Nov 17 2010

Want some libertarian comment with that?


I am loving the pre-Cataclysm events and story line that are playing out. The overall story arc and NPC character writing is very good, and there is much more sense of a deep and persistent back-story then there was with the Wrath pre-release (and really, the BC pre-release was pretty well non-existent). They’ve also listened to the player base and made the events much less intrusive – players can opt to ignore the pre-release activity, engage in it lightly, or throw themselves fully into it.

The pace of the events has been excellent as well, particularly if you step back and look at a key facet of the in-game world: the characters we are playing, the puppet avatars we all (one way or another) role play through, and the NPCs, are not aware of what is happening. Step into the game world with me for a moment: everyone is aware that something weird is going on. Nobody has the full picture, nobody has a prescient view of the impending cataclysm. It’s a world where the political leadership is exhausted from fighting the Lich King, and where political and religious institutions have been badly fractured by conflict arising from the war in Northrend. Everything is a bit of a mess, it’s looking like a new war with the Horde is on the horizon, elemental forces are upset and confused, and the earthquakes are coming faster all the time.

Now look at what the events have involved (alliance blinkers on here, I have no idea what the horde events are). We started with the usual sort of vague “there’s something odd happening, go see what it is” quests that we’re used to from the druids. It escalated into a rather more pointed series of investigations on behalf of the military/police of Stormwind, dealing with what they suspect to be a present threat from the latest freaky cult. Which quickly escalated into you going out on the streets of Stormwind and telling the population that the king and security forces are suspending their expected and traditional liberties. This is a pretty grim situation – the general overall ethos in the Warcraft world is a vague adherence to secular humanism, with a heavy overlay of belief in personal freedom married closely to personal responsibility. In other words, fairly standard post-Tolkien fantasy role play.

Going further with that thought. King Varian Wrynn is generally and basically the Lawful Good archetype (yet another Paladin with a rod up his royal backside), and when you take that to extremes you get some pretty questionable behaviour. And he’s done some pretty questionable things. Invading the Undercity is high on the list. Even though it’s the “right” thing to do, there surely would have been less bloody minded and dogmatic ways of dealing with the issue. And this whole “tell the citizens I’m putting a fence around them to protect them, at the cost of their liberties” is pretty questionable as well: at this stage, he’s not really got evidence that the cult is that much of a threat. The reactions is dispraportionate.

Stepping back out into the Real World – it’s a lovely piece of detailed and quite deep world building, presented in a way that players can engage with it at whatever level they choose. It makes me excited for Cataclysm – all those extra writers and designers they have are going to have made some really neat toys for us.

Nov 17 2010

Blog Lag!


Once again I have to beg indulgence, as the the thing that has been squeezed out of my timetable is writing here. So many good ideas, so little time to commit them to pseudo-paper.

Looking back at my last post, given all that has been going on, I’m surprised how much I got done. Admittedly it could be in part because I spent a week ill and mainly in bed.

I did get Morkhaeus up to level 80, and have been running all three 80s through randoms heroics in a desultory fashion, getting the two “lesser” 80s a bit more geared up. I’m not stressing about that though, as I expect by the time they hit 85 all three will have roughly equivalent gear.

Belmann got the Well Read achievement, with the help of various walk-throughs on the web. It’s a silly one, but one of the several that I feel will mean something later to me to have done with Vanilla content before it goes away. He also got a complete Tier 10 set, which is the first and only time any of my characters have had a complete Tier set of any kind. As he replaces gear, I will hold onto all that set, as a memento.

The other goals are in general terms still progressing, although the unstated goal of downing the Lich King remains unfulfilled. I’ve seen the fight a couple of times now, and am frustrated that others in the guild are getting him down, but I’ve never quite got him. So close, and yet so far. The committment needed by the guild to get individuals up to the fight is pretty strenuous, and it’s been exacerbated by the end-of-expansion malaise, and so I frequently applaud the individuals who are opting to spend their game time to help others in this. A strategy has evolved where they try to have rolling raids going on before the “main” raid night that have downed most of the bosses, meaning that those of us who are after the Lich King can pretty well get straight onto that fight, rather than spending most of the night just getting to him. Fingers crossed I will get this before the expansion drops, but I won’t be surprised if I don’t.

I realised, as I was consolidating what the other characters are doing, that a real meta-goal (and to some extent one that Blizzard supports and encourages, just not very vocally), is to get most of the professions maxed out across the various characters so that I can be pretty well self-sufficient. This is particularly true with Gems, and I’m keen to get Morkhaeus levelled up so that I stop spending a fortune on Gems for new gear. The only problem is that it’s turning out to be slow and expensive. Belmann did max out both enchanting and tailoring though, which means that when the expansion hits it should not be too much of a grind to build them up to whatever the new max level is.

As an aside, the changes to enchantment vellums finally make them useful, and make enchanting useful. This little-heralded change has finally made it possible for one character to enchant another high-level character’s gear, and there’s a nice little work flow in play where Macmorris can make the vellums, send them to Belmann for the relevant enchantment, who then sends them on to (for instance) Morkhaeus.

Unlike a lot of folk, I found the 4.x releases to be generally a Very Good Thing. The user interface changes in particular are welcome, and has reduced the number of addons I’m using. I’ve always preferred to have as few addons as possible, to reduce the load on the central game engine, and have found that really for most of my characters the only essential ones are Omen and Dominos, and in the case of Belmann, VuhDo. I might write up something about my addons and UI.

The simpler currency they introduced, reducing the number and variety of badges, is welcomed, but it’s spottily implemented. Various vanilla tokens and currencies are still being awarded, and some of the BC ones as well. While this doesn’t affect levelled characters, and may go away after the expansion, it does mean that leveling characters (or LoreMaster hunters like Belmann) still collect junk tokens as they progress.

In general all three 80s seem to be more effective after all the nerfing, de-nerfing, re-nerfing and anti-nerfing has been finished (for the time being, until a week after Cataclysm). I’m not running any sort of DPS meter on any of my toons (I rely on Omen instead to judge the important thing: am I pulling the mob off the tank) but in general solo play both the frost death knight and the fire mage seem to be knocking things over faster and more easily than they used to. Belmann’s heals are definitely up, at the cost of significantly more mana use, which I think is going to be one of the major challenges for healing as a holy priest in Cataclysm .

Morkhaeus manages to produce some satisfyingly big numbers for a barely-equipped fresh 80, but fire mages remain delicate little snowflakes. In 5-man dungeons, he can throw down quite satisfying damage (although it’s hard to get full rotations up and effective, as other players are generally so over-geared that trash and bosses are going down too fast), but in solo play the consequences of running out of mana, or letting too many mobs get too close, are dire. It’s particularly a problem since there is no longer a viable knock-back spell that can keep mobs away long enough to zap them, and the other escape spells are only really effective when there’s a tank to pick the mobs up again.

The Death Knight talent trees feel much better defined and differentiated, but again, MacMorris has trouble building up effective rotations of attacks and abilities because fights don’t go for long enough.

There are a lot of small, barely noticeable changes in the 4.x patch, many of which have gained little press attention. I’m thinking particularly of little UI changes like the pop-up buttons for teleports and portals, and summoning pets and minions. And merging the personal-buff and group-buff spells, and removing the reagent cost (no more buying 60 candles for a night of raiding)

And the water is pretty.