Timewalking to an Unexpected Achievement

I only talked about timewalking on this blog once before, a little over a year ago. As I noted then, it's a feature I quite like, as it's one of Blizzard's (generally limited) efforts to let people enjoy old content as part of their normal gameplay. Sure, a group rushing through a heroic in ten minutes while AoEing everything along the way is not necessarily anything like the way that dungeon was experienced when it first came out, but it's still better than running it solo while over-levelled and just one-shotting everything. At least you get to see mechanics sometimes.

Last week was Cataclysm Timewalking, and there was a quest to run five of them for a gear reward box, so our little retail-playing friend group signed up for a full tour. It went well and I was actually reminded of how much I enjoyed the Cata dungeons at launch, so I decided to do the run-five-timewalking-dungeons quest on my demon hunter as well.

I've kind of reached the point where I'm reasonably confident queueing up to pug certain content in retail. I still think that the way people rush through dungeons is less than ideal, and makes for a terrible new player experience in particular as it means newbies just spend their time racing after the more experienced players without having the slightest clue about what's actually going on (thematically or mechanically). However, if you know the content you're queueing up for and mentally prepare yourself for the experience, it's generally tolerable.

One of the dungeons my demon hunter got thrown into was Lost City of the Tol'vir. The group rushed through AoEing everything as you'd expect, while I reminisced about how deadly many of those pulls used to be. However, when we killed the last boss, Siamat, something unexpected happened: I saw the Glory of the Cataclysm Hero achievement pop up, as well as a notification that I'd just earned the Volcanic Stone Drake mount.

I was briefly baffled but didn't have time to think about it too much, as I had to leap off the boss's terrace to quickly hand in the dungeon quest I'd picked up at the entrance (what with it being my demon hunter's first time there), and the rest of the group was already hitting the re-queue button.

It was only after completing my five runs that I could really sit down and take in what had happened. WoW's achievement system is a bit confusing with the way it mixes character-specific and account-wide achievements in some situations but not others, and my first thought had been that surely I just got some sort of character-specific achievement on my demon hunter that I'd already earned on another character. I even logged into my old troll priest, the original Shintar, to check her achievement log for comparison.

What I found though was that it was indeed true that it was my demon hunter who had earned me the Volcanic Stone Drake. Looking back at the various achievement dates, it looks like I made a bit of a push for Glory of the Cataclysm Hero in early 2011 and did in fact get all the achievements bar one: Headed South. I don't know why I didn't get that one in specific - I can only guess that it must've been challenging in some way, even if many of the Wowhead comments claim that it's super easy and barely an inconvenience. And then I never went back to try again even though I continued to play Cataclysm for another year after that.

Either way, getting that last achievement purely by accident twelve years later, in a timewalking pug that was just steamrolling the content, created a very brief flash of a connection to past me (who actually cared about this stuff) and made me feel very, very odd.


Wrath Classic Adds WoW Token, Community Goes Ballistic

I thought that my next post on here was going to be about some interesting changes that are coming to Classic era, but then I found out this morning that Classic Wrath is basically on fire, and that seemed like it might be worth talking about as a priority.

It started innocently enough for me, when I noticed a tweet from loyal commenter Pallais on my timeline, which contained a link to this Wowhead article and the comment: "I have to say I'm enjoying the popcorn-worthy drama some Wrath Classic players are experiencing because of this. ^_^" Funnily enough, I didn't even have any reaction to the WoW Token announcement itself, I just thought "well, that's not very kind towards people who might not like that" and scrolled past.

But then I got curious and checked the WoW Classic subreddit, just to find that it was basically one giant dumpster fire. I can't claim to be enjoying the show, but like a train wreck it's just hard to look away from (and I get what Pallais meant now). The mods have officially dropped the rule that previously forbade talking about private servers, and of course said private servers have happily taken up the opportunity to advertise. In general, people are mad at Blizzard and shouting a lot. And it's weird to me because while I think you can have plenty of reasons to dislike Blizzard or WoW, this seems like such a random hill to die on.

I searched my blog archives to remind myself of what sentiments I expressed about the WoW Token in the past, but I couldn't actually find a single mention of it. It came out during WoD when I wasn't playing, and I clearly didn't have sufficiently strong feelings about its introduction to comment on it in any way.

I can't say that I've taken any real notice of it since picking up retail again either. Obviously there's been a crazy amount of inflation during the years I was away, but I feel that I'm earning more than enough to cover everything I need. In the services channel in town, I often see people advertise carries through heroic raid clears for a mount or achievement, and I'm always surprised that these are actually cheap enough that I'd technically be able to afford one even with my super casual level of play. (Though I would be completely broke afterwards, not gonna lie!) Either way, my point is that it doesn't feel like buying gold confers a significant advantage to anyone; presumably it's something for the impatient or people who want to collect expensive cosmetics without putting too much effort in.

It's funny because on some level I feel like I should dislike the WoW Token more, simply because it's another micotransaction and in an ideal world I'd prefer a return to a pure subscription model. Considering it's very hard to find an MMO without a cash shop nowadays though, I've become pretty desensitised to it, and the simple truth is that not everything you can buy in a cash shop has the same impact on the game. Something like the WoW Token feels like it should be a big deal, but the more I thought about it, the more it hit me that basically, buying gold (whether from a cash shop or a gold seller) only causes problems if that gold in turn buys you things that we feel perhaps shouldn't be for sale (with either currency) but should have to be earned through gameplay.

To bring up an example that I mentioned before, someone who joined the Forks in Burning Crusade as a brand new player and bought gold to be able to power-level leatherworking and enchanting to max within days of creating his character. He was then super generous by always handing out free goodies to other guildies. When I found out about what happened, it ticked me off because I'd been trying hard to work on my professions to help the guild, and here this guy basically bought himself not just a pay-to-win shortcut on the profession front, but it also bought him clout with the guild, which just felt unfair.

In Classic, on servers where GDKP runs rampant, it essentially makes the game pay-to-win in terms of gearing, as the person with the biggest pile of money gets the best gear. As far as I can tell this is particularly prevalent in Wrath, which I guess does make the WoW Token a problem for players in that situation, especially if they bought gold from gold sellers before in order to gain an advantage. With everybody being able to buy gold legitimately, it will likely drive prices in these kinds of runs through the roof.

It doesn't really matter in retail because there are no GDKPs and loot just generally works differently. It wouldn't even matter that much on my server in Classic era either - when the news broke, someone in my guild Discord asked whether we were worried about the Token being added to era as well, and another guildie asked in return what you would even buy with it, which I thought was an excellent point. A new player might purchase a shortcut to their epic mount, or someone might use it to finance repeated respecs, and obviously that wouldn't be ideal... but it also wouldn't be a huge deal.

So I'm not worried. Again, that doesn't mean I think the WoW Token is a good thing, but I'm not going to pretend to feel sorry for people who opt to play in an environment where you can buy your way to victory, being upset that they'll now have to spend even more to keep up. If you think playing WoW should be all about how much money you have, I can't exactly blame Blizzard for agreeing.


Dragonlight and Patch 10.1

Dragonflight had its 10.1 patch the other week, which added a new zone to the Dragon Isles, the Zaralek Cavern. I have to admit I was a bit suspicious of having an underground zone in an expansion about riding dragons, since those things seemed kind of thematically at odds with each other, but the cave is huge and you don't really feel boxed in at all.

In fact, I was very impressed that this addition, too, has been integrated into the Dragon Isles seamlessly. I thought that this one would require a loading screen for sure, but nope! The tunnels into the cavern wind back and forth a couple of times, presumably to give the game time to load all the assets, but aside from a little error message that currently pops up when you go through, the transition between underground and overground is seamless. There are even entrances to the cavern at several different points of the map, to add to that feeling of it really being right underneath the zones we already know.

The new faction of mole people is a bit silly, but I like them, plus the little treasure hunting expeditions you can go on a couple of times a week are once again a fun little distraction with more of a puzzle than a combat focus. I really appreciate that the devs have been trying to give us more things to do that aren't about fighting all the time.

The main storyline also continues, and it was nice to actually be caught up for a change (the husband and I took forever to complete the base campaign because of how much of it was tied to hitting certain renown levels with some of the factions and just a general feeling that it was a bit all over the place). After all the moaning people did about how terrible they thought Shadowlands' writing was, I've seen relatively little discussion of the Dragonflight story, and in a way that's a shame because I think it's quite good. It reminds me of the Jaina story in BfA at times in the sense that the characters feel a bit more mature and like their reactions to events are more nuanced and not as cartoonish. During one of the recent chapters I actually said to the husband: "What is this, everyone acting like adults and actually apologising after saying something stupid?"

Plus, I actually just... care? I said during Shadowlands that I still found its story entertaining, but it was a bit like a soap opera where you're kind of laughing at how ridiculous everything is. Dragonflight doesn't feel that way, and there've been several story beats that have actually made me feel things, most recently the attack on Loamm. It's good stuff.

In terms of activities, Blizzard seems to have managed to find a good balance between world quests, regular quests, and limited-time events, and they continue to add more content following that formula. There's a lot of new mini events in particular on the Zaralek Cavern map, often quite small in scale, but they can be fun to hop in and out of.

On the surface there are now also Fyrrak assaults, which seemed to be super bugged during the first week but seem to mostly have been fixed now. Sometimes Fyrrak just flies over the zone, yells a lot and burns a bunch of people, as a throwback to Deathwing scorching whole zones during Cataclysm. You can tell the primal incarnates are a lot less powerful than the old Earth-Warder though, because when he caught my demon hunter fighting a rare, she actually survived the burn and didn't get the achievement, only dying to the mob she was fighting moments later due to how much her health pool had suddenly been depleted.

I keep thinking how much of a shame it is that Dragonflight doesn't seem to have been a big financial success (by Blizzard standards) when it gets so much right. Is this how people felt during MoP, which a lot of people hated because of the pandas but which seemed to get a lot of praise in retrospect? Mind you, I did play at least for a few months during MoP and I think Dragonflight is better than MoP so far...

I have to admit that it's slowly transforming my attitude toward retail. Whenever I log in and start playing, I find it easy to keep going for hours because there's just always something fun to do, and of course there are now also the weekly dungeon runs with my mini guild to keep me busy. It's not a replacement for Classic or SWTOR, but I'm increasingly seeing it as pretty damn decent in its own way.


Official Hardcore Servers and a New Season Are Coming

Blizzard used to have a reputation for scheduling all their announcements in such a way as to take attention away from anything interesting their competitors might have been doing. I don't know if that was ever really true, but I couldn't help thinking of that this past weekend, and what a contrast it was to see them be foolish enough to make a major WoW Classic announcement at the end of an unofficial stream just as a large part of Europe was in the throes of Eurovision. I didn't even see people talk about it in my guild until the next day, and even then the tone was rather disinterested.

The big announcement was that they'll be releasing an official hardcore server this summer, and a new season of some kind is planned for later in the year, though they don't want us to expect it to be "Season of Mastery 2".

The hardcore announcement was no surprise considering that the addition of the hardcore flag was datamined a couple of months ago, and I guess it's nice to see Blizzard taking something that's popular with the community and running with it. I might check it out briefly once it launches just to see what the experience looks like in game - then again, maybe not, considering the starter zone hell that is Hydraxian Waterlords right now. If nothing else, it will be interesting to watch the drama as people argue about what exactly the rules on these official servers should be. Permadeath is a given, but the hardcore addon has so many extra rules that at least some people would like to see implemented and that Blizzard is never going to bother with, the arguments about the "right" way to play hardcore are already raging on reddit.

Either way I don't expect this new server to really affect my gameplay, as most people on the EU-PvE cluster just play the game normally and have no reason to leave. I guess it'll be interesting to see whether Hydraxian Waterlords will just be abandoned again instantly or whether some players will remain.

The new season on the other hand is more likely to affect my personal experience. I'm not really worried about everyone jumping ship for this new mode either - the Pyrewood cluster has grown so much in recent months that even if half the population left to play the new season instead, it would still be three times as large as it was when I started playing.

The only thing I find slightly concerning is that it might throttle the "organic newbie hose" for Classic era. Until the big population surge I hadn't really thought about it, but apparently Classic era is kind of hard to find even if you're looking for it, as the game defaults you to the "seasonal" tab on first login, and you have to notice that there are tabs to switch to other versions of the game at the bottom of the window. Right now people make their way to era anyway because while the SoM servers still appear, they are inactive and locked. However, once a new season starts I can imagine those new servers metaphorically sucking the air out of the room by hoovering up all the newcomers logging into Classic for the first time, simply because they are what the game presents to a new player by default. That would be a bit of a shame.

Still, era is about the long game and no matter how popular this new season ends up being, it too will end and ultimately people will have to come back to era yet again.


Hunting Rares for Fun and Profit

I'm still puttering around on my paladin alt on Gehennas occasionally and have got her up to level 20 at this point. Now that the main PvE cluster has reached a more "normal" level of population, I'm almost getting nostalgic for the quieter times, and playing on Gehennas currently scratches that itch. I almost consider it a special challenge to play there, what with being all by myself most of the time. I'm generally not someone who uses the AH a lot, but I do use it sometimes, and I'm usually all over opportunities to do group content. Having to limit myself to soloing and having to procure any and all items I might need by myself just feels kind of novel right now.

Around the level when I would usually start looking for a Deadmines group, I was killing some murlocs on the coast of Westfall when not one but two rare mobs barrelled into me almost simultaneously, which got me to wonder just how many rares there were in the zone. This quickly evolved into a fun new pastime.

Rares in Vanilla honestly weren't that amazing, often just dropping a generic random green, if even that. I mean, in Vanilla even getting a green feels pretty good, but I'm thinking in comparison to later iterations of the concept, when their loot was upgraded considerably and they were changed to give massive amounts of bonus XP when killed.

Anyway, like with so many things in the human starter zone, you can tell that the devs had time to think about the rares a bit more than they did in later zones, and there are some pretty unique ones with special loot tables. For example there's a zombie called Leprithus that spawns either on a small graveyard or near the border to Duskwood and only at night, and his drops are a great pair of leather gloves called Ghoul Fingers as well as a cursed sword that shoots shadowbolts.

My favourite so far however has been the rare Foe Reaper 4000, which can spawn on most of the fields with harvesters on them and seems to be almost guaranteed to drop a non-unique ten-slot bag. As bag space became a real issue when I moved to Westfall and started picking up all the various quests asking me to collect animal parts, this discovery was an absolute godsend. I've killed him four times so far and actually feel pretty good about my bag space for my level now.

I've tried to hunt him down more often than that, but some days other players on the server actually make their presence known even if I don't see them personally, just because all the rares in the zone are dead. While the population is extremely small, there seem to be a few genuine levellers, and I suspect that all the higher-levels are on the cluster specifically for easy farming of PvP ranks or raw materials, and since you're still able to freely transfer from Gehennas to Firemaw, their activities might even feed into the Firemaw economy for all I know.

This isn't all bad for me though, because I've been surprised to find that I can actually sell things. The auction house is usually empty aside from my listings, but I guess that's precisely what gives them so much exposure and someone is usually happy to snatch up a cheap green or stack of trade goods. And then, just as I was starting to feel good about my financial situation and like I'd earned enough gold to be able to at least afford all my training for the near future, I found this in the mail:

So now my little throwaway alt has 100 gold at her disposal randomly and is basically set for life. I also replied to the sender to thank them and let them know that if they were feeling lonely, there are other servers they can go to that are actually active and free transfers are available. I don't know if they'll ever see the reply, but I'll remember their kindness. Their mission to make me smile succeeded.


60 Raiders Walk into Molten Core

I mentioned previously that with the way the population on the PvE cluster has been growing, raids in Warriors of Sunlight actually started to become oversubscribed and we had to start thinking about things like how to handle a bench. For this week's Molten Core we actually had more than fifty people signed up, which basically led to the officers saying, "Enough! We might actually be able to run two groups at once with this many people..."

So this Thursday, Warriors of Sunlight fielded two Molten Core raids consisting of thirty people each, running in parallel for the first time - and it was really fun! The smaller groups meant that bosses were a bit tougher than usual, and that I actually had to pay proper attention while healing on my druid - with only six healers in each raid there wasn't room to cruise in quite the same way I fully admit I often do in MC runs. It didn't feel stressful or tedious to underman the raid this way though, rather the opposite - plenty of laughs were had and it just hit differently knowing that working that little bit harder enabled everyone to join the raid that night and that we'd get double the loot.

In short, it was good fun and the officers had clearly done a good job balancing the raids as both runs finished only minutes apart. The loot gods also smiled upon our efforts - the group I was in got no fewer than three rare profession recipes, and the other group had both an Eye of Sulfuras and the Geddon binding drop.

The latter meant that both raid groups were off to Silithus afterwards to slay Thunderaan together and celebrate our rogue officer becoming the server's newest wielder of a Thunderfury. It was just an awesome night all around and I love that this old game is still able to generate this level of joy and excitement after all these years.


A Fun Guild Event

This past Saturday my guild's GM advertised that he was hosting a "fun social event". I immediately signed up, even without knowing what exactly to expect, because as an explorer/socialiser I usually find these sorts of events in MMOs pretty fun. From team competitions to races to trivia contests, playing the game in ways the developers didn't intend can be pretty entertaining.

This particular event ended up consisting of two distinct parts. Apparently there were plans for a third, but the second part ended up taking so long that it was decided to save the third activity for another day.

The first part was a treasure hunt that was conveyed via a lovingly written in-character letter from our GM's undead alt Lagbunny (you'd think he used to play on an RP server or something!) - little Lag wanted our help with procuring six items that were meant to be useful to him during a date. And yes, undead dates are apparently very weird. He wanted:

  • an Ivory Boar Tusk, mostly found on the swine in the two Razorfen dungeons
  • a white quality gun obtainable from one of three different vendors
  • one of the First Aid training books
  • a Large Hoof found in Shadowfang Keep or on selected stags
  • a pair of Dirty Leather Pants sold by vendors in the immediate starter zones
  • and a selfie with Captain Grayson, the ghost that hands out quests to Alliance players by the lighthouse in Westfall

We were allowed to look the items up on Wowhead to check where to get them, but we weren't allowed to get help from other players or buy things on the auction house. I ended up zig-zagging across the map pretty inefficiently while trying to research where to find each item, but I guess the other contestants weren't much better off.

In Razorfen Kraul, I got lucky with the tusk dropping pretty quickly, though I'd got a bit confused with my directions and took a huge detour to get to the right mobs. Initially we were all in a raid group so we could see where everyone else was going, which led to funny complaints from those coming to Razorfen later that "all the pigs are dead already".

For the hoof most people apparently went to Shadowfang Keep, while I decided to try my luck with the stags in Ashenvale. I got lucky and got the hoof on my second kill - apparently another guy who also went for the stags got extremely unlucky and had to kill something like eighty stags before one of them dropped the right kind of hoof. Oops!

In general it was funny to listen to the kinds of issues people were encountering. One officer who took part apparently managed to get lost inside RFK (in his defense, I think he was a bit tipsy), then finally found his way out again just to fall to his death into Thousand Needles, then abandoned his body for a bit to go for a smoke. I realise that sounds like it could've been frustrating, but honestly it was just very funny.

Once we had all the items, we were supposed to find Lagbunny and deliver them to him, with the hint as to his location being that his date was with an only recently deceased orc lady... which of course meant that he was sitting in a certain hut in the Barrens. I was the third contestant to make it there, and we all sat down inside the hut to wait for everyone else to make it, which itself developed into a fun little mini-game of jumping out at innocent low-level questers that were just looking for Mankrik's wife and yelling "Surprise!" at them.

Aside from that, people spent their time duelling and being silly, until the last contestant - who was only in his low 40s and therefore slower than everyone else - had reached the hand-in point as well.

After a brief award ceremony for the winners at the Orgrimmar bank, we were told to create level 1 undead characters for a race. I don't know what I expected from that, but for some reason I thought it was going to be fairly short. I think I made a joke like "You're not going to ask us to race to Booty Bay, right?", which resulted in one of the old-timers whispering me to say that our destination was probably going to be the Gates of AQ, since he'd done that particular race before and it had taken two hours back then. "Now I'm scared!" I replied. "As you should be," was his reply in turn. And he was right - both about the destination and that I should've been scared.

After a brief explanation of the rules (no ghost-running to spirit healers or anything like that, we always had to revive at our bodies) we were off to the races. We successfully made it to the Undercity zeppelin as a pack and then made our way south from Orgrimmar. In southern Durotar the first real split occurred, with most people opting to run through the Barrens, while some brave individuals decided to swim along the coast. At this point only one or two deaths had occurred.

It was only in the southern Barrens that things started to get bloody, and then they got worse once we entered Thousand Needles. It's funny, because I didn't remember there being so many hyenas and cougars right next to the road... either way, the caravan soon became a stream of ghosts running back from the graveyard at the Great Lift, reviving at their bodies and running for a few more metres before being slapped down by wildlife again. Reaching the graveyard at the edge of the Shimmering Flats felt like blessed relief, and the flats themselves were surprisingly non-deadly to level 1s (or 2s, as we'd levelled from exploration XP by that point).

The swimmers had a hard time with the murlocs in northern Dustwallow initially, but were apparently off scot-free after that, and yet for all that, both the runners and the swimmers arrived in Gadgetzan at roughly the same time.

Making it from there to Un'goro was an even worse death march than Thousand Needles though, as there was no road in the desert, just loads of wildlife everywhere that would one-shot naked little undead people. Interestingly, several older players had predicted that Un'goro was going to be even worse, but the first person to make it down there found that they could actually cross completely safely by sticking to the edge of the northern stream - I'm not sure a single person actually died while running across Un'goro. Then it was just a matter of getting ganked on the road in Silithus a few more times on the way to the gates, but compared to Thousand Needles and Tanaris that was nothing.

Unfortunately for me, I was much worse at this race thing than at the earlier treasure hunt. I was roughly keeping up with the pack until the end of Thousand Needles, when I fell behind until I was eventually trailing the rest of the group at some distance. Crossing the border from Tanaris to Un'goro featured a particularly nasty trap though, where it was possible to die in a spot that you could only access from Tanaris but have your ghost spawn in Un'goro, requiring a particularly lengthy corpse run across both zones to get back to your body. A couple of people had this happen to them once... but to me it happened no less than three times, which meant that by the time most were arriving at the gates, I was still trying to properly get into Un'goro.

The guy who'd "warned" me earlier actually whispered me in amusement when he saw my predicament, as he'd just given up when the same thing happened to him (only one time?). I was honestly getting pretty tired and a little exasperated myself by this point, but after coming this far I didn't want to give up and leave little Shintar as a ghost in limbo, so I was determined to keep going even if everyone else was done and going to bed. I was indeed still running when people returned to their mains in Orgrimmar to see the prizes awarded, but at least some came back to their lowbies afterwards to cheer me on as I finally completed the last stretch.

Just when I thought that I'd finally be allowed to go to bed (it was past midnight at this point), the guy who'd given up earlier was clearly so inspired by my persistence (that's my story anyway and I'm sticking to it) that he logged back onto his own lowbie at the Tanaris/Un'goro border and completed the run on him as well. It was... an experience for sure! I wonder what all those players we encountered on our journey thought about all those naked low-level undead running around...


Classic Culture War

One thing that immediately impressed me when I started playing on Classic era last year was the community. It was small, but precisely because of that, it was also very tight-knit. You didn't meet many people out in the world, but when you did, it was a pleasant surprise and you knew that player was there because they really liked Vanilla and wanted to be there; they weren't just following a recommendation from their favourite streamer or riding the latest trend. If anything, it was the opposite: choosing era over regular Classic would mark you as a bit of a weirdo who wasn't afraid to go against the flow.

I've often mentioned the Classic era Discord in my posts here, which has both been a great community resource as well as just a nice place to see community spirit in action. I saw some pretty interesting discussions there, and I was often impressed by how hard people tried to stay respectful even when their in-game interests were pretty much diametrically opposed, because driving people off just for enjoying the game in a different way wasn't going to be in anyone's interest.

Now, as much as I've enjoyed watching era's population grow, I also had a feeling that this was eventually going to change its culture as well... and things came to a head for me last week when I finally gave up and put the general chat channel on the Classic era Discord on mute.

In many ways that shouldn't be a big deal, because I ignore general chat in many MMOs and larger Discords, as it's just too busy and often serves as nothing but a place for a certain crowd to shoot the shit in public. But I really liked the chats we used to have in the Classic era Discord... until I didn't anymore.

Recently the general chat there has been nothing but the same few trolls repeating the same old "jokes" at each other, or endless arguments about GDKP or when Blizzard's going to release fresh servers so people can go and leave era already. It was just starting to annoy me, and eventually the ratio of this "spam" vs. actually interesting conversation became so bad that it just wasn't worth following anymore.

Yesterday I decided to take a quick peek to see whether there'd been some sort of change since I applied the mute and promptly saw someone telling another person that they should kill themselves, followed by another poster chuckling about how the mods on the server are so laid back nowadays that clearly anything goes. I still use the smaller channels that are limited to specific topics, but general's basically become toxic and useless as far as I'm concerned.

In-game, my server has fortunately fared better, and while there's been a lot of growth, it hasn't felt in any way unpleasant yet. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to retain that state of affairs, mainly because I know it can be done - Hydraxian Waterlords remained a pleasant medium population server all throughout Classic's original run, even while the general community perception in places like reddit was that all of Classic was basically a bunch of min-maxing sweatlords that wouldn't play anywhere but on the biggest megaserver.

Nonetheless I have to admit I've been wondering what all this growth is going to mean for my guild, Warriors of Sunlight. It's easy to be inclusive when you're always short on people and every extra person adds value, but as I saw with the Forks, being able to cherry-pick your roster changes people, and it sneaks up on you slowly. Since every WoS raid is overbooked nowadays, I found myself wondering when someone would raise the question of why we still take just about anyone - why not take the people with more dps as a priority? Plus we've had some newcomers that were clearly expecting things to work more like they did in 2020 - you can usually recognise them by the fact that they come to MC buffed up to the teeth and then die from getting aggro on some random trash mob because none of the old-timers (including the tanks) bother with popping their world buffs in Molten Core.

And there have been early signs: more talk about how to optimise your damage, and the other day a new hunter openly complained that so many people parsed green or grey in our logs and accused them of being semi-AFK during the raid. There was pushback against that, and later one of the officers made a big post about how this is a laid-back, casual guild and how that's what's it's going to stay, and if people want things to be run a different way, they can always leave and make their own guild. I really appreciated this doubling down on the guild's ethos, but we'll see how well it holds up. Like I said, it sneaks up on you. I still remember all the banter in the Fork raids slowly turning into brags about how much dps so-and-so had done on each trash pull...

However, Classic era is different, and the people that are currently holding the guild together have not forgotten what got them through the lean times, nor are they chasing any lofty achievements just to be able to tick them off and then move on. I'm hopeful that as long as we keep this core that wants to maintain the game as their casual space to chill, things will hopefully work out in our little corner of Classic era at least.


Adventures on Gehennas

I mentioned in my last post that I made a little paladin on Gehennas just to have a look around, and I'm finding myself strangely enamoured with her. There's just something about human paladins... even if the first character I ever levelled properly was a night elf priest, the first character I ever made was a human paladin, and even though I rerolled to play with friends after only a few days, those first few days of playing the game as a human by myself clearly had a major impact on me.

I've got a lot of nostalgia for the early night elf starter zones as well, but for some reason I never imprinted on the Horde zones in quite the same way. Mulgore probably comes the closest in terms of filling me with warm, fuzzy feelings, but even so it's not really a contest when compared to human lands.

Revisiting all the quests in Elwynn Forest once again, I've got to say that the whole zone is just damn well done though; it's not just nostalgia. You can really tell that Blizzard built this starter zone first and had more time to reiterate on it than on any others. The quests flow together and across zone lines in a way that they rarely do anywhere else in the early game. There are lots of little details like NPC conversations taking place and neutral critters ambling about everywhere. And all the unique mob pathing! I remember Bhagpuss wrote a whole post about being fascinated by it when he played WoW Classic. Of course mobs wander around in all zones, but it seems to me that there's distinctly more complexity to it in the lower-level zones... I'm sure all the wandering Murlocs in Elwynn did their share to contribute to the whole species earning its reputation as a multi-pull menace.

I've only seen a couple of other players during my journeys so far, and I've been surprisingly unfazed by this lack of company. It may sound strange - deranged, even - but I kind of feel like I've transcended the need for other players in WoW. I still enjoy having them around, and I'm happy to see era's growing popularity, but I'm actually okay with playing by myself as well, and I realised that this makes me a rare minority.

Every day someone comes on the era Discord to ask how many players there are on this or that server, because they're scared of investing time into levelling a character somewhere where they can't do instances or shop at the auction house. I don't think I was ever that bad, but when I first started playing on era and it was still very quiet, I do remember having the occasional moment when I noticed that I was the only person in a given zone and it felt a bit like staring into the void. However, I persisted and found contentment in playing by myself when I needed to, and I feel like that's made me more resilient in a sense.

People install the hardcore addon to lock themselves out of the auction house to challenge themselves, but I'm simply playing on a server where there is no active auction house - though this hasn't prevented me from putting up a couple of auctions for useful lowbie items just in case someone does come by. I sold a pair of green mail trousers, so I know it can happen! Also, I just kinda enjoy seeing my name up there, being the only person to have items listed on the auction house. As far as anyone randomly checking in is concerned, I pretty much own this place!

Inventory management and making money have been the biggest challenges so far. I'm considering looking into buying some small bags from a vendor to fill my remaining currently empty bag slots, because I just don't have room for anything. I also always loathe to vendor things that could be useful to another player, but Gehennas just isn't in a place where anyone's looking for things like trade goods right now, so I've got to learn to bite the bullet if I want to be able to afford new skills at some point. I still don't expect to take this little levelling challenge very far, but for the time being it's a nice little distraction.


More on Era Server Populations

On the WoW Classic subreddit it's a bit of a meme that era players can't stop talking about how busy the era servers are and there's certainly some truth to that, but if you're someone who's been following the development of era for a while, it's just been utterly fascinating to see how much the star of this MMO with no active development continues to rise.

When I started playing on era last year, my Battle.net friends seemed to consider that a weird move at best, and nobody had any desire to join me. Yet in the past couple of weeks, two of my old guildies suddenly contacted me after rolling characters on the PvE cluster, and I briefly chatted with two others who'd created characters on Hydraxian Waterlords to try out hardcore mode. Suddenly, era is "in".

I mentioned in January that the EU PvP cluster as well as Hydraxian Waterlords - now unofficially designated "the hardcore server" - had both grown to medium population. In March, they ticked over to high, and just the other day their status changed to "full". I'm actually not sure what that means nowadays - Wowpedia states that "players cannot create a character on a full realm unless they already have characters on that realm", but I'm not sure whether that's true anymore, considering that there's also "locked" (which doesn't apply to any era realms at the moment, but has been used in Wrath). Either way, it's pretty clear that those servers are full to burst, and one has to wonder what that will mean for any potentially upcoming "overspill".

I logged into the hunter I made on Hydraxian when it first hit medium to see how the population growth had affected the experience of playing there, and it was a stark reminder that to me personally, "high" population is not actually appealing at all. Teldrassil was being scoured of mobs as they spawned, and I completed two quests by basically just running back and forth between a couple of spawn spots where mobs re-appeared mere seconds after having been killed. Trying to hand the quest in at the end was a chore as the quest NPC does a little bit of RP every time someone completes a quest with him, and there was a whole huddle of night elves around him just spam-clicking to get in there first. I logged out again shortly after that because the whole experience was just giving me hives.

On the other end of the spectrum, with the PvP cluster being classified as full, I suddenly found myself wondering about the other, abandoned PvP cluster on EU, centred on the Gehennas server. I don't usually play on PvP servers, but what does it matter when there's nobody around to fight you? So I made a human paladin there to have a look around - I was pleasantly surprised that the first three-letter name I entered was not even taken. I actually had a pretty good time questing in Elwynn all by myself - like Redbeard, I find the experience of replaying certain starting zones to be the virtual equivalent of "comfort food".

The census addon didn't see much activity there - never more than 20 people online at a time, which does not make the cluster appealing to a mainstream audience right now, but if Firemaw runs out of room, who knows what the future will bring? Hydraxian Waterlords was deader than this less than a year ago and look where it is now.

The PvE cluster (where I play) is also still classified as having low population, though we've been growing so much, I feel like we should be ticking over to medium any day now. I really want that to happen as well because I feel with how slowly we've been growing compared to PvP and hardcore, people are starting to not take us seriously as a "main" cluster anymore - which is a silly thing to worry about, I know, but being active on the era Discord as I am, it does bother me a little. More importantly though, officially being classified as medium would help to make it clearer to more casual players that we're one of the currently active realms. It may not be apparent on the server selection screen, but there's a big difference between a "low" realm with thousands of players and one with virtually none - even if the last few months have demonstrated that things can change surprisingly quickly on that front.


Raiding in Classic Era - an Update

Back in August I wrote a post about my early experiences with raiding in Classic era - how some raids weren't run that often by my guild, and how I got a lot of loot early on. Looking back at that post now, so much has changed that I thought it might be a good time for an update.


Back in August this was the raid that nobody wanted to run... but eventually a lovely shaman stepped up to put it back on the calendar, and since then it's been run on average once a week - a good thing too, as we've had so many newcomers requesting books and idols that the guild bank has actually had trouble keeping up with demand despite of having had a huge stockpile of all of them at one point.

I'll admit that AQ20 is probably the least interesting place in terms of gear, so it didn't take long for my hunter to run out of things to get from there, other than Cenarion Circle rep, which I don't really need to max out. I started bringing my druid instead, but even she's starting to run low on items to soft reserve at this point. Still, I'm sure I'll keep coming up with excuses to go, since it's just fun.


Not long after I joined, the officer who'd been running the regular ZGs at the time had to step down from that task and since nobody else was available to take over, there was a period where no runs happened at all. Fortunately the aforementioned shaman picked up the slack here as well, and like AQ20, ZG is now being run about once a week.

I'm still going to this one on my hunter even though she stopped benefiting from any potential gear drops a long time ago, simply because the grind to exalted reputation for the shoulder enchants is looong - I never actually got my night elf to exalted in original Classic. However, I feel like I can see the end of the tunnel this time, and then I'll be happy to start taking my druid to this one as well.

Also, the other week the guild actually saw one of the rare mounts drop for the first time, Mandokir's raptor - it went to a loyal long-time officer, so even though we teased him about it, it felt well-deserved.

Molten Core

Back in August I noted that the guild rarely seemed to do full MC runs - with all the recent newcomers those times are long over as well, because we have lots of new raiders that want to gear up and Molten Core is the natural first stop. We still go for the bindings every week, but do full runs pretty much every other week, and they are no longer the severely understaffed affairs of the early days either. With a full group of forty it actually goes by pretty fast even at a casual pace.

We haven't had another Thunderfury since Tefflar's in December, but we've got two more people that have Garr bindings sitting in their bags, so it feels like it can't be too long now until Geddon will cough one up again as well.

In terms of loot, my hunter has nothing useful left to get from there, just Hydraxian Waterlords reputation for fun, so I do try to bring my druid when I can but I have to admit I haven't been super enthusiastic about it since I realised that being a resto druid in Vanilla raids sucks ass. I mean, I knew in theory that the HoTs didn't stack and all that, but even that aside, it just feels so clunky. I've seen people debate the usefulness of resto druids in multiple places and there's always someone arguing that they're totally awesome if you can only get all these specific gear pieces from higher-end raids, but that doesn't help your average druid alt at all. Even downranked Healing Touches are slow AF compared to other classes' heals, and I just end up feeling like a geriatric paladin without any of that class's fun tools.

I don't mind so much in the 20-mans because when you're doing AQ20 with only three healers, there's still something to do even for the slowest healer, but in the 40-mans with multiple Naxx-geared priests and shamans... forget it.

Either way, despite all that I still enjoy going to MC to some degree, simply because with it being the easiest of the 40-man raids, it usually has the most amount of silliness and the best banter.


Ony is another raid we rarely seemed to do when I started but which we now visit quite regularly - and both of my level 60s are attuned as well, hurrah! Mostly the guild needs that never-ending supply of dragon heads for world buffs, but the 18-slot bags she drops are nice as well.

Funnily enough, unlike how I experienced the fight in original Classic, the boss always dies so quickly in these runs that she doesn't even do her Deep Breath mechanic. I think I remember one run where she actually did a Breath, and everyone promptly went "oh no, she's actually doing the thing", followed by half the raid being burnt to a crisp while running around like headless chickens (including me) because nobody's used to dealing with it anymore.

Blackwing Lair

I still like Blackwing Lair. It has such great loot and bosses that are interesting without being too tough or tedious. In an ironic twist of fate, after getting Ashjre'thul in what was only my second BWL back in Classic, it has stubbornly eluded me in era for the past eight months. I've got absolutely everything else I could possibly want from BWL for my hunter, including the coveted Prestor's Talisman from Nef, but the bloody crossbow just never drops when I'm there.

As there's also been a huge influx of new hunters lately, I think I'm starting to make my peace with potentially using my Rhok until Kel'Thuzad, cause even if I'm not in the raid whenever the crossbow does drop, at least some other hunter will be able to use it. This last week I finally gave up and brought my druid to the raid instead, and it felt worthwhile. Healing BWL was a bit more fun than MC (Vael is a great boss to be a druid on for example), and I scored no less than three pieces of druid tier two, which is very strong.


The strengthening of our roster has fortunately meant that AQ40 has become slightly less of a slog and we can actually kill C'thun more reliably. Though we still haven't ever gone for Viscidus, and for some reason we also stopped visiting Ouro after originally going for him every time in the earliest AQ40 raids I joined.

AQ40 has always been kind of crappy for hunter loot, and unsurprisingly I'm running out of gear to chase in there as well. I could technically go for the ring from C'thun, but Patchwerk is in reach now and he drops an even better one, so... I'm thinking that taking my druid there some time might be interesting both in terms of as an experience and in terms of loot opportunities, but we'll see.


Naxxramas remains the main destination of interest for most of the established raiders, but progression has been absolutely glacial. Within seven months, the guild only went from 6/14 to 10/14. Mainly this was due to a prolonged shortage of healers, which turned Patchwerk and Loatheb into unsurpassable roadblocks for many months. This has now been overcome, but I think progression is still being held back by the fact that only one of the three main raid days is dedicated to Naxx, which just isn't enough to achieve much of anything in there at a casual pace. I can't say I envy the officers having to square the circle of "focusing on Naxx" on the one hand, and funnelling a never-ending stream of newcomers through the earlier raids to gear them up for Naxx at the same time.

Personally I rarely go there because the regular Naxx night is Sunday, which often clashes with other commitments for me, but I have been a few times at this point - enough to get all the intro quests done and pick up three pieces of tier three. I'm just glad that I got the whole "progressing through Naxx" experience done in Classic, meaning that I feel little pressure to achieve anything in era on a personal level. I'm happy to be there whenever I can and to see the guild progress, but there's no clock ticking down to Naxx becoming obsolete, so more bosses will happen when they happen.


Return to the Forbidden Reach

Retail WoW had a minor patch last week, which the husband and I went to check out over the weekend. Blizzard made it clear that they want to avoid any long stretches of no new content this expansion, and their way of doing this is by having minor patches between the major ones. So far this seems to be working out well! For a "minor" patch, 10.0.7 feels pretty chunky, with a few new quests and a whole new island to explore.

I say "new" but it's admittedly recycled, as the Forbidden Reach originally served as the Dracthyr starter zone. Now we just get to return to it in a different state, but even so it's been decent fun. I like that it just appeared on the coast and you can immediately fly across seamlessly. The constant chasing after rares and the bind-on-account gear token rewards you find everywhere gave me strong Timeless Isle vibes. It's one big gear catch-up bonanza basically, and particularly friendly towards alts.

There's also this thing called the "Zskera vaults" (though as SWTOR players we've taken to calling them the "Czerka vaults" which is easier to pronounce and amuses us). It's basically a personal little instance where you can collect some treasure every week by doing some really basic puzzles, such as using a fiery potion found in one vault to melt a bunch of ice in another vault. It's very chill compared to most of WoW's endgame - there are no timers and very few mobs, and you can go out at any point and come back later to continue where you left off (until the weekly reset that is). Considering that this is likely only meant to tide us over for a few weeks until the release of 10.1, I'm really impressed.

The only thing I slightly disliked about the vaults was that they can only be done solo as far as I can tell, which sort of makes sense but is still a bit annoying if you like spending a lot of your time in game playing as a duo. Also, the number of random items you find in there is insane in terms of the inventory clutter it creates. I don't know why Blizz does this - they made all these tabs for currencies, mounts, toys etc. in the past to declutter our bags, and then they give us all this other random stuff to take up space, like A Box of Rocks, or all those special gems for the new ring that's clearly modelled after the moddable Mechagon trinket.


Watching Era Grow

One interesting aspect of playing a "static" MMO like Classic era is just how much the player community matters. I don't mean that in a day-to-day gameplay sense (though it matters there too I guess), but I was thinking more about it in terms of how you measure time for example.

In an MMO that's in active development, you're always looking forward to the next patch, and when you talk about the past you'll often compartmentalise it based on expansions and patches gone by, thinking about what the gameplay was like back during each of those periods above everything else.

With era being permanently in "phase 7", there are no such milestones to track the game's progress, so the events that define it are purely based on player and community behaviour. I've documented some of them myself, such as the unexpected resurgence of Hydraxian Waterlords as a "hardcore" realm, or multiple content creators giving era unexpected exposure and causing a sudden population surge.

Soon after I started playing on era, I ended up installing the census addon to help with the community census project. I'm not going to lie however, with how quiet things were on Pyrewood Horde side initially, I also derived a certain amount of comfort from tracking population numbers. My first 30-day scan showed about 1.3 thousand Horde players active on the cluster, which is not much when I think back to, for example, how Classic BC Hydraxian Waterlords was considered "dead" with over a thousand active raiding characters (as opposed to total population).

On the other hand though, over a thousand characters is plenty to complete any content that exists in the game, and in those particularly quiet moments when things felt a bit lonely, it was comforting to think that all those other players were out there - just in other zones, or maybe not even online right at this moment, but they were around.

Since the big population surge, it's also been nice to see those same numbers grow. Pyrewood Horde hasn't seen as much of a gold rush as the PvP cluster, but my current rolling 30-day census is approaching 2.1 thousand characters... which is a lot more than it tracked a few months ago.

In the guild it's been noticeable that we've started to actually see raids fill up - we used to permanently under-man everything, but in recent weeks we've actually had instances of having to ask people to sit out on Molten Core or Naxx runs, which just feels wild.

I'd really like to see era continue to grow like that. As I've mentioned before, while I'm fully aware that it's a niche product, I don't think it's anywhere near reaching its maximum potential yet. Right now it doesn't look likely to slow down (Asmongold uploaded another reaction video about Classic era just a week ago), Season of Mastery has ended so it's no longer pulling Vanilla enjoyers away from era, and a growing minority of players are becoming disillusioned with Wrath of the Lich King and finding their way back to the "good old days".

I don't know where it will all lead, but I enjoy being along for the ride and having such a contrasting experience to what I saw during Classic Burning Crusade with its issues with dwindling server populations. When you start as small as era has, the only way is up.


My 5 Favourite Things about Dragonflight (so Far)

Dragonflight has been out for more than three months now, a point by which you'd expect the "new expansion honeymoon period" to be over. Personally I'm still having fun with it though, and I thought I'd make a little list of the things I like the most and that still keep me entertained.

1. Photography world quests

It's my understanding that these are modelled after a game called Pokemon Snap? I've never played that, but I really enjoy these. The one with the balloon is a bit annoying because of how fiddly it is in terms of targeting, but I love riding the rafts down the various rivers and just taking in the wildlife. It's a cute and chill non-combat pastime.

2. Climbing world quests

Speaking of non-combat pastimes, I also like the climbing mechanic. It's a bit of a funny thing to introduce in an expansion that's so focused on flying, but it works. The only annoying thing here is when a world quest bugs out and one of the early rocks goes missing so that it becomes impossible to complete. I thought Blizzard had finally fixed this but then I encountered it again just this past week so it still seems to be happening intermittently.

3. The Iskaara Community Feast

I'm always a bit sceptical of crazy open world events, because while they do have a certain appeal, I find that the chaos gets old pretty quickly, for me personally at least. I generally prefer my group content to be a bit more organised. However, the community feast manages to straddle a peculiar line between being complete mayhem yet also very structured. The way everyone piles on top of each other and spams AoE gives it the appearance of complete chaos, but in reality we're all just waiting for Big Kinook to give us another personalised task, and it's always fun to see what he'll ask of you next.

4. Dragon riding in general

I've made a whole post about how pleasantly surprised I've been by Blizzards pivot towards embracing flying this expansion, and it hasn't gotten old yet. I still enjoy discovering new things wherever I land, and I always do the racing world quests when they're up. I hope to eventually achieve gold on all of them, but I'm seeing that as more of a long-term goal for the expansion that I don't need to rush.

5. Alt friendliness

Coming from SWTOR, calling anything in WoW alt friendly feels like a stretch, but by WoW standards I've been pretty impressed by how many things are unlocked account-wide by your first character and how much freedom you have to play your alts on the Dragon Isles in different ways. It could still be better - grinding Renown on every character still seems unnecessary to me even with the 200% reputation boost you earn after a certain point - but it's pretty decent. The fact that I have been having fun working on some alts already even with my rather casual play pretty much speaks for itself.


Adventures Around Zul'Farrak

I was on my level 42 shaman, farming turtles on the beach in Tanaris and occasionally casting my fishing line into a pool. I've been feeling like this should be my next character to level, and I kind of want to, but as I mentioned in my year-in-review post, she's resto, dungeon groups have been kind of scarce, and questing as a healer is a bit meh. As a stopgap solution I'd been focusing on skilling up my leatherworking for the last couple of levels instead, which involved killing and skinning roughly a billion turtles.

I was just about to cast my line into a fishing pool again when it disappeared right in front of me, even though there was nobody else around. I turned around and the turtles I had just killed seconds ago were all up and about again. Guild chat piped up with various "what the..." type comments which told me that I wasn't the only one who had just had a bit of a Twilight Zone moment. "Looks like the server's got hiccups," I commented and moved on.

I had just earned my final Wild Leather pattern from the trainer when I noticed a call in LFG: "LF1M for ZF, tank or healer". I felt like I was hearing angelic choirs sing. I hadn't really planned to go to Zul'Farrak as early as level 42, but it was high enough, especially for a healer, and I hadn't healed a dungeon group on my shaman since I transferred her to Classic era. How could I say no to such an opportunity?

I whispered the group leader to say that I was up for healing ZF and got some confusing replies in return, something about how they actually had a healer now but no tanks but maybe we could work something out. When I asked for clarification (was I in or out?), the matter crystallised into whether I was up for a non-traditional dungeon group without a proper tank but two "dps tanks". I said of course I was, because people vastly overestimate the importance of tanks in levelling dungeons anyway. Someone who can survive a few hits is all you need really, and that can be a non-clothie damage dealer too.

I hastily went to pick up a few of the dungeon quests for ZF and made my way to the instance entrance, while people in guild chat kept complaining about odd occurrences such as: "Is it normal to fly through a mountain?" Someone else had issues with the zeppelin disappearing from under their feet and then getting teleported to Thunder Bluff.

Despite being the last one to join, I was the second person to make it to the dungeon. One guy in particular, an undead warrior whom I shall call Barry for the rest of his post (not his actual name), wasn't even on the right continent yet and was apparently trying to take the zeppelin from Undercity to Orgrimmar and failing. He apologised for ending up back in Undercity somehow but said he would try again. A minute later I saw him disconnect in my party frames, and when he reappeared he was dead.

"Oh dear," I said. "Where even am I?" moaned Barry, not unlike someone who just woke up from a night of drinking too heavily. I hovered over his portrait. "Says Tarren Mill here." Apparently his corpse had landed next to the Alliance entrance to AV somehow, and as his body was right among the high-level guards he stood no chance at reviving successfully. After one unsuccessful attempt he just resed at the spirit healer.

Meanwhile the rest of us had made it to the instance, but thanks to the server's bugginess, Barry was seemingly stuck in purgatory Eastern Kingdoms. He asked us somewhat sheepishly whether we wouldn't mind summoning him at the stone, which meant that we had to remind him that this was a feature that didn't come in until Burning Crusade (and we didn't have a warlock in the group).

"I guess I have a warlock alt in Orgrimmar if others have alts there to help summon..." Yes, my warlock dinged 20 recently and now had her first chance to become useful! Fortunately everyone has some sort of alt in Orgrimmar, so a quick relog later, our alter egos were in Org and ready to start operation "Save Barry from the Eastern Kingdoms" by casting Ritual of Summoning on him. Thankfully it worked.

Relieved, we logged back onto our characters in Zul'Farrak and got started on the trash, now that Barry was at least safely on the same continent as us and could make it the rest of the way by himself. Our four-manning was a hilarious mess with mobs running all over and dying very slowly, but we didn't suffer any deaths, so it was all good. Eventually Barry arrived too, and in the manner of warriors in Classic, he charged in with his giant two-hander like a god of war and laid waste to everything, meaning that things went considerably smoother from that point onwards.

The rest of the run was pretty unremarkable. We realised we didn't have a mallet so we didn't kill Ghaz'rilla, and we cleared out the entire graveyard in search of troll tempers but still didn't get enough for everyone. Still, by that point we were quite happy to call it a day and started to make our way out.

Everyone said what a nice group it had been, and somehow the conversation turned to pets, which resulted in Barry educating us about ants, after sharing that he owned three different types of them.

Basically, just another day in Classic era. 😁

Oh, and as for healing the instance on my shaman? Loved it. This was the first time I got to use Chain Heal in a dungeon and it really is as OP and easy-mode as everyone says, but I really liked how chill that made the whole experience. Definitely looking forward to doing more of that.


Making the Auction House a Better Place

The auction house in my little corner of Classic era has continued to vex me. I wrote back in August about how having to farm things for yourself because you can't just buy them actually has a certain kind of charm to it - and I still think that - but with the recent surge in population, the shortcomings of the Horde AH on my cluster have come into focus even more than before.

It actually annoys me somewhat, because I don't think that "number of active auctions" should be this big thing to brag about, but the truth is, for the average player who doesn't run a census addon and doesn't do any deep research about population, looking at the auction house is one of the few ways to get some kind of indication of activity on the server. Looking at the sorts of numbers people have shared on the Classic era Discord, there even seems to be a roughly 1:1 correlation between auction listings and overall server population on PvP servers, which was kind of surprising to me. PvE players seem to be a bit more into friendly trades and charitable giving, which lowers the number of auctions relative to population somewhat, but there's still a clear correlation.

There's also the consideration that not everything is easily farmable for the solo player. I remember Hydraxian Waterlords immediately after the "transfer apocalypse" and commenting on how I couldn't even find any green gems to put into the sockets of my alts' levelling gear. Yes, that was BC Classic, not era, but the principle is still the same.

So at some point the low number of listings on our auction house started to bother me not because I was looking for things to buy for myself, but because it made me unhappy to think what kind of message this was potentially sending to new players. The mods of the era Discord asked people to include a screenshot of AH listings with their newest census scans, and I actually felt vaguely ashamed about the last screenshot I contributed because the number of items on the AH was tiny even for an already small population (less than a third of the number of active players). The only reason I still did it was that I wanted to show that there was some kind of life on Horde side on the EU PvE cluster.

All that said, the nice thing about era is that the smaller the community, the more power you as an individual have to make a difference personally. So I started to increase the number of auctions that I listed myself, and kept relisting things even if they didn't sell well, as long as I knew that they could be useful to somebody and I wasn't making too much of a loss on the constant relisting. I also posted on my guild's Discord and in trade chat to remind people to not let too much stuff gather dust in their banks but to instead try to make things feel welcoming and alive to the newer players.

And now I'm making this post, with some more tips on what sort of things I think we as a community should aim to keep on the auction house to make things easier for newer players in specific:

  • Bags! Every player will eventually hit that point where they're looking for more bag space, and their non-crafted options in that area are extremely limited. Recently I've been turning spare cloth into mid-level bags on my mage and at reasonable prices they've been selling like hotcakes.
  • Basic consumables: Obviously high-level consumables are useful to raiders and there can be a market for that, but I figure if someone is looking to raid, they'll end up joining a guild anyway and from there they can figure something out even if the auction house is empty. This is more about the little things that levelling players might find useful, such as lower-level health or mana potions. I always like to keep at least one elixir of water breathing listed as well, because I know some of those underwater quests can be a right pain in the ass without one (depending on your class).
  • Crafted quest items: This is a big one that people don't often think about, but Vanilla has a number of quests that can only be completed by handing in player-made items. While they don't tend to be important in terms of rewards, it still sucks if you pick one of these up and then just have to drop it because there's literally nobody offering to sell the item you need to complete it. Examples that are needed by both factions are the Gryochronatom for that gnome in the Badlands, or the Mithril Casing for Chasing A-Me.
  • Green Hills and (for Horde) Shredder Manual pages: I know it's tempting to vendor these because of how much bag space they take up while being worth very little, but you could really help out a lower-level player who's close to completing their set by putting your spare pages on the AH for a few silver.
  • Mid-level gear: There usually isn't a shortage of the really low-level stuff, but from level 20 onwards the AH tends to thin out in my experience. This one's a bit trickier because the deposits on some of these can start to become draining if stuff doesn't sell after a few days, but if the stats on an item are good, at least give it a try before vendoring or sending it straight to a disenchanter.

If your auction house is still somewhat anaemic and you're also seeing an influx of newer players, maybe keep these in mind if you're someone who's a bit more established on the server and has both cash and spare materials lying around. The fact that the number of auctions on our cluster has been growing steadily gives me hope that Horde side might eventually be able to transition from an almost pure guild economy to more of a server-wide one too.


I Tried Mythic Plus

Mythic Plus has always been a strange beast to me. It was introduced in Legion, when I wasn't playing, and everything I heard about it just sounded incredibly alien. Over the years, retail WoW has sacrificed a lot of immersion on the altar of gameplay and convenience, but the very concept of Mythic Plus just seemed to take things to a whole new level: over a dozen difficulty levels, with mechanics that changed all the time? Seasons, scoreboards and timers? What does any of that still have to do with the World of Warcraft? I seem to remember reading that the whole concept was basically imported from Diablo 3, which I've never played - it certainly seemed like an odd transplant.

It also didn't seem like something that would ever interest me at all, not least because of everything being timed. I was already getting annoyed with WoW's "rush rush" culture by Wrath of the Lich King, and Torghast certainly didn't seem to get any better when they added a timer to it either. The thought of racing against the clock with a bunch of hostile pugs just sounded dreadful...

And yet... I've always been reading about Kaylriene's adventures in Mythic Plus with a certain interest, and from the way he described the whole experience, it struck me at some point that if circumstances were different, if I was fifteen years younger and playing with a tight group of friends, maybe I would have enjoyed Mythic Plus too. After all, if I'm being honest and immersion aside, it's not that different from something like the Zul'Aman bear run, right?

Now, Dragonflight has been a good expansion for me so far not just because I've personally been having fun playing it casually, but also because my friends have been playing too. My husband and I are in a mini guild with a few friends from SWTOR, and we've actually had four of us playing at max level consistently - which might not sound like much but has been unprecedented for our group. Naturally we worked our way through all the normal mode dungeons together, and when we hit heroics we soon realised that we already overgeared them, and that the next step up for us would be mythic - a mode we had never done at level before.

Last week one of the weekly quests in Valdrakken was to do four mythic dungeons, so we agreed that the time had finally come. One of our guildies also roped in his brother to help us, since he's a much more experienced modern WoW player than any of us and could provide guidance and instructions on how things worked. (Incidentally, since said brother played a blood elf this was also my first ever cross-faction group.)

So we went ahead and did some mythics! We started with a mythic zero Neltharus and Algeth'ar Academy, and then used the keystones that we received to proceed into a +2 Ruby Life Pools and a +2 Temple of the Jade Serpent, followed by a +5 Court of Stars and +5 Halls of Valor.

And somewhat to my surprise, it was good fun! Mythic zero wasn't really much of a step up from heroic, and the low keys also only increased the difficulty in baby steps, so it didn't feel like as big of a jump as I had feared. The timer was also just a formality at this level, as we beat each dungeon with plenty of time to spare while proceeding at a casual pace and slowing ourselves down by dying occasionally. I imagine it only becomes an issue once you're pushing higher keys or if you're wiping repeatedly. Also, I had often wondered how the hell people keep track of all these affixes and what's happening when, so I was relieved to see that there are actually some in-game indicators for that too.

We got some loot out of it as well, and earned credit for some more out of the Great Vault. I think that since we had a good time, we'll likely try this again some time, and maybe push ourselves a bit higher... though I'm very aware that there's a risk that being as casual as we are, we're likely to hit our comfort ceiling sooner rather than later. Still, it was a pleasant surprise that low-level Mythic Plus was this accessible at all as I always got the impression that it was a pretty "hardcore" game mode at all levels.


Population Management Is Challenging

I've given Blizzard a lot of crap for Classic's terrible population management, but I'll fully admit that it's not an easy task. This has been very apparent in era's recent growth.

When there was almost nobody playing era, it made sense for people to band together in any way they could, just to be able to play the game. As it happens, this led to the main PvP clusters in both Europe and the US to have almost perfect faction balance. The PvE clusters were more Alliance-heavy in both regions, which seems to be a general trend as I remember Pyrewood Village starting with a similar faction balance back in 2019 - but with no mandatory world PvP, this sort of imbalance isn't an issue on a PvE server as long as there are still enough people on each faction to do the content.

Accordingly, the natural advice whenever newcomers came and asked where they could find others to play with was to tell them to simply pick either the main PvP or PvE cluster according to their preference. However, with the recent increase in interest in era came a new kind of player - one who didn't simply ask where to play, but wanted to know which server had the most Alliance or Horde. Often they'd add that they didn't care about PvP or PvE; they just wanted to be where "everyone else" is. The "play what you like" answer was increasingly rejected as unhelpful, or replaced by enthusiastic recruiters simply wanting to make people come to their server, where their faction is huuuge, honest!

It's not hard to see how this can cause problems. Especially on the PvP servers it currently feels like there's a bit of a battle for the cluster's soul going on, with people being fearful of their faction becoming the minority and being declared dead. I don't play there but it still pains me to see faithful old-timers that have made their home there despair at new players being warned away from their faction just because its population may be marginally smaller than somewhere else.

For me personally it's been bittersweet because while I'm happy to see era thrive on any level, the new line of "which faction is bigger" questions means that Horde on the PvE cluster in both regions is left in the dust, because it's always been the minority and nobody wants to be that now.

I've got to admit I've been feeling extremely jealous watching basically all other faction-server combos post numbers to prove their massive growth on the era Discord pretty much daily. A thousand players online concurrently! Ten thousand auctions on the auction house! Meanwhile, there's been an increase in activity on Horde side on the EU-PvE cluster as well, and again, I'm thankful for that, but it's hard to feel pride in the auction house going from 300-500 auctions a day to 700-900 when others are bragging about how they have 10-12k auctions going on at the same time.

When I started playing on era I kind of assumed that its lack of mainstream appeal would make it a relatively safe haven from the kinds of shenanigans that ruined TBC/Wrath Classic for me, but I have to admit that the recent developments do have me at least a little concerned.