14/05/2022

What's the point of Classic now?

I'm still logging into Classic regularly, but it's mainly an exercise in going through the motions, such as to use my daily alchemy transmute. Even though the Sunwell patch dropped this week, I've had no desire to go to the Isle of Quel'Danas at this juncture.

I keep clinging to the notion that Blizzard could still change their minds about the continued existence of BC Classic servers, but having followed the relevant forum threads I'm not hopeful, and then I wonder why I even bother if all my characters are effectively going to be deleted in a few months.

I went back to some of my early posts about Classic and it struck me as almost tragic to see how much things have changed since then. My excitement for Classic was based on a simple premise: Blizzard letting us continue to play our favourite expansion forever. Sadly I couldn't find the link (if you know where to look, please share in the comments) but I distinctly remember an interview about Classic not long after its original announcement where someone from Blizzard (I think it was Ion but not 100% sure) said something along the lines of them realising that there was a huge passion for Classic and that they were going to honour that by recreating it and maintaining it effectively as a museum piece, even if only a small number of players were interested in playing it continuously.

Now, to be clear, I know they never claimed that they were going to do the same for later expansions, but I don't think I was unreasonable in taking it as a general expression of sentiment and to think that they were likely to approach classic versions of other expansions in a similar way. Their current attitude towards BC isn't just a slight deviation from what they said back then - going "well, we're not going to maintain it because we don't think enough people are willing to pay for it" is a complete 180 degree turn! They effectively built Burning Crusade Classic just to close it down again after less than two years.

And again, I'm not saying that progressing into Wrath of the Lich King is inherently wrong. I get that this is something that a lot of people want. It's just not what I wanted, and Blizzard certainly didn't make it clear that this was going to be forced on me when I opted to move my characters forward into Burning Crusade less than a year ago. For me, the promise of Classic was that it would allow us to go back and re-experience content and the world as it was, without having a deadline looming over our heads when it would all go away again. And no, of course a "stagnant" MMO like that wouldn't be as busy with people grinding frantically as a constantly evolving game, but that's kind of the point. Classic era is quiet, but it is being played by people who are enjoying themselves and re-running the old raids just for fun. All I wanted was the same opportunity for BC.

If Classic is just turning into a bunch of progression servers, that's - to me - worse than retail. One of the things that put me off back in Cataclysm was how blatant a treadmill the game had become and how fast it expected you to move, to the point that it would basically push you forward forcefully if it considered you too slow. New content was no longer an open invitation to do more, it became a mandate. The way the Classic team has been rushing to push out the last few Burning Crusade patches already replicates that feeling pretty perfectly.

Meanwhile, Shadowlands has had the slowest patch cadence ever, something that a lot of people have been complaining about, but which at the same time makes it extremely casual-friendly because you have loads of time to complete your goals. The irony of that is not lost on me.

08/05/2022

Pandas of Draenor

Just as I was starting to wonder whether I still had enough of a reason to stay subscribed to WoW, my husband came in clutch for Blizzard by expressing a desire to pick up retail again, now that our new-expansion gearing frenzy in SWTOR was coming to an end for the time being. Much to my surprise, he wasn't that keen on going to Zereth Mortis yet, but wanted to roll up a new pair of characters, this time to level through Warlords of Draenor.

After a bit of discussion about what to go for, we ended up with a pair of pandaren, him a brewmaster monk, me a discipline priest. I've certainly come a long way from being notably underwhelmed by the Mists of Pandaria announcement, to finding the expansion itself kind of neat, to actually playing a pandaren myself!

I had never played through the pandaren starting experience before and found it enjoyable enough, though I did get a bit of a sense of déjà vu towards the end, which makes me think that I must have watched a playthrough of the zone on YouTube at some point many years ago.

And then we were off to Warlords of Draenor, the one remaining expansion from which I hadn't played any content before, though it does of course have a strong reputation. I remember when it was first announced I was actually kind of intrigued and considered checking it out, but that interest didn't last long. I also recall watching my husband play through the content on his own at the time and commenting how ridiculous it was that all the orc warlords appeared with their names floating next to them in giant letters - I guess Blizzard didn't think people would be able to tell them apart otherwise. My opinion on this was unchanged when we got to that part ourselves.

The introduction to Draenor in general is a fast-paced adventure that feels super odd to jump into story-wise with the new levelling system. A moment ago we were noobish pandas only just earning the right to leave the Wandering Isle for the first time, the next Khadgar greets us as famous champions who are Azeroth's only hope. I know that opting into Chromie Time includes implicit acceptance that the timeline won't really make sense, but this just seemed like a particularly extreme contrast. There also isn't any real context for why we suddenly have to go through the Dark Portal, it just feels very rushed and out of nowhere. Also, speaking of Khadgar: I thought he was kind of funny in Legion, but here the first impression he makes is actually one of being rather cold and uncaring... not a fan.

After the intro we were off to Shadowmoon Valley to start building our garrison, another feature that was reported on a lot back in the day. My husband seems to be very fond of it (he has several across his stable of characters) but he does love base-building games in general. I was a little overwhelmed at first to be honest, especially with him going on about all the things I "should" be doing to upgrade my garrison asap. The process looks like it must have been sped up a lot compared to back in the day, but it still costs resources - in fact it's ironic that the garrison had a reputation for being a massive gold generator when WoD was current but now seems to have been reduced to a gold sink instead - my husband confessed that he sent his new alt several tens of thousands of gold to be able to upgrade his buildings asap. As I've refused to do this so far, my own garrison is still extremely basic as my panda priest has only earned a few hundred gold throughout her questing so far.

At the time of me writing this, we've only done a few quests in Shadowmoon Valley plus one random dungeon and we're already level thirty, so I anticipate that just like with Legion, we'll hit fifty very quickly and will then continue running through the rest of the zones overlevelled, one-shotting everything for almost zero XP just to see the story.

While it's been fun to level with my husband again, I have to admit that the expansion content itself hasn't really grabbed me yet. The Alliance garrison being situated in a zone where it's basically always night is an emotional downer for me, and I struggle a bit to care about what we're doing. I think it's a mix between the whole alternate timeline thing and the story just not establishing very well what our motivations are. It was one thing to stop a sudden and barely explained invasion in the intro, but what exactly our beef with all the orcs is now that we're settling down on Draenor ourselves feels a lot more fuzzy. I was always told that the hate for WoD mainly came from the fact that it had little to no content added after launch but that the levelling experience was fine, but to be honest it doesn't really strike me as all that great so far either. We'll see whether that opinion changes as we explore further.

Oh, and as a fun little aside: I'd only been playing my new panda priest for a few hours when a friend whispered me on Battle.net:

Him: Did you really name a character Pishin? [Panda-Shin... get it?]
Me: Please don't tell me it means something bad!
Him: Oh no... OK, my lips are sealed.

At this point I put "Pishin" into Google of course... first result was a city/district in Pakistan, that didn't seem so bad? However, a bit further down the page I found "(Scots): urine, piss" - and of course the friend mentioned above is Scottish. Sigh!

01/05/2022

Videos as Scrapbooking

In about one and a half months, it will have been exactly a decade since I was given my first piece of video editing software for my birthday. It wasn't a surprise gift, but one of those "a family member really wants to get me something for a special occasion so I'll have to think of something that vaguely interests me but that I've never really looked into getting myself" things.

A few days later, I uploaded my first public video to my YouTube channel: a three-minute clip compilation of me playing Huttball in SWTOR, set to a K-pop song. Honestly, that is pretty representative of the sort of random nature that my videos have retained since then. (I don't even particularly like K-pop, I'd just stumbled across that one song somewhere and it got stuck in my head. Using it in a video was a way of helping to excise the earworm.)

Throughout those ten years, I'm happy to say that while I've kept uploading semi-regularly (my channel contains over 300 public videos at this point, which averages out to two to three videos a month), I've never felt any real desire to become a professional YouTuber. I continue to be amazed by how many kids apparently find that job aspirational nowadays, considering that it's always looked pretty tedious and unrewarding to me.

The closest I've ever come to trying to make content for a wider audience was when I created a series of videos about levelling a character in SWTOR purely through pugging instances, which was fun for a while but also extremely time-consuming considering that the videos weren't even anything particularly fancy. Plus it made me realise that talking to an invisible assumed audience wasn't really a strength of mine. It did make me relate more to why so many YouTubers have a desire to monetise their work - considering how much time it takes to record and edit videos, it must be a hard hobby to maintain with any sort of frequency while also being bogged down by a day job.

That said, there's something very liberating about not having to worry about monetisation on YouTube. You'll often hear YouTubers complain about their battles with YouTube's copyright detection for example... but I am blissfully carefree in that regard. I use famous songs in my videos all the time and am perfectly fine with the original owner asserting their copyright and claiming the non-existent ad revenue. My videos have less than a hundred views on average anyway, and I always use an ad blocker while watching YouTube. I'm just happy to be able to legally share random vids that use someone else's music with my friends.

The main purpose of my videos over the years has quickly become memory preservation. When I got my first camera at the age of eleven, I used to take photos of everything and diligently sorted them into albums. With everything going digital and more of my life moving online, my focus moved more to taking and saving screenshots of my adventures in MMOs. Videos turned out to be a nice complement to that, in the sense that they are great for preserving memories of events where sound or context matter a lot, such as everyone whooping on voice chat after an exciting boss kill or people having a laugh about someone doing something particularly silly.

When I joined <Order of the Holy Fork> in Classic, it did not take long for me to upload my first video of my adventures with them - the adventure in question being a small raid storming Undercity to steal a quest item for our prospective Scarab Lord while someone played the soundtrack from Apocalypse Now over Discord. I was just laughing so hard throughout the whole thing, I had to preserve it... and I think I knew right then that this guild was a keeper. (It still makes me laugh on re-watching because of the sheer absurdity of it all.)

I soon found myself with plenty more material and ended up making more videos about my adventures with the guild - some random "outtakes" compilations featuring gems such as me accidentally getting a bunch of people killed the second time I went to pick up buffs from a Dire Maul Tribute run. I had fun making them and my guildies loved them too. In fact, I soon had more funny clips than I knew what to do with... I held a lot of them back with a thought to maybe using them in a more specific way later - e.g. I had quite a few recordings of people falling down into the eggs in Upper Blackrock Spire, and had this vision of one day perhaps making a video consisting of nothing but that.

But then... well, Classic Burning Crusade came and things weren't so great anymore. I initially found few opportunities to experience and capture the same kind of fun I used to have. I recall at least one guildie asking me when I was going to finally make a new video... but I just wasn't feeling it. At the same time, the old clips increasingly started to feel like an albatross around my neck - they were like a stack of old photos spread across a table in the corner of the kitchen, something that makes you feel like you should really tidy it away, but at the same time you kind of don't want to look at it.

Remembering the happy times just emphasised the contrast with how much things had changed, and reminded me of people that had left the guild or stopped playing and whom I missed. At the same time, I realised that the longer I waited to do anything with those video recordings, the less likely they were going to be relevant or interesting to those who still remained in the guild. It just added another aspect of sourness to the unhappy feelings I was already having about goings-on in the game.

But well... the guild is gone now. I wasn't playing in a way anymore that was going to add new material to the pile. In fact, I wasn't playing much at all, so I finally found the time and energy to go through with the clean-up throughout the past month. All the OG Classic clips went into a video that I ended up simply calling "Classic WoW Endgame Memories" - most of them are from our time in Naxx, but there were also some much older recordings in there, such as the aforementioned occasions of people falling down in UBRS. I just put all of it together into one video, sorted it a bit and threw it out there.

This weekend, I finally went through the much smaller number of Burning Crusade recordings I had of fun nights in dungeons, and compiled those into a single video as well - again, there was much in there that made me smile:

I think this one is going to be quite relatable to anyone who's done a lot of BC Classic dungeons...

Either way, getting this done has felt very good. Aside from the general good feeling you get from tidying up a bothersome mess, it also gave me a chance to relive many of the happy times I had with the guild and to preserve them in a format that I'm satisfied with. This has provided me with some closure and I feel ready to move on to whatever will come next.

22/04/2022

No BC Classic Era Servers? Come on, Blizz.

Blizzard really has a way with their timing when it comes to delivering emotional gut punches to me in regards to Classic. When I worried about my RP server's continued viability back in November, they opened up free server transfers to dismantle it literally the next day

Two weeks ago I talked about how dejected I was feeling about my situation in BC Classic at the moment, but concluded that I also had some hope for maybe finding more of the sort of atmosphere I'd been looking for once most of the "current content crowd" had moved on to Classic Wrath and I could potentially hang out and be chill with more like-minded people on BC Classic era. This assumed that Blizzard was going to handle the transition from BC to WOTLK the same or at least in a very similar way to how they made the one from OG Classic to BC: by giving people a choice.

Of course, then I found out that this time around, Blizzard isn't planning to give people a choice, and that the plan is to simply forcefully progress everyone currently playing on BC servers to Wrath whether they want it or not. Here's the relevant quote from an IGN interview with lead developer Brian Birmingham and production director Patrick Dawson:

Another shift Classic players might want to take note of is how Blizzard is handling the transition from Burning Crusade to Lich King. When Burning Crusade was first announced, Blizzard allowed players to choose whether they wanted to stay in the original World of Warcraft Classic or move to Burning Crusade. While those who opted to stay in the original version can still remain there, this time there won't be an option to keep characters in The Burning Crusade expansion. Everyone who's already in Burning Crusade must move on to Wrath of the Lich King.

Fortunately, Dawson says that not many people currently in Burning Crusade want to stick around in that expansion anyway.

I just read that and was like: "What?!". Thanks for crushing my dreams yet again, Blizz. If my choices are going to be WOTLK Classic or bust, I'd rather stop playing Classic altogether, thanks.

This whole situation is just giving me flashbacks to my late Cata days when I was getting increasingly frustrated with Blizzard's constant pronouncements that nobody could possibly like the things I liked, so that it was only natural to nerf or remove them. I thought that they had turned a new leaf with Classic, acknowledging that hey, perhaps they'd used the argument that "nobody likes this anyway" to sand away features enjoyed by a relative minority of the player base one too many times over the years. And yet here we are once again, being told to run with the pack or GTFO.

I'm not giving up just yet because they've said that they are open to feedback in regards to all things Classic, and I'd invite you all to add your voice too if this as something you care about at all. Here's the thread on the US forums, here's the one on the EU forums, and here's a reddit thread on the subject. It's worth noting that this question might be relevant to you even if you personally want to move on to Wrath anyway, because Blizzard has already indicated that they are open to progressing to Cataclysm after Wrath, and would you want to be forcefully moved on then? Do think about the precedent that is being set with BC now.

I know that playing on BC era is something that is only going to be interesting to a minority, but we're not really asking for much here! They can merge servers down to one PvE and one PvP per region to simplify things and everything! However, entirely removing BC Classic once Wrath comes out just seems wrong to me, and goes entirely against the original mission statement of Classic being at least partially a preservation project. I'm not hopeful that the ones responsible at Blizzard will care enough at this point, but don't let it be said later that nobody spoke up about this.

21/04/2022

Dragonflight Announcement

I got to watch the new expansion announcement stream live on Tuesday evening because it actually happened at a convenient time for me. Sadly, all the "live experience" added was a scrolling chat full of the WoW community's worst dregs being juvenile and bigoted every time there were female devs on screen, which was distracting and not in a good way. One star, cannot recommend.

The expansion cinematic was a bit of a weird one. It was of course beautifully rendered as always, and I liked how people got really invested in Stony Tony's fate (or however the golem dude ended up being called in your circles) and were instantly meme-ing about him ("already a better character than the Jailer" etc.), which was quite fun to see. As Rohan also observed yesterday, players who meme affectionately are happy players.

However in terms of content and hype, the trailer felt like a bit of a nothing sandwich to me. Looking back at previous expansion cinematics, they always tended to include at least one of three things:

  • cool fight scenes
  • depictions of one or more of the expansion's new features
  • an iconic lore character

Dragonflight doesn't really deliver on any of those - we do see a bit of the Dragon Isles, but what we see is very barren and not really showing much other than the big beacon thing. And Alexstrasza is technically an important character in lore, but considering that we've been on a first-name basis with her since Wrath, never mind the commodification of dragons in WoW in general, just seeing her fly past and roar isn't really that awe-inspiring anymore, sorry.

The actual dev round-tables were interesting, though my first thought was simply: "God, does Ion look old and tired." The past few years clearly haven't been kind to him. The general presentation style was also somewhat stiff - not insincere, but like everything was heavily scripted, and even with that in mind the general vibe (as I perceived it anyway) was that of people who are a little timid and very aware that anything coming out the wrong way would lead to them being torn apart by the community later. I'm all too happy to acknowledge Blizzard's corporate failings, but it's also impossible for me to not feel compassion for the people who are still working there on the ground because they enjoy what they're doing and who've clearly been having a rough time.

Now for the actual expansion-related content reveals... like many, I was kind of surprised/impressed to see Ion actually admit that they'd heard the feedback about players being sick of all these temporary systems and that they want more long-lasting additions and improvements to the game. And to be fair, a lot of the feature bullet points seemed to indicate that Blizzard have listened!

First off, there's a new race and class, the "dracthyr evoker". This one was a big surprise to me because for all the speculation that had been going on about the dragon theme beforehand, the idea of playable dragons always seemed ludicrous to me. But no, Blizzard are actually doing it! Sorta.

Mechanically, everything about the new class sounds very sound and appealing. It's going to be another hero class with its own starting zone, and it will be a ranged dps/healer that wears mail, which seems like a sensible decision in terms of balance. (Did you know that until now, every single class that has been added to the game since launch has been melee?) The fact that the new race and class are a package deal, meaning that you can't have one without the other, is unusual by WoW standards but again, pretty reasonable under the circumstances and certainly not a novelty in the MMO space as a whole. (The most frequent parallel I've seen people draw here is to the Beorning in LOTRO.)

I have yet to see anyone comment that they really love the aesthetic of these new dragon people though. What's been shown of their animations reminded me of the Worgen (whose animations I used to loathe, though I got used to them over time) and overall the closest thing to these dracthyr that we've seen in WoW before is probably Maloriak, the raid boss from Cataclysm, who was created by Nefarian fusing the body of a young human with the corpse (!) of a dragonspawn. There's even a parallel in the origin story here as the dracthyr were apparently created by Neltharion wanting to combine the best humanoid and draconic traits. It's not a good look, is what I'm saying!

Then there is dragonriding, a new form of flying exclusive to the Dragon Isles, and the mechanics of which appear to be a wholesale copy and paste job from Guild Wars 2's Skyscale mount - honestly, I recognised that even as someone who's never played GW2. I see no shame in copying good features from other MMOs though - it's what WoW used to be good at, after all. I personally can't judge how fun this will be, but it does seem like a potentially neat idea and like it would offer a different kind of non-combat gameplay. The dragon mounts are also supposed to be super customisable. If this takes off (pun intended), we can only hope that it or something similar at least will also become an option for other mounts/in other expansions eventually.

There will be a long overdue revamp for professions, with crafting supposedly becoming more involved - I guess we'll see how that pans out in practice, because WoW's crafting has never been great even at the best of times, so I'm a bit sceptical of whether the team has the design chops to get this right... but I do appreciate them making the effort at least. There'll also be a new "work order" system where you can advertise that you want people to craft stuff for you, and they can even turn your soulbound materials into gear for you. This sounds great! Makes me wish we could have buy or sell orders for general goods as well though, instead of being stuck with an auction house where everything needs to be relisted every two days.

Talents are making a comeback! Now, having lived through times when Blizzard changed the way talents work every expansion, I can't fault people for being a bit wary of this, but the system introduced in MoP never grew on me, so personally I'm happy for them to revisit this. From my point of view almost anything they can do in that area can only be an improvement.

And finally, while I'm sure that a lot of addon lovers won't care about this, as someone who's been playing with the default UI for most of my time in WoW and who generally wants to avoid dealing with addons as much as possible, I was very pleased to hear that they're planning to upgrade the default UI. While they've made some tweaks to things like raid frames over the years, I've generally been quite astounded by how little they seemed to care about the UI, seemingly because they assumed that if you didn't like it, you could always download an addon. Which is an approach that's fine for some things in my opinion, but not so much for the basic window through which the player interacts with your game.

I've been trying to get an idea of how to characterise the community response to Dragonflight, and it's been somewhat difficult, because the reactions have honestly been all over the place, with most of the ones I've seen sitting somewhere in the middle. I guess in a way that's telling in itself, seeing how I used to joke that it was typical of the WoW player base in general to always be hyped for every expansion when it's announced and then hate it two weeks after launch. So things have definitely changed... then again, maybe that will give Dragonflight a chance to prove itself on its own merits instead of having to live up to made-up hype. I don't think it's a coincidence that Mists of Pandaria is now remembered so fondly by many while also having been the expansion that probably had the coolest reception at the start.

I'm also in a strange position myself since I have little interest in classic Wrath of the Lich King at this point (which was also confirmed during the announcement by the way), and it's the first time since Cataclysm that I'm actually an active (if casual) retail player at the time of an expansion announcement and could potentially see myself playing it when it comes out. From that point of view I've got to say that I like what I've seen, even if I'm not "hyped". Things like a new race/class, updating the UI, re-thinking talents and revamping professions are long-term investments in the game - and dragonriding could potentially be developed beyond this expansion (though I'll be honest and admit that I kind of doubt it will be), which to me is a better way of managing the game than the modus operandi of recent years where stuff gets added and then trashed again pretty much on a schedule.

18/04/2022

World of Queuecraft (Sanctum LFR, Part 2)

Have you ever watched or read about a person playing a game that you're very familiar with and that you personally enjoy, and at first you're pleased by watching them be delighted by all the things you remember really loving about the game when you were new too? But then they get caught up in some random side activity that clearly frustrates them in some way, and you keep thinking: "Just let it go, man... I agree this isn't a great system/situation, but this isn't what the game is meant to be about! Just get back to the well-designed, fun stuff already!"

While trying to get into the last two remaining wings of Sanctum of Domination in LFR, I've been feeling like I must be the type of player who would cause that kind of consternation in random observers. All these things to do in WoW and I'm wasting my days screwing around with LFR for hours on end! What is wrong with me?

I just thought that I should be fine queueing for it on a Saturday afternoon on a long weekend, because I had a lot of time and lots of people should be playing, right? Even the less recent/relevant content? No? No.

When I started writing this post, I'd already been sat in the queue for the "Shackles of Fate" wing of LFR as both damage dealer and healer for nearly three hours. Since I got a bit tired of levelling cooking and fishing, I decided to pass some of that time doing archaeology this time around, but after about two hours I got somewhat bored of that too.

I also became oddly mesmerised by what the LFR UI kept showing me... at around the one-hour mark, I was quite close to getting a full group, then it went into the sort of pause mode while it assembles a group, and then most of the group was gone but I was still there in the queue. I can only guess that a partial group sucked a lot of potentials out of the pool or something, because I'm not sure how else I could have missed out on both a healer and dps spot when I'd already been queued up as both for so long. This pattern repeated a couple more times, with the UI proudly updating to say that the average queue time was "only" 45 minutes to an hour, all while my own wait had already been three times as long.

It was a funny situation in a way because while I was getting increasingly annoyed, I could tell that it was at least partially my own fault for wanting to play the game "wrong" by queueing for old raid finder wings that nobody cares about anymore, but at the same time I was thinking: Why are queues for content from the current expansion so empty? This doesn't seem right. However, I had set myself the goal to do this and I wasn't going to give up this close to the finish line. I will beat you, raid finder queue!

After five and a half hours, time I mostly spent doing things on my second monitor, the queue finally popped after I'd set myself a deadline of six hours - by that time it was well into the evening and I figured that if I still couldn't get a pop by then, there was no point in waiting for it to get even later.

We made our way to the first boss of the wing, Guardian of the First ones, where we just stood around for a while. Since some markers were being put down, I figured that maybe the tanks were discussing tactics in whispers or something. I didn't mind the additional wait, but what I did mind was all the players getting out their noisy toys - there was no Transmorpher Beacon this time, but the classic train set was present and some sort of jukebox that played a horribly out of tune NPC song. Someone complained that the train noises were so loud that they'd woken their sleeping child.

When we finally pulled the boss, we wiped. A rogue posted damage meters in chat that showed them on top and complained that the dps sucked. He also called us a bunch of clowns. I looked at my death message and it said that I was killed by an ability that wasn't on the boss's ability list in the adventure guide, so I googled it. What I found was that it was "the big hit that goes on the tank and anyone standing too close", which left me wondering whether I had messed up or whether it had been the tank, considering that a lot of others had fallen over at the same time as me.

While we were still trying to reassemble, the boss suddenly got pulled and we wiped again. For a couple of minutes a vicious blame game ensued, until it was agreed that the person pulling had been a replacement for a quitter who had simply been loaded into the instance at an unfortunate spot. The rogue from earlier and one of the tanks quit, and several people commented with something along the lines of "glad they're gone", which honestly surprised me, as I'm used to being in the minority in WoW when it comes to perceiving behaviour like that of the rogue as toxic.

After we'd got another set of replacements, we killed the boss just fine, and the consensus seemed to be that the tank who had left had been the problem on the first attempt since there was supposed to be a tank swap mechanic and they had never taunted.

I got a cloak from the first boss, which would turn out to be the only piece of gear I got from the entire run, and someone instantly whispered me to ask whether they could have it. That other person already had a much better cloak, but it wasn't an upgrade for me either so I assumed they wanted it for transmog and gave it to them, since I didn't really care.

On the way to the next boss, we pulled seemingly every trash mob under the sun, which led to some joking comments along the lines of: "You can't pull everything!" - "Hold my beer."

I was a little worried how Fatescribe, the second boss, was going to go, but this one was actually really easy, not to say boring. I even found myself looking at the clock and wondering why some sort of "you're the bomb" mechanic seems to be a requirement for every single raid boss nowadays.

Then we got to Kel'Thuzad, a fight that once again started with an opaque wait in front of the boss and people rupturing the group's ear drums with train sets. There was some talk about "melee going down" which I deduced was about the phylactery mechanic described in the adventure guide. When we finally pulled, we wiped when it came to that part because not enough people "went down" - including me, since I'd been expecting some kind of portal or other obvious visual... but instead you have to step into some menacing-looking swirly stuff on the floor to make a temporary ability button appear that will take you to the room with the phylactery.

After a kind druid had explained this in detail, we tried again... and this time it went much better, but we still lost a bunch of dps along the way so that the eventual result was another wipe. Fortunately the third try was the charm, though it was another close call. People were typing their encouragement into chat as the last (wo)men standing shaved off KT's last few percent of health, and then we were done. (And this time someone revived everyone at the end too.)

I looked at the clock and killing just those three bosses in LFR had taken almost one and a half hours. Add to that the five and a half hours of waiting time and you shouldn't be surprised that I had no desire to queue for Sylvanas that same evening.

I took a break from WoW for most of the next day and didn't try to queue again until Sunday evening, this time with more of a plan. I had a raid in SWTOR later, so I told myself that I'd queue for Sylvanas  about two hours before then, and if I didn't get a pop within half an hour before the start of my "proper" raid, I'd leave. The previous run had taken one and a half hours for three bosses, including a bunch of wipes, so allotting half an hour to a single boss didn't strike me as unreasonable.

And I did get that pop just in time! I gotta say, the Sylvanas fight is pretty cool in terms of setup, music and mechanics. Sadly I did not get it down that time though... we wiped twice due to failing to run fast enough to interrupt her one-shot mechanic in the second phase, and then I had to go.

The next evening I put myself in the queue again while doing a bit of housework, and was surprised when I came back after about fifteen minutes and had actually missed a pop. I signed up again and got a pop after only another ten minutes! It may well be that I got into the same group that had formed earlier though, as it was evident that there had already been at least one wipe from the way people were talking.

This time we made it to phase three on the first try for which I was present, but then we still wiped. I won't go into detail about every other wipe after that because I honestly don't remember them all... we had one wipe to the same lack of interrupt that had caused both of my wipes the night before, but aside from that, it was always due to things going south during the last phase. (There were also always at least a couple of people who fell through the holes in the bridges, but that just seemed to be par for the course.)

Bridge talk. Also, you can see someone emitting random boss yells due to that bloody toy again.

Fortunately there was a human hunter from Ravencrest called Corneiius who had the patience of a saint (and I whispered him to say as much at the end) who told people to calm down when tempers flared and was trying hard to get everyone to understand what they were supposed to do. The thing that kept catching us out was that during the last phase of the fight you need to move among a small number of platforms for two different mechanics: One is an arrow that does massive AoE damage around the person targeted, so that player is supposed to jump to another platform temporarily to "explode" there. The other mechanic was Sylvanas razing the platform we were currently standing on, so everyone had to "flee" to the next one down the line to stay alive. We mostly died to the first mechanic to be honest, as the affected people didn't seem to notice what was happening to them and would blow up most of the raid around them.

We eventually got her down with six stacks of the Determination buff, and with Corneiius spamming macros in raid warnings to call out the mechanics as they happened (interspersed with comments like "stop jumping randomly xD", as we were still pretty hopeless at telling what was happening). I was very relieved to be done, though I hadn't really minded the wiping all that much as I was still learning the mechanics myself.

And that finally concludes my LFR exploration for now! The current patch's raid hasn't fully unlocked in LFR yet, but more importantly I haven't even been to Zereth Mortis at all, so my gear is probably way below the raid's requirements and I'd have no context for what's happening in there. The husband and I have been too busy focusing on SWTOR recently to play retail WoW, but seeing how the next expansion (to be announced tomorrow!) is likely to still be many months away, we should have plenty of time to check out Shadowlands' last content patch before it becomes obsolete.

16/04/2022

Sanctum of Domination LFR, Part 1

In my last post about Shadowlands LFR, I said that I'd spent about one and a half hours queueing for the first wing of Sanctum of Domination on a Sunday but gave up on it when the eventual attempt to form the group failed due to too many AFKers. On the following Friday, I spent another half hour queueing before giving up again, as I didn't feel like spending all afternoon waiting around.

The next Sunday morning I got lucky with a quick pop while I was checking on my mission table as usual. I liked that the first two bosses of Sanctum's first wing were both enemies that I'd actually encountered as a solo player before instead of random baddies. I also liked that the Terragrue, very appropriately, lived in a section that looked like a Torghast wing and involved anima powers. Also true to the Torghast experience, I got punted off a ramp to my death while we were clearing trash. On running back, I nearly ran straight into the Terragrue itself but managed to stop myself just in time. It was only then that I realised that the group wasn't actually going straight for the boss but rather doing a lap around the platform first, presumably to gather all the anima powers from trash.

Despite of having read the correct dungeon journal entries in advance this time, I was still a bit confused about what was going on at the start, and so were a lot of people from the looks of it, as nearly half the raid died early on. Once things had stabilised we managed to make it through the rest of the fight without any further issues though.

The Eye of the Jailer was fun with its "dodge the beam by swinging around on chains" mechanic, because that sure hadn't been in the in-game adventure guide! Fortunately it was very obvious what was going on though, and it was easy enough to keep up by simply following the more experienced players' lead.

The fight with the val'kyr was the most confusing, with a lot of deaths, and at one point I thought that we were going to wipe for sure as everyone's health kept going down while the boss was hardly taking any damage and people were typing "move her, move her" into chat - apparently the tank had positioned the boss in a bad place for a prolonged period of time. Somehow we still prevailed in the end, and I saw lots of people get the achievement for completing the wing for the first time, so I evidently wasn't the only noob. The only annoying thing was that I had died close to the end, because every time I had previously tried to revive other people after a boss fight, I had been too slow as someone else had done it faster, but naturally the one time I died, nobody else bothered to revive anyone and we all had to run back.

Also, this is as good a time as any to mention the "LFR pet peeve" I'm developing already. There is some sort of toy that turns players into random dungeon/raid bosses and makes them spout voice lines from those fights, and I've decided that this is the modern equivalent of the bloody train set from Wrath, because you just can't get them to shut up and it gets extremely annoying after a while when a lot of people in the raid do it. It was particularly noticeable for me in the val'kyr fight because I was trying to listen to the voice lines of the actual bosses we were fighting for relevant cues, so having these random shouts from old bosses come at me from three different directions was super aggravating.

I did not immediately queue for the next wing after that because there was something else I wanted to do, but I did come back to it a bit later and thought I was lucky when I once again got a pop within only a couple of minutes. Of course, then I loaded into the second wing with one boss already dead, and this time I decided that I wasn't going to waste time on half a wing just to then have to re-queue for the missing boss afterwards, so I just dropped group and ate the deserter debuff. Better to do something else for half an hour than to deal with more avoidable queueing.

When I logged back in after the debuff had run out, I re-queued and had to once again wait for over an hour for things to get going. I used this time to get the last few skill points in Cataclysm cooking and fishing, and also levelled my Burning Crusade fishing a bit. Just as I was once again starting to get a bit bored of the whole thing and went to put some lunch into the microwave, the queue popped. My husband teased me that I should've just done that sooner, because obviously queues only ever pop if you go to get some food, visit the bathroom or whatever. Fortunately I didn't actually miss the pop in this instance; I just had to ask my husband to please get the food out of the microwave for me.

I died again on the first boss in wing two, Soulrender Dormazain, and was once again somewhat annoyed that reading the in-game adventure guide hadn't really prepared me for what was happening, as I was one of many running around like a headless chicken while the boss did some sort of AoE, not sure whether I was supposed to just heal through it or what. It was only after I lay dead on the floor and had a chance to observe what was happening from a less frantic position that I realised that there was a pattern to the AoE that you were supposed to avoid. But hey, at least spending most of the fight dead on the floor gave me a chance to actually eat my lunch.

There was a cut scene at the end of the fight which I watched, and when it ended a lot of people had already moved on towards the next boss. A few others were behind like me though, so I still had someone whose lead to follow, but as we ran, some random damage attacks kept flying through the air and nearly killed us. They seemed to originate from the trash pull the rest of the group was fighting at a distance and whose attacks appeared to have an insane range... when we finally reached them, I did die from the damage.

Remnant of Ner'zhul seemed more straightforward to heal, and I was pleased that I never fell off the platform. Now Painsmith Raznal, the last boss of the wing, was something else. Some people commented on how the whole LFR experience was harder than mythic now, and that back when this content was current people were actually able to complete it much faster than now, even though we were ostensibly way overgeared for it. At least the tanks seemed to make a good effort at communicating what needed doing.

Then the fight started and it was mayhem! My husband was once again amused at my various exclamations of dismay as I found myself having to dodge spiky balls, spikes coming from the ground, and then both at once. Also, the boss had this one move where he throws his giant mace at one of the tanks, and I just couldn't get over how ridiculous it looked to watch that oversized weapon fly towards the draenei in the corner and then bounce off his head with a light "plonk" sound. This was without a doubt the most intense LFR fight I'd done up to that point, but I would say it was also the most fun - because while it was intense, it was at least very obvious what was going on and what needed doing, which definitely hasn't been the case for all the previous fights I'd experienced this way.

For the next queue break I decided to test the limits of Blizzard's AFK tolerance and put myself in the queue before going away from my computer to do some exercise. When I came back half an hour later I was pleased to see that I hadn't been logged out, but then dismayed to see the that the UI claimed that after over half an hour in the queue, I was supposedly still the only person in the entirety of Europe wanting to do Sanctum wing three on a Sunday. I mean, what? I disconnected and reconnected just in case it had bugged out. After a while it looked much better again, with multiple damage dealers and healers showing up alongside me, but then it temporarily reverted to just me again. Definitely an odd thing to observe! I waited for another hour and fifteen minutes after that, but after a total time of two hours in the queue for wing three alone, I gave up again as it became too boring. To be continued I guess.

10/04/2022

Stick a Fork in It

My Classic guild <Order of the Holy Fork> is more or less dead at this point. It hasn't literally been disbanded, but the last 25-man raid was over a week ago and nobody has expressed a desire to have any more of them. Most raiders have either stepped away from the game entirely or moved on to greener pastures. The last raid that was officially ours was another half-pug to Black Temple, in which we weren't even able to get a single boss down for some reason - after five wipes on Naj'entus we gave up. It was the very definition of going out with a whimper. There've been a couple of guild Zul'Aman runs since then, which I've dutifully avoided after how my first visit to the place in Classic made me feel, but I don't really expect those to last either.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. Part of me wanted to just move on and not spend any more time thinking about it at all. I reminded myself that it's just a game and that I've got plenty of other things going on, but my brain and heart insisted that they cared and couldn't just let go on command, so I guess writing this is one part of me processing the situation.

Above all, I am sad. My relationship with both the game and the guild has been somewhat fraught since the launch of Burning Crusade, but I still cared a lot, and just before everything started to crumble very suddenly, things had actually been going exceptionally well from my point of view. I know guilds don't last forever, but I have always been pretty invested in the ones I've been a part of, and watching things fall apart while feeling powerless to stop it is always heart-breaking. I find myself thinking back to the time I logged into my night elf priest back in the day and found that the leader of our fun little social guild had decided to disband it overnight in a sudden moment of rage about something or other and nobody even really knew what was going on.

As much as I hate to say anything bad about anyone here, I'm also feeling a little resentment in regards to how the officers handled the situation. I know it wasn't an easy situation to deal with, and I'm not saying I expected them to perform any miracles, but the complete and utter apathy on display towards the guild was frustrating to watch at times. I can't tell what was going on in the privacy of their heads, and maybe they were having passionate debates about the future of the guild in channels I couldn't see, but if that was the case, none of it leaked into the discourse visible to regular members.

If we asked about why events weren't being put up in time, we were told that people with ranks other than officers had the capability to do so if they wanted (OK? But as officers you're the ones in charge of organising the core raids, why would we spontaneously expect someone else to start doing it?), discussions about the future of the guild mostly consisted of the same small handful of regular members talking in circles without any officers weighing in, and when an officer finally did comment last week on the question of whether we should try to merge with another guild, his response was that it wasn't his place to make that decision. Like, what's the point of being an officer if you don't want to organise things and don't want to be responsible for anything? Isn't that kind of the point of taking on that role? I get that officers have their ups and downs with the game too, but when all of them slip into "eh, I don't really care anymore" mode simultaneously, it kind of leaves everyone else out to dry by default.

On the other hand, there is a small part of me that's actually somewhat relieved that it's all over now. Wanting to be a good guildie until the end, I signed for and attended every 25-man raid that I could make, and it was disappointing how often they had to be cancelled or ended up filled with lots of strangers just to make up the numbers, even if these strangers seemed nice enough. (And I will give credit to the officer who led those raids until the end.) That constant uncertainty and the way our performance actually became worse and worse week after week were not particularly fun things to be a part of.

Even on a larger scale though - when I quit WoW in favour of SWTOR back in 2012, I did mention in my post about it that it was tough to constantly be pulled in two different directions, and that's certainly something I've felt throughout my time in the Forks as well. Heck, it's why I didn't want to get involved with a guild in Classic in the first place! But then it just kind of happened and I really liked it, so I made it work and I don't regret putting the effort in... however, I won't deny that at times it was also a lot.

I like raiding, but that doesn't mean that I necessarily want to raid every single night of the week, but between raiding in Classic and running ops in SWTOR that was exactly what was happening sometimes. And even as I did that, I always felt a little bad and like I wasn't giving either guild enough of myself. With that in mind, a part of me is relieved that there's no longer an expectation for me to raid with the Forks, as it makes my weekly schedule less busy and leaves me with a bit more time for other things.

As you might be able to deduce from that last sentence, I'm not planning to find another guild to raid with. It's clearly been a priority for many guildies who left, but at this point I really have no interest in raiding in Classic just for the sake of raiding - I was only really doing it because of the Forks. Right at this moment I'm not even that interested in socialising at all to be honest. It's an urge that will come back to me I'm sure, but first I feel like I need some time to myself to get over this breakup so to speak, or whatever you want to call the slow dispersal of a guild.

The odds of me being interested in Wrath Classic don't look good now - I was considering giving it a try for the sake of the guild, but with that gone there's no real draw for me beyond perhaps a little bit of curiosity about how the launch will go. It will be interesting to see how the BC Classic era servers will pan out - I've actually found myself wanting to playing on Classic era sometimes, but the truth is that without the social ties, I struggle to think of things to do with my max-level characters there. BC would be a bit different in that regard as there are plenty of solo grinds left to do that I haven't tackled and that I could see myself investing some time in once the bulk of the server has moved on to WOTLK. Plus being away from the current content crowd where all the achievers are racing each other to who can be done with the game first might actually increase my chances of finding more like-minded people to hang out with. Time will tell.

03/04/2022

Queueing for Castle Nathria

With Classic currently being filled with doom and gloom for me, I decided to try and extract some more positive value out of my WoW subscription by playing a bit of retail again, after the husband and I pretty much dropped it like a hot potato when SWTOR's latest expansion came out. Specifically, I decided to follow up on a long-time plan I've had to finally do some Shadowlands LFR - with so much of the expansion being focused on the events in raids, surely it was worth seeing them at least once? Plus this sort of touristy exploration is exactly what LFR was made for, right?

I queued up for what I thought was the first wing of Castle Nathria and waited. I knew that there was going to be less interest in the older raids at this point in the expansion, but I still tend to think of WoW as this game with millions of players where no queue lasts longer than a few minutes anyway.

After spending over an hour in the queue and watching the number of queued players only go down during that time (mostly it was dps that was missing), I gave up. To be fair, this was during day time on a weekday (I had the day off), so I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised, but as I said...

I put myself back in the queue on Saturday while tending my mission table, and was pleasantly surprised to get a pop as dps within only a few minutes this time. The last time I set foot into LFR was during Mists of Pandaria, and after re-reading that old post, my experience with the first wing of Castle Nathria was pretty similar. There wasn't a lot of talk but there was a little, and all of it was good-natured and friendly. One of the tanks dropped group the moment we zoned in, but when the remaining tank asked whether anyone could respec for Huntsman Altimor, someone piped up quickly with the caveat that they'd never done it before. They got a quick rundown of what to do and we were able to progress easily enough from there.

It's worth noting here that I myself went into this mostly blind. I'm not a fan of expecting people to watch guides before stepping into the lowest difficulty of group content, and I don't have any addons installed on retail, but the game itself actually gives a decent amount of sound and visual queues these days anyway. It was generally pretty obvious when I was supposed to run away from the group or avoid standing in something.

I did read the in-game dungeon journal for the first three bosses, just to then discover that the way they are split up for LFR doesn't match the order they are listed in there, so that I was effectively only prepared for the first boss, but it didn't seem to matter anyway. On Lady Inerva, the last boss of the wing, there seemed to be a lot going on with four red bars on the side of the screen that were presumably supposed to indicate some sort of mechanic, but we just stood in the same place and punched her for a few minutes and that was that.

In fact, the deadliest thing in that entire wing was a tunnel with rats that we AoEd down, and where I suddenly found myself with thirty stacks of a disease causing a ticking DoT. I stopped to spam heals on myself as nobody seemed to be cleansing anything, and watched a rogue succumb to the same problem next to me while everybody else moved on. I took pity on them and revived them so we could both catch up, even if nobody else seemed to care.

Since that first wing had gone quite well overall and the pop had been quick, I decided to queue for the second wing as soon as I got out, but I had less luck with that. I could soon tell that this one was going to take a while to get going, so I started fishing in the meantime and got my monk's Legion fishing skill from 1 to 99 (though to be fair, a lot of those skill-ups came from squids). After about half an hour we seemed to have everything lined up except for one more healer, and I kept wondering why it didn't just change me to healer since I had queued up as both. Another ten minutes later it finally did so and the queue popped.

I was a little confused and wondered for a second whether I had queued for the wrong thing when I found myself back at the start of the raid, listening to the NPC's intro chatter for a second time, but apparently the raid finder wings for Castle Nathria are just set up in a somewhat odd way. My understanding is that Shriekwing is technically the first boss of the raid, but in both the first and second wings, her room is empty and you bypass it to go to a different part of the castle instead. At least I wasn't the only one who found it confusing that the NPCs kept opening gates to different areas that we didn't actually need to go to. Fortunately the more experienced members of the raid frantically pinged the mini map to indicate that we needed to go in the opposite direction to reach the next boss of the LFR wing.

Wing two ended up being somewhat more challenging than wing one, with the second half of Artificer Xy'mox being a veritable bloodbath. I died once myself but received a combat res from a kind druid. Council of Blood was even worse, and I got a bit annoyed because while I had read the instructions about the dance mechanic, I couldn't see any indication of where my dancing spot was supposed to be, so I took lots of damage for doing the dancing phase wrong every time and died again. But hey, the bosses died and enough raiders survived to see us through to the end, so all was good.

Incidentally, the tank was the same one I'd had in wing one, and again his supposed tanking partner had dropped group the moment we zoned in. He ended up solo-tanking the first two fights, and on Council, where he said that a second tank was needed, a dps stepped up again. They said that they didn't know what do, to which the first tank replied with something like "First time for me too, I just watched a two minute YouTube guide", which I found quite amusing.

I re-entered the queue, this time for wing three, and got a pop pretty quickly this time, but was then dismayed to find that two of the three bosses were already dead. I wondered whether this meant that the group was having trouble with Stone Legion Generals, but we killed them easily enough. However, I now had to queue for wing three again, which made me long for the checkbox in SWTOR's group finder that lets you opt in or out of joining partially completed runs.

This time I had to wait over an hour for the queue to pop again, time I spent writing most of this post and doing some more fishing, this time in Shadowlands itself. When the group was finally assembled, we were in and out of the raid pretty quickly and easily again (though on Shriekwing there was a lot of blood on the floor, which probably means that we did things wrong). I stayed for Stone Legion Generals even though I wasn't able to get loot from them again, because just dropping out would've seemed rude to me.

I was glad to queue one final time for the last boss, and was hopeful that this one wouldn't take as long to pop as it showed an almost full group immediately, but then we still had to wait half an hour for a second tank, who then promptly followed the by-now tradition to quit the moment we zoned in, just like it had been in most of the previous wings - not that it seemed to matter.

After downing the final boss I looked at the time and noted that more than five hours had passed since I originally queued for the first wing, and most of that time had been spent waiting - if I want to do any more of these, I'll need a lot of free time as well as a good plan for how to spend all that time in queue. I didn't expect tourist mode to be so time-consuming.

(Addendum: I tried to queue for the first wing of Sanctum of Domination this morning, because people play on Sundays, right? I was in the queue for almost one and a half hours and just about to give up when it finally popped... but unfortunately a lot of people in the queue had evidently gone AFK by then, as both of the tanks and several others did not respond, and the group went back into the queue with greatly diminished numbers. At that point I did log off. At least I got my monk's Cata fishing to 64/75, and Cata cooking to 71/75 while waiting.)

31/03/2022

Zul'Aman and the Pain of Nostalgia

I've said pretty much since the beginning of Classic that while nostalgia is a powerful draw, to truly be able to enjoy Classic, you need to be able to keep it at bay to some degree. If playing Classic starts to feel like you're trying to re-create the exact experience of being a young student with endless free time and (relatively) few worries in the world, things are likely to go down a dark path fairly quickly. The joy of Classic should lie in playing a game again that you've missed and that is still good fifteen years later, but while still being aware and leaving room for the reality that it couldn't ever feel exactly the same as it did fifteen years ago.

I think I mostly managed to do that throughout Classic's original run. The familiar environments stirred up memories for sure... but I tended to play different characters, and I actually participated in endgame in a way in which I never really did in vanilla, which very clearly made it a new and different experience.

I think part of my struggle with Classic BC has been that I did much more of BC's content in its original iteration, and that all of this happened during my most formative WoW years, meaning that I have a lot of powerful and positive memories associated with pretty much everything - more so than I did in old Azeroth, and no matter what I do in Classic BC, it has often felt like it pales in comparison to the original game if the experience isn't totally amazing.

With that in mind, I've been anticipating the opening of the Zul'Aman raid with very mixed feelings. I wrote a post on here two years ago in which I described the experience of raiding with my fixed Zul'Aman group back in Burning Cursade as "the height of my WoW raiding career". No matter how much I may have wanted to practice self-awareness to temper my expectations of the re-release, that kind of high was always going to be a very tough act to follow.

I don't have detailed records of my Zul'Aman runs back in the day, but I strongly remember the sense of camaraderie as we came together for every reset, goofing off in the entrance area until it was time to ring the gong to open the gates - which was the signal to put our serious hats on and be intensely focused for the next forty minutes or so.

We messed up the timed run many times, but we did get better over the course of weeks and months, and there was a strong sense of progression and of overcoming a challenge as a team. When we finally beat the timer for the first time, it was glorious and felt well earned.

The previous paragraph was originally supposed to start with "I have no records of my Zul'Aman runs back in the day", but I did actually find a text document on my hard drive in which I'd saved the write-up of our first successful bear run that I'd originally posted on our now defunct guild forums. Let me reproduce it here in full to give you a sense of the general vibes I associated with ZA:


17/6 [2008] - Onslaught's first bear mount!

It started with one man having a simple idea. This Zul'Aman place is nice, Kanoth thought to himself, I think I'd like to go there every week, even if it's not part of the official raid schedule. Some of those timed chests contain amazing rewards! Always being a man of action, he soon started to assemble a group for this very purpose.

At first it was a bit of a struggle. Our gear wasn't quite up to the intended level, and it took some time to figure out the ideal strategy for each boss. Sometimes people stopped playing or just couldn't make the raid times anymore so the group makeup had to be changed. In the end this became the final "Team Bear Mount":

Arkiza - Noggenfogger addict and shooter of chain heal lasers
Drokhnar - suicidal killing machine and provider of windfury
Kanoth - cookie dispenser, crowd controller and frosty aoe master
Kordac - unsurpassed circle of healing spammer
Koreth - stabmaster supreme
Minox - whirlwinding bringer of death
Marasha - crazed warlock alt of Iarwain
Odious - amazing Tuesday tankadin
Shintar - neverending source of mana
Verment - strong bear and fierce cat in one

Two chests were a guaranteed reward for us in no time, soon three. Losing Kordac for several weeks as he moved house set us back a bit and made our runs considerably less spirited, but we persisted. As we got closer to the fourth chest the many ways in which you could just mess up the timer made us want to tear our hair out. Make sure you wear your tanking gear on the boss, Verm! Oh god, Marasha got too close to the hut! How did Odi just die there? What the hell is wrong with Shintar's computer, we're practically nine-manning this! [Note: I'd forgotten that this coincided with the time when I was struggling with an utterly crappy PC, lol.] ARGH.

However, in the end it was only a matter of time. Tonight we knew it would have to happen. People were excited before we had even started, and Minox got subjected to many vicious pokes by impatient people while trying to cook his dinner until he finally decided to leave it for later. We rang the gong and were off.

As usual Odi tanked a large part of the eagle gauntlet in one go and we just aoed it down. Akil'zon only had a chance to cast three storms before he bit the dust if I recall correctly. Barely a few minutes had passed by the time we engaged Nalorakk. He too went down fairly quickly and we rushed on to Jan'alai's gauntlet, the hardest bit of trash in the instance. However, people were really on their toes this time and all scouts were quickly intercepted and disposed of, without a single one getting a chance to call for help. On the dragonhawk boss himself there was a brief moment of panic when a hatcher didn't get killed in time and the whole right side of eggs got hatched before we were really ready for it, but fortunately we had just managed to kill off the left side before so Odi was free to pick them up. Flame debuffs were everywhere but nobody lost their cool and we were able to regain control while the healers did an amazing job keeping everyone up. As Jan'alai fell, Arkiza was so exhausted already that she stood on one of the remaining bombs and died right after the boss, becoming our first casualty. 😂

At this point we had almost twenty minutes left on the timer and Kanoth cautioned us to better move a little more slowly and carefully now rather than risk a wipe. The troll spirits smiled upon us as we sneakily wove our way through huts, past trees and across the lake without incidents, as all the patrols were conveniently in just the right place wherever we went, not even requiring us to wait for them to move. Our hearts pounded in our chests as the last of Halazzi's trash mobs died at our feet and we still had almost ten minutes left. After one last check that everyone was buffed and ready, Odi and Verment charged in... and only a few minutes later Halazzi was dead, with about five minutes left on the timer.

VICTORY!

We were all happy and laughing as we freed the last prisoner, a chatty little gnome that zoomed all over the room before finally revealing the fourth chest to us. And then it was ours, our very first Amani War Bear! 😀 Arkiza was the lucky winner of the first roll but I think we were all equally happy really.

Here's a shot of the happy team with Ark on her bear, unfortunately we suck at lining up properly. 😉 Also, here's a bigger one of just Ark and the bear in all its glory. Now to farm nine more bears for the rest of Team Bear Mount!

A video of the event made by Odi should also be forthcoming. [Note: I actually found that this video was still up on YouTube fourteen years later! You can tell it's authentic from the minimal editing and the stamp-sized resolution, which means that you can't even read people's names, but you can make me out as the shadowy blob mind-flaying Halazzi from the side.]


I kind of dodged the matter of Zul'Aman opening in Classic for a few days since I wasn't playing much anyway, but then the Monday raid got cancelled once again and someone suggested going to Zul'Aman instead. "Screw it," I figured, "I didn't reserve this evening for a raid for nothing, so I might as well make this ZA run happen." (It fell on me to organise it since no actual officers or raid leaders were present. Yeah...)

After poking a lot of different people, I managed to assemble a group of ten, even if some of us were on alts. I had to play on my druid to fill one of the tanking spots myself, and the other tank was a warlock's paladin alt. People were asking whether we were going to try for a bear mount and I firmly told them no. Not only did we have a bunch of alts in the group, for many it was their first visit to ZA altogether! Obviously things weren't going to feel quite as challenging as they did back in the day, but the notion of people expecting to get a bear the very first time they set foot into the raid seemed ludicrous to me.

And in a way, my assessment wasn't wrong. The first boss, Akil'zon, took us three tries, meaning we already failed at the very first chest. I didn't feel too bad about this either, because as I said, my expectations were based on how hard I remembered this timed run being in the original Burning Crusade. The bear boss went down on the first try (even if my health bar yo-yoed to a scary degree), but then the dragonhawk took two tries, and the lynx no less than five. That last part threw me a little because I didn't remember that one being that much of an issue.

After four more wipes on Hex Lord (the penultimate boss), we had to call it because some people wanted to go to bed. And I'm not going to lie, at that point I did feel disappointed. I didn't expect us to get a bear, I didn't expect us to get any chests, and I did expect us to wipe repeatedly... but I'd hoped that we'd at least be able to complete the instance.

For that extra bit of salt in the wound, a friend joined us on voice chat just as we were finishing, to ask how we were doing, and when someone else told him that we'd only killed four bosses, his counter-question was: "Did you at least get a bear mount?" At least! Bears are now the bare minimum you should get out of this instance, pun intended!

The next day while I was doing business in Ironforge, as if to taunt me, a random parade of bears formed up between the bank and the auction house, as if to say: "Look how easy this is nowadays, we're only a week in and there's loads of these around already!"

It's not so much a matter of envy - I don't really crave a bear mount for myself in Classic - as being made to feel that the general vibe and the expectations around Zul'Aman are totally different now than they were fourteen years ago. The goal posts have moved from "here is a new raid and if you really work on it you can also earn a mount from it eventually" to "if you don't get the bear every single time from day one, you suck", and my memory - nay, my knowledge of how it used to be is so strong that the clash between then and now is painful.

Back then our gear was mediocre (if you look at the above group shot I used as my desktop background for a while, you can see a lot of tier four in there still, as well as gear from Zul'Aman itself, which we had farmed over time and which had actually been upgrades for us), everything wasn't as well documented, and the ZA timed run was a challenge on which we failed over and over again as a group until we got better, something that truly felt like an achievement.

In Classic, it feels like everyone's already running around in Black Temple gear, doing enough dps to steamroll everything with ease, and the ZA bear run is just treated as another item on the checklist of "objectives to complete in Classic BC" before moving on to Wrath. I hate it!

I can't really hold it against anyone who enjoys this type of play, but it's so fundamentally unlike what I've wanted out of my Classic experience that I honestly find the realisation kind of depressing. I wonder if people who spent months on the vanilla raids back in the day already felt something similar during OG Classic...

I also find myself missing our old server once again, because I have a hunch that this "issue" wouldn't have been quite as pronounced on Hydraxian Waterlords where we only had a small number of guilds doing hardcore progression. Over there, a bear mount would still have been a rare sight in week one, and we all would've gone, "Oh yeah, that guy's in Caelum, of course it's easy for them". Things feel very different when you're on a server where dozens of guilds have been farming Illidan for months.

25/03/2022

The Socialiser's Lot

Playing WoW Classic and my ups and downs with it have made me do a lot of soul-searching about just what it is that motivates me to play MMOs. My previous results on the Bartle test have struck me as pretty on point in that regard: I'm mostly an explorer and socialiser, with a smattering of killer and very little achiever in me, which seems to make me very different from the majority of MMO players nowadays.

But what does that mean in practice, especially in a game like Classic? The explorer portion of my interests was pretty evident at launch, and I got a lot of joy out of rediscovering the old world, re-familiarising myself with old quests and all that jazz. My interest started to falter once I had revisited most of the major milestones and my socialiser heart was starting to feel lonely... but then I found a guild and that "saved" me, because just having a fun group of people to hang out with made everything interesting again.

The 40-man raids forced a lot of people into doing at least a bit of socialising I guess... and even if it wasn't their primary reason for playing, I suspect that most of those who chose to raid were at least okay with spending some time on it. I guess it's similar to how achievement systems don't do a lot to motivate me personally, but that doesn't mean that when I see an unexpected achievement pop up I won't sometimes go "oh, that's neat".

I was shocked then by how many of those social dynamics I saw getting lost in the transition to Classic Burning Crusade, because I honestly did not expect it. But smaller raid sizes meant cutting people out because efficiency won out over community, and instead of being grateful for every warm body that you could add to your roster to increase overall raid dps, people started to pick and choose based on performance.

The removal of the world buff meta also largely eliminated the whole "getting ready for the raid together" mini game. (Seriously, I know it had its downsides and people did a lot of complaining about it, but it was also such a team building exercise.) Increased "puggability" of raid content has meant less reliance on guilds, and resulted in achievers slowly switching towards playing with whoever could get them results the fastest vs. who they might otherwise have enjoyed hanging out with.

It was such a depressing wake-up call. Basically, as long as the game had made it beneficial for all types to be social, I had been under the illusion that everyone also enjoyed it equally. Little did I know that as soon as socialising became less mandatory, literally almost everyone seemed to be ready to ditch it in favour of achievement-hunting, whether that took the form of chasing the next level or the next piece of gear (what with there being no explicit achievement system in Classic - that didn't come in until Wrath).

To be clear here, I'm not trying to paint this as some sort of black and white, us vs. them scenario. We all have a myriad of different factors influencing our in-game motivations at any point in time. For example, if someone asks me to do a dungeon in WoW, here are some of the considerations that will help me determine whether I'll say yes or no:

  • Social: Who's asking? Who else is coming? How much do I like them? Would my coming along really help these people out or am I easily replaceable?
  • Curiosity: Have I been before? Has there been some sort of change that might make it interesting to revisit? Even if it's a place I know well, do I maybe get to bring a different class/play a different role than I usually do, to mix things up?
  • Progression: Is there some sort of benefit for my character in this? Potential gear drops, XP, reputation?
  • Gameplay: How fun is the moment-to-moment gameplay likely to be? E.g. I enjoy healing more than tanking, so being able to heal would tip the scales in favour of yes, while having to tank might push me more towards no. Also, how difficult is the content and how much time is it going to take? Do I have to take responsibility for forming the group or other "administrative" tasks?

If all or most of these questions have positive answers, I'll be there in a flash, while negative answers might make me hesitant. It's about the cumulative effect though, and no single point is going to turn the tide on its own. Nonetheless it's key to note that not all questions carry the same weight. I already tried to do some ranking here by putting the more important ones on top and the less important ones at the bottom. For me it's a no-brainer that the social part of the experience is one of the most important things, and that the other motivations would all need to be really strong to outweigh negative feelings in the social area.

What I found in Classic BC though was that many people's priorities were obviously very different, with "progression" often taking the number one spot and being the most important for them, and that has been both eye-opening and hurtful in some ways.

It has also meant that - somewhat paradoxically - my enjoyment "cycle" is kind of the opposite of that of many achiever types, who are happiest and most engaged when a new patch has just dropped and there are lots of new goals to chase. Meanwhile I just end up frustrated that my friends suddenly sideline me to grind dailies on three different alts or whatever. Conversely, when they get bored and run out of drops or reputations to pursue, I finally stand a chance to get at least some of them interested in simply doing things to hang out again, because the all-important progression part of the content has already been exhausted for them.

The one thing I'm still not sure about is why this has been such an issue for me in Classic but not for example in SWTOR. I think it helps that SWTOR as a whole doesn't actually cater as strongly to achievers: sure, there's new gear to grind sometimes, and there's an achievement system, but neither of those things are really designed to be the game's primary focus. There's no reason to do group content more than a couple of times if you don't actually enjoy it, so people don't sign up to raid with a guild if the company isn't a primary motivation for them, meaning that you're more likely to end up grouped with people who actually have similar interests.

Vanilla/OG Classic was the other way round in that it funnelled almost everyone into group content for gear, but that also worked in its own way to get people on the same page. In BC though, things have changed to the point that you'll still find many people doing group content primarily for the rewards, taking up valuable raid spots, while at the same time trying to escape the commitment of socialising - which I guess many solo achiever types would rate as an improvement, being able to get their BiS gear while having to rely on fewer other people. As someone for whom the social aspect is the focus at this point though, I've found it kind of hard at times, simultaneously having to compete for spots with people who don't actually want to be social, while also struggling to get the people I want to play with the most into groups with me.

All of this is only a small part of my current WoW malaise, but mulling these things over in my head has been a reminder of just how much WoW has cultivated a player base that is heavily achievement-driven. I can't remember whether I ever fit that mould in my early WoW days - I might have - but even so I have a strong feeling that the player base used to be more diverse in terms of motivations back then.

I was watching an old Extra Credits video about Bartle types and how to balance their populations before writing this, and I found it very striking that the way they describe an MMO with an overabundance of achievers, "players are playing simply to get further in the game, each in their own, small bubble", seems to describe my early BC Classic experience to a T (and is something I've seen in other MMOs as well). They also point out that socialisers need lots of other socialisers around to have fun, and yeah, I'm definitely feeling a strong impact from the seeming lack of like-minded people at the moment.