Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lion's Landing, A Little Patience, and some advice for alts

We'll start with the last part: the Grand Commendations, which grant a 100% bonus to all reputation gains with their respective factions, will actually prove far more useful for those of you who have waited to level up your alts.

The majority of quests in Townlong Steppes grant Shado-Pan reputation, and nearly all the quests in Dread Wastes provide Klaxxi Rep, such that if you do everything in both zones, you'll hit 90 at nearly honored with Shado-Pan and quite a way into honored with Klaxxi. Because the Grand Commendations work with all rep gains, and not just dailies, you will arrive with a very big lead on those reputations simply by doing the level-up quests. Sadly for me, I've already done most of these quests on seven different characters, so I will certainly still have to spend much of my time doing dailies on all of them if I wish to take advantage of their rewards. Anyway, if you're deciding between leveling another alt or getting those Commendations first, I definitely recommend the Commendations.

The double rewards are extremely welcome, but I still think they do not solve the overall problem caused by unifying reputation and VP rewards. I've written tons about this subject, so I'll just leave it with a "well, this is certainly better, at the least."

Today I had the opportunity to try out two of the new scenarios - specifically the Alliance ones. Doing a random scenario will net you a Cache like they have always done, but apparently there is a chance for 476 epic rewards, making scenario-running a more attractive option.

I still would have liked to see these new scenarios contain quests that could reward compelling items - perhaps 463 blues. Scenarios are a great idea, but I think the real challenge for Blizzard will be to come up with a reward structure that encourages doing them, but also does not detract from 5-man dungeons. Had heroics been as difficult as Cataclysm heroics, I'm sure I'd find these a whole lot more compelling, but given how easy it is to clear the new dungeons, the relative time investment favors dungeons far better.

Anyway, the specifics:

Lion's Landing:

Your new base is under assault by the Horde (I assume there's a mirror one for Domination Point, but I have not yet done the Horde side of things.) Lion's Landing has many discreet phases, but each goes by very quickly. You simply work your way through the fortress, fending off Horde attacks while you link up with various characters like Admiral Taylor and the Jade Forest survivors (hooray! Amber's still alive!) as well as the Dwarf Marshal from Southern Barrens whose name escapes me. The final portion of the scenario has you hold the line against waves of Horde forces, culminating in the enemy commander (in our case it was a Sunwalker, though there may be different commanders to face.) This part can be tough, but there are a few items that you bring along that will make things easier, such as bombs or rockets, which will deal heavy damage and interrupt whatever they hit.

A Little Patience:

This one's a bit more complex and interesting. Tyrande has pursued a group of Kor'kron who are now holed up in the Temple of the Red Crane. Tyrande wants to attack, but Varian, heeding his son's advice, not to mention Chi-ji's, wants to avoid desecrating the temple with violence.

You therefore get twelve minutes to set up defenses at a Night Elf and a Jinyu position. You find various resources out in the world or on enemies that can be used to speed up the process of building the fortifications. These will stack, so you can get the bases built before the Horde masses for a charge. It's not terribly difficult to do so, and if you have both bases set up before the time is up, the Horde forces will charge in to a total slaughter (seriously, it's a little disturbing how many Orcs we saw explode into meaty bits from Glaive Throwers.) When the charge is over (if the bases are set up, you can pretty much just watch) all that's left to do is take out two groups of three Kor'kron guards and then attack the commander, who's not a pushover but not terribly difficult either.

With the commander dead, Chi-ji reclaims his temple and Tyrande recognizes that Varian's leadership abilities are developing nicely. This may, in fact, be the first of the Trials of the High King, and Varian has come a long way from the belligerent racist we were introduced to in Wrath.

I would have liked to see a quest for these scenarios, or get some follow-up on what's going on with the Alliance. I know that one of the Horde-specific ones involves Vol'jin's arrival on the continent and his betrayal at the hands of Garrosh's men, and thus begins the resistance movement against Garrosh. The Alliance, of course, does not have the same sort of upheaval in store for it, which is fine, but also means that we don't have quite the shocking plot developments we might enjoy.

I do know that there is going to be some stuff revolving around Jaina and Dalaran - specifically that after the Horde's attack on Theramore killed the leader of the Kirin Tor (that's right, Rhonin is dead,) Jaina takes over and attempts to purge the Sunreavers from the city, believing that they were behind the breach in her city's defenses. I don't know quite how dark they're going to take Jaina (is she just kicking them out or killing them all?) but it does signal a bit of ambiguity to the Alliance side (and an actual reason for the Horde to get angry with the Alliance other than just the fact that they continue to exist.) Yet I do not know when we get to see this occur (though it stands to reason it may be a reputation threshold quest chain related to Operation Shieldwall.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5.1 Live

In many ways, 5.1 feels less like a patch than a two-part release to the expansion. We've spent the last two months exploring this new land, but other than small expeditions in Krasarang and the disastrous efforts by Taylor and Nazgrim in Jade Forest (and their somewhat less disastrous efforts in Kun Lai - when they aren't aiming for each other) the place has been essentially been devoid of the familiar factions until now. We are truly the intrepid explorers here, and the land is, in a way, more alien then Outland.

Now, however, we've got the big guns showing up on both sides, and at the very least the beaches of Krasarang are looking very much like the Southern Barrens - Alliance versus Horde in a huge, ongoing battle.

The new daily quests are interesting in that they seem to really get you right up into each others' grills. I took Jarsus through a round of them, and I found myself assaulting the Horde base, literally going into the walls and killing Horde forces. Some Horde players flagged themselves for PvP and tried to get me to accidentally flag myself, but I played very carefully there (I know there are those who want more world PvP, but I rolled on a PvE server back in the day because I wanted to have complete control over when I was pitting myself against players or robots.) I would assume that the action switches around to different areas each day, but today was a "take it to the Horde" day. The rewards for Operation Shieldwall (and Dominance Offensive) appear to be higher-quality than the four 5.0 factions, but of course you will also need to get your rep up to a solid place to purchase them for significant quantities of valor points.

Killing Horde (or Alliance, if you are Horde) NPCs will grant you commendation items as a drop. These are interesting in that they can be turned in to a special vendor who will allow you to purchase various things to spruce up the base - such as mercenary Mages or Paladins or a handful of other classes, or getting guards for various installations on the battlefield. You can also get items the begin quests. I bought one of these (a Tiger trap) that required me to get a huge amount of Yak meat (with a sadly low drop rate) and capture a tiger for a sort of arena thing near Lion's Landing. I actually have no idea what this accomplished, but it seems that you can use these arenas to... test yourself against the animals you catch? I don't know if this quest is repeatable (though unless its rewards become clear and are also compelling, I'm not inclined to try again - they don't even give rep) but I believe I'm only scratching the surface of this area. It is, in some ways, a PvP zone, yet you are not required to do any PvP to participate in the faction grind.

Along with the new hubs come a couple of scenarios - two for each faction as well as a neutral one. I have yet to do these, so I can't comment much on them, but I imagine we'll see plots unfold through them as well as through hitting various reputation levels. There isn't one big, quick quest chain to go through from the start, other than the brief one that gets your base built. However, knowing that there are some big plot points to be seen, I imagine doing the scenarios will be an important part in progressing the story, particularly the Horde one surrounding Vol'jin's betrayal at the hands of Garrosh's Kor'kron.

Warlocks, sadly, are going to have to wait until 5.2 for their big quest chain, which is quite sad, though I think it's best to let us do the whole thing in one go and not spread it out like the Wrathion quests.

Now, the infamous Brawler's Guild. Thankfully, the place is open to the public as a place to just go and chill out. You only need a membership to queue for the fights. I'm still very skeptical about how well this feature is going to work out as something that is not instanced, but Bizmo's Brawlpub at least is a very cool area, though it could use more booze vendors. Definitely a cool RP hang-out spot.

Of course, new features are not the only thing that you'll be thinking about when you log on (if you haven't already.) The first thing I did, before doing by Shieldwall dailies, was to pick up a Grand Commendation for each of the Pandaria factions (minus Anglers, which I am still not revered with.) They run 37g50s at revered or 35g at exalted (this may include the guild perk, actually) so while it's not a huge investment, you will find yourself down a chunk of change after picking them up. Of course, it's super worth it.

As there does not seem to be a Black Prince quartermaster, I don't think there is a commendation for him, but both the gear-based factions and the minor factions like Tillers have them. I do not know, though I assume that the rep bonus applies to both daily and one-shot quests, meaning you probably want to delay leveling alts through Townlong and Dread Wastes until you have Shado-Pan or Klaxxi at revered on your main (too late for my Rogue, Death Knight, Warrior, Shaman, Warlock and Mage. Oh well.)

These Grand Commendations are certainly welcome, though I think they are ultimately a kind of band-aid for the problem. Unless I start running all my toons through their dailies each day, I'm still going to be working on these factions for a very long time, and though these things do cut that time in half, it's still going to be quite a while. On the other hand, the new Alliance/Horde factions offer some overlapping rewards with other factions (rings, boots, belts, and trinkets I believe) so you might be able to squeeze by without getting all the original factions.

For a major content patch, Landfall may seem a little underwhelming, and perhaps that's fair, if you compare it to some of the amazingly huge patches like 3.3 and 4.3. But of course, this is only two months into the expansion, and much of the stuff we're dealing with is still quite new (I still haven't done Heart of Fear on LFR, though that's more out of frustration with the length of tank queue times than a feeling of being overwhelmed.) 5.1 is really more 5.0 part two, and when you consider that, it's actually really damned impressive.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go chill out in the Brawlpub and get drunk.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Changing the Way I Play

We're just two months into Mists and I find myself very conflicted about the expansion. I love that they are putting so much effort into story, and Pandaria feels like a much more cohesive setting than the five scattered zones of Cataclysm. I also like that heroics are tuned on the easier side (though they are probably a bit too easy - HoT heroics were probably in the sweet spot.)

However, there are a few things that I don't really care for. One is probably obvious: the fact that Valor rewards are gated behind reputations. I would have far preferred that reputation gear was considered something distinct from VP gear. Now, granted, I never hit exalted with Baradin's Warders, and by the time I considered it, the gear available from it was way below what I would want. Still, I think that additional questing content at level 90 is a good idea, and I'd be happy to do it - it's just that I'd also like the option to just gear up via VP the old fashioned way.

One of the problems that arises with this system is that I always seem to either have too much VP and nothing to spend it on, or I've got plenty of rep but not enough VP to buy anything with because I spend all my time on daily quests with their relatively insubstantial 5 VP per quest (yes, I know it adds up, but very slowly.) My main and vice-main demonstrate this: Jarsus has hit revered with everyone, but has a tiny amount of VP, while Oterro is sitting on 1700 or so, but is only honored with Klaxxi and Golden Lotus.

Now, Blizzard has said time and again that we don't have to do the Rep grind. If we want, we can just run instances over and over to get our drops the old old fashioned way. The progression path they point to is that you run heroics, then step into Raid Finder (unless you've got a raiding guild, which, I fear, mine no longer is.)

This, then, introduces a new problem: Raid Finder makes tanking nearly impossible. If you are a tank, you will spend an hour or more in the Raid Finder queue. When only two people in every twenty-five is a tank, there's very little demand. Now, I'm not saying you won't get to run, but you need to set aside not only the hour or however long it takes to actually do the raid (and these are complex fights that can be relatively unforgiving: I'm looking at you, Will of the Emperor,) but also your queue time. To put it mildly, I'm disinclined to run LFR on my Tank.

I've taken my DK and made him go DPS, and he'll now be my "first run" guy, to scope out the instance before I see it on my main (5-mans, on the other hand, I think I will still see first on Jarsus.) As someone who ran all four kinds of tanks in Wrath, this is a sad day for me.

The other issue I have is that the daily gating is especially hard on alts. I resolved to wait until the double-rep bonus with 5.1 to start on those dailies with my other characters (though I'm cheating with Oterro, given his aforementioned new status.) Still, even at twice the rate, these grinds take a long time. On a plate-clad melee character, it's not a huge burden (especially the kind of self-healing killing machine that is a Death Knight) but for, say, my Mage, hitting the level cap and getting to a point where there will always be a tank to keep enemies at range is a huge boost to being an enjoyable class to play. And when you have as many toons as I do (at this point I have a Paladin, Rogue, Death Knight, Warrior, Shaman, Warlock, and Mage at 90) this kind of thing is a real pain. (Now, if each subsequent player could get another Commendation to either triple-quadruple etc or to exponentially double rep gains again, then we might be in business! If you'd done the grind on everyone but the Mage, a single Golden Lotus daily would yield 6,400 rep for him. At that rate, you'd hit exalted on the first day!)

My hope is that these issues are "early expansion issues." After all, remember how hard heroic Loken was back in 3.0? Assuming Blizzard listens really, really well to the feedback they're getting (and they should) it will hopefully be easier to catch up, gear-wise, when the next raid tier comes out. Will the current factions (and the 5.1 ones) lose relevance? Sure, it's possible. What I hope is that a few months from now, we'll be able to level up a new character, hit 90, and after a few days of dedicated dungeon running, get to a point where we don't embarrass ourselves. (100k dps? Ugh, weak!)

A Different Perspective on The Powers That Be

First off, this post contains some kind of big spoilers regarding the Klaxxi, the Sha, and the Mantid in general. It might be stuff you've figured out on your own, but if you want to stay totally spoiler-free, wait until you've hit exalted with the Klaxxi to read this analysis.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Villains: Where are they now?

We've spent eight years and three expansions stomping bad guys across Azeroth and even beyond. The mighty foes we've had arrayed against us have fallen to our might, and in fact a large part of the plot of the current expansion is about how, in the absence of a greater, cosmological threat, our power has been turned on each other.

The thing is, while we've had some huge victories, our foes do not just disappear. Just as much of Europe figured the German threat had finally been dealt with after the First World War, just because you beat someone does not mean you'll never have to fight them again.

So what is the status of our former major foes, and how worried should we be about them?

Ragnaros: Dead. Elementals, interestingly, are a bit like demons. The ones we see in Azeroth are kind of avatars or projections. The real being exists in its home realm (the Twisting Nether for demons, the appropriate Elemental Plane for Elementals,) and so killing it just means they wake up at home, saying "ow! Dammit!" However, given certain circumstances (such as Illidan killing Tichondrius in Felwood) or if you actually go into their home realm and kill them there, they really do, truly die for good. Ragnaros (and Al'akir, for that matter) are dead dead. Does that mean we're never going to have to fight Fire Elementals again? Certainly not. But the old Firelord ain't coming back.

The Black Dragonflight: There is, in all of Azeroth, one black dragon still around (there's actually another in Outland, though his status is a little murky.) And that dragon is Wrathion, the super-shady but not inherently evil son of Deathwing. Wrathion has none of the Old-God corruption his family does, and one of the first things he does when he hatches is get a daring rogue to literally kill off every last member of the flight. Seriously - they're gone. Any new Black Dragons are going to be Wrathion's brood (again, barring some activity by Sablemane in Outland.) So while it's not unthinkable that we could fine ourselves at odds with the Black Prince, it's certainly not going to be anything like we've dealt with in the past.

The Old Gods: Like the Burning Legion, these guys are one of the core threats in the game, and it's unlikely we'll ever have them totally dealt with in a permanent way. Hell, the Titans have been trying that for eons!

C'thun: In a way, we've killed C'thun twice. The first time, it was in Ahn'qiraj, the second when he had possessed Cho'gall (who some called Cho'thun.) Now, here's the thing. Old Gods are Lovecraft-style. Death to them is like sleep for us. In fact, if we were actually to kill an Old God in a permanent way, the result would be arguably worse, as we've seen with Y'shaarj's remains in the form of the Sha. As for C'thun's Qiraji worshippers? I don't think we've wiped them off the face of the map, but it remains to be seen if they'll cause any more serious trouble for us.

Yogg-Saron: Like C'Thun, it's unlikely that Yogg-Saron is truly dead (though it would be interesting if his "death" helped bring forth the Cataclysm... doubt that's something we'll see addressed.) There's actually a lot of questions to be raised regarding his forces, the Iron Dwarves, but I think that with Loken dead they are also not much of a threat anymore.

The Illidari: Illidan's forces, to be perfectly honest, were never a huge threat to begin with, mainly because they were already fending off the Burning Legion. After Illidan's failed attempt to destroy the Lich King, he limped back to Outland and changed his game plan, setting himself up as Lord of Outland and pretending like that had been the goal all along. Of course, seeing as Kil'jaeden had explicitly told him he'd be dead meat if he didn't take out Ner'zhul and Arthas, it was no surprise to find that the Legion proper was blasting the hell out of Outland even as we stormed the Black Temple.

Now, they have said fairly explicitly that they want to bring Illidan back to life (I believe it was Chris Metzen who said it at Blizzcon 2011,) but his organization is all but dismantled, and I also believe they want to find a way for him to find redemption (seeing what he did in the War of the Ancients, plus the quest chain in Felwood that tells you about his motivations, really paints him in a more sympathetic light.) But his chief lieutenants are dead, other than Akama, who was undermining him anyway, so it's certainly not a threat for us to worry about.

The Burning Legion: Oh boy, though. The Legion's definitely still out there, and definitely still a threat. The whole victory at Sunwell Plateau was like having the slasher-movie villain banging on the door, getting it open a crack, and then our just barely managing to slam it shut again and put the bolt back. There's still a billion demons just screaming to get into Azeroth, and you can bet your ass we're going to have to deal with them again big-time, and likely multiple times. The Burning Legion could very well be a larger threat than the Old Gods, so don't expect them to go away any time soon.

The Naga: The storyline of Vashj'ir ends with most of the major Naga players dealt with, but Neptulon is stolen away by Ozumat nonetheless (I ran that dungeon a million times before I realized this was the case - I'd always assumed Neptulon just left the room after we fought off the Faceless Ones so we could enjoy our treasure.) In-Game, we've only seen Azshara (in Naga form) once, during a quest in Darkshore. A confrontation seems inevitable, but the Naga seem mostly content to do their work in secret, so it'll be a while before we see just what they have in mind.

The Blue Dragonflight: With crazy Malygos dead and Kalecgos having taken over the flight, the Blue Dragons are once again allies of the mortal races. While some bitterness might linger, for the most part, they seem to want to put the Nexus War behind them. This is for the best. It always felt wrong to be fighting against them.

The Scarlet Crusade: Well, before Mists I would have said they were goner than gone. After the remains of the organization after the Death Knight starting experience head to Northrend as the Scarlet Onslaught, only to be stopped once again by us, we find that the guy who manipulated them into doing so was actually Mal'ganis (Holy Crap! That guy just refuses to die. Also makes Arthas' fall that much more tragic, as he didn't even accomplish what he sold his soul for.) Yet it would seem that the Crusade has been reborn. Still, this was mainly an excuse to revamp Scarlet Monastery, so I doubt we're going to be seeing them as a major player any time soon. Still, it shows that just like Mal'ganis, the Crusade is a resilient motherfucker.

The Scourge: The Scourge are a real coin-flip here. Arthas is dead (like... super dead) and Bolvar Fordragon is the Jailor of the Damned - not the Lich King. Assuming he doesn't get corrupted (so far so good,) Bolvar's job is going to be to keep the Scourge quarantined up in Northrend. It's even conceivable that Bolvar could turn the Scourge toward something good, though this seems unlikely. We do know that small pockets of Scourge remain a problem, and indeed there are now many pretenders to the throne (some far less legitimate-looking than others.) While Bolvar is keeping most of the Scourge rounded up, the new splinter groups may be harder to keep track of. Not to mention that the Forsaken are starting to act a lot more like the Scourge...

So there you have it: Quite a few of these guys could still pose a big threat to us. Even if the leading personalities are gone, the forces remain, and, such as the case of the Scourge, might be even more of a threat now that the Big Bad is gone.

Expect it to be a while before we see any real sequels to entire expansions though. As much as I adored Wrath of the Lich King, I don't think it would be good for the game for us to have a whole other expansion of fighting the Undead across a snowy landscape. If we go to space to battle the Legion again, expect the battlefield to be somewhat different from Outland (though honestly, the concept of "alien world" is probably more open than "the Grim up North.") Also, we certainly won't be doing "Azeroth's China" again, as cool as Pandaria is.

I find it more likely (and would prefer it) if there was a way to do a real twist on these old villains, rather than just have us fight them again. The concept of a benevolent Illidan intrigues me (somehow I feel he and Wrathion would get along just fine.) We will, of course, also need new villains to fight. (The Sha are a pretty good one, especially in the way that they are obviously related to the Old Gods, yet separate.) But while new villains are a necessity to keep the game fresh, we will also need to avoid the Giant Space Flea from Nowhere effect, and considering the immense cosmic threats (and the powerful terrestrial threats) that have been established, you can expect we're going to have our hands full either way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lingering Questions: Burning Crusade

World of Warcraft has a huge amount of lore, so it's inevitable that some of the mysteries and storylines are going to fall in between the cracks. I thought I would address some of the remaining questions from the various expansions that I wouldn't mind seeing answered. While Vanilla obviously came first, one could argue that the huge scope of it is exactly what we're exploring in every expansion. Instead, I'm going to try to focus on those things that I think may not, in time, be answered.

Murmur: Elemental Lord of Sound:

A few centuries before the current era in Azeroth, the Redridge Mountains exploded in a fiery cataclysm, leaving only a small part of the original chain untouched. The resultant Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes are, to this day, a lava-filled, smoldering ruin. The thing that caused all of this was, of course, the summoning of Ragnaros into the Molten Core.

It would seem that something similar occurred in the enormous draenei burial temple of Auchindoun in the south of the Terrokar Forest. Surrounding the ruins is a vast wasteland where nothing seems to grow. The cause of this devastation appears to be similar: Shadow Council members, deep within the temple (which of course had been devastated by the Horde along with most Draenei sites) summoned Murmur, who appears to be the elemental lord of sound.

This raises an interesting question: the elemental lords, Ragnaros (RIP), Al'Akir (RIP), Neptulon (MIA), and Therazane (fine and dandy,) are all, we assume, tied specifically to Azeroth. While the official word is pretty hazy, it's always been my understanding that they were there before both the Titans and the Old Gods. They sided with the Old Gods because they did not like the restrictions placed on them by the Titans, though given Neptulon and Therazane's positions during Cataclysm, they certainly did not seem to be particularly loyal to them.

Anyway, the point is: there seems to be an entirely different type of element, with its own elemental lord (or important elemental, at least,) and it's associated, or at least connected, to Outland.

Old Gods and Outland: We Span the Universe!

The more you learn about the Arrakoa bird people in Outland, the more you come to realize that they've got some Old God stuff going on. There's a Raven-god (not sure if the one in Sethekk Halls is the real deal or just an avatar, but you can get him as a mount!) that has similar somewhat creepy prophecies as the kinds of things we hear from the Puzzlebox of Yogg-Saron.

And if that wasn't convincing enough for you, there is a quest chain in Shadowmoon Valley in which you prevent the Arrakoa from summoning something that looks exactly like phase 2 C'thun.

Things get even weirder when you discover that the most highly-guarded cell in the Arcatraz - Tempest Keep's prison ship - holds what appears to be a Qiraji prophet named Harbinger Skyriss. Now, admittedly, the Arcatraz also contains a gnome mage by the name of Milhouse Manastorm (who seems to be a member of Twilight's Hammer, despite the fact that he helps you kill Skyriss. Frankly, I have my own little theory that he was a mole - listen to him in that cutscene in Deepholme - he sounds like he's trying to get information out of his boss.) So it's certainly possible that the Skyriss was captured on Azeroth, and that the Naaru have been there before the Exodar crash-landed.

But, given what Skyriss says, it would seem that the Old Gods, and indeed, his race, exist throughout the universe. Might it be that the Qiraji, Nerubians, and Mantid are only the local branches of what could be a far, far larger race?

So much attention is focused on Azeroth (and admittedly, it appears to be a cosmically important location, given Sargeras' obsession with it,) that it is easy to forget that it is not by any means the only world to be visited by the Titans or the Old Gods. We've encountered people from Argus, Draenor (what did the Orcs call the place before the Draenei arrived?) and K'aresh (homeworld of the Ethereals) in addition to Azeroth. Did the Titans have a hand in those places? We certainly don't come across any obvious Titan facilities in Outland, but given the state of the planet, there's no reason to be sure there weren't any.

Turalyon and Alleria:

Yes, ever since BC came out and we found that Khadgar, Kurdran Wildhammer, and Danath Trollbane were still very much alive, the lingering question has been where the other two people immortalized by statues in Stormwind's Valley of Heroes have gone. Turalyon and Alleria left their son behind in Honor Hold, but Arator doesn't know any better than the rest of us where his parents have gone.

I don't have a clue.

The Infinites:

The Caverns of Time dungeons, along with the Infinite Dragonflight, were introduced in Burning Crusade. While much of the mystery surrounding them has been solved, there are some questions yet to be answered. We know that the Infinites are former Bronze dragons, corrupted after Nozdormu became Murozond. The official story is that the Old Gods drove him crazy as part of their attempt to get Deathwing's Hour of Twilight to succeed, but obviously there are some issues:

Nozdormu knew it was going to happen. Ok, that's fine. He doesn't believe in free will, he knows what's coming, and is using his remaining years of sanity to prepare the world. He even knows it will work, because he orchestrated is own death by helping us through End Time.

But that future no longer exists. We stopped the Hour of Twilight, and Deathwing's too busy being exploded all over the Maelstrom to slump over Wyrmrest Temple. If that future has been prevented, has Murozond's death been prevented? Did our killing of him prevent... us killing him?

Also, we're talking about Time Travelers here. Just because we've defeated them does not mean that they're gone for good. For all we know, the Murozond we killed was tens of thousands of years older than Nozdormu is now, and he might have-is-going-to already wreaked havoc. In fact, there's no reason why we shouldn't see both Nozdormu and Murozond battling it out any number of times in the future.

While the official story has him corrupted by the Old Gods, the Infinites' actions seem to align much more with the Burning Legion in both BC and Wrath. First, they attempt to prevent Thrall from going free and reforming the Horde - a faction that played an important role in the defeat of the Burning Legion at Hyjal. Next, they try to prevent the Horde from ever getting to Azeroth in the first place (which would of course also put a kibosh on their involvement in the Third War - though admittedly, at least at the time this would be in defiance of Sargeras' wishes. Then again, the Infinites know that the First War does not lead to the destruction of Azeroth as Sargeras hopes.) Finally, the Mount Hyjal raid does not explicitly feature the Infinites, though the Bronze Dragonflight seems to think they're involved, and it does appear that we are needed to hold the demons off. In Wrath, the Infinites attempt to kill Arthas while he's purging Stratholme. While Arthas' fall to evil is tragic, it ultimately weakened the position of the Burning Legion, as the Lich King was able to use his champion to subvert their goals under their noses.

So there's a few questions to be raised regarding events in Burning Crusade. In the future, we'll talk about Wrath.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scenarios: Huge Potential, As Yet Unrealized

The introduction of scenarios is actually quite a revolutionary thing for WoW: for the first time ever, there is a new size and "stakes" for instances, not to mention the fact that it breaks the need for the dungeoneering trifecta of the tank/healer/dps.

Scenarios were created for the most part to replace the old concept of group quests. Cataclysm famously de-groupified old group quests (the Battle of Darrowshire was actually a "raid" quest back in the day!) and introduced only a single group quest chain in the Crucible of Carnage (as part of the once-an-expansion Ring of Blood quests.)

While it's arguable that the removal of group quests from the game is symptomatic of the oft-bemoaned death of server communities, I would say that they've really just allowed for natural gameplay to occur. We tend to solo through the leveling content. The very nature of leveling up makes playing with a friend at all times unrealistic, unless you have a scheduled time to play together. While I think it could be a lot of fun to have a core group to always quest with (it would make leveling up squishier classes a bit easier, I bet) it just isn't very realistic.

The other major issue of group quests was that they were not repeatable. While you might still be able to help, there was no reward for doing it a second time. If it involved phasing, you would literally be unable to complete it (that said, I don't know if there are a huge number of group quests that did.)

So Scenarios solve a lot of problems. They provide incentives to repeat them - thus vastly increasing the pool of players so that those who have not yet done them do not have a hard time getting a group. They also, obviously, use the same mechanism that the Dungeon and Raid Finder use in order to find your group, and with no role requirements, the queue is nearly always instant.

Not only that, but the objectives of the scenarios are usually a bit more varied than, say, a dungeon. The goal of every dungeon is simply to get to the end - fight your way through trash and defeat the bosses. Scenarios can involve things like searching an island for lost booze (I get Unga Ingoo vastly more often than any other scenarios - I still have never done Greenstone Village) or putting out fires while fighting off saurok.

At the moment, scenarios are all 3-person affairs, but Blizzard has stated that they could be for any number of players from one to forty.

And yet, I don't run a huge number of scenarios. I love them, conceptually, and I think they're good fun. The problem, of course, is that the rewards are quite underwhelming. A random run of a Scenario (which takes about ten to fifteen mintues) will net you a handful of Justice Points (which there are very few compelling things to spend on, especially if you've been running dungeons a lot) and forty Valor Points (which, of course, you'll need to grind rep to spend, and forty isn't a huge amount, considering we're paying 2250 for some of our pieces.) You also do have a chance to get a piece of gear in your little treasure box, but I have only seen such a piece once, and it was a Holy piece - the spec of Paladin I have never, and probably will never play.

Of course, there are some compounding issues: You don't want the rewards to be so compelling that no one ever waits in a dungeon queue again. Scenarios have the potential to be very attractive to DPS players, because their 10-15 minute wait is replaced with at most 30 seconds. Of course, the other issue is that dungeons right now are so quick and easy that it's not really a burden to complete them, and given the far better chance at compelling rewards, it's not really significantly more effort (aside from queue times.)

Now, as I said in my last post, I think there is room for a third progression path - the heroic quester. Scenarios could play a part in that, but of course the problem when you introduce group play as a major thing is that the same group dynamics that appear in dungeons would take hold, and one would be left wondering what the difference was. The heroic quester would have to be a solo affair (or at most, three people, though even there you could have the trifecta.) Granted, Scenarios can handle this, but I don't know that this is where Blizzard would want to take them.

The one scenario that I am always sure to run on each character, practically the moment they hit 90, is Arena of Annihilation. This scenario has a quest inside that, like all the Ring of Blood variants, gets you a very decent weapon with which to start heroic dungeons. As far as I know, this is the only scenario that has a quest inside. Given that scenarios were conceived as an evolution of the concept of group quests, it strikes me as strange that other scenarios do not have quests. While quests would not inspire repeat scenario-ing, they would give us a compelling reason to hit each of them up. If you could get a nice selection of 450-quality gear from these, it would be an excellent stepping stone into heroics and raid finder (admittedly, we don't need much of a stepping stone to get into heroics at this point - heroic dungeons now play much like they did in mid-to-late Wrath of the Lich King, making these the easiest heroic dungeons the game's ever seen.)

Essentially what this all boils down to is that we need to ask ourselves what role Scenarios serve. If they are meant to be something to do quickly and easily instead of heroics, then heroics should probably be tuned a little tighter (too late for that.)

I think what it ties into is the overall question of time budget. Whenever we play the game - whether we have hours and hours to spend on it or just a quick break between work and other things - we try to be efficient in our expenditure of time. For the time we're online, we like to see significant progress made on whichever character we're playing. Scenarios are fun, certainly, but so are dungeons and raids (ok, Raid Finder, at least as a tank, tests that theory.) When you have a choice between two things that are both fun, it's a no-brainer to go with the thing that rewards you better.

Perhaps Scenarios are merely a victim of the fact that dungeons are so easy right now. If they had been introduced with 4.0 or 4.1, for example, we might have been relieved for the opportunity to do something that wasn't Heroic Grim Batol.

Scenarios are still extraordinarily new. I would guess they are still finding their identity. They may remain roughly where they are for the rest of the expansion, but when the next one comes out, I would not be surprised at all to find that Blizzard comes up with something to make them a more compelling gameplay option. Until then, enjoy your tiny trickle of VP.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Imagining a New Form of End-Game Progression

As a disclaimer before we begin, this is a huge topic and I'll probably not get all of my ideas down here in this one post, but I thought I'd talk a little about the notion of character progression in WoW.

Though many discount its existence (a large reason why I think Cataclysm will be remembered unfairly, even though it accomplished the Herculean task it set out to,) the first and arguably most formative period of character progression is leveling.

Leveling up a new character - be it your first or the 17th alt - you see your character grow stronger at a very steady rate. Not only that, but assuming you don't just chain dungeon runs, this is the period where you'll actually see most of the world and experience most of the story in the game. Not only that, but this is where you build up the arsenal of abilities that will define your capabilities from then on.

The progression that you experience while leveling up has, actually, taken a slight hit in the Cataclysm and later the Mists talent/spec revamp. It used to be that after hitting level ten, you would get a talent point every level to put into your talent trees. Also, in the era of spell ranks, it was rare to go a level without getting a new ability, or at least a more powerful version of an ability (though I do not miss spell ranks.) Still, each level you will still at least grow a bit more powerful, with your baseline stats going up and your relative power against foes of higher levels growing better (for example, hitting an enemy two levels higher than you is way easier than hitting one three levels higher.)

However, because they need a baseline place for you to be - a playing-field leveler - there is a maximum level, and when you hit that max level, things change considerably.

Other than assigning that last talent point, once you hit level 90, you are in the state that you will be for the rest of the expansion's life cycle. Instead, the focus shifts to gearing (and reputation, though that mostly serves as an avenue to gear.) You cannot grow more powerful except by getting higher-quality armor and weapons (well, and refining your play-style, but that's not in-game progression.)

This is where the realms of PvE and PvP make their big divide. PvPers may go into Battlegrounds and Arenas, and that's where they will remain for the rest of the expansion, building up Honor and Conquest points to purchase all of their gear.

The PvE path (which I understand to be far more popular) has evolved tremendously over the course of WoW's lifespan, but the central avenue has always been running instances. When one hits the cap (perhaps doing a few extra quests to get blue quest rewards,) one begins to step into level-cap dungeons until one is geared enough for heroics (another big change Mists made, which is to skip this step and have level 90 people go straight into heroics.)

Heroics are fun, and actually may be my favorite thing to do in the game, but the reward system is set up so that one uses heroics as a stepping stone to get into raids.

Much of the controversy over LFR is to what degree it is a necessary stepping-stone to get into "real" raids (and despite the quotations, I do think there is a huge difference between LFR and raiding with your guild.)

Raiding has sat as the pinnacle of PvE content ever since Molten Core was the only one that existed. Granted, the design philosophy has shifted to try to make raiding accessible to the masses (maybe it's just my guild's changing roster, but I really think that they did this best in Wrath of the Lich King, as Naxxramas at level 80 was the perfect starter raid,) but this is still the thing that the elite look to when they want to prove themselves.

There is an interesting question to be asked, though, which is whether there ought to be other paths.

The emphasis on daily quests in Mists was, I think, an attempt to create a new path through which people could progress. Technically speaking, with enough time, you could get a full set of (at least at this point) decent epics purely through daily questing. I think that the only reason there's been such an outcry over this is that they took something the instance-runners had (VP gear) and put it behind the wall of dailies. Had they left VP much as they had in Cataclysm, and simply said "and here's a vendor who will sell gear specifically for daily-quest heroes!" I think we'd be hearing far less complaining (some would certainly still cry foul, but they'd have much less of a leg to stand on.)

I, for one, think that non-instanced, non-pvp player progression would be a great thing for the game. The question is what that sort of progress it should entail, and what kind of rewards one would get.

The whole idea of progression in any RPG, MMO or otherwise, is that one grows more powerful the more one does. While cool mounts and transmog gear are enough to motivate a lot of people (and I've even advocated for more transmog sets to be produced as rewards for things,) if we are truly to create a new kind of player progression, we would need a way to increase the player's power. The obvious solution is, of course, better gear. But how do we distinguish this gear from regular PvE gear? Some might say "just make it crappier," which is certainly a solution that I imagine most would jump to, but I think it would do a lot to discourage players from bothering spending time with something like this.

Instead, let's try thinking outside the box: In standard group DPS, the player is supposed to focus entirely on damage-dealing, leaving nothing for defense. An arms warrior with parry gear or a rogue with a dodge trinket is just "doing it wrong." But if we were to create a hardcore soloing progression path - one with real challenges - these sorts of stats may begin to look attractive. However, simply using dodge and parry would leave anyone with a cast-time out in the cold. Sure, ranged classes generally have means to keep their enemies away from themselves, but it may be more interesting, and indeed, would help to differentiate this from standard PvE to create a new stat. Much as PvP gear is defined by PvP Resilience (and Power,) this hardcore questing path would have something like "Questing Defense." It could do things like reduce overall damage taken as well as reducing casting time lost from getting hit or granting crit-reduction.

Questing these days is generally pretty easy, but it's mainly thought of as a means to an end. Daily quests, for example, have very little plot to them, even if the faction has a cool personality to it. However, when I think about some of my favorite quests and quest chains, the ones that often stick out are the "mini-dungeons," like Jaedenar in Felwood (much better post-Cataclysm, as you don't have to run back and forth to talk to the questgiver) or the fight across Darkcloud Pinnacle in Thousand Needles.

Creating content like this that was rich in story and challenging to complete would be very cool. In some ways, this is what scenarios could be. My only problem with scenarios is really that they don't give a very compelling reward. The three-man team for Scenarios is almost as small a group you can put people into, but as Blizzard has said, Scenarios are not exclusively for three people - the tech can support any number from one to forty.

One could imagine creating a batch of these events and scenarios, perhaps even creating a mix of instanced and non-instanced ones. Completing each event the first time would give you a standard quest reward, but subsequent completions would net you a currency with which to purchase pieces of gear that reinforce that type of play.

To make sure this feature was taken seriously, the difficulty would have to be tuned quite high, at least for the hardest challenges (perhaps creating separate difficulties,) while also giving compelling rewards. The presence of "Questing Defense" on the gear would keep those not interested in it from feeling they had to do it to progress while not punishing its adherents by giving them no gear.

In many ways, this is sort of what I think a lot of people were hoping the Brawler's Guild would be. It doesn't seem that will be the case, but Blizzard has also mentioned "Proving Grounds" as a future feature they're working on that would allow one to prove oneself (including skill at tanking and healing.)

The point is, dailies are never going to be the most exciting end-game content, even if they've had some very clever ideas about them. Creating a hardcore quest progression path would take a lot of work, but I think it would be amazing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Memory Lane: Skills

Mists of Pandaria obviously brought a huge overhaul to the player's spellbook and the way we learn our class abilities, but the changes had already begun before then. In today's brief Memory Lane article, we're going to talk about skills.

Skills used to be a separate page in your spellbook, and was replaced by the profession page. It did contain the various professions and secondary skills, but it also included a number of other skills. Three automatically filled bars would be your class skills. Prior to Mists of Pandaria, abilities in your spellbook were broken down into three categories, each relating to the three specializations. For example, Corruption, regardless of whether you were Affliction, Demonology, or Destruction (and yes, Destruction used to have it) would be under your "Affliction" tab. Makes sense, it was an affliction after all.

I think the initial idea of talent trees was that one could focus on one branch of one's spellbook, though there were of course some oddities. For example, Consecration (which, bafflingly enough, was originally a Holy-only talent) was listed in the Holy part of the spellbook, even though this was the spec least likely to use it.

But to return to the skill page, one could imagine a class defined by its class skills. This page would also have automatically-filled bars for your armor types. A level 40+ shaman, would, for example, have skill in cloth, leather and mail armor.

Along with armor skills, there was also the Defense skill, and this was not a guaranteed full bar. Defense, along with weapon skills (which we'll touch on in a moment) was a skill whose maximum level would rise by five points every level. Getting hit (especially by tough enemies) would raise this skill, and in so doing reduce the chance for you to be hit or crit, and also increase dodge and parry where applicable. The now-defunct stat Defense Rating would effectively raise this skill, and having 140 defense skill above your level's imposed cap (for example, 490 at level 70) would give you the critical-strike immunity that is now built into tanking specs.

The interesting consequence of this was that ranged players who could effectively solo without getting hit (or just ran with tank friends a lot) could wind up with very low defense skill, and thus get absolutely clobbered if they did wind up taking a strike with a melee weapon.

Weapon skills were even more complicated. Generally, when you first started a new character, you would have the ability only to use one or two types of weapons. In order to learn to use other weapons, one had to find various weapon trainers at the different cities and pay gold to train to use those weapons. However, that was only the beginning. Once you could equip those weapons, you had to use them constantly to raise the skill level (a skill whose maximum rose just like defense) or else you would find yourself constantly missing. Weapons before Wrath of the Lich King (or perhaps one of the BC patches) used to sometimes "raise your skill in whatever weapon type this is," which had, I believe, the same effect as expertise, which these sort of stats were replaced with.

Unarmed was another weapon skill. If you were disarmed, you would often miss unless such a thing happened to you often. While you did not have to train "unarmed," you would have to train in the use of fist weapons, which also applied to your unarmed skill (making those who used fist weapons somewhat more effective if they were disarmed.)

As I've said before, Rogues had two extra sets of skills. One was the alchemy-like Poisons, where they would use vendor-bought herbs to make their poisons, and the other was lockpicking (to this day, lockboxes have a required skill level, though rogues get the necessary level simply by leveling up now.) Locks used to actually be a much more common thing in-game. For example, the BC-era 5-man Shattered Halls had a gate to the first boss that needed to be picked. If you had no rogue in your group, you had to traverse a sewer filled with hostile oozes in order to progress. Additionally, there were many locked chests in dungeons that would give a fair amount of gold but required a rogue's special skills.

I should also point out that Rogues used to be a very popular class.

This skill page was eliminated in Cataclysm, mainly due to the fact that they simply got rid of the need to level up defense or your weapon skills. It's probably for the best, but the one small loss is the fact that we can no longer be that hunter who doesn't even know how to use a bow or a crossbow (Ordenar, my hunter, used Guns exclusively until he got the crossbow out of heroic Pit of Saron.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

5.1 Coming Soon

Apparently the 5.1 version on the PTR is flagged as a release candidate, so it's clear that the new patch is coming soon. Assuming that means some time either at the end of this month or in December, it may be the earliest ".1" patch they've ever done (though I know that Vanilla had a lot of these patches. Naxxramas 40 came in something like patch 1.12.)

Now, of course, 5.1 is not a raid patch, or even a dungeon patch like 4.1 was. However, it accomplishes something that was inherent to the premise of Mists of Pandaria. The current state of the continent is actually a fairly unique thing to witness - a Pandaria before the Alliance and Horde get their hands on it. Regardless of faction, both sides are, at the very most, shipwrecked refugees or small, private expeditions (the Dawnchasers and the Night Elf team are the closest thing to serious presences - nice to see non-human and non-orc forces making up the biggest presence.) 5.1 is going to signal the true arrival of the player factions.

It actually makes the player character seem that much cooler. I remember arriving in Northrend for the first time and having the enlistment clerk get really excited when I arrived at Valiance Keep. Everyone there was saying "Oh, crap. Jarsus is here? Man, they've really pulled out the big guns this time." By the time you're high enough to head to Pandaria, you are a stone-cold badass and one of the most powerful members of your class in the world - a figure of legend.

So, building on that, you are now the Alliance/Horde's best expert on Pandaria. Varian doesn't know about the August Celestials or the history of the Mogu, or the structure of society in Pandaria (Garrosh presumably doesn't care.) But you, who have spent months in this new land, are the person they're going to go to for information.

There's going to be a lot of new plot stuff with the new factions, and while I know that more dailies is not exactly the prescription people are begging for, I am very excited to be involved in the various events to occur that change the landscape of the player factions.

Now, yes, the Brawler's Guild is the most unique addition to this patch, and thus a lot of people have been focusing on it and its gaping pitfalls, but in truth, the patch is really about moving the story along, and considering that the expansion has only been out for a little under two months, I think we've got enough content to keep us busy for now. (My guild has yet to attempt Mogu'shan Vaults, for instance.)

If they can produce patches like this without slowing down the process of making raid and dungeon patches, I fully support them. There are a million different stories going on in-game, and seeing them move with regularity is a very exciting prospect indeed.

The Ageless Draenei

One of the somewhat frustrating things that can occur in-game is that certain races get focused on more than others. Chris Metzen, who is in charge of the story for the game (I forget his actual job title, but I think he's the VP in charge of their Creative department) has stated that at its core, Warcraft is all about Orcs vs. Humans, just as the subtitle of the first game implied.

But in a game with thirteen playable races, it's easy to feel a bit left out. Granted, some races also get quite a bit of lore. The Night Elves have featured prominently in most of the expansions, and we tend to get a lot of stuff about the druids (while there are now four druid-capable races, it's clear that the Night Elves have the strongest influence on the lore of the class.) The Trolls also tend to be featured a lot, even if it is often not the Darkspear. Granted, it helps when you have a civilization that has been on Azeroth for an incredibly huge amount of time. Though I don't have numbers in front of me, it's clear that the Trolls and the Night Elves were all around far earlier than the other playable races - though we can also add Pandaren to that list, with the caveat that most of Pandaren culture has been locked away from the world by the Mists for most of that time.

The dwarfs, gnomes, and humans (and their related races, the Worgen and Undead) can all trace their ancestry to Titan creations, though when exactly they changed into the races they are today is not exactly clear. The Blood Elves are the very same people as the High Elves, and we know that they can trace back the origins of their race as something separate from the Night Elves to a very specific event that living Night Elves remember personally (thanks to the until-recent immortality thing.) In the case of the Tauren, we don't really have a clear history because they did not leave behind much in the way of ruins, passing down their history orally. And finally, with the Goblins, we know a bit of how they became what they are, but what they were before (pygmy trolls perhaps? I'm just spitballing here) eludes us.

The Orcs don't have any history in Azeroth dating back more than 30-odd years, because of course they were on a different planet. We see a bit of their ruins there, but none of it seems profoundly ancient.

So that leaves us with the Draenei.

We know that the Draenei are old, but it's easy to forget just how absurdly, ridiculously old they are. It's actually something that did not occur to me until I created my Death Knight back in the fall of '08, and was given the task of slaying a fellow Draenei to prove my loyalty to the Scourge. The thing that struck me was that he and my DK, Oterro, were old friends, and he reminded me of how they had both grown up in the hills of Argus.

Argus, the planet the draenei left 25,000 years ago.

Now, of course, this should have occurred to me earlier, seeing as the whole backstory of Velen involved being the dissenting voice among the Eredar triumvirate, and thus had to lead his people away from their homeworld while their friends and family were turning into demons. Every Death Knight gets this story, so it stands to reason that a fairly large proportion of the Draenei population is over 25,000 years old.

One result of this is that whenever a questgiver refers to me as "Young Death Knight," or "Young Mage" (if I'm not on the Troll) I kind of laugh to myself, thinking "um... no, not young."

But there are some interesting implications. The War of the Ancients, for example, where Malfurion, Tyrande, and Illidan beat back Azshara and the Burning Legion, occurred long after the Draenei fled Argus. Even the Night Elves, with their super-ancient culture, are relative newcomers compared with the Draenei.

We know that the Draenei have hopped around from world to world, and that Draenor was only the second-to-last of their settlements in a huge, long history of running from the Legion. You see what happened to Draenor. If I understand correctly, it fared better than most of the places the Draenei found. Now, the Draenei didn't need to show up to make to Legion aware of Azeroth, but it does mean Azeroth could (and will, obviously, because Blizzard isn't going to let the Legion destroy the freaking world) be the place where the Legion finally gets stopped. In the run-up to the Cataclysm, Velen made the suggestion that they flee the planet, taking the Alliance with them. It makes sense - to them, this could very well just be one more pitstop on the road from Argus.

Frankly, it's a wonder that Draenei characters even remember the names of the various races, given how many they must have come across over the years.

It also means that the genocide committed against them by the Orcs is extremely recent history (equivalent to something like yesterday) for them, and the fact that the Draenei tend to be one of the more forgiving voices in the Alliance is damned impressive. Then again, it's possible they've had it worse than their treatment by the Orcs, just very long ago.

The Draenei must have a profound understanding of the universe. I wonder, for instance, if the other places they've visited had Old Gods or Titans. Might there be other cosmic forces at work? (we don't know much about the origins of demons, other than that they live in the Twisting Nether (hyperspace) instead of the Great Dark Beyond (normal, spacey space.)

The Draenei have not gotten much exposure since Burning Crusade, though this is actually supported by the fact that much of the Alliance doesn't really know what to make of them. In Borean Tundra, for instance, the Scourge uses this to their advantage, manipulating the commander of Valiance Keep (or is it Valgarde? Always mix those up) into ignoring the Draenei's advice when hunting down agents of the Cult of the Damned. They seem to get along ok with also super-ancient Night Elves (even if the first interaction with them in Azuremyst is less than ideal, given the fact that the Draenei not-too-surpringly look like Eredar.)

When Blizzard came out with the faction-leader short stories, I actually gave them a look (free is always good!) and the Velen one was quite interesting. First of all, Velen is constantly seeing telepathically various planets targeted and destroyed by the Burning Legion - we may have fended them off, but they're still working hard eradicating life throughout the universe. The other interesting development? The Exodar has been fixed. If the Draenei so chose, they could leave Azeroth.

So where is this all headed? Well, the Draenei might not have a huge role to play at the moment, beyond being members of the Alliance, but the next time we take on the Burning Legion, I would be surprised if we did not see the Draenei play a prominent role in taking the fight to the demons. Indeed, in a future expansion we might travel to Argus itself, and see if Mac'aree is still standing after 25 millennia.

The core of the game may be the conflict between Orcs and Humans, but a much larger narrative has grown out of that. The Draenei have a crucial part to play, and I look forward to delving farther into their history.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Double-Fix Problem

Earlier in Beta design, concerns over block-capping for tanks (particularly Paladins, who could achieve this far more easily) led Blizzard to fundamentally change the way that the block mechanic works. I wrote an article about this before, but the solution they proposed was a two-part plan.

One was that block was separated from the normal combat roll. An attack would either crit, hit, be dodged, parried, or missed. If it was a hit or crit (unlikely given that it's on a tank) there would then be a separate roll to determine if it was going to be a blocked hit or an unblocked one.

The other was that Mastery for Paladins and Warriors would be put on diminishing returns - a limiting factor exclusive to shield tanks.

As far as I know, they got rid of the second part, and in fact made Paladin mastery more complex (affecting Shield of the Righteous and Bastion of Glory.) The one change was enough to fix the problem of block-capping without overcompensating.

This is not, however, an article about tanking. It's about reputation gear.

It's my contention that the reason people are so pissed off about the daily grind is that Blizzard tried to fix a problem with two solutions at once.

They didn't like that Rep tabards meant that you didn't have to do anything really associated with a faction in order to raise your rep. I sincerely doubt that the Ramkahen really care much about you fighting the Defias or Lord Godrey, for example (other than a general "oh, yeah. Those guys seem pretty bad, I guess.")

Reasoning that getting both rep gear from running dungeons and Valor gear for running dungeons allowed you to sort of double-dip, they chose to divorce reputation from dungeons - making it a different thing centered around daily quests that were specific to the given faction.

If that had been it, there would be nothing wrong with it.

However, they also effectively got rid of Valor point rewards. Really, they merged reputation rewards with Valor rewards, so that in order to buy reputation rewards, you have to spend Valor points and in order to buy Valor gear, there's a reputation threshold.

They've shrunk the number of vendor-based gear options.

So, I realize that it's a little too late to change this, and indeed, there might be people at Blizzard who are philosophically dedicated to this system (though given the response, I imagine they'll try to change it next expansion.) But the root of all of this is that they applied two solutions to the same problem that created a much bigger one.

Here's my suggestion for the next go-around, whether it is a future patch or a future expansion:

JP/VP: This is the consolation-prize drop from bosses - you may have not gotten your drop, but at least you've made progress to something that could fill its place. This is for people who run lots of dungeons, and want a way to soften the impact of cruel RNG gods.

Reputation: Keep it a daily quest grind, with an evolving story and lots of "out in the world" content, but make the rewards cost gold (or a reputation-specific currency.)

The point: VP and Rep gear should be separate things. By making perfectly attractive gear options available for Rep, people will still do it if they want to see the story. Meanwhile, VP gear is going to serve the purpose it has served in its past incarnations - filling in gaps due to unlucky drops and helping people catch up if they're undergeared.

Breezing through the Old Content

I've been working on getting each class up to 90. So far, I've got my Paladin, Rogue, Death Knight, Warrior, and Shaman up there, with the Warlock at 89, the Mage at 87, and the Hunter about halfway through Jade Forest.

Of course, one of the classes that's going up there is the Monk (who will actually probably beat the Priest and the Druid to the top.) One thing I enjoy about each expansion is that you get an excuse to go level up through the old content. Obviously, one's goal is to get to the level cap and amassing pretty purple gear, but especially after the Cataclysm revamp (remember, whatever we thought of the endgame, the old-world revamp was an absolute triumph) it's cool to go through and see the world.

The Monk seemed to be designed to level quickly, as was the Pandaren race. With the potential for twice the rested experience bonus on top of the Monk's Peak of Serenity daily quests (not only giving a good chunk of xp but also giving you an hour-long buff that increases xp gained by 50% - which I think is multiplicative with rested experience) makes leveling up go insanely fast, even before you account for the fact that they reduce the xp needed to get to the previous level cap each expansion.

Blizzard has stated that they want the journey from level 1 to the level cap in every expansion to take roughly the same amount of time. With a rise in the level cap each time (necessary to reset rating-style stats, or else we'd all have 300% crit chance by now) that means that the journey from level 30 to 31 gets quicker every two years.

Mind you, this is a good thing. Making it take longer and longer to hit the level cap every expansion would lock out new players and strongly discourage leveling alts.

The sad consequence of this is that certain areas that were very fun to quest in back in the day can really blow by you. Granted, nothing is preventing you from just sticking around and finishing the quest chain, but if you try to be thorough, you're going to find yourself doing green and grey quests.

Beyond the quests, it also means that you're probably going to be skipping a lot of zones. This, again, is not necessarily a bad thing. Having the option to, say, not do Arathi Highlands (I'd love to know if they had plans to Cataclysm-ize it and what they might have done) is probably for the best.

Personally, though, I felt like I barely spent any time in Outland, and I'm shooting through Northrend like crap through a goose (as General Patton would say.) There are aspects of the game that I wouldn't mind spending more time with, like the cool, futuristic/alien feel to Outland or the grim, bitter cold of Northrend.

One of the traps that I think WoW tends to fall into is that there is so much focus placed on the current, new continent, that the rest of the game's history kind of falls by the wayside. Cataclysm was an attempt to make the rest of the world feel vital, but in practice, each zone felt extraordinarily isolated, even though they were nestled right between a bunch of zones we knew before.

Now, granted, Mists of Pandaria's story is all about exploring this new continent - a landmass that is in many ways more alien than Outland. But I think we could use more quests and events that took us back to old places.

And it looks like we will be getting at least a bit of that in 5.1. SPOILERS. Warlocks will have a special quest chain that takes them into a phased/instanced version of the Black Temple (which I imagine could help set up Illidan's resurrection, though don't quote me on that.) Horde players join Thrall in liberating the Echo Isles from Garrosh's Kor'kron (when Orcs of the actual Horde are attacking Thrall, you know shit has gone bad.)

What I hope Blizzard is coming to realize is that they have an amazingly large world to play with. Binding that world together with quests and events - reminding us that life is still going on in Thousand Needles and Duskwood - will make the game feel more exciting and enjoyable.

Friday, November 9, 2012

So, with all the complaining out of the way...

As I said before, the reason people are so worried over the implementation of the Brawler's Guild even before it is out is that it actually sounds very cool. (Personally, I think the Alliance version sounds way cooler, because Orcs are already all about proving yourself in combat in giant arenas. The Brawlpub looks way more underground and off the beaten path.)

When new content comes out, the focus is usually toward the serious, endgame content - raids, dungeons, battlegrounds and arenas. However, if you want an example of a patch that brought a whole lot of cool stuff that had nothing to do with those things, look at 3.3, the Hour of Twilight.

3.3 was an enormous patch. It brought in three new dungeons and the final raid of Cataclysm, as well as the enormous development of the Raid Finder.

But what it brought for "just plain fun" content (and I'm aware that it seems strange to distinguish "fun" content from otherwise in a game) was also huge. First the Darkmoon Faire, which had always been one of these things that seemed cool but was really nearly devoid of anything interesting, got expanded tremendously into a monthly event that could help you level your professions but also focused on fun vanity items and also introduced what is probably the very coolest zone in the game - Darkmoon Isle (seriously, I cannot get enough of that place. Sometimes I'll just go there to chill.)

Not only that, it introduced Transmogrification, which has breathed new life into old content to an extraordinary degree. My guild used to run an "Old School" raid every week just to see the stuff we either missed when it was current or felt nostalgic for. With Transmogrification, you have a good reason to go through those places. Not only that, but it led to far greater variance in player appearance. For those of you who perhaps started playing after Wrath of the Lich King, toward the end of that expansion, nearly everyone was totally decked out in a full set of (10-man normal) tier 10 gear, which you could, at the time, buy in its entirety for Emblems of Frost (one of VP's precursors.) While this was a time when it was very easy to get an alt geared up for raiding, it meant that basically everyone of the same class looked alike. Transmog fixes this, allowing us to express personality and such through the gear we wear.

I would like to see more of these features added. New ways in which to give our characters personality. The existence of Transmog is a great way to provide visible rewards without being a necessary progression path. Already, we've got the awesome-looking transmog sets for beating all the Challenge Modes with a gold medal (I sure as hell haven't seen anyone with such a set yet,) and the Shado-Pan helmet transmogs, as well as the Dungeon Sets 1 and 2 lookalikes.

I know the art team is a limited resource, but I would love to see new sets of armor for transmogrification to be created for these new sorts of features.

And I'd like to see more of these features. Places like Brawl'gar Arena and Bisto's Brawlpub (I might have the names wrong) seem like they'll be cool hang-out spots. I'd love to see more of these open up, perhaps giving us interesting things to do there.

Take the Speedbarge in Thousand Needles. Back in the day, when the place wasn't flooded, there was a racetrack on the salt flats. I'd love to see a boat-racing hub there.

Or Gallywix's Pleasure Palace. As of yet, there's nothing to do there (and Gallywix remains nowhere to be seen,) but you could imagine having mini-games and such there.

These don't all have to be mini-games, either. I think it would be really, really cool to have some neutral city where you engage in espionage against the other faction. Hell, I would love for there to be something to do at the max level in the Ruins of Gilneas.

This, combined with pets, mounts, titles, and now transmog gear would do a great deal to make the world a more lively place.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Brawler's Guild and the MMO In-Game Society

The latest big controversy (and wouldn't it be funny if this was engineered just to divert attention away from dailies, LFR, and CRZ?) is the Brawler's Guild. I talked about it a couple days ago (just scroll down,) and my opinions have not really changed. What I think has changed is that I see what Blizzard is trying to do. It's an interesting experiment, but it is one that I am very skeptical will produce the results that they are looking for.

Blizzard is trying to create a sense of an underground.

The ultimate goal of the MMO genre is to have a game world where people really feel that there is stuff going on. Yes, most players focus on the race of getting phat loot so we can fight tougher guys for more phat loot, but at least part of what draws a lot of people to the game (before they know anything about endgame content) is the sense of a world to explore - that feeling of a living world.

One of their stated goals in Mists was to encourage more "out in the world" content - stuff that wasn't there to make you a more effective raider, but was instead to make you feel more like an intrepid adventurer, meeting new people.

Sure, if you want to be the big hero fighting the big bad, that's where Raiding (and to a lesser extent, dungeons) comes in. Historically, if you wanted to do anything at the level cap, you basically had that or PvP. PvPers have their own line of progression and do not have to focus on raiding to excel. The in-world personalities of these types of characters could be quite different - the Raider is a champion who wishes to fight against the biggest supernatural threats to Azeroth. The PvPer is either a loyal Alliance or Horde soldier, trying to get an edge against the other faction wherever they can, or they might just be a gladiator, in it for the riches and the glory. And of course, everyone could be a bit of a blend of these.

Guilds form around these sorts of interests. You might have a guild that is focused on raiding, or one that is focused on PvP (as a non-PvPer, do people actually do rated battlegrounds?)

And the player populace has different demographics defined by these interests. While many do a little (or a lot) of both, the populace is mostly the PvEers and the PvPers, two very large groups.

So, in creating a super-exclusive club that lets a single person (well, one per faction) on each server fight at a time, Blizzard is actually trying to create a small minority. They are trying to create a smaller demographic that cares about something that the rest of the players ignore.

They are trying to create an underground.

It's an interesting goal, but I'm not convinced that it will work out as they hope.

The first thing, and this would have been very strange indeed, but would have probably served the feel of the fight club better, is that they should not have announced it. The Brawler's guild was one of the big, headliner features of the new patch. While I realize not everyone delves into the patch notes every time there's an announcement, it means that a huge portion of the players are now excited to take part in it.

If, on the other hand, this had been something you literally just had to stumble across or hear about by word of mouth, it would reinforce that "underground" feeling far more, and I actually think players would love to discover that there is such a huge hidden feature in the game.

That said - and this may contradict what I just said - there's not really any way to keep a secret on an MMO. Take the hidden Klaxxi dailies, for example. Within days, general chat in the Dread Wastes is awash in people asking "how do I do the hidden daily today?" MMOs are naturally products of the internet era, and in the internet era, there's very little that can be "hidden."

Using the Black Market to limit membership to the Brawler's Guild (man, I hope we can at least go inside to take a look, even if we can't queue up) will keep people out of it, certainly. But as I see it, there are only a few possibilities for what would happen next:

1. After a while, as more people get their invitations, the numbers get out of control and the queues become absurd.

2. A cartel of players tries to keep total control of invites, meaning that only a few players ever get to experience it.

3. The content is too dull for anyone to want to do for more than a week, and so everyone gets to experience it for a while.

That's what's bizarre about this: Number 3, the one in which the content is boring enough to keep people from crowding in there week after week? That's the best option.

Here's the thing: Engineering an underground is not going to work in this genre. You either find yourself dedicating lots of resources (we can't have class quests but we can have this?) to something very few people will see, or you create something that everyone is going to try, and those who find it fun are going to keep doing it.

I would probably be one of them. I always wish I had some cool thing to fight without worrying about queueing up for an instance.

The thing is: you can achieve that underground feel with the use of gameplay and story segregation. Sure, everyone and their moonkin might know about the Brawler's Guild, but you give that place a cool, David Fincher/Chuck Palahniuk vibe, and we'll still feel like it's a cool underground club.

Blizzard is great at atmosphere - look at Darkmoon Isle.

But as it stands, the intended implementation of Brawler's Guild (and probably the way it's going to have to come out, given how far the patch is in its development) is going to just lead to frustration. It's sad to say this about a feature that hasn't even hit live servers yet, but I really look forward to the revamp.

One last thing: Blizzard, I love that you are a company that is in constant communication with its players. 99% of the time, I agree with your reasonings and usually your decisions. But the recent posts in which you have tried to backpedal, saying Brawler's Guild was not intended to be a major feature? Those just ring false. While the lore developments are certainly the focus of the patch, this thing has been billed as being just as big a feature as the Argent Tournament Daily hub or the revamped Darkmoon Faire. This thing has the potential to be awesome - if it didn't, you wouldn't be hearing so many complaints.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Problem with Boss Loot

One of the most important features in WoW is actually one that most of us who have been playing the game for a while don't even think about. In PVE, the way in which you get the majority of your gear, and indeed, the only way to get the very best gear, is to kill bosses and hope that A: the piece from their loot table that you want drops and B: that another player does not win the roll for it.

This has been the case for the game's entire history, but I am not so sure that it makes the game better.

RNGs control the game. Everything has a bit of randomness built into the system - whether your attack hits or not, if a talent proc goes off, or whether that bear you just killed dropped one of the pelts you need for your quest. When the RNG gods favor you, it's great. The one time I pugged ICC on my Horde Shaman, I walked away with five pieces of gear. When they do not favor you, it's awful. I similarly spent an entire month running heroic Forge of Souls before I got its pair of tanking boots - one run, every single day.

While one could cite the random boss loot as a way to extend the lifetime of content, it's also possible that it could be shortening the lifetime of the content - in those cases where people get what they want early on, they will feel held back if their guild is not moving on or if there is nothing ahead of them.

Blizzard has attempted to make the loot drama over drops in LFR less severe by giving everyone their own, individual roll - you either get something your spec can use or you don't. This certainly does a great deal to help with interpersonal loot drama ("You shouldn't get that staff! I did way more dps!" - a comment I despise because often it is coming from someone far better geared, who thus, of course, needs the piece less.)

But the frustration of the random loot drop is still there. Mind you, it's nowhere near as bad as it is in Diablo, where not only is there no guarantee of bosses dropping high-quality loot after the first difficulty, but also every single piece of gear has randomized (and thus, probably pretty bad) stats.

Here's what I like about the WoW loot system: The table of loot a boss has can have some character. Even if the pieces of armor simply look like tier gear, the names can have a degree of flavor. It makes a lot of sense that the axe off of Marrowgar (25) looks like the axe that he uses. It also means that you know where to go and who to fight when you want that specific item.

But beyond that, it's mainly a source of frustration.

In Burning Crusade, Badges of Justice were introduced to give long-term rewards for people who wanted to focus on heroics. Later, they decided to make raid bosses drop these, transforming them into a means to smooth out the ill effects of RNG. By 2.4, you could actually get some very high-quality weapons for Badges. This pattern was continued and refined through Wrath and Cataclysm, with Wrath introducing tiered currencies, and then in 3.2 simplifying things by making all non-cutting edge content drop the next best currency. Cataclysm merely formalized things by creating Justice and Valor Points, which would always be the 2nd best and the best PvE currency, respectively.

Blizzard claims that they felt that these currencies were allowed to run a little to rampant in Wrath and Cataclysm, overtaking the importance of boss drops.

My reply is: so? Yes, people will argue that the RNG of loot drops is what makes killing a boss exciting, but after killing a boss for the 20th time and still not seeing that sword you want, I don't think it's really excitement that you're describing.

On one hand, experimentally I'd like to see a game like WoW in which every single piece of gear was currency-based, and not random drops. You'd pick up what you needed, paying for it with the VP you got from fighting bosses. Harder bosses and later tiers would give more currency, so you'd still be encouraged to push yourself.

This being WoW, and having a history, however, means that I would not do something so radical. Instead, as in most things, my solution would be a hybrid system.

We like the personality of having pieces of gear dropped from particular bosses. You should not be able to get, say, the Claws of Shek'zeer without having killed her. But we would still have a way to combat RNG:

Items off a boss (perhaps only particular ones, if normal VP rewards cover the slots filled by certain drops) become unlocked to buy with Valor points when you defeat a boss (or perhaps after you beat it a certain number of times, like 4 or 5.) The price for these items in VP would be quite high - higher than the current max price of 2250. They would still have a chance to drop off the boss, but if there was that one piece that you really needed, you had a way around the RNG gods that wasn't just praying to them again (which is what the Elder Charm of Good Fortune is.)

So you would still likely be getting most of your gear through loot drops. The difference is that while you would be very happy to see your piece dropping, you would not be discouraged if you saw a string of kills without the drop.

The major point of all of this is that it makes things fair. Anyone who manages to down a boss is going to have equal chances at getting what they want from it. With a system like this, they will eventually get it. And at something like 3k VP a pop, it's not like people are just going to buy out all the gear they need out of the raid in a month.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Evolution of Heroic Dungeons

Back in Burning Crusade, I remember hitting level 70 relatively late - about eleven months into the expansion. When BC came out, my shaman, Tarbhad, was only level 30, and at the time he was my main. This was due to a combination of factors: leveling in Vanilla was quite slow, I was still quite new at the game (I thought spirit would be great regardless of spec as it would limit downtime! And that one should not focus too much on one particular talent tree, lest you neglect some of your other abilities,) and I had fairly early on discovered the joy of making alts.

It took until October or November (after a January release) for me to get my rogue, Darsino, to 70. Later, I decided to level up Jarsus, my Paladin, thanks to my discovery of how awesome it feels to tank. So by the time I hit 70 on what would become my main, many players had been at level 70 for nearly a year. This was back in the days when threat was a serious issue - the definition of good dps was one that would never pull off the tank. People would compliment good tanks by saying "wow, I can't pull off of you," as if this is something that should be regularly possible.

The concept for heroics in Burning Crusade was that they should be quite difficult indeed. In fact, the general consensus was that heroic 5-man dungeons were more difficult than Karazhan, the "big raid" of tier 4. (Karazhan was extremely popular for this reason, as well as the fact that it was the only 10-man raid, and was also goddamn cool - seriously, while they should never change Karazhan in a revamp, I would be absolutely overjoyed to see them make a "sequel raid" à la Blackwing Descent. I would be lying if I said I hadn't idly written ideas for a "Lower Karazhan" raid.)

Anyway, the point is that the barrier to entry for heroic dungeons was pretty intense, especially for tanks, though the need for good crowd control options and top-notch performance by dps and healers meant everyone really had to push to get into them. With no dungeon finder, you had to convince people that you were worth taking, and of course most people hold others to higher standards than themselves. Thankfully, there were seven normal-mode level 70 dungeons (and in fact, they rewarded the same gear on normal and heroic mode, only with extra epic loot off the final boss) so you still had stuff to do if you weren't going into heroics.

Wrath of the Lich King dialed down the difficulty to a fair degree. While you were still likely to wipe on occasion, and even hit a wall at times (Loken in Heroic Halls of Lightning was one of the most infamous) and you did need to gear up to a degree in the four normal-mode level 80 dungeons, there was less coordination required and by the time people had Naxxramas-level gear, heroics could be cleared with ease. (By the end of the expansion, most heroics were completed at breakneck speeds, often lasting a mere 10-15 minutes or so.)

While Wrath was a very popular expansion (frankly, it was my favorite,) there was a very, very vocal minority that complained it was too easy. Admittedly, the ease of the heroics led to a certain intolerance of slower runs or players with low dps, but for the most part it was fun. Blizzard attempted to fix this in Cataclysm by returning to the Burning Crusade-difficutly of heroics (and also got rid of epic rewards in heroics, a decision I find sad as it was always fun to get that super piece of gear on the final boss.) The result was that many of these dungeons were fairly brutal, and in fact I think a very large number of people quit the game because of it. Eventually, the 4.3 Hour of Twilight heroics brought things back down to Wrath levels, or possibly easier.

So now we come to Mists. The definition of a heroic dungeon has changed. Oddly, it has actually become what I originally thought it would be when leveling up in Burning Crusade. There are no "level cap dungeons," like Arcatraz, Utgarde Pinnacle, or Grim Batol anymore. Instead, upon hitting level 90, and assuming you've at least done a fair amount of Townlong Steppes and Dread Wastes for quest rewards, you are more than geared enough for these dungeons.

We are, in greens and quest blues, at a place where we had been with Wrath heroics when dressed in tier 9 or 10 epics.

At least for now, the only seriously challenging 5-man content is, appropriately enough, Challenge Mode. This new feature is not exactly "double heroic mode," though it is more difficult. It does not reward gear (other than stat-less but very cool-looking transmog sets) and also does not reward you for being well-geared, as your iLevel is downgraded to the maximum. I do not know how popular this feature is, and while I'm sure I'd like to try it out at some point, the lack of gear rewards and the hardcore bent of the feature mean it's probably not for me. Anyway, the point is that for most people, there's basically no barrier to entry for 5-man content.

Blizzard has claimed that they want to focus people on the LFR side of things in order to progress through content (assuming they aren't raiding normal or heroic modes,) as they feel that it was too easy to skip raid content in the past thanks to the very high-quality epics gained from new dungeons, such as the 232 (equivalent to Trial of the Crusader) gear coming out of the Frozen Halls dungeons in 3.3, or the 378 (equivalent to Firelands) gear coming out of the Hour of Twilight dungeons in 4.3.

On one hand, I get their reasoning. Ulduar was famous for being both one of, if not the best raid ever made, and also being too-quickly pushed aside in favor of the far inferior Trial of the Crusader. There was far less incentive to run the epic, 13 + 1 boss raid (the +1 being Algalon) with gorgeous environments and awesome-looking gear when the 5-boss raid almost entirely taking place in the same room and with no trash whatsoever was giving out far superior gear. The 5-man added with Trial of the Crusader awarded 219 epics, which is what 10-man Ulduar gave out, so you could, after running Trial of the Champion enough and gearing up with Emblems of Conquest (which were the 1-per heroic dungeon boss in patch 3.2) just head directly into Trial of the Crusader without ever touching Ulduar.

A similar thing happened in Cataclysm, with the Hour of Twilight dungeons granting perfectly good gear to get started in Dragon Soul, which meant you could pretty much ignore Firelands.

So the intention, apparently, with Mists, is that they want non-regular raiders to use LFR in order to gear up for the next tier, rather than running 5-mans. This way, you'll see the raid content leading up to the final raid.

The problem I have is that LFR, perhaps inevitably, sucks. Oh, as a way to see the content you would not otherwise, I am fully in favor of it. After banging my head up against tier 11 and finally only downing a single boss in Firelands, I all but gave up hope that I would ever fight Deathwing, yet only a couple weeks after 4.3 was released, I got to destroy the destroyer and see the epic conclusion to the expansion.

The point of LFR, as it was originally introduced, was to let non-raiders see the big moments previously only available to raiders, and I think it does that fine. But as a way to gear up?

I am not suggesting that they get rid of gear from LFR - this will keep people incentivized to run it and thus provide groups for those who have not yet seen the content. But I also think that a robust stepping-stone system in the form of new heroics with every raid patch has been a very welcome and enjoyable addition to the game. Sure, the Zuls were a pain in the ass, but I thought (and I think a lot of people would agree) that the Frozen Halls and the Hour of Twilight heroics were great (ok, Hour of Twilight itself was a bit bland, but still good! An escort where the dude you're escorting holds his own!)

The mere existence of LFR means that people who want to see the raid content will see it. In the months and months that a raid will be out (and even after, because presumably we will still be able to queue for Mogu'shan Vaults when the Orgrimmar raid is out) people will certainly be able to see it, and be able to appreciate the work that was done. Frankly, even if we wind up outgearing the old LFR raids, I imagine anyone who is curious will at least check them out.

In all honesty, I think that heroics should continue to serve the function that they have in Wrath and Cataclysm - providing something that can be done many times a week for a chance at decent gear and valor points to potentially buy better gear. We're still very early in Mists, so we'll have to wait and see what Blizzard winds up doing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Brawler's Guild - Expectations versus Surprising Reality

When 5.1 was first announced (very soon after the launch of the expansion,) the previously-mentioned arrival of Horde and Alliance forces in Pandaria was to be expected, but the Brawler's Guild came as something of a surprise.

I actually love the idea of an underground, seedy fight club (which admittedly only really applies to the Alliance version) hidden in the cities. It's something Ardten, my Worgen Warrior, would be totally at home in. Likewise, I love the idea of epic solo content - a place where you can find something cool to do on your own that isn't a daily quest. Much like Pet Battles, it gives the game a certain degree of fun solo content, only in this case, it's really your character doing something badass.

So my initial conception was that you Brawler's Guild would work a bit like Sunsong Ranch - a one-player phase that gave you a different version of the arena than everyone else. You could sign up for a fight and go beat the crap out of something, maybe getting some kind of cosmetic reward (I would love to see Blizzard's art department churn out transmog armor sets. For Brawler's Guild, I'd suggest something like weapons that look improvised and cobbled together from various machine parts and the like.)

However, it appears that the Brawler's Guild is something very different indeed: It is not actually instanced at all. Only one person will be fighting at a time. Blizzard's attempt to keep this from leading to extraordinarily long queue times is to gate the feature by requiring invitations to be bought off the Black Market Auction House.

It's flavorful, yes, but damn if that doesn't mean the feature is basically not going to see use except by a small minority of players.

There will be ten invitations per server, and members of the Brawler's Guild will be able to invite ten additional people. Now, what this means is that either the guild will be dominated by a cartel of super gold-rich players, or it means that the exponential growth of the guild will make the gating absolutely useless and lead to 12-hour-long queue times for anyone who actually wants to get in there and fight.

Honestly, I don't know what Blizzard is thinking here. Yes, having spectators as real players fight their foes sounds cool on paper, but this is a video game. We're here to be the heroes, not the audience. Sure, if my buddy is down in the pit, giving some swamp monster the beating of a lifetime, I might cheer him on, but the way it seems designed is that the vast majority of people will be stuck watching from above (or possibly not even getting in the door, which would be ridiculous.)

The way it stands now, the Brawler's Guild areas, Bisto's Brawlpub (or whatever the gnome's name is) and Brawl'gar Arena will be, at best, a cool RP location for those of you who are into it.

To save this thing, I think they really need to take it back to the drawing board and make it something people can actually enjoy, and not just hear about.

All that said: I LOVE that there is now a reason to hang out in the Deeprun Tram area. Oh, the memories, when I used to save the like 50 copper or whatever it was on flight paths by using the Deeprun Tram. Even low-level characters don't need it anymore, now that you get all your EK and Kalimdor Flight Paths automatically.