Mar 11 2013

Not You

robert

Dear Blizzard. It’s not you, it’s me. Truly. I am very fond of you, and we’ve had some fun times, but I just can’t seem to find the excitement any more. You are still really pretty, and vivacious, and have great hair, but I think I need to see some other people now.

Yes, this is the fairly common ’hiatus’ post. I’ve invested a lot of time, and I guess by now a lot of money, in the game, all the way from vanilla:

Giladris (parked in Darnassus), level 70 rogue, bank alt, and my first character. 40 days, 19:38:04

Belmann (parked beside Giladris), level 90 priest. Second character, rolled when opening the gates of AQ crashed Kalimdor on Amun’Thul. 85 days, 20:53:44

Morkhaeus (parked beside Belmann). Level 85 fire Mage, rolled for Burning Crusade. 25 days, 16:33:20

MacMorris (sitting in a damp tavern in Menethil Harbour). Level 85 DK, rolled for Lich King. 10 days, 18:53:31

Glymly (resting with his bear, Cuddles, in Paw’don village). Level 85 BM hunter rolled at the end of Lich King. 7 days, 6:07:57

Maarisuu (lonely in Dalaran), Level 71 protection/arms warrior, rolled at the same time as Glymly. 4 days, 22:40:42

Kareline (also hanging out in Paw’don). Level 85 warlock and worgen, my Cataclysm baby, levelled to 85 about a week before Pandaria. 4 days, 17:57:15

Haanaargh (Light’s Hope Chapel). Level 46 gnome rogue, rolled toward the end of Cataclysm for the heck of it. 1 day, 16:55:21.

Fenggan (Stormwind, beer in hand). Level 40 brewmaster panda monk. 1 day, 0:54:39

And I have a low level Tauren paladin tucked away somewhere, and have had some other short lived toons probably amounting to about 36 hours played. Adding all that up, rounding it around, gives something like 183 – 185 days. Call it 26 weeks and change. Half a year. That’s a serious time investment. A very rough cost over the years would be something like $AU1,500.

But my enthusiasm has definitely waned. The reality of course is that WOW, like any other RPG, is often a grind. Usually a grind. But the thing that used to ameliorate that was the culture and the social interactions. I met a lot of cool and fun people, and we had great times together. Then I moved country, and time zone, and found I seldom ran into those guys anymore. I saw little end-game in Cataclysm, and as my time became more and more constrained, descended into chasing achievements. Pandaria made this more obvious: the first run through the story content with Belmann was fun, and some of the visuals are jaw-dropping (and on the whole this expansion has the best writing to date). When I looked at levelling other characters, it felt like a chore, and finding out that the amount of grinding needed to be able to even glimpse end-game content had increased? Well, straw, camel, one applied to the other.

Blizzard has gone to great effort to provide a very wide range of daily quest activity for the grind, and mostly it’s fun rather than just damned annoying (although kill-ten-rats on a healer is always hell). The truth remains though that most of the grind needs to be done through endless instance running. And with my shift of time zones that means endless PUGs. Therein the true hell.

Trite but accurate, Sartre’s comment that hell is other people. For instance running in WOW pickup groups, hell is other players. I am sure that the majority of players a not pimply faced youths with personality disorders. But dear God, it doesn’t show. The best instance experience is carried out in dead silence, with no social interaction, and each player mechanically competent. And that’s rare.

More usually as the healer I see a tank racing to get it over as quickly as possible, making it everyone else’s problem to deal with the pace he sets. I see DPS not even trying to avoid standing in the fire. And I watch the DPS  bitching at the tank to go faster and faster. And inevitably the tank does a stupidly large pull, and the DPS are standing in the fire, and dealing with the mobs that got away from the tank, and the healer goes OOM – and the abuse starts. Poisonous, vicious, nasty.

It’s been worse with the two baby tanks I tried to grow. The only place to learn to tank is in the instances, but it’s impossible to learn when the hunter decides you are not going fast enough, and starts tanking. Or the Mage decides you are not pulling big enough, so unleashes AOE to aggro more mobs. Or the rogue in quest greens and blues and heirloom items stands in front of the boss, pouring stupid amounts of DPS on, distracting the healer… And you know how it goes. And then the abuse starts again.

Look, it’s inevitable in a way. The end-game is marketed as the ultimate goal. The only important way of demonstrating your stature. So for the pasty faced youths, the justice point grind through instances is not just a game. It’s vital, the only way they have of growing their e-peen bigger than the next guy. It’s not a Skinner box, it’s the dominance wars of a band of chimps.

The easy accessibility of the game is both it’s strength and weakness. On one hand it provides a fantastically well designed and graded difficulty curve for new players, and a hugely rich world to play in. On the other hand it allows players to entirely disregard the mechanics and story of the game, and focus on the single goal of biggest iLevel on the block. To have the biggest e-peen to wave around.

If I had to point at a single feature that promotes the rampant unpleasantness, I would say that it is because WOW has no serious negative consequences. You cannot lose gear or experience or characters, and gear designed to be at the correct level for content is easily and quickly accessible (this is even more so with Pandaria, where you can buy complete sets of kits for Alts for a few hundred gold that will see them through entire expansion, other than end-game).

I am sure that in Blizzard’s head the mechanisms to control player behaviour, and provide meaningful consequences, were intended to arise organically out of the player community. But that never happened. Maybe if there were mechanisms to black list players, or penalise them in game for being douchebags. Maybe if being a member of a guild provided serious enhancements, but forming guilds was expensive and difficult. Some way, anyway, for the silent majority of inoffensive players to apply a real, meaningful consequence.

Oh, yes, ok, Blizzard has mechanisms for banning players, but really that’s damned rare, and seldom applied for simply being an antisocial little twerp.

So really, the choice is obvious. Sink money and time into a grind that longer provides much fun or try something different. Which is what I am going to do, and see how Eve works out for me. So far it’s been interesting, although I am aware I am nowhere near the content or play that can be considered to be “end game”.

Tentatively I would identify three core differences. First, the bulk of the story in Eve is whatever the players want to tell them selves. Second, the learning and difficulty curve is extreme. Third, the game play is structured so that your in-game behaviour will have in-game consequences. Time will tell whether I find less discomfit in a game structured to deal with the reality that people can be distinctly unpleasant, rather than one that assumes people will play nice and cooperate without incentive.


Jun 26 2011

Damne’d B’elfs!

robert

Belmann’s pursuit of the BC heroics has continued, with a rampage through The Botanica and The Arcatraz and on to Magister’s Terrace. If I can remember to synchronize screen shots across computers, I can even put up some holiday snapshots.

I’d never seen The Botanica or The Arcatraz on any ‘toons, and remember them being held is some awe as tough instances. I can see why, they both would be challenging at level without some care, and both would be fairly slow going.

For me The Botanica felt a bit dull. The physical layout of the instance is nice enough, and definitely feels like a real space devoted to some sort of arcane gardening. Having most of the bosses on side spurs off a long, almost circular, passage would allow groups at level to pick and choose their fights, and there is plenty of opportunity for clever crowd control and line-of-sight pulls. On the other hand, it still feels like filler content, because there is little variety in the mobs, and little variety in the bosses and their behaviours.

The Arcatraz was a suprise, and a delight, after the bread-and-butter of The Botanica. The pacing is much better, and there’s not the same sense of slogging through the same mob again and again. This really comes out of the theme that drove the design – The Arcatraz is a prison stocked with the worst and most horrible of beasties and things that go bump in the night, and as you progress deeper into it’s core, you progress into deeper levels of secure lockup, with more ferocious beasties.

The final boss fight in The Arcatraz would be gruelling at level, consisting of three mini bosses before the main boss, with very little time between them and a wide variety of attacks and abilities to deal with. Wrapped around it though is this great and funny side-play with an irate gnome mage, Millhouse Manastorm, who I’m sure I’ve seen somewhere before. Their’s a fair bit of subtle humour elsewhere in the instance before here too, particularly with the two bickering husband-and-wife demons – whichever one you attack first, the other stands back egging you on.

As an aside, I can see that the first boss fight would have been a pug and guild killer. There’s a large room, stocked with about 6 floating beholders with way too many eyes, and about 4 dog-things with even more eyes and tongues, and the boss standing in the corner. And a few low level mobs. The boss stays where he is, but the others patrol on several quite wide ranging paths, and you really, really need to clear them one at a time without pulling the boss. There’s a convenient corridor to do LOS pulls, and enough room to pull them one at a time into a corner to burn them down, but still it would require a group at level to cooperate and do the right thing every time. A misplaced AOE or a rampant pet would definitely have wiped the group.

Belmann rocked up and knocked on the door of Magister’s Terrace – and was refused entry. There’s a breadcrumb quest leading from Shattrath to Quel’Danas, and thence into the normal instance to pick up Kael’Thas’ head. But I couldn’t pick up the quest. I made the long slow trip back to Shattrath – nope, no quest. Back to Quel’Danas. No quest. Into the normal instance and up to the body that was supposed to give you the next step. No quest. I quit the instance and gave up for the night, scratching my head. Some google-fu hinted at the answer – Belmann had probably finished the first three steps of the quest at some point, without getting to the next step.

I do have some vague memory of going into MT years ago, but I really cannot remember any details. Still, it was worth trying, so I slogged in, past the body, and on to the easily-overlooked magic orb in the garden after the second boss. Clicked on the orb, watched the cut-scene (oooh, spooky fore-shadowing of daring deeds to be done in the Sunwell), and a blue dragon flew down to give me the next step in the quest, “Hard To Kill”. I continued on, found Kael’Thas, and carted his head back. And that gave me the Outland Dungeonmaster achievement, as expected. I turned around and went back to attempt the Heroic version, and found that Belmann could now get in. He flattened about half the instance at heroic level, and didn’t particularly notice much difference other than more purple drops, then gave up again for the night.

It struck me that there’s an awful lot of green and low level blue and purple items that designers spent a lot of time on – giving them names, doing the art, balancing the stats – that never, ever get equipped. They drop in these low-level instances and just get disenchanted, or flogged off to vendors. This is one of the odd features of modern MMOS I suspect – if they live long enough and go through expansions, it’s probable that old pockets of content live on in the servers, unvisited and unloved. All of which gives me a good reason to go and beat up Kael’Thas again, for old time’s sake.


Jun 20 2011

Roflstomp Progress

robert

I set out on Friday with Belmann to see if I could solo, or beat down with a small group, some more of the BC heroic instances. First cab off the rank was Hellfire Ramparts, which I started as holy while calling out in guild chat for a tank. The first few groups went down easily enough as I could shield and self-heal while beating them down one at a time. This was pretty slow going though, and Coldspine bought his mage in to tank. We knocked the whole thing over in about 10 minutes.

It was almost sad to see this instance torn down so easily, given how much time and pain I spent on it during the initial months of BC. I remember it as being the instance that told mid level ’60s that they actually needed to plan their pulls and use crowd control. Almost sad, but not quite.

I tackled Sethekk Halls next, which I’d done once or twice at level on normal mode. My vague memory of it was that it was annoying and full of birds. True enough, it was annoying and full of birds. I switched Belmann over to shadow so that I could DPS effectively, and spammed Mind Sear all over the place – this proved problematic at times, because there were a good number of mobs in there that not only have knock-back, but a silence and a stun. Even being ridiculously over geared for the instance, if there were enough mobs beating on me while I was silenced and stunned got my health dangerously low.

It was somewhat annoying that I could not get assistance with Anzu, but got guilted into assisting with some rated BG runs. Let it be said that I find the experience of PVE battlegrounds with my optimised-for-healing priest about as much fun as rubbing pepper in my eyes. Belmann may as well have been carrying a big sign saying “nuke me”, as every time he stood still to heal our opponents would all pile onto him. A couple of hours of die… wait… resurrect… run… heal… die… and I was done for the night.

Returning to Setthekk Halls the next day I finally got Anzu down by the skin of my teeth after wiping twice. The big problem I found with him was not only did he have a stun and a magic shield, and a silence, the non-elite flocks of birds he summoned also had a stun. It became a roll of the dice whether I could keep up my own health and chunk out enough DPS and not go out of mana, and in the end got him down when I was at about 2% health and just about OOM. The big boss in that instance, Talon King Ikiss, was trivial, and went down in a few seconds.

Escape from Durnholde proved a little tricky as well. I’m really fond of this instance, and it’s the one that people forget when they talk about outdoor instances. For those who’ve not done it, it’s a trip back in time to an early version of Hillsbrad, and if you take the time to hang around in some of the buildings and listen in on the NPCs, there is a huge amount of interesting lore to be picked up. Particularly cool is to see little Sally Whitemane and Renault Morgaine as children role-playing heroics with a frog.

The instance was reasonably simple, for the most part. The initial part where you wander around the orc internment camp setting fire to buildings was trivial but time consuming, as was the slog up the hill to the keep proper. I mistakenly thought that if I killed all the mobs, there would be none for Thrall to deal with when he escaped, but no, he gets fresh spawns irrespective of how many you slaughter. And what’s the deal with Thrall? He knocks out the armourer and steals weapons and armour from the armoury… and chooses to take cheap leather junk and chintzy axe. Couldn’t he have taken some plate, or at least mail, so that he wasn’t so soft? It took me four attempts to escort him out of the keep, and I only succeeeded on the fourth attempt by realising that I should not attempt to heal him, but concentrate on doing enough DPS to keep the aggro off him altogether. Once I figured that out, the rest was a push over.

Opening the Dark Portal was equally a push over. I think I did the instance once or twice on Giladris, and had virtually no memory of it, so I trotted off to Wowhead to read up on the strategy. This definitely refreshed my memory, as I recall it being somewhere that caused great angst and many wipes, and there were dire warnings about rounding up the non-elite mobs and killing them before starting the encounter proper. I started to do this, then accidentally started the encounter by getting too close to Medivh, and decided it was a waste of time anyway. Each time the portals opened I jumped straight on the elite that spawned and mostly blew it away before any of the non-elites came through. Any that did get through I dotted and they came after me – at the end Medivh’s shield was at 97% because a single little dragon had gotten to him and breathed fire.

I really enjoyed The Mechanar, possibly because I’d never seen it. The visual design is quite lovely, blending the feel of Exodar with the feel of the The Consortium and a dash of Sunwell. The interior has a nice logic to it, and it felt like a working space, and not just a dungeon crawl. One thing I found particularly interesting was that the way that mobs were linked was subtle, and there were subtleties about the crowd control – a lot of mobs you expect to be able to be mind controlled were immune, but that didn’t stop me MCing the casters and letting the melee tear them to shreds. Another unusual aspect was that there were two long corridors that the mobs ran the length of to beat on me – they seemed to be linked somehow to either entering the corridor or nuking the two guards at the start of the corridor. Either way it must have been… exciting… to see those groups charging down if you ran the instance at level.

Next off will be The Botanica I guess. Let’s see how I go.


Jun 17 2011

Belmann’s Roflstomp Adventure

robert

Here’s how it is folks. I’ve got pretty limited time to play at the moment, and am mostly popping on for an hour here, a half hour there. As a result I’ve been pursuing various achievements that can be achieved with that sort of committment, and doing way too much fishing. And slaughtering furbies in Winterspring. But they love me in that tunnel now.

Anyway. There are a number of Burning Cusade instances and heroics I never did with Belmann. As part of chasing the relevant achievements, I intend to spend time over the next few weeks knocking over these dungeons. Pretty well a matter of knocking on the door, offering the people who answer a religous tract, and then slaughtering them all with no particular strategy or plan. Once the instances are done, I propose to do the same thing with the raids.

So! I will try to give guild people a few days warning when I’m going to make an attempt on something, and get it listed in the group calendar, and pester them in guild chat to make up a party. I anticpate that most of them can be 2- or 3-manned, and there’s no reason we can’t carry low-level toons through for experience and rep.
At the moment the list looks like this (all heroics, of course)

  • Hellfire Ramparts
  • Mechanar
  • The Botanica
  • The Arcatraz
  • Opening of the Dark Portal
  • Sethekk Halls
  • Escape from Durnholde
  • Magister’s Terrace
  • Sunwell Plateau

 


May 27 2011

Heroically Random

robert

With respect to WoW recently I am really time poor. I can grab an hour here, half an hour there, at odd intervals, and so raiding is entirely out of the question (as I watch the guild pull away from me again), and I really don’t want to waste any time.

Which is why the state of Cataclysm Heroics and PUGs is really annoying, but I will keep the rant to a minimum.
I’m only trying to run heroics on Belmann, as a healer, at the moment. I don’t have time to waste sitting in a DPS queue for 40 minutes to run a 40 minute instance. So my queue times as a healer are ok, at most 5 or 10 minutes. But the instance runs themselves are proving horrible, and I’ve not actually finished an instance in weeks. Monday was a good example of the pattern.

I queued up and popped into the Stone Core. The DK tank immediately shouted “f* this”, spawned his Army, and quit the group. Wait. Wait. Wait. Another tank showed up,  said “this is an instance I don’t need” and quit. The melee DPS Paladin requeued as tank (this doesn’t look good) and we picked up another DPS. Off we went, with the tank apparently in DPS gear, or at the very least wearing cardboard armour. He could barely hold aggro, and I had to keep spamming Greater Heal to keep him up. The other DPS were dropping like flies on trash as I could not spare them heals, and they kept pulling mobs off him. We replaced three DPS before we got to the first boss, and two more between that boss and the dragon boss. Did I mention that he was chain pulling all the way, not giving me an opportunity to regain mana, and complaining we weren’t going fast enough?

Now I’ve found the dragon boss in that instance to be really difficult to heal as holy. It’s not just that I have to keep moving to keep out of the fire, which makes for really inefficient healing, the line of sight issues are horrid. At least twice I began to cast Greater Heal to keep the cardboard tank up, and a sodding pillar dropped in front of me just as the cast was ending, and a fire spot bubbled up between my feet. Move, cast again. No time at all for the DPS. We wiped twice (and lost another DPS), and got him down. As I ran back to the instance, since I died just at the end of the boss with a heroic saving ghost heal, I mentioned that it was an annoying fight and said something like “I’m sure Blizzard have rigged the fire to pop under the healer :-)”. His response? “L2 Move Noob”

The next part of the instance after the dragon boss is a little bit tricky, and all the advice I’ve ever seen is to be careful of how many mobs you pull. Off he went with a huge chain pull, had something like 20 mobs on him, and of course we wipied again because the DPS pulled mobs off him, died, and I ran out of mana. So he rage quit.

There’s a little over an hour of game play, consisting entirely of dealing with bad manners and lousy understanding of how to play. If we’d slowed down, been careful with the pulls, marked up the mobs, and actually thought about what we were doing we’d have gotten through it, and gotten through it faster than we did with the constant wipes.

Ok, rant over.

Because I’m so time poor, what am I doing instead of the PUG hell? At the moment I’m rolling a dice. I’ve currently got 9 toons, at different levels of progression. Two 85s, and my DK is about to pop 85. The hunter and warrior are in the low 60′s, the ‘lock is racing up the ladder and is in the ’40s. So I can pop onto virtually any of the toons other than Belmann and progress something. Even Belmann I can progress, by chasing profession levelling and small achievements – hence a lot of fishing lately. And somehow or other I’ve wound up with three toons who pick flowers, and two miners, so there’s a bit of money starting to roll in as well.

So part of my preparation to play, other than pouring a glass of wine of making coffee, is to roll dice.
You heard that right. Random heroes. Heroically random. Nine toons, and a D10. If I roll a 10, or Giladris-the-70-bank-alt, I roll again. It might be silly, but it’s a way that I can have fun in the game while time poor, as long as I don’t have to deal with what seems to be a preponderance of kunckle-dragging mouth-breathing examples of why cousins shouldn’t marry.


May 19 2011

Teach a Dwarf to fish…

robert

I decided some weeks ago to level Belmann’s fishing skill. This is a sort of sack-cloth and ashes action, as to despite protestations from Blizzard since the original pre-Vanilla beta days, they’ve never found a way to make fishing very interesting, other than achievements. And the result of the various achievements is a lot of fish and time, and not much else. Still, I set out to level by chasing achievements, and decided initially to pursue the Oceanographer and Liminologist ones. These involve catching one of each of about 120 specific species in salt and fresh water respectively, and I finally knocked off the last three fish for Oceanographer last night.

Ironically, the last fish (a Redgill) was not in what I would have thought of as salt water, but was listed at Wowhead as one of the best spots – the lake in the middle of Moonglade. There is something relaxing about standing in the middle of knowhere, listening to the ambient sound of frogs and wind, and the in-game music, while the green text of guild chat flickers in the corner of your vision. And some of the fish are fetching surprisingly good prices on the auction house – I have probably raised about 300G that way. Which is about half of what I would have gotten by dancing semi-naked on a mailbox for the same amount of time.

Anyway, between the penultimate and the ultimate fish, the guild’s awesome bear tank Nyngo logged in and called out for a random something or other. After about 20 minutes he’d put together a group for a random heroic – which turned out to be Shadowfang Keep – and off we went. With some glitches. There were three of us from the guild – myself, Nyngo, and a cat druid I’d not really met before. We started out with two shamans that Nyngo knew, but one was having computer problems, and dc/d before the first mobs, came back as a shadow priest, and dc/d after the first mobs. About two thirds of the way through the other shaman had some real-life issues and had to log out as well, and we picked up a pretty good warrior who was entirely silent throughout the run, and a worgen mage.

As an aside, I think that’s the first worgen mage I’ve seen. I’ve seen lots of rogues and a vast number of warriors, and little else.

Anyway, off we went.

Now, SFK was the first Cataclysm heroic I did with Belmann, some months back, and I did it that time accidentally, not realizing I’d queued for heroics rather than normals. On that occasion I was lucky to have a very well geared group, and we got through it fine. This time we had a pretty well geared group, but more importantly we had players who knew how to play their characters effectively. Nyngo has always been a damned fine tank, and I spent a good deal of time throughout Wrath watching his furry bear butt bounce around as he flattened everything up to and almost including Arthas. But in this instance, we also had DPS that were sensitive not just to the mechanics of each fight, but sensitive to the needs and strengths of the other toons they were running with.

I’ve got mixed feelings about SFK. I only ran the vanilla version a few times, and found it an interesting design, but much of it felt somehow claustrophobic. The physical design is almost unchanged, even though the content is radically different now, and the hemmed in claustrophobic feeling remains. I don’t know how it is for other healers, but SFK has the physical features that make it a fraught experience for me – lots of stairs and twisty narrow corridors make for horrid line-of-sight issues, meaning I was often standing very close to the tank, and the low ceilings make for weird and obscured camera angles.

The vanilla version had a strange and melancholy flavour, possibly enhanced by it being so isolated and difficult to get to, and I suspect few Alliance players ever ran it. There was a great deal if lore bound up in and around it though, and the revised version uses that lore to make a compelling story and experience – you sweep into the Keep as the pointy end of a liberation force, cleansing it evil, etc etc. So apart from the slightly disconcerting aspect of clearing a boss room of evil worgens only to have it fill up with good worgens with roughly the same character model…

The other thing I don’t like about the design is that the first boss, whatever his name is, is considerably tougher than the rest. Maybe they put him in as a gear check, but as a healer it’s a rotten fight: as a holy priest, it takes a *lot* of mana to get everyone back up after he does that horrid choking effect, and if there is insufficient DPS to get him down before my mana pool is exhausted, it’s a wipe. It feels like a cop-out on the part of the designers in that winning the fight is not a matter of finessing and dealing with the fight mechanic, but simply a matter of having crossed the numerical threshold.

My strategy can be summed up as “flail desperately”. I use the chakra to turn on Holy Word: Sanctuary, and throw a lightwell down in front of myself and the ranged DPS. I keep throwing down the Sanctuary on the tank and melee whenever it cools down, and throw out my shadow beast halfway through the whole mess. When everything goes right, my mana is *almost* exhausted by the end. When it doesn’t, everyone dies. The annoying thing is that with a competent tank the rest of the fights are trivial to heal.

On the other hand, last night I had a pretty good gear check. After we’d gone through the first two or three bosses, and were on the battlements area slugging gargoyles… I realised I still had my fishing rod equipped. Amazing how much easier it became after I switched back to the staff with all its buffs.


May 13 2011

Easy Mode when you don’t need it

robert

As I mentioned, I’ve taken my two mid-level dwarfs into Outlands, and let them sit for a few weeks without touching them much. I will try to keep them at about the same level, for no readily apparent reason.  And there is a reason for writing about two toons that I’m not doing much with: a renewed commitment to myself to write more frequently.

A few times recently I’ve spoken of hunters as “easy mode for people who don’t need easy mode”, and my experiences today with Glymly bear that out. Do you see what I did there? “Bear” it out? Because the favoured pet for solo PVE content is the big black bear, Cuddles? It was a pune, or play on words?

Never mind.

I spent about half an hour with Glymly while I finished my coffee before going to work this morning, for the first time in weeks, and really for the first time in Outlands. Now Hellfire Peninsula would have to be very low on any list of anyone’s favourite zones, and my memories of it the first three times through were that it was pretty dismal. I went through it first with my badly specced, under-geared rogue, and spent an inordinate amount of timed stealthed and sneaking around trying not to get eaten by those maddening boars. It was the first zone where virtually all groups of mobs were linked, and as a rogue it was a nightmare – sap one mob, stab another, beat it down and vanish, then sit around for several minutes waiting to heal and for the vanish cool down to finish. It was grindingly slow and horrible. Going through with Belmann as a Shadow Priest was a bit easier because he was better tuned and equipped, and could resort to bubbling and madly healing, but it was slow. By the time I went through it with the third toon, Morkhaeus the fire mage, I vowed to never do it again.

Mork had a slightly easier time because he had some heirloom gear, and still had a viable AOE attack that would knock mobs back, but still, I got out of there as quickly as I could. As I did when I broke the vow and briefly visited with Macmorris the DK. In each case I did enough of the zone to get breadcrumbed along to the next zone, and made no attempt to “finish” the zones.

So it was surprising how easy Glymly is finding the experience, going through the PVE quests like a Tauren in a china shop. Yes, he’s got several heirloom pieces that are pretty well best in slot, but it’s amazing what can be done with the bear tank. Quite regularly while finishing the quests involving the maddening groups of linked orcs, I was doing these mad chain pulls running for several minutes, with five, six, seven mobs one after the other being aggrod and beaten down. Stupidly easy.

But not straight away. When I first picked up the reins again, both Cuddles and Glymly died three or four times in a row.

And there’s the tricky part. Yes, I think Hunters are Easy Mode. But only if you have a pretty good grasp of the game mechanics. If you don’t understand threat, if you don’t understand how to get and keep the mobs’ attention, if you don’t watch the threat meters and health, if you don’t keep a pretty steady stream of DPS while also healing the pet and using the pet’s special abilities when they come up – you die. There’s a lot to keep track of, and a lot to balance.

But man, it’s fun.


Apr 19 2011

Bugs! Get ‘em off me!

robert

For a variety of reasons, for several months, I’ve not been able to play more than a few hours each week, moving back into the realm of being a much maligned ‘casual’ player. It’s a distinction and tag that really irritates me, primarily because it’s waved around as a derogative term: “you’re coming into this instance with level-appropriate gear and aren’t yet raiding? you’re just a casual, so we’ll kick you”.

It’s been particularly hard for Belmann as both healer and DPS. His shadow spec gear is not particularly great, and he’s not intended to be primarily a DPS other than for fun and solo play. So when I got sick of the abuse in PUGs, I’d play as DPS rather than heals, and found I was getting abused for not putting out enough DPS either (ironically, usually because the group as a whole was not putting out enough, and he was not top of the charts). It was a bit easier for Morkhaeus, because as a fire mage he’s able to pump out respectable DPS without stellar gear, and I think because the average player has different expectations about a pure DPS character: “oh, he’s just DPS, he can stand up the back and pew-pew”.

One of my most experienced guild mates and fellow dwarf priest, Papaheal, hit the nail on the head a few weeks ago in guild chat after I was expressing my despair about the state of PUGs – “this expansion has been really hard on casual players”. What I think has happened for players like me who’ve spent the last few months with limited play time is this: the time-rich but talent-less have managed to brute force and face roll their way through heroic instances enough times to accumulate some gear and get over the hump of difficulty. Blizzard made no secret of intending the instances (heroic and normal) to be difficult and challenging, but there’s a large cadre of players raised on Wrath Of The Lich King who have no patience – they expect and demand that every instance boss be one-shotted, that there be no wipes, and even at extremes, no deaths. I would hate to be a tank in these times, but I’ve got to say that healing these instances with PUGs is painful. It’s a part of the game that has become Not Fun. And if I’m paying to play, why should I waste my limited time and money on doing something that’s Not Fun. So Belmann is caught in a cleft stick – in order to live up to the expectations of being able to heal through tough instances when others in the group are under-geared, uncooperative and just plain stupid, with no wipes and no deaths, he needs to become over-geared for the instances, which he cannot do without running the instances.

Sigh. I didn’t intend for this to turn into a rant about the pain of healing PUGs, I really didn’t. It’s pretty obvious that Blizzard’s plan to reward “needed” classes for queueing in the random LFD (read: healers and tanks) is in direct recognition that tanks and healers don’t want to run Cataclysm instances in PUGs. Blizzard can’t be unaware of the root reason though – it’s not that the game is challenging, it’s that there are a substantial number of complete ass-hats playing. Sigh. Why are people so unkind?

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yes, bugs. Of the six and eight legged variety, not the borken code type. Although I’ve seen two of the latter in recent weeks.

For a first, at the time I write there’s something wrong with VuhDo, which has evolved to be central to Belmann’s healing play: on some instances, particularly in raid content, it was causing my framerate to drop from 60+ FPS to 1 or 2 FPS. This was… Not Fun. I thought it was my computer blowing up, and it took quite a while to think to start turning off addons. And the other bug was something I’ve not seen for a long time – Maarisuu took a few steps North East of XXX Keep in the Blasted Lands, and fell through the world. Run, run, run, woop! Try as I could, I couldn’t find the spot again, and forgot to get a screen shot.

Because I’ve been playing in small chunks, I’ve been tending to pick up the reins on the alts, and particularly on Glymly the hunter and Maarisuu the baby prot warrior. Neither of which are babies anymore, in the last week they’ve both reached 60 and headed to the Outlands. I deliberately took them off through different zones to level, with Glymly hanging around the Easter Kingdoms, and Maarisuu roaming Kalimdoor. And with one exception, the reworked old content is a blast.

So far for levelling I’ve found that there is some truth in labelling hunters as “easy mode”, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend one for new players. Glymly is Beast Master spec, because for me that seems to be what a hunter should be about, and in general terms he goes through solo content like a hot knife through butter. The advantage of travelling with a personal tank in the form of a large irate black bear cannot be understated: usually he can just send the pet rushing off into the middle of a group of mobs, let the bear get aggro, then DPS from the edge without being hit at all. The hunter can pretty well snooze through any quests that involve killing ten rats or collecting ten rat tails. On the other hand I think that playing a hunter effectively is a subtle and complex task. I spend a lot more time watching both DPS and threat meters, and making concious decisions about what attack to throw out so as not to peel mobs off the bear. I’d call it easy mode for people who don’t need an easy mode.

On the other hand it took me a while to figure out how to effectively use the warrior, maybe because she’s a Prot warrior and really not designed to be able to pump out much damage. In the end I realised that if possible I should try to pick up three or four mobs at once and smack them down using a mixture of AOE attacks and direct walloping. Part of the slow realisation was that I’m not used to having a heavily armoured character that can absorb a lot of damage, or in the case of the sword-and-plank character, deflect the damage. For my first character, Giladris the badly specced rogue, pulling several mobs was suicide, and the same went for Belmann, particularly when he was in holy spec. Morkhaeus had a better time as a mage, but only if he could burn down mobs before they got into melee range.

One fun thing I’ve had with Maarisuu for quite a few levels was a pair of trinkets that fitted neatly against each other. The first got picked up in Thousand Needles, and summons a ghost Tauren to fight along side. I don’t think it’s damange scales with level, but on the other hand it definitely provided enough DPS to make it a valuable assistance from around level 35 up to 61 where she is now. The companion trinket is a hoot – it summons a sour-tempered Goblin nurse that stands around critiscising your lifestyle and putting down a good amount of healing. With these two, I found that I could easily wade into a pack of five or six mobs of higher level, use the trinkets, switch to defensive stance and just slug away without sweating.

Blizzard have been true to their aim to make levelling faster. Each of these two toons is wearing two or three heirloom pieces, which piles on experience at a blinding rate, but throughout the old world they have ensured that the collect-ten-rat-tail quests do not require killing one hundred rats. Most of the time quest items are pretty well 100% drop rate, and spawn rates and mob density ensure there’s little mindless grinding. Couple that with the quest helper facilities pointing you to the right area, and helping you see nearby questing areas, and it means that you can pick up a handful of quests and do a circuit out to satisfy all of them at once. There’s not many instances of the old style of questing where you are sent to the other side of the map to kill ten rats, return to the quest giver, and then get sent all the way across again to kill the boss rat. Quest hubs are intelligently placed, you can usually pick up several quests at once, and the quests are designed to minimise travel time.

Another really subtle change that makes levelling fast? Quest mobs have their names highlighted in red. It’s a little thing, but makes a big difference: the quest helper and map modifications get you to roughly the right area quickly, and once there it’s obvious who you need to clobber. Of course there’s a downside – in areas where the mobs have a high spawn rate, once you kill the ten rats, the red name plate goes away… and you can forget that the rats are still there eating your face. Oops.

Most of the new quests are fun. With one exception so far none of the revised old world zones have pointless quests. It’s a mixture of carefully written quest lines that really do advance a story, and culling of pointless quests. Even the kill-ten-rat quests are written so that there’s a reason to kill the rats, and killing the ten rats advances a coherent and cogent story. When you get near the end of the quests in a quest hub, there’ll be a breadcrumb quest to get you to the next hub, and the same for the zones.

A great example of this reworking is Un’Goro Crater. In the vanilla game, Un’Goro was one of those zones that people cordially loathed, or at best tolerated. It was full of dinosaurs that would eat your brain, gorillas that would tear off your arms, and bugs that would poison you. There was one quest hub at the north edge of the map, and you spent a ridiculous amount of time crossing all the way across the zone, a quest at a time. All gone. They moved the main quest hub to pretty well the dead center, and added an additional smaller hub. All the quests are linked into one overarching story, with a great reveal of the Titan’s purpose behind Un’Goro Crater – essentially it’s a big petri dish – and many quests slyly acknwoledge the old content. And you get to go questing with Don Quixote. Ok, he’s a deluded paladin that rewards a very nice shield, but he’s fun. You spend some time helping him defeat the ‘dragons’, then ‘rescue’ some very confused maidens, one of whom is a male blood elf, lay to rest some angry spirits with kind words, and generally tilt at windmills. The chain culminates in a hilarious attempt to down the devilsaur boss, which results in the paladin racing pell-mell around the zone with you on the back of his horse as he hands you pieces of his armour to throw at the boss. Result? A naked paladin, a dead dinosaur, and a really nice blue quest reward.

It’s a bit sad that most players probably won’t see the revised content unless they progress alts, because the revised zones are superb. This is really highlighted by the zone after Un’Goro, which is Silithus. For some reason the zone has been barely touched by the revisions, and it remains a bug ridden hell, with a lot of quests requiring you to travel to the edges of the zone out from the central quest hub, killing 30 of this and 40 of that and gathering 20 of these low drop rate items. A few of the more annoying quests have been trimmed, and the Sceptre of the Sands quest line seems to be gone (or else Maarisuu was too low a level to see the starting points of the quest), but in general the zone felt like vanilla content. The writing of the quests was comparably clunky as well: often it was difficult to tell where to go and what to do when you got there, and the whole zone just feels like a dull grind. I finished up the quests and got out of there as quickly as I could.

So both of those dwarfs have hit Hellfire Peninsula at the same time, and I’ll try to keep them in lockstep progression again. It’s startling how much work Blizzard have put into the levelling process, particularly if you are levelling alts. Each of these characters has two or three heirloom pieces, and when the experience buff of that is combined with the experience buff from the guild, they rapidly out-level both the content in zones and the resources in the zone – several times I had to take them back to previous zones to grind up mining and skinning simply so they could strip mine the zones they were currently chainsawing their way through.

To my mind, though, the levelling process has been enhanced through three fairly subtle changes:

1) by adding more quest hubs and flight points within each zone, considerably less time is taken up by just getting around the zones, and there are far fewer instances of being sent a long way just to hand in or pick up one quest;
2) in the lower levels, up to about level 50, the drop rates on quest items is pretty well 100%, and even from 50 to 60 it’s generally high;
3) the XP gain from gathering professions is a very nice bonus, making it very worth while (and quite lucrative) to stop and smell the roses before tearing them up by their roots.

Addendum
========
So over the weekend I thought I’d try heroics again. And wish I hadn’t, it was a throughly miserable experience. I pulled Morkhaeus out of the closet, ran some dailys to limber up, and looked for a random normal dungeon. That went well, he was obviously geared enough (as was the rest of the group) to pretty well face-roll through the instance, whichever it was. Too many names to remember now – it was the dwarf city where you get to ride on drakes half way through and carpet bomb mobs. Virtually all the loot that dropped was disenchanted, other than a cloak that was a minor improvement for Mork’s intelligence. So it was pretty clear that this random set of five people, presumably a representative sample, had gotten all the gear worth getting from normals already.

I rolled up my sleeves when a Guild heroic run was organised, and we went into the instance in Uldum. We had a moderately new tank, but a very experienced healer and rogue, and a reasonably experienced mage, with all of us notionally geared for the heroic content, and Papa and Sammy tricked out in early raid gear. And it was a miserable, horrible disaster. We wiped endlessly on the first boss, gave up and headed to the crocodile boss, and wiped endlessly on him as well. I think we wiped about 14 times, with Papa and Sammy (rightly) encouraging us to keep trying so we could improve. But we didn’t. With gear that Blizzard deemed to be instance appropriate, we could not generate enough DPS to burn down the bosses before Papa blew through his mana pool and the heals dried up. The numbers just did not work. It really felt like we needed to be over-geared to get through it.

I gave up in despair, changed to Belmann, and Papa switched into shadow spec so we could try again. And the same problem existed – insufficient DPS to get through the boss before Belmann’s mana dried up.

Really at this point I’m ready to give up attempting to progress into end-game content. The levelling process for the alts through revised content is amusing, and I can certainly level professions to their max. Perhaps I should turn the game into a game of auction houses instead and aim to max out gold. Pretty well anything to allow me to login for an hour or so every few days and not spend the time being told that I suck.

Enough of this. Next time lots of pictures, rather than a wall of text banged out on the train.


Jan 20 2011

An Epistle to Tanks

robert

Herein find some suggestions for how you can make Cataclysm instance runs exciting and interesting for healers.

  1. Make sure that you start pulling the next group of mobs while the healer and other magic users are regaining mana. We know that retaining a high level of rage is important, and apologise for not being able to retain mana when we cast.
  2. When the fight is over, and the healer is out of mana, and you’re low on health, don’t waste any of your bandages or food. Instead, remember to hassle the healer to top up your health as quickly as possible, and don’t forget to complain when the healer has to sit down afterwards for a cold drink. Healers wear dresses, and are soft and lazy.
  3. Run out of range of the healer and start pulling while the healer and other magic users are regaining mana. Blizzard should just fix things so that healers can drink while running into range. It’s not your fault.
  4. Don’t waste any time marking up pulls. The excitement of having to heal up the ranged DPS who’ve just pulled a mob away from you makes life interesting and breaks up the tedium of runs.
  5. Make sure that you break any crowd control without getting thread on the mob. Rampant free angry mobs are great fun, particularly when they jump on the healer after eating the mage. After all, mages wear dresses, and are soft and lazy.
  6. You can safely ignore any encounter mechanics, and just stand there hitting the boss in the face while complaining that heals can’t keep you up while the DPS are too slow burning the boss down. Moving bosses so their attacks don’t hit the rest of the group is just a waste of time, and you don’t have the time to figure out if the stuff you’re standing in is good stuff or bad stuff.
  7. If the gear you’re hoping for doesn’t drop off a boss, quit the group and requeue. You’re a tank. You deserve the best.

The important thing to remember is that Cata instances are just like Lich King instances, and are designed for you to bulldoze through as quickly as possible. Finesse, control and care are for spreadsheet-fiddling rogues, and anyone pursuing the quests in instances deserves what they get.


Dec 10 2010

So close!

robert

So I got home from work today to find an enticing box had been delivered… cracked open the plain cardboard outer box, tore through the wrapping, and there was my shiny Collector’s Edition Cataclysm. I fed the cat, had dinner, washed the dishes, opened the box. Began the install… installing…. installing… installing…. for about 40 minutes. Then the download started. 6.7 Gb to download? eh? I thought it would be on the disk. I expect at this point that it will take at least 4 or 6 hours. So close, and yet so far!

I haven’t logged in since Cata was released. Call it superstition, but I wanted to wait until I had the product installed, and was happy to wait until the first few days of release-day frenzy had passed. So on the weekend before it dropped, I dinked around with a bit of this and a bit of that. I rolled a fresh gnome to have a look at the new starting content, and had a blast – the music and ambience are great fun, and there’s a nice feel to the whole thing. Highly recommended. And I took Belmann off to have a look at some of the sights, and to run a last WoTLK heroic dungeon just for old time’s sake. And I was a Very Naughty Healer.

Even right to the end there were egregious twits. I guess we are forever stuck with them. This one was a mage. We zoned into Utgarde Pinnacle, with a mix of seriously over-geared players and two reasonably-geared alts. Somebody was after the Incredible Hulk achievement, so we tackled that. Easy enough, but the mage kept complaining about how he was doing all the work, and carrying the group, and constantly topping the DPS meters. We got through the achievement trivially, and continued powering on. And he kept on, and on, and on complaining about how he was doing all the work. So when we got to the last boss and he once again pulled aggro off the (very patient and long suffering, not to mention competent) tank… I let him do all the work of healing himself too. I wish blizzard would put in a mechanic whereby dead players in pugs couldn’t keep talking. The other three players appreciated it though.

There was a fitting and shiny end to the run though – one of the last trash mobs dropped the Super Simian Sphere, so I spent the last 15 minutes of wrath as a big white gorilla inside a glowing purple bubble, rampaging around Dalaran for the amusement of all.