The Fresh Vanilla Initiative

One thing I've learned from WoW over the last few years is that people apparently love starting over on a new server. I do get the appeal to some degree, because there's definitely a special kind of energy in the air whenever a new server is opened - it's a bit like an expansion launch, only without the new content. On the other hand though, it still surprises me sometimes just how popular this concept is, simply because being able to keep your progress is a big part of an MMO's appeal in my opinion.

Personally, I'm definitely over getting too excited about that kind of thing at this point. I'm the cliché of that person who has no time for MMOs anymore because she's just too busy nowadays... except for me it's not three jobs and a bunch of kids; it's the fact that I'm already playing multiple MMOs that I'm emotionally invested in, so I just don't have the time or energy to go no-life for a new launch, whether it's a new game or just a new server. And no-lifing definitely seems to be the order of the day on these occasions, or else you just end up being left behind. Me, I just want to be able to drop in once or twice a week to have a bit of fun, which is why a more static and less frantic environment like the era servers are much more up my alley.

Nonetheless, it's undeniable that there is a considerable audience that is always clamouring for the next new thing... or for a new round of the old thing as it might be. In the case of Classic WoW, I'm pretty sure there were people interested in fresh Vanilla servers at least from the moment Classic Burning Crusade was announced, but at the time, they were a very tiny minority. Five years later though, with the Classic train having moved forward three expansions, to the point where some people don't even consider it Classic anymore... the cries for a repeat of the Vanilla launch experience are definitely growing louder. I actually think that this was a big part of Season of Discovery's initial appeal, the promise of "Vanilla again, but with a twist". It quickly turned into something quite different though, so the search for that "fresh Vanilla experience" continues.

The other day I learned that some players have decided to take things into their own hands since then, by launching their own "fresh" community experience, similar to what people did with hardcore one and a half years ago. Since there are enough servers/clusters on era that are just kind of empty, picking one and having lots of people start over there together is effectively like starting on a new server. Sure, someone might still have an old Naxx-geared character lying around somewhere, but they are unlikely to have much of an impact on the new starters, especially in PvE.

Unfortunately the server of choice for this project was not a PvE realm though, but rather the old RP-PvP servers, which are Deviate Delight on US and Zandalar Tribe on EU, respectively. Curious to see the situation for myself, I created a night elf on Zandalar Tribe, spawned into Teldrassil and killed a few mobs while my census add-on ran. It didn't take long to complete its scan though, only detecting a little over a hundred characters online - this was on a Friday at lunch time though. I checked in again later in the evening, by which point the character count was close to two hundred.

I would have liked to check in on the Horde as well, but I forgot that era still has the old restriction that prevents you from creating characters of the other faction on a PvP server, and since Zandalar Tribe isn't connected to any other realms, there's no way to circumvent that limitation. So as for the question of how the Horde is doing, I can only shrug.

I'm not sure how much success this project will see, because while two hundred concurrent players per faction is not bad, it's a far cry from the kinds of crowds I saw on Hydraxian Waterlords when it was the unofficial hardcore server... then again, things started small there as well, so DD and ZT certainly have room to grow.

I guess their biggest problem is going to be that there is so much else going on in WoW right now. Classic Cataclysm launched only a few weeks ago, and Season of Discovery players can look forward to phase four raising the level cap to 60 soon. Meanwhile in retail, there are two months left in Pandaria: Remix, and then the game will segue straight into the next expansion. Unless you're an absolute Vanilla purist, chances are that some other mode of WoW may be vying for your attention already or soon.

Still, I'm a big fan of community projects like this, which is why I wanted to post about it at least. I'm not going to pretend that I have a huge reach, but every little bit to spread the word should help I suppose. I was honestly quite surprised when I first learned about this project and realised that it had been going for a month without me ever becoming aware of its existence. I do think more people should know about it at least so they can make their own decisions about whether it's interesting to them or not. Here are some other resources for you to read/watch if you want to learn more about the project:


Remix: FOMO and Culture Clash

There are a variety of things I'd like to be doing in WoW right now: I haven't worked on my hardcore priest in a while for example - in fact, the other day I logged in to find that I'd been kicked from the guild for inactivity. However, Pandaria: Remix keeps pushing my FOMO buttons every time I log in. "67 Days Remaining" it declares right there on the character selection screen, so there's always that feeling that everything else can wait. It's annoying, but that's just one of those things about marketing: simply being aware of how the trick works doesn't automatically make you immune to its power.

One of the criticisms I've seen levelled against Remix is that people think Bronze shouldn't be the currency for everything. I didn't really get that at the beginning, and maybe the devs had a similar line of thinking as I did: that making Bronze the currency for everything would allow collectors to focus on getting mounts and cosmetics, while people who don't care about that kind of stuff could upgrade their gear and be OP instead. I guess the devs didn't anticipate that so many players would feel that they absolutely had to do both.

However, even if people are happy to just focus their efforts on one specific path, the system creates quite a chasm between those who care about the gearing and those who don't. My goals have settled on earning as many mounts and cosmetics as I can with a casual time investment, as well as levelling a few alts over the next couple of months. I haven't invested any Bronze into upgrading my gear because that just feels like a waste to me at this point. However, seemingly everyone in my guild is the opposite, and I keep getting dragged along to do normal and heroic raids under strength, content where I'm worse than useless and just end up dying on every boss because I'm too squishy to survive most of the mechanics. Meanwhile all everybody talks about for hours is their gear and how much dps they're doing. I know I shouldn't be complaining about a free ride to some achievements and Bronze, but ultimately it's not really what I want to be spending my evenings on right now.

My shaman dreams of questing on greener pastures instead of inspecting the floors of Siege of Orgrimmar.

And that's all in the benevolent environment of playing with friends. Pugs are just totally dominated by over-powered speed-runners now that care little to nothing about anyone else in the group. I did the second wing of Siege of Orgrimmar in LFR the other day and after the third boss, people just charged ahead without even fighting any of the trash, so that those who were unable to keep up (thanks to +speed on the gear and cloak it literally becomes impossible to keep up with certain characters) got locked out of the last boss room, and the gate didn't re-open after he had died either. After I'd collected my loot, I felt rather bad seeing the half dozen people or so who were still locked outside as they couldn't even enter to pick up their stuff. I can only hope that the Postmaster mailed it to them.

Dungeons are pretty much the same. For example, I made a little bear druid and queued into Scholomance as my first normal dungeon. I pulled the first two trash mobs, but a dps just ran past me, jumped down the stairs and instantly pulled the boss while ignoring all the trash. I pushed myself through the ice wall she spawns, taking massive damage in the process, and only survived because I levelled up when the others killed the boss. The rest of the run was then just more frantic running after the dps who were simply AoEing everything. Basically, Remix dungeons are just like normal retail dungeons now: no gameplay, just speed-running. I said previously that I don't mind getting a bit of a boost from someone stronger than me, but at some point queueing into any of these activities simply doesn't actually involve any actual gameplay anymore, it's just a chore to jog through the exact same hallways over and over again for more threads and Bronze. Not a very tough or time-consuming chore, but still a chore. And that's the situation we're in with the event having been live for less than a month, with two more months left for people to get even more overpowered.

Earlier today, I was in Valley of the Four Winds when the world boss Galleon spawned, so I flew right over. Nobody had attacked him yet, and since I wasn't confident in my survival by myself, I stood around for a few seconds to wait for others to show up. Then the boss just fell over in front of my eyes before I could even blink, never mind getting a hit in. Someone else had literally just landed and one-shot him. I didn't realise we were at "one-shotting at-level world bosses" degrees of power yet.

Ironically, on the rare occasion when you end up in a group that doesn't have anyone OP in it, it doesn't end up feeling good either, just super slow. More than once I've zoned into heroic Mogu'shan Palace (and for some reason it's always Mogu'shan Palace) with damage dealers that couldn't out-dps a healer with zero gear upgrades, and it just made everything take forever. It's not like there were suddenly real stakes or anything, it just meant that I stood there pouring my piddly healer dps into what felt like a damage sponge for five minutes per boss fight.

I just see all this as a reminder that Blizzard has never really managed to square the concept of getting everyone into the content and keeping queues popping with the reality that throwing people with vastly different interests and power levels into groups together - while also providing zero incentive to be social and treat those other people as human beings - can lead to some pretty crappy experiences. I wish their motto in regards to group content wasn't always quantity over quality. I'd rather have five actually enjoyable dungeon runs than fifty LFD hallway jogs.


Mess of Pandaria

Pandaria: Remix has been out for more than two weeks now and it's been quite a wild ride.

Our initial levelling duo hit level 70 after a little over 19 hours /played. The best personal reference I have for levelling speed is this post from when the husband and I first levelled characters just after the pre-Shadowlands level squish, at which point it took us over 26 hours to get to level 50 (the cap at the time). So our levelling in Remix was indeed sped up, but not by as much as I would've thought, especially considering that I did read all the quest text in BfA, while I'm mostly just skimming it in Pandaria. I'm sure there are people who level much faster than that even in regular retail.

Of course, I figured maybe the real speed levelling was meant to occur with alts, since the cloak with all the stats (including an XP bonus) was meant to be account-wide. This turned out to be somewhat false advertising though, as it doesn't actually work that way. Once you push your first character's cloak past a certain threshold, new alts do start with a bit of a boost, but it's much smaller than your main's numbers and static, so they still have to build up their own cloak from scratch after that. The levelling still goes quite a bit faster the second time around, but still... it was just a little bit disappointing.

The second pair of characters we made was a protection warrior (me) and my husband on a resto shaman. They're level 38 right now, as we're basically just doing a random dungeon every other day or so. Because he had last week off work and (as I mentioned before) always goes all-in on this sort of project, he also levelled a paladin to the cap without me during my work hours.

Happenings in the wider community have been pretty wild. Blizzard nerfed the "froggers" and keeps playing whack-a-mole to nerf new bronze farming spots as they emerge, but it doesn't really seem to matter, because at this point the first no-lifers and professional WoW players have ground out their gear one way or another and once you're at maximum item level, you're meant to be OP. The lofty days of week one when heroic dungeons actually felt kinda hard and LFR bosses would at least get to do one mechanic before dying are long gone. Everything just dies in seconds and every group just zergs to the end.

And that's... alright, I guess? I'm not here for the challenge so I don't mind getting a free carry towards some rewards. But I have been questioning my purpose with this game mode a bit. I don't care about using my bronze to upgrade my gear as it's only really useful in the extreme short term anyway (as is often the case in WoW) and to get all the transmogs and mounts you'd need something like over a million bronze, which is a lot. I honestly don't even feel like I need all of these cosmetics anyway, but since I'm unclear on just what my goals are, the sheer number of things I could miss out on is still daunting somehow.

In the usual way of retail WoW, they make it very easy to get a quick dopamine hit from a reward that only takes minutes to earn, but you're then meant to repeat that process hundreds of times during a specific time window, which is the point where I usually nope out. The rush of quickly levelling an alt can be fun for a while, but again... to what purpose? I have no particular interest in having a stable of alts at the level cap "just because". It'll just mean that I'll have fewer character slots available to level alts through other content later.

The only thing I know for sure is that I'll want to keep completing content with our first levelling duo, in order to polish off most of the questing for our nostalgia tour, and that I'll probably want to level at least a couple of alts for a different gameplay experience. Being a healer quickly started to feel pointless with all the self-healing that characters do in Remix, and on the rare occasion where healing could still be useful it doesn't scale well with the mode's massive stamina numbers, meaning that my biggest heal fills five percent of a tank's health bar at most, which is effectively useless. It's all just a little bit crazy and I suspect not entirely in the way Blizzard intended.