Posted in World of Warcraft

Gears of warcraft (or, how I learned to love the timer)

One of my pre-expansion goals for World of Warcraft was to dust off my old roster of characters and settle on what I wanted to play going into Dragonflight. While new alts are always a possibility, I am pretty content to hang out with my core three: Draenei Unholy Death Knight, Worgen Balance Druid, and Gnome Beastmaster Hunter. The last of these I got up to level 60 before I went on vacation, which checked off another to do item for me.

Most likely, I’ll be leading the charge with my DK, as she’s always been “first” in my mind since Legion. It’s a pretty hardy class with a lot of pets, AOE, and low-stress combat.

Next up was taking advantage of the primal storm invasion event to gear up as fast as possible. Two weeks should be more than enough time for three toons, but the need to get them all geared up and the time limit put a lot of pressure on those first few days until I got the sense of how long this should take. And since I spent a good chunk of this time in the Badlands, I also got in a bit of mining for if/when I go back and do classic engineering.

Fortunately, gearing up comes swiftly and without much sweat in this event. The first night, I got my DK up to 252 with plenty of currency left over. I appreciate that you always have a chance to get gear drops, but if you don’t, you can spend currency to fill out the rest of your slots.

And having the main event take place in the same location allowed me to take a much more laid-back approach for alts #1 and #2.. I’d log in, wait until the boss popped, help defeat it, then set timers for 20 minutes after it died. Then I’d tab out, get some other stuff done, and come back three times an hour for a quick boss fight, a handful of tokens, and a chance at a gear drop.

Additionally, I used the downtime to do some more guild shopping. I’ve been trying out a few different oufits, but none had that right mix of friendliness, chatter, and personality that I was seeking. I finally found it in <Socially Distorted>, which made a big deal out of “kindness” being its core virtue. The folks have been great, and I’m encouraged to spend an expansion with them.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Blizzard and NetEase end World of Warcraft in China

As the hoary saying goes, the only thing that could kill World of Warcraft was Blizzard itself. And as the events of this past week go to show, this is more or less true.

Last week we got the news that NetEase and Blizzard are by and large terminating their working relationship in China, which means that World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and everything that isn’t Diablo Immortal is going dark in that country as of January 24, 2023. That is, of course, unless Blizzard can figure out another solution to this incredibly undesirable situation.

There are two facets to this tragedy here. The first is the business side, which is the latest and most serious breakdown of the relationship between these two game companies. This past year hasn’t been great for Blizzard-NetEase, with Diablo Immortal’s poor critical reception being blamed on NetEase’s design and the cancelation of a mobile Warcraft game. But now it’s gotten so bad that they couldn’t even hack out a publishing agreement for some of the largest online games in that region, and now both sides are going to lose a whole lot of money because of it.

I am deeply curious the conversations that are going on at Activision-Blizzard’s board level and what hell to pay will be caught from the investors. I also wonder what effect this may have on the upcoming Microsoft buyout.

Maybe it’s recoverable. Maybe another round of negotiations might find a solution, or Blizzard might find another local operator. But even if that’s the case, the fact that all of this degraded so badly shakes everyone’s confidence in both companies and the future of these titles in China.

The other side of the tragedy is the playerbase losing their online worlds. By some reports, China made up half of WoW’s global population, which is not inconsiderable. And all of those players are about to see the MMO go dark and their characters disappearing into the void — just weeks after Dragonflight’s release, no less. I can’t imagine what that does to the mindset of a player. If it happened in North America or Europe, the meltdown would be immense. And when it comes to China, I’m not even sure if there are ways with VPNs and whatnot to get around the government’s firewalls and play in other regions.

It stinks for those players caught in the crossfire of this deal gone wrong, and I do feel quite sorry for them. If I was there, I don’t know if I’d keep on playing WoW while hoping that a last-minute solution might be found or if I’d simply jump ship now.

Word is that a lot of this can be laid at the feet of one “jerk,” as NetEase’s boss put it, which most have taken to mean Bobby Kotick. Or Sylvanas. One or the other. If so, it goes to show that those in positions of power and authority have immense responsibility to consider and care for those under them rather than trample them down.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Farewell Shadowlands — hello Dragonflight!

Having played Shadowlands the least out of the last four expansions World of Warcraft had, I can’t say that I have any fond feelings for it whatsoever. Some of the zones were interesting, I guess? But the borrowed power systems, the unengaging afterlife setting, and the extremely dull capital city kept any of this expansion from sticking to me.

So no tear is being shed to see the baton be passed from Shadowlands to Dragonflight. What’s weird here is that I don’t feel like there are any stunning tentpole features of this new expansion, but instead it’s more focusing on shoring up the game’s weak points, providing more long-lasting character progression, and maybe even returning us to some of the fun we had during the Legion expansion. I’m cool with that, if so.

While the pre-patch is upon us (in its multi-phase glory), the expansion is still a month away. So now is the time to get my characters ready and figure out which character I’m going to be maining come Nov 28th. I have four characters at or near the level cap, and since the reset button is about to be slammed, all are eligible.

I’m also entertaining myself by going on a tour of many of WoW’s past expansion raids. I’ve never had any opportunity or motivation to see them, especially when they were the current endgame. Now? Now I can rofflestomp bosses, see all of the art and scripting, and (especially) snag some transmog.

It also makes for some pretty fun screenshot opportunities. Oh, silly boss, you gonna die in about four seconds. Five, tops.

Pre-patch day was as messy as you might have expected, with extended downtime and bugs and whatnot. By the next day it was mostly better, and I turned my attention to figuring out builds for each of my characters and then taking them out for a spin. My first go at the new talents, with my Death Knight, felt really strong. I gave her a focus on pets and throwing out as many diseases as possible, and she is handily stronger than she was back in October.

Druid was pretty fun as well. I’m finding that I can basically make more or less the same build as I was previously using, only with more stuff — more actives and passives. I loved getting some extra abilities, like doing a whole flurry of casts or having a little dragon pop up next to me during attacks. I’m sure my build isn’t optimal, but you know what? It’s mine. It’s my playstyle, and I’m happy with it.

One character that I’ve been giving increasing attention to is Yonderly, my Dark Iron Shaman. She looks so amazing, and I haven’t had a Dwarf main for a long, long time. So I started power leveling her up through dungeons. After having played a Shaman in Classic for several years, it’s nice to see that a lot of the feel of Enhancement is still there — just maybe a bit more flashy.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Cautious optimism in WoW: Dragonflight is rising

When Dragonflight was first announced this past April, my reaction to it was “rather underwhelmed.” The dragon focus, the lack of a huge tentpole feature, the dorky new class/race… none of it hooked me in. I sighed, wrote it off, and went my merry way.

And it’s entirely possible that this will end up being the middle-of-the-road expansion that I initially predicted: neither great, nor terrible, nor distinguishable. But since turning my gaze back to World of Warcraft retail in the last month and combing through all of the previews and beta reports, I’ve got to say that my mood is shifting for the better.

Dragonflight wasn’t ever going to overhaul the whole game or bowl us over with a “gotta have this now!” feature set. But the next best thing — perhaps the very best thing for the game right now — was for it to be incredibly solid with a lot of engaging gameplay and reward systems. The more I read up on it, the more Dragonflight is giving me strong Legion vibes. And that’s a good thing.

I’m the most delighted to see that, at least for the time being, Blizzard is FINALLY changing its idiotic “borrowed power” design philosophy that’s plagued (and ruined) the legacy of the past four expansions. Garrisons? Artifact weapons? Heart of Azeroth? Covenants? Well, hope you enjoyed those for two years, because you were never going to get to keep them. Same with legendaries, I guess. Giving us toys for a while — toys that we have to work pretty hard to attain and perfect — and then taking those away after two years because the reset button demands it was always a dumb idea.

Dragonflight appears (appears!) to be more about laying the foundation for systems that can continually grow rather than be removed. The main focus here are all of the new talent trees. It’s been a decade since WoW had a proper talent tree, and I’m among the camp that’s very glad to see their return. It gives us a character progression reward every level that we get to keep, and it’s a system that can be added to and expanded in the future. Heck, even if the next expansion only grants 10 new talent points without any additional talents added, that’s still permanently growing characters. And it’s far better than what we’ve gotten since Legion.

There are smaller but other foundational changes, like the reputation system reward track, the crafting overhaul, and the fact that Chromie Time now goes up through level 60 and doesn’t force you to go through Shadowlands. All really good changes that can be built upon and improved for the future. I like how they’re already discussing what’s going to be done with dragonriding and normal flying in the post-Dragonflight era. I really appreciate that a lot of unlocks will be account-wide rather than per character.

Dragons aside, I’m quite digging the zone designs and the sheer variety of activities to be done in them. This is really what brings to mind Legion for me, because the Broken Isles were a perfect two-year stomping ground. BFA split up its zones between Alliance and Horde, and Shadowlands’ zones were fragmented and not connected.

But I acknowledge that none of this is informed by personal experience, yet. There’s the pre-launch hype that colors everything, and that can influence one’s perspective. But for someone who has a lot of other MMO options and didn’t have a dog in this fight, I am gaining more confidence that this expansion might be a bit of a sleeper hit in the making. I guess we shall see.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW: Gradually shifting into dragon gear

It’s both a weird and exciting time to be getting back into World of Warcraft. This week officially marks the end of the Shadowlands era and the start of the Dragonflight one (I guess WoW is doing one-name expansions from now on?), even though Dragonflight isn’t actually here yet. Yup, it’s the one-month pre-patch limbo! I used to be more mixed on the idea of the pre-patch, but these days I’m far more favorable toward it.

I guess it’s because I like to prepare. Having a month to get used to basic system changes — in particular, the new HUD and talent trees — is helpful so that we can hit the ground running when the new zones open up. I also applaud Blizz for giving us lapsed subscribers gear catch-up events so we don’t have to walk into the expansion wearing the equivalent of wet paper towels.

It is kind of strange that the pre-patch is being split into two phases — I mean, c’mon, I know the studio likes to milk this for all the PR it can get, but this is ridiculous. It’s only going to give us two weeks to do the gear events, which isn’t a lot of time if you’ve got a stable of undergeared alts. But I supposed two weeks is more than enough time to power level a new Dracthyr character to the cap if you’re so inclined. Which I am not. I may, however, check out the new Uldaman dungeon as I have nostalgic memories from that place.

Apart from the gear issue and figuring out good builds, I’m more or less ready now to jump into the Dragon Isles. I’ve got two level 60s (my Druid and Death Knight) and am finishing up leveling a Hunter to 60 as well. I’ll just need to pick one character to be my main for a while and then go for it.

So it won’t be the busiest month of WoW play, but at least we can scrub off Shadowlands’ stink and cross our fingers that this expansion will get a whole lot more right than not. I’m ready to move on and see what’s ahead.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW: Looking my best for Spooptober

One activity that’s always fun and beneficial to do before an expansion release is some good old fashioned transmog farming. I’ve approached this in a scattered way in the past, but this time around in World of Warcraft, I thought I’d be more focused. I booted up the transmog collection window and started flicking through sets until I found ones that personally appealed.

For my Worgen Druid, I really liked a set from one of Pandaria’s big 12-boss raids. So after a way-too-long excursion to get there, I soloed the entire raid in about an hour and picked up two (chest/hands) pieces that I needed. It’s a start!

It’s also a good excuse to tour around and see all of these raids that I’ve never experienced. This is my preferred way: quick, no-stress, all the loot goes to me. As it well should be.

Another side project was dusting off my Hunter, Gwenders, and bringing her up from 50 to 60. Since I had no intention of going back through Shadowlands’ zones, this meant a lot of dungeon runs. I had forgotten how much I liked this character’s look and theming, especially with her mechanical pets and engineering training.

Gwen’s had her garrison decked out for Halloween for years now. It’s never NOT October 31st.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW: A reunion… with DEATH

Since I was crashing on WoW Classic and had some subscription time left this month — and since I’m still waiting on some significant content drops from New World and LOTRO to pick back up those games — I wandered back in the direction of WoW retail. Oh hey, it’s a dungeon finder! Forgot this game even had one of those!

I figured that a worthwhile goal would be to pick back up my main — Photopsia, the Death Knight — and figure out what I should do to clean up her act, get her ready for a possible expansion, and organize some “in the meanwhile” side goals. She was, predictably, a hot mess of leftover quests, sanctum reports, and an inventory full of random stuff that I’m too afraid to toss or sell. But I’m going to toss or sell it anyway.

On the plus side, she is level 60, she’s got four different ports, and plenty of style (and mounts). ‘Tis the season to trot out my Headless Horseman mount, I say!

But what I struggled with was finding direction for her, for several reasons. It’s the end of an expansion cycle, so a lot of expansion progression content isn’t really worth doing with the reset switch on the horizon. I also was overwhelmed with Cable Channel Syndrome — i.e., having so many options for a character that one scarcely knows where to look. I like having a few clear goals to work toward, so clearly some research was needed.

Some options that came to mind included:

  • Clearing out my quest log by finishing up all of the Shadowlands questlines
  • Gearing up in dungeons/raids/mythics
  • Getting a backpack transmog
  • Working on engineering (for Jeeves? portals?)
  • Beefing up my garrison (get Pepe for costumes)
  • Getting Katy’s Stampwhistle
  • Getting Argent Squire
  • Farm old dungeons/raids for transmog
  • Get the Legion artifact fishing pole
  • Unlock allied races (Vulpera in particular)
  • Torghast’s Twisting Corridors for cosmetics
  • Do the pre-patch quests and respec my characters

No decisions yet, just a list. Sometimes it helps to put it all down in front of you to see what options leap out above the rest.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online, New World, World of Warcraft

Being in the middle of a three-way MMO tug-o-war this fall

Coming out of August, I didn’t think that this fall was going to be as crazy as it’s shaping up to be. Week after week over this past month, I’ve had to continually revise my gaming “dance card,” so to speak, due to all of the developments and date announcements.

What’s even nuttier is that a lot is converging upon November. New World’s fresh start servers are arriving at the start of the month, followed closely by LOTRO’s Before the Shadow. Both of those are coming post-patches that introduce elements that I’ve been waiting for (New World’s new leveling experience, LOTRO’s Hobbit Lore-master) but I’ve held off because I also want the full package.

I’m a little more grumpy with New World for delaying the servers for two weeks after Brimstone Sands — it would work out a lot better for me to jump in the middle of October to stagger things out. Now I’m looking forward to two new characters in two games vying for equal attention.

And that attention may get even more split thanks to another big November release, which is Dragonflight. No, I really didn’t think I’d be anywhere near that orbit, but it’s hard to escape the undercurrent of a new WoW expansion when you’ve been a player for decades.

So if things break three-for-three, I might be rounding into December with a trio of MMOs and a whole lot of juggling. Hey, I’m not complaining — having more new and interesting stuff plopped into one’s lap in a short span of time is a good problem to have. And there’s always a long, long winter ahead that’ll need plenty of entertainment to fill the hours. It’s just nutty how sometimes all of this seems to converge at the same time for us fans.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Languishing in the non-future of WoW Classic

It wasn’t too far into Wrath Classic that my initial enthusiasm and momentum started slowing — a slow that quickly ground to a full halt. But it wasn’t the game itself, which was serviceable and as enjoyable as Wrath tended to be. Rather, it was the dawning realization that WoW Classic has no meaningful future.

I mean, back in vanilla WoW Classic and Burning Crusade Classic (the past three years, effectively), there always WAS a future: the goalposts of Wrath of the Lich King, the MMO’s most beloved expansion. It was always coming. You could journey with your characters in anticipation that one day you would arrive in Wrath and have a good time there. But now that we’re AT Wrath, it feels like the whole landscape changed.

I kept feeling this as I would dutifully log in, night after night, and go through the motions of questing. My mind, which never shuts up when I want it to, kept asking me, “What’s the point? Does any of this have a future? Why go through this right now if there’s no ‘next’ to it all?”

Purpose, meaning, and at least a perception (if not the assurance) of a game’s future are key motivational factors in playing MMORPGs. The sheer time investment doesn’t lend itself well to brief dalliances. Do I have a purpose for playing Wrath? One would be social, which I’m not getting much of these days. Another would be for the moment-to-moment experiences and blog post output, which is… something, but it’s not that inherently exciting when you’re retreading old territory. But it certainly is not to prepare for the next stage.

Because whatever the next stage for these legacy servers might be, it’s not going to excite. Either Blizzard will arrest development in Wrath permanently, perhaps with “season of mastery” progression restarts; it will move on to the generally disliked Cataclysm and become a progression server of a sort; or it’ll develop alternate content for the Wrath era. I see this last as most desirable and least likely, because Blizzard isn’t showing any signs of devoting the amount of resources needed to create a separate evolutionary path for the game.

So why play? Any way I look at it, it doesn’t look promising. And that sapped my interest so rapidly that I shoved my poor Shaman back in mothballs and went elsewhere to clear my head for a bit.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Welcome to Wrath Classic!

Monday night, 5:45 pm eastern. After a two-minute wait through a queue, I sat down after dinner to log into Wrath Classic. Honestly, I was kind of surprised it was up early, but I guess that’s also smart — help relieve the pressure of everyone coming in at the same time. Even so, it was a ball of craziness as I followed a stream of players down to the newly opened Stormwind docks and took the boat to — as I always do first — Borean Tundra.

In fact, it got so busy that Blizzard stopped sending the boats and directly transported people to the new continent.

With everyone and their brother flooding into Northrend, I knew that it would be near impossible to actually quest. Well, quest with any momentum. So I headed out from the town and took in the sights, fruitlessly looked for mining nodes, and farmed mobs for a bit.

There’s a whole lot of Good Feels coming back to Borean Tundra. It was always my first destination in Northrend and the start of a newer — and better — phase of World of Warcraft. The art was better. The questing had an even better flow than Outland. And the landscape was more cohesive and involving. Even if this is as far as I ever go in Classic, I’m glad to be able to go back through the old expansion one more time.

The upside of being sick and not being as much in a mood to game is that the whole glut of first day players race ahead of you, leaving the zone for you to quest in peace. So Day Two was a whole lot more relaxed and, dare I say, normal. But the real best part? Getting amazing gear upgrades from questing. Since I didn’t dip into Burning Crusade’s dungeons or raids, everything I was wearing was quickly replaced by quest greens.

I always felt Borean Tundra got a bad rap for being blah and not as exciting as Howling Fjord. I really like its far north theming, with ice floes, hot springs, and the walrus people doing what walrus people do best. I don’t even mind the absence of trees here.

A few days into Wrath, some helpful guildies summoned a bunch of us up into Dalaran so that we didn’t have to wait to set our hearths and start accessing all of the services here. It felt like coming home to be here — and I wasn’t complaining to get the next tier of engineering. As a bonus: Engineering auction house!