World of Warcraft: Leveling nonsense and story sense

As the weeks go by, night by night I’ve been logging into World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth and rotating through my three main characters (Hunter, Death Knight, Warlock), pushing each of them a little further when it comes their turn. It definitely has slowed me down overall and make goals like unlocking the allied races far off at this point, but I’m genuinely glad I’m doing it this way. I get a really nice variety night-to-night and I’m not here feeling anxious that I left my alts behind to rot. It’ll all pay off in the long run, but for now it’s just slow and measured.

As much as I have really enjoyed the questing, stories, and areas of the expansion, I’ll freely admit that progression has been a big fat nothing on the way from 110 to 120. Many other bloggers have pointed out that there’s really no purpose or reward to leveling. You get stronger in stats, but so do the mobs thanks to scaling tech. There are no new skills or talents to chase (I honestly can’t remember the last time Blizzard added a new talent tier — Draenor, I think — or additional high-level skills. The studio seems to be obsessed instead with retinkering with the current lineup). It seriously raises the question of “why have new levels at all?” — a question which Blizzard has ignored because Blizzard does what Blizzard wants to do.

Let’s be honest: Leveling from 110 to 120 is nothing more or less than a time gate and a grind to hold players back from doing endgame activities like world quests and high-level dungeons and the like. When you look at it this way, it’s just a long prologue that can be enjoyable for the experience of doing it but not rewarding for your character’s growth.

In fact, other than gear and stats, most of the growth of this expansion comes from leveling up the Heart of Azeroth, and boy does this whole system feel underwhelming and undersupported compared to artifact weapons. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t have nearly the hook or excitement value that the previous expansion’s weapons did. It is nice to pick between mini-talents, and some are very helpful indeed.

But leveling up the Heart is pretty much divorced from traditional XP leveling. You can sometimes get azerite from quests or treasure chests, but from what I understand, most of it lies at 120 with world quests and island expeditions. That’s fine, I’ll catch up, I’ll get what gear I can, and I’ll look forward to two years from now when all of this will be scrapped for the Girdle of Azeroth, an even more powerful artifact that was sent by Amazon Prime but got lost along the way.

There isn’t a lot that I actually miss from Vanilla WoW, but I do miss the excitement of hitting a new level and looking forward to what it unlocked — a talent point, riding, skills, zones. Blizzard used to be really good at dangling these carrots, but now it has moved those carrots elsewhere and kept leveling in because it added another feature point to the expansion’s list and gave us busy work before the main event.

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From the World of Warcraft quest log: Battle for Azeroth edition

Every once in a while during my play sessions, I’ll encounter a quest log entry that grabs my interest for one reason or another. Yes, I actually read the quest text. And yes, there’s actually some good writing in these if you slow down enough to take them in. So today I wanted to share four of them from Battle for Azeroth.

This quest wasn’t particularly notable except for the surprise appearance of Calvin and Hobbs as major NPCs in this one region. Of course I was a big fan of the comic strip, and it’s great to see an homage to them in-game. As long as it’s not too obnoxious, I do like these kinds of references. Seems like they amuse the devs, so why not amuse me as well!

I thought this job posting did excessively well on being both funny and developing some of the culture of this region in Kul Tiras. From this one entry, I can deduce that there’s a bit of a class schism and can sense that it’s more an issue of pride and identity more than anything else. “Dainty frilly froo-froo estate life” should be a t-shirt.

This elicited a bark of laughter at the surprise Zork reference. And bonus points for the fact that there actually WAS a brue in this house!

This small quest series caught me totally off-guard and affected me rather deeply. You arrive at this farm, kill a few bad guys, recover some trinkets… and then learn that this farmer just lost his wife and little boy to the quillboar attacks. I genuinely felt empathy for this character in the space of reading this quest text, and gladly helped him defend his farm and bury his family afterward.

WoW: For the… Horde?

With two-thirds of my World of Warcraft character rotation residing on Alliance, it figures that my Horde character — an Undead Warlock named Lilaca — feels like the odd corpse out. Every third night I abandon the Alliance zones and head over to Jurassic Theme Park, where I quest for a Horde that I don’t feel particularly connected to.

This has always been a problem with the Horde and I in WoW, dating all the way back to 2004. I’ve struggled to connect to this faction and find any sort of attraction or interest in it. There are plenty of reasons, including:

  • Ugly and off-putting races and models
  • The whole “barbarian” and “savage” angle that dominates
  • Hunched over models
  • In the case of the Undead, broken armor pieces
  • Bland early zones (circa old Barrens)

I don’t abjectly hate the Horde, and I do understand how there’s a counter-cultural appeal to it. But apart from the Forsaken with their dark Tim Burton world, so little of it called to me. Oh, I’ve played a Hordie from time to time, most of them being either Undead or Tauren, but the spirit and ethos of the faction doesn’t speak to me.

In Battle for Azeroth, we kind of see this in how the initial cities and zones are designed. Both are gorgeous in their own way, don’t get me wrong. But the Alliance has this sharp-looking naval theme with cool characters and fantasy tech and a city that I’d want to actually visit. The Horde? It’s the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, complete with boat ride. Jungles, savages, dinos… it’s not terrible, but it doesn’t have me drooling for those play sessions the way the Alliance zones do.

That said, I’m glad I do get to romp around Horde zones every third night. The questing in particular has offered several bizarrely entertaining moments, such as raising up a little triceratops and helping two endangered dinos fall in love.

While I’m doing all of this, I’m trying to get a handle on the Warlock changes. At least Demo got a major overhaul with 8.0, and it was this build that I spent a lot of time trying out over the past month. I can definitely attest that it has improved significantly over the Legion-era Demo build, with better pets and a more clear rotation. But the rotation itself seems shaky and had me looking down too often to see what skills were off cooldown and what weren’t. Plus, there was a lot of long cast times for each fight, and that got old even with all of the pets running around.

So more recently I’ve switched back to Affliction and found a much better experience there. After trying out different talents, I think I’ve settled on a build that lets me insta-DoT to my heart’s content while Big Blue there tanks for me. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is comfortable, familiar, and lets me progress through questing without struggling with the combat system. I like feeling nimble as a spellcaster, and I think that this build is the best I’ll be able to do here.

Battle for Azeroth: The race for last place

As we round out the first week of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, I am firmly and securely at the back of the pack for this expansion. I saw some people moaning over Twitter how they weren’t level 120 by the second day and I’m like, my highest character right now is 113 after a full week. So zip it, maybe?

Other than to stress me out with artificial comparisons, I don’t get why World of Warcraft even has leveling any more. With zone scaling, no new talents, and no new skills, what’s the point of leveling for progression? For a blanket stat progression alone? I remember when leveling used to get me excited in this game, and now it only makes me feel bad because I’m not the higher number that other people are.

Instead, the real leveling is the Heart of Azeroth and the item level average. That’s where progression comes into play. And that’s fine, but in that case, this expansion would have worked just fine without any new character levels whatsoever. Just embrace the horizontal progression and be done with it.

That gripe aside, I’ve had a rollicking good time exploring this expansion over the past few days. I’m sticking with my nightly rotation between my three characters, focusing on one per evening to the exclusion of all others. It may hinder my progression now, but I’m playing the long game here — and I know I will be happiest to have them all more-or-less in parity when I start pushing into the endgame.

Plus, it’s kind of cool to be able to have three characters with three different experiences. Syppi, my Hunter, is staying close to Boralus by questing through Tiragarde Sound, while my other alliance toon, Syppy the Death Knight, is making her way through Stormsong Valley. Then every third night, I switch over to the Horde, where my Warlock Lilaca is getting the hang of Zuldazar and her new demo rotation. This gives me variety, keeps them progressing together, and keeps me from going crazy over feeling like I’m abandoning alts to focus on just one character.

I used this expansion as an excuse to finally create a dedicated auction house alt instead of using Syppi for that. So over a long, long series of packed mail, I transferred about 500 or so items to the AH mule and set my business up there. Everyone’s buying right now and I’m making some pretty good money. I’m definitely excited that the price of WoW Tokens has dove from over 200K down to 130K or so. Buy, buy, buy!

Part of my slow leveling progression comes from my tendency to wander off the beaten (questing) path for any and all diversions that come up. Want to explore some? See what’s up on that glacier? Get that herb node? Fight that rare mob? Go treasure chest hunting? Take some pictures? That’s me, easily distracted gamer. And that’s a fun way to do it, too, because you’re taking the game on your own time and at your own pace instead of letting it dictate to you exactly what you have to be doing.

Everybody loves a good Winnie the Pooh homage. I got a huge laugh out of “Melancholy Mule.”

I know that there’s this rat race mentality to get to the new end and start ramping up for mythic-plus and raids and rep grinds… but you know what? All of that will come in time. It doesn’t have to be done the first week, or even the first month.  I’m making a checklist of things I would like to pursue down the road for this expansion, but we’ll be here for two years. I’m only going to get one shot at going through this with a fresh, unspoiled perspective. Why would I rush that?

Probably my favorite bits of this expansion, other than the incredible visuals/music, are the stories. I’ve been surprised more than once with some great voice acting or shocking cutscenes, and I keep getting drawn into the various tales of these islands.

It’s also deeply satisfying to end a night by mailing a full bag full of green gear, herbs, and other assorted bits and bobs to my AH mule. The economy is all over the place right now, but at least I know I’m making money even while I wait for my mission table to crank back up that passive gold generation once more.

6 things I’m loving about Battle for Azeroth so far

While it’s far too early to draw any firm conclusions about World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth in these first few days, I will say that (a) I am having just a terrific time and (b) I can’t wait to log back in when I’m going about my normal daily schedule. That’s a good sign. So instead of any review, here are six things I’m loving about this expansion so far.

1. The intro is as smooth as butter

I was worried I’d be in for hours of intro quests before actually getting to the new zone but, nope, this expansion gets you there right quick. And the whole Alliance intro, with Jaina’s cutscenes, a prison break, and the encounter with the Harbormaster, had me absolutely hooked. Great voice acting, too!

2. It’s redonkulously pretty — and good-sounding

I seriously can’t stop taking screenshots. Draenor and the Broken Isles were both visually stunning, especially initially, but Blizzard’s art team still deserves a huge round of applause for these visuals (and the small details when you take the time!). Each building is worth exploring to me, and I love how this place thematically feels much different than anywhere else in the game world. Plus, that new soundtrack sweeps me off my feet (so it’s good I’m sitting).

3. Kul Tiras feels more like a grounded and consistent fantasy setting

It took me a bit to acknowledge this, but after Pandaria, Draenor, Broken Isles, and Argus, Kul Tiras feels more grounded than the game has been in a while. This is more like a classic fantasy setting than WoW’s had in a while, and I really, really love it. It doesn’t come across as wildly disconnected theme zones, but a country that is connected in its politics, culture, and setting.

4. It feels like a huge meal that I’m starting to eat with small, satisfied bites

I love the beginning of a good expansion. It’s like going into a great book knowing there’s a lot of enjoyment ahead, so you want to savor every bite!

5. The story is pretty engaging

I’m not picky. If a story makes sense, is told well, and keeps me interested in what’s going to happen next, that’s a win for an MMO. And Battle for Azeroth, from the prequels through last night, has me eagerly turning the pages.

6. And there’s a whole different faction to experience!

The first two nights I spent with my two Alliance characters. But now I know that on night three, I’m going to be experiencing an entirely different series of zones, capital city, and storyline. I’m definitely glad I decided to go with a Horde alt!

World of Warcraft: Battle for Directions

The Heart of Azeroth. It’s mine. All mine. And millions of others’ as well. Seriously, you can find these things in the dollar store discount bin at this point. But hey, it’s the planet’s first attempt at making gaudy jewelry, so give it a break, won’t you?

So last night was the official launch for Battle for Azeroth, and we are now well into this new phase of World of Warcraft’s existence. As much as I really did like Legion, I was beyond ready for this expansion pack. The only question was how I was going to approach it, what with three main characters and all. With Legion, I primarily focused on one character for a long time and gradually brought alts in, but I found that that left those alts feeling way behind the curve. So this time around, I’m going to rotate nights between characters and try to keep them more or less progressing at the same rate.

Ouch. That is going to sting in the morning…

I’m much more excited for the expansion’s story and zones than its new features. I haven’t seen much hype over the Heart of Azeroth, warfronts, or island adventures, to be honest. And getting the Heart felt like a vastly lesser experience than getting the artifact weapon (with all of the class stories!) in Legion. I now have this doohickey and a bizarre hat, both of which I promptly forgot about.

At least the story really WAS gripping right out of the gate. I went to Kul Tiras with Corset Elsa and found myself in the midst of politics and a nation divided. I think the theme of a seafaring nation is a great one for World of Warcraft, and right away you can tell that this culture feels and functions differently than ones we’ve seen already.

I loved how one of the first things that happens is getting tossed into an island prison. I decided to take a nap for a bit before some pirate dude named Flynn broke me out. Elder Scrolls is screaming “copycat” here, but I do like the idea of starting from the lowest of lows and climbing back up to victory.

The city of Boralus is truly unique in the game. It’s also HUGE. I’m not one for urban exploration and felt really lost after wandering through this weirdly shaped town, but there were plenty of interesting sights and details that I’m sure nobody noticed as they were racing to the next quest objective.

I want these glasses on my characters! Can I get these glasses on my characters? I must have them!

The new housing system is spectacular! Just look at what I was able to accomplish with just one evening’s work.

There’s an autumnal feel for Boralus, which plays well with both the sea and mountains around it. Definitely a city for pumpkin spice lattes, yoga pants, and unnecessary scarves.

In addition to flight paths, Kul Tiras also features a ferry service that goes around all three zones to the inner portion of the sound. They’re very speedy boats and I really dig the different perspective of zipping to your destination. As we’re now grounded again, we have to get used to traveling without flight. This will help.

Poor lady bore the brunt of a crab uprising. I tried to help, but alas, non-targetable crabs.

Being tired and taking it slow, I didn’t make a great deal of progress. I did a quest hub or two and was repeatedly distracted by treasure chests and herbalism nodes. At least my power level felt fine in fights, with none of them being overly long or difficult.

I won’t lie, it feels great having a lot ahead of me to do in this game once more. Yes, there’s some certain anxiety over wanting to get missions back up and running, wanting to hit the level cap, and so on, but really, one or two months until that happen aren’t going to break me. I recently bought another WoW token, which pays my sub all the way through June 2019, so I can afford to absorb some time without a steady income. And we have no idea how the inflation and economy is going to shift in these next few months.

I predict we’ll be hearing about the patch cycle for Battle for Azeroth at BlizzCon this November, so I don’t think we’ll have any significant updates before then. It’s plenty of time just to adventure through this expansion and get acquainted with these new lands (and hopefully make sense of this city!).

WoW: She slimed me

Well, this is it. The battle horns have sounded and, starting tonight in North America, Battle for Azeroth will go live. If this is anything like previous expansions and MMO launches that I’ve experienced, I’ll get really excited about it, try to get some time to play, and quickly be trampled by the stampede of players rushing as fast as possible to get to the new level cap and endgame.

I don’t anticipate getting there for a month, especially how chaotic life is getting. And that’s just fine — I want a new leveling experience, I look forward to the journey, and I genuinely enjoy getting set up again with new goals and champion missions and whatnot. I haven’t paid much attention at all to the beta and so I know only the broadest of strokes of the expansion — which means that I’ll probably have more fun in it than your average streamer or dataminer.

Before getting into it tonight, I should probably talk about last week’s Siege of Lordaeron scenario, since that wrapped up the prologue experience. I do miss the world invasions of Legion, I think those were more fun for the community and bonded us, but it definitely was cool to have a weekly episode to anticipate — especially ones with so many story beats and cutscenes.

I played both Alliance and Horde sides for this, and I have to say that the Alliance side made more sense and was more engaging. It was a full-on frontal assault of Lordaeron following the destruction of Teldrassil, and the scenario did a great job conveying the chaos and energy of warfare (although it wasn’t, at any point, actually challenging or dangerous).

So many great moments, too. Jaina’s return is the part everyone’s discussing, of course, but I was really partial to seeing the Forsaken coming out in gas masks to spread the Blight everywhere. Having to retreat by stages against the oncoming green Blight felt genuinely terrifying. And the showdown in the throne room was cool, I guess, but it was more posturing than anything else. Characters in this game like to show up, pose, and make grand pronouncements without actually doing anything.

What made less sense was this lady and her whole strategy. I don’t get what’s going on with Sylvanas, other than just accepting that she’s devolved into Big Bad Guy Mode which means that you kick your minions around, insult your inferiors, and be as homicidal as your schedule allows. She doesn’t show any great insight or plan here, nor does she explain why she went all tree-burny. She’s just angry and evil.

I probably felt the worst for the other Horde leaders, especially Blaine and Saurfang. Nobody stands up to Sylvanas even though they really should, yet they’re miserable because their dream of a noble, honorable Horde is dying all around them.

Then again, if you’re a Forsaken fan or player — which I am — this all is really gratifying to see the Blight in action. The Forsaken really should be their own faction at this point. Maybe that’s something that will happen in this expansion.

Other random thoughts: Anduin looks kind of silly in that lion mask. There, I’ve said it.

Jaina is like a more intense Elsa from Frozen and we all know that’s 100% deliberate on the part of Blizzard.

Lordaeron’s been nuked with Blight, so now we are down two capital cities? Can Forsaken not live among the Blight? I’m not really up to spec with this whole plague. I wouldn’t think the undead could get undeader, but that’s me.

The whole stalemate ending felt shoehorned and cheesy. Something significant needed to happen here, some balance of power should have changed, but nothing did other than Saurfang getting captured.

Biggest disappointment: No cool rewards. COME ON, BLIZZARD. Couldn’t I at least keep this awesome gas mask? I’d wear it all the time, promise!