Archive for April, 2013

MopMists of Pandaria is definitely better than Cataclysm, I don’t think anyone can disagree with that. The leveling experience from 85 to new maximum level, 90, was superb. The first zone The Jade Forest was gorgeous, the story telling was good and well paced. More importantly the zone had replay-ability in spades. Personally I leveled seven characters through it. I presumed at some point I’d need my alt stable for having fun and downtime in MoP and The Jade Forest was an almost perfect leveling experience.

AftJadeforester The Jade Forest, The Valley of Four Winds picked up the baton and ran with us into Krasarang Wilds and Kun Lai Summit. As the story drew us along the road with Chen Stormstout we discovered Halfhill and the new game feature: Sunsong Ranch. The new farm allowed us to plant and grow crops and became a hub for daily quest to expand the farm and advance our Cooking skills. The revamped Cooking leveling experience was well thought out and invigorated Fishing as well. The process of taking cooking through to 525 from 450 (level 85 max level) was so engaging that I leveled cooking to maximum level on six characters and the whole experience was more fun and satisfying than main profession advancement or even the leveling process itself.

For me the pleasure of leveling dried up somewhat as I reached The Dread Wastes and the Klaxxi questing hub. The zone was gloomy, another Duskwallow, Shadowmoon Valley, Zul’Farrak of a zone. The biggest downside was how tightly the mantid mobs were packed creating a constant feeling of anxiety that the next pull would go awry and you’d pull the entire zone. It was a blessing to reach level 90, but the leveling process was tainted with a memory of how onerous it was wading through the last mob packed zone and level.

Dread-WastesThe result is a vastly improved leveling experience, but one that seems to gradually run out of steam as the experience required to progress gets exponential greater. The final zone in any expansion should have challenging and engaging content and have as much love lavished upon it as the first. If this isn’t done, and it doesn’t appear to have been, you end up with a new leveling area that people are keen to start but demotivated from finishing. I have only succeeded in leveling two chars all the way through to 90, at around 87 – 88 I lose the will to take them further and there are several reasons for this.

One of the biggest failings of this expansion is how unfriendly it is to alts. In previous expansions (including Cataclysm) I have enjoyed re-running the content with my full stable of alts. I’m not alone, many people enjoy having more than one or two characters at level 90. I’ve wanted to expand my stable to include an off tank and a raid healer but quite frankly getting my warlock raid ready and keeping her competitive has been nightmarish (especially after the 5.2 nerfs).

foresthozenAll my alts completed the quest chain in Jade Forest that takes you to exalted with the Forest Hozen, particularly for the extra flight paths. Then my interest in questing drops off and this is the point in previous expansions where my alts would level in 5 mans. In Mists you can do two 5 mans: Temple of the Jade Serpent and the three boss Stormstout Brewery. These two dungeons get very old, very quickly as you can’t do any others until you’re level 87. At level 87 two more dungeons open up: Mogu’shan Palace and the challenging Shado-pan Monastery. I’d go on but that’s your lot until you’re level 90 when five more dungeons are added (three are retooled: Scholomance, Scarlet Halls and Monastery). Strictly speaking there are four heroic dungeons and Jade Temple, Stormstout, Shado-pan Monastery and Mogu’shan Palace now offer up ilvl 453 gear, but the other 5 “heroics” have no “normal” level equivalent.

shado-panmonastaryIf you get your alts to level 90 you then have the mind numbing rep grind to drag yourself through. It’s true Blizzard made this easier with the introduction of the 100% rep increase token, which mains unlock by reaching exalted, but even half the rep grind seems way too much for me. Really. It’s also true that you don’t need to do any of the rep grinds, they aren’t compulsory, however this is slightly disingenuous as the Golden Lotus grind to honoured is required to unlock the first tier of gear available, as you’ll really struggle to get into LFR without it. Exalted with the August Celestials is still valuable mid expansion for those quality crafting recipes. Fortunately the new key reputation, Shado-pan Assault, isn’t linked to Shado-pan reputation and, Ashen Verdict-like, can only be increased in the Throne of Thunder raid. In Wrath of the Lich King, rep grinders entered Ice Crown Citadel multiple times per day, killed trash to the first boss, left the instance and re-set the encounter and began again. I’m happy to report that at least that is no longer possible.

Nalak, the rather easy World Boss.

Nalak, the rather easy World Boss.

In place of 5 man content Blizzard have given us LFR, World Bosses and Scenarios. LFR is intended to provide a pathway from level 90 blue gear to current content raids. For small bite-sized content Scenarios are the solution. To completely remove queue times when forming random Scenario groups they are three man with no role requirement. Scenarios can be completed with three pure DPS classes, there is no requirement for tanking or healing. Many key storytelling moments are delivered in a slightly more interactive form in Mists through the Scenario format, an improvement on the cut-scene fest that was Uldum at least. World Bosses…hit ’em until they drop loot…what does that sound like?

LFR is gated by ilvl so the first T14 raid, Mogu’shan Vaults requires a item level of 463 to enter. The next level of T14 raids Heart of Fear is gated at ilvl 470 and for T15 ilvl 480 is required. The tyranny of ilvl, gating levels of content, creates break points that it can often be difficult and frustrating to hit. You’ll first find yourself mercilessly farming 5 mans for one or two bits of 453 ilvl gear that will be a minor, short lived, upgrade but will take you up one or two ilvls and get you across the arbitrary threshold into LFR. You’ll be running Mogu’shan Vaults every week (unless you have several Elder Charms of Good Fortune to ‘extra roll’ with) trying to break through the 470 threshold to progress into Heart of Fear, so you can repeat your bleak frustration with ilvl 479 at the gate to T15 LFR content. In your frustration you turn to grinding rep for faction gear and running multiple repetitious dailies every day to reach a high enough reputation to be able to spend some of your valour points. The end of this cycle is normally a not particularly good “sidegrade” in LFR that keeping in your bag rather than equipping (or disenchanting) takes you over the ilvl requirement. It’s also leads to the phenomenon of “loot lending” – the loaning of higher ilvl BoE gear (to keep in bag not equip) to overcome the ilvl gate of LFR.

Remember the "Don't talk to any of the Students!" myth. Yes, myth.

Remember the “Don’t talk to any of the Students!” myth? Yes, myth.

This process simply forces people to run content ad nauseum in pursuit of an upgrade to one piece of gear, while grinding on reputation to high frustration levels as a fall back if the LFR drop doesn’t come and immediately disregarding that reputation and the daily quest grind if the random drop comes. Not many people are still grinding T14 reputation that isn’t exalted, there is no real benefit and no one did those dailies for the joy of it. The same applies to 5 man content. As soon as a char get’s into LFR content no one is running 5 mans. This is because there is no compelling motivation to. The purpose of the 5 man is now to deliver gear to raise your ilvl enough to enter LFR. There is no challenge in 5 mans, indeed as time passes 5 mans become less and relevant. The degree to which they are over-geared increases and the value of the gear decreases significantly, there is no need to run them for reputation or valour as capping valour is a trivial matter. There are no heroic 5 mans (only 5 mans that become available at 90) and they present no challenge and no purpose after ilvl 463 whatsoever.

Naxxramas-1The lack of 5 man content is addressed, as far as Blizzard are concerned, by LFR and Scenarios. Scenarios are even being beefed up and will offer epic gear in 5.3, however they are still dumbed down, challenge free content for casuals. This is the crux of Blizzard’s failure. I’ve been a long time supporter of Blizzard extending the accessibility of their content. 1% of the player base accessed the Naxxramas 40 man raid content and clearly that’s a failure and waste of development time. At all points in the expansion players should have the ability to join the game, or step up and play more “seriously”, and be able to deliver a raid ready character to access that content. Blizzard have previously done a good job of that, introducing token gear and non raid routes to gear up for raids. However the current gear path is severely flawed. Blizzard have removed 5 mans which I’ve always seen as the spine of World of Warcraft and although they’ve given us other content: dailies, LFR and Scenarios, it isn’t quality content. Dailies and LFR are just chores to grind or ignore (as best you can) for gear to ease the early stages of progression raiding for the bulk of raiders (those of us that are not hardcore or involved in the world first races).

Blackrock_Mountain_by_oni_lsSome people complain ridiculously that there is no content for raiders outside of raids. Other people respond that their is too much compulsory content with daily rep grinds on the Isle of Thunder and weekly LFR grind through two tiers of content. They’re both wrong. There is plenty of content outside of raids for raiders to engage with, none of it is compulsory all of it is skippable. The real problem is that there is no quality content outside of raids. The Daily Quest Grind is too much, so much so that I can motivate myself to do any of it. LFR is, if anything, worse than it was in Dragon Soul when it was introduced. The over-tuning of  several of the T15 fights in LFR has made it a wipefest, and while that’s acceptable, even desirable, in real raids, in LFR a wipe is simply a cue for people to leave, blamestorm and abuse each other. This reduces the pleasure of an unpleasant chore even further. Making more and better gear available from Scenarios will get more people doing them until all the gear is farmed then they’ll be ignored again. The Scenario is still never going to be a repeatable content style, forcing people to repeat them for gear is not going to make them more popular, it will make them more universally hated.

We were never going to see another monumental 5 man, but no more 5 mans at all?

We were never going to see another monumental 5 man, but no more 5 mans at all?

Blizzard has once again extended accessibility and provided a whole raft of content to that end. Inevitably they have made some content easier and more straightforward which will inevitably provoke accusations of dumbing down the game, with some justification. 5 mans are gone until the opening tier of the next expansion, or maybe better gear dropping 3 man content will replace them altogether, Scenarios and LFR have stepped into the gear breach to give a leg up for gamers looking to step up to raiding . The problem with Mists of Pandaria is that while introducing a new progression model and phasing out old content forms they have done some dumbing down and reduced the pleasure of many gamers who have stuck with Warcraft thus far. More people can raid, but raiding is no longer the achievement it once was. More people can raid but the motivation and allure of raiding is being slowly drained because of it.

The problem is not the lack of content for raiders and casual players, it is the lack of quality, challenging content. If Blizzard continue in this vein this could be the first sign of (long predicted, long confounded) death  of World of Warcraft.

The situation worsens.

I’m slowly going off Mists of Pandaria. The great fat black and white hope is belly flopping flat. What is sapping my enjoyment of Pandaria? Dailies. It’s a dirty word Blizzard, you’ve made it a dirty word. No one, but no one responded to 5.2 and each subsequent unlocking of more dailies as the Isle of Thunder campaign unfolded with the words “Oh great! More dailies.” OK, some did but with a thick overtone of sarcasm.

Log onto WoW, do your dailies make sure you’re valour capped, run LFR and…? And nothing. There is not more time in my week. I make sure I’ve done all of LFR on my two level 90’s, cap valour (sometimes) and I’m done until raid night. In other expansions I might spend some time leveling alts and running 5 mans. Well, Blizzard have confirmed there’ll be no more 5 man content in MoP. They gave us no ‘heroic’ 5 mans, we just unlocked some new content at level 90, and they’re not giving us any more.

So if they’re not giving us more 5 mans what are we getting instead? More Scenarios that no one does and Challenge Modes. I love Challenge Mode, I’d like it more if it wasn’t a simple race through the content, but it does provide a very much needed challenge outside of heroic raids. Let’s be honest though, no one is really doing them and they inspire almost as little excitement as Scenarios, which just plain suck. Scenarios are an excellent format for telling stories, creating lore and developing relationships and situations. Consequently they are of passing interest to a fraction of the player base once and once only. With no decent loot they have no re-play value and for most of the player base they don’t even have a one off value.

What else has Blizzard given us to address the absence of genuine 5 man content? World Bosses. Or as I like to call them them the loot piñatas. Turn up and hit them with a stick until the loot falls out. Ironically the first and best World Boss: the Sha of Anger was the most difficult. With several difficult mechanics including wave upon wave of adds it’s easy to make a mess of Sha, even though realms farmed him mercilessly for weeks. Galleon seemed to spawn so infrequently many of us gave up on seeing him, never mind being part of a group that downed him. When he did turn up everyone quickly learned the tactic: adds have prio. Then we all went home happy, no wipes. Nalak is the latest and most pathetic excuse for content Blizzard has ever presented me with. Tactics? There are none. He’s a fucking flying Patchwerk. One tank, five healers or so, hit it till it’s dead. It does do some stuff but most of us wilful ignore it and it just seems to go away.

They should put a goblin in The Shrine of Two Moons once a week and you can go talk to him and he gives you a roll for some loot. As content it would be just as engaging Blizzard. Thankfully there’s something to Oondasta, sadly too much for all the PuGs I’ve been in since we got server first when he first turned up on the Island of Rapidly Spawning, Irritating and Repeated Death. Pah.

The thought of leveling another char to 90 to grind the first part of LFR for weeks to drag up your ilvl to get into part two is depressing. Then getting exalted reputation with August Celestials to get your high level crafting recipes for another char…forget that. You can get your Valour points in LFR but then you can’t spend it until you’ve raised your rep on all those factions again. So it’s back into LFR again to try to get that item of loot that just won’t drop and when it finally does and you can get into Heart of Fear the first boss is likely to drop an upgrade.

If this wasn’t bad enough, in T15 Blizzard have decided to up the difficult level of LFR to be closer to a real raiding experience. For people who don’t or can’t communicate with each other, listen to tactics, or avoid standing in the fire, people who appear to have ADD (Attention Deficient Disorder) and have to ninja-pull the boss because they had to wait two minutes for two tanks to join the raid this is an ill thought through idea. Thanks Blizzard, as if Looking For Retards wasn’t bad enough you over-tuned the difficulties of some of the Throne of Thunder encounters so most of these casual players have to think, coordinate and work together. WTF were you thinking? That’s never going to happen. Durumu and Lei Shen are both going to get nerfed unmercifully so why wait? Do it now! It’s Tuesday and I haven’t killed Lei Shen in LFR yet!

My preferred size of content, 5 man, is gone. More Valour point gear is linked to reputation to shackle us to the content explosion that is the daily grind. Alts are not possible and unappealing. As a sop to lovers of bite sized dungeon content, Blizzard have insulted us with Scenarios and World Bosses that hardly deserve the title boss: more ‘world mini-boss’, ‘world epic-loot dropping mob’. Blizzard power forward with solo scenario instances, where we have the story rammed down our neck, and every week we get more daily quests to repeat ad infinitum until we’re exalted with some troll in Booty Bay and his dog. Dailies, scenarios, world bosses, over-tuned LFRs, lore and story telling?

STFU and let me kill Garrosh!

A huntard quit our guild a few days ago. I really couldn’t care less for a number of reasons. I could lament his poor play style and lack of flexibility when it came to dealing with new mechanics. I could point out that if he had to move while DPS-ing his damage dropped away to next to nothing and if we needed him to do anything else, but DPS, during the fight, kite; trap etc, then he would probably fail or do no DPS at all. I could also point out that too many wipes were due to his incompetence in raid: standing in the Wind Bomb for example, DPS-ing when no one should, running away on Unseen Strike when he should be stacking…but it would all sound like sour grapes so why bother.

What I will say is that his declared reason for leaving the guild was hilariously ironic. In small, social raiding guilds there is a critical mass and tipping point. When your trying to build your guild up, or more frequently rebuild after some commitment light raiders move on to pastures greener, you need a critical mass of raiders to ensure a degree of retention. Six or seven core raiders, who turn up every raid night (whether or not they signed up), is necessary for a 10 man raiding guild to achieve critical mass.

You will always have ‘less’ committed raiders on the periphery of your team. This is not intended as derogatory in this context. The commitment I refer to here is simply to raiding, not to the guild. They like raiding and are reasonably well geared but cannot or will not commit to raiding week in week out. These people can be rotated in and out of your team around their signups, they bulk out you team to ten most weeks. Your core raiders can be relied upon to turn up every raid night and you need maybe seven to make sure you raid every week.

Now our raid team has taken a hit recently and we’ve lost two core raiders. One has all but quit the game and that, folks, is life, no criticism, no complaint, that person has simply moved on. The other guy, our erstwhile huntard, described above, has provnd his lack of commitment to our guild and his desire to get a free ride off whatever group of chumps he raids with.

Now I can’t comment on what happened in his last guild to make him so angry with them and to leave and join us. I can, however, comment on the hatred and vitriol expressed towards them. I don’t care what someone has done to you in this game, these people are human beings with lives, needs and agendas of their own. I cannot respect the level of hatred and abused directed at those people and their situations under any circumstances. Whatever this previous guild did in this game is trivial. Your remarks to and about them was damaging and abusive and I for one am very glad you’ve left our guild for this reason alone.

I can go on however. Joining another guild “to do more raiding” is irony of the highest order. During the last four to five weeks our raiders have struggled with Garalon and then Amber Shaper Un’Sok. Almost three weeks we wrestled with the tactics to defeat Garalon before finally muscling him aside. I couldn’t help but notice our huntard’s lack of enthusiasm for the spending another whole night wiping on this boss. However, that’s progression raiding, it’s what you have to do until you all learn the fight. If you only want to raid when bosses are on farm and there’s a better chance of loot then your a passenger and a parasite. So, I wasn’t surprised when our huntard skipped our second raid night if it looked like it might be a second evening of mainly wiping.

We’re lucky our raid team has achieved critical mass, we have enough core raiders to ensure we can raid almost every scheduled raid night. This critical mass ensure retention of raiders who don’t have too much commitment to the guild and who would leave after a couple of weeks without raiding. Regular scheduled raids, progress and retention aids recruitment. You can get people in and keep them long enough to build a relationship with them and hopefully some commitment to your social, raiding project. Unfortunately for us we’re still at the tipping point. At the tipping point a guild doesn’t have enough core raiders to ensure raiding week in, week out. We rely on casual raiders within our guild making up the numbers, especially if one or more of our core members are absent. At he tipping point opting out of progression grinds can be contagious and tip the balance to not raiding.

Our huntard tipped the balance. One of our core team wasn’t signing every night, every other at best, while we were grinding Garalon down. Then when we downed Garalon his desire to assist us with Un’Sok was lacking. Casual raiders declined to sign for Heart of Fear and we’ve had to abandon all hope of completing T14 quickly and move up to T15 to attract participation from existing members and get new members into the guild. Due to our huntard’s lack of interest in progression we had to call all last weeks raids and allegedly this is the catalyst for his departure. He made a major contribution to stopping us raiding and has cited lack of raiding as his reason for leaving.

It’s unfortunate that his new guild didn’t whisper one of our officers about him before he was accepted. We could’ve kicked him and left him guildless for making a stealth app, something I still hate. If ours is not the guild for you talk to us and we’ll try to fix things or support you in joining another guild that’s right for you, in your own time. Stealth apply, behind our backs, and get accepted or not you’re out, bye bye. Really I can tolerate incompetent hunters who can barely stand still and do decent DPS and stand in the AoE and cause wipes all the time. However, people that weaken your raid team, slow your progress and go behind your back to another guild because we don’t raid enough because you won’t sign up for every raid I can’t tolerate. Don’t let the door hit your arse the way out.

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