Storytelling brilliance: WoW’s plaguelands caravan

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I love it when an MMO can both shake me out of my happily sedated routine and surprise me by making me pay attention and feel engaged in a story. World of Warcraft’s been delighting me with little vignettes in the old world (again, this is my first post-Cataclysm trip through the game), but none so entrancing as a rickety caravan in the Eastern Plaguelands.

After bumping into worgen Fiona and her two adopted (?) sons (?), we headed off on what was a WoW first for me: a genuine road trip. Fiona and company have this neat-looking gypsy wagon, and as a player I get to hop on it and ride from hub to hub as we made our way around the zone.

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It might’ve been faster to ride a mount, but the caravan serves as more than just a bus. It’s on these little journeys between towers that I see my character sitting in the back and listening to the chatter between all of the riders. There’s some amusing and character-revealing bits here, and after a while I started eagerly looking foward to the next interlude as we continued on the road trip with these paladins-in-training.

I also liked how Fiona offered to let me root around inside the caravan to borrow items for time time being. This is effectively a list of buffs, some more useful than others, that grows in number the more adventures and significant people you meet. One item I could use was Pamela’s doll, which would summon her as a ghost to follow me (because I need more heartbreak, I guess). The buffs were a neat device and were integrated in a clever little way.

I don’t need massive set pieces with dragons and world-ending devices to make me happy and create important memories for MMOs. I need creativity and clever storytelling like Fiona’s caravan. I even started to think about how cool it would be to play an MMO where you always were traveling as part of a caravan, going from place to place in search of adventure, and you could customize your little portable house to your heart’s content.

Anyway, this caravan took what could have been a very standard romp through a zone and elevated it to a great story in its own right. More road trips, please!

WoW: The inner beauty of the Plaguelands

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This past weekend I had another one of those moments of inner gaming crisis where I felt quite bad about abandoning World of Warcraft as part of my 2016 plan. I spent an afternoon torn on the issue, because there was no way I wanted to jettison FFXIV, but I still hated giving up on my shaman. Finally I came to the conclusion that WoW could be one of my two secondary games, especially if I push WildStar way on the backburner for now. The only thing I had to swallow was ponying up for two subscriptions, but to broker peace inside of me, that was not too much to ask.

So I picked back up where I left off with my Shaman in the middle of the Hinterlands. I’m not pursuing any sort of power-leveling plan, but merely following the quest chains and seeing where it leads those who start out near Ironforge. It looks like it keeps kicking you farther north.

Hinterlands was quickly done and I got orders to ship out to Western Plaguelands… which wasn’t quite what I expected.

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Things I love about the Shaman #14: water walking (and galloping). There’s so much utility with this class.

Anyway, back in the day the two plagueland zones were not the most desirable questing locations. They were ugly, mob-packed areas with (as I recall) few quests and not much reason to hang around. That seems to have changed somewhat — Western Plaguelands is actually quite pretty for the most part, even though one of its towns is under assault by the Forsaken.

I blitzed through all of the quests in this zone, enjoying a few of the stories such as helping out a hapless Troll druid in training, uncovering a necromancer conspiracy in a human town, and fighting off some of the Valkyr.

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Syp should always be surrounded by an NPC posse that’s willing to fight and die on my behalf.

OK, I know my model looks ten kinds of goofy with that gear, but I just dinged level 40 (and I’m not taking the fast-pass to the endgame, thank you — I’m earning my levels here) and will start to upgrade to mail armor shortly.

I almost feel like the Shaman is overpowered right now, as at-level mobs will go down in hit or two, particularly with stormstrike. It’s fun to feel like a bulldozer plowing through bad guys, and I have fun rounding up a bunch and then plopping down a magma totem and getting to work.

Oh! One of the quest rewards gave me a mace that looks like a frying pan with two sunnyside-up eggs in it, and I have vowed to keep and transmog this as much as possible. I love it so much. Frying pans, who knew? (apologies to Tangled)

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A shining beacon of light in the middle of a dismal rainstorm…

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Oh and getting a dolly (with flies?) for a lonely ghost girl is a perfect pick-me-up to any gaming session.

Sniff.

World of Warcraft: An annotated photo album

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This is my Dwarf Shaman early on in her journey. I don’t think the new faces were radical overhauls so much as welcome touch-ups. I like how she has different expressions based on what she’s doing, such as here as she’s casting a spell.

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Another fun expression as a yeti hits me pretty hard. My pug looks on in amusement.

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Hey this “falling to your death” thing is not as fun as advertised.

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Firefly quote for the win!

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You blew up the planet! DARN YOU! DARN YOU ALL TO HECK!

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Well… this cannot be safe. World of Warcraft does not believe in helmets or seatbelts as you’re riding rocket-powered mechanical osteriches.

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I got a laugh out of my pug’s swimming animations and his little air bubbles. It’s the little details that charm me.

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This slime had swallowed me and I was fighting it from inside. I tried to get a better shot because I was pretty impressed with it all, but this was all I could get before I won.

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I’ve been slimed.

World of Warcraft: Returning to where it all began

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My very first World of Warcraft character (post-launch) was a Dwarf Hunter named Chark. While he didn’t last long, the memories of those first steps into Coldridge Valley has, marking a moment in my life where I went from liking MMOs to loving them.

This past weekend I felt the urge to swim upstream and lay my eggs in Blizzard’s mating pool (or somesuch return analogy) by logging back into World of Warcraft. I figured I might as well use up the subscription time I paid for a few weeks back, and anyway I was feeling a hankering to go back to where it all began and see what’s changed and what remains the same.

Unlike previous aborted attempts to dip into WoW over the past few years, this time around I abandoned my previous stable of 25 or so characters and rolled up a fresh Dwarf Shaman. Actually, I did go through all of the servers to see my characters, triggering a few memories and “Aww… I forgot about you!” moments. But anyway, Dorf Shammy. I never got to roll this particular combo, and since I knew that I liked the class, why not?

So I found myself once again taking a first step into Coldridge Valley. Much of it was the same — the hopping rabbits, the footprints in the snow, the non-aggro mobs that I almost felt bad putting down, and those Trolls in the bottom corner. But Cataclysm changed a lot, too, and gone was the old rite of passage run through the tunnel to the larger zone. The Gnomes’ now have a starting area that’s all walled off, which is cool because Gnomes rock and always need love.

While the big picture stuff might be vastly different than back in 2008, the small details — the sounds, the icons, the movement, the artwork, the enemy animations — were similar enough to trigger waves of nostalgia from deep inside me. It was almost relaxing just running around, doing the quest thing, and actually having a character that uses auto-attack. I forgot that used to be a standard feature. I think LOTRO was the last game I played with auto-attack.

I joined up with Belghast’s guild, mostly to pester them with the occasional question and not feel completely alone. To be sure, the lowbie areas are not hopping with players. I saw one or two on occasion, but Blizzard’s push to fast-track everyone to the latest expansion has certainly sucked some life out of the zones before it.

Oh well. I have no desire to suddenly become level 90 with a crapton of skills that I never earned. I’d rather enjoy the journey and see a new character gradually grow while I reacquaint myself with the game. I am generally pleased with how the talents and specializations work, as there feels like there’s more measured progression without being too frantic. On the downside, the first 10 levels felt incredibly slow as I was limited to about 3 skills and jogging. Once I hit 15, got my first talent and my ghost wolf form, everything started to click a bit more.

It’s nice to not be in any particular rush. I’m not dying to get to the endgame, to get to my garrison, or whatever. I don’t need to be raiding right now. It’s more a sight-seeing tour, with me lamenting what Blizzard did to Loch Moran (seriously, it’s a travesty) while oohing over the better quest flow and improved character looks.

Because I rolled on a new server and have no heirlooms on my account, this is about as close to starting fresh as can be. I have no advantages, so those 6-slot bags that drop are dearly precious to me. Four gold feels like a fortune. Although I do appreciate that I have inherited my mounts and pets from previous characters. Wouldn’t be a trip without my perky pug dragging his butt across Azeroth’s carpet.

We’ll see where this takes me. Maybe nowhere. Maybe I’ll be done in a week or two and move on according to the whims of Syp. Maybe it’ll be a nice lunchtime game. No pressure, that’s the key to just enjoying where you’re at.

Battle Bards Episode 63: Warlords of Draenor

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With a new World of Warcraft expansion on the horizon, the Battle Bards turn their attention to Warlords of Draenor to see how it stacks up to the rest of the series. The answer? For at least one of the bards, it’s the best WoW soundtrack ever. Crank up the volume and get your Orc on, for it’s time to go on the musical warpath!

Episode 63 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Malach” and “Shadowmoon Valley”)
  • “Wolf at the Gates”
  • “Chieftans Gather”
  • “Family”
  • “Last Light (A Hero’s Sacrifice)”
  • “Man Down”
  • “T’s Have It”
  • “A Light in the Darkness”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox (featuring “Abadis Forest” from Dust: An Elysian Tail, “Main Theme” from Fallout 4, “EverLand” from Ragnarok Online 2)
  • Outro

Listen to episode 63 now!