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.