Remembering World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

January 2007 — nearly eleven years ago now — and excitement over World of Warcraft’s first expansion was at an insane height, both personally and among the community. We had been kicking around Vanilla (which we weren’t calling “vanilla,” of course) for over two years and itching to move on. We wanted to see where the game was going to go from here, and Blizzard had a whole bunch of tricks up its sleeves.

It’s hard to understate how much of a revolution The Burning Crusade was when it arrived. While we kind of look at it as an outdated, ancient, and creaky expansion that nobody wants to play in these days, it was hot beyond hot that January. I actually waited outside a game store at midnight with a bunch of people arguing over Horde vs. Alliance, grabbing my copy and then rushing home to install and play. That night, my Warlock Syp crossed through the Dark Portal and into a realm that was really unlike anything we had seen before.

Out of all of the changes that The Burning Crusade brought, I think its best was double-downing on the quest system. It was the expansion that refined and perfected the notion of “quest hubs” with plenty of missions so that you wouldn’t have to comb through an entire world just to find enough quests to actually level. I remember always breathing a sigh of relief to get a character to 58 (pre-Cataclysm), because that meant that I could actually level at a decent pace from there on out.

Burning Crusade had more than that, of course. There were the Draenei and the Blood Elves, Alliance Shamans and Horde Paladins, flying, dailies (which were a new thing back then), bombing runs, and 10 more levels of skills and talents.

Outland itself was hit-or-miss. Hellfire Peninsula was ugly beyond belief, yet the dimensions, the sky, and the angled ground still made it pretty exciting. Nagrand was my favorite, followed by Zangarmarsh. I spent DAYS trying to farm that firefly pet in Zangarmarsh — all in vain, I might add.

There are all sorts of small memories tied up with this expansion. Falling off the elevator to my death in Shatt… well, that was a rite of passage, was it not? Spending two years mostly in these zones, forgetting what Azeroth looked like. That awesome feeling of finally getting a flying mount and soaring. There were some great new pets to tame, and I never got sick of creating new Draenei alts to level up through those intro zones.

With Warlords of Draenor’s revamp/prequel of the Outlands and now Patch 7.3.5 allowing players the option to skip TBC entirely to focus on Northrend (or vice versa), The Burning Crusade has kind of become buried in World of Warcraft history. It’ll be interesting to see if WoW Classic servers ever end up expanding into Burning Crusade and beyond, and how the community will take to it when and if that happens.

What are some of your Burning Crusade memories? Let me know in the comments!

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World of Warcraft: Do murlocs wear boxers or briefs?

It was a bit of a mixed bag of a week last week in World of Warcraft. Yay for holidays and extra gaming time and all, but I keep jumping from project to project without really settling down. One of these projects was checking out some of the anniversary content and downing a trio of world bosses who were resurrected from Way Back When for the amusement of us veterans. Oh Lord Kazzak, are you tired of being our punching bag?

I did get a couple of nice pieces of gear upgrades, which probably happened because in my absence my Death Knight fell behind the gear curve once again. Oh well, I hear there’s this new expansion coming out, so I’m just going to time travel to next August, grab some green quest rewards, and then come back to be the envy of raiders everywhere.

Another one of these projects was getting back in touch with my poor, neglected Dwarf Shaman. I had a ton of fun with her in the waning days of Warlords of Draenor, at least until that horrid 7.0 patch came along and gutted her easy going enhancement lifestyle. Gone were her totems, her elemental pets, and her rotation.

I had tried numerous times to see what I could do with her after that, but it was a hard sell. Picking an artifact meant I needed to at least temporarily commit to a spec, so resto was out because no one in their right mind wants to level as a healer. I was so mad at the enhancement changes that I went over to elemental — I mean, at least my pets were there. But after a lot of experimentation and trial, I couldn’t find a really solid build that worked for me… and so I found my way back to enhancement.

At least this time I got the artifact and did some homework to see what most people were doing with their rotations. It’s mostly smacking things around with a hammer and trying not to die. I find that my health can dive really quick if I’m not paying attention, but at least there are instant heals and my helpful wolves every now and then.

I seem to have activated the Super Bloody mode. This game is rated M for “MOM! DAD IS PLAYING A VIOLENT GAME!”

Actually, I think this was some enemy spell. Still, it’s fun to take pictures out of context.

Tell me, why can’t I loot and sell all of this treasure after killing these mobs? I’d be set for life with WoW Tokens if I could!

Aw little murloc buddies. At least there are missions to make friends with you and help you on your way so that you can grow up and be a quest objective for an expansion. Don’t forget to tote around some vendor trash when that happens!

Do murlocs wear boxers or briefs? I’m 95% sure that this guy is rocking boxers, but I’d have to get closer than I’d feel comfortable to confirm. At least my kids thought this little undies window was pretty hilarious.

My rollercoaster relationship with World of Warcraft’s Warlocks

While my Gnome Warlock — the Original Syp (O.S.) — was not my first World of Warcraft character, she was definitely my first main. I created her back in September 2006 following a lengthy break from the game and played her non-stop through the rest of Vanilla, all of Burning Crusade, and all of Wrath before my second and much greater break.

Warlocks were pretty much broken and useless on release, as I recall, but by mid-2006 they had stabilized enough to be viable. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the character and concept, which married my favorite race (Gnome) and a pet class. There was tons of utility, a choice of pets, and pretty decent survival for a cloth class. Vanilla wasn’t the easiest haul, since there was no jack-of-all-trades pet (most everyone I knew quested with voidwalkers and grouped with imps for the buff), plus there was the eternal annoyance of collecting soul shards and having them hog inventory space.

The Burning Crusade was a huge game-changer for my Lock. It was then that she got her Felguard, a splendid pet that did great damage and tanked at the same time. From then on out, I was a demo spec all the way, a pint-sized hero and her gigantic companion. She was the one that I quested with, did dailies with, crafted with, and even raided with (in Kara). Good times. And then Wrath came along and I ended up drifting away.

When I came back to the game for Warlords of Draenor’s second year, it took me a while to get around to catching back up with the Warlock. I was pretty pleased when I did, because she felt more powerful than ever. I had more abilities and now an even better pet — the Terrorguard. I didn’t play her as much during this period, but I liked it when I did.

It all came crashing down with the Legion pre-patch — you know, the one that muscled in all of those “class fantasy” changes and rebalances. Overall I hated this patch, because it took what I enjoyed out of three classes — Hunter, Warlock, and Shaman — and made it worse in various ways. Less fun. Less enjoyable. Beast Masters became this awkward thing, my melee Shammy could no longer summon totems or pets, and my Warlock found herself stripped of the Terrorguard.

I had a very hard time dealing with the new Demonology build. I tried, I really did, because I am all about those pets, but this new format didn’t seem to flow. It didn’t help that I had to make all of these changes at level 100 and then try to figure out how she played. It left a sour taste in my mouth up through the start of Legion, and by level 102, I respecced her as Affliction just so that I could get my DoTs back.

But I missed my Felguard something fierce, which is why I’m pursuing Demo again with my Forsaken Warlock. Sometimes it’s easier to “grow into” a build than abruptly change to one, as there’s a lot of time to experiment with incremental changes and choices. I keep fiddling about with her talent points, trying to find the best build for my playstyle. Might not be the most optimal one, but I’ve long since stopped caring about min/maxing at the expense of my personal enjoyment.

So far I’m cautiously optimistic. My main problem is soul shard generation, because I hate the idea of standing there and spamming my shadowbolt with its 1.87 second cast time. So I’m exploring some other ways to get more shards and flipping fights so that one is mostly focused on getting more shards and one is focused on spending them. It feels a little more varied and I even have those moments of feeling pretty powerful when I have a troop of pets out on the field ravaging a group of mobs.

I can’t wait until level 40 and the return of my Felguard. It will be like a reunion between the two of us, especially as we face the prospect of going into Outland once again (unless Blizzard gets those leveling changes into the game before I hit 60). I’m keen to hear what the studio has planned for the class come Battle for Azeroth, because I know that demo isn’t a highly loved or well-performing spec at this point. Hopefully it’s due for a renaissance.

World of Warcraft: Contemplating WoW Classic plans

One of my idle daydream scenarios is to imagine what I would do if I was thrown back in time with current knowledge to play MMOs of years past. If it was November 2004, what would I do in World of Warcraft? Other than not being able to log on for weeks at a time, of course. Would I be able to tolerate that era? Would there be sufficiently unmined content that I could keep myself occupied and amused in a pre-expansion game?

Well, now that hypothetical is not so much one any more. While we’re not going to get sent back in time and experience the WoW phenomenon and culture as it developed, World of Warcraft Classic is set to deliver the MMO as it was. And while we don’t know the specifics of what it will entail, our knowledge of the past means that we can take educated guesses about what will be present — and start to plan what we might do when it launches.

I can’t see just up and leaving the current version of WoW to solely exist in Classic, but I am really excited to jump into it at least casually (as casually as one can in Vanilla, that is). I’m sure there will be all manner of hype and positive peer pressure around playing it, if Old School RuneScape and the EverQuest progression servers are any indication.

I’ve been on-and-off considering what I might do when Classic comes out (my guess, December 2018). I do hope that there will be some sort of guild pulled together from among bloggers and commenters, so I’ll wait and see if that happens. But what do I want to play?

It would need to be a class and race that I’m not currently pushing hard, one that offered some fun in Vanilla and was self-sustaining. I think with those qualifications, I’ll be looking at a Tauren Shaman. They’d be something the Alliance wouldn’t have (at least not at first), and I do miss totems. Troll Shaman is another possibility, although I do have very fond memories of Mulgore as a starting zone and probably preferring the big cows as a character model over the hunchy trolls.

I would assume that the first week or so would be a wonderland of rediscovery and group excitement, but the big question will be in sustained interest over the long haul. I imagine that the “challenge” with an older version would be a selling point, although it could also be pretty frustrating too. I don’t have the fondest memories of late-game Vanilla back in 2005 and 2006. A slow journey to the top and then… not much. Rep grinds? Boring dungeons? We were pretty much waiting with bated breath on upcoming patches and the expansion.

I remember always having to use a very specific leveling guide that chained together the sparse quests across the world to help players get to 60 without too much grind. I also remember how much I felt that Burning Crusade was a blissful leveling experience in comparison, how excited I’d always get when my characters would reach level 58 and finally be able to ditch the desolate questing lands of Azeroth for the breezy Outlands. Funny how time changes that and how Outlands are now despised and avoided by so many players for being slow, ugly, and poorly designed.

Are you formulating any WoW Classic plans? What do you intend to play and do when the server launches?

World of Warcraft: The leveling path less traveled…

What can I say — I travel in style via blind death angel.

With about a week of leveling my Undead Warlock behind me (more or less), I’ve made a really interesting realization about bringing up new characters in World of Warcraft. You see, up until level 15, it’s a pretty linear experience: do all of the quests in your particular zone, and if you have it, switch to a different starting region. But then level 15 hits and the group finder opens up, allowing for dungeon runs from anywhere in the world.

In the past, this is the point where I pretty much plunk my character down in her capital city and start chain-running dungeons until the leveling pace starts to slow down — which can be quite a while. At least until 80 or 90. It’s just dungeon finder on repeat, with occasional trips to the bathroom, auction house, and bank. Fast, efficient… and soul-crushing.

When I started doing this on my Lock, I really noticed an abrupt switch in my interest. I had been really into this character, the setting, and the quests, but suddenly I was gaming the system and ignoring the actual “world” of World of Warcraft. I had hopped onto the leveling train, choo choo, and it quickly divorced me of my affection for the character.

Now, I have no problems with dungeons and group content. It’s good, I think, in moderation. As a full-time activity, it stifles me, especially with its repetition, lack of narrative, and that “I’m trapped in a run and can’t escape at my leisure” feeling. But previously I felt compelled to do it in WoW on my lowbies because that was the quickest path to the cap.

After a night or two of dungeon runs on this character, however, I stopped and asked myself why I was doing it. I had no great reason; expediency didn’t seem to be that important to me. There was seriously no rush to get to the cap and back into Legion, especially after the Battle for Azeroth announcement. So why do it?

And I saw that the two main paths to leveling — chaining dungeon runs and standard questing — were open in front of me, and that I had the choice. It wasn’t a hard one, really. I got out of the city and got back to questing.

Within a short time, I felt the interest in my character flood back. I was having a great time exploring the landscape, reading quest text (yes, I do that), and getting to know my character’s growing rotation. I decided that I would put myself at the mercy of the adventure guide, taking its suggestion for a good leveling zone to do. I’d head there, mop up an entire zone, and then see what’s next without a great concern for staying on a certain path or going through an expansion from start to finish.

That landed me in Arathi Highlands, an old favorite zone from vanilla that doesn’t seem TOO different than it used to be. Still kind of green, plain, and host to some classic ruins. For the heck of it, I switched from Affliction to Demo to see if I could grow into a workable rotation instead of trying to cobble one together at the level cap like I did when the class changes hit in Draenor.

Within the first night of doing this, I had managed four levels and had a dozen or so screenshots tucked away from my adventures. I wasn’t dependent on someone else’s pace to proceed, and I could enjoy guild chat instead of keeping my focus strictly on the minutiae of a dungeon crawl. Good stuff.

Seeking purpose in a post-expansion announcement World of Warcraft

I think it’s fitting that the Goblins have a castaway situation going on with their introduction, because that’s sort of how I feel with World of Warcraft right now: marooned, adrift, and seeking purpose.

Expansion announcements, even middle-of-the-road ones like Battle of Azeroth, seriously affect the live game. Even though we’re probably around a year from release, looming knowledge of the expansion and the specific changes that it will bring to the game in 2018 affect how people play the game now and what they pursue.

The problem is that for all of the excitement, enthusiasm, and resubs that such announcements can cause, they can also drastically steal the importance and meaning of current content. Especially if it’s this game under the care of Blizzard, which has never met a gameplay system that it hasn’t abandoned, changed, revised, or completely reversed at some point. I swear, these devs are the most indecisive group of people I’ve ever seen (and this is coming from a player who bounces around MMOs and alts with reckless abandon). Every expansion, it’s this pattern:

  1. Introduce brand-new systems as if they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread
  2. Pump in a lot of resources, development, and attention to the systems
  3. Spend a year or two convincing players to completely convert their gameplay habits to align to these systems and get used to them
  4. Completely abandon these systems when a new expansion comes along, claiming that they have “learned from their mistakes” and “listened to feedback”
  5. Go back to #1

And so it is with Legion. Artifacts are going away, as are legendaries. Yes, we pretty much knew this was going to happen, but now that we’ve had the announcement and see where the next expansion is going, it’s taken away any meaning from pursuing this content in the meanwhile — which, as I’ve said, will be many months if not a year.

So instead of being excited to build up my character by working on my artifact weapon, farming legendaries, etc. and carrying that with me to Battle from Azeroth, now I have no — zero — reason to do any of that. It’s not just a gear reset, it’s a reset of character progression in this regard. It’s Blizzard, yet again, taking away a talent tree to give us a different talent tree just to eventually take away that talent tree to give us another talent tree.

MAKE. UP. YOUR. MIND. AND. COMMIT ALREADY.

Geez, no wonder everyone wants to go back to vanilla.

So as we adjust to this new meta paradigm in a post-expansion announcement WoW, what do we do in the meanwhile? What can I do now that has purpose and can be carried over to the expansion? Sure won’t be chasing that raid that hasn’t even dropped yet, nor going through an artifact grind. For my Death Knight, I guess I can do the story content to see what there is to see and then start to pursue my own goals, such as tracking down transmog gear or making money.

There is one interesting aspect of the announcement, which is that factions are going to matter a lot more, with separate leveling continents for Horde and Alliance. I’ve seen a lot of people echo my own notion on this, which is that it’s now kind of important to get that “other faction” character up to 110 so that we can experience all of the content.

For me, this means turning my attention back to one of my long-time but never-fulfilled goals, that of leveling up an Undead Warlock to the cap. It’s a class and build I know I love but in a different body, and I’m kind of excited to see it through (hopefully) this time. This announcement has decreased any sense of urgency, which I guess can be seen as a positive. Plenty of other games and projects to pursue for now, and I can leisurely level in WoW as I like.

How about you? Did the expansion announcement change how you see the current content and what your goals are in World of Warcraft?

World of Warcraft: New expansion, classic servers, and even more elves

And here we go: Another BlizzCon, another round of huge announcements, another expansion reveal for World of Warcraft. Had some time to digest it, and now here are a few of my thoughts in no particular order:

Classic servers

  • I was legitimately shocked by this. Never thought it was going to happen.
  • Even though there’s no timetable on it yet, Blizzard put it out there and showed confidence in it.
  • It was funny to see Brack publicly swallow his “you think you know what you want but you don’t” statement by having to announce this. Even Blizzard doesn’t always know.
  • But seriously, good  on the studio for finally responding to the demand for legacy content. Probably also indicates that the studio did its homework and determined that there’s either money to be made on this or a worthwhile PR bump (or both).
  • Probably going to get a LOT of coverage by the Twitch community. Like a living museum.
  • Am I going to play this? Like many veteran players, I’ll definitely roll up a character to see what there is to see, but I’ve never been one to really want to go back. I would have preferred an expansion progression server instead.

Battle for Azeroth

  • The rumors and datamining were pretty spot-on here.
  • Great trailers and gorgeous scenery. If nothing else, this expansion looks to have yet more wonderful zones to explore.
  • Yet I’m pretty divided on this whole expansion as a concept. It feels… safe. Middle-of-the-road. A lot more of the same in terms of content but nothing too revolutionary or thrilling. Where’s the big hook here? Draenor had garrisons. Legion had order halls and artifact weapons. This has… going to random islands? Warfronts? A necklace? It just doesn’t feel like there’s a big hook.
  • Really glad to be playing Alliance. Trolls and jungles aren’t my thing.
  • And that name. Sigh. It just doesn’t flow. Of course, I wasn’t crazy about “Warlords of Draenor” as a title either. But this is a touch too generic.
  • Is Blizzard holding back some major reveals or story elements? I wouldn’t think so, looking back historically, but I’m starting to wonder…
  • I want to hear more about what’s going to happen to our artifacts, about any new skills or talents, about any other kind of progression.
  • New races and unlocks? I guess it’s cool. I wasn’t holding my breath for a new class, and it does make sense to reuse a few models that the team poured a lot of effort into making. Highmountain Tauren are the only that initially appeal to me, but who knows?
  • But do we need more elves? No. No we do not. And now here comes another bazillion of them for both factions. Thank you so much for that Blizzard.
  • Despite my misgivings, I’m generally excited here and hope that it’ll be a fun year or so of lead up to this expansion.
  • Really wish they had announced housing. Seriously, Blizz, would that have killed you?