guild Kara.

I felt rejected and poked someone in another guild whose community runs I'd joined a couple of times in Classic to ask if they were running Kara too and maybe had any spots this week. The first response was a maybe, with the caveat that they couldn't make any promises, but the next day I got confirmation that I was definitely in, and I was hyped again.

So I ended up doing my very first Karazhan run... with a different guild. It was actually very nice. They kept a good pace but everyone was friendly and joking around. They also had a priest with a name that was abbreviated to "Shin", which confused the hell out of me every time they were called out on voice chat.

That first night we killed all the bosses bar Shade of Aran and Netherspite (well, and Nightbane I guess since nobody had an urn yet). We actually one-shot everything except Maiden, on whom we had one wipe when we tried to step into her Consecration just in time to be broken out of the AoE stun, but the timers were off and she ended up chaining half the raid to death the moment we got too close instead. We wiped three times on Aran, who was much harder than I remembered, and then moved on to chess and Prince since leadership didn't want to make it too late. We came back to kill Shade and Netherspite the next night. I also got extremely lucky with loot, getting boots from Moroes, legs from Netherspite and the shiny Wolfslayer Sniper Rifle from opera. Above all though, I felt welcomed and appreciated, as they were very glad to have me along to fill their open raid spot, which made for a lovely soothing balm for my bruised ego.

But now... I don't really know what comes next. I signed up for next week's guild run, but there's been no word on whether they'll make any sort of attempt to rotate people. Even if I get in this time, someone else who gets asked to sit out may end up kicking off. There's also been more news about the 25-man raids and based on what's been said, there's a good chance I might not even make the cut for those. Nothing's set in stone yet, but let's just say that at the moment things don't look too good for me. It would be the ultimate irony if, after being dragged into raiding in Classic despite having no plans to do so, I'll end up getting kicked to the curb in the expansion in which I really did want to raid.

Regardless of what's going to happen, I don't want to be caught off-guard, so I have a lot of thinking to do about what I really want out of this game and what I should be doing if things end up going south. While I know that expansion launches are always a time of upheaval, I have to admit that this particular situation is not one I expected to find myself in.


Dungeon Dynamics

A week after my big binge to 67, my hunter is still only level 69. As I've cut back on play time to preserve my sanity, I've watched more and more people overtake me in terms of character progression, and it's been oddly disheartening. As much as I've been trying to tell myself that it's not a race and that the FOMO is irrational, I've also come to realise that while Outland isn't suddenly going to go away, people's availability to run dungeons very much is a temporary thing. Initially I was just about managing to ride the crest of the wave of early dungeon levellers, but now I've fallen off and it feels like everybody's already done with the bits I need and wants to do something else instead. People are even running heroics and going to Karazhan already.

Dungeons are a big part of the Burning Crusade's progression and the expansion's appeal to me, and I'm not even talking about the current meta to level through dungeons to optimise reputation gains. (I'm very much against blindly following any perceived meta, but in this case it actually overlaps with something that I already enjoy for its own sake, so... yay me I guess?) Dungeons are required for a lot of BC's infamous web of attunements, and back in the day the introduction of heroic dungeons offered an alternative endgame gearing path to raiding for the first time.

It's been interesting to observe people's different approaches to dungeon running. There are those, like me, who've been focusing on forming and joining guild groups, but others have preferred to hit up the LFG channel instead. Even without an automated LFG tool, the current glut of people needing or wanting to run dungeons at the moment means that it can be faster to just dip your toes into the wider server pool, especially if you're a tank or healer. I don't think there's a right or wrong to this, but I can't deny that the more people jump into LFG the moment they log in, the harder it becomes to build groups within the guild.

Some people who play damage dealers have also come across as a bit lost. They're used to just showing up for raids, and not automatically getting an invite to something the moment they log in can feel daunting, especially with the high number of dps players competing for every dungeon spot. It takes me back to my original BC days, when I recall some of my guildies back then perpetually complaining that they just couldn't get groups for the dungeons they needed, especially heroics. I even wrote a post to "educate" them on the guild forums back then, and the other week I actually realised that I'd at some point had the sense to back up this and other forum posts of mine for future reference. Here's what past me had to say about getting dungeon groups in BC circa. 2007/2008, reproduced in full:

Shintar's guide to getting dungeon groups in four easy steps

1. Be active, not reactive.

"I never get invited to heroics!"
"This dungeon quest has been in my quest log for ages, I just can't get a group for it!"

Let me tell you a secret: Instance groups don't magically appear out of thin air, someone has to take the first step and start inviting others. The good news is: Anyone can be that person, even you! So stop moaning about how others don't do things for you and take matters into your own hands.

2. Knowledge is power. In more than one way.

First off, it helps a lot to know where exactly you want to go and why. "Anyone for a heroic?" is a very lackluster invitation and unlikely to draw the attention of anyone who isn't bored out of their skull. Try something like: "Anyone for heroic SL? It's the daily, badges all around!" People like leaders who know what they want.

Secondly, make sure that you know what kind of group composition you're looking for and what you're missing. A tank? A healer? Some crowd control? Once you know what you need you can seek out the right people directly.

This ties in with knowing your guildies: who plays a healer, who has a tanking alt and so on. For example there is no point in spamming guild chat with requests for a tank if none of the people online actually play one; you'll just end up making yourself look daft.

In fact, avoid using guild chat as your private LFG channel altogether and just whisper people once you've decided that they would be a good addition to your group and have checked that they aren't already in an instance. Personal requests make people feel special. "Gosh, she doesn't just want any mage, she wants me to come along!" (Never mind that you're the only mage online right now...) It's also harder to reject a personal invitation than to ignore a generic request for help in guild chat.

The final kind of knowledge that's useful in this regard is knowing about things like who said something embarrassing in guild chat yesterday or who sent you that epic mistell the other night... you can use the threat of screenshots as blackmail to make people do what you want!

3. Be nice. Play well. Have fun.

This one is equally important whether you started the group or whether you were invited by someone else. It's particularly important for dpsers, since there are so many of us... tanks and healers can get away with being a bit jerky since they are in demand.

You'd think that something like this would be a no-brainer, but for many people it clearly isn't. Spending the whole instance whining about how everything sucks is not going to make you popular. Don't expect to be invited again any time soon after ninja-afking for half an hour just before the second boss. Sorry, but if you're a rogue who does less dps than my left toe, I won't ask you to come along to a heroic again.

People will generally give guildies priority for runs, but not blindly. A good reputation and the perks that come with it have to be earned.

4. Keep an open mind.

If you really want to get that dungeon quest done, don't give up just because your favourite tank isn't online right now. Okay, so you don't know this other guy that well, but you'll never know unless you give him a chance, will you? Even pugging people can turn out to be a pleasant surprise - there are a lot of great players out there who aren't in Onslaught.


Alternatively, you could always just make friends with someone who's good at organising dungeon runs and then bully them into setting up groups for you whenever you need one. :P

I've been thinking about this a lot as I've been making my own dungeon groups with mixed success. I've been trying to follow my own advice, but the issue I'm having is that everything is going so much faster in Classic Burning Crusade than it did in the original, which makes some things feel kind of bad and exhausting (to me anyway). I have no problem whispering every tank and healer in the guild to ask them whether they are interested in coming to the dungeon I need... but to keep up with the speed at which people are advancing, I'd need to do so at least three times a day, at which point I'm starting to feel like a nuisance.

Same with the whole "knowledge" thing... it would be nice to be able to team up with other people who need the same things as me, and there's even an addon that keeps track of everyone's progress across the whole guild, but a person who's on the same step of an attunement as me one day is suddenly three steps ahead the next and totally done with the dungeons that I still need.

As for knowing people... I thought I had pretty good knowledge of everyone on the raid team, but the past few weeks have played complete mayhem with the roster, with lots of old-timers returning, new recruits that haven't been documented anywhere that I'm aware of, and former raiders disappearing seemingly without a trace. I guess that's not unusual for a new expansion launch, but again, it does make things harder. I don't mind getting to know new people, but it's all happening a bit too fast for me to keep up.

As a result I've spent the last level or so just grinding clefthooves in Nagrand. I promised our bear tank that I'd make him the heavy clefthoof set, and it requires ridiculous amounts of leather, but I kind of like my leatherworking actually being able to make useful things, and at least it's a goal that I can pursue by myself and at my own pace. It also feels oddly appropriate from an RP point of view and like a return to the character's roots to just go out and do my own thing - just me and my pet.

I still yearn to do all those dungeons, get attuned for Karazhan and so on and so forth... and I'm sure I will, in good time. But at the moment I just have to accept that I can't keep up with those whom I consider my friends, and eventually, I too may have to simply brave the LFG channel and start pugging things. I'm sure it'll be fine; I've never had any issues with pugs in Classic. I just thought that with all of us going into this expansion together it would be more of an opportunity to play with friends, but as it turns out I'm too much of a slowpoke nowadays to keep up with the Joneses Forks, which I can't help but feel a bit sad about.


Dazed in Outland

It's back to work for me today - not physically, as I'm still working from home, but after five days of time off to binge on Burning Crusade Classic. My hunter is currently sitting at level 67, and what a ride it's been so far.

As I mentioned in my post about Classic BC plans, this launch has been very different for me from original Classic in that it's much less about exploration and more about solving the puzzle that is Outland. There's been the occasional moment of surprise, depending on how familiar I am with the content, which has led to some amusement - I mean, who ever does Auchenai Crypts for example? But a lot of it I still remember all too well - I just quested through all of Hellfire on an alt in retail a few months ago for example (and meant to write about it at the time but kept putting it off until I forgot), so the gist of those quests at least has been very familiar.

What has surprised me though has been how compelling it still is. I mean, if you boil it down to the basics it's all just grinding: mobs, reputations, dungeons... but add a colourful setting, good company and an effort-reward ratio that hits the spot just right and you simply want to keep going, and going, and going... After all, there are so many quests to do, reputations to raise and professions to skill up! Wanting to do all of that - and all at the same time - can actually be somewhat overwhelming.

So I binged pretty hard, especially during the first three days of my holiday, staying up until the early hours of the morning almost every day. (Often that was actually the best time to get things done by the way... the rest of the time, many of the early quest locations were camped pretty badly despite of layering.) And yet, all of that still wasn't enough to keep up with some of my guildies. We had our first level 70 after less than three days, and a draenei shaman no less. I have no idea how that guy did it... does he not need to eat or sleep? And others weren't far behind. One paladin confessed that he'd had a nightmare that everyone else had hit level 70 without him while he was asleep.

It's easy to say that you just want to level and do things at your own pace, but it's hard to not have any feelings of FOMO at all when you see people already getting their attunements done and what not. Sure, official 25-man raiding won't start for a while for my guild, so there's no rush on that front, but it's simple things like seeing someone that you've been levelling with pull ahead by a level and starting on a new dungeon for which you're not ready yet. It shouldn't really matter, and in a few weeks we'll all be 70 and will have forgotten all about this anyway, but at the moment there's a certain competitive pressure that I at least find hard to ignore.

So there's been some discomfort from that, but also on a more personal level. There's nothing wrong with binging on a game for a few hours or even days, but I have to admit that after the third day I nonetheless felt the urge to step back a bit, because the sheer strength of the urge to play more was an uncomfortable reminder of a time when I had a not-so-healthy relationship with WoW as a student - which was back during the original Burning Crusade, incidentally. Coincidence? I don't like feeling compelled to play quite so much, and also, there are simply other games I'm still interested in as well. It's Total Galactic War in SWTOR next week for example (a rare event that I want to capitalise on) and Neverwinter is about to drop a huge update that I'm also curious about.

So it's been a bit of an awkward mix of emotions. I've focused more on the negative in this post so far, but especially running dungeons with guildies has also been genuinely lovely. It's nice to be able to chat and laugh with them in an environment other than a huge raid (where there's limited scope for that to be honest if you actually want to get things done), and the Outland dungeons are all well-designed and fun. Meeting stones having become summoning stones has made it much faster to get a dungeon group together and get going. Different approaches to each dungeon and particularly memorable runs have already spawned a thousand memes. That is great. I just need to find my balance.


Burning Crusade Classic Launch Night on Hydraxian Waterlords - EU

After all the hype, how did it go?

I'd actually already parked my hunter near the Dark Portal the day before and spent the hours leading up to the actual portal opening event (11pm in my time zone) messing around on alts instead. Old Azeroth was starting to look eerily deserted by that time - it's not that I saw no other players at all, but such sightings were rare compared to the usual population density, and in Ironforge and Stormwind in particular I half expected to see tumbleweeds roll by, based on how empty they felt.

Ten minutes before launch time I logged over on my hunter and immediately got a group invite. I mentioned that I'd made plans for a dungeon levelling group with some guildies, but most of them weren't actually going to be on for the launch event due to the late hour, so I'd just thrown my hat into the ring with a bunch of others that were going to be online on the night and an officer had sorted a number of us into a dungeon group together. Aside from me, the group consisted of one of our raid tanks, a casual mage, and two holy paladins from the raid team, one of whom was going to pretend to dps for the rest of the evening.

The area around the portal was crowded, but not as much as I'd expected, especially when thinking back to the AQ gate opening event. However, according to the chatter on Discord, lower-level players were being ported out of the zone similar to what I'd experienced on Pyrewood Village before, and some sort of layering appeared to have been applied already, as other guildies reported that "their" Dark Portal approach was almost empty.

With Hydraxian Waterlords being an RP-PvE server, there was peace between Horde and Alliance, except for that one guy who always ends up flagging himself in situations like this and then gets ganked by an undead rogue while everyone else just watches. We were still chatting away on voice when the crowd suddenly started moving and disappearing into the portal, even though there were still three minutes to go according to the server clock. I followed almost instinctively and a brief loading screen later found myself amidst a flood of players happily surging down the Stair of Destiny. You could tell where things like the first quest giver and flight master were as they inevitably had a giant ball of players around them, which then quickly drained away towards Honor Hold.

At the Alliance base in Hellfire, I couldn't help but continue comparing the crowd to a body of water in my head as players "splashed" away into all directions on arrival. All I know is that it felt very purposeful for the most part, with little meandering about and staring in awe. In the keep, Commander Danath Trollbane had a hard time making sure to greet everyone by name as per his usual habit.

My group soon moved on to the entrance to Hellfire Ramparts, and that place was very busy as well, as clearly a lot of people had decided to follow the commonly given advice to avoid the worst crowds and maximise reputation gains by focusing on instance running at the beginning. Being massively overgeared for the content, we had no troubles at all, though it was fun to talk about our odd mix of memories related to the dungeons. My favourite was when we moved on to Blood Furnace and one of the pallies asked if this was the one "with the giant eyeball" and I confirmed that it had a beholder-style boss but wasn't sure whether that was what she meant. When we got to Broggok, she then exclaimed "Yes, it's the Willy boss!" with such delight that it made me laugh. There was also a great moment when the mage died to a mine, was resed, and then immediately got blown up again.

In total we did five dungeons that night: Ramparts twice, Blood Furnace twice, and we also undertook a trip to Slave Pens for fun and to see how we would hold up there as level 60s, considering that the last boss, Quagmirran, is level 65. As it turns out, our Naxx gear allowed us to kick arse with relative ease even while underlevelled. This was all good fun, but didn't even get any of us to level 61. I'd previously wondered whether I'd be able to power-level myself all the way to 70 during the few days that I've taken off work for the occasion, but after the first night the answer to that was a clear no.

Admittedly running dungeons and doing nothing else is not the best way to level quickly in this iteration of WoW, but that wasn't our main goal anyway. Quests are much better for that it seems, and I did hear from a few people that did opt for questing that while it was busy, it wasn't as overcrowded as most people had feared, probably because so many of us were running dungeons instead.

In terms of performance I'm also happy to say that our server at least had no issues with lag or anything - I'm not even sure if there was a queue. Some guildies initially reported that their layer was supposedly "broken" as they were unable to go through the portal even when players on other layers were already doing so, but that was easily circumvented by grouping up with guildies and shuttling to a different layer. The only technical hitch I experienced up close was that at one point when some of my group mates hit their hearthstone to return to Honor Hold, they got an error message that the transport had to be aborted because the instance was full (?!) but they tried again right afterwards and then it worked.

Now, I have a few more days off work that I'm planning to put to good use by binging on more BC dungeoneering, even if I'm not going to make it to 70. There is a lot to do! I already must have run Ramparts a dozen times or so, including at least once on all of my level 60 alts. More than anything else I guess I'll have to be careful not to burn myself out though, because as exciting as this launch has been, in terms of activities it's been a lot more limited and repetitive than starting at level 1 in orginal Classic was two years ago.