Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Where Next?

In these first days of August, Blizzard has announced they will reveal the next WoW expansion on Aug. 6 This is really important for Blizzard to do at this time, but it's hard to say if it's soon enough.  

Typically, Blizzard reveals new WoW expansions at Blizzcon, but waiting another four months for a reveal would be a disaster for developers trying to avoid the 14-month stalemate we had with The Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of Mists of Pandaria. Moving up an announcement to next week
would be the bare minimum they would need to accelerate the next expansion's release.

But, does this accelerate the expansion enough? 

We can only generalize about the history of past expansions, but Blizzard hasn't let 10 to 12 months passed between an announcement and the release of the new expansion. There's nothing saying they can't do better, and maybe they will this time. But,following this historical trend, we really wouldn't expect to see the new expansion before next summer.

And that's not much better than the last time. It also depends on fairly flawless execution by the blizzard developers.

So, I'm not saying that it will be a year before we get an expansion, just that the historical trends are not favoring us. 

What's it going to be?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Merinna on her first Griffon
Last week, WoW lead designer Ion Hazzikostas gave an interview in which he noted that there would be no flying in Patch 6.2, in fact, he didn't think there would be any flying in Draenor at all.  And you know what? He suspected they may never allow flying again in any future expansion pack either because the developers liked that idea so much.

The reasons stated are that "flying makes the world feel smaller and less dangerous." Which, truth be told, is entirely an accurate statement. The developers have chafed at a character's ability to simply jump on a flying mount, go kill something that needs killing, and jump on that flying mount to escape the multitudinous ground forces that might get in your way. I presume flying above it all is a way to avoid PvP entanglements on an open PvP server.

So, with those caveats in the previous paragraph clearly written out and agreed to by me, let me state unequivocally that to remove flying as an ongoing feature in the World of Warcraft would be a disgraceful, terrible idea. Removing flying from the game gives way to lazy design by the developers and is disrespectful to the players who have spent years building characters around the flight ability.

Lazy Design

Hazzikostas says that it is difficult to design around the convenience of flying. He completely ignores how successfully Blizzard has done this in the past.

Wrath of the Lich King was brilliantly designed for the use of aerial transportation. Many of the zones of that expansion had an impressive verticality that took the ability to fly as a key feature of its exploration. Do you remember the first time you flew into the Storm Peaks, all full of straight inclines and monumentally-sized Titan features? How about Icecrown Citadel, where the ground was so full of enemy Scourge that you had to fly above it to get where you needed to be?  How about the Howling Fjord, which, although a starting-level zone for Lich King, gained so much more beauty when you reached max level and could sail through the air jetties of the deep chasms and foothills.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Spring Malaise

Well, I honestly didn't want it to go this way, but 6.1 has been a bust for much of anything interesting.

I don't know what else my expectations were. A few posts ago I wrote explicitly of how disappointing patch 6.1 looked coming up on the horizon. And it turned out to be pretty well everything I wrote about then: fixes to systems from 6.0, stretching content in the garrison, minor fixes to problems in the garrison without any ambitious overhauls. No new areas of content whatsoever.

I've finished the legendary questline, involving that ring and Garona Halforcen. Or... I've finished as far as that story goes for now. 

Spoiler Time (skip this part if you get nitsy about the legendary questline) 

Having Garona as a "legendary follower" is nice enough, except that on a storyline basis, I just don't trust her. Garona, in our original timeline flipped allegiances and even after her "brainwashing" by Gul'dan was defeated, still managed to slip off to assassinate King Llane of Stormwind at the warlock's behest. Khadgar should presumably know better this time around, but I don't see him doing anything different from what was done before.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Warcraft vs. The Industrial Revolution

Again with the Orcs and their crappy places to live
Several weeks ago, I ran an article in which I wondered aloud about what effect advancing technology would have on Azeroth and our World of Warcraft.  There was much consideration given for the steampunk aesthetic, but my feelings were that the developers have been letting in-game technology creep closer and closer to the present day to where it was threatening the concept of a "fantasy" world.

That was all before I ever got a look at Blackrock Foundry. So now I gotta just vent a little.

I hate Blackrock Foundry. I've never hated a raid as much as this. I hate the setting. I hate most of the bosses. I hate the color dialogue and I hate the incidental themes about technology that it shows us.

There are some interesting raid mechanics here that are ruined by stupid boss dialogue and the trappings of a fully mechanized and mostly automatic industrial factory. 

I like suspension of disbelief and all, but any army that could possibly build all this mechanization in such a short time, including the train depot and underground shipping port is one our medieval butts would be incapable of beating. Conservatively, this kind of mechanization took decades of active development and construction in the real world. I'm still a little hazy on how much time has passed since Garrish was deposed at Orgrimmar, but a year or two is the tops. All this should not have been built in that amount of time.

Jumping around among conveyor belts and dodging dozens of locomotives while some orc shouts 19th Century railroad jargon at us is not my idea of "savage." The parody of Hans and Franz, one of my least favorite Saturday Night Live regulars from 25 years ago, was stupid. I'm just surprised they didn't call one of their abilities "Pump You Up!"

Pant, pant, pant.

Yeah, I'll be glad to be done with this place so I never have to hear  "Bat the stack off her!" ever again.

"Masochist tweet of the night..."

The essence of PvP in one image
Boy, was that an understatement!

Late last week, WoW's primary PvP developer Brian Holinka, asked this question on Twitter:

Masochist question of the week: Do you play WoW and Heroes of the Storm but you don't PvP in WoW? I'd love to hear why.

Responses that I saw tended to fall along complaints that it's unbalanced, and Holinka sort of got in trouble replying that balance was an experienced player's problem, not one shared by people who don't PvP. I can agree with that...for the most part. But other people thought he sounded dismissive. I think those "other people" should read the question more carefully. 

I am somebody who doesn't PvP. In any game. There are a few places I have tried... Including WoW, but it never takes. And I'm unlikely to purchase a game that was PvP only. That's a bummer with Blizzard's two newest products coming out aimed to be just that: PvP only. I'll give them a try, but realistically, I don't have big expectations. 

Before I get into some reasons why I don't PvP, I was wondering why the comparison between WoW and Heroes was being drawn here. Isn't Heroes still in a closed alpha stage? It may be in beta now...I'm not sure. But, like, Heroes of the Storm might be the most incredible experience of all time that would forever change my view of PvP games, but I wouldn't know because the damn thing hasn't been properly released yet.

Anyway. WoW PvP doesn't work for me because...

It Attracts So Many Toxic Players
Toxic players are the ones who type all-cap expletives for a whole match, are quick to point out how much everybody else sucks and that they must be homosexual because of this. You know the type. In truth, I think these players have always been everywhere, but in my experience, they just seem to congregate in battlegrounds. I'd think this fun-quashing personality type would be at the top of the list for many people who won't darken a battleground's door.

I Don't Like the Pacing
This part is very subjective. I realize that and wouldn't argue with anybody who does like PvP pacing. But, short bursts of high activity, followed by periods of waiting drive me crazy. That pretty well describes the arena, I think. But it's much the same in battlegrounds. Sometimes, I've been giving the good fight in a BG, and then I die, and it just about ruins it for me as I sit in the graveyard waiting to resurrect for 30 seconds. This sort of thing pulls me out of the fun.

Bird Brains: What's Going on in the Spires of Arak?

Skyreach, in the tippy-top of the Spires of Arak
I've run several characters through the Spires of Arak now but had all sorts of problems really getting the details of the conflict there worked out in my head. Honestly, I like the Arakoa and I appreciate their history being expanded in Warlords of Draenor. But it's not been easy.

So, today, dear readers, I'm prepared to tackle all this Arakoa lore and maybe figure out why we should care.

The Gist
The real problem today in Draenor is that a severe caste system has sprung up among the Arakoa that has moved to a point of genocide. Whatever the reasons for this are, I think we should all agree that genocide is bad, okay. And that putting an end to genocide broadly falls within the range of things that heroes like us would work towards. To that end, we are faced with defeating the Adherents of Rukhmar in order to save the mangled, cursed brethren we find in the lower forest.

How Did All This Start?
Way way back a long time ago, there were three eternal bird beings: Rukhmar was a free-spirited happy demigod, Sethe was a nasty thing full of jealousy for Rukhmar. Anzu was a deity known for his cunning. Sethe tried to get Anzu to assist in taking down Rukhmar, but tricky Anzu pulled a double-cross that led to Sethe undoing. With her dying breath, Sethe uttered a curse on the world to cause it to rot in shadow. Anzu bravely consumed Sethe in an attempt to contain this curse, but there were two problems. First, a little bit of the curse got out and fell on the area of Spires known as Sethic Hollow. That land was left bereft and any Arakoa setting foot in there receives Sethe's curse. Secondly, Anzu was warped and wracked with pain from the curse that he contsined. Soon after, he retreated to "a place of shadow" that seems like suspended animation in order to heal. Rukhmar, was horrified, seeing what happened to Anzu and ran the hell away. She stayed gone until Patch 6.1.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

How are the Other Classes Playing?

It's like Hollywood Squares, only cool.

I've spent so much time with Merinna this expansion so far, but there have been alts. For better or for worse, I almost never put much research into the alts. I do have fun with them, of course, but there's jus not really space in my head to min/max multiple classes.

As such, I don't really have much idea of an idea of what everybody else thinks about their classes and can only go with my own limited observations. That sounds good and scientific, right? Of course, right! So, let's look in on:

Ephaena the Hunter
Ephie has long been a gatherer character and was the first alt to get moving after Merinna due to the need to animal skins in Mer's leartherworking.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Shaman Healing v.6.0

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil: For Merinna art with me.

Merinna got to go on her first real raid in a long time. And you know what? She sucked.

The problem was that HPS was in the dumps. The raid itself, a normal jaunt into Highmaul, wasn't altogether unsuccessful, but I don't feel that I contributed a great deal towards it. Blizzard has acknowledged that "shaman" as a class is having trouble in their metrics, and that deserves some examination. The bigger problem is that I didn't know how to heal very well anymore.

In my defense, it's been four years since I did any raid healing. Long-time readers will know why that was. Raiding in Warcraft was one of the first things to go, and as the Cataclysm unwound and it became clear that LFRs and LFDs were awful places to try and make friends...or even just be civil... I gave up healing and have been casually blasting things with lightning ever since.

But here I am, four years later, hoping to restart my raid career and it's not starting well. One can moan and complain about the bad balance that Blizzard has created, or one can expect that to be addressed sooner or later and try to come to terms with the new mechanics.

Which do you think I should do?

Healing: Back Then
Shamans were designated raid healers as recently as Wrath of the Lich King. Chain Heal was the tool for topping up large batches of raid members. Shamans almost completely lacked any heal over time mechanic and had a big, slow heal and a small, fast heal to use on individuals. There were healing totems, but back then, you were more likely to place your mana stream totem instead and bolster the entire raid's mana regeneration. Earth Shield is the one shaman healing spell that hasn't changed significantly in all that time, and tanks would remark on how special they felt to get to wear it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

And Now, "Blizzard Watch"

And a First Look
Yesterday, I finally posted my goodbye to WoW Insider, reading into the fact that Editor Alex Ziebart was strongly hinting at a new project.

And sure enough, bright and early on the morning of Wednesday, February 4, Here is Blizzard Watch.

It's important to note that this site is being supported by a Patreon readers fund, so if you have any interest in such things, now is a good time to get your support on. There are a number of different benchmarks about what they hope to do if/when they reach certain funding levels-- all of which are things that I think most WoW players will be up for. As a "backer" of the site, you may well get some input on how they will build their coverage!

Ziebart has an excellent introductory note about what he hopes Blizzard Watch to be and the key is that he hopes the writers of the new site will have more freedom than they had at WoW Insider, which is something I look forward to seeing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Winter of Our Discontent

All grey and lonely. Image by Arowhena

All the Warcraft news has shifted to Patch 6.1 which is on the PTR now.

And let's be really clear up front: This is not a "content" patch. This is a "fixing-things" patch. This is a "roll-out-the-stuff-we-should-have-had-ready-at-launch" patch. Fixing things is always welcome, but I would have expected that in a 6.0.X patch, not disguised as a content patch. I can't begin to explain why things weren't ready at launch except to guess that a lot of the things (like how they've aggressively expanded the garrison missions) feel like they realized somewhere in the past three months that the basic content they rolled with wasn't nearly enough.

Warcraft subscriptions bounced back from continuing declines as Warlords of Draenor came out to levels that we hadn't seen since... well, the last time we left Draenor, in the Burning Crusade. I'm not sure if that's because the playerbase was jazzed about seeing proto-Outlands, or if that line-up of smug looking orcs on the box cover was just so exciting, but it's something worth considering.  Unfortunately, Blizzard cannot expect that subscription trend to continue. Endgame hasn't delivered, and Patch 6.1, which, again, is not a content patch, is not going to deliver either.

What's the problem? Always an easier question to ask than to answer, but here's a few observations.

This expansion has already had significant systems overhauls and that's just continuing.
Some of this, like the garrison, has been a remarkable achievement. Some of this, like reagents tabs and toy tabs and heirloom tabs are large quality of life changes and probably required intense amounts of coding but don't feel revolutionary.  Now, Blizzard correctly points out that the guys who figure out how to hang our heirloom items in their own tab are not the same guys who design five-man dungeons, but there has still been an historical tendency for Blizzard to largely focus on systems or content but not really both at the same time. They don't release one without the other, but one is always dominant when they push code out. I think the systems overhaul, and the many serious problems that arose and had to be dealt with has taken priority over "content" to a certain extent. It may have had to be that way, however.

Farewell, WoW Insider

A Last Look
In a post on Saturday, Alex Ziebart, editor-in-chief of the popular WoW Blog, announced that the site would be closing as of Tuesday Feb. 3. Reasons were not given, though Ziebart expressed that the closure was not expected.

Scanning other parts of the Interwebs, we can find that WoW Insider is a victim of corporate culling that has also taken down Massively, a news site that covered MMOs in general as well as a titan of gaming press, Joystiq.  We have good ol' America Online to thank for this! One has to worry about a world in which media conglomerates buy up titles like these, only to,throw them away two years later. It makes you think they should have kept their hands off in the first place. According to most reports, there are 150 out looking for work today.

It could be observed that poor WoW Insider had contracted in the past few years at the same time Curse-sites and ZAM were aggressively expanding both news coverage and features on their sites about Warcraft. 

One might have observed last fall that WoW Insider did not hold its own meet-up at Blizzcon. They did "join" Wowhead's meet, but didn't really promote it. One might have said to oneself, " favorite WoW news site is not getting the support they've had from corporate in the past."

Furthermore, you could see that Blizzard had built significant partnerships into several business relationships, but not WoW Insider. Presumably, the corporate synergies could not align there. Unlike the ZAM or Curse, AOL is too large to necessarily be able to play nice with another big boy like Blizzard/EA. but this is only speculation about things we'll never learn for sure.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Following Up

Aw, crap

Heyas, I came back from a few days away from home to discover Xfinity clobbered the wires to my apartment complex. And nobody knows when that will be back. I tell ya, it's hard to live with no data. And it means that I have to take my laptop over to a friend's house to post anything. He's not even a WoW player and is sitting here, slowly shaking his head at me.


There's been a bunch of small things that deserved a bit of follow-up comment and I wanted to knock a few of those out today:

Garrison Resources:  
Right after the expansion opened, I did a run through on ways to collect garrison resources on a more efficient level. I was very hyped about sending followers with a Scavenger trait on missions that were paying in resource. This took a while to ramp up, but finally, I can sometimes stack two scavengers on the best missions and bring back 500-700 resource at a time. But this is not every day. And again, it took forever to get this mini-squad ready, between leveling them to 100, and getting them to have useful skill sets. And now, the Patch 6.1 changes have nerfed the scavenging trait in half, so the scavengers will bring back 100% instead of 200%.

Gorgrond, in particular is full of treasures that deliver garrison resources. Those will take a while to uncover, but are ultimately finite. 

The Stables:
You can get a lot of garrison resources out of the quests for training your new mounts. But those end suddenly; you get your buncha new mounts. And then I can't figure out why I haven't deleted the stables. It's kind of a shame: the Stables is one of the best-looking elements in the Garrison, but once you finish training mounts (and the two associated achievements) I don't think that place can justify its continued existence. On the other hand, there's nothing else I really want to put in its place either. So it stays for now, gathering resentment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Warlords Story

Books and lore, books and lore, gotta read me some books and lore.
Well, we've had a bunch of weeks with our shiny Warlords of Draenor. As the world gets rid of its holiday hangover and buckles down for a new year, I thought it was time to look at one of my favorite parts of Warcraft: the story!

All things considered, I think the narrative is doing pretty well here. There are things I'm uncertain of but ought to get to the bottom of with a bit more questing/raiding. There are things I'd like to see happen and things that I'd rather hadn't.  Let's hope I can edit all this into some semblance of order:

The following are some observations I've made in the past few weeks

Why Do Orcs Pick Such Crappy Places to Live?
Even in a place as nice as Nagrand, orcs pick the one barren hillock to settle.
I remember reading in one novel or another Thrall's explanation of why he chose the lands of Durotar to settle as orcland when he came to Kalimdor. He felt the barren land would make his people harder, tougher. The desert there would keep his people from becoming spoiled by luxury.

Fix Dem Garrisons!

So, Blizzard has thrown down the word and declared they are not happy with the way garrisons work, particularly for alts. I'm sorry I don't know how to link in blue texts from the forums, so that's a screen grab up there, but I hope it conveys the point. And I couldn't agree more. I would also generally state that the could be improved in general.

Don't get me wrong: I'm mostly pretty happy with the garrison (although I'm finding some other rubs that bug me a little. More on that later.) But there is always room for improvement. While Takralus is talking about alt garrisons, I think more can be done to all garrisons that would be an improvement for alt people and for more single-character players.

Improve the Garrison Control UI
First problem is that there are two UIs, one that is accessed at your garrison (or an outpost) by clicking on the table, and then there is the crossed sabers icon on the edge of your mini map. Neither UI shows you all the information you need to run your garrison, and generally, they are still muddled. I spend more time deciding which followers to send on what missions because you have to click here and then click there to see various information. At the same time, I can't see my stock of garrison resources, and the chat window is blocked. Uncool.  Plus, you have to wait, and wait, and wait while the little animations showing your followers butchering denizens of Draenor load and then play and then celebrate their victories, only after you've manually clicked on the treasure chest yourself.  Very Uncool. You can't sort missions by any sort of priority. You can't sort your followers by their abilities.  Totally uncool.

There are add-ons that can help with some of these things and I'm exploring those now and may report on them soon. But if Blizzard wants to improve the garrison maintenance experience, this would be the best place to start.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Fishin' Fission

The surest way to catch fish: Wear a really insane hat
Holy cow! How'd all these professions get so complicated? No, I know the answer to that. The developers made them complicated. I suppose we could ask why, but I bet the answer is "fun." Y'know, like how it's so fun to have everything switched up on us without much explanation. There's such an array of new materials and stuff to manage and our old mechanics put out to pasture.

Among the most changed is probably fishing. The reasons to fish are ever-the-same: one can cook fish into snazzy food. Everything else about it has been kicked around a bit. Some basic things one should understand:

  • You can catch fish in three sizes, small, normal and enormous. Guess which one is the best!
  • Each game fish exists in its own specialized zone. But you can haul Crescent Saberfish out of any location.
  • You're real goal for fishing excellence: 950 skill. More on this soon.

Things have opened up, in the sense that you can show up in Draenor with no fishing skill at all and get to work, but if you want to fish efficiently, there's some things you gotta do:

Get your skill to 700 asap 

There's no way around this. Even when you have top skill it's not going to get you the highest quality catch. I can't imagine what it must be like to not already be a fishing pro and feel compelled to get into the profession. But to fish efficiently, you need all 700 of those fishing skill points. Do your garrison daily, and even the old dailies for boosts. You can get some extra points from the Darkmoon Faire as well. But get them.

Brief Lessons Learned on a Weekend in December

Lol. Sorry, I wrote this last weekend and then spent several days editing. I really learned all this on a weekend in December though! It's not very long or in depth. But it needed some care.

Lesson 1: Beware of Training Manuals
You don't want this.

At some point, your garrison command may offer you a follower mission called The Dance Studio. It's a 100% to complete and you'll bring home a book called "Supreme Manual of Dance" which will confer the Dance trait on a follower. This sounds kinda funny, and harmless and I spent a while thinking about which of my favorite followers would be improved if they were doing a cha-cha-cha. But I paused to look up the manual. And I'm so glad I did. This manual replaces a trait on your folower. It's not added, and it's a dance skill alright that counters danger zones. I'm not sure about anybody else, but half my followers can counter danger zones. I deactivate followers with danger zone counters so I can get somebody with something more useful in. Last thing I want is more ability to counter danger zones.  The manual has gone into the bank until... whenever.

Lesson 2: Goggles are for Engineers
Well, duh!
This is really not anything new, but the face wear being made my engineers this expansion are BoE, which is just like every other crafted epic available. But they have additional requirements as well. So, as I was arming a hunter this weekend, I made BoE shoulders, which she put on with no troubles. And then I crafted a BoE necklace and she put that on too. So, then I made some BoE goggles and utterly failed to notice the 600 engineering skill they require despite being gloriously BoE. Long story short: I should gave paid closer attention and not utterly wasted a week's worth of gear things. But I think it's just obtuse that the developers made every other craftsman capable of producing nice epics that could be shared around and not the engineers.