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.


Return to Ragefire Chasm

I did two full runs of Ragefire Chasm this weekend. The first one was a boost, as a nice guildie offered to quickly run a bunch of new players and alts through the instance. As I've explained in the past, I tend to feel ambivalent about boosts, but in this case it was too good an opportunity to pass up, as my warlock was almost over-levelled for the dungeon anyway, and I was glad to just get the quests out of her log.

The next day however, I was fishing in the Barrens when I spotted some actual chatter in LookingForGroup about people wanting to do RFC on characters at the right level. Both a healer and a dps were involved in the conversation, so my thoughts immediately went to my little warrior, who was a few levels below the warlock - I could get out her sword and board and be the tank to complete the trinity! So I relogged, and not much later we were off.

The run itself was nice but unremarkable. We kept a good pace, nobody died and everyone was friendly. However, what made it stand out for me was that this was in fact my very first proper pug dungeon on Horde since since I started playing Classic era. I'd done a few on Alliance side before, but on Horde side with its much lower population, my dungeon runs had all been initiated and mostly comprised of fellow guildies, simply because the LFG channel was dead.

So this has been another lovely milestone for me, because while I obviously enjoy playing with my guildies, I don't want the world to feel like it just exists for my guild; I want to be part of something bigger, and encountering other players "out in the wild" is an important part of that.

Despite the recent virality of Classic era, population growth in our little neck of the woods has been slow, probably because playing Horde on a PvE server seems to be the least popular "combo" to pick for whatever reason (it's the same on the US servers). However, this past week it's really been picking up and giving me a lot of hope.

I saw it today while raiding Molten Core too. In the past, it hasn't been unusual for a lone leveller to pipe up with a dungeon request during a raid and get no response at all, until eventually a raider would reply that sorry, most of us were busy in a raid. But today I saw grouping requests get answered by other levellers even during the raid, and it just warmed my heart. It also makes me want to play my own alts some more to get in on some of that levelling and dungeoneering action. I'm always worried about jinxing things by being too optimistic, but it certainly looks like there are good times ahead right now.


What's Next for WoW Classic?

It seems to me that WoW players always concern themselves with future content more than the average MMO player. I suspect this is partially due to Blizzard's long but regular expansion cycles, partially due to the datamining and reporting industry that has grown around WoW and which relies on always being able to generate interest with something shiny and new. I'm certainly not immune to this myself - back in 2019, Classic was still weeks away from release when I wrote a post called "What Will Come After Classic?" for example.

For the past two to three years or so however, things have been pretty quiet on the Classic front. As soon as it became clear that Blizzard was developing Classic Burning Crusade, it was a no-brainer that Wrath would come after - there wasn't really any mystery about that. And the Season of Mastery servers were always meant to be a limited-time project with a defined end.

Now that this end is rapidly approaching though (at this point the SoM servers are due to shut down in less than two weeks), a lot of people are wondering: what's next? Many SoM players have found their way towards era, and while I've loved to see it grow, I think it's pretty clear that at least a sub-section of them is only seeing era as a way to pass the time until the next "fresh" server comes along. But when and what will it be?

Meanwhile in Classic Wrath of the Lich King, people are getting antsy about whether they'll have to deal with Cataclysm 2.0 soon. Blizzard sent out a survey back in September to gauge people's interest in a Classic Cata, which means they are definitely thinking about it, but at the same time that's all the survey questions really told us. This wasn't like the BC survey where it was obvious that they were already working on it and the question was just how exactly the transition was going to go down.

In some ways it seems like a no-brainer. People clearly dig this whole "reliving old expansions" thing, and Cataclysm is simply next in line. Presumably Blizzard has worked out a system by now that makes it relatively easy to revive yet another old expansion. Cataclysm maintains a bad rap, but people forget that for all that, Cata held on to more subscribers at its worst than Mists of Pandaria had at its peak, and many people look back at that expansion fondly by now, so there's likely to be a good chunk of players that would be happy to replay Cataclysm as well. Not to mention that even if you're personally not that excited about Cata, if you've made friends in Classic and they are okay with continuing into Cata, you may very well find yourself being pulled along by sheer momentum.

On the other hand... there is a lot of negative public sentiment surrounding Cata, so much so that annoyed forum threads and articles pushing back against the mere idea started popping up shortly after the survey came out. Even if you liked Cataclysm, it's hard to deny that the destruction of the old world kind of marks the end of the original "Classic era" (not to be confused with Classic era servers! 😉) and makes a potential re-run of the expansion seem a little less interesting simply because it wouldn't be as far removed from the modern game. I know there probably won't be another BlizzCon for a while, but can you imagine a live audience cheering for a Cata Classic announcement? The potential controversy it would create would probably not be Blizzard's favourite thing to deal with in their current position.

So... I'm honestly not sure about this one myself. At first it seemed like a given, but seeing a lot of the negative reactions around it and with Blizzard currently in desperately-trying-to-please-the-people mode, I'm not 100% sure they'll actually want to be that controversial.

What about Wrath Classic era servers that remain in Wrath of the Lich King forever? This is another subject on which my opinion has gone back and forth a lot. When Blizzard decided not to do permanent Burning Crusade era servers, I figured they were just going to plough onwards from now on and Wrath wasn't going to get era servers either. Then I saw people talking about them a lot and figured: hey, there's clearly more demand for these than there was for BC, maybe it'll happen. However, as I've spent more time on Classic era, I'm kind of doubting it again. As much as I've been enjoying my time on era, it seems very clear that from Blizzard's point of view, era is a bit of a nuisance: a game mode that doesn't have a lot of players but still requires resources to maintain (you'd be surprised by the amount of bugs that have been introduced to era by updates to other versions of the game and that then needed fixing).

WoW Classic producer Aggrend supposedly also told someone on the Classic era Discord that we're unlikely to see something like the Classic cloning option again going forward for technical reasons, so unless Wrath era was literally the only thing happening at the end of WotLK classic (which seems kind of unlikely), people would likely be forced to choose whether to stay or go forward, without any option to continue playing in more than one version of the game. I'm just not sure Blizzard is keen on adding yet another version of WoW which will only be played by a minority to their maintenance list. So I'm leaning towards no on this one, though one should never say never I guess.

What about the next Season of Mastery then, or other "fresh" servers of any kind? We haven't really had confirmation of that one happening either, and Blizzard devs that have been asked about it in interviews have been evasive, saying things like how much they loved SoM and how much they learned from it, without giving any clear indication of another one being in the works. I'll throw my hat into the ring for this one though and will say that I expect some sort of fresh start server to launch either around the time WotLK Classic hits Trial of the Crusader or when it's on its final patch. Whether Wrath transitions into Cataclysm and/or people get the the option to stay on a Wrath era server, there'll be people who'll find themselves longing for more of the "true" Classic experience instead, and yes, while that is available on era, the push for fresh servers and continuous progression is strong.

So I think there'll be fresh servers and a Season of Mastery 2 of sorts, though I think it will not be called that and will be quite different from the first one. Examples of what I could imagine happening here is a fresh Vanilla server but with Burning Crusade or Wrath talents, or a server with a three-year-plan to progress through Vanilla, BC and Wrath again in quick succession. Maybe even an actual hardcore server, what with how much publicity that has gotten recently! Basically nothing too crazy, but with enough of a twist to arouse curiosity from the masses. Just three months ago I wasn't sure whether Season of Mastery could be considered a success, but I think that having some sort of seasonal server running at all times will probably be in Blizzard's interest; they'll just have to make it more interesting than SoM was.

Finally, someone always brings up "Classic+" or continued development in the Classic world in the form of an alternate timeline or something. I already said back in 2019 that I considered this unlikely due to the risk and cost involved, but honestly, I've only come to view this idea less and less favourably over time. I've learned that Old School Runescape is a much more sandboxy game than WoW, so that it doesn't actually work that well as a model to emulate, and cramming more dungeons and raids into old Azeroth just seems like it would create problems left and right. People who continuously push for this honestly just give me the vibe of wanting to eat their cake and still have it too - as in, they want Vanilla Classic to simultaneously stay the exact same but somehow also have new content every couple of months just for the sake of having new content, without any real vision for how to actually square that circle.

I think in practice Classic will continue to be about rehashing old content with only minor changes, and that is fine - that's what we all signed up for after all. However, I think it will increasingly become a challenge for Blizzard to maintain all these different versions of the same MMO (something I seem to remember them saying at some point they really didn't want to do... yet here we are with three different game clients already), while the community will become more and more spread out and pulled in different directions.