World of Warcraft: Druids with bones to pick

When I finally got flying back on my World of Warcraft account and cleaned up the rest of my Death Knight’s quest log, I had that immense feeling of satisfaction that comes with concluding a lengthy project. Not only did I have flying in Battle for Azeroth now and forever but I also had the freedom to choose what I wanted to do next in the game.

That actually proved to be a more complicated question than I had first anticipated. Originally, I figured that I was going to get my Gnome Hunter out of dry dock and get her caught up while doing some Engineering with her. For several days, that’s just what I did, hitting level 120 and enjoying the sensation of casually questing and looting around the islands. Yet I wasn’t that satisfied with her, and I think it’s because she felt redundant to my main character — in terms of being a pet class — and less effective in terms of AoE damage.

I realized that I wanted something much different for an alt, and that led me to consider a few different options, including resurrecting some other level 100+ characters or rolling a Dark Iron Dwarf Shaman. But one night I pulled the trigger on a Kul Tiran Human Druid — something I had been thinking about for a while — and there was no going back from that.

The Druid gave me a much different experience than the Death Knight while offering me some new twists on the old formula. Most notably was the ability to be a human when not shapeshifted, which is something I always wanted in the game, and the neat wicker-bone animal forms that are radically different than the other Druids. Looks and visual style are important, and that could go a long way to keeping my interest.

The actual Druidic playstyle is another major benefit. The Druid is the only healing class in WoW where I feel like I am not underpowered while questing and leveling in a healing spec. In fact, I stay in restoration 100% of the time, choosing whatever talents I can to augment my DPS while keeping my healing toolkit intact.

Here’s another twist for my experience: I’m not questing. At least, I’m not questing for right now. I haven’t ever gone through the game once Blizzard put in that level-scaling tech, so now I’m finding that no matter where I go, mobs and quests stay on-level with me and I don’t have to go hunting around for XP. Instead, I’m doing two things with my time: I’m running around zones farming ore nodes (and heading back to town to work on engineering) and queuing up for dungeons. Between those two, I’m getting plenty of XP, great gear, and enjoying a relaxed, laid-back experience. Plus, I get to heal in dungeons, which is something I’ve greatly missed in WoW.

The long-term goal is to progress her through all of regular engineering, then to the other tiers as I work my way up without any huge rush. If I’m not 120 and ready for the next expansion in a year, oh well, it’s not a big deal. This is my alt in every sense of that word — an alternative experience to simply enjoy rather than to feel like I have to follow the same deep ruts that Blizzard and players have established for main characters.

Flying transforms Battle for Azeroth questing

As I said on the Massively OP Podcast last week, I’m not going to defend Blizzard’s habit of continually taking away flying from us with each World of Warcraft expansion, but I have noticed that there’s a powerful psychological effect to being denied this for a year and then earning it back. The second I got flight in Battle for Azeroth, it was like I had hit New Game+ mode for the expansion.

That tied in really well to putting my Death Knight in dry dock (at least until Patch 8.2.5) and dusting off my neglected Gnome Hunter. I had left her at level 116 and only one zone partially done, so she had a lot to do. And now she had the convenience of sky transport to do everything that my DK had to do while staying on the ground.

Really, getting flight transformed everything. I stopped planning routes or calculating the time left on my flight whistle and just enjoyed the freedom of flitting around to points of interest as I willed.

I started exploring out-of-the-way locales that I had missed before, such as this abandoned ski resort where the penguins have taken over (and are apparently greatly enjoying themselves). And questing turned into a super-relaxing gig, since I could just snap up all of the quests in the area and then start gnawing through them in any order I wished. Seeing rares, mining nodes, or treasure chests became an exercise in mounting up and rushing over to snatch them.

Obviously, this all results in a much faster questing pace than before, which is fine with me. I’m trying to get my Hunter up to 120 by the time the next Timewalking event happens so that I can seriously gear her up in those dungeons over that week.

My Beastmaster changes up my playstyle from my AoE-happy Death Knight. I’ve had to do some tweaking and experimentation, but I’ve started to get into a good rotation that heavily favors pet damage and long-distance support. It’s not as easy to mow down huge crowds as with the DK, but I think it’ll be just fine once I get her stats up to spec.

In the meanwhile, I’ve started to work on her other objective, which is to become my Gadget Gal. I grabbed Engineering and Mining and got to work leveling those up, even though I have no idea how do Engineering in this day and age. It’s a huge mountain of crafting, but I am sure I can climb it one toehold at a time.

And I’ve really tried to work on theming her with this. I switched her over to some awesome Ghostbuster-like goggles and the most gadgety-type rifle in my inventory. I don’t have much for the rest of her gear, but I hope that’ll come in time.

I am super-pleased that I have two mechanical pets fighting for me: my robot squirrel Tippytoe and my brand-new mechanical chicken. Haven’t given her a name yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a pun. All of this is combining into a look that I really love, and I appreciate that I have the flexibility to pursue this goal to this extent. What do you think?

Losing steam with WoW Classic

Compared to the first week or two of WoW Classic, I can definitively say that I’m losing steam with my eagerness to log in and put in some serious play time with this version of the game. That doesn’t mean I’m done with it… just slowing down. Retail WoW and LOTRO are of more interest to me, so it’s hard to give Classic my all when I just want to log into those other titles instead.

And I guess I keep thinking of the long-term future of Classic, which bugs me. I mean, starting a new character is a lot of fun. Feeling that sense of progression is downright terrific, with talent points and expanding inventory and green gear that feels more precious than any purple in retail WoW. Yet what lies at the end of this road? What happens even midway down the road, when I hit level 40 and start slowing down in that progression, start seeing fewer quests, and start thinking far more about the big dead end wall that waits at the end here?

Maybe my brain has been hardwired to expect at least an illusion of a future from MMORPGs, because I’m having a hard time facing a game that (at least so far) has a stopping point with no development or expansion past that. Would the community — would my guild — pick up the slack to provide the “content” needed to fill this void? Or will I spend a hundred or so hours working on a toon that has no greater future?

Hey! I just saw some of your relatives in retail WoW the other day! They’re far better dressed and give their regards.

Anyway, I’ll get over myself here. I’m not done with Classic, in any case. In fact, I rolled up a new Troll Shaman the other night that I’m really starting to warm up to. My problem with the Tauren Shaman was always the bulk of the character and the thought of having to ride kodos at level 40, so a Troll seems like a better option for the class. Smaller, almost human-like in profile with a bit of punk attitude.

Something that I haven’t seen people talk about much is using questing guides to level more quickly and efficiently in Classic. Back in vanilla, I always used such guides because I hated having to hunt down the odd quest or spend too many hours doing nothing but grinding. Joana’s guide was a go-to for me, and I was pleased to see that it was still around. I was less pleased, however, to see that most of the guide is behind a $37 paywall. I guess if you put in the effort to create all of that, you have the right to charge for it, but that’s a chunk of money that is up there in the “buy a new game” realm for me.

How’s Classic going for you? Picking up steam, losing steam, or full steam ahead? Give me a steam rating on this.

World of Warcraft: Mechago-go-gadget flying!

In contrast with Nazjatar, the OTHER Patch 8.2 zone was an actual delight of questing and theme. Of course, I’m totally pro-Gnome, so of course I’m going to enjoy an island full of cyborg Gnomes, giant robots, goofy gadgets, and even Terminator-esque alternate realities.

While I haven’t talked about it much this past month (or at all), I’ve been logging into WoW to play in Mechagon in my quest to (re)gain flying in Battle for Azeroth. Unlike Naz, Mechagon eschewed world quests in favor of a rotating series of daily quests. Don’t really see much in favor of one over the other, but once I figured out this different format, I was scoring about 1,000-1,500 reputation a day… plus a lot of other materials.

Mechagon is just so much better than Nazjatar in so many ways, which makes me glad that I saved it for last. In addition to the cool theme, the island is easy to navigate (always a HUGE plus), has a lot of humor involved, pays out in tons of loot (I got a wicked one-hand chainsaw sword that I now treasure), and even has a questline that results in a really cool ground mount:

It even transforms, sort of, into a motorcycle! And hovers in the air! If this thing flew, it’d be my new all-time favorite. As it is, I’m glad to toss it into the mount mix.

So yeah, all around good questing fun in Mechagon. I even got a little into junkyard tinkering, which is a sort of crafting vendor that takes all of that junk I was picking up and turns it into some helpful gadgets and other nice goodies.

Ultimately, however, my eyes were fixed on the goal of getting revered with the Rustbolt Resistance, and last Thursday, it finally happened. I was free. I was flying once more.

After over a year of being grounded in this expansion, now I literally have wings. I know we can bandy back and forth the reasoning and possible virtues of Blizzard withholding flight at the start of each expansion, but I won’t deny that it ends up being a massive headrush when it is returned after so long.

Oddly enough, this kind of marks the end of the journey for this character, now that she’s got flying. I’m not going to push her forward in gear progression, and she’s all caught up on questlines. So I spent some time cleaning up her inventory, transferring some stuff, and then getting back into my Gnome Hunter for a trip back through the expansion and a side excursion in Engineering. I might be the only person more excited about retail right now than Classic, but… flying. It’ll make a second run-through so much more satisfying.

My latest World of Warcraft obsession? Engineering.

Back in the days of actual vanilla World of Warcraft, I had a Gnome Warlock named Syp (whom I think of as “the original Syp,” as that was where I got my online handle). In her adventures through vanilla and into The Burning Crusade, I took her down the path of Engineering, as I thought it fitted her nature as a Gnome rather well.

This turned out to be one of the very few times that I actually heavily pursued a World of Warcraft crafting profession. It took a lot of farming, time, and dedication, but it all felt worth it to get cool toys, a dragon combat pet, neat goggles, and — in TBC — a helicopter/plane to call my own. That helicopter was one of my most treasured possessions in an online game when I finally crafted it, all the more so because of the work that I had put into it.

Weirdly enough, after I left WoW for a break in 2008, I never got back into Engineering when I came back for subsequent stints and expansions. It’s weird to me because if there’s one profession that is totally down my alley, it’s this one. I’m totally about toys and gadgets and pets and mechanical everything. But I guess I thought it took too much time and I was too behind as it was, and so I eschewed further exploration of Engineering for gathering profs (because money).

This has changed over the past few weeks, mostly due to WoW Classic. In looking at the limitations of what that server would have — assuming that there would never be any progression or server transfers — I started thinking of alternate goals for my character. Engineering once again popped into my mind. It was something that I could pursue at my own pace, was an activity that would take up much of the leveling process, and could fill up time when I was at 60 and without anything else to do.

That got me excited. Even if Classic never ends up being more than Classic, having a character with those engie toys once again might feel like the journey was worth it.

What got me even more excited was the thought that, hey, I’m about done with my main goals in Battle for Azeroth and need something else to do on retail. Once I get flying on my Death Knight, I’ll be done with that character until the next patch/expansion. So what I’m thinking is that I might flip back over to my level 116 Gnome Hunter, finish her leveling, and then start working on bringing Engineering up to the max level.

As of this writing, I haven’t even done much research into what is out there. Honestly, I’m ignorant of any developments past the Burning Crusade era, but I’m looking forward to reading up on that and maybe spending the next few months taking my Gnome through trade school. It’d be a good feeling to have a crafting prof maxed out once more.

WoW Classic: Diving back into Deadmines

“Who wants to join us for a noble if suicidal and misguided mission?”

With that kind of call put out into guild chat, how can you not resist? As I said, what are we so busy doing in WoW Classic that we can’t just stop to goof around with guildies? There’s a hard stop at the end there, so might as well have as much fun along the way.

The call in question was from Belghast to go do a Deadmines run. As we were all Horde, this was a slightly trickier prospect — but more appealing because of it. A lot of us had very fond memories of this early dungeon and wanted to see the pre-Cataclysm edition once more. So House Kraken jumped on a zeppelin, went over to Stranglethorn Vale, and met each other “in person” for the first time since Classic launched.

Yeah. Undead rule.

To get to Deadmines, we thought we were in for a huge gauntlet through higher level zones and twisty turny paths. Turns out that there was a much more elegant solution: To swim up the coast, encountering nary an enemy along the way. As with many WoW Classic activities, it left us with plenty of time to chat. Most of the conversation was either (a) favorably comparing WoW Classic to retail version or (b) dredging up memories of Ye Olde Vanilla Tymes.

After a largely uneventful trip north, we arrived at the Deadmines and began to do our dirty work. This wasn’t a particularly hard job, either, as a few party members were well over-leveled for the dungeon and blew through it rather quickly. In fact, I noted that we were approaching this in much the same way we would have on the live server: by rounding up a large group of mobs and then burning them down. Crowd control? Careful pulls? Not in this run, no sirree.

It was deeply surreal to be going through Classic Deadmines once again. This is the version that I knew and remembered the best; I’ve done the Cataclysm version a few times, and while that’s all well and good, it hasn’t replaced this memory. Besides, they’re both basically the same layout and pacing, other than the intricacies of the boss fights.

We had a lot of fun goofing around on the way and sucking up as much loot as possible. I actually came out very well from the run, netting over a gold’s worth of vendored loot, a couple of green upgrades, and even a blue ring with +6 INT on it. That made me smile. Actually, I think most all of us got something good out of the run.

Mr. Smite’s cutscenes here remind me of a very old World of Warcraft memory, which was (I think) when Patch 1.2 came out and Blizzard kind of made a big deal out of adding chat bubbles to the game. The above quote was featured in a website article about it.

I proved to be somewhat of a good luck charm, as I ended up looting not one but two parrot pets. Considering how rare a good pet is in Classic, these are actually desirable. But I’ve been rocking my narcoleptic panda, so I gave away the macaws to others who wanted one. “A Two-Parrot Run” instantly became guild slang for a worthwhile dungeon venture.

Blizzard should bring back World of Warcraft’s talent trees

What historically has frustrated me the absolute most about Blizzard is how the World of Warcraft design team can’t seem to ever stick to a dedicated approach to its classes and character progression. It spends an awful lot of time creating one thing and then instead of carefully iterating and refining that, one day it just upends everything and starts over. And over. And over again.

Classes have been redone so many times under all sorts of pretenses. Major systems are here one day and gone the next. Things like “class fantasy” come to call and then we all have to relearn everything from scratch. It gives off the impression that nobody on the WoW team is ever satisfied with what they’ve done and have to re-invent the wheel every so often.

Perhaps one of the greatest sins the team ever did was in scrapping talent trees altogether for a much more simplified and streamlined talent window. The thinking was to make a smaller number of more significant choices (and in so doing lighten up the burden on the design team having to keep these talent trees balanced). Yet we haven’t seen any new tiers on that talent screen for a couple of expansions now, instead diverting our attention to temporary progression systems like artifact weapons and the heart of azeroth.

As I’ve been playing WoW Classic, I’ve been reminded just how powerful and effective talent trees are — and deeply convinced that Blizzard really should bring them back into the retail version. Yes, they’re a headache to balance. Yes, you’d have to keep growing them as levels increased. Yes, people will min/max builds.

However…

However, what Blizzard’s really forgotten is the psychological effect of the talent tree upon players. Right now with talent windows, I don’t think any of us really think about them after level 90 when we place our last choice. They cease to exist, and even before then, they only became relevant every 15 levels or so. But with the Classic talent trees, they’re relevant and important EACH and EVERY level. You ding, you know that immediately you have a new point to spend on your trees. It’s immediate and fun gratification!

Plus, it’s a hoot to be able to pour over the talent trees as you’re out questing and leveling, deciding which route you want to go. Mapping out your character’s growth is one of the most fulfilling parts of RPGs (at least for me), and this system provides a visible means for those plans. We’re given lots of choices. We’re given the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others. We can specialize or hybrid ourselves as much as we like.

And talent trees are expandable. We saw that in the first few expansions of the game before Blizzard simplified and then eliminated them entirely. New rows can be added and paths opened up. RIFT showed us how high-level characters could even channel into more specialized paths once the number of talent points got to be too much for balance teams to handle.

I hope that Blizzard is taking a long, hard look at what worked well with the original game and takes that into consideration for the future. I know that getting talent trees back is probably never going to happen, but it should. It would matter more to players than getting another heart level or grinding a few more island expeditions.