World of Warcraft: Legion’s most pressing question wasn’t answered yesterday

legionLots of excitement and interest bubbled up around World of Warcraft’s expansion reveal at Gamescom yesterday. I was at a Chinese restaurant eating lunch while keeping an eye on my Twitter feed, but that served to give me most of the salient details.

So. Legion. As many others have noted, once you digest the whole announcement you’re left with two primary impressions: It’s more of the same and it’s trying to piggy-back off of The Burning Crusade. Neither of which, I want to note, is a bad thing. Sequels and continuity can be great if done right, and WoW doesn’t have the greatest track record of shaking the boat and introducing radical new features (Cataclysm’s world revamp and Draenor’s garrisons both ended up flopping pretty hard).

Blizzard continues to sample neat ideas that have been proven elsewhere in the MMO industry, like WildStar’s (and Metroid’s) double-jumping or LOTRO’s legendary items. Both of which I’d steal if I was making an MMO, so there you go.

I do want to know what these class order halls are and what, exactly, Blizzard is doing with garrisons (abandoning them, I would think, as it did with Pandaria’s farm). A true housing system would have been a welcome addition, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that. Demon Hunter? Even if this wasn’t Elf-only, it’s just another melee tank… with horns.

I can’t help but be pretty underwhelmed by this whole announcement, even past the bias as an ex-player. WoW’s huge subscription dip needed something truly inspiring and exciting to counter it, and instead of knocking it out of the park Blizzard is settling for a triple play.

However, the biggest question of the announcement wasn’t answered yesterday, although I didn’t think it would be. And that’s the question of when it will be releasing. With beta promised this year, one can assume an early-to-mid spring 2016 release, which means that World of Warcraft has to weather the better part of a year without a major patch release, trusting in the excitement of an upcoming expansion to sustain player interest.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about Legion at BlizzCon and maybe there are a few curveballs not revealed yet. Maybe. And if it can’t be a major game-changer, a well-done expansion with tons of content to keep the population happy would be a welcome substitute in any case.

Pirates, expansions, Gorgon, servers, and builds

pirateIt’s time for a grab-bag Thursday post! Let’s see, what shall we talk about first… how about pirates?

Marvel Heroes: Last night I made it my mission to acquire the free Pirate Deadpool team-up from the secret achievement chain that was recently added to the game. Not that I really needed another team-up — I’m pretty much swimming in them at this point — but free is free, and who wouldn’t want a sarcastic pirate shadowing them?

Start to finish, it took me about an hour and a half to do. The tricky part was that most of the achievements didn’t trigger until I teleported back to a hub, which meant that I kept having to head back to see if I had acquired the next step or not. I took Squirrel Girl along for this one because she can roflstomp just about anything now and that’s pretty fun to see.

Our new guild, Massively Underpowered, is growing by leaps and bounds! It’s great to see bloggers, friends, and MOP readers join the conversation. If you want to hook up with us, look for Sypster, Braxwolf, or Angyll in-game.

Project Gorgon: It’s really exciting to see the Kickstarter continue to push forward, as it’s growing by $1-2K a day. Up to $16,400 as of this writing and plenty of time left. Here’s hoping they shoot past the goal this weekend and get a lot more than expected by the time all is said and done. I’m glad that it’s getting more press and word-of-mouth this time around.

World of Warcraft: Looks like Blizzard is going to announce the newest expansion next week instead of waiting until November’s BlizzCon, which is a smart move. Lots of anxious and disgruntled WoW players out there over the short expansion cycle, so here’s hoping that Blizzard is going to not only tell the community what the expansion is but also announce that it will be coming a lot sooner than expected.

Lord of the Rings Online: I still haven’t re-installed LOTRO since getting the new computer so I’m not part of the current drama/migration of the server merges. It is something that needed to happen, and I can only pray that Turbine handles it smartly without shredding too many of its sub-communities.

SWTOR: I ran a flashpoint last night — the Nar Shaddaa one, I forget the name — and started to doubt my Twi’lek’s destiny as a healer. Oh, I healed just fine, although it is frustrating to do so with such a limited array of tools. I don’t know how the bodyguard heals at higher levels, but right now it feels like running around with bandaids when people are losing limbs.

So I did take a peek at the two DPS builds for the merc and mulled over if I want to keep pushing forward as a healer or to just wimp out and give myself some serious firepower. No change yet, but long slogs through flashpoints while tossing out ineffectual heals and overheating are not endearing me to healing right now.

Flying in World of Warcraft is back on

flyingI have two strong opinions about World of Warcraft’s flying mounts: It was a mistake to put them in this particular game. But once they were in, it was an even bigger mistake to try to ground them.

It takes an act of incredible player force to change Blizzard’s mind about game direction, I’ve noticed, but it has happened on occasion, including yesterday. After having freaked out the game’s population (which had just shrunk by three million, mind you) by saying that there would be no flying in Draenor and perhaps forever after, Blizzard changed its mind and said that it would allow it after all. After a hideous grind, of course.

I love the reluctant, said-through-gritted-teeth tone of the dev watercooler on this: “We appreciate the spirited discussion on the topic of flying.” Yeah. I bet you appreciated it. I bet you woke up every morning, stared at the piles of angry emails, grumpy reddit threads, negative press, and upset blogs and went, “Boy, I appreciate this!”

No, this is Blizzard reluctantly turning its course — and perhaps finding a compromise between its vision and what the players want and have become used to. Like it or not, Blizzard made its bed with the whole flying thing and it can’t wriggle out of it even if it is — just now, for some reason — realizing that it isn’t always the best thing for the game. Players have become used to it. Players generally like it. And players have even bought the flying mounts that Blizzard has sold for cash on the store. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to sell something for money that you’ll later disable.

Anyway, I’m glad that even a giant MMO studio can still respond — gradually, reluctantly — when its made a mistake and players unite to push back against it. Players shouldn’t bully studios into capitulating, but there should definitely be give-and-take between both sides in the development process.

World of Warcraft: Remembering Syp

In my past World of Warcraft career, I had several characters who transcended the extras tier to become near and dear mains. There was my first character on launch day, a Dwarf named Chark. A Druid named Echoes. A Hunter named Ghostfire.

But in all truth, it was a little gnome Warlock that defined my experience in WoW. I even saw her briefly a few months ago when I loaded up the game for a trial. We exchanged pleasantries and I told her that I was happy she still lived in Northrend even long after the world had moved on. She likes it there.

Flash back to October 2006. World of Warcraft had been out for a couple of years and I had clocked many hours in it before taking an extended break to play some other titles (most likely City of Heroes). Once the burnout faded, I decided to return and start fresh with a new character. Following my personal maxim that MMO character names shouldn’t be more than three or four letters (since that’s all people will type in chat anyway), I slammed some random letters together and created the very first Syp.

Syp the Gnome Warlock spent several months working her way up through the vanilla content (this was pre-expansions) while connecting with a terrific guild called Time Well Wasted. She was also an engineer, and I painstakingly leveled that profession up to get some of the cool toys and gadgets that came with it.

I fell in love with the Warlock playstyle more than any other in that game. The combination of powerful DoTs and an array of pets was a heady mix, and there was nothing I loved more than to see my pint-sized gal flinging spells on bad guys and have their damage numbers continually tick down afterward. I was never big on the voidwalker, but I did rotate through the other three — the imp, the succubus, and the felhunter — and enjoyed what each of them brought to the table.

Sometime in December, my guild agreed to help me run a dungeon to get the warlock epic mount. It was one of my best memories in World of Warcraft, that night. The run was tough and the fight took some time, but at the end of it I emerged with my brand-new epic mount in an era where epic mounts were something of a precious rarity (and only Warlocks and Paladins had quests to get theirs).

Then came the Burning Crusade in January 2007. We were psyched as all get out, and I got the special tabard for doing the opening of the portal event. Syp jumped into Outland and really came into her own. Probably the best change was her brand-new pet, a hulking felguard that did terrific damage. I loved sending that fella to smack down anyone who looked at me cross-eyed. It almost felt like cheating.

Syp had a good run throughout 2007. She geared up well, ran dungeons regularly, and even experimented with raiding with the 10-man Kara. I crafted her flying helicopter-thing, which remains one of my favorite mounts of all time (it had a hula dancer on the dash!). And she did a great job in groups pumping out DPS and bringing some utility when needed.

Unfortunately, Syp never really made the transition into Wrath of the Lich King. I started giving more attention to my Hunter, who was the one who got through most of that expansion, while Syp got parked at the docks where she remains to this day. Soon, I burned out of WoW completely and a subsequent reunion grew less and less likely as I and the game moved on in separate directions.

Still, I’ll always have a fond spot in my heart for that three pony-tail’d Warlock. She and I had a great time together, fighting the good fight, and not taking any crap from players who hated on Gnomes.

WoW: Lost and afraid in Stormwind

WoWScrnShot_120114_213058Every so often I have a recurring dream in which I’m back in college — either I’ve never left (and am in my… 20th year) or I’m returning after a long, long absence.  In both cases, I usually find myself in the dream bewildered at this place that’s moved on without me and scrambling to try to figure out what’s what.

That’s what returning to World of Warcraft after four or so years is like.  Everyone’s like “garrison this!” or “pet battles that!” and I’m like, “What the heck’s a transmog?  How do I move between continents?  Has my UI mated and had baby buttons all over the place?”  And it’s this uncanny mix of the familiar and the alien that unnerves me.

“Wait a second,” you mutter to your monitor.  “Is Syp playing WoW?  Should I be worried that the sky is about to turn blood red and frogs will begin pouring out of my faucet?”  Well, yes, but that’s completely unrelated to me, I swear.

Me coming back to WoW isn’t what you think… not really.  I’m not back for the expansion.  I’m back because the incessant chatter of other friends and bloggers about the expansion got me really missing my old character and the feels of the game.  So I subbed up for a month to take my old main — the original Syp — out for a spin.  To see if any of the magic is left.  Purely on a casual basis, you understand.

Some days I feel like Voldemort, splitting my soul ever-further across a raft of games.  I actually do have a new strategy with that — actually, more of a clean-up effort.  Over on the right-hand side of the blog is a section in which I list my current (more or less) roster of games with one (and only one) character that I’m playing there, along with my current goals.  It serves as a nice reminder for me what I’m doing where as well as to hopefully help readers see what I’m up to.

With Syp the Warlock, this will either be a brief flirtation or a get-to-know-the-game-again tour.  Yeah, I could boost to 90 with the expansion, but I’m not shelling out $50 for something I might not be playing in a month… and why should I jump up there anyway?  Syp started a journey back in 2006 and it seems unfair to take shortcuts.

Anyway, my initial login was absolutely surreal.  Syp was right where I left her, having just entered into Northrend (my previous Wrath experience was mostly centered around my Hunter, so Syp never got to go past level 70).  She was actually sitting in her engineer-crafted flying machine, making me wonder if she’s been sitting in that thing for four years now, worried if her unseen master would ever return.

My goal for that evening was to clean up my bags, poke through the updated interface, reach out to friends, and get my hotbar in order.  Try to formulate something like a working spell rotation.  Man, things have changed since I was blasting with her through Kara.  Nostalgia can be just as bitter as it can be sweet, especially when you realize how much time has passed.  I loved this little Gnome so much.

I had to get back to Stormwind to reset my specialization (for some reason, she was specced affliction even though I usually went demonology), and let me tell you, that was an adventure.  An adventure in “I totally forget how to get there.”  I must have wandered all over this keep, looking for some NPC to magically whisk me away.  Then I remembered the boats, smacked my forehead, and made a journey back to the basement of the Slaughtered Lamb.  At least this place hadn’t changed that much.

I’ve never been back to college since I graduated.  I’ve often felt that when you leave a place, you should leave it and not keep looking back.  But maybe there’s a soft part in me that can’t help it, which is why I sheepishly logged in to see my Gnome once more, even if it’s only for one night.