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.


Dragonflight 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...