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.