Screenshot of the Week – August 6

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My hunter just finished leveling through Nagrand again, and I can never get enough of the zone. It truly is absolutely beautiful – I could have a post full of the many different areas of it. Not only that, but after reading Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden, I can appreciate the history of Orcs that is throughout the zone.

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Character Identity

This is part of a Shared Topic, started by Akabeko of Red Cow Rise. Make sure to check out more great posts from other Blog Azeroth authors!

What defines a person? What is the thing that is at their core, which makes them who they are? There can be many things that do this, which can be small or large parts of their lives. As a gamer, we have a way to extend these definitions of ourselves into the virtual world through the characters we play.

Of course, not everyone does this. There are people who play only for the enjoyment of what a certain character can do or a role that is required. I believe that someone who truly enjoys playing a certain character does so because it’s something they can identify with.

Looking back at the characters I’ve played over the years, I can see a progression of how I identified with these characters and why I chose what I did. More so, I can see why I’ve stuck with my Tauren Druid so long and still really enjoy playing him.

Of my many characters, I’m only going to focus on two: my previous main, a Blood Elf Paladin and my current main, a Tauren Druid.

I stuck with my Paladin for a long time, starting on BC launch day and raiding as a healer through Tier 5 stuff (Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep). This was my first experience playing a melee oriented class that I actually enjoyed, as previously I had played only ranged/magic classes in my online gaming career. With this character, I found that I could identify with him somewhat.

In real life, I’m a very ordinary guy. I work for a living, I have a great family, I do very normal stuff. However, part of what I do in my job is help people out (since I work for a bank, it just happens to be financial help), and that is part of who I am.

When I focused on being a healer and a paladin, I could identify with what the paladin is supposed to be. A protector of others, putting other people ahead of one’s self. As I was healing my guildmates and keeping them alive through these encounters, I could see myself in that role as well. Because of this, I believe that I stayed with the character for a while.

The Paladin was a member of the Blood Knights, originally siphoning power from M’uru, and thinking that he was just doing this for his own advancement. Yet, as time went on he realized that he actually liked being able to help others out. Rather than just being another Blood Elf minion, he established himself as a member of his guild and a vital member of a raiding team. When he found out about the betrayal of Prince Kael’thas, he decided to focus on the friends he had made in his guild and only be loosely affiliated with the Blood Knights, even though the Sunwell was restored.

My current main character was born because my wife had recently started playing WoW as well, and we wanted to level characters together. She had created a Tauren Shaman, and I wanted to create a new Druid – hoping that it was better than the original time I tried to level one in Vanilla. We had a lot of fun, and made it to max level in Burning Crusade, and I eventually made him my new main.

I see my Druid’s identity as part of that original experience. He was going through the world with his wife, trying to help people out and bring glory to the Horde. His loyalty is first to his family, then to his fellow Tauren, then the Horde. This is basically how I am in my real life situation.

Our experiences shape who we are, in-game and out. Whether that is a traumatic experience that makes you cringe when you see spiders, or a smile whenever you see kittens because you just love them. If you value protecting others by keeping them safe, a healer or tank might be a good option for you because it aligns with natural personality. If you protect others by removing things that would cause others harm, there’s DPS for you. What type of DPS? Take out your frustration by stabbing things as a rogue. Enjoy setting things on fire as a warlock.

WoW’s longevity can be credited to a number of things, and I believe that relatable characters is a very big part. I wrote about this before regarding NPCs, but this definitely also applies to player-controlled characters as well. Why have a hero if you hate being that person?

Memories of Azeroth: Naxxramas

Lately I’ve had difficulty having inspiration for a new post, and have been thinking about what to post about. Patch 4.2 has just recently dropped, but sites such as WoW Insider have much more comprehensive coverage of things in there than I could ever give. However, one thing that I can give is where I’ve come from through my time in WoW. Let’s take a trip with the way-back machine to Wrath of the Lich King and look back at Naxxramas.

Courtesy WoW College

Naxx was one of the entry raids of WotLK, the other being Malygos in the Eye of Eternity. It was originally a 40-man raid at the end of Vanilla, but the difficulty level and attunement process was quite high at the time. Very few people were able to experience it, even through Burning Crusade. Thus Blizzard decided to bring it back in Wrath, along with updated items and tier armours.

This tier of raiding was the first time people got to experience having the choice between 10 and 25-man groups of the same instance. They were on separate lockouts, so if someone had enough time they could do both versions of the raid to get gear faster. Personally I felt it was better suited for 25-man raiding, as it is such a very large instance, and it feels even larger when there aren’t as many people. The size of the instance and rooms were not changed from the original 40-man raid, so that probably has a bit to do with it.

There were four wings, each with a boss at the end that needed to be defeated before moving on to Sapphiron and Kel’Thuzad (originally – later through Wrath it was possible to skip the wings and go directly to them). The four quarters were: Military (or Death Knight), Plague, Spider, and Construct. Each wing was themed with similar trash mobs and bosses, with each having their own little special thing.

Back in Vanilla, Patchwerk was the DPS check for the instance. If the raid DPS was high enough to kill Patchwerk before he enrages, the group is probably ready to do the rest of the instance. Fortunately with Naxx being the first raid of the expansion, it was a little more forgiving.

I never had the chance to do it in Vanilla, but I have heard that the entire instance retains much of the original feel. Fights like Loatheb are still very difficult due to the very big mechanic of not being able to heal except for a few brief seconds every minute. Heigan still requires the entire raid to dance between the flames. Kel’Thuzad is still a royal pain if you’re melee-heavy with the ice blocks.

Altogether it wasn’t a bad instance, and I certainly enjoyed the time we had through it. There were certainly things that could have been improved, however. Standing out to me was the Instructor Razuvious fight in 25-man mode. It was a requirement for there to be two priests in the raid, as there are two adds that need to be mind controlled for the fight to tank the boss. In 10-man mode, there were crystals that were used for this reason so anyone could do it. Even though there are 25 people in a raid, there were a few times our guild couldn’t do that quarter because we didn’t have enough priests.

There were a LOT of bosses. 16 altogether (I’m counting the Four Horsemen as one boss), and while that allowed a lot of loot to be given out, it also made for a lot of time in one zone looking at the same stuff over and over again. I’m all for a lot of content, but sometimes there’s a bit too much.

Class tier item sets dropped were re-skinned Tier 3, updated for Wrath. Some of my favourite tier sets are in tiers 3 and 7, so I was quite happy when I got my sets. Along with it were some very interesting looking weapons, including Journey’s End and Origin of Nightmares (guess what spec I was during that time). Unfortunately, as much as feral Druids loved these two items we suffered the usual pains of not being able to see them while in combat.

This instance was a very good raid to start off the expansion with. It was perfect for Wrath’s lore, and had a variety of fights that people had to adapt to very quickly. Thaddius and the positive/negative gimmick was always a lot of fun and very frustrating at the same time.

If you ask me, that’s what raiding is supposed to be like – have fun while ripping your hair out. Good times.

Inclusion vs Progression

A little while ago, something happened that caused me quite a bit of frustration. In essence: I love to raid, but I was denied the chance to raid. I was mad at first, but after having the chance to reflect upon it I have some thoughts to share.

Being in a guild comes with rules attached. This is even more important for guilds who raid, as there are the intricacies of determining who gets loot, discipline for people being jerkfaces, attendance issues, among other things. What is the rule for who gets to raid?

Some back story to begin with, as my situation is a bit weird. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t raid as much as I used to, due to real life circumstances. I am married to a wonderful woman and have a great son. Unfortunately I don’t make enough money to support us all by myself, so my wife has to work part-time on weekends and some evenings. As it happens one of the nights she usually works is a raid night, and the other raid night is one where I work late every second week. Therefore, due to our work schedules there have been many times where I have been unable to raid because of having to look after our son or because I’ve been working.

Prior to The Spawn arriving, I was a regular raider. From Vanilla all the way through Wrath, I was there for a majority of our guild’s raids, so I have good experience. I’ve been in the guild since it was formed, so I have tenure. Plus, I enjoy raiding as it’s my version of a “guy’s night out” or poker night.

It happened that this certain Friday, I wasn’t working late and had been given the all clear to sign up for the raid. We’re doing 10-man raiding right now and eleven people had signed up – since I’m a DPS class, my role is always one that’s fought over. This was my first time being able to sign up for a raid in over a month, but I had experienced most of the content in the expansion thus far. The night’s agenda was to go to Throne of the Four Winds and work on Al’Akir, as he’s the last boss we need for the Guild Glory of the Raider achievement.

I logged on, asking if I was going to be able to raid that night. The decision was made to have myself and another DPS do a /roll with the low roller sitting the night. Ultimately, mine was the low roll and I was out. To say I was mad was an understatement.

The arguments came to my mind very easily: I’ve been a member of the guild for years! If it wasn’t for my situation, I would have been there for every raid! I deserve equal chances to participate in the raid! Other people go to every raid, but I have the rare chance! Why do they go but I get shut out?

Almost a week later, I’ve looked back and realized that the decision was made properly. I wish that it was made ahead of time so I would have known, but that’s beside the point. It was a progression raid, and the people who have worked at the content for weeks deserve the chance to get a guild-first downing of a new boss.

There needs to be a balance for inclusion of all members who want to raid. I’m not suggesting that just because you’re a warm body means that you should go, but given a chance. If the raid agenda was to do content that was being farmed, my anger would have been justified. Since it was a progression night, it was not my place to take the spot of someone who has been there all the time.

The Dilemma

Who gets to raid?

This is the core of the problem. When I was an officer back in Burning Crusade, we were getting together people for a Gruul’s Lair run, and we were short one DPS. We had a player log on, one who wasn’t around very often, but was raid ready. They joined the raid, and after killing Gruul we had the Dragonspine Trophy drop – for the first (and eventually only) time of the expansion for us. At the time, our loot policy was to /roll and high roll wins. This player ended up getting the highest roll… and quit the game a week later. (Loot rules are a whole different ball of wax)

Because of the above reason, there is definitely a reason to put the proper people in a raid. Whereas I may be someone who knows what to do, I truthfully didn’t deserve to take the spot on that night.

Obviously there are times when it’s not possible to be picky. If there’s only 10 people on who can raid, you have your raid. Depending on the skill and gear levels of the people involved, that will determine what will happen that night. Progression may not be possible, but it will likely be possible to bring up other people to the point of being able to progress later.

If there’s 15 people who want to raid, there are going to be five people who will have to do something else. Should the plan be to progress through raid content, the obvious choice is the people who are ready for the content.

However, there must be a chance given to people who want to raid. It’s just the timing that needs to be decided on. Firm communication between guild leadership and the members is key. If the plan is to do progression, make sure people know that preference will be given to those who are geared and ready for the fight. For farm nights, some preference should be given to people who need to gear up.

All of this must be done within reason. A whole raid full of people who need to gear up won’t go very far in a raid. I’m not saying that those who can’t make every raid must be given a spot on farm nights, but to take their situation into account.

Conclusion

I love to raid, as it’s something that I enjoy doing with the friends that I have made through World of Warcraft. My schedule limits the times that I can raid, because of the schedule my guild has established.

I was wrong to have been upset at being sat out for a progression night. Hopefully things will work out and I’ll be able to raid again soon. I’m looking at you, people who set my wife’s schedule. /glare

In the meantime there are PuG raids that I could join, there are Zandalari heroics, and upcoming single player content in 4.2 that could make me pass the time. Lots of things to do, and hopefully raiding with my guild will be one of those things again in the future.

Death Penalties

This is part of a Blog Azeroth Shared Topic.  Check the thread out to see posts from other great blog authors!

There are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. Fortunately there isn’t a monthly gold fee to pay to Stormwind or Orgrimmar to pay for the services you get there – that’s why you have to pay for repairs and the auction house fees. However, death is rampant in WoW. There are very few people who can say that they haven’t died at all while leveling, and if doing dungeons or raids is your thing it’s a given fact that you will die at some point.

One big question stands out: how does a game deal with a character death? This question has been mulled over, thought about, and discussed a great many times as everyone has a different approach to it. I’ve played a few games which have all had different ideas about it, which I will explain and then give my own thoughts.

The first MMORPG I played was one called Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. Penalties for death included losing half the experience you had (over level 99), as it was used as a currency to purchase better health, mana, and stats. Also there was a “death pile”, which consisted of various items that the character was carrying, and certain items broke upon death. Prior to level 99, the character would lose a portion of their current experience.

After Nexus, I played Final Fantasy XI. Their death system worked similarly, with the exception of the items being dropped in favour of a more steep experience penalty. When a character dies there is a large experience penalty, and the chance that the character can actually level down. I had experienced that many times, when I was in a group killing stuff and recently leveled and then we all died… and I was suddenly the level I was previously.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played either game in a very long time, so their death systems may be different now. What I explained is how they worked when I played them.

As many people know, in World of Warcraft the penalty for death is fairly low. In essence, the taxes that I mentioned in the first paragraph are the penalty for dying in WoW. Equipped items are charged 10% durability loss with every death, in which the repair bills add up quickly after a night of learning a new raid boss.

If it’s decided to use a Spirit Healer, then an additional durability loss is charged to ALL items that are carried – whether they’re equipped or in the inventory. A character who has multiple sets of gear will go through great lengths to avoid using a Spirit Healer. On top of that a debuff called Resurrection Sickness is applied to the character for a period of time, which reduces health, mana, damage, and healing done. Basically, if you don’t go to recover your corpse you can’t do anything but travel for a while.

The death penalty is charged to discourage people from not caring about dying. Blizzard wants us to care about our characters, and try to keep them alive. At the same time, the penalty isn’t so steep that if a death happens we aren’t so discouraged that we throw our computers out the window.

In comparison to the other games, I believe that the penalty is exactly where it should be. It’s not so huge that we are mad beyond all reason, and not so small that we don’t care about dying at all. I can attest to the fact that after a night of learning a new encounter in a dungeon or raid, seeing my repair bill sure makes me want to have less wipes the next time I go.

Screenshot of the Week – June 4

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This week we see a view of Netherwing Ledge in Shadowmoon Valley.  Anyone doing the Netherwing dailies will see a lot of this place, and even though it’s beautiful it will get old really fast.  It’s nice to see it after not having been there for a while and appreciate the scenery.

Outland and Northrend, redux

Here we are, 4 and 2.5 years after the content was released, and I’m doing a review of the Outland and Northrend areas of World of Warcraft. Timely reporting, right? In this case, it actually is – I just finished getting my former-lowbie priest up to level 80 and blazed a trail through the two former content areas. As I adventures through these places, I was reminded of things that I liked and things I certainly didn’t like.

With heirlooms, I actually didn’t go through all of the zones for each continent. (As an aside, I was using the heirloom shoulders, chest, cloak, weapon, and trinket.) Even without, I know that I could have skipped some areas. It is nice that the leveling process has been eased as time goes by through these old areas, as what was once the best part of the game is now some of the worst.

Outland and Northrend are now suffering the “middle child” disease, being forgotten and overlooked. Cataclysm brought us a completely redesigned Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms (less a few zones, coincidentally from Burning Crusade), and going from levels 1-60 in the “old” world is now very exciting and fun. Prior to Cataclysm, people would power their way through the Vanilla content so they could get to the better things in Outland and beyond.

Now the two continents are relics of an old design philosophy. Cataclysm has brought so many new quest mechanics and storylines that it’s truly fun to play through the zones and see what all is going on. Outland and Northrend have many of the same thing over and over again with little deviation.

Outland

My progression through Outland started with Hellfire Peninsula, going through half of Zangarmarsh, and then finishing most of Nagrand before hitting level 68. With 25% experience bonus from heirlooms and an extra 10% from the guild perk, the levels flew by – so much that I was level 73 before hitting Zangarmarsh. I only did two instances, and that was my wife running me through Hellfire Ramparts and the Blood Furnace. This time I was going for efficiency in leveling, and wanting to get through as fast as I could.

One relic quest design that still exists in Outland is the amount of Elite/Group quests. Fortunately, as I was playing a Shadow Priest this time around it was actually fairly easy and I was able to solo a majority of them. There were the few that I needed help with, like Arazzius the Cruel and Durn the Hungerer, but more often than not I was fine.

Nagrand is my favourite zone from Burning Crusade. The looks of it were just amazing, along with very good questing design for the most part. However, this zone suffers from quest hub-itis. There are five places in the zone where you get quests (mostly), and three of them are in the same area – for the Horde side at least. This means that while you can grab about 7-12 quests at once, there’s a lot of travel time involved from place to place. As much as down time is necessary to regroup and calm down, there’s a lot of travel time involved in Nagrand.

All in all, Outland isn’t a bad place – it’s just boring to me. I’ve gone through Outland numerous times and it’s still the exact same as it was when it first came out, with the exception of how long it takes to get through it. There are many great views, quests, NPCs, and other things to see along the way. I just ask that Blizzard update things to make them better. If someone has never gone through the continent before, I think they would enjoy it.

Northrend

Going through Northrend was also a lot quicker than at first, mainly due to heirlooms and guild perk. I started in Howling Fjord, did all of Dragonblight and Zul’Drak, then about halfway through Storm Peaks is where I ended up hitting level 80. Through this I only did two instances, both through the LFD tool, coming up with Utgarde Keep and Halls of Stone (of course).

Normally in my quest to level alts, I end up getting stuck around the beginning of Northrend. I can usually make it through the first zone, usually Borean Tundra, but by the time I reach Dragonblight I get bored very quickly. In a WoW Insider Show, they had likened the province of Manitoba as being the Dragonblight of Canada, and I have to agree – Dragonblight is just boring.

As I said, I normally start from Borean Tundra so the first area I hit in Dragonblight is Agmar’s Hammer. Since I started in Howling Fjord this time I did the Venomspite quests first, which is what I believe made the difference. It wasn’t much of a change, but any change is welcome in boring content.

Similar to Outland, there were a number of Elite/Group quests that were out there. Also similarly, I was able to solo most of them and only needing help with the ones that had mechanics that were harmful to cloth-wearers. The travel time to get to different places still was a big factor, but not nearly as bad as Outland. By this time, Blizzard seems to have learned that people don’t like having to fly somewhere for five minutes before getting to the quest objective.

During my initial time in Wrath, I didn’t really have a favourite zone. This time, Zul’Drak really stood out to me – the story of an empire that wanted to fend off the Scourge so badly that they killed their own gods out of desperation. I would love to see the zone the way it was before, as the pinnacle of a troll empire.

Right now Northrend is still too fresh in my mind from Wrath. Cataclysm has only been out for five months, so it hasn’t been long enough for me to get over it. The zone and quest design isn’t bad, but I’m glad it’s not the current one anymore.

Conclusion

Many times through my leveling experience, I was extremely thankful for the ability to have a flying mount. Originally, flying wasn’t available in Outland until level 70 and in Northrend until level 77. Having to run through all the stuff before was painful enough, I am so very glad that I didn’t have to do it again.

Last year I wrote up some retrospectives about Vanilla, Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King. Going through the two expansion contents, I’m reminded about many of my original observations and my overall conclusion from them: I’m glad that I was able to play through them when they were relevant, but I’m very glad that it’s the past. What’s done is done, and I’m glad the game is moving forward.

It shows how much Blizzard has done to improve the game over time. Anyone who says that the game was better during Vanilla, Burning Crusade, or Wrath is a liar. The game as it is today is far more superior to the previous content. Blizzard will always improve their work.

I’m very glad to be back in Cataclysm content. Hyjal, here I come!