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.


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.


Alts in Outland

Considering that I went into Classic BC with four characters at the old level cap and how gung-ho I felt about the expansion at first, I didn't think it was going to take me this long to level more than one character to 70, yet here we are. On Saturday I finally hit level 70 on my mage.

One reason I struggled to work up enough enthusiasm to level my alts was that I'd forgotten just how samey the 60-70 experience feels in BC. Sure, there's enough content there that you could technically mix it up a bit by e.g. skipping straight ahead to Zangarmarsh and mostly ignoring the quests in Hellfire Peninsula, but it's most of those quests that give the best rewards to help get you started in Outland, so do you really want to skip them? But then doing the same few quest chains over and over within the course of only a couple of months gets old pretty quickly.

I would have expected that my natural tendencies would push me towards getting either a tank or a healer up next, for their utility in group content but well... that turned out to be more complicated than expected - more on that in a bit. The mage had the advantage that I could farm and quest with ease even while keeping an eye out for dungeon groups, but more than anything else, her professions were an incentive to work on her before any of my other alts. Specifically, I really wanted to level her tailoring to be able to upgrade my bags across all my characters without having to pay anyone any money, and while her enchanting is still very behind, I at least got it high enough to be able to disenchant Outland greens and blues and keep myself supplied with my own enchanting materials.

Even so, her actual progress in terms of levels happened in fits and spurts, meaning big pushes followed by periods of complete inactivity, the latest of which had set in just after she'd hit level 69. Interestingly, what ended up finally motivating me to get that last level was the fact that last Thursday, on her 13th Prince kill, my hunter finally got her Sunfury Bow of the Phoenix - meaning that in terms of loot, she's now more or less done with Kara. But I want to have an excuse to keep running it without contributing to all the loot getting sharded! So I ground out that last level on my mage at last so that she can be my replacement in tier four going forward... after all, Blizzard went ahead and took out the Kara attunement early (yes, even though we're only in phase two you can already get in there by having someone else open the gate for you), so it really was just about hitting the level cap, not even necessarily about completing my own attunement.

My holy pally and feral druid are both still level 62 and in somewhat of a weird place. Since Sarelle was the alt on which I raided Naxx, I naturally assumed that she would be my next priority after Tir, but healers were actually somewhat in overabundance right after the Dark Portal opened. I blame the 40-man raids... because if you look at their group make-up and then were to split them up into nothing but five-man groups, you'd actually end up with about the right amount of dps, but too few tanks and too many healers. That's why our little dungeon group on launch night ran with not one but two healers... so there really was no demand for healer alts on top of that.

In addition, the nerfs to holy paladins and buffs for all the other healing classes meant that they also feel somewhat less fun to play than in Classic, relatively speaking. I mean, you look at something like a healing druid getting tree form and compare it to holy pallies getting a mana cost reduction cooldown that only slightly compensates for the fact that their mana regen was hit with a massive nerf bat to begin with, and... yeah.

My feral druid on the other hand has had very different but no less interesting problems. Tanks are always in demand, right? The thing is, I tanked one dungeon for my guildies and it was strictly speaking a success... there were no wipes and I'm not sure we even had a single death, but aggro was all over the place and my health kept bouncing up and down like a yo-yo because I was so badly geared. (Having only hit 60 during the pre-patch, my druid was the least geared of all my alts.) This ultimately left me feeling bad about the whole experience and I vowed to myself to not tank another dungeon until I'd got some gear upgrades from Outland quests, plus I also specced out of my hybrid spec into full feral to get the extra threat generation from Mangle.

And that's... where I'm still sitting now. Her gear is much better already, but I'm still hesitant to tank again. I'm not afraid of tanking in principle, but tanking roles in BC have also shifted from how they were in Classic, and at least when it comes to dungeons, paladins are very much the flavour of the month expansion. It's not that warriors and druids can't do the job, or even that I'd think a group that has been "LF tank" for a while wouldn't be happy to take any class, but warrior and druid tanks have to work so much harder than pallies to keep aggro and of course the dps don't like waiting two seconds to give you time to build threat, so it makes for an unsatisfying experience all around and I'm actually not sure I want to deal with that.

Maybe you're reading these last few paragraphs and find yourself wondering: Why not just swap roles? Make the druid my healer and the paladin my tank? And indeed, why not? It would certainly solve a lot of my gameplay issues... but at the same time it doesn't mesh with the identities I envisioned for either of these characters, and that's still something that matters to me too, so I don't know. It's a slightly awkward situation.


Burning Crusade Daily Quests

One of Burning Crusade's big new features back in the day was the introduction of daily quests in patch 2.1. Before that, infinitely repeatable quests hadn't really been a thing... there were a couple in vanilla WoW, such as from that goblin on the coast of Feralas, but they didn't reward anything other than a bit of rep and were definitely edge cases more than anything else. 99.9% of the time, quests were a one-and-done thing.

It's hard to recall my own feelings about the first daily quests so many years later since I wasn't blogging regularly about WoW back then, but I think overall I liked them? I didn't do them religiously (I wrote about how I never even bothered with the Netherwing for example) but the Ogri'la dailies played a bit part in me being able to afford epic flying the first time around. I also remember that I actually liked how many of them didn't require much or even any combat, which was a godsend on my holy priest in particular, who sucked at solo grinding.

Classic approached things slightly differently in that it had four daily quests in Shattrath available from launch, which originally weren't actually added until later: the cooking daily, the fishing daily, the daily dungeon quest and the daily heroic quest. I can't say that I minded as I definitely found all four of these very valuable.

The fishing daily is a great incentive to finally level up your fishing skill in small, discrete chunks. It randomly rotates among five different quests and only two of them require a fairly high skill - two of them can be done at medium skill and one already at really low skill, so you can just pick it up whenever it works for you. My hunter maxed out her skill a long time ago but I still keep checking back every day to see whether Crocolisks in the City is up, which also has a rare chance of rewarding you with one of four baby crocolisk pets.

The cooking daily is a good way of keeping yourself supplied with meat and fish for buff foods without having to go out and farm them, and also has a chance of rewarding a selection of rare recipes. I stopped doing it once I had all the recipes on my main and also didn't need to keep myself supplied with buff food anymore, but I'll likely pick it up again whenever I get an alt to level 70.

The two dungeon dailies were the very first iteration of what would later become the daily random dungeon reward - every day you'd be incentivised to do a different dungeon for a little extra gold, rep and currency. I don't think anyone ever did these religiously, but their rotating nature did help provide a bit of variety, discouraging players from simply spamming whichever dungeon they found easiest and making it easier for people to get groups for a less popular dungeon whenever it was also one of the dailies.

Still, these were all small fries really. When Classic Burning Crusade opened the doors to Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep, it also unleashed the first "real" daily factions onto the player base: the ogres of Ogri'la and the Skyguard.

I didn't check them out immediately because I wasn't playing much anyway, but I have to say when I finally went I was decidedly underwhelmed. I remember them being these bustling hubs where there were always people, but I've only seen very few players around whenever I've gone this time around. I guess the rewards are mostly inferior even to Karazhan gear, and with how easy it is to get into a Kara run in Classic, why bother grinding the rep? Lack of gold also seems to be much less of an issue for modern players than it was for us back in the day. Even I've got my epic flying already.

But the quests themselves also left me feeling slightly bewildered. First off there was the bombing run, which I hardly remembered at all, until I placed the bomb clicky on my action bar and something stirred in the back of my brain to remind me that I used to have that on there pretty permanently back in the day too. I think I didn't like the quest as much back then because without epic flying it's a bit awkward and back then I didn't get that speed increase until later.

Nether ray wrangling was still decent fun, but the Simon Says game was a nightmare. I even died once! I don't know if I just don't remember this or if it's a bug in Classic, but often when I click I'll get the visual effect for when you made a mistake even though I'm clicking the correct sequence, which just throws me off. Also, my short-term memory seems to be much worse than it used to be as I just couldn't make it to the end of a sequence unassisted for the life of me. Eventually I gave up and started taking notes from the fifth round onwards, but I still felt vaguely ashamed for needing them.

Ultimately it seems to be just another thing that's not as good as I remember. We'll see whether it'll be more interesting to potentially have a look at the Netherwing at level whenever those get added.


Character Transfers & Season of Mastery

In Classic era news, there are now free character transfers available for a number of realms in both the US and EU regions, including away from Hydraxian Waterlords and to Pyrewood Village. A keen member of one of the Discord servers I'm on noticed the option before it had even been officially announced.

My impression is that quite a few of the old max-level players on era are taking the option to transfer, and the guy who invited me to Azuregos a couple of times has been talking to me like he assumes that I'll come along as well, but I'm still not sure about it. If I was serious about continuing to play on era it would definitely be the sensible option, but I'm not sure that I am, so why bother?

If the destination server was empty for me, I could still do it easily just because, but even though the PvE server cluster consists of several realms, for some reason the transfers are only available to Pyrewood Village - which is the server on which I originally started playing Classic as Horde, meaning that half my character slots are already taken and I'd have to make choices about who to move and who to leave behind or whether to delete any characters. That just feels like too much decision-making energy for something I'm not too sure about, but I guess we'll see. Just putting my thoughts about this into writing kind of makes me want to do it more to be honest.

In other era news, Blizzard provided more details about the fresh servers they hinted at a bit over a month ago. The whole project will be called "Season of Mastery" and will include #slightlymorechanges as they put it, including a condensed 12-month release schedule, more health for raid bosses, no world buffs inside raids, and the addition of selected quality-of-life improvements from Burning Crusade, such as no debuff limit, faster levelling and meeting stones becoming summoning stones.

That sure does sound somewhat intriguing, but I was already dubious beforehand how relevant this was going to be to me personally, and hearing that they'll be trying to cram all of Classic's content into a single year only confirmed to me that this one's going to be a hard pass for me. I suppose it might be interesting to watch from the sidelines though. If nothing else this initiative's popularity will show how representative the people always clamouring for fresh servers really are of the wider player base.