6 small questing touches that I appreciate in modern World of Warcraft

archimondeIn all of the talk about World of Warcraft vanilla servers and the desire to go back to an earlier era, it’s made me think about how the game has indeed improved for the better over the years. I was talking with someone the other day about how we don’t acknowledge all of the quality-of-life improvements that go into MMOs until we see the game in an older state or are forced to go without them. We’ve just gotten used to their presence, how they make the game more user-friendly, and become blind to those changes when we call for the return of how things used to be.

Anyway, since questing through Warlords of Draenor over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed many nice changes that have made the game a lot more enjoyable to experience. Some must have happened since I left in the Wrath era while others are older but still post-vanilla. Maybe everyone who’s been playing Draenor for two years now are immune to noticing these, but I’m definitely liking them.

(1) The chance for quest rewards and drops to upgrade in quality

Getting loot is one of the little thrills of any MMO, and I think WoW has a good idea going here by giving any dropped or quested gear a chance to spontaneously evolve to a higher rarity level (green to blue, or blue to purple). Once in a while, that gear I thought I’d be vendoring ends up being useful because it goes through this on-the-spot upgrade, and that’s pretty dang nifty.

(2) Rare monster hunting

Rare monsters have always been in World of Warcraft as far as I can remember, but they haven’t been as enjoyable to hunt down as they seem to be now. I definitely like how they pop up on the radar as little skulls, always prompting me to drop everything and make a beeline to them. I’ve gotten so many interesting drops from these mobs, including neat transmog pieces, pets, and utility items.

(3) Storyline chapters

Is this a new thing? In going through each zone in Draenor, I notice how there is a counter on the quest tracker for the number of storylines that I’ve completed. It seems like every area has at least a half-dozen or more story arcs to be completed. The size of them hits the spot — not so small to be insignificant but not too big to get lost in. You get beginnings, middles, and endings, and I’ve gotten engrossed in a few of these as a result of the pacing.

(4) The music

Terrible official album release aside, Warlords of Draenor has a memorable in-game soundtrack. A few of the tracks are haunting and catchy, and I’ve kept the music on for the entirety of my questing so far.

(5) Remote quest turnins

While this is only a once-in-a-while occurance, it’s certainly welcome for WoW to catch up with modern MMOs and offer remote quest turn-ins. Sometimes you really, really don’t need to be running back to the quest giver for piddly activities, and it’s welcome to get rid of the quest on the tracker right there and then.

(6) Selection of quest rewards

It feels like WoW’s gotten better about changing up quest rewards so that they’re not always disposable gear. Sure, lots offer on-level armor and weapon upgrades, but I’ve been seeing a lot more reward screens that spit out followers, pets, resources, and other useful trinkets.

World of Warcraft: A singing fish named Murray

I don’t go overboard with screenshotting World of Warcraft these days, but I do take pictures when I get a neat angle, see something different, or want to remember a particular moment. I kick myself that I never saved my screenshot folders from MMOs of the past. Silly Syp.

So here is an assortment of snaps from Draenor and the Gilneas starting zone!

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Big ogre and I are not off to a good start in the friendship department. My, what large nipples you have! The better to stun you with, my dear!

w2I has ship. I particularly liked how this was framed against the gorgeous Shadowmoon Valley night sky.

w3Dang, I am in love. Please do not tell my wife.

Why can’t we make characters that look like this? The hat, that type of sword… it hits the spot for me, it does.

w4Help! She’s going to shoot me with square bullets while these two dogs give me disagreeable looks!

w5Gilneas is such an awesome region. Feels a shame we move through it so fast and that stunning buildings such as this cathedral are only used lightly.

Also? I think that this fawn is going to mug me.

w6How did the deer get the best of me? It’s a mastermind, I tells ya!

w7Every time I’m sent up to this tree on a quest, I have to stop for a screenshot. Simply too pretty, especially with the rain falling.

w8Blizzard totally missed an opportunity to have this fish suddenly start singing to me, possibly about an unrequited love with a murloc on the shoals.

World of Warcraft: Legion is coming in August — so what am I gonna do about it?

The big news this week — before the PAX East stories start flooding in, I imagine — is that World of Warcraft finally announced the release date for Legion: August 30th. Blizzard had promised “summer 2016,” so this was about as late as it could push the date and still look as though it was keeping its word.

August 30th is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it allows the studio over four months of testing and refinement. Considering the subscriber drop-off and black eye that Blizzard got over Draenor, the studio really needs to produce a home win here, especially with its renewable endgame content. Second, that date is right around the time of some other big conventions, such as PAX Prime, so you can bet that Blizzard will be taking advantage of those for some added publicity.

Want to take bets whether or not Blizzard will announce a new expansion in November? I sincerely doubt it, but hey, there’s always the potential for surprise.

Anyway, it also means that this won’t be the summer of Legion. If any other studios have some releases brewing, getting them out in May or June might give them a good couple of months of breathing room.

Me? I’m totally fine with the date. Assuming that in four months I’ll still be playing WoW in some capacity, it’ll be a good time for an expansion release. I have a lot to do between now and then, especially on my new Death Knight. I’m test driving one right now and am hoping that she’ll become my main, what with the cool creature summons and pets.

My goals in the next four months are to get her through Draenor’s quests (I was about halfway through on my Hunter), make as much money as I can through garrisons for some WoW tokens, and then go back through previous expansions — most notably Northrend — to find some cool-looking cosmetic gear for the new transmog wardrobe. If I only had a month, I don’t think that would’ve been enough time. But four months? Yeah, that’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

If the DK doesn’t end up sticking, then my Hunter is a solid fallback. Finish up Draenor on her, gear her up some more, and clean up Northrend for gear. She hit level 100 last week and shot up in gear item levels, mostly thanks to timewalking dungeons. When those are dropping ilevel 675 stuff left and right, that makes a huge difference when you’re sporting ilevel 580s. I’m running heroics every night to complete the inn quests, and I just unlocked the schematics for the level 3 inn due to that.

The weirdness of coming in at the end of a World of Warcraft expansion cycle

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Do you know that feeling when you come really late to the party on something, whether it be a movie, a game, a meme, technology, or some pop culture fad? It’s been off your radar completely or for the most part, but now you’re taking a look at it and you are fostering some sense of understanding… all while everyone’s long since been there and done that. It’s really easy to bump into this as an MMO juggler, because you’re often playing catch-up to an ever-moving community and -developing game.

The feeling is one part understanding, one part excitement, and one part regret. I always wish I could put all MMOs that I’m not playing in stasis so that when I do have the time or interest to play them, the community involvement will be strong and I won’t be running six expansions behind.

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Speaking of expansions and that particular feeling, I’m in the thick of it with World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. My Hunter has been doggedly plowing through the, what, two-year-old expansion? I’m three zones in and almost at level 100, with a garrison that’s clicking along (I guess) and a gear level that’s inching up with every dungeon run.

It’s been pretty fun, to my personal surprise. The orc motif of the expansion was dreaded by yours truly, mostly because I find orcs terribly dull and the thought of a full expansion being nothing more than Orgrimmar spread out over a continent a headache-inducing concept. Yet thus far I’m not getting that vibe. Instead, Draenor’s been a delightful romp through colorful zones, interesting questlines, and breezy progress. Garrisons are what they are, and while I can certainly see why they are not well-liked for those who have played them for a couple of years now, at least it’s new enough for me to be novel.

Not all of it’s been great, of course. Oddly enough, I’m finding that the armor designs are pretty boring, especially compared to the awesomeness of Northrend’s gear. Might have to go back and farm some of that if I’m around for the new transmog wardrobe. The not-flying thing is a little irritating after doing it in earlier areas.

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Oh yeah, and I met an elf that instantly shot to the top of my most-hated elf list. Congrats, “Johnny Awesome.” Also, Blizzard? Do you remember what subtlety is or has that long gone bye-bye for you?

What keeps nudging me during my Draenor exploits is that ever-present sense of how strange it is doing all of this while the game is at the end of that expansion cycle and preparing for Legion. Sure, if I stick around I’ll have the game reset with the new expansion to go through with everyone else, so this weird feeling is not going to last forever. For now, it exists. People have all of these dungeons on farm mode. Players with garrisons far more upgraded than I are churning out so much money that they can buy years’ of subscriptions whereas I’m about a fourth of the way to a single month. And a good chunk of the playerbase has become bored and left while the waiting continues.

It’s not just coming to the party late. It’s coming to the party while the host is cleaning up and you’re trying to snag a slice of cake before he dumps it into the trash bag. It makes me feel like a lot of my efforts are somewhat meaningless. Should I just not care about my garrison at all, if in a few months it’s going to be nerfed to the ground and abandoned? Should I cool it on trying to get better gear? Is my goal merely to play through quests, see the stories, and then sit back until the expansion arrives? I don’t have great answers for any of these.

I may be switching back to my Shammy soon, anyway. A few more levels and she’ll be able to quest in Northrend, and getting cool-looking gear there might be my goal until the arrival of the Broken Isles.

World of Warcraft: Postcards from Grizzly Hills

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Two days into my 2016 return to World of Warcraft, I wrapped up the entirety of Northrend’s Grizzly Hills. It was a perfect zone to get re-acclimatized into the game: pretty, familiar, easy-going, not too difficult to navigate. And while WoW is — and always has been — on the chunky polygon side, the art is still quite attractive and made me prone to screenshotting. So today I wanted to share my Grizzly Hills photo album!

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Making us kill “Imperial Eagles”? WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST AMERICA, BLIZZARD?

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Love the hallway in this Troll tomb. Always makes me wonder who comes in these places to light the torches. Guess it’s magic or something.

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Good ol’ Harrison Jones. Subtlety? World of Warcraft doesn’t really know how to do that. That’s OK, I kind of like that it doesn’t always take itself so seriously.

“Snakes? Why’d it have to be 20-foot-high snakes?”

grizz5

Really liked the questline of this trapper town, where it turns out that everyone is a werewolf in disguise and there’s a lot of incredibly disturbing things going on under the surface. Guess I should’ve expected that, considering the decor of this entrance arch. Can only imagine the smell.

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Really liked this shot of Oz and I romping through the foothills. Lots of blue!

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This screenshot doesn’t do the interior of this broken world tree justice. The floating lights/fireflies and the generally pleasant makeshift village was downright homey. Not what’d I’d expect for an enemy furlong base.

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World of Warcraft needs to create a water amusement park already. I think some of the designers obviously want the game to go in that direction.

As you can see, I did get flight for Northrend, if only to please my son who proceeded to hijack the game and take my dragon on all sorts of incredible adventures. And by that, I mean “nosedive the dragon into the ground repeatedly because he doesn’t know how to use a mouse that well.”

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I found Bambi… and friends… and Bambi’s mother!

Then I thought, “Oh hey, I’m a hunter! How fortuitous!”

I don’t think you want to know what happened next.

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Giant troll gods don’t impress me the way they used to. Honestly, I’m more intimidated by the clover there.

World of Warcraft: Heroic pooping

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My nostalgic tour through my World of Warcraft class roster the other day had one unexpected result: I found myself increasingly drawn to dusting off Ghostfire, my hunter, and riding with her once again.

I actually logged onto her about four times, looked at her, went “what am I *doing*” and logged out. Then logged back on. Then off. Then I shrugged and started the process of reactivating a long-dormant character.

The last time I played Ghostfire was in 2008 — around the same time that I first got into blogging. Of course, it was all Warhammer Online talk back then, WoW was just a brief diversion from those adventures, so Ghostfire, Syp, and company never got talked about on a blog. When I logged onto her this week, Ghostfire was sitting in Dalaran with bags full of now-useless ammunition. Seriously, that’s how long it’s been.

She had no specialization, no talent points, just bags full of random crap and a handful of quests for Wrath of the Lich King content. And apparently hunters can no longer equip both a ranged and melee weapon, because her polearm was now stuffed in her backpack. At least she still had that wicked-looking WotLK armor and gun that I adored. Going to have to save all of that for transmog (and there’s something else I haven’t done yet).

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After rebuilding her and getting an attack rotation set up, I turned to the problem of what to do. That’s where another one of WoW’s new(ish) features came riding to the rescue: the adventure journal. I love this thing, let me tell you. You’re lost for where to go and what to do at your level, you just click on that icon and it points you right toward suitable zones and even gives you the option to start a quest in the region. Perfect. I elected for Grizzly Hills, having fond memories of that place, and away I went!

It’s most decidedly strange that I still look at Northrend as the “new” World of Warcraft content. I never did advance beyond it, so relatively  it still is the frontier of the game for me. I always loved Northrend, with its frontier/Nordic/Viking aesthetics and environments. Grizzly Hills is like going to a summer camp where you can shoot bears and eagles. I did kind of snort when a quest made me shoot bald eagles (I’m sorry, “imperial eagles”) dead for whatever flimsy reason. Not a lot of MMOs have you kill eagles. I’m not saying they’re off-limits, but they are kind of in the same category of kittens and giraffes as animals that we’re not used to farming.

So I’ve been reacclimatizing myself with Ghostfire in Grizzly Hills, doing the quests and being generally entertained. One small and welcome change that I noted was that her gun sounds are a lot less harsh and more audibly intriguing than they used to be. I definitely prefer a hunter with a rifle in this game (crossbow second, bow only as a last resort).

The quest that had me either pooping or puking up seeds that I accidentally ate was among the most notable so far. Can’t say that I’ve visited a lot of MMO outhouses in the course of my adventures, but as you see above, I gave this particular one a workout.

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I also ran a dungeon last night (forget the name, but it was the Troll temple in Northrend) just to see how rusty I was with the hunter. It went well, all things considered. Totally forgot to take growl off of my spirit wolf, Oz, so d’oh on me. I am very much liking the beast mastery skills and some of the new talents, such as summoning extra beasts for a short duration or commanding a murder of crows to swarm a bad guy.

The biggest thing on my to do list is to find a guild. I don’t even remember who I used to be with on Rexxar, but chances are they don’t exist any longer. I’ve been perusing the guild finder and sent out notes to a few prospects, so we’ll see about that. The next step will be doing some web research, and if that doesn’t go well, perhaps consider a transfer to a more populated server. At least I’ve seen players romping around me in my adventures, so I don’t feel completely alone.

A trip down my World of Warcraft roster

One thing about World of Warcraft’s longevity is that many accounts have undoubtedly picked up scads of alts and abandoned characters across several servers. These toons wait in vain for the day that their master or mistress will return for another romp through Azeroth.

While I’ve done my fair share of alt purges through the years, deleting with impunity, there remains some two dozen or so characters on my account spread across about eight servers. I was flipping through them this morning, taking screenshots of each notable character for posterity… and to share with you.

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Syppi the Shaman is my newest character, the one I’ve been puttering around with, off and on, since coming back in December. The Shaman is one of my go-to classes, offering the hybrid fun, melee smashing, and even a bit of pet class craziness.

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Syp is my oldest character still in existence, although certainly not the oldest I ever made. I think I made her October 2006 as the very first “Syp” in preparation for The Burning Crusade. Had a great time with her, but alas, the changes to the Warlock class have rendered her all but unrecognizable to me. She’s also the only character I seriously crafted on, leveling up engineering to the point where I made my own helicopter.

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Ghostfire was a Burning Crusade invention, giving me a good excuse to romp around as a Hunter with the new race. She’s also my second-highest-level character (75), having gotten through a chunk of Northrend before I shelved her when Warhammer Online came out. Her pet, a ghost wolf named Oz, represented a terrifically difficult capture back in the day, utilizing some clever techniques to get an otherwise-unobtainable creature.

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Somehow, Echoes the Tauren Druid became my highest level character (80), probably during the Wrath of the Lich King era. She was all Moonkin, baby, and proud of it. I did return to her briefly when Cataclysm came out, but my stay in that expansion was short-lived.

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Yes, here is documented proof that I (sigh) used to play an Elf. But I posit to you that I had no choice — no choice! — because if you were in an Alliance guild (which I was) and wanted to play a Druid, you had no other choice.

Curse you, Blizzard!

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Platypus the Shaman, somewhere in her 60s. No great tales here, other than more proof that I like the class.