Archive for April, 2012


Confounding Expectations…

I have a reputation for dying a lot in raids. Mostly this reputation is developed with friends and cultivated. I’m having too much fun to pay attention to not standing in the fire.

However, when I go into LFR I’ve got no one to talk to and have a laugh with. So I usually challenge myself to deliver more DPS than I did on each fight last time. I don’t want to top the metre I want to beat my own personal best. I focus. Sometimes the results are…ahem, well…unusual. See below.

Cataclysm Retrospective

DeathwingI find it funny that some people like to sit in Orgrimmar for hours bitching in trade that this game is crap not as good as LoL or SWOTOR. So why are you trolling the trade channel in World of Warcraft…why aren’t you off playing that game? Hah, it’s even funnier when people actually start asking and arguing with the trolls. The other one I find funny is the “this patch is the worst and the next one will be even worse” trolls. That started in The Burning Crusade and has been a trade chat standard ever since.

Are the trolls right this time? Is Cataclysm the worst expansion and will Mists of Pandaria (MoP) be worse? Well, I admit when Mists was announced I thought “OMG Kung Fu Panda”. Why not, look at the Pandaran Monk pet? Finally the beta is on the public test realms (PTR) and we’ve seen some Pandaran models. They look good. Wobbly fat, Kung Fu pandas they aren’t. Phew. I find it odd that some gamers are revolting at the idea of playing Pandarans. “I will play a dwarf, maybe a goblin or gnome. I will play orcs, taurens, trolls and elves. But there is no way I will play a PANDA!” Hah! Anyway I will, I just don’t see the distinction.

I’m not going to talk about pandas or the next expansion. If I get a beta invite I won’t play. I’m jaded with Cataclysm now…how will I be at the end of MoP if I spend the next four or more months in beta testing on the PTR? I can totally wait.

So this post is a Cataclysm retrospective. What worked, what flopped, what was fantastic and what wasn’t. Having played in classic, original WoW, on through The Burning Crusade (TBC), Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) and now Cataclysm, six years without a break, I wonder which is the best and which the worst expansion so far?

Let’s take a look at what Blizzard offered us with this new expansion.

Two New Playable Races: Adventure as one of two new races-the cursed worgen with the Alliance or the resourceful goblins with the Horde.
Goblin Character SelectionIt was laugh out loud time all over again for the Horde as we got Goblins. Not only were they new and genuinely hilarious, but the Alliance got Worgens! Playing the introductory levels on Kazan, the Goblin ancestral home, was a perfect prelude to the events that re-shaped Azeroth during the Shattering and underpinned the lore of the new expansion. Playing a goblin through these levels was fun and engaging. The quests and the landscape felt innovative and fresh. It seemed that the designers had expended a huge effort to deliver something new for gamers of all types. At the end of the starter zone Kazan is destroyed in the Shattering and you wash up on the shore of the Lost Isles. It was beautiful and spectacular. I loved “Town in a Box” – no spoilers! I lost interest in my goblin shaman as soon as I left the goblin starter zones and entered the Barrens (again), but those starter zones were truly memorable. Oh yeah, and the Alliance got Worgens whose starter zone made it look like all the development time had been expended on goblins..

That might sound dismissive, but I have played the worgen starting zone. It’s as exciting as Deathknell and I have levelled new characters from there since classic, most (almost all) of my chars are Forsaken. Worgens look great but they run like Frankenstein’s Igor! They’re worse than the Draenai. No really!

Level Cap Increased to 85: Earn new abilities, tap into new talents, and progress through the path system, a new way for players to improve characters.
C’mon Blizzard that’s a shocking thing to do! You stiff us five levels and then sell it as a feature? Not impressed! The whole expansion is five levels of questing content short! Blizzard completely revamped the talent system and made such a fine job of it they’re doing it all over again for MoP! Another epic fail.

Classic Zones Remade: Familiar zones across the original continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms have been altered forever and updated with new content, from the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens, which has been sundered in two.

The new Barrens sundered into two.

Er…Five levels of questing content and a couple of new expansion zones short and Blizzard gives us…Azeroth again! To be fair this had to be done. If for no other reason than to allow flying mounts. More importantly with, now, 85 levels of content to plough through the questing process needed to be streamlined and made quicker since we have 25 more levels than when classic was released.

New High-Level Zones: Explore newly opened parts of the world, including Uldum, Grim Batol, and the great Sunken City of Vashj’ir beneath the sea.
Hmmm…variable quality here. Hyjal is a relatively straight forward, green, classic Stranglethorn Vale type of zone, with the silly starter quests and entry level greens to don in place of your once Best in Slot Wrath purples. Vashj’ir is shocking. I was forced to do the whole zone because someone gave me the achievement to complete in our guild’s Achievement Game. I left this underwater zone to last and found the whole grindy, mundaneness of it…well grinding and mundane.

Humboldt ConflagrationTwilight Highlands is OK, but that’s mostly because none of us did any real questing there except to get Friendly with the Dragonmaw faction (head enchant). Then we could get the tabard and wear it in dungeons for rep until Exalted. Deepholm becomes wearisome as you have to grind most of the quests in this zone just to get to Friendly with Therazane. Sadly the eseential shoulder exchants purchasable from the Quartermaster were not Bind on Account so you need to do the grind with all your alts too. Thanks Blizz.

The only truly epic new zone is Uldum where you get to quest with Indiana…ahem, sorry…Harrison Jones in an Egyptian-like level. Most people loved it and the quest line it contained.

More Raid Content than Ever Before: Enjoy more high-level raid content than previous expansions, with optional more challenging versions of all encounters.
Really? Throne of the Four Winds? Dragon Soul? Really? Er,ahem. I’ll be reviewing the raid and 5 man content in a later blog.

New Race and Class Combinations: Explore Azeroth as a gnome priest, blood elf warrior, or one of the other never-before-available race and class combinations.

Tauren Paladin

Tauren Paladin because Lore means nothing.

Undead Hunter, YAY! It was pretty good fun to see how Blizzard had streamlined and reinvented the Forsaken starter zone. I love mah little Forsaken Hunter, no problem with this race/classs combination. However some combinations simply beggared belief for many. Demonstrating that bums on seats are more important than – lore Tauren Paladins? C’mon Blizzard, werent there more obvious solutions?

Guild Advancement: Progress as a guild to earn guild levels and guild achievements. At last something truly good! It helped to cement guild unity and reward loyalty. At last some concrete rewards to support guild management. Anyone who has lead a guild or been invested in making a guild work and raid saw the obvious benefits this new innovation offered.

New PvP Zone & Rated Battlegrounds: Take on PvP objectives and daily quests on Tol Barad Island, a new Wintergrasp-like zone, and wage war in all-new rated Battlegrounds.
Well I don’t really do PvP, so I will leave this to people that care…er, ahem…know.

Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards.
This secondary profession is about as exciting as First Aid and five times as annoying. At least First Aid has (had) that superb Triage quest in Arathi Highlands. Now that was a good mini-game.

I'm sure it was over there.

WTF I'm sure it was over there!

Do you want to use an apparently extremely inaccurate device to detect fossils and archaeological artefacts? Do you like randomly zig-zagging across zones in increasing frustration? Do you want unearth random crap with the chance of finding an extremely rare mount and pet? Have you been grinding dull rep all over Azeroth and have an extremely high boredom threshold? Archaeology is for you…not me.

Flying Mounts in Azeroth: Explore Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms like never before.
Hmmm…I kinda covered this…it’s makes crossing Azeroth as trvial as zipping around Outlands. Is that a good thing? I remember when all this was fields. I remember when you couldn’t get a mount, never mind a flying one, so crossing Kalimdor literally took hours. Try it some time. Get a low level alt, say level 35, mount up in Winterspring on your slow ground mount and ride…all the way to Uldum. Then tell me what I’m getting at. I’m calling this the Kalimdor Slow Mount Challange. Catchy eh?
Blasted Lands

So let’s weight it up. What did Blizzard really deliver on? They completely retooled Azeroth and I salute them for it. Leveling is now a straightforward, well paced process that take a little less than we first took grinding up to max level when that was 60. They made the two continents viable for flying mounts and they ironed out the pacing of quest advancement across eighty levels.

Blizzard can give themselves a pat on back.

Uldum, Hyjal and Twilight Highlands are all somewhat successful. Uldum was particularly exciting but Hyjal only passable. The new Goblin starter zone was magnificent and the addition of Goblins as a playable race was a master stroke. The changes to Guild building made by guild achievements and rewards did something to incentivise guild loyalty and investment in the groups we enjoy (endure?) Azeroth with.

Now we turn to what didn’t work as well. Only five more levels. I assumed that this was due to the massive and excellent retooling of the classic continents. It seems that MoP is only offering five zones so in hindsight the ten level additions of TBC and Wrath are now a thing of the past. Blizzard proudly trumpeted a new talent system that simply failed to unshackle us from cookie cutter builds and took away a point every other level. The new talent trees locked us into a spec and killed hybrid builds for good. Instead of opening up options for customizing characters it seems as if things actually narrowed down and our choices, if we wanted to actually deliver some DPS, healing throughput or threat or survivability, became fewer.

Archaeology? It’s really not a good advert for the expansion. It pales next to fishing and it’s not as useful as cooking. I don’t have a great deal to say about it. Fail.

Rhianwen 85 Forsasken HunterNew race and class combinations? I almost fell sorry for the alliance: shafted again. Worgens are awful. Draenai suffered in the comparison to Blood Elves, but Worgens are so god awful compared to everything that comparing them and their starter zone to Goblins and Kazan just seems unfair. Paladin Taurens? Forsaken Hunters? Human’s are paladin so why not the Forsaken? Or why not just throw Lore out of the window and toss in blue Trolls druids too? Some people love lore and I see no reason to mess with it arbitrarily.

New high level zones? Er…well let’s compare Hyal and Vashj’ir to Hellfire Peninsula and Zangarmarsh. Putting it into the context of the initial zones in previous expansions the disappointing Hyjal and the execrable Vashj’r begin to look very sad indeed. Compare them to the workman-like Borean Tundra and the beautiful Forsaken bridgehead of Vengeance Landing and the whole of Howling Fjord. The Cataclysm opening zones do not compare well.

The trade trolls had to be right sooner or later. Cataclysm is the worst expansion so far, a lot was good. At the end of the day we’ve had three expansions and one of them had to be the best (Wrath of the Lich King) and one of them had to be the least well executed. Cataclysm is undoubtedly the least well realised (probably because of the mixed objectives employed for 5 mans and raiding). However, it’s not the worst by a country mile. It’s a slim margin, Cataclysm is not an abject, awful failure.

Will MoP be worse though? I doubt it. Blizzard made mistakes, but I trust them to learn from them and deliver a better more coherent package next time.

Dress’d in a little brief authority…

The accusation that I have problems with authority has been levelled at me several times in the past. To an extent this is true but only to an extent. I don’t have any problem with reasonable authority and the exercise of that authority. Managers at work, regardless of their aptness or qualification for that role, are placed in a position of authority which is legitimised by your employer’s chain of command. I find the best way to approach these employment authorities is to do whatever I can to make their lives easier. Ultimately that will make my life easier and work is so universally mundane and soul destroying that making it in anyway more difficult is simply insane.

However, in work as in other areas of life people often assume authority they don’t have or exercise their legitimate authority is an unjustifiable way. For example, at work a manager can legitimately instruct and direct my time and effort. That is a legitimate use of their authority. However, deliberately making my life difficult and treating me with disrespect is simply wrong: they have no right to do that. Some people will accept this behaviour from people who have some legitimate workplace authority over them. This carries over into areas of their life of less pressing importance. Even in the highly charged arena of employment I won’t tolerate being treated disrespectfully so how likely do you think it is that I would in a guild?

It impresses me that so many people want to be part of the leadership of guilds. It also amazes me that some people who are officers or Guild Masters believe that they are in some sense important. I’ve often referred to guild leadership as herding cats. There’s good reason for this: officers and GMs are essentially powerless to control or coerce guild members to actually do anything. If guild members are really pressured to do anything they don’t want they can, and often do, simply leave the guild. Guild leadership is more about providing a framework within which cooperation can take place to achieve shared goals.

So when I do encounter guild leaders lording it over their members and treating people with disrespect I don’t stand for it. At the end of the day why should I, why should anyone? Guilds aren’t a marriage and they certainly aren’t jobs. If they aren’t any good for you there is another one over there. A lot of people’s attitude is that Warcraft and guilds aren’t of any real significance within their lives why get upset. It is what it is and this one is no better or worse that any other. I agree that in the larger scheme of things guild don’t rank very high in importance and for that reason I can afford to be choosy. I don’t need to make do, the way I do in employment as I really do need a wage. Guilds? I can be picky and selective. I can aim to find, for me, the perfect guild.

I been in one ‘perfect’ guild which was destroyed by it’s GM. He made a choice that was in his selfish interest and totally out of step with the majority of the membership. He merged our lovely little guild into another guild. Sadly no one who still plays Warcraft at this time is still in the guild be were subsumed into. Everyone who still plays is in other guilds and mostly scattered across the realm.

My last guild had some very nice people in it. I left it because although I made some good friends we couldn’t do the fun stuff we wanted to. Bad leadership and the lull before the new expansion caused a breakdown in raiding and the fun I and several others had enjoyed. I think this is another object lesson in god awful leadership and everything that is wrong with guilds in World of Warcraft.

I’ll say it again: at the end of the day a Guild Leader owns a guild name. A guild name, a website and a voice server, in a well set up raiding guild. If you’ve ever had to struggle to deliver raiding for yourself and nine other people week in week out, and retain an active raiding membership to make that possible, you’ll know that what you won and control is a very slim and ethereal idea. Ultimately, a raiding guild is it’s raiders. There is always the leadership, a core of reliables who always turn up and make it possible to raid and everyone else. Everyone else may or may not be: in the guild next week; signing up for raids; turning up when signed up; playing the same character.

I’ve always been the reliable core. I do what I say I will, I turned up when I say I will, if I have a raid night off I’ll probably turn up to see if everyone else did, just in case the guild is one short and I am the difference between raiding and not raiding. I’m a very useful member of guild simply because I am not an officer. It’s great having people outside the officers in the membership who are reliable, like the officers, and provide a good example of raider conduct in guild. So being treated disrespectfully in a guild is something I can’t be arsed to take. Really.

I don’t have an issue with my guild’s leadership taking a well earned break before Mists of Pandaria is launched. I don’t mind half of their raid team taking a break or quitting WoW at the same time. I am not expecting these people to do anything, least of all keep playing, for my benefit. However, if they are going to do that I rather hoped they would not allow my guild to wither around me and raiding to simply collapse for the other team who had opted not to take a break.

It’s shows a lack of respect to simply take a break and turn the lights off in your guild three months (or more) before a new expansion! The Guild Master, all the officers and most of the core around the officers cannot simply quit the game and expect that the guild won’t stall and then begin to wither in their absence. Here’s the rub: there are enough people around the officers to make a viable ten man raiding guild after levelling to 90, seeing what classes people have levelled up and then recruiting a couple of new members once MoP is live. So all of the people in my raid team are expendable. If they are still around in the guild come MoP, find they can support the officers and their clique when raiding gets going again. If some of us choose to leave it’s no loss.

That is an act of bad faith. Allowing a second raid team to be assembled and flourish, when you didn’t really want that in your guild. Then dropping Warcraft and all guild activity and leaving these people to fend for themselves or quit the guild. Then telling them you never wanted them in the first place or really saw their raiding as anything other than a distraction.  It’s disrespectful to tell them that you would not promote any one of them to officer status because you don’t trust them. Don’t trust them to do what? Ransack the guild bank they built it up with their raiding: filling it with gold, BoE gear and high level crafting mats? Enjoy what we helped to build when MoP hits. Gold and gear. /yawn

Guilds are most often built by people who want to be in charge for the sake of being in charge. It’s built by people who want respect and kudos for the position they hold rather than the person they are and the way they conduct themselves. Guilds are built by people who see concrete benefits for themselves. “Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, like and angry ape plays such fantastic tricks…as would make angels weep; who, with our spleens, would all laugh themselves mortal.”

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