20/04/2024

Dragonflight Has Been a Banger of an Expansion

With the War Within alpha launching the other day and the internet being awash with news about everything we get to look forward to in the next expansion, I thought it would be a good time to look back on Dragonflight and give it a bit of a review. Technically we still have a few months of this expansion left, but I feel that regardless of how the Pandaria Remix thing goes, it's not going to move the needle on how people see Dragonflight as a whole in a major way at this point.

Shadowlands seems to be considered one of the worst expansions ever now, but for me it was the first retail expansion since Wrath of the Lich King for which I was subscribed during its entirety, and I honestly thought it was pretty alright. I was only approaching it casually, and since I was focused on Classic, I kind of viewed it as the "inferior" version of WoW that "came free" with my subscription. I ignored pretty much everything power-related and had a good time with the content I did choose to interact with. It was fine.

Ironically, Dragonflight made it clearer to me why so many people hated Shadowlands, because it was just so much better in every way, even I could see that as someone who wasn't entirely "fluent" in retail. The zones were huge and gorgeous, with Ohn'ahran Plains stirring memories of Nagrand, and the Azure Span being vaguely reminiscent of Grizzly Hills, without either of them being straight-up copies. Even what I would consider the "weakest" of the zones, Zaralek Cavern, had its charms and impressed with its seamless integration into the overland world map.

Dragonriding was a smashing success as a new feature (even if it took a little bit of getting used to) and it's great to see it getting carried forward and expanded upon in the next expansion, something that we haven't seen Blizzard do with an entirely new type of gameplay/major expansion feature since Mist of Pandaria's pet battles. (You could make an argument for Legion's world quests and Mythic Plus I suppose, but I feel like those were more tweaks to an existing formula than entirely new features. Either way, it's been a while.)

While this was also the expansion that ended up getting me to try M+ for the first time, I'd like to disregard that for the purposes of this post, since it feels like something that also could've happened in another expansion if things had lined up with my guildies previously the way they did in Dragonflight. Maybe Dragonflight's appeal was a factor in finally getting several of them to the level cap in a timely manner, but I don't feel like I really know that.

However, even leaving our weekly excursions into M+ aside, Dragonflight was just so much more engaging on a casual level. I kind of swore off grinding for gear back in Cataclysm, since the rate at which Blizzard was making gear obsolete every tier was too fast for my liking and made everything feel like a pointless hamster wheel. Dragonflight was the first expansion that managed to make me care about gear again to some degree simply because they actually made it the focus of power progression again after several expansions of temporary systems overshadowing everything else, but also by simply making it so much more accessible to the masses. I think I've done the "Valdrakken weekly" during more weeks than not, simply because it managed to hit a sweet spot between fun content and being rewarding. I didn't care about the exact item level of the gear coming out of the box, I just knew it was almost always a bit of an upgrade for me for doing a little bit of open world content that was also enjoyable, so I often did it not just on one but on multiple characters.

I generally loved all those open world events they kept adding with each patch. Yes, they became a bit of a meme after a while and weren't entirely without issues either, but again, overall they were just simple and fun.

I wasn't too enamoured with the dracthyr when they were first announced, but I mained one all expansion and enjoyed it, so the devs must've done something right there in the end.

The UI revamp and new talent system were a bit overwhelming at first but I think both came out as a net positive in the end as well. (I actively dislike fiddling with talents, but when I finally made some changes to my build for M+, not based on some guide but based on which abilities I'd actually ended up using most runs, the resulting improvement in my gameplay was a very satisfying experience.)

If I had to mark anything down as a bit disappointing it was the profession revamp, which I thought sounded kind of cool in theory but in practice was just kind of off-putting to me. I did the weekly profession quests most weeks, but I never saw a public work order I could actually do (without effectively paying someone else to be allowed to craft something for them) and felt kind of frustrated by how awkward it was to max out crafting skills. It was all just too complicated and grindy and not in a fun way. Oh well.

The story I actually liked overall. I'm not saying it was amazing, and there are plenty of valid criticisms you can throw at it (this T&E video sums up just a few of them) but ultimately most of these didn't bother me that much and I think they got kind of overblown by the community at large because people couldn't really find much else to complain about this expansion (which is telling in itself). Personally I liked that it had a lot of positive moments, where characters got to enjoy a little bit of happiness (even if there were also deaths and bad things happening as always), and it felt like just the right mix of old lore and trying to take things into a fresh new direction. The Primal Incarnates were a brand-new and yet fantastic set of villains for example, which really stood out to me after so many expansions with a lot of utterly rubbish antagonists.

I feel like Dragonflight will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the "great" expansions, the ones where you're not at all surprised if someone says it was their favourite (even if your own preferences might be different). It certainly has been for me, and combined with Classic increasingly going into directions that were not for me, I wouldn't be surprised if I actually spent more time in retail over the past two years than in Classic. (Edit: I belatedly remembered that I still have ManicTime installed so that I could actually check the data for this. Looking at the period from the Dragonflight pre-patch to today, Classic still comes out ahead, but in the past year, I've actually played a bit more retail than Classic.)

If anything, I've got to admit I'm a bit concerned that Dragonflight has given War Within a lot to live up to. I'll undoubtedly play War Within when it comes out and I'm sure it will have some features that will be a lot of fun, but I've got to admit I'm not hopeful that it will manage to be as good as Dragonflight, for a number of reasons that I'll explain in another post some time.

16/04/2024

Hardcore after the Hype

I'm in a bit of a funny place with WoW at the moment - a lot of things are happening and many of them good (in my opinion) but I'm still somewhat undecided on what I want out of Classic in specific right now. On a whim, I decided to pay the hardcore servers a visit again. It's been about six months since the death of Lossy the mage, so I was ready to give it another go.

I'm also slowly coming around to some of the arguments that people used to make to me about why they love hardcore - that it's not so much about the permadeath and more about how it changes levelling. I used to say that nothing stops you from taking your time levelling in "normal" Classic either and that I have indeed generally played that way, but I can't deny that the older Classic gets, the more it feels like a certain min-max culture starts to permeate every aspect of it, which can make slower and more casual play styles feel unwelcome. Sure, there were people like that in 2019 as well, but at the time I still felt that I could get away from their influence myself, while it seems harder now somehow.

Anyway, both hardcore realms in Europe at least are low population nowadays. Since I played Alliance on Stitches last time, I decided to create a troll priest on Nek'rosh this time around. The low population meant that my census addon no longer struggled to complete scans, though the numbers are still somewhat larger than those of the era PvE cluster. It also feels busier than era because characters are more spread out across the levels. On era, about 40% of all characters are at max-level, with many of them presumably raid-loggers, while the nature of hardcore means that people are constantly forced to roll up and level new characters, and less than ten percent of all characters my addon registered were level 60.

The addition of self-found mode at the end of February doesn't seem to have made much of a splash, though I did see a fair few characters with the buff in the starting area. I was surprised to find out though that Blizzard cut out the "solo" part of the challenge, so these characters can still group up too. Either way, this is something I'm definitely not interested in, as trade is an important part of earning money for me and I bought a wand from the auction house as soon as I could afford it.

When Blizzard released that video about the top ten causes of death in hardcore, it was noteworthy to me that most of them happened in Alliance starter zones. Looking at things from the Horde side, it definitely stood out to me how much less dangerous questing in Durotar seemed to be, with no caves full of kobolds or lakes guarded by murlocs. There are basically only two really deadly places: Skull Rock (which I've avoided so far) and Fizzle Darkstorm's camp. I was lucky and ran into a druid when I approached the latter, because even though I knew it was dangerous, I was still taken aback by Fizzle's almost instant respawn and how easy it was to aggro more and more adds... needless to say, if we hadn't grouped up, the druid and I most likely would've both been toast, but as it was we were fine.

In general all my interactions with other players have felt very positive. Drive-by buffing is alive and well, and someone randomly traded me some low-level herbs after they saw me making potions in the alchemy shop. A level 42 randomly whispered me to ask if I was French - not sure what that was about.

When I got a polite and unobtrusive invite to what's supposedly the server's biggest levelling guild, I took it. I was kind of missing the death announcements to be honest (and I didn't want to install the addon for that). Weirdly though, I still didn't see any even after joining the guild, even as I could see others responding to death announcements seemingly happening somewhere. Eventually I figured out that Blizzard apparently moved all death announcements to its own dedicated global channel called HardcoreDeaths, and for some reason it's not turned on by default. It was good to see that random deaths were still a thing after I joined it, though with a lower (and presumably more experienced) population they were few and far between compared to the craziness of hardcore's launch.

I'm not sure where this is going to go, if anywhere. Maybe I'll just die again in a few levels (which seems like a likely scenario, to be honest), but for the time being it's a nice distraction.

13/04/2024

Pandamonium and Wondering about the Future of Classic

Not content to baffle the WoW player base with the release of Plunderstorm, Blizzard surprised with another announcement of a new game mode three days ago: WoW Remix: Mists of Pandaria, coming with patch 10.2.7 later in the spring. This seems to match what was previously called "Timerunning: Pandamonium" on the 2024 roadmap for WoW. That name was already a pretty big hint towards what it was going to be: something similar to Timewalking and something to do with pandas (even if the complete alien-ness of Plunderstorm combined with some additional datamining also led some people to speculate that it could be something else entirely).

The release of the previously linked article confirmed that it is indeed something similar to Timewalking and something to do with pandas, namely "a time-limited event which allows players to re-experience the entirety of the Mists of Pandaria expansion at an accelerated rate from level 10 through 70". There is still a lot we don't know and quite a few details left to be clarified, but we do know that it will require you to create a new character and that there will be a lot of special loot exclusive to this mode/phase.

Most of the reactions I've seen to this have been positive, and I've got to admit I'm kind of excited myself. Blizzard's still doing its usual thing of trying to bank on FOMO, talking about how fast levelling will be and spending a lot of time promoting rewards that I don't really care about, but I'm still looking forward to this event for a number of reasons:

  • I always say that retail WoW has this huge world and wealth of old content that is severely underused, so them actually making an event focused on re-using an older expansion will always be a good thing in my book.
  • I only played for a few months in late Mists of Pandaria, when quite a few bits of content had already come and gone, making the post-launch questing experience a bit disjointed. I have some tentative hopes that this event will give me a chance to get a more cohesive picture of the expansion (though some early clarifications are already tempering my enthusiasm in that area - e.g. we still won't get to see the Vale of Eternal Blossoms how it was before it as destroyed, and the legendary cloak quest line - which, from my understanding, was Wrathion's in-game debut for non-rogue players - will not be reinstated).
  • It's an event focused on levelling and doing content of all kinds, which sounds like a great opportunity for my husband and me to roll up another levelling duo and have some quality play time together.

While it's officially an experimental, limited-time event, it's also not hard to see how the reception of this "Remix" could have a big impact on the game going forward. Some ideas that I've seen thrown around are:

  • Maybe there'll always be an event revisiting an older expansion during the content gap before a new expansion in the future.
  • Maybe this will be a template for how to improve Chromie Time.
  • Maybe the option to replay an old expansion like this will simply become a permanent feature if enough people like it.

I would happily take any of these to be honest, and based on the positive reception I've seen so far, I think this event will absolutely be a success. For as much as certain parts of the player base and dev team have pushed for retail to focus on endgame at all times, there are still a lot of players who enjoy levelling in some form or another and/or who have nostalgia for older content that isn't currently being catered to in Classic.

Speaking of Classic though, I find it very curious that Blizzard would choose to have a nostalgia-filled event focused on the Mists of Pandaria expansion at a point in time when Classic Mists of Pandaria is presumably less than a year away. Yes, you read that correctly. We didn't just get a launch date for Classic Cataclysm the other day, but also a timeline that sees the expansion already hitting its last patch in January 2025. And here I thought they were going fast by making us go through each Classic expansion in less than two years, never mind less than a single year!

Most people seem to have read that as "haha, they just want to get to Classic MoP quickly", but I'm honestly not so sure anymore. I know that the Classic and retail player bases are not the same, but based on my own anecdotal experience at least, they're also not as totally separate as social media would sometimes have us believe, with many players happy to dip into both every now and then, even if there is one version they prefer. With that in mind, having a retail event that focuses on levelling through Mists of Pandaria, just to follow it up with the launch of Classic Mists of Pandaria six months later seems positively insane. No, it wouldn't be exactly the same, but way too similar to not feel repetitive to anyone who took part in the former.

This morning I was also hit by just how much the Classic player base has shrunk again throughout Wrath of the Lich King Classic, as a guildie pointed me towards forum threads about upcoming realm consolidations for both Europe and the US. I was struck by the fact that Nethergarde Keep, the server to which I was "forced" to migrate during Classic Burning Crusade and which at the time had about three times the population of Hydraxian Waterlords, is now also on the chopping block for being too small.

It looks like "regular" Classic will be down to about a dozen servers worldwide come Cataclysm, and almost all of them single-faction. I was shocked to see that even the PvE servers are not immune to this madness, as even the Wrath version of good old Pyrewood Village is 97% Alliance now. I thought things were already bad two years ago, but they are so much worse now. "Progressive" Classic is a mess with a declining player base, going into a controversial expansion that is unlikely to reverse that trend.

Before the official announcement of Cata Classic, many of us were wondering how far the Classic train could realistically go, as Wrath of the Lich King seemed like a natural end point. Once the continuation into Cata was confirmed, I saw a lot of comments along the lines of "well, then Classic MoP is a given" or that they could definitely keep going until Legion at least. However, after seeing those Wrath Classic population numbers and the timing of this "WoW Remix", I'm not so sure anymore. There is nostalgia for the (comparatively) more recent expansions, yes, but maybe Blizzard have decided to try and cater to that in retail instead of investing more money into rebuilding old expansions exactly as they were for a continually shrinking player base.

To be clear, I'm not implying that Classic as a whole is failing. While it was ultimately a disappointment to me personally, Season of Discovery still seems to be doing well. The "problem" is that it actually seems to be doing better than "regular" Classic by quite a margin, so I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard decided to stop adding more old expansions to the Classic train and pivoted towards more seasonal servers or maybe even re-starting the Classic cycle from Vanilla again, while trying to pull players with nostalgia for the later expansions into retail instead, with dedicated time slots where those expansions are highlighted for replay.

07/04/2024

Plunderstorm

A few weeks ago, WoW released its patch 10.2.6. In a move that's very unusual for Blizzard, they kept its contents a complete secret beforehand, with the only hint that we really had being a skull and crossbones flag on the roadmap and a comment from Holly Longdale about it being accessible to both retail and Classic players.

It turned out to be a whole new game within the retail client called Plunderstorm, a pirate-themed battle royale set in the Arathi Highlands. There was a lot of hubbub around this, and I really felt like I should have something to say about it, but the truth is that everything about it was just one big "blah" to me.

The wider WoW community hyping up the mystery patch to be everything they could've ever dreamed of, just to then be very angry/disappointed when it turned out to not be that, was not surprising but tiresome.

I could understand Blizzard wanting to try something new by keeping a patch's contents a secret, but I'm not really sure why they chose to release this of all things. It has absolutely nothing to do with WoW other than sharing general assets and could just as well have been a complete stand-alone game, with the renown reward track being a crossover promotion like they've had for titles like Hearthstone in the past.

Maybe they recalled the fate of Heroes of the Storm and what it means to be more than five years late to the party when it comes to jumping on the bandwagon for a popular new genre. It's unlikely that they would've been able to make waves with "Blizzard joins the battle royale" seven years after Fortnite. Maybe it was some sort of experiment to see how far they could push the WoW client. Who knows.

I myself had never played a battle royale game before and have no real interest in the genre (plus I don't particularly care about pirates as a theme either), but figured I should at least give it a go in WoW since it was right there on the character selection screen. And once again, my first impression was mostly "blah" - I neither loved nor hated it. Plunderstorm is just a game mode that exists. Hard to make a post out of that.

However.

For some reason I've been feeling compelled to come back to it for a couple of matches at a time. The quick drop-in, drop-out nature of the game is definitely something different from my usual MMO deep-dives, and the daily bonus reward (even if it's somewhat buggy and appears very inconsistently) is a nice incentive to just have that one quick match in the morning or evening.

I like that the "lobby" the game starts in gives you the opportunity to run around and familiarise yourself with the base mechanics like star mobs, chests and abilities. And it's kind of fun to land on a star mob when the match starts and immediately get a spell and a bunch of XP. Though I find that the enjoyment quickly diminishes after I've cleared out the mobs and treasure in my immediate vicinity - as mobs don't respawn during the match, you have to roam further and further afield to find anything to interact with, either to pick up another player's scraps or to engage in PvP.

The PvP focus seems to be one of the most controversial aspects of Plunderstorm, because WoW has a lot of casual PvE collectors who don't like being "made" to PvP for cosmetics, and who I guess feel that they're kind of being "lured in" with the promise of rewards for killing spiders and looting chests, just to then serve as cannon fodder for actual PvPers.

I don't mind PvP in principle but I don't enjoy it in Plunderstorm either, because it requires aiming and dodging and I'm bad at those things. Nine times out of ten when I encounter another player I'm the one who ends up dead. I'm just not too broken up about it because most of the time when this happens, I've already "exhausted my fun" for the match anyway and am basically ready for it to be over. The highest rank I've ever achieved in a match was #5, and that was pure dumb luck as I somehow ended up in area seemingly away from everyone else for a long time.

There's been much praise for the spectator mode you enter after dying, though I'm not sure how much use it actually gets. In my very first match I did indeed stick around to spectate after being eliminated, simply because I wanted to see how the rest of the match was going to go and gain a better understanding of what was happening, but since then I just always click "leave match" immediately after dying, to either start over or go off to do something else.

I've made it up to renown rank 12 (out of 40) and there are some pretty nice rewards on the track - I've earned a mount and two pets so far for example. Apparently the event is supposed to run until June... I wonder if that's enough time to get to 40 with my casual level of play, or whether I'll lose interest before then anyway. We'll see.

24/03/2024

WoW's Post-WoD Sub Numbers

Blizzard infamously stopped publishing WoW's active subscriber numbers during Warlords of Draenor, after they had fallen to less than half of their previous peak of 12 million. Since then, there's often been speculation about how well or badly the game is doing, but ultimately we didn't have access to any real data to back this up.

Apparently this changed this week, as Franchise Manager John Hight gave a talk at the annual Game Developers Conference called "The First 30 Years of Warcraft: The Making of a Game Universe" on Wednesday. There isn't a recording available online at the time of me writing this, but apparently some photos of his presentation were leaked, revealing some surprisingly open admissions of failure in regards to Shadowlands and showing a graph of overall subscriber trends since the launch of the Legion expansion.

Now, this graph didn't include numbers, but YouTuber Bellular matched the graphic up with information from previous public earnings reports to make some pretty convincing guesses:

Screenshot from the video "Report: WoW's Actual Subscriber Count & Blizz's Official Shadowlands Post-mortem"

There are a lot of interesting tidbits to take away from these numbers:

  • Even at its lowest of lows, WoW still had 4 million subscribers, easily eating any other classic MMO's lunch. The game still sporting 7 million subscribers as it's approaching its 20th anniversary is actually pretty insane.
  • That lowest of lows happened after the launch of BfA, but subscriptions then surged again with the launch of Classic, reaching a peak of over eight million, which was the highest number they had seen since the release of Warlords of Draenor.
  • Shadowlands did indeed drop off very hard (a slide in Hight's presentation specifically calls this out) and was presumably only saved from dropping even lower than BfA due to the fact that overall subscription numbers were still propped up by Classic.
  • Dragonflight had an unexpectedly weak launch, but has had "record post-launch stability and growth", with current sub numbers actually exceeding the ones seen at the expansion's release. Classic is presumably still helping to some degree though, so it's hard to say how Dragonflight has performed on its own. Regardless, there's a clear recovery going on compared to the doldrums of 2022.

15/03/2024

Casual Keystone Master Reflections

Last weekend I hit a pretty significant milestone in retail WoW: me and several of my guildies got the Keystone Master achievement for completing a Mythic +15 for the first time.

It was a really nice run as well; we only suffered three deaths in that Black Rook Hold (two of which were people getting squished by boulders) and we finished with almost ten minutes to spare, which is rare for us even on lower keys.

To more experienced M+ players this probably means nothing, but to me it felt like something that we'd been working towards for a very long time, from our tentative first steps into mythic in season 1, to the growing pains we suffered in season 2. Season 3 has been a bit better in that regard... but I'll write some more about that in a separate post.

I think I finally figured out the biggest challenge to being successful in M+ as a casual player - and it's that the mode feels designed for people who run twenty keys or more per week.

There is just so much information to digest and things to learn in a single M+ season: eight different dungeons make for thirty-two boss fights you need to master, at least as many if not more trash mechanics you need to understand, paths to figure out to achieve the correct trash kill percentage, and then multiple affixes on top of that which rotate every week... it's a LOT.

The problem with being casual, which in our case means running about four dungeons per week, is that several weeks can pass between you seeing the same dungeon twice, and do you really remember every single mechanic from the two or three times you've run it before by the time it comes around again? Of course not!

We generally try to run four different dungeons every week for the sake of variety (which I think is understandable), but it was kind of eye-opening when this season we decided to run the same dungeon twice in one day. The other week we bricked a Throne of Tides so hard it's not even funny - it must've been a +13 or +14 I think and we spent a full hour or so in there. First we wiped multiple times on Commander Ulthok, and after finally getting him down we did the same thing on Ozumat, to the point that my husband was close to losing it again and kept saying that we were clearly too bad at this game and couldn't do it. This prompted our guildie to fetch his more experienced brother (who had helped us out before) and to stream our next boss attempt to him - and the funny thing is that said brother didn't really have anything to tell us other than to comment that we shouldn't run around like such headless chickens when we got the pure water buff, and yet, just by virtue of having him watch us, we suddenly succeeded on the next attempt, clearly pulling ourselves together out of sheer embarrassment. We then did another Throne of the Tides that same afternoon and it was super smooth, because all the pain points of the previous run were still fresh on our minds. That +15 Black Rook Hold was also preceded by another run of the same dungeon that had been a lot less smooth (though we didn't fail the timer), ensuring that by the time we did the +15 we actually remembered what we were doing.

I can't help but wonder how we would have done if we had tried Mythic Plus before Dragonflight introduced the concept of having a different set of M+ dungeons every season. I imagine it must have been quite boring to run the exact same dungeons every season, but at least most of what you learned in the process stayed useful throughout the rest of the expansion, instead of you having to learn new bosses and trash mechanics from scratch every major patch. It's weird how that increased dungeon variety is both more interesting and an additional obstacle to more casual participation.

With that in mind, I'm very curious to see how we will do in season 4. Not only will that take us back to the original Dragonflight dungeons we visited in seasons 1 and 2, but Blizzard is also going to do a "difficulty squish" that will raise the difficulty of heroic and mythic zero dungeons, with the new M+ starting at what's effectively +10 now. I'm tentatively hopeful that this will put our casual group in a better position for season 4 than we've been in before, as we've at least seen all the original Dragonflight dungeons before (even if we may not remember them that well), and the increased damage output in mythic zero will (hopefully?) make it easier to learn the boss mechanics properly there before having to deal with additional complications like timers and affixes. Currently in low keys, you can be healed through doing a lot of things completely wrong, so you don't really realise just how badly you're doing until you die to those same mechanics on a higher key, but then who wants to pause and review tactics while a timer's ticking? We'll see how it goes.

11/03/2024

Is Season of Discovery Becoming Season of Mastery 2?

It's been a bit quiet on here for the last two weeks, mostly because I think I may well be done with Season of Discovery. I managed to level my dwarf priest to 30, but since then I haven't really had any particular urge to log in, even if the RP server makes for a nicer environment than the PvE megaserver. I'm not saying that I definitely won't check back on it at some point, but right now I just don't really feel any incentive to do so.

When Season of Discovery was first announced at BlizzCon, I was intrigued by how it was being promoted as a season more focused on levelling and exploration, and it did feel like that to me in phase one, but phase two... not so much.

Exploring and questing in the open world is made unpleasant for most players as the megaservers are too big to sustain the kind of population they have, even with layering, so everyone ends up grinding dungeons instead and then burns out. (I've actually heard Scarlet Monastery being referred to as "the scarlet prison"... that tells you everything you need to know, I think.) You'd think that if the devs wanted the focus to be on open world gameplay being enjoyable, they would've addressed that.

Yet Blizzard is once again desperate to push everyone into "endgame". I thought the 50% XP buff for levels 1-25 when phase two started was quite reasonable to get people into the same levelling bracket, but they've now increased the XP buff to 100% and made it last all the way to 40. In a way I get why they'd do that, but is your season still about levelling when you're trying that hard to push people past it? Presumably to get into raiding?

One of the reasons the original Season of Mastery wasn't that interesting to me was that its stated goal was to speed-run people through the levelling process so they could get to raiding and see the old raids in a different light. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and from everything I heard about it, some of the changes made to the raids in SoM were pretty neat and interesting if you were looking for more challenge out of that content. It just wasn't for me.

I was really hopeful that SoD would be different, but at this point it doesn't really feel all that different to me, what with the game pushing you to max level at double speed... for what reason other than to raid? It doesn't matter that the current level cap is 40 and that the current raid is Gnomeregan, it's the same concept and makes it feel like Blizzard is just falling into the same old patterns of behaviour again, catering to the exact same crowd and turning everyone else off.

25/02/2024

More on Starting Over on Lava Lash

This is a follow-up to last week's post about me deciding to try a fresh start in Season of Discovery phase two by re-rolling on the RP-PvE server.

As mentioned, I got to 20 incredibly quickly due to the XP buff, but with basically no cash to train abilities or do anything else. So I decided that it was time to put on the brakes and take care of business other than levelling for a while, namely by doing some travelling to unlock access to additional flight paths (I hadn't even been to Kalimdor yet), working on my professions, and working the auction house to make some money.

Fishing turned out to be surprisingly lucrative here, because for some reason there didn't seem to be a lot of active fishermen about - or maybe they are all still busy levelling to 40; I don't know. The point is, I found pools of firefin snapper, oily blackmouth and sagefish everywhere, and while each fish only sold for a few silver, it added up quickly. I think fishing may actually be my highest skill right now.

I also developed a strange fascination with chests. While I've played dwarf characters before, I don't think I ever got any to a very high level, and they usually had some other form of tracking (ore or herb nodes for gatherers, different types of mobs for hunters) that took priority over using their "treasure finding" racial that highlights chests on the mini map.

My newest priest on the other hand is a tailor and enchanter, so she doesn't have anything else to pay attention to, and I've been very surprised by just how many chests there are about. I always thought I was pretty good at spotting them with the naked eye, but apparently there've always been a lot more hiding in corners and behind sheds that I never knew about. It's turned me into a proper treasure hunting fiend, as I'll randomly fight my way into buildings or caves just to access a chest at the back.

When I revisited Ashenvale, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some life had returned to the PvP event, mainly level 40s that had decided to come back for more reputation I guess. The groups tended to be about 80-90% max level characters, with the rest being made up of levellers like me that just happened to pass through the zone. I now have first-hand experience of how much easier it is to get rewarded for taking part in this event as Alliance, as I hit friendly with Silverwing Sentinels after only two battles.

I also made good progress collecting more of my runes - knowing where to pick them up along the way after already going through the whole process on Horde side in phase one made things a lot simpler. I also found out that Alliance have it significantly easier when it comes to collecting their Meditation buffs, as Meditation on the Light and Elune can be picked up almost right next to each other in Stormwind.

As one of the priest runes drops from the elite orcs in Redridge, I decided to join a group for the quests there. Even considering that Lava Lash's population is much lower than Wild Growth's, it was crazy busy there that evening, meaning we spent a lot of time just running about without being able to tag anything, so people got to chatting.

I was surprised to hear from several of my group mates that they had only just started in phase two, and was slightly amused when our ret pally declared that they were both a mythic raider and a streamer in retail. Far be it from me to doubt the truthfulness of that, but that same paladin stood out to me for not casting a single seal all evening... just goes to show again that retail and Classic are two very different games and knowing your way around one doesn't automatically translate into knowing anything at all about the other.

Not that it mattered either way... we had a good time, and me, the pally and the rogue who had started the group actually stuck together to complete a few additional quests once we were done with the elites, such as collecting pendants from the gnolls and escorting Corporal Keeshan. The whole experience had that good old-fashioned pug feel to it, reminding me of the way I first made friends in WoW nearly twenty years ago.

I also spotted some familiar guild names in town, and in fact am pretty certain that I even ran into the GM of a guild I used to be friendly with on Hydraxian Waterlords back in 2020. I just wasn't able to 100% confirm it as they were AFK when I encountered them and therefore didn't respond to my emote. It's just fascinating to me how these RP server communities persist over the years and across different versions of the game. This is one of those things I love about Classic and that the megaserver aficionados just don't get I guess.

That said, I'm feeling surprisingly little pull to get to level 40 and start raiding Gnomeregan now. I'm not super interested in raiding without being part of a group going into it together, and to be honest what I've been hearing about Gnomer isn't helping. I noted about BFD that while I thought it was fun overall, some of the bosses were kind of bordering on being "too much" for a relaxed Classic raiding experience, and from everything I've read, Gnomeregan is much harder (something that people tend to frame as a good thing, but to me it's not - supposedly it's particularly punishing for healers as well).

So while I'm having fun for now, I'm still not convinced that Season of Discovery is really "working" for me. I liked the level cap being 25, but it occurs to me that when it was raised, it was essentially like a microcosm of an expansion release... oh, you've been working on learning how endgame works and getting better gear? Forget all of it! Everything is different now! And while that sort of thing generates excitement, it can also be exhausting in a way, even more so on a sped-up schedule. I wonder how many players have already dropped off for similar reasons.

17/02/2024

Starting Over in Phase 2

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with/in WoW Classic in the near future, but one thing was clear to me after my last post: that I needed a change of scenery. So I logged into the European RP-PvE server Lava Lash and created a dwarf priest there.

It's almost silly how relieved I felt almost immediately, spawning into a zone that wasn't stupidly over-crowded. There were other players around, sure, but it wasn't heaving, and that was nice. I actually took note of the presence of other players again instead of constantly feeling surrounded simply being the default. I handed out drive-by buffs again! Remember when at the start of Classic, everyone was like "wow, playing this reminded me of how nice it felt to give and receive drive-by buffs"? You don't get that on mega-servers because even if you wanted to buff everyone you meet, there are just too many gosh-darned people.

My casual interactions with others also immediately felt better somehow. It's a bit hard to explain, because it's not as if people on regular PvE servers are unfriendly, but so many interactions there just feel incredibly... business-like, as if everyone's always busy following their personal check-list of things to do, without any interest in the people they are doing it with. On RP-PvE, you get the sense that more players are there for the experience of just existing in that virtual space, and while they have goals too, they tend to pursue them at a more relaxed pace where allowing yourself to be distracted for a bit isn't really a huge problem. I definitely found it noticeable that I saw quite a few higher-level players ambling around lower-level zones for example - presumably they were still doing something, but they weren't obviously chasing the new level cap.

Realising this honestly made me feel a bit stupid for rolling on the regular PvE mega-server to begin with. I've been through all this before! I know that mega-servers make everything but finding pugs and the auction house worse! I don't know why I thought it was going to be different this time. People just always talk about them like they're the bee's knees but they are not. Anyway, end random mega-server rant.

It was only while playing on Lava Lash that I noticed some of the changes that Blizzard made to Waylaid Supplies with phase two. They can no longer be turned in without being filled up for example, but you do have the option to just vendor them for one silver now. Also, they are no longer unique, which is nice, but I was surprised to see that you can own up to twelve of them. My first thought was "why would anyone need that many" but I quickly realised that there's method to the madness, as I got about half a dozen of them as drops in Dun Morogh alone, and all before I had the means to actually fill any of them up. That definitely made me feel grateful for the option to stash them away in my bank for later.

Levelling with the new 1-25 XP buff feels extremely fast, and even with all my casual ambling about, I hit level twenty in less than 14 hours of /played. I'm honestly not sure that's a good thing though, because being put on this levelling fast-track also means that you end up earning a lot less gear and money on the way. I'm still sporting several white/grey pieces at twenty when I'd usually have full greens by that point, and I couldn't even afford all my new spells initially.

I feel like there's going to be a huge chasm of economic inequality between those who managed to play at the level cap of 25 and do a bunch of quests for gold, and those who start now, because while the former are going to be much richer than anyone would normally be at their level, newly fast-tracked characters are having the exact opposite experience (being poorer than they would normally be at their level). That means that the best way to catch up is to rush to the new level cap, ignoring everything else, and hope that you can start earning gold and truly catching up at that point. This kind of thing is why I've never been a fan of "just make levelling faster" as a solution to anything...

Anyway, I don't know where things will go from here, whether I'll feel compelled to play this priest more or not. But at least it's been a breath of fresh air.

11/02/2024

SoD Phase 2: First Impressions & Ennui

Season of Discovery's phase two launched Thursday late in the evening in my time zone. I had a quick look at the time to see whether there was enough hype to create login queues again... there was not, though it was insanely busy in Thunder Bluff when I logged in. I needn't have worried about people immediately losing interest in the BFD raid once it was no longer at the level cap, as the "Denizens of Kalimdor!" yells were going out non-stop. They had always been frequent but now they were even more so as people were running it for XP.

I didn't really try to play properly until the next morning myself. I figured maybe I could avoid the worst of the crowds if I focused on my professions before trying to level, so I went out to buy the expert cooking, first aid and fishing books. However, I then realised that the primary professions still required level 26 to progress beyond 150 skill, even in phase two, so I decided that levelling up at least once should be my main goal for the time being.

I took my priest to Stonetalon since I had a few quests from there in my log and it's usually a comparatively quiet place - but it wasn't that day. Or rather, it might have been if things were even busier in other zones, but my point is that things were pretty crazy in Stonetalon as well, with everyone fighting to tag mobs as they spawned. I even saw people looking for group for "The Den" - a group quest which I think I've never completed at level because it's part of a chain that takes you all the way to Ashenvale and nobody wants to go back to Stonetalon to find a group to finish it, but on that day, people were doing even that.

While things were pretty brutal on Stonetalon Peak, the Charred Vale was the most striking to me, because I always remember my more experienced friend warning me about the place back when I first started playing WoW - that it was densely populated with mobs and could be quite dangerous. That Friday morning, it was barren, and harpies were dying pretty much as soon as they dared to make an appearance. Still, I successfully made it to level 26 and returned to town to work on my professions a bit.

I came on again later in the early evening, and actually found two guildies online who invited me to do some dungeons with them. We did SFK twice, followed by a partial run of Razorfen Kraul, in which I at least got my Blueleaf Tubers and the goblin escort done. Apparently the place was a popular destination to level as I saw people advertise for "RFK boar farm runs", which sounded very South Park-esque. Apparently dungeon farming to level is "the meta" even in Season of Discovery, simply because the open world is too full to quest efficiently. There's something kind of sad about that.

However, already the next day, the biggest wave of power-levellers seemed to have washed over me. I took my hunter (who hit 25 literally the night before phase two released and never did get to go to BFD) on a similar quest circuit around Stonetalon and it was much, much quieter... but in an oddly annoying way because without the hyperspawns triggered by the massive crowds I actually had to run bigger circles around the area to find more of the only slowly respawning quest mobs, while my priest had just had new ones pop up in front of her over and over.

I just needed a little more XP to get her to 26 so I thought I'd do the breadcrumb delivery quest to Thousand Needles. At the Great Lift, a human paladin aggroed my quest NPC while running to the lift, just before I could talk to him , so I did a /shoo emote on her, meaning to indicate that she should just get on the lift so he would run back to his spot and reset. She then decided to turn back and kill both Horde NPCs before I could talk to them, which meant I spent the next ten minutes waiting for them to respawn. In that moment I was kind of glad there's no cross-faction communication in Classic as I definitely would have called her names.

Meanwhile, my priest was close to 27 after the dungeons from the day before, so I thought I'd pop over to Ashenvale to ding her as well. I was successful, but Ashenvale was another sad sight as I saw the PvP event come on and nobody took part on either faction. I wonder whether anyone will come back to farm more Warsong Gulch rep once the current levelling frenzy is over.

I haven't checked out the new PvP action in Stranglethorn yet but I'm also kind of scared to. When I was doing the dungeons with guildies, one of them accidentally took the wrong zeppelin and landed in Grom'gol while the Blood Moon event was on. Turns out it's so free-for-all that even the guards hate you, meaning he instantly got ganked by them and was unable to revive and get back onto the zepp. He actually had to switch to a different character entirely to be able to go to the dungeon with us as the one stuck in STV was effectively unusable for the time being.

Reddit is afire talking about the new event, though I'm not sure I entirely understand what's been happening - something about people getting insane rewards for spam-killing the same characters over and over again at the graveyard since the event was lacking anything to discourage that? I don't know, it doesn't currently sound very fun either way.

I was wondering whether the release of phase 2 would bring more of my era guildies back to SoD to check out the new stuff, but after three days, only half a dozen people or so have even logged in. The ones who are still active are talking about moving to a new guild in SoD and I can't blame them. I need to think about what I want out of Season of Discovery myself. Right now I'm just getting major deja vu, finding myself feeling lonely on a crowded mega-server like I did a couple of months after Classic's launch, though back then I was still carried along for a few more months by the sheer excitement I felt about Vanilla making an official comeback. While SoD does have some interesting new mechanics, it's not enough to make the experience completely different from what I've been doing for the last five years (gosh, has it really been that long - it has), and being on my own all the time just feels unsatisfying.

I'm even wondering whether I should go and re-roll Alliance on the RP-PvE server - it's only medium pop so that should alleviate some of my stress caused by the crowds, and relocating to Hydraxian Waterlords is what ended up turning Classic around for me back in 2020. Who says that couldn't happen again? However, even if it could, would I even want to go in that deep again? (I went pretty hard for a while once I started raiding in Classic.) I just don't know. I keep looking at SoD and thinking that everything looks so fun on paper, but I just end up feeling slightly jealous of all the people who are so obviously enjoying themselves because something about it just isn't working for me right now.

05/02/2024

Casual Seeds of Renewal

Dragonflight's Seeds of Renewal patch has been out for a few weeks now, but with my casual involvement in retail, I don't always get to see all the new stuff right away. In general I've really enjoyed the way Blizzard has been releasing these "minor" patches between the major ones though, adding new gameplay and story every so often even when there isn't a new zone or raid to be explored just yet. Seeds of Renewal is another interesting example of that.

First of all, Dragonriding is now enabled everywhere where you're able to fly, and it's great. Characters don't even need to have been to the Dragon Isles to be able to mount one of the special mounts, though you might still need to have the Dragonflight expansion at least, I'm guessing. Normal/old flying still has its place, but if you're just trying to quickly get from A to B, hopping on your dragon and going super fast definitely feels great.

They also retooled the dracthyr racial Soar to work like normal Dragonriding instead of an extremely limited version of it, which means that I can now be my own mount and just fly around using my own wings. Again, this feels great! It's not quite as smooth as a druid's flight form, as you get thrown out of "flight mode" the moment you touch ground, so it's happened to me that I kind of clip the edge of a cliff and then fall off because I'm no longer flying... but at least dracythyr always have Glide to save themselves. As there's been talk of giving druids a "Dragonriding mode" for their flight form, I wonder whether that'll also mean that dracthyr will eventually be able to fly the old-fashioned way as well.

There's also a new temporary Dragonriding race event, the Outland Cup. With my love of the Burning Crusade, you'd think I would have loved that too, but... eh. I think now that we can just use Dragonriding everywhere, the novelty of being able to do so in the races isn't quite there anymore. Plus each course is quite predictable at this point in that I'll be able to get gold on the normal race easily, but both reverse and advanced are so tightly tuned that it doesn't feel worth re-doing them over and over again just to eke out something better than bronze. I thought it was interesting that they changed the quest related to the event to actually require you to do all courses now instead of just three, while also significantly buffing the reward. This meant that for the first time, I was able to afford all the prizes after completing everything once instead of having to get on alts to earn more currency.

There's this new thing called the Azerothian Archives, which is a quest chain with some mini games vaguely related to archaeology - the concept that is, not the in-game profession, before anyone gets their hopes up. The quest line was enjoyable enough and I thought it was clever that it included visits to the Forbidden Reach and Zaralek Cavern, presumably in an effort to bring some life back into those mostly abandoned patch zones. As far as I can tell it seemed to work, because I could see that people were actually bumping off rares and picking up chests while they were there.

The mini games themselves all felt a bit weird though, like they were trying to put a new spin on archaeology by making it more complicated. As someone who quite likes archaeology as it is, I wasn't entirely convinced. I guess the proof will be in the pudding as to whether I'll spend any time on the world quests this unlocks. (So far it's just made me miss normal archaeology enough that I went on a bit of a surveying binge the next day.) There's also a new world event tied to all this, where everyone runs in circles as a giant crowd trying to tap mounds of dirt. Again, a bit weird.

In terms of story content, there are some epilogue quests, such as Vyranoth showing you a cinematic that shows Iridikron being up to no good. The night elves get to build a new home under Amirdrassil called Bel'ameth, and Malfurion comes back from Ardenweald. While I'm happy for him and Tyrande to have some quality time together, it does kind of make it look weird in hindsight that there was such a hubbub around him staying in Ardenweald to balance out Ysera returning to the land of the living, considering that it was only a temporary arrangement for a few patches.

There's also a quest chain to reclaim Gilneas, and while it's a nice enough quest by itself, the contrast between everything the night elves got to make up for the loss of Teldrassil (which only happened two expansions ago) and the way the worgen get Gilenas back after more than thirteen years is pretty stark. Basically, Gilneas has just kind of been taken over by the Scarlet Crusade somewhat randomly - so they could kick the Forsaken out, but we couldn't? Yet in turn the Scarlets are really easy to defeat as well, and it's basically all over before you've killed fifty mobs. And while Bel'ameth is clearly being built up to become a proper city with portals etc., the reclaimed Gilneas is just big and empty except for an innkeeper and a repair guy. A bit of a letdown, comparatively.

Story-wise, I thought it was kind of funny that my husband commented while we were doing this together that we'd never really seen much of Tess Greymane outside of worgen-specific quests, and then the cut scene had her telling Genn that while it's understandable that he's still mourning Liam and wanted to take Anduin under his wing, he does also have a daughter, you know... burn!

Also, is it me or did they change Genn's voice actor? I saw others bring this question up online but couldn't find confirmation either way. He definitely sounds very different at least.

Finally, this was also the patch that introduced follower dungeons, something I mentioned only briefly in my post about retail dungeoneering the other day. I've given at least one of them a try since then, which resulted in my husband getting regaled with a lot of live commentary mixed with delightful squealing and giggling. Honestly, I'd take these NPCs over a pug of real people any day. They're so polite, even waiting for me when I want to hang back to skin. The devs apparently tried to give some of them little quirks too, as I noticed that the resto druid NPC was bouncing around like a maniac throughout my entire run. That and the AI is just generally pretty good - I think I even saw Captain Garrick do a corner pull or two? Though she's not perfect, mind you, as was evidenced by her going off to day-dream during the last boss fight, just kind of standing around for a bit doing nothing while I tanked the boss as dps, until being hit by an AoE effect seemed to spur her back into action. Either way, I can highly recommend this mode. It doesn't give a ton of XP, but for pretty much every other purpose - seeing the dungeon, doing quests, getting loot - it seems far superior to doing normal dungeons with random people. And that's coming from me as someone who's not generally averse to pugs, but as I said previously, the normal dungeon experience in WoW is just too unattractive at this point.

02/02/2024

Season of Discovery Phase 2 Preview

Season of Discovery's phase two is less than a week away, and Blizzard decided that in spite of the discovery aspect being key to the concept, they didn't want us to go in completely blind. A recent news post on the WoW website goes into quite a bit of detail about what to expect. I won't go into all of it on here, but I did want to highlight a few items that I found interesting.

The Gnomeregan raid has been confirmed to come with six bosses, which aligns with the number present in the regular dungeon, which means that unlike in BFD, nobody got eaten I guess. The news post shows some of the new items to look forward to, but the only one that really stood out to me was the Automatic Crowd Pummeler. The Manual Crowd Pummeler from the regular Gnomer dungeon is a mace with three charges of an on-use effect, which due to the janky nature of Vanilla's design, is actually the best max-level weapon for feral druids - until the charges are depleted that is, at which point it's time to vendor it and grab another. This means that competitive feral druids need to spend a lot of time farming the Gnomer dungeon, which is... bizarre. The new item has a cooldown but unlimited charges, which should get rid of that meta - though it does make me wonder whether it'll still be the best weapon for ferals at sixty in SoD too.

There will be some new runes, though as far as I'm aware it hasn't been revealed how many there will be per class. I was surprised to find that I'm kind of hoping it's not twelve again. Finding new runes is fun when you just start out, but because of how powerful they are, it turns into an exercise in "needing" to acquire them all pretty quickly.

Runes aside, they'll also be introducing some quality of life spells via new spell books dropped from dungeons, such as giving rogues the ability to move combo points and enabling shamans to move their totems. I find it quite interesting how the Classic devs are trying to square the circle in SoD by keeping a certain degree of inconvenience (which was simply part of Vanilla) while also attempting to introduce some quality of life changes without making things too easy and smooth. It's interesting to watch.

They also revealed more details about the new Stranglethorn PvP event, which will apparently turn the zone into a free-for-all once every three hours (though there is also a way to opt out). Grouping is allowed, but converting to raid will apparently be punished in some way. I'll fully admit that I'm less interested in a PvP event that requires actual PvP in a vanilla setting - then again, the free-for-all nature should make it less one-sided on PvE servers than the Ashenvale event has been. I don't know, I might try it once just to see what it's all about, but I tend to quickly get tired of getting killed in open world PvP.

As an aside, they'll also change the Battle for Ashenvale to simply occur once every three hours to make it more predictable. I guess that'll make it easier to join in, though there was definitely something very vanilla-like about not knowing when the fight was about to happen unless you were already in the zone or got intel from someone else who was.

In a move that took many by surprise, the news post also announced that they'll be disallowing GDKP runs from phase two onwards - I wonder if they have enough GMs to deal with the whack-a-mole of ban-hammering that's likely to require. I don't have strong feelings on the matter as I've been lucky to always play on servers where GDKPs are not a thing - I just always hear the horror stories about how ubiquitous they're supposed to be on PvP servers ruled by gold buyers. I suppose it's at least going to be fun to watch the various types of drama that are bound to arise from this.

The news post finished with a paragraph titled "It is Not too Late to Join in Season of Discovery" - presumably a play on the meme of people asking "Is it too late to play [game]/[patch]" five minutes after it's launched. It notes that with the arrival of phase two, they'll increase XP payouts from the BFD raid and from waylaid supplies, and there'll be a general 50% XP buff up to level 25. I'm definitely glad about the buff to BFD experience, as I'd like to see it stay relevant while levelling, but I'm a little more conflicted about the general XP buff. I guess it's one way to battle the FOMO inherent in joining a temporary server like this, but at the same time, SoD is kind of meant to be about levelling, so it still feels a bit odd at the same time.

In spite of all these exciting news, I'm still not too hyped about phase two myself. Things haven't been working out too great for my era guild's little off-shoot on SoD. Basically people tended to fall into one of two categories: either they casually levelled a character just to see what the runes were all about and then decided they didn't care too much about the BFD raid, or they went all-in and farmed BFD with five alts every lockout. There are much fewer of the latter than of the former, so the ones still interested have increasingly had to look elsewhere to fill their runs and in-guild activity has kind of died down. So I'm not too optimistic that I'll actually get to experience the new content in a guild setting, and while there are pugs aplenty, wading into the giant pool of anonymity that is a mega-server holds a lot less appeal to me, even if I'm curious about the new gameplay.

28/01/2024

Why Is the Retail Dungeon Experience so Terrible?

I think you can tell from the way that I've been talking about retail WoW for the past few years that I'm actually feeling pretty positive about it nowadays. It's not my favourite MMO, but there are enough things for me to like about it.

With that said, I hope it's clear that I'm not blindly hating on retail when I say: For all the things it does well, it amazes me how utterly horrible retail's casual dungeon experience is nowadays. (I'm specifically singling out the easier difficulties here because regardless of what you or I think of Mythic+, I think we can all agree that it operates on a different level from regular dungeons at this point, with very different incentives and goals.)

What do I think makes for a good dungeon experience? Well, presumably not everyone will agree with my definition, but personally I'd break it down into four major points:

  • Exploration: Interesting/unusual environments, mechanics and monsters.
  • Gameplay: Taking on tougher enemies than you would usually be able to in the open world. Getting to play with other people and experiencing synergetic group play that allows you to use abilities and skills you don't necessarily get to use in the same way while soloing.
  • Rewards: Quests that give you some nice one-time rewards. Bosses that drop loot that's better than what you'd get from a solo mission. Increased XP gains from taking on tougher enemies as a group.
  • Socialising: Meeting new people and having a good time hanging out together.

But yes, I know modern WoW players don't like to stand around and admire the scenery, or to chat while using the dungeon finder. So we're just going to ignore the first and last point. I'll be content if I can tick the gameplay and rewards boxes as described. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Well, in modern WoW it apparently is, because your gameplay will be jogging after a tank who just runs like hell while spamming AoE abilities (with you occasionally being able to hit a dps button if you manage to stay in range long enough) and your reward is going to be the dungeon completion XP at the end. You want to do quests? Kill bosses? Puh-lease.

I honestly thought I'd come to accept the ways of retail dungeons by now and that I'd lowered my expectations enough to not be disappointed by every pug, but every time the game lures me into queueing for a random normal or heroic dungeon with some new incentive, I encounter new ways to be let down by the experience.

For example, while levelling some of my low-level alts through different expansions, I'd pick up quests that asked me to do a specific dungeon and then queue for that. My expectation was pretty much nothing but a quick run of the place, but I still managed to be surprised when it turned out to be a quick run of avoiding most of the dungeon. I know people always hated out-of-the-way bonus bosses and all that, but nowadays literally everything possible gets skipped, even bosses that are right on the main road so to speak. I didn't even know that you could totally ignore the second and third bosses in Underrot and Freehold for example. Now I know, and it meant I got minimal loot and experience out of those dungeons.

As for the matter of quests, I have a new favourite story illustrating the utter absurdity that is going on right now. It happened to me during Wrath of the Lich King timewalking the other week. I got into an Utgarde Keep on an alt that had never done it before, so I made sure to pick up all the quests at the entrance and off we went. Knowing well that people were impatient, I mounted up and raced back to the quest NPC the moment Ingvar died, but someone immediately initiated a role check to queue for another dungeon. I didn't respond because I just wanted those thirty seconds to hand in my quests. Next thing I knew, I'd been wordlessly kicked from the party, and the timer to get ported out was apparently shortened to only ten seconds or so, so I was booted back to Valdrakken before I could actually reach the NPC. Yes, I got kicked from the group after the dungeon had been completed, because taking thirty seconds to hand in my quest was considered an unacceptable delay. I then had to manually travel back to Northrend and inside Utgarde Keep to hand in, which probably took longer than the entire dungeon run had taken.

And I'm not attributing that to "people being toxic" or anything like that - okay, I think the kick in that story was kind of mean, but more generally, WoW's design decisions kind of push people into this kind of behaviour. Why would long-time players levelling their 50th alt care about killing bosses for loot drops when they are fully kitted out in heirlooms? Dungeon quests are basically not a thing at max level nowadays (you literally can't get quest credit in M+ dungeons for example), why would anyone think of their group mates having quests to do in a random timewalking dungeon?

More importantly though, I think there are two major problems with WoW's dungeon system while levelling and playing casually, and these are things I've seen occur in other MMOs as well, to similar results:

1. The game allows characters, especially tanks, to become way too powerful relative to the content, to the point where they can easily solo the dungeon with zero regard for the rest of the group. The group gameplay falls apart at this stage because there isn't really any, all you have is the tank dragging a mob train along with them while sprinting to the end, possibly annoyed by the dps and healers slowing them down. You can't have rewarding group gameplay when players are made to feel like they are just a nuisance to each other.

2. The incentives for random dungeon completion are way out of whack compared to anything else. If you're levelling, the XP bonus for doing a random dungeon will be bigger than everything you get for actually doing things inside the dungeon (kills, bosses, quests etc.) put together. At max-level, the problem persists when you have timewalking weeks where you get rewarded with heroic raid-level gear for getting completion credit for five dungeons, never mind what you actually did inside those dungeons. It's all in reaching the end as fast as possible and at all costs, with little to no reward for the actual process (and since the gameplay is shite as per point one, there's no incentive in prolonging the process "for fun" either).

What you're left with is with a dungeon experience that doesn't reward anyone but those who don't actually care about grouping or gameplay and who just enjoy using the XP hose to level their alts. If you mention this anywhere on a forum or social media, people will come back with comments like "but that's just how it is" or "who cares anyway, the real game is M+", discarding the interests of new, returning and more casual players alike.

It just baffles me that as someone who used to adore running dungeons when I first got into WoW, and who still enjoys this sort of group content in Classic and SWTOR, I find modern WoW dungeons pretty unbearable when not running with a group of friends. I'll still get lured in every now and then for the sake of the extremely overpowered rewards Blizzard likes to hand out, but every time I am reminded of just how not fun it is nowadays.

This topic has been sitting in my drafts for a while, but the reason I wanted to actually finish and publish it this week is that the latest patch brought in a feature called follower dungeons, which allows you to run Dragonflight levelling dungeons with a group of NPCs instead of pugs. I haven't tried it yet, but I've seen enough reporting about it to know that it's nothing like running with actual people in the modern game. The NPCs adjust to your pace and the tanking one will even tell you that they're waiting for you to get some mana back if you go OOM. Basically, they're more like dungeons used to be.

I think this is a net positive for the game and will be welcomed by many, but at the same time I can't help but see it as a tacit admission by Blizzard of what an utter mess they've allowed normal and heroic dungeons to become, a system that is actively hostile to anyone not deeply invested in what little benefit it still provides. Giving everyone but the speed-runners a new mode where they can have a chiller experience does help, but it also kind of looks like regular dungeons are basically being abandoned to being nothing but an XP hose for power levellers. I do wonder whether increased segregation of the player base is really the best long-term answer here.

22/01/2024

Alts in Season of Discovery

While I'm not keen on seeing SoD's first phase come to an end, at least my priest feels like she's in a decent enough position for the next one. I've only run BFD and taken part in the Battle for Ashenvale a few times, but at least I had a chance to see how both work and also got a few pieces of loot in the process. I've maxed out all her professions bar needing a few more skill points in first aid and fishing, and I've collected eleven out of the twelve priest runes (after consulting guides on how to find the ones I was missing). The only one I don't have is the one that requires you to grind a bunch of stuff for the goblin in Ratchet, which I just couldn't be bothered with, especially since it's not granting a spell that's important to me. Maybe I'll get back to that in a later phase when it'll be easier to do.

My main goal before the arrival of the new phase though is to simply do a few more quests. Since I ran so many dungeons while levelling up, I skipped a whole lot of them on the way, and especially the lower-level ones aren't going to be particularly useful to me once the level cap goes up. It seems like a much better deal to run them for cash rewards right now, in preparation for buying my mount at level 40, plus to cover other expenses. It's never been this easy to make money at level 25 and I want to make the most of that while it lasts.

Hunter

In the meantime, I've also been working on some alts though, mainly to see what their "deal" is in Season of Discovery. Hunters are supposedly extremely overpowered, and they may well be in raids and PvP, but while out questing I haven't really noticed much of a difference to "normal" vanilla hunter levelling. The most unusual thing to me has been being able to use explosive shot in dungeons to do some AoE damage.

However, mostly I've been questing in the Barrens since she's a skinner/leatherworker, and you can pretty much step out of the Crossroads at any time of day in any direction and find a pile of dead animals to skin. She's currently level 20 after just having finished her business in Wailing Caverns, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to get her to 25 and somewhat "capped out" before the level cap increases, but I'm not necessarily counting on that.

Interestingly, hunters don't seem to have a special mechanic tied to their runes the way some (most?) other classes do; they just kind of find them out in the world from mob drops and by completing little puzzles. I guess that meshes well with the hunter/tracker archetype. I've got to admit that I was pretty chuffed when I figured out how to earn a rune for helping out the snake charmer in Razor Hill all by myself. My current pet is Raluk the white tiger, a SoD-exclusive that I also (partially) managed to find by myself. There does seem to be a pattern though with all the classes I've tried so far, which is to say that you find three to five runes easily and then it just stops because you have to go deep into enemy territory or otherwise do something in a very specific location to get more.

Mage

My undead mage is my tailor/enchanter - for whatever that's worth with her being only level 12 and still in Tirisfal Glades. So far the mage runes haven't particularly impressed me, and like with the hunter I'm largely playing as I would in a normal vanilla environment.

Mages have an interesting mechanic in the form of those garbled scrolls you may have come across in the world and which require a special new reagent to decipher. I felt a bit cheated though when one gave me a new rune, but the next one just gave me one of those low-level stat scrolls which was worth less than the cost of the reagent I'd spent on it. Not sure that's very fun.

Shaman

Finally, I have an orc shaman who's level 10. Their special class mechanic is that they loot green totems that you have to equip in the relic slot and for which you then have to perform a special task to learn a rune from them, such as taking nature damage ten times. This took me a little while to understand, as I initially didn't realise that I had to equip the thing to make it start counting.

Like with hunter and mage, I haven't been too impressed with the starter runes I've discovered. The first one you get, which buffs your lightning bolt, is certainly useful, but levelling as elemental was always my least favourite way to play shaman, and the buffed lightning bolt makes it feel like I need to prioritise using it even when I don't like it that much. Hopefully I'll eventually find a rune or two that fit my play style more. I really feel like I lucked out with the priest and having loved all the early runes I got.

14/01/2024

SoD Phase 2 To Launch February 8

I already mentioned this in my last post, but I did want to go into a bit more detail about it. In the "This Week in WoW" news post from last Monday, Blizzard announced the date on which Season of Discovery is meant to progress into its second phase as a bullet point - pretty low-key if you ask me.

The three important things to know about the next phase are:

  • The new level cap will be 40.
  • The new dungeon-turned-raid will be Gnomeregan.
  • The new PvP event will take place in Stranglethorn.

The last point isn't officially mentioned in the text, however the article's header art features a human in front of a red-tinted Stranglethorn backdrop, and the same image was also used in the Twitter announcement. Aggrend also replied to a curious poster who asked whether this was going to be similar to the Ashenvale event by saying that it was going to be "completely different".

A guildie linked a YouTube video that was talking about this announcement and which had a dedicated segment about how seemingly everyone thinks that this makes phase one way too long, and I'm glad that the most upvoted reply in its comment section basically disagreed with that sentiment, because my own feeling upon hearing about the upcoming release was: what, already?

I'm not blaming Blizzard; I'm sure straddling the line between keeping the no-lifers happy while also making the casuals feel included is not easy. In a way it's funny to me that I'm effectively a casual in this context, considering that I'm heavily invested in MMOs as a hobby in general. It's just that by playing more than one, and by not making Season of Discovery in specific my priority, I'm casual within that ecosystem. Many of my guildies are up to rotating four or five different characters through BFD every week, while I still only have my priest at the level cap.

And that's why I'm a bit disappointed to hear about phase two already. I've created some alts of my own to check out how other classes play with the SoD changes, but I'm not sure I'll get another one into the raid before the new phase releases. I've enjoyed having everyone be confined to the low levels together, and this is basically a stark reminder that we're getting back to the usual FOMO soon: the next phase is coming - quickly, enjoy the content before it's abandoned!

I mean, BFD drops some great loot, so maybe people will still run it occasionally while levelling up, but it won't be the same. I'm also not sure I have it in me to get super excited about the next phase right now to be honest. I love BFD and was excited to see that turned into a raid, but I'm not nearly as hyped about Gnomer, plus 25-40 is an infamously tedious levelling stretch. Considering how much slower I was to level even my one character to 25 compared to my guildies, every time the level cap goes up, it will get even harder to keep up. It's kind of a reminder that while I've been charmed by Season of Discovery's novelty, this kind of thing doesn't really mesh too well with the way I play WoW nowadays, and there was a reason I returned to era in the first place.

10/01/2024

So, How's the BFD Raid in Season of Discovery?

Blackfathom Deeps is one of my favourite vanilla dungeons, and one in which I've had many interesting and hilarious adventures. You can read about at least some of them in old posts on here if you check the Blackfathom Deeps tag.

Naturally, I was both excited and curious to see what Blizzard would do to it in the process of turning it into a raid for Season of Discovery. And I can say right away that I think they did a good job. Obviously they re-tuned things and added a whole bunch of new boss mechanics, but the general look and feel of the place was largely left intact. They just moved some named mobs around to improve the pacing.

Baron Aquanis for example has become the first boss of the raid for everyone instead of being an underwater summon for Horde only and located later in the instance. In fact, his fight takes place in the room with the stone platforms you have to jump across and you need to jump back and forth on them during the boss fight. It honestly blew my mind the first time I saw that.

I don't think Blizzard made any changes to those platforms either; players are just so much better at the game nowadays that you can expect them to just make that jump easily. However, I still remember wasting so much time in that room back in the day, just trying to get everyone across and people falling into the water over and over again.

Anyway, the second boss is a gigantic Ghamoo-ra, which immediately made me wonder what he'd eaten to get so big now. It was only later that I realised that he does indeed appear to have eaten one of the other dungeon bosses, Old Serra'kis, who does not feature in the raid except as a half-eaten carcass on Ghamoo-ra's little island. Turtle boy also drops variants of Serra'kis old loot table, so yeah... I thought that was a funny little detail.

Lady Sarevess is still fairly unremarkable, while Gelihast puts a new spin on the problem of "too many murlocs", with several phases of indestructible "shadow murlocs" ambling across the room that you need to dodge or take damage from.

Lorgus Jett gets to enjoy being upgraded from a quest mob for Horde only to a proper boss (and also appears to be a human shaman?!), while Twilight Lord Kelris has become known as the pug killer. My guild struggled with him too, though I didn't get to see any of that for myself since they had him on farm by the time I hit level 25 on my priest.

On my first run I asked for explanations and was told that as a healer I basically just had to stack up for most of the fight and drink a Free Action Potion when he enraged (I had been prepared for this). As such, my first time went super smooth, though on a subsequent visit I messed up by drinking a mana potion and putting my FAP on cooldown, causing me to die near the end, but the rest of the group still came through somehow. I wonder if I should look up what's actually supposed to happen in that phase...

Finally, Aku'mai has had some pizazz added to his poison attacks, but feels almost easy after Kelris.

He also drops an item that you can hand in for a piece of gear in Thunder Bluff and that also triggers a new world buff unique to Season of Discovery, called Boon of Blackfathom (I think for Alliance the hand-in is in Darnassus). This was pretty cleverly done, as it gives people a reason to hang out in what's usually the faction's least favourite capital in Classic (though I've always loved both Thunder Bluff and Darnassus personally).

Because there are so many people running the raid, said world buff is also popping almost non-stop, and it's not a bad idea for a levelling character to hang out in town for a bit just to get buffed up for your next session of questing, not least because the boon increases your run speed by 20%.

It's honestly comical just how many times you'll hear Bashana Runetotem do the yell starting with "Denizens of Kalimdor" during a short session of running errands in town. I always imagine this message being delivered in the same style as Rhonin's "Citizens of Dalaran!" from Wrath - which makes me glad that there isn't an actual sound cue for it, as otherwise the city would be awash with it non-stop.

Even without the buff, the spoils from BFD are pretty amazing in general, at least for casters. I don't know if it feels quite as good for melee, since they already had some pretty sweet loot available at various points in the levelling journey in Vanilla. However, for casters their best stat (+spell damage/healing) was practically non-existent outside of endgame, so my level 25 priest having about +50 to damage and healing after two trips to the raid feels absolutely insane.

So do I like the BFD raid? Hell yeah. I hope I'll get to run it a few more times before phase two drops, which we now know to be in less than a month. The only thing that kind of gave me pause about it is the difficulty. It's not hard exactly, but... compared to actual vanilla raids, it's closer to Naxx than to any of the others in terms of mechanics, which is weird. Obviously a ten-person group is much easier to organise than a forty-man, and there doesn't seem to be a hard gear barrier to cross, but in terms of how much is going on, this is no Molten Core.

I guess that's a good thing, since the modern Classic player base expects more from raids nowadays, but it also makes me a little worried about what the raids in the next phases will be like. I mean, those shadow murlocs on Gelihast were borderline stressing me out already... I feel so old.