What I’m playing: World of Warcraft, LOTRO, Guild Wars 2

World of Warcraft

Time for a little update on my current evening rotation, which pretty much keeps cycling through three MMOs. Let’s start with WoW, because I absolutely loved the fact that there were swimming skeletal fish in Tirisfal Glades and wanted to use this pic for a header.

Anyway, I’m kind of stalled once again with my Death Knight. There are odds and ends to do, but now that I’ve got flying and four (!) legendary items, I feel a lot less motivated to clear out my quest log and run mythics. So instead I’ve found myself spending a little time here and there with my baby Undead Warlock, who hasn’t even hit double digits yet.

Let me tell you, those early levels are really rough. Not hard, combat-wise, but very slow. I didn’t even get my pet until level 5 or 6, and burning stuff down before you get your second DoT is just a pain. Suck it up, I tell myself. Deal with it and enjoy the Halloweeny scenery. I always did love this zone.

Since this is a Horde character, I have no characters to shuttle her money or bags, so it’s pretty much a start-from-scratch scenario. That’s fine for an alt, and there’s no rush to get to the cap.

Lord of the Rings Online

10th anniversary activities continue to consume me (and that’s fine, since I am not feeling particularly hurried to get back to the Wastes). I run the delivery quests every three days for the easy tokens and otherwise plink away at the scavenger hunts. I’ve done all of the Year One quests and two of the Year Two — but there’s a sticking point with that last one.

You see, there’s a quest to re-do a bunch of Volume 1 instances via reflecting pool, which wouldn’t be a problem except I haven’t done Volume 1 on this character at all. So I either give up on a meta-goal of doing ALL of the scavenger quests or I suck it up and do 26 books of an extremely long epic questline in a row. I’m not fully committed to the latter, but I am working on it when I have nothing else to do. I figure I have until mid-July, so it might happen. Might.

I do want to procure a few of the anniversary rewards, like the goat mount and some of the cosmetics. I am very, very happy with the scavenger hunt rewards so far and eager to see what future weeks hold. It’s been such a weird trip around the world, sometimes frustrating (I am not a fan of LOTRO’s stable master system and all of the hard-to-remember town names and where they connect). I’ve probably spent more mithril coins than I should have on quick ports, although I’ve also strategically set bind points at three spots around Middle-earth to get to regions when I need to.

Guild Wars 2

Still really enjoying the relaxed return to this game as I level up a new Engineer (now level 27 with no boosts). I have kind of a formula I’m following, which is to work on zone completion until I unlock the next personal story chapter, then stop to do that, then resume zone. I’m sticking with the human zones for the most part right now, although I did digress into Asura territory when I ran out of on-level human areas to do.

I was happy to see that Heart of Thorns dropped in price for good yesterday, so for $30 I felt that it was time to finally get it. If nothing else, it gets me the Scrapper elite specialization and gliding in the future, so I’m down for that. There’s such a mountain of content to climb to “catch up” with the current releases, and I have serious doubts that at this pace I’ll be ready for the expansion… whenever it gets here. I do have a level 80 boost now, but I’m really reluctant to use it. Don’t see the need, really; I’m enjoying the journey and am not going to skip ahead to the expansion story.

World of Warcraft: Cleared for takeoff

Sometimes the really good things happen when you aren’t fully paying attention.

In the midst of company at our house, I quickly logged onto World of Warcraft yesterday to check my order hall missions, and while I was there I noticed that there was a new quest at Broken Shore. Picked it up and was able to complete it instantly with my supply of nethershards. That turn-in rewarded me with 1500 rep, which just so happened to put me over the top for revered. And with a single button click, I had completed Pathfinder Part 2 and unlocked Broken Isle flying for my account.

I could scarcely believe it. In a way, Legion feels simultaneously like a new and old expansion at this point, depending how I’m squinting at it any given day, so I guess it’s been way too long since I’ve been able to fly (I never did complete Draenor’s requirements) while it still feels like I just got here.

Anyway, I was ecstatic. It’s a literal game-changer to be able to be able to fly on demand. Nevermind grappling hooks, kites, and flight master whistles, now my moose can take me anywhere I want to go with a button click. And with this, all world quests have become easier and the island has opened up to me in terms of exploration. I’m going to have to carve out a night just to be a flight tourist and hit all of those hard-to-reach spots that are now quite accessible.

So with that out of the way, it’s back to poking about at various projects and interests that aren’t too pressing. Casual gaming. And that brought me back to a project that’s sort of a white whale for me: leveling up a Forsaken Warlock.

I can’t be the only one who has had these bucket list-style goals in MMOs over the years, only to take dozens of stabs at them but never follow through for various reasons. In WoW, it’s always been a zombie lock. I love the idea of them, always have dating back to the original trailer. Probably should’ve rolled one at launch, but then I got stuck over on Alliance and felt bad devoting time to Horde. I’ve had several over the years, just never one to cap. It also didn’t help that I already had a high-level Gnome lock, so it felt wasteful (?) to level up another one.

But this feels like a great time to mess around in the game and just have fun with various goals, now that my DK is in a good place. So why not? I created my 525th undead warlock, Syperia, and started her journey through Tirisfal Glades (which I know by heart, both old and new, having done it so many times).

I do vastly prefer the post-Cataclysm era for this zone. Lot better flow and this chap who carries six corpses on his back like a gruesome Jenga tower.

Since I don’t have any Horde alts on this server, this character’s not going to have any financial assistance or in with a guild, so it’s very much starting from scratch. We’ll see how it goes… who knows, this might be the time that I actually make it!

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

Why does World of Warcraft’s 7.2 feel so lackluster?

After a couple of weeks with World of Warcraft’s latest update, I have come to a somewhat disheartening conclusion: Patch 7.2 is a letdown. It’s not a bad patch, per se, but for being this “one of the biggest content patches ever released! so awesome!1!!” event, it’s definitely lackluster from my perspective.

The new zone? Just another world quest arena with unfortunately ugly landscape. The “build your base” mechanic? A crappy and temporary rehash of garrisons. The invasions? Interesting the first few times, but not really worth repeating past that. The additional artifact traits? Welcome, I guess, but it’s a sign of more grinding. The new dungeon? Pretty enough, but instantly gets dumped into the vat of dungeons that aren’t worth doing for the rewards since I’m overgeared already. The new raid? Not out yet. Class mounts? Not there yet.

What really rankles is that the one feature that I want is being stubborn about becoming available. Of course, that’s flying. After all of the hoops we jumped through for Broken Isles Patchfinder Part 1, you’d think that Part 2 would be a lot easier, and in truth, it kind of is. Just explore all of the new zone and get the new rep up to exalted. Simple enough for even me to comprehend.

But that rep is proving to be a real stickler. Apparently you used to be able to get 1500 rep from doing each invasion assault in the beta, but on live they changed it to just the first time and then never thereafter. So… there goes all of my motivation for running assaults, right? Seems like such a stupid decision. What I’m left with is collecting rep in drips and drabs from world quests in Broken Shore with the occasional building material turn-in. It’s not impossible; I’ll probably be done in a couple of weeks. But it’s silly to gate it this slow after all of our accomplishments to date. At least I won’t have to ever do this again on my account.

The result of all of this is that I don’t feel any more entertained right now than I did prior to 7.2 releasing. I’m actually far more excited for the features of 7.2.5, because they sound really fun — time-travel quests and silly micro-holidays and the like. That’s what I want to do.

It’s made me mull alts again. My Warlock is 109, so pretty much right at World Quest level, but part of me would like to get out of Legion for an alternate character. So maybe a new alt… I keep eyeing that Monk, contemplating a healer. Could be the time for it.

World of Warcraft: Invasion buster!

 

Blizzard is most certainly going to milk Patch 7.2 for all its worth. Just like the expansions, World of Warcraft’s patches like to hold things back so that it’s not an “all at once” type of scenario. This time around, there’s even a schedule discussing the gradual rollout of the patch’s features, and that doesn’t include the future unlocking of the new Tomb of Sargeras raid (which, of course, is featured in the patch title itself).

For me, it works out just fine. I’m not an “all at once” consumer anyway; I need time to get used to all of the new systems and content, and considering how much of it there is with 7.2, I’m glad that it’s being time-gated, that way I can enjoy my flashbacks to garrisons as I leisurely construct my new base on the Broken Shores.

Honestly, all I care about right now is getting flying. I am definitely sick of having to weave my way up and down cliffs and use all sorts of little cheats to get around the zones. I’m not exactly sure how much time I’m going to have to sink to get Part 2 of the achievement, but at least its a once-and-done thing for my account. I appreciate that.

Anyway, this week marked the unlock of the new Legionfall assaults, which harkens back to the pre-expansion events that did similar things across Azeroth. Now we’re getting these invasions in the Broken Isles every so often, and so far I’m finding them pretty intuitive and beneficial.

The invasions are tied into the world quest system so that you have to do four in a particular zone before you can progress to the next two stages. All in all, it takes around a half-hour to work up to the invasion ship counter-invasion, and since there’s some good rep here and other rewards, I guess I’m going to have to tack this on to my daily routine along with emissary chests. Don’t know how this leaves me with a lot of time for other activities, and I do wonder how long it’ll be before this feels stale and too repetitive.

For now, I’m digging it. Neat bosses, the whole system seems to work, and I didn’t have to read up on it to figure out what to do. That’s a good sign of intuitive design.

And the rewards? I’ve got nethershards up the wazoo (and I’m not perfectly clear what to do with these yet) and have had a couple of nice gear upgrades. One chest spat out an ilevel 900 helmet with a wicked new look, so that made my day entirely.

I figure that prices for many gathering mats are going to start dropping severely on the auction house soon with flying, so I’m focusing more on disenchanting gear for those mats instead as a money maker. I make sure to scan through all of the world quests every day to see if there are any nice purple gear quest rewards and make those a priority. So far it’s going well, although I don’t think I’m able to make 100k gold every month for a new token at this rate. Might have to face an actual subscription charge later this summer unless I find a different easy money making route.

Dino hunting for fun and non-profit: Are World of Warcraft’s micro-holidays hitting the spot?

This past weekend in World of Warcraft was the latest “micro-holiday” that the game has sported since Patch 7.1.5 came out earlier this year. Players drifted over to Un’Goro for a little targeted monster hunting over a period of three days (which is actually on the longer side of these new events).

As I had missed the last two micro-holidays, I made it a point to get out to Un’Goro to join in the festivities. It was remarkably straight-forward: Look at the map for red Xs representing big level 113 elites, take them down with a group of players, and perhaps die a lot due to interesting mechanics. But as with most of the micro-holidays so far, there is little incentive behind such activities, just three-day buffs (called “adaptations”) that bestow interesting effects. No achievements, no pets, no permanent loot, nothing else.

And as we took down mega-fauna after mega-fauna, I contemplated on the mixture of opinions that were swirling about inside of me. Was this a wholly pointless exercise, some sort of elaborate ruse to keep players busy for the sake of keeping them busy (and perhaps keep them from their daily moan-sessions on the forums)? Or do micro-holidays require a shift of viewpoint that is alien to how World of Warcraft has trained us to date?

The thing is, in WoW and in other MMOs, most everything you do that’s designed by the devs offers progression, recognition, and rewards. There’s incentive to go outside of your daily routine to partake in these events, and while we say that we’re doing it for the fun and experience first, are we really? Or is the allure of prizes what truly gets us to show up, after which we find ourselves seduced into having fun as a bonus?

Micro-holidays are an interesting testbed for events that offer an experience without tangible reward. The activity is the reward, in other words. You do it to get a fun story (or in my case, an easy Monday morning blog post), to engage in a communal activity, and to bend your conception of MMOs as always needing to be feeding you rewards and backpats.

I’ll admit that, yeah, it’s kind of hard to do, especially when all you typically do with your limited gaming time is bent toward progressing your character in some fashion. I’ve bumped into this before when I’m invited to purely social events in-game, such as parties or concerts. Suddenly finding that my character is spending hours without anything tangible to show for it makes a part of my brain scream. It can be hard to downshift to enjoy these things.

But it’s good, too. Un’Goro Madness might have been without any big reward, but I’ll tell you that my kids all gathered around the computer as I told them about this zone and we went dino hunting (and dinosaurs are always big with the 4 through 7 demographic in our house). They shouted advice during combat (“Don’t die!” “Dad, why are you still dying, stop it!”). And we cheered when a dino went down. I also thought that it was a neat touch that the buff that you loot is used on both you and another player, which reinforces (in a small way) that you’re part of a social, communal experience. It’s not just you; it’s us.

And if nothing else, it’s something different, something new, and a welcome diversion when we get too tunnel vision in our gameplay.

10 things that rock about my WoW Warlock

It’s been a good long while since I played a Warlock in WoW with any regularity. Even in Draenor, where I had the splendid Terrorguard, my ‘lock was still number three behind the Death Knight and the Hunter. But now that my DK is in maintenance mode until 7.2 and I’ve lost all interest in my Hunter, it’s the Warlock’s time to shine.

As I’ve been taking her through the leveling areas, I’ve been compiling a list of things I’m starting to appreciate (or re-appreciate) about my Affliction lock:

1. Speed boost on demand: While my DK and Hunter both have an every-so-often speed boost, Burning Rush is always available to use on my Warlock to get around inside and out for as long as I want it (with no cooldown!). It’s a massive boon in places that I can’t mount, and when I have the huge regeneration going from eating a hearty bowl of fighter chow, I keep regaining any lost health from the skill.

2. DoT central: Apart from the pets, being able to throw down a host of instant-cast damage-over-time spells on enemies was always my favorite thing about this class. It’s so immensely satisfying to see an enemy flail about in vain, knowing that it’s going to give up the ghost in just a few more seconds.

3. Impossible to kill: I forgot how hearty Warlocks are, especially as a cloth-wearing class. Even when I’m not using a tank pet, I don’t have to worry too much, because I’ve got a high health pool, healthstones on demand, and even a soul stone as death insurance. So far I might have died two or three times total in Legion, and that’s mostly been from overpulling due to a sense of invincibility.

4. Fel-doggy: Yes, I miss my Felguard, my two-in-one tank and DPS machine. But it’s a good trade-off to go to Affliction, and it’s made me appreciate my demon doggy a lot more. It does decent damage, especially against DoTted targets, and I like how I can keep switching targets to DoT up while the doggy continues to chomp away at the first guy. It’s a good battle companion to have.

5. Bonus pets: I love how I have two more limited-time summons available. I use my grimoire of service to pull out a voidwalker every 90 seconds (for 25 seconds) when I want an instant tank or just a smidge of bonus DPS, and there’s the doomguard every 3 minutes for a nice burst of ranged damage. Three pets out at once, and I’m not feeling the loss from demonology much any longer.

6. Relaxed range: As much fun as the Death Knight is, I still have to close into melee range to realize my full DPS potential. With the ‘lock, I’m rediscovering how relaxing it can be to just attack stuff from range, especially in dungeon runs. As an added bonus, the range for my spells is absolutely huge — I’m always surprised how far away I can attack things now.

7. Special snowflake status: From observing and taking a peek at some class census charts, it appears that Warlocks are still (as they’ve usually been) among the lesser-played classes in the game. And while it might be silly to feel this way, I love connecting with a great class that isn’t overpopulated. Being set apart from most of the crowd is kind of cool.

8. Pet options: While I mostly run my doggy for a bulk of my adventures due to the designed synergy with Affliction, it’s nice to have the option of the other three pets if I need a tank, ranged DPS, or a melee charmer. Plus, there’s the infernal summons, which can be an AoE spot tank if needed.

9. Gnome sweet Gnome: For some reason, Gnomes and Warlocks have always gone together so well for me. Maybe it’s the overall package that looks small and odd and unthreatening… until it burns you from the inside-out while a demon chomps on your skull.

10. It feels subversive: Taking on the Legion, I’m in my element. I’m not only fighting fire with fire by throwing demons back at these guys, but I’ve got skills to handle demons better than anyone else. If I’m bored, I head off to a demon area and enslave myself a new pet for a while. Your adorable bear has nothing on my towering hell nightmare.