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The Road Less Travelled

I recently embarked on the Loremaster achievement – it seemed like a relaxing time-filler between raids, and an alternative to more soon-to-be-abandonned alts.  And I have to say, it’s turned into something of a mission.

Questing thoroughly for the first time through the revamped old world zones has been an absolute delight. I know some people don’t understand – they find killing low level mobs boring, they hate having their bags full up with junk, they just don’t get the attraction.  But for me, it has been a chance to enjoy the stories, properly read the quest text, and become immersed in the world in a way that hasn’t happened since my very first character.

I have levelled alts since Cata, but with dungeons and heirlooms, the pace is so fast that huge chunks of the world are never visited.  On my travels I have discovered places and characters, and their stories, which I did not previously know existed.  There is a beautiful Cenarion Circle enclave in Desolace – deserted when I visited – which has become one of my favourite spots in the game.  There is a remote quest giver in Arathi Highlands with a couple of fun quests which gave me unexpected Steamwheedle rep.  Everywhere I found little gems of lore and place which I am so happy to have discovered.

Its easy to forget, in all the fuss over patches, expansions and gear upgrades, what it was that first grabbed us about this game.  Loremastering has, for me at least, revived my interest in the core of the game – the evolving story, and the part the player has in it.  Its too easy to be cynical, to fret about how ‘easy’ the game has become, when maybe we should step back and just really look at what Blizzard has created – a place in which to lose oneself, to become something beyond the everyday.

All of the above of course applies to Eastern Kingdoms & Kalimdor.  I’m now halfway through Outland, and I have to say that it’s not quite so much fun. Shadowmoon Valley, while interesting, is so relentlessly gloomy that it is a relief to leave for somewhere with sunshine. And finding the last few quests in Nagrand was a struggle.  But Northrend awaits, with the epic Wrathgate questchain, the quirky quests of Grizzly Hills, and the grandeur of the Stormpeaks.  I am looking forward to all of it.

Panda-monium

So now we know – the race that was most requested is to be implemented, and now half the player-base seem to have changed their minds. It does make you realise how difficult a game designer’s job must be! Admittedly, forum posters are a very vocal minority of players, but the extremes of reaction have made for entertaining reading.

I have no problem with pandaren as a playable race, and the new monk class sounds interesting. My main concern is the rather ‘Disney-ish’ nature of the scenery and architecture – to me it looks rather cartoony and could do to be somehow hardened up and aged, as befits an ancient civilisation.

I have mixed feelings about the ‘Pokemon’ – type plans for companion pets; I am a pet collector and I can see the benefit of this type of mini-game, but I am undecided about it. And, of course, there is always the possibility that, along with other announced changes, it won’t be seen in the final game – something which does not seem to occur to the more rabid forum lurkers.

I welcome most of the other changes – PVE scenarios, a reworking of talents to allow more choice (in theory), the shifting of focus to the Horde v. Alliance conflict, challenge mode for dungeons etc. And the best news of all, a possible and long-overdue upgrade to older character models.

Yes, WoW is catering to a different audience now, and there will be a proportion of players who dislike any change to a game in which they have invested inordinate amounts of time and effort. But I very much doubt that this will be ‘the death of Wow’ as foretold by some. I hope that in fact the opposite is true – that those who left because of boredom and frustration in Cata will be tempted back by the new expansion of the world.

I just wish people would remember that Asia, pandas, and kungfu existed long before ‘that movie’, and give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt until we see the final product.

Going for Gold

Well, I’m back after a turbulent few weeks.  There has been guild drama, raid successes, a new website to set up, and some of the best weather for the time of year since records began – all of which pushed my digital scribblings onto the back burner.

I won’t bore you with the details of the guild stuff – let it suffice to say that an un-bridgeable chasm opened up between the GL & most of the active membership, leading to a mass exodus with the result that I am still playing with the same group of people, just under a different banner.

We have had some small successes – To4W & Shannox, and we are continuing to progress at our usual relaxed pace and have lots of fun in the process.

There has been a flood of information about patch 4.3, but the bombshell this week was the announcement of the tradable pet.  There are reams of comments on this topic elsewhere, and having read some of it, the general opinion seems to be that the actual pet is not the issue – after an initial surge, it could become as rarely seen as the sparkle horse.  What saddens me is the feeling I get of an erosion of trust in Blizzard as a company which will ‘do the right thing’.  There seems to be an air of resigned inevitability about the whole thing – a sense that this is the way the world works now, and we might as well get used to it.

Whether one cute pet will be a harbinger of doom or a one-off  experiment, I have no idea. But I have a bad feeling about it, nevertheless.

Now, a confession.  I have been wasting time on a free-to-play game called Gardens of Time. It’s mildly addictive, basically pointless and I feel slightly ashamed of myself for getting sucked into it.  But I have to admire the designers for their blatant string-pulling to keep players online: hourly tournaments, daily bonuses, presents from ‘friends’ – I have never felt quite so manipulated.  But hey, its a change from my snail-like progress towards Loremaster.

Persistence Pays Off

Our motley crew finally managed to get the Lich King on heroic mode last night.  Its something we’ve been trying to do for ages, and we were held up for a long time due to a targetting bug ( Blizz – a ‘known issue’ :P) on the Blood Princes.  With a group consisting of mainly ranged dps, some of whom had not done the fight in normal mode, we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. 16 wipes later (yes, 16!) we finally got our act together and got the kill.

But getting the title was a bonus, in truth – I think our main achievement was the triumph of stubborness over good sense.  I was so proud of our group – no-one ever suggested giving up, or coming back tomorrow, or pretended their cat was on fire to get away from the fight.  And that is partly due to the nature of that particular encounter – in my opinion, one of Blizzard’s best.  With every wipe, we could see some progress, people learnt to deal with a new set of circumstances, and the dangled carrot of the kill could be seen to be that little bit nearer.

It was an awesome evening, which I hope will be remembered by those who took part – it took team-work, concentration and good humour, and I am proud to say that I was there.  I know it is not on a par with a Ragnaros kill, but as a testament to how a group of raid-inexperienced players can have fun together in spite of deaths and repair bills, it was epic.

I have had a good week :)  My (mostly) guild group finally killed Chimaeron and got the achievement for having only two corpses on the floor, we had a good stab at Atramedes before rl cut things short, and I got my Flameward Hippogryph.  Yes, I know, I’m waaay behind the curve with this stuff, but to me this was a big deal.  I’m still learning to be a raid healer, and the Chimaeron fight was a big test.  Atramedes will be another test of my somewhat erratic movement skills and reaction times, but I’m sure it is do-able, and confidence is a big part of success.

My new mount marks the end of the boring  grind of dailies – at least for now; I may go back to try to get some of the achievements, but for a while at least it will be nice not to feel I ‘ought’ to be doing them.   Bouncing bears and punting turtles is fun for a couple of weeks, and I love the ‘battlefield’ feel of Malfurion’s Breach, but flaming spiders? I’ve had enough, thank you very much.

And then there was the news about transmogrification, which has done wonders for guild interest in running old content; the plans for the new Darkmoon Faire,  which sounds much more like fun than the current version; and, of course, the thought of a final showdown with old Flame-breath himself  to finish off this expansion.

So, its been an interesting and fun time.  I just hope these snippets of future plans are enough to slow the trickle of players I know who have quit the game due to sheer boredom with this expansion.  I hope Blizzard have learnt something from the current patch, i.e. having two long, awkward dungeons at a level where players feel they ‘have’ to run them over and over in order to maximise their valor points, is counter-productive and has caused immense frustration and killed the fun in the game for a lot of players.

Anyway, I’m having a few days of peaceful archaeology and fishing. Half the guild is on holiday so raiding is on hold for a couple of weeks – ‘Limnologist’ and ‘Diggerest’ here I come :)

My word there is a lot of speculation going around the WoW blogs at the moment. The news that Blizzard trademarked ‘Mists of Pandaria’ has sparked a maelstrom of differing opinions regarding possible future content; this varies from ‘wish-lists’  of additional classes/races, to the idea of an elaborate hoax/possible Facebook game.

Personally, I hope for new territories to explore, with or without beer-brewing pandas. I’m not convinced Blizz are ready to introduce a new playable class – there has been talk of a ‘support’ class, but I imagine this would be a nightmare to balance with existing abilities.  But new lands, new archaeology (please!) and a new battlefront with less fire and brimstone, that is something I could get excited about.

The other big thought-provoking story is Blizzard’s plan for a real money auction house in Diablo 3.  Now, gaming noob that I am, I have no experience of Diablo, but I believe the game is structured gear-wise in a very different way to Wow; however, this decision makes me uneasy. I can understand some of the reasoning behind it – to make gold-selling ‘legal’ and to remove the gear grind for those who prefer to pay for their shinies; however I cannot shake the thought that this is, at bottom, a money-making scheme.

I believe Blizzard when they say that they have no plans to implement this in WoW – but if it proves to be a huge financial success in Diablo, I’m sure it will be a part of any future games they produce, including, of course, Titan.  The effect of the RMAH on gaming communities has yet to be seen; it is a step into the unknown for developers and players alike, and I am, in a way, relieved that I am only watching from the sidelines.

On a more positive note, I have finally obtained my Globe of Moonlight to go with the Lightforged Elementium Hammer being made for me by a guildie, and I feel I am getting to grips with my new holy healing spec.  My guild has been through a lot of upheaval lately and we are only now picking up the reins of our raid progress. So, I and my newly-dug-up Voodoo Figurine have been achievement hunting, pet-collecting, and generally pottering around trying to be useful. Whilst, of course, wearing our tinfoil hats in case the sky should fall.

In Which I Fail

Whilst trying to do a new daily yesterday, it was brought home to me quite how much of a ‘non-gamer’ I really am.  The quest, requiring me to race around a cave activating runes, proved completely beyond me.  My son, who popped his head around the door to see what the swearing was about, remarked   ‘that’s nothing compared to some levels in Super Mario’.  And there is my problem.  I have never played Super Mario or any other console-based platform game; I haven’t even played any other MMO’s, apart from a brief side-step into the Rift free trial.

This lack of gaming experience shows itself in strange ways.  I can often grasp the mechanics of a gimmicky fight, but find myself completely unable to execute them properly.  Anything requiring split-second timing or movement in three dimensions can take hours of practice.  Any quest text which begins ‘ mount this dragon/gryphon’  can throw me into a panic, likewise anything requiring me to jump from rock to rock, or across lava or……you get the picture.

I know I am not alone in hating these types of quests – yes, I do read forums – and yet they seem to be becoming more common.  My son has a theory that the skills needed are at a very basic level for anyone who has grown up as part of the ‘console generation’ and are only difficult for WoW players coming from the ‘pen and paper’ tradition via older MMOs.

I am aware that some of my problems are personal and due to plain old age – I just don’t feel comfortable with constantly-changing camera angles and I know I need to improve my movement skills.  I have avoided questing in Vash’jir on two characters – maybe I should bite the bullet and just deal with it, and hope that a prolonged period of enforced swimming will train my brain to cope better.

Or, (and this is an even worse thought), tackle another of my bugbears and start jousting.  In all probability I will in fact do neither – I will continue to muddle along to the best of my ability, and grab a passing family member to get me out of trouble.  I certainly have no intention of taking up console gaming – some new tricks are beyond the abilities of even the most willing old dogs.

This has been a very strange week.  It has brought home to me just how much my gaming experience has changed in the last couple of years,  in all aspects, from the way I play to the people I associate with.  What happened was, two of my oldest in-game friends disappeared. One left because of some guild drama, one decided that, for personal reasons, he needed a ‘completely fresh start’, deleted everyone from realid and disappeared.

This finally brought home to me how few of the people who were once an everyday part of my play-time are now still around.  Of course I have made new friends, but I think the bonds made when you are new to the game, or new to a server, are special, and I, at least, mourn their loss.  Some friends have quit the game with a cheery good-bye and a chunk of gold for the guild bank, others have simply faded into the night leaving only a memory behind.

On a more practical note, the recent departure of those two individuals has thrown our fledgling plans for two raid teams into disarray – the loss of a well-geared tank and healer is bound to leave a mark, and has caused problems our hard-working GL could have done without,  especially as they were both officers and potential raid-leaders.  Add to that a sense of personal betrayal, and you can imagine the atmosphere over the last few days.

Luckily we have new members who are willing to help – I do not yet know them well, but I hope they will become friends as valuable as those I have lost . Like first love, first ingame friendships cannot be repeated, but in an ever-changing community, there is always the possibility of new contacts – there is no point in looking backwards.

P.S.  Does anyone else think there is something rather ‘Monty Python’ about the sight of a tank heading towards a Firelands boss carrying a balloon?

Firefighting

So the new Firelands patch has arrived, the dust has settled, and more guild members are logging on every night than we have seen for months.   A combination of pc issues at home (having to share a pc with a Team Fortress fan isn’t easy) and some necessary guild admin due to an influx of new members, has rather limited my playtime this week.  I did manage to do the Thrall quest chain for my new cloak, but have only managed 1 day’s worth of dailies so far. I wasn’t impressed by the ‘chase the ghost deer’ one, but I was enjoying punting baby turtles until I was called away to an officers meeting.

I also did my first guild Firelands trash run last night – and I enjoyed it far more than I would have expected. The open expanses of the area give it a much less cramped feel than, say, Molten Core, or the initial trash of ICC.  There is actually room to move – although this is limited somewhat by the paths of patrolling mobs.

The encounters themselves proved less difficult than I had feared – our main tank had some experience and most of the pulls went well.  We wiped a couple of times when things went wrong, but nothing caused us any real problems.  Reputation gains seem to build up pretty quickly, I got a load of leather from the scorpions, and some gold too.

The thing that has amused me the most this week, however, is the bug which caused ‘random falling damage’.  I hearthed out of a BoT run with full health, only to have my health bar plummet by 90% whilst walking to the bank.  It was a classic ‘WTF!’ moment,  and must have been even more alarming for the players who actually died from it.

And so I head into the weekend, balloon in hand, ready to put out more fires, with a determination that I WILL get my dailies done,  and Team Fortress will just have to form a queue.

 

No Place Like Home

A gaming friend who recently had to leave his guild due to some real-life drama with another member has been talking to me about starting up another guild.  Now, I have done this before, and had great fun doing it – but that was before Cata and the guild levelling system.  I have a feeling the process could be a lot less enjoyable now.

Of course, setting up the basics, getting a charter signed and so on is the easy part.  But attracting members to a level 1 guild? That could be difficult – I’m sure even new players are aware that there are perks to be had from a high level guild, and genuine new players are pretty thin on the ground anyway.

When I started a guild, it was because I rerolled on another server which had just changed from PvP to PvE; there was an influx of similar re-rollers, a shortage of social guilds and members flooded in.  A guild which had been intended for new players ended up full of people with experience who had transferred to the server for the same reasons I had i.e. a less elitist, more sociable environment.

Now, however, there are so many guilds around that its difficult to see how to create a new one offering anything different.  I know my friend suggested the idea to avoid having to search for a new home, and to have some control over the kind of guild he wants.  But I am happy where I am, and trying to spread myself across two guilds would, I think, be very difficult.  So the plan is on the back-burner for now.

Guilds, other than hard-core progressive raid guilds, seem to be in a constant state of flux; their dynamics change as members join, leave, change their priorities etc.  Perhaps some time in the future my current guild will implode, fragment or meet any of the many fates which can befall a casual, mature guild – but until then there is new content to explore (patch day tomorrow!) and current raids to work on in the company of people who share my gaming philosphy and who are just plain fun to be around.

I would not trade that for the transient ego-boost of being a GM again.

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