World of Warcraft: Doing Druids wrong

You guys, I’m pretty sure I’m Druiding *all wrong* in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. First of all, I went with Maldraxxus for my covenant, even though the Druid Union stipulates that all nature-loving shapeshifters must pledge with the Night Fae and drink herbal tea whilst sitting on a recliner made of flowers.

And as I’m consorting with zombies and skeletons, I’ve also taken to wearing the above outfit that I’m calling “Death Druid.” I totally love the fact that I got my first non-cape back piece, which is sort of a small backpack with this flag/spear standard.

Anyway, I’m digging my life decisions here. Every night I’ve been logging on and choosing different things to do. Sometimes it’s pursuing a calling, sometimes it’s doing a renown quest chain, sometimes it’s just farming or Torghast running.

Speaking of Torghast, I have to question if Blizzard is really doing it justice in the rewards department. Other than running it for currency to make legendary items, I’m failing to see the point of it. You don’t get loot drops like you do in dungeons, and there are only four cosmetic rewards tied with very specific twisted hall achievements. I feel that Torghast should be dropping all sorts of desirable loot — pets, mounts, cosmetics — but other than soul ash, the only thing I’ve seen here are two champions that I recruited to use at my adventure table.

So I don’t get why we’re going to be doing Torghast for the long haul, unless there are rewards or long-term benefits I’m not seeing. I mean, it’s not like you can wear more than one legendary.

Anyway, I did want to share the above picture there because I thought it was an excellent little quest tucked into a chain. My character got thrown in jail, and the only way out was with a bit of necromancy. In this case, reanimating a skeleton arm that could only hop and platform its way to a release lever. I thought it was funny and clever, the type of MMO quest that shows me that devs have imaginations.

I really suppose I should be doing more Maw stuff, but to be honest, I feel lost in there every time I go. I don’t know where to go for rares and side objectives, since I don’t see them popping up on the map. And it’s disheartening to roam accidentally into a super-dangerous place, die, and then have to do a hard corpse run to get stygia back. I’d appreciate more direction in there, is what I’m saying.

Yakkity Yak, don’t talk back World of Warcraft!

While I probably know a lot more about how World of Warcraft’s various systems work, my wife exceeds me in one significant way: She makes gold in ways that I could only dream about. She’s far better at playing the auction house and finding ways to meet market supply, and as a result, gold just flows into her account in Scrooge McDuck amounts.

But because she loves me — and because she ended up stealing my old account with all of the good unlocks — she does throw a lot of gold my way for tokens and other trivialities. It actually allowed me to purchase one of my most-wanted items over the holiday, the big ol’ yak mount from Mists of Pandaria.

Even for a purchase from an older expansion, 120,000 gold isn’t insignificant (that’s a WoW token these days). However, this isn’t an impulse purchase. The yak comes with a repair vendor and a transmogifier, both of which I use pretty much all the time in WoW. I’m forever looking for one or the other, and now I have both, permanently, on all of my characters. That’s worth 120k gold to me.

I’ve had some good fun with my Druid over the holidays. Her gear is settling into the heroic dungeon range and I’m getting on top of the whole daily/weekly cycle without feeling overwhelmed any more.

One of the things that has helped me connect more with this character was playing around with her talents. In particular, taking the ability to summon a trio of treants for 10 seconds every minute has proved to be one of the most fun abilities in her arsenal to use. The damage is nice, but having their powerful taunts means that I can pull them out to help dungeon groups or get a reprieve to fire off some heals.

I even dared to start healing heroic dungeons once I felt my gear was good enough to do so. I go back and forth between DPS and healing, and both have advantages. DPS is more relaxing and less stressful, but healing gets me into groups faster and features a nice change of pace.

World of Warcraft: Clawing myself out of a grave

As I move into the routine (pattern?) of Shadowlands’ day-to-day life, I took a break from my Druid to raise up my Death Knight to 60. I have to say that I absolutely love the option to either level the conventional way or through the “Threads of Fate.” This time, I did the latter, and it worked out really well for me.

Instead of going through a linear storyline, Threads gives you a covenant choice and then tasks you with filling up an activity bar for each of the four zones. I did that mainly through side quest chains and local challenges, with a few world quests and dungeons tossed in, and I got to 59 by the time I was done with that. 60 wasn’t too far behind, and all in all, it went faster than the story leveling — plus, I got 6 or 7 renown levels for my covenant along the way.

But by cracking open this box, I’ve presented a dilemma to myself, which is the fact that I don’t really have the bandwidth to juggle two characters right now. There’s too much to figure out with the endgame and the constant rollover of new daily and weekly events to be ping-ponging between the  two. And while my Druid makes more logical sense for the sheer variety and options I have at my fingertips, I find myself gravitating toward the DK because I simply like the combat better. Of course, that could change next week, but as long as I’m having a good time, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.

I also really like the Venthyr covenant more than the other three, now that I’ve sampled them. I love that the innkeeper is *right next* to the flight master, which is pure convenience. And the gothic atmosphere suits me very well.

Plus, with that covenant’s battle ability, my DK can melt down packs of mobs with blood and plague like nobody’s business. I still get a giddy thrill when I’m able to summon more pets to the fray.

Our guild seems to be getting into the groove of Shadowlands quite nicely, too. We’re not a raiding or mythic+ type of guild, but more of a loosely social guild where everyone has their focus and we’re always comparing notes. I’ve been chasing some toys and world map rares, and sometimes a couple of guildies will come along to join me in the attempt, and that’s been a good time.

Wrapping my head around the Shadowlands endgame

After hitting level 60 and finishing the standard leveling experience in Shadowlands, I’m looking back at it and going… what was the point? It was fine busy work that served as an introduction to the factions and the settings, but to me it feels that Blizzard really missed an opportunity to give this stretch anything important or vital. It was, as I started to suspect, a lengthy time gate to the “real” expansion content.

So I’m just going to say this and leave it: If Blizz can’t figure out something better to do with its leveling — better rewards, a vital role — then it needs to stop adding it with each expansion. Really, there’s nothing much missed if you got a level 60 and started in on the rest of it.

And that’s what I’ve been tackling over the past week and a half. I realize that I have a sort of heightened anxiety when I reach expansive parts of game (in terms of content or even layout) with no good feel for the lay of the land and what I should be doing to be efficient and satisfied. Shadowlands’ endgame sprawls out in front of the player like a wide-open buffet, and with only a couple of hours to play a night, I didn’t know what I should be doing to make the best of it.

So I did what I should’ve done from the start, which was to log out and do some honest-to-God homework. Icy Veins has a terrific endgame guide that walks complete newbies like me through all of the different systems, and I took a page of notes from it, dividing it into weekly and daily objectives. The game itself does lead players through this, mind you, but I knew I’d only be at peace if I got a high-level overview first.

From there, my Druid joined the Night Fae covenant and started plugging away at world quests, renown, dungeons, and all the rest. I’ve done a few Torghast runs (underwhelmed) and dived into the Maw a few times (cautiously pleased). I got my gear up to the point where I could actually heal again, and I’ve been getting to know Shadowlands’ instances this way.

I will say that I’m not too happy with the world quests this time around. First of all, we have no flightmaster’s whistle, and that is so annoying. I still don’t understand why Blizz thought this helpful and beloved feature was a good idea to omit here, but the end result is that it makes transportation around these already complex zones difficult. Second, there seem to be fewer WQs in general, and the ones that do pop up seem to take a lot longer than in Legion or BFA. I asked my guild their impressions about this, and everyone agreed.

That said, I do like the renown reward track and the variety of activities. I love not having to worry about multiple faction reps this time around, and I’m certainly not lacking in interesting things to do any given night.

I’d love to get my Death Knight up to speed with Shadowlands, but that would take away from my Druid’s making progression. I may start splitting my time between the two, but we’ll see.

World of Warcraft needs another perma-reward pipeline

With all of the talk and backlash at Blizzard’s tendency to give and take away rewards — i.e. “borrowed power” — with expansion cycles, I’ve been taking a step back and thinking about what matters for World of Warcraft characters in the long run.

The way I see it, we are motivated to play by three things: the experience (stories, interactions with other players), temporary rewards (gear, borrowed power systems), and permanent rewards that we collect. This last category includes:

  • Transmog
  • Weapon effects
  • Mount equipment
  • Toys
  • Pets
  • Mounts
  • Titles
  • Account unlocks (allied races, flying)

That’s right there what I’m chasing in Shadowlands — covenants, renown, gear, and whatever will evaporate in two years is just a means to getting some of these long-lasting rewards. But I have to ask, is it enough? For players who have the one mount they really love or who don’t care about pets, what entices them to keep pursuing goals?

I think that Blizzard needs to add another reward pipeline in the game to add more variety to what it already has. The obvious option is some sort of housing system, because there are so many rewards that can be added into this. Garrisons had potential, and you saw Blizz starting to expand this into a new reward pipeline (music scrolls, holiday overlays) before giving up and moving on.

But it could be something else entirely, something I’m not seeing. I hope that the team is thinking outside, rather than inside, its tightly confined boundaries for rewards in the future.

World of Warcraft: Of trees and vampires

Two weeks, two days. That’s how long it ended up taking me to get through the first four leveling zones of World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands. It’s a little faster than I had anticipated, but still way, way slower than many others I’ve seen.

Some of my guildies are absolutely gaga over Ardenweald, and it’s clearly a zone that’s designed to be visually impressive and attractive. Lots of blues and purples and swirly trees and ain’t nature amazing?

But for me, it was too much, trying too hard while not really delivering that great of a narrative arc. I think it’s because WoW has dipped into the well of “beautiful nature corrupted by local evil, please go exterminate it and bring our flowers back” far too many times to make this feel anything other than a retread. It was fine. Eye candy, but nothing more. At least I hit level 60 in the middle of this zone, so that’s one milestone completed.

In contrast, Revendreth was a whole heap of fun. Despite being a Warcrafty ripoff of classic Transylvania/Bram Stoker tropes, it fashioned together a stunning gothic zone that’s brimming with personality. I was laughing at a lot of the quest text and quotes, especially from the little gremlin guys, and who wouldn’t find the Mad Duke a great companion?

I also found that it didn’t take any effort on my part to stay engaged with this zone’s story, formulaic though it was. I was a really interesting design decision to have the vampires (sorry, venthyr) take after the uglier looks from vampire movie history than the modern drop-dead leather model aesthetic.

As an aside, am I the only one who is wondering if there are going to be allied races that spring from any of these zones? Because I can totally see it, especially with Bastion and Revendreth.

Now that the leveling journey is done, it’s time to figure out what the endgame looks like. I want to figure out what gaming routine and long-term objectives to pursue so that I’m not wasting my time doing too much in one area and not enough in another part that would benefit me more. Plus, I’m curious if any of this will be fun on a base enjoyment level.

World of Warcraft: The might of Maldraxxus

Well here is something that I really didn’t anticipate: I ended up liking Maldraxxus waaaay more than Bastion. Sure, Bastion has the pretty enough visuals, but it’s hollow and boring. Contrast that to Maldraxxus, which actually makes a necromancer’s man cave seem interesting if you inject enough high-spirited story in there.

This zone is really the kind of energy that Shadowlands needed out of the gate, but instead we get it after the Maw introduction, dull-as-dirt Oribos, and HerculesLand. It’s like a mini-Game of Thrones shoved into a single zone, with five of the houses tasked with protecting the Shadowlands now turning on each other thanks to Sylvanas’ machinations.

I particularly liked the monster design of the zone. Lots of slime and slime monsters and bizarre twisted creations, all partying it up in undeath central. At the center of the place is a gladiator pit that had some humorous encounters with the various contestants.

I actually was taken aback to hang out and do quests with Vashj, who I guess is now a sort-of good guy in the afterlife. Actually, it’s kind of weird that I’m only now bumping into characters from the rest of the game, unless I have been all along and just didn’t recognize any of them. It’s not as if my WoW lore is at the collegiate level.

All in all, I had a good four or five days of questing in Maldraxxus. I took a lot of breaks to rush to various rare bosses that would spawn with the promise of a shot at some desirable back items. Since I hate cloaks, I’m really desperate for a backpack here. No luck yet, but I’m planning on farming this later on.

Another highlight of the zone was a trip up a possessed tower. It had just the right amount of challenge and chaos without being a drag.

So yeah, Maldraxxus is the first time that I’m feeling like Shadowlands is living up to potential. I even liked the covenant skills — a damage shield and a DoT attack — so I am considering pledging this frat. Now out with the color green and in with the blue as we head to Night Fae territory!

World of Warcraft: Bastion bunts rather than socks a home run

Probably one of my least-favorite Disney animated films is 1997’s Hercules. It’s not that interesting of a film, to be frank, and it only has, like, one good song. But what grates the most for me is its visual design, which is a flat and lazy take on Roman mythology. It’s just an ugly-looking movie.

World of Warcraft’s Bastion, the first leveling zone of the four added with Shadowlands, does a better job bringing a sort of Greco-Roman myth-inspired realm to life… yet it still manages to underwhelm even as it gives us all of the eye candy. We all have subjective reactions to zone visuals in MMOs, so your mileage may vary, but Bastion never clicked with me. It’s way too golden and elysian without much of a personality. The strongest reaction I had running around was an aversion to abruptly falling off the sides of what is essentially a series of giant floating rocks.

And yes, I fell a few times. Never hire me to drive your tour bus.

It wasn’t just the visuals that underwhelmed but the story, too. In seeing preview videos and screenshots, I kind of already knew that Bastion wouldn’t be for me, but I had hopes that it would defy expectations with the narrative. Instead, the story here — sort of angels-in-training finding the system falling apart around them — is head-thuddingly dull. There were no standout characters or quest lines (although I did like the little owl servants).

We’re also entering this weird territory of Blizzard trying to come up with some sort of afterlife system that makes sense for this game world, and it’s not selling me on the merits of dying, here. I sense the studio trying to walk a very skewed line of touching on religious ideas without trying to make any real-world connections while also trying not to be religious at all.

It’s unfortunate that Bastion had to be the first in this linear leveling experience, because I went from a full tank of excited steam to a quarter-tank by the time I was done. It was fine, it filled a few days of mindless questing, but it wasn’t the jazzy, gripping, “oh my goodness I need to go tell my friends how amazing this is” experience I was hoping it would be.

Forward my mail to Shadowlands, thank you

Whenever a World of Warcraft expansion launches, it kind of feels like everyone around you is sprinting as fast as they can and guzzling down all of the new content like a starving nomad. I’ve really never seen the appeal of the rush, unless you hate the leveling process and want to get into the routine of the new endgame. For me, that will come soon enough.

Instead, my mental state when I sat down on Monday with Shadowlands (about three hours after it launched, mind you) was of someone who wanted to taste every bite and relish every drop of the newness of it. It’s the first expansion that any of my characters from this account are experiencing from the start, and so this is very much a day that’s been months in the planning for me. This feels like the “real” start to my journey — and I don’t want to scramble through.

Instead, I slowed down to listen to all of the scripted NPC lines and read the full quest text, even when it was for mundane quests. I’m taking my Druid through this and anticipate at least a month, maybe more, of gradually getting to 60 and through all of the zone stories while pursuing whatever side objectives that I desire.

The introduction to Shadowlands is — let’s be frank here — kind of underwhelming for the subject matter. I mean, we’re heading into the deeply mysterious afterlife of this fantasy world… and the first hour is spent in a rocky and dreary hellscape that might be any number of other zones from the game. The Maw shouldn’t have been our first stop, is what I’m saying. It’s fine, it’s adequate, but the prologue here fails to impress the power of the Jailor or the stakes at hand.

In fact, it only started to get interesting for me when I got to the new city hub of Oribos. It’s a weirdly stark place, especially after the life and bustle of Dalaran and Boralus, but at least it’s laid out in a helpful fashion. The shape of this afterlife system started to take form for me here, and it’s certainly interesting what Blizzard is trying to do with it while trying hard not to touch on the sides of real-world religions.

After a tour of the city, it was off to Bastion and the proper start of the expansion. Real quests, real rewards, side objectives, pet battles, the works. It’s a good idea to lead with a “pretty” zone here, washing out the taste of the Maw, and Bastion certainly is a looker — especially if you like pastels and dreamy, vaguely Greco-Roman designs.

For a launch night experience, I can’t recall a better one in terms of game performance. There was no queue, no bugs, no lag, and no issues that I encountered. That’s not to say that these all didn’t exist, just not for me. Our guild was uncharacteristically quiet, but I figured that everyone had their head down as they leveled and didn’t want to stop to chat too much.

Anyway, while everyone is running, I be strolling along. Here’s hoping that Shadowlands ends up being a better place to spend two years at the cap than BFA! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

World of Warcraft: Mechagnome marvels

When this post is published, Shadowlands will be here, but as I write this, it’s the week beforehand and I’m a little antsy and in need of a good distraction. With my Shaman leveled to 50, I decided to tinker around on my little Mechagnome Warlock, Pneumosa.

Character creation was fine, and while I appreciated choices about her various parts, I kinda wished that there were more. A whole lot more. For example, you don’t get a choice of what type of artificial feet to have or whether any of your limbs are natural. I think I did my best, and I really enjoyed her beehive hairdo.

One of the nice perks of allied races is that they skip over the tutorial and start right at level 10. So with an eye on eventually going through all of the expansions on alts, I started her in on Cataclysm (old world) content. That felt just fine for me, nothing too demanding, just one zone of quests at a time.

Of course, I happened to pick one place — Duskwood — that was being slammed with max-level scourge mobs. 100% of the deaths I suffered were at the hands of skeletons and flying dragons, and I was a little miffed that they weren’t at least scaled down so that lowbies doing the quests could try to fight back.

Happily, once outside of the hub, it was a lot more peaceful and I could kill spiders and werewolves in peace. I’m speccing her as affliction, at least for now, because while I do want a felguard pet, demonology’s lengthy cast times make combat an agonizing experience. I’d rather just pop insta-DoTs on bad guys and get on with my business.

What I’m really loving are the Mechagnome racials. The newer allied races seem to have much more fun racials as a whole, but this right here is the best set yet that I’ve encountered. For starters, she has the ability to instantly cast two holographic decoys — which is amazingly useful and a lot of fun to watch. Then she’s got a couple of nice automatic abilities: a self-heal upon dipping below 20% and a stat boost that increases the longer she’s in combat.

Mechagnomes are also amazingly suited for crafting, with the ability to pick locks, use every profession tool, and function as an anvil, fire, and forge. I don’t have plans right now to use her for crafting, but that certainly opens the doors for the future if I do change my mind.

The tabard, mount, and heritage armor also have delightful steampunk theming, so now I have incentive to get her to 50 to at least unlock it for my whole account.