Category Archives: Explorer’s League

Good is good enough. Or: a case for pioneering

Yesterday, Hugh over at the MMO Melting Pot summarized a little wildfire that’s currently spreading since WoW’s latest patch: the whole weekly Valor Point cap deal after 4.2. We can probably most agree that Blizzard’s continued effort to undermine the status of raiding in WoW is deplorable – on a more general note though, it was another old friend of mine piquing my interest in some of the debates: the ever-returning topic of gear. To be more precise, the importance of gear as a factor in beating WoW’s encounters.

Gnomeaggedon just had a similar article up, interestingly enough on PVP, yet with the same underlying issue: the fixation some players have with gearscore, item levels or stats in WoW. In WoW of all MMOs, that most flexible and accessible game of them all. Reading how his otherwise no doubt friendly and decent new guildie made a fool out of himself in BG chat, I cringed a little – people still really do this, huh.. Asking for your gearscore before a 5man run? An achievement before inviting you to a lousy pickup raid? Comparing meters? Ragequitting over purples?


Were we ever that young?

I am no stranger to progress drive or perfectionist mindset. I even sympathize a little with WoW players hopelessly lost in compulsive gear-rush-limbo. I used to be like that myself, a long time ago when 40mans were new and raiding was a more elitist club. Back in pink vanilla, everyone believed gear was where it’s all at. To be fair, we had more reasons to believe so too. People sported their shinies around AH bridge in Ironforge and oh, did those epics tell a story! For one thing because not everyone else and his sixth alt’s cousin had them, for another because it took a long time and 39 more people to get you that set. Enchants were few and precious, there was no jewelcrafting, no inscription, no reforging, no endless list of consumables and buffs. You really wanted a decent arrangement of gear and many encounters were rather unforgiving when it came to certain stats or resistances. So, we chased our purples eagerly from Stratholme to Molten Core, from Blackwing Lair to Naxxramas.

Then along came the Burning Crusade and we slowly began to smell the rat. Gear popped up from every corner, at increasing speed. Hardly a second to enjoy a completed set of Tiers, BOOM the next would follow – better, shinier, more purple than your purple! Then, there were suddenly all these craftable epics, some of them just as good or better than raid rewards. Plus cheap, welfare badge epics that would do the job just as well. As if all that wasn’t enough off the attunements went – in the talent and stat buffs came, in the content nerfs towards the end of the first expansion. More gear thrown at you, more gear than you could hope to wear in a hundred years. It was like purple Christmas at the shopping mall. And with the loot choice curve rising steep, another curve began to fall rapidly: the significance of specific items towards progress.

That’s when I finally had enough, somewhere at T6. I had this disturbing image in my mind, of myself as a donkey chasing a pixel carrot that Blizzard kept replacing faster and faster. I felt foolish and ridiculous. Not just that, I spent loads of time grinding epics just so they were a wee bit better than more accessible alternatives. Ridiculous. On our way to Black Temple, it was popular belief that you needed a complete mix of T5 and T6 to beat Illidan. Short time later, we saw Nihilum’s world first killshot with half their squad posing in Karazhan gear and craftables among the odd BT set item. Pardon? You need what? Ridiculous…

I still collected gear sets later on, make no mistake; I love gear from a cosmetic point of view, always have, and a Deputy GM can’t run around in rags. But I had come a far, far way from the rushing, pushing and obsessing over gear being the determining factor for Adrenaline’s progress. Bosses don’t rise and fall over blue gems or 20 more intellect on a trinket. If you think they do, maybe you’re looking for solutions in the wrong place? Especially with the complexity some boss encounters have gained over time in WoW, there are far bigger, more tide-turning challenges for a team than collecting the best possible gear at the highest possible speed. Gear is not performance and it never wins that duel (they make a good team though).

If it makes you feel more secure about your own performance or if you enjoy the maximizing frenzy, that’s one thing and knock yourself out. However, as long as you’re not in the sort of guild that raids for, y’know money or something and just needs to progress as fast as humanly possible, it does not matter if your gearscore is XX10 or XX50 and it won’t ruin a run if you didn’t upgrade medium Tier epic to super Tier epic. You can still be competitive and you can still progress at decent speed.

The min-maxing, the cookie cutting, the lengthy preparations – they are self-imposed. Let’s say it together: self-imposed. We’ve been through this before: Blizzard never forced their playerbase to min-max so extremely, it’s the players who choose to do it and tolerate all sorts of drudgery in return. The thing is, the list of all things you can always “possibly do better” is endless.

Good is good enough

A long while back, Tessy wrote a follow-up post on a not so unlike debate at the time – healers using healing addons (or not). And she nailed easily what was an embarrassing show-off in other places: if it works for you, it works for you. If you’re good with addons, you’re good. If you’re just as good without them, you’re just as good. It’s the outcome that matters and outcome is a collective term for a multitude of aspects that need to coincide. Especially in a team of 10 to 25 people.

Now for argument’s sake, if you really, really wanted to go there; well, then I’d say you’ve got guts for doing stuff with less – less preread strategy, less buffs, less gear, smaller numbers. Assuming that’s what challenges or entertains you. In terms of outcome though, it’s completely beside the point. A little harder, “cooler”, more “oldschool” (or whatever you wanna call it) doesn’t equal better or smarter – it only means you’re doing it differently. We can allow ourselves a bit of “private vanity” sure, as long as we don’t mistake our way for the one way.

Outcome is what counts. The rest is attempts to socially distinguish yourself or get a kick. I’ll admit freely to some ego myself, but I do know it when I see it (it’s bloated that way). I know my inner demons too, I don’t take them too seriously. The times I went overboard with my private perfectionism in WoW were when I wanted to, not because it was required. I didn’t speed race to exalted in Silithus (:trauma:) for that epic mace and offhand because Benediction wasn’t good enough. I did it because too many people had the yellow staff and I was a vain priest with too much time on her hands.

In my lengthy writeup on healing coordination a while back, I put emphazis on not telling other healers how to play their class. As long as they achieved their assignments consistently, I could not care less how they did it. And I hold to that lesson. My perfect raid team is a team where I do not have to adjust or check a single person’s spell rotation, gear or talent choices. You don’t second-guess what’s working. That goose might stop laying golden eggs.

My challenge, your challenge

Progressing through WotLK 25man, we often outgeared content we beat in my guild. I dreaded these kind of kills, such a lacking glory it was to challenge a boss in epics from head to toe when it was manageable with much less. I’m all for being well-prepared and knowing your strategy; but I actually love encounters that force you down on your knees. When your team needs to click like a well-oiled machine, when it’s all about individual performance, knowing your class in and out, situational awareness, reflexes, perfect coordination and communication. Funny enough, that’s usually also when people have more tolerance for each others mistakes than the pro geared and overconfident bunch.

Ain’t no victory like the victory of the underdog, carrying the trophy home, be it in PVE or PVP. It’s those kills we never ever forget. I’d say too, it’s when your team’s true colors show in all their shades, the way you can otherwise never tell. For similar reasons, some players attempt 2-manning content that is meant to be 5-manned. Or show up with 8 instead of 10 peeps. They want to test how much they can achieve, how far they can go together. Test the limits, raise the stakes – not lower them.

And that’s why the VP rush for Firelands strikes me as bizarre: players are supposed to have all that gear now BEFORE they even put foot in a brand new instance? Says who? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

Don’t believe a word they say

I should mention that I don’t exclusively blame WoW’s playerbase for the optimization mania. Blizzard have had their share over the years, implementing features like the armory and designing the game to allow for such an approach. Still, you’re ultimately in control of your choices and I hope you farm 5mans for epics every day because it’s fun, not because you think you need rewards badly that will be outdated come next patch. Time and again Blizzard, the webforums or the blessed people of hearsay have tried to intimidate us by naming benchmarks, required specs or setups, “what you really need” and “what you really cannot do” to beat certain encounters.

You know what: we’ll see about that. In Molten Core, they told us there was NO WAY we could raid without protection specced tanks. We had zero, up to Nefarian. They told us we couldn’t use offspec healers when they were our majority, all our stubborn feral druids healing in resto gear and several shadow priests healing along with their Benedictions up (another proof of how gear mattered a bit more in WoW 1.0.). Next, they told us how we really needed so and so much fire resistance for Ragnaros. Right. Towards the end of vanilla WoW, all the cool kids went straight to AQ40 first, because  “No way you can do Naxx before AQ!” Thank god we were such rebels…we’d never have experienced original Naxxramas 40 otherwise. You can keep your fugly Tier 2.5 to yourself, thank you very much.

Please, do me a favour: go see for yourself. Whatever someone else is telling you, take it with a pinch of salt. Consider too maybe how long the next content patch’s away. Do your best, but don’t let yourself be fooled or intimidated by talk and so-called guidelines. WoW’s not a perfectionist’s game, WoW is designed for a mainstream audience to enjoy. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re actually at the upper end of that mainstream. Good preparation is cool by all means, “good” preparation. The rest you can make up by other means, either setup/design-given or simply because you can or dare. I’ve gone through 21 years of what I’d like to call successful education and academia with a devil-may-care minimalist attitude and a great deal of Calvin. It works for MMOs too. Don’t feel rushed and don’t feel pressured to go along with whatever’s the latest, hysterical trend on the streets.

Do the wild thing: “TRY ANYWAY”.

Try and see. Talk later. You know, adventuring and stuff. You will never know how far you can go without trying. Be foolhardy, be reckless, be a pioneer.

Be full of spite. 

P.S. In reference to my post title, I should probably give credits to Cynwise’s comment in another article on the matter. Happy following up and remember to keep it together!

How much is too much authenticity?

When you start talking about better authenticity in RPGs or MMORPGs, there is always at least one person you will have to convince that there really is such a thing in fantasy games too and then explain exactly what you mean. Because fantasy worlds are all about the impossible of course, y’know magical stuff going on, places and races that zomg DON’T EXIST and – so, what are you talking about anyway with your authenticity…?

I love that part of the conversation. It’s like with the person who tells you how “it’s all just a game” when you’re upset about something, which is another way of telling you to shut up really (which in return gives you every right to /slap them with a large trout in good old IRC style).

Authenticity is a big topic and issue for RPGs of all flavours; to pick just one example –

Even in a magical world of flying islands and ferocious dragons, most players don’t feel it’s authentic that characters should be able to teleport around anytime and from anywhere to any given coordinate. Mage portals or gateways are cool, but all the time? No, not very authentic. Way too imbalanced – too OP to be credible. We might be in wonderland but this ain’t the zoo, there are rules! Also, what about travel and exploration, two very essential parts of this genre? We all know what would have happened to the Lord of the Rings if old Gandalf had possessed such OP powers (yep, no book for you sorry!)

Or much simpler: it’s cool if there are firebolts coming out of that warlock’s hand, but it’s not very realistic if he can wipe out an entire army of foes with a wiggle of his little finger. It doesn’t work that way.

Putting rules into fantasy

So, how does it work? What’s the measure and leeway of fantastic rules and when do we feel that there are too many restrictions in place or not enough? What constitutes authenticity in an RPG?

Now, developers do have some leeway of course, not every MMO handles authenticity and realism in the same way – just think of the “anti-jumping front” in Final Fantasy Online for instance (there were long beta topics about to jump or not to jump before FF14 was released in 2010) vs. WoW, where players can jump around merrily whenever they please. Choices go all the way from there and become more crucial when it comes to a game’s encounter mechanics or ability and stat balance. Should anyone be able to solo a skeleton army? What hitbox should a worm have? For how long should an enemy of same level be able to chase you? Should death come with a penalty – should there be death at all? The answers to these questions are not only in a number or equation. Not for any self-respecting fantasy game.

I don’t know if game development teams have any department which is solely dedicated to “script writing”; meaning working on the theme, content credibility and overall coherence of the world, far beyond the point of lore writing or map concepts. I feel they should have.

To me personally, atmosphere and coherence are everything. I can live with a game that has sub-par graphics, crappy itemization or dodgy class balance (departments being dedicated massive amounts of time and money to), what I absolutely can’t live with is a fantastic world that lacks any atmosphere or credibility. That’s my very personal assessment obviously, I got my Bartle result for a reason; exploration, travel, danger and conflict are crucial aspects for my personal game enjoyment. Can’t care less for achievements, titles or gear (unless shiny) and chitchat and company are great but only as long as the world feels great too.

Even if we disagree on these points, there are things we will all agree on, the overall “framework” so to speak. We might approach RPGs a little differently, but we’re all looking for the full fantasy package. I’m heavily influenced by the so-called high fantasy or sword&sorcery genre which is based on the traditions of Tolkien to D&D or anything with a Wizards of the Coast label on, books, games or concept art. All of them of course going back on much older tradition and lore, medieval times, folk tales and mythology. But for western RPGs at least, it’s that corner of the creative world where many of today’s MMO archetypes, classes, races and even settings were established for a wider, commercial audience (and any alterations thereof). If you read through the profiles and influences of the Sons of the Storm for example, you realize just how big a part that tradition plays.

Too much authenticity or long lost sons?

Lately and ever since leaving WoW, I’ve found myself back to my roots more again. There’s many game features or aspects I haven’t seen in a long time and used to enjoy in classic RPGs. All of them are part of a good fantasy tale; but not everything is necessarily suitable for the online concept – maybe. In any case, three features currently on top of my wish list are:

  1. Player character age
  2. Sustenance and sleep
  3. Injury and status ailments

1) In Fable the Lost Chapters, your character will age through the course of the game and receive permanent battle scars depending on your combat focus. Fable was obviously also somewhat of a breakthrough in terms of player alignment and ethos at the time, offering not only the choice for good or evil but adding impact to that choice in terms of how players could experience the game from there and how they’d look.
I’ve always enjoyed that idea: that my character’s looks (and equipment) tell a story. I think I’m past the wish for eternal youth, too. But if we assume an average playtime of 5 years for the same MMO, how to solve the aging issue? The concept of aging forces the issue of a life-span and inevitably death.

2) Having to feed your character is something I haven’t seen since Dungeon Master on Atari – and oh, how I wish I had the old sound file ready to play (*GULP!*)! I definitely wouldn’t want to worry about breakfast, lunch and dinner in MMORPGs (keeping the fridge stuffed is bad enough in the real world); but I think the aspect of sustenance or at least having to frequent a tavern or innkeeper every now and then, either to eat or sleep, is something worth integrating in a game (certainly makes a lot more sense than all the empty inns all over the world). Maybe add beneficial effects to it, like useful buffs or removing harmful debuffs? Grant bonuses in form of a “revitalized” XP bar or reputation gain (“you are now exalted with iron-dwarf drunkards!”)?

3) I’d like to see battle injuries and/or debuffs that actually require a long time to cure or special services / ointments – and often. In classic RPGs your character will often need to carry a variety of curing and healing items with himself that either work inside or outside of combat only, curing a variety of negative status effects. If we assume a weaker or absent healer role in the same game, such items (or associated services) gain in significance. A lot of added value comes to mind here: how players will deal with their HP bar, combat tactics when facing certain foes, but also how useful a profession will be for example.
But it’s not just about that: an adventurer’s bagpack should carry meaning, not just act as portable bank slot for loot. If you’re out there exploring the world and facing its dangers, surely you would bring a full survival pack, from that trusted elvish rope down to flint and tinder, first aid items and spell ingredients? Yes, I’d like more of this in MMOs.

I’m not a devoted RPer but I still think features such as these can be enjoyable in any online game. The ultimate question is how they add impact to your world and gameplay and whether they create any meaning or choice; added authenticity or just an extra chore? For player aging, the issue is mainly a cosmetic one and yet not easy to solve for a potentially never-ending game. But I have faith in future development teams and that’s why I disagree with the fourth poster in this forum topic: Yes, we all play for entertainment (I hope), but not everyone defines “fun” in the same way. To me personally, rep grinds and daily quests were always a chore in WoW because they added very little. On the other hand, I was sad to see spell ingredients matter so little and disappear entirely in Cataclysm (although the loss wasn’t great with their meaning so small to begin with).

Online adventures shouldn’t simulate everything from the real world, no doubt – but they’re still heavily based on real experiences and concepts, from times past as much as the present. The way how a developer implements and integrates “authentic features” is essential; I’m sure that with proper context, we all gladly bring our rain coat and umbrella along.

My private Cataclysm

So I’ve spent the first half of last week trying to find time for Cataclysm while running from one appointment to the next and taking care of all sorts of paperwork. It’s been hectic times for me, in fact this year seems to be a ‘cataclysmic’ one indeed, not just on Azeroth but my own private world has been revamped quite a bit. It’s been a year of endings and new beginnings and just when Blizzard decided to launch their new world, I’m looking at a fresh start too. After a tedious application procedure that lasted for several weeks, I finally got the final phonecall telling me I got the job I wanted 3 days ago. It’s the one goal I still had for 2010 and makes Cataclysm week a truly special week in my book!

Now I wouldn’t be a real WoW gamer if the euphoria wasn’t instantly accompanied with a least some worries – “oh noes, no more time for Cataclysm now!” and “how am I gonna keep up with all the new work?” – so I’ve plunged myself into WoW ever since I got the news, canceling further duties and exploring as much as I could. I have stayed away from pretty much all the beta information and screenshots before to make this the real deal and weeee, I’m having fun!

New zones

I absolutely love Vash’jr as expected. They’ve really done as good job by handing you those speedy seahorses early which makes traveling down there so much easier (they look awesome too!). The zone is by far the most original and unique one in the game for obvious reasons, there is so much new flora and fauna to see, it’s an explorer’s delight! And while Grumpy Dorf is still resisting me by saying he hates murlocs, the beasts you really get to re-meet down there aplenty are the naga. I loved Lady Vashj, so it’s all fine by me.

I went to Hyjal later which is a great zone as well, the whole vanilla-WoW feel to it (you are the BOMB!), the variety of sub-zones and the cave questlines. One thing I noticed is that Cataclysm doesn’t exactly blow me away in terms of soundtrack like WotLK did, but Hyjal makes up for that a little.

Deepholm is impressive and depressing at the same time, intimidating and otherwordly. I’ve mostly been there to fish so far (I’ll do anything that helps me avoid the AH in order to skill up my professions at the moment) and got my ass kicked by the mobs there – damn, they hit a lot harder after 83, don’t they?!

Twilight Highlands look nice but nothing I haven’t seen already and better in WotLK. When it comes to woods and highland feeling, you can’t really top Grizzly Hills and Howling Fjord.

Uldum is not my thing at all, way too geometrical and ‘clinic’ for my taste. It reminds me of past nightmares in Silithus and the AQs so despite Stumps telling me how awesome the quests are in there, I’m likely to stay away until I run out of things to do. I will of course eventually want the reputation, sigh.


I’m leveling my way up in healing spec, smiling a little at all the shadow-priests that have suddenly popped up all around me – it almost seems as if holy and disc don’t exist anymore outside of dungeons. When I logged into WoW on Wednesday, I was shocked to find how many lvl 85 there were already and decided that I definitely didn’t need to speed things up further. I’m fine leveling as disc.
I’ve also been very eager to test group healing and have healed all the instances up to lvl 84 until now. The most irritating part was probably that mana seems to get exponentially worse with every ding – it feels like a big chunk of it is disappearing with each level or well…staying the same while everything else goes up. The scaling steps are miserable and having just hit 84, I can see what’s going to happen next.

That said, I’ve not struggled on any runs so far, but I’ve only been in there with my guild. The few times we miss-pulled or aggroed several packs, I used my saves and shadowfiend and was completely out of mana afterwards – which is great. Amagad, I am using all my spells again, not just once a month in a 25man raid but in a NON-HEROIC 5man!!

I’ve started to use heal now because flashheal has become unaffordable but I’m struggling with the 2.3sec cast I got at the moment. This has gotta come down bigtime, obviously my gear is still far from ready. I can also not find a lot of use for my Chakras because of this, I can’t maintain either of them very well on 5man and I’ve had absolutely no reason to use Sanctuary so far. New idea for Heal-Chakra: remove Renew-refresh and give 30% haste buff on heal instead!

Am currently wearing a mix of old epics and new blues and try to get my hands on as much spirit and haste as I can. I actually like holy mastery too, it should become quite huge in raids with proper numbers.
I look forward to throw myself into heroics (and that funky lvl 85 blue set from the JP vendor) soon. I’ve gotten over my initial shock of how fast leveling is and expect myself to give this a go in about a week or so. I would like to assemble a completely new gear-set before I attempt this.

Apart from all that, I’ve tried to keep my inner zen and not go into a frenzy over all the things I still need to do and find out about (professions! reputations! minipets! gnlgnpffl!), telling myself that there’s TIME and really no need to rush it. I’ve played around with archeology a little and can see this is going to be boring fast. The alchemy mount is definitely not on the agenda for me.

That’s all for now, back to exploring! Enjoy this first week everybody and remember: the faster you go, the older it gets!

The Traveler’s Logbook, Part II: Secrets of Gilneas

Last week I started a two-part report on my adventures around Azeroth post-Shattering, deciding to dedicate some time to Thousand Needles and Gilneas. I’m enjoying to write these reports immensely and have been very eager since to continue my tale on the worgen starting area which holds a special place in my heart among my favorite maps of WoW. So without much further ado, let me pick up where I left the trail last week and present the second part of the traveler’s logbook about the secrets I discovered in this lovely place! As before, this is meant to be a sneak peek and all snapshots are expandable.

Chapter 1: Of sheep and interior decoration

Traveler’s logbook, November 30th, the year of the Shattering.
The most striking impression upon setting foot in Gilneas for the first time, is that this zone is so, so much England. Heavy rain is pouring down relentlessly and there’s a gray mist settling over the grassy landscape and more highland areas all across the zone. Every now and then you chance upon certain rock formations that will take your memories right back to that time you spent in Somerset and northern Britain. And while the fauna in Gilneas is rather scarcely spread, there’s one animal gracing the landscape before all others: sheep. If that’s not enough to make a northerner’s heart beat a little faster in his chest, then maybe the spooky atmosphere in Gilneas’ medieval towns will be able to.

Keel Harbor to the west of the city of Gilneas, is an astonishing example of how much work was put into the design of the entire zone: never have I encountered such lavish decoration inside and outside of town buildings in all of Azeroth! While the towns all appear deserted to my human eyes and there is no life to be found inside their walls, I have discovered some of the most well-tended and charming homes on my way.

Most tempted was I to linger in these beautiful homes. Yet natural instinct told me not to taste any drink nor to steal food from the tables.

After breaking myself free of their spell, my curiosity turned me towards Greymane Manor, looming through the mists across the western hills. The way west however was blocked by a firm formation of hills as the only street leading up the manor leads out of Gilneas city. Having just passed down south to Alderic’s Repose however, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being cut off from reaching the city as the bridge crossing over presently lies in ruins. There was however another path.

They really do love their sheep here.

 Chapter 2: The secret passage

Officially, there are four entrances into the city of Gilneas. However, having investigated all the buildings in the area so thoroughly, I found myself chancing upon a secret passage in the cellar of one of the home’s located at Alderic’s Repose. The hair on the back of my neck stood erect as I took courage to follow the dark and spooky corridor…

…taking me directly into the heart of the city. At this point I will not go into further descriptions of this delightful place where the fires are ablaze and bustling leaves are driving down dark cobblestone streets, lest you be tempted to skip the experience first-hand. The music in Gilneas is most formidable too; the deep voice of the bassoon and spooky ring of a spinet greet the weary adventurer, doing nothing to ease his mind.

Back on track, I left the city behind me heading for Greymane Manor. I did not let myself be deceived by an off-limits way sign halfway through the journey and made my way up after taking a considerable detour.

The manor was everything I expected and more: home to Genn Greymane, it is an exquisite place of rich taste and splendor. Feeling oddly out of place, I hastened on to leave it behind me.

Chapter 3: An unexpected party

I finished my tour around the zone by crossing Stormglen Village and paying the Schwarz…forgive me, the Blackwald a visit. Much to my dismay, there was no cake to be found here which convinced me not to overstay my welcome and head straight for Silverpine Forest up north. Upon leaving Gilneas, I stumbled into a most curious camp at the Silverpine border, named “Beren’s Peril“. There were bears roaming the area and I found these two fellows sitting at a camp nearby:

I will leave others to be the judge of this curious scene and most suspicious name-giving of said spot. For my part, I have long learned that there are no coincidences in Azeroth. I have yet to find out the exact reason for this reference though – maybe someone more knowledgeable will help me out someday. 

Closing the logbook

With this, I finish the retelling of my adventures in Gilneas. Not surprisingly, the zone has met all my expectations and definitely sold me into rolling a worgen alt come Cataclysm in order to experience the place come to life. I’ve yet to meet all its inhabitants and I’ve the firm intention to find Sherlock somewhere turning around a corner in Gilneas City.

I hope that those of you that have followed my travels through both Thousand Needles and the home of the worgen were inspired to do some more exploring of Azeroth and pay these zones a visit sometime while you’re counting the days until Cataclysm. There are uncounted secrets to be found on the way for those determined to seek them out. It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy !

Another Dog for your Kennel

For an early Monday morning post, there’s good news for all you WoW playing dog lovers out there:

Noticed those new mastiff hounds strolling around Gilneas or Western Plaguelands? Sad that you aren’t a hunter to tame one of them?

Well, you still get to have one of your own now by re-visiting good old Scarlet Monastery! Blizzard have changed the (rather boring) model of one of their old drops in there, namely Dog Whistle dropped by Houndmaster Loksey in the Library Wing. Nicer still: they’ve changed this item from a 3 charge use to a permanent trinket!

Naturally, all us (slightly loony) pet and bauble collectors need to have this – and your Perky Pug will be happy to get a big buddy to play with!

Cat person or not, these two (make that three if you’re actually a hunter) really look adorable together!

The Traveler’s Logbook, Part I: How to have a blast in Thousand Needles

Exploring is one of my most favoured activities in an MMO. There is nothing sweeter than following down untrodden roads into a brand new world of wonder and mystery. I can still recall my very first day in World of Warcraft, when I walked down the path that leads from Northshire Abbey down into Goldshire. Elwynn Forest unfurled all around me and I felt my heart rise in amazement. Just a moment later, I spotted a lvl 10 warlock and his voidwalker which led me to exclamations of “amagad, that is so cool!” and “amagad, he’s already lvl 10!”.

I love the very first days of an expansion. It’s when I do nothing at all but explore all the corners of the new world, while some of my guild mates already have their leveling strategy laid out carefully or dive into a profession spree. I couldn’t care less about leveling – there will be plenty, PLENTY of time to get those experience points, those reputation points, those skill points and badges. But the feeling of being an adventurer, or a child looking at the world with his brand new eyes, only ever lasts so long. It is a precious time in our lives. You only get one first time in all things.

It is a precious time in an MMO too, one that I intend to make last for as long as possible. Now the Shattering wasn’t quite an expansion yet, but it’s changed the virtual home of WoW gamers of many years in such fundamental ways that we get to adventure and explore the world all over. I can honestly say that I haven’t had as much fun in WoW for many, many months, like the fun I’ve had the past two days – when I set out to explore some of the secrets of Kalimdor and to have a look at Gilneas which I have highly anticipated before on this blog. Therefore I have decided to make this a two-part article, starting off in Thousand Needles where I had an absolute blast and continuing my tale on Gilneas in a follow-up next week. If you haven’t taken the time yet to visit some of these new places, I highly recommend you grab your adventurer’s boots and get going!

The following is a traveler’s log and photo album of things encountered during my adventures in Thousand Needles after the Shattering, the special moments and fun to be had in this zone, without giving away everything. It is a place (among many others) very much worth your attention and it’s where I shall begin this two-part tale. All images are expandable.

Chapter 1 & 2: Adventures of the deep and twilight horrors

Traveler’s logbook, November 24th, the year of the Shattering.
Thousand Needles has probably undergone one of the most dramatic changes in the Shattering as the entire, former dry desert zone has been flooded. I entered the map from Feralas and found myself swimming pretty instantly. I resisted my initial urge to levitate my way through and decided to dive down into the deep below – and what a mysterious world it was that welcomed me there!

Like for other zones and hardly surprising in this case, the flora and fauna around Thousand Needles has changed. I found myself in the company of puffer fish, snails and the more majestic deep sea turtles who were just as surprised at my presence as I was at theirs.

The underwater world is stunningly beautiful and serene. If Vashj’ir is going to be anything like that, I’m sold! I adjusted quickly to the physics of swimming and found it a most rewarding experience – there’s a huge difference between swimming in “quest ponds” and actually traveling through a vibrant underwater world that is designed for you to be there.

…wish I could be part of that world.

At this point I was slowly running out of breath and my diver’s camera EsO-2xT, which the goblins in Booty Bay had assured me was 100% water-proof, started to get wet (I want my money back!). Time to climb one of Thousand Needle’s stone colossi and have a look around the zone from up high!

The hanging bridges provide a spectacular view and not just that, the background music of Thousand Needles has been changed slightly: while the tribal touch of the area prevails, this is a softer and much sadder tune than before.

There is some clan strife going on between the platforms, horde fighting each other or fending off alliance attackers from the borders. I didn’t take the time to inform myself properly about the situation up here, but I met some pretty impressive tauren warchiefs before moving on to investigate the cursed light emanating from the southern border of the zone. Something foul was clearly afoot there…

..The walk from twilight Bulwark to Withering was one of nightmares and horrors. A twilight cult of all the races of Azeroth combined, has put up their camp here, engaging in dark magic experiments and the torture of innocent civilians whom they keep locked up in cages. I was able to free some of my fellows, however in most cases I was too late.

Struck with grief I took revenge on all the alien fiends I encountered on my way, but it did nothing to cheer up my heavy heart. Arriving at the third stage of my journey, I took a headlong plunge into the waters below Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge where my spirits would be lifted immensely.

Their deaths shall not be forgotten!

Chapter 3: Fish burgers among gnomes’n goblins

Located at the heart of what used to be Shimmering Flats, Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge is accessible via underwater entry only (without the ability to fly, that is). Once more I had the pleasure of diving into the deep where I found myself surrounded by the ruins of Mirage Raceway and a gang of rather hostile treasure hunters. Lucky for me, I had brought my special Gnomeregan Pride suit along which served me as perfect camouflage!

The innumerable tropical fish of the area are a very curious crowd! I found Nemo!

Soon I found an entry into the swimming oasis that is the home of an ever-busy number of gnomes and goblins who work and live together in seeming peace and amicability. So delightful and awe inspiring was my visit to this bustling place that I shall let a few pictures speak on behalf of my discoveries:

In eager expectation, I made my way up to the barge.
Gnomes and goblins make a fine team. Rarely do you encounter races on Azeroth that work together as well as these two.
Let it be known that these sailors keep their lodgings tidy and themselves clean and washed!
These folk know how to hold their after-work parties. The pub inside the ship’s belly is filled with chatty customers, dancing and drinking – and eating fish burgers!
When nature is calling, there is two lanes: one for gnomes and one for goblins. Not quite sure where I would fit in, I chose to wait my turn with the gnomes.

And thus I conclude my tale on Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge of which I have shown you but a mere glimpse in this traveler’s log. I shall remember my visit to this delightful place very fondly and have every intention to return in the future. It is a rare find on the face of Kalimdor and a good reason to stop by should your path ever bring you close to the borders of Thousand Needles – a zone well worth exploring after the Shattering!

Stay tuned for next week’s Traveler’s Logbook Part II, “Secrets of Gilneas– featured exclusively at Raging Monkeys! Until then I wish you all happy exploring!

Shattering shinies: minipets and games

‘Tis the end of the world as we know it. And I must say, I like how the new one looks and sounds (you should really turn the ingame music on!).
I started my journey through WoW 4.0.3a in Stormwind, to check out what Deathwing (and Blizzard) did to my hometown and my beloved Elwynn Forest. Lo and behold, there’s flightpaths in abundance now and all the worldmap’s parchments have been revamped and look a lot funkier than before. Such is the beauty of not playing or following any betas – everything is new and shiny!

Which brought me to the most important question pretty soon: where are all the shinies? What to do until December 7th besides farming future reputations?

1) First stop: Plants vs Zombies 
Quest Reward: Brazie’s Sunflower (it sings!)

After satiating my initial impulse to explore maps and get new flightpaths, I headed straight to Hillsbrad Foothills to test myself in the newly featured PvZ mini-game Blizzard installed just south of Dalaran’s Crater.
The quests toward beating the final boss are progressing from easy to more difficult and there’s explanations on the way teaching you about each ability.
The last two quests can be somewhat of a challenge until you’re used to what all the actions do and how to manage your resources. In case you’re struggling on the later parts (2 massive waves of zombies and Warden Stillwater), a few tips that helped me beat this:

  • Stall your very first packs of mobs for as long as you can with rocknuts, to plant sunflowers and gather sun power. You can stall just one zombie for a very long time, refreshing walls before and behind him (they also attack walls that are refreshed right on top / behind them) until you’re good to proceed. You want to have 9-10 up sunflowers towards the end.
  • Reserve your two left-most rows for sunflowers, go for at least 2 rows of spitters and/or freezyas in your midfield. Keep more rocknuts and tentacles up front.
  •  Use rocknuts frequently to hold up as many lines as possible until you’ve properly arranged your midfield.
    1. Keep them busy
    2. Build up your rows

    2) Two’s company: Darkshore 
    Quest Reward: Withers (it shrinks!)

    Like for other newbie-areas, Darkshore has had new lowbie questlines installed. In case you’re wondering why you should bother with these at lvl 80, there’s another shiny new mini-pet to be picked up here, after finishing a quest called Remembrance of Auberdine. To get the show started, you want to pick up the following two quests in Darkshore and follow things from there until you get you get to the final stage:

    These first two quests will take you through a series of about ten more steps before you are able to pick up the final quest in Darkshore. There is no need to complete other quests from the area (like the one to kill 50 murlocs). The approximate time to complete all quests at lvl 80 is 60-90 minutes, depending on rush hour.

    Tip: Turn your low level quests tracker on.

    3) Three’s a crowd: Eastern Plaguelands
    Quest Reward: Mr. Grubbs (ewww!)

    Fiona is a worgen lady stationed at the western entrance to Eastern Plaguelands (a new neutral flightpath can be found there too) with her caravan. She will initially present you with two quests which will result in a few follow-ups of their own before returning you to her. After completion, you will be able to interact with her caravan and receive Fiona’s Lucky Charm (there is no need to complete Fiona’s further quests).

    Her lucky buff lasts for as long as you stay inside the zone and enables you to loot hidden stashes randomly from any EPL mobs which have a chance to drop Mr. Grubbs – similar to the Disgusting Oozeling grind but not nearly as bad (AoE is your friend!). Funny enough, it was Garginox (lvl 45 elite) in the Noxious Glade that finally dropped this for me. Didn’t you always wish for one of those carrion grubs in miniature form?

    4) Fourth of a quartet: Burning Steppes
    Quest Reward: Tiny Flamefly (bzzz!)

    While warcraftpets hasn’t added this pet to their data bank yet as I’m writing this post, the tiny flamefly can be picked up over at Burning Steppes, by completing a quest called Seven!Yup!.

    To get there you will have to complete a longer series of quests similar to the chain in Darkshore which are started by Mouton Flamestar and John J. Keeshan in western BS at Flamestar Post (a new flightpath is available). Continue from there and you will eventually be awarded your new companion.

    The approximate time to complete all quests at lvl 80 is 60-90 minutes, depending on rush hour.

    5) More shinies: Azshara 
    Quest Reward: Faded Wizard Hat (horde only?)

    A little disappointing, this seems to be the reward to a horde only quest so far.
    The quest you are looking to complete to receive this fun item is called Farewell, Minnow in Azshara. Once more this is the final reward to a long series of quests, started by Teemo at Bilgewater Harbor.

    Similar to the Orb of Deception, the Faded Wizard Hat will allow you to randomly transform into different races which lasts for 30 minutes. I’m wondering if there’s ever going to be an alliance equivalent to this?

    …Just when I thought the wait until Cataclysm was gonna be boring! Anything I’ve missed?
    Have fun with these quests and rewards everybody! =)

    World of Warcraft secrets: revisited

    Some time ago I wrote an article on one of Dalaran’s best-kept secrets and was surprised and happy to get so many reactions from people telling me that they had never known about this. On top of that I was made aware of other similar secrets inside the game that I hadn’t discovered yet myself – once more a big thanks to those that left a comment or sent an Email!

    I love the small and silly things in WoW so much that it inspired me to suggest the topic over at Blog Azeroth as they were desperate for more suggestions at the time – if you ever have a topic to share yourself, go and give them a hand.
    Several WoW bloggers joined in the secret hunt and came up with great articles of their own. Once more I found that I hadn’t discovered nearly all the fun things hidden in WoW! Did you know that Dalaran does not only hold one, but actually three great secrets of this kind and that all of them are brought to you by a gnome?

    Well, I do now! And if you’re curious to find out yourself, have a look at the full list of contributed WoW secrets published on Twisted Nether Blogcast! I’ve been wanting to get back to these for a while, well rather late than never.

    For completeness sake I’d also like to mention two more contributions that didn’t join the shared topic but added a WoW secret of their own, either on their blog or as commenter on Raging Monkeys:

    In case you’re a little bored with WoW at the moment, these might keep you entertained for a while! I can’t wait to discover the secrets hidden in the upcoming expansion – “WoW secrets, Cataclysm edition” coming soon!

    Fighting your inner demon. Or: Take a Ferris Bueller Day in WoW

    “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

    Every generation has a movie or two they grew up with and that was particularly influential to them as kids or teenagers, echoing the vibe of their time, inspiring them to adventure and pushing the boundaries of the society they live in. For the 60ies it was The Graduate, for the 70ies it was films like Grease. I’m not sure what it was for today’s generation of teens, but if I am to believe my students, it’s movies like American Pie or Clueless…them poor souls! 

    The 80ies were good times: we had films like Stand by Me, The Goonies or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986, to kindle our impressionable imagination. If you’ve never watched Ferris Bueller, then I really suggest you do – it’s not only a great laugh and 80ies flashback with memorable acting and quotes, but a hyperbolic metaphor on getting more out of life if only you dare to “stop and look around every once in a while“. Ferris is one of the big movie cult figures of the 80ies generation because of this.

    Taking a day off from the race

    Looking back on several topics and bottom lines players are currently drawing for WoW, while turning their eyes on Cataclysm, I feel a little gloomy about the rushed pace the game’s been taking since its latest installment. There’s been an increased pressure to optimize and increase gaming “efficiency” in WoW which has been documented and discussed over many a blog. Tesh struggles with his inner demon, driving him to catch up and optimize in one of his latest blog posts, where he forces himself to take it easy because “efficiency is a natural enemy of exploration and experimentation”. Shintar has written a very thoughtful comparison between applying for a WoW guild and going to a job interview. And there’s been various other posts discussing cookie cutter specs in WoW and the pressure all players feel to min/max and optimize, debating various solutions.

    Personally I doubt this trend of efficiency will stop in Cataclysm and I think it’s going to be very hard to stay away from it, even for the more laid-back players. Blizzard’s continued endeavor to make everything as transparent as possible in the game, via combat data, armory or achievements, is furthering the obsession to perfect and optimize every aspect in the game – for no better reason than because you can.
    And whether you like it or not, you will find yourself facing situations in pugging as much as guild raiding, where you will be measured by these standards and hence feel pressured to meet them. It’s impossible to turn back the wheel of time.

    My new expansion’s resolution: the Ferris Bueller Way

    I know that in Cataclysm I don’t want to play the game like that. I want to stop worrying about optimization and explore my own way through the new expansion, making the “newbie feeling” last as long as possible. I want to experiment with gear and specs without reading up beforehand. I won’t join groups or raids that require me to cookie-cut everything or show my achievements. A game shouldn’t feel like a job – it should be an escapism. I don’t want to feel pressured to follow the dogma of efficiency in a game that doesn’t actually require you to optimize in order to experience 98% of its content.

    I will take off a Ferris Bueller day, only I’ll make it weeks. I will skip school and create my own adventure, generate my own quests and challenges, exploring at my own leisure and enjoying the little secrets that make a game so much more special.

    I know it will take a lot of mental effort and all of my inner Zen to achieve this – I am a very perfectionist, driven and calculating person. It’s been the only way of playing WoW for me the past 5 years. But I do refuse to enter the competition this time around: yes, I will quench my inner demon! When Cataclysm hits, I will ignore everyone and everything around me (lalala!), take a deep breath and do exactly this: play the game like a game. I hope I’ll succeed.

    World of Warcraft secrets: Dalaran’s sparkle

    “This topic is dedicated to all the special and secret NPCs in WoW, out there serving tirelessly, overlooked and undiscovered.”

    There is not a lot that is secret in the World of Warcraft and it’s always made me a little sad. This world we play in is vastly explored, analyzed, documented and datamined all over internet websites and communities. I’ve never played any MMO where such myriads of information were available on every aspect imaginable. This is obviously what you’ll get with an MMO that’s played by ~10mio people, but it’s not just that: World of Warcraft is a very functional, pragmatic game and there’s not an awful lot of superfluous or “useless” content, certainly not on the cosmetic side of things. But some of the best things in life are just that: useless. Or I actually prefer the term “pointless”. Many pastimes and hobbies that we pursue are merely for our own fun and entertainment. WoW is such a pastime too.

    Yet, the truth is that inside the game precious little is actually pointless or surprising: most maps for example feature all the necessary posts to make the player’s leveling progression as smooth as possible: You have your inns, your vendors, flightmasters and questgivers stationed at strategic points. Most of them do nothing but repeat generic lines as you click them to open their service windows. The same goes for buildings and shops in cities and really pretty much every other site. This is what we’re used to and we don’t even examine all the NPCs around us closely as we enter a new zone or questgiver camp. And why would we? It’s not gonna be any different from the last 100 times, right?

    We can rely on Blizzard to tell us if there’s really anything “special” going on: if an NPC does anything extraordinary, there will be clues and signs to make us aware of it. If there are important places we should go to, we can be sure a series of quests will take us there. It is hard to miss much in the World of Warcraft. Blizzard takes care of that.

    I know this is the nature of games that have been played to death and WoW does actually a pretty good job at things like Easter Eggs or non-generic zone design. But for most parts the game is very predictable, with little randomness. Somehow I miss that there’s not more pointless things that are spread far and wide over the world for no good reason, maybe only to be found by those that seek them out.
    Why was there never a single questgiver stationed on any of the flying islands in Nagrand? Why is the Darkmoon Fair such a complete letdown when people long for minigames in WoW for years? Why is there nothing going on anywhere under the ocean? Only a few things I’ve wondered about in the past.

    Dalaran’s secret

    This is why Dalaran is special. Now you see, I don’t like Dalaran, I’m actually with Stumps in this. Nonetheless I will always have one pleasant memory attached to Dalaran forever and that is the memory of one little gnome, one humble, unremarkable NPC that was special. Maybe you know about him, maybe you don’t. I have talked to many that haven’t and that’s why I think he is worth an hommage at this point: I am speaking of Sheddle Glossgleam.

    Sheddle Glossgleam is located on the second level of the Threads of Fate cloth armor shop in Dalaran. He is your standard low-profile vendor NPC, selling shoes for emblems of valor without much decorum. If you click him, he’ll open the usual vendor window accompanied by a generic service line. And that’s it.

    Almost. There is also the chair. There are chairs all over the city, you say? That’s true, but then they ain’t quite like Sheddle’s chair!

    Once you sit down on the chair beside Sheddle, he will walk over to you and polish your shoes, applying a cosmetic sparkle-buff to them that lasts for 60minutes! I don’t know how many times I have visited him just to get my shoes polished before a raid or how many times I got someone whispering me “where can I get that boot enchant?”. In fact “shiny shoes!” has become somewhat of a running line in my guild. Yes I love you, Sheddle Glossgleam!!!
    Not just shiny shoes

    You see, my friends have laughed at me for this in the past, but the fact that I’m a female who likes to get her shoes sparkled up is only 50% of why I love this NPC. What I really love about this silly trifle is that it’s actually something special and unexpected. If you never bother to sit down on chairs in WoW and don’t chance on this information randomly on a website, chances are you will never know about the little gnome in Dalaran. There is no exclamation mark over Sheddle’s head, there is no other NPC sending you on a quest to get your shoes polished. Sheddle won’t tell you about it either. There is no hint whatsoever inside the game about what’s gonna happen if you sit down on that chair!

    Sheddle Glossgleam is a little secret. He is a surprise. One of those utterly pointless yet delightful things in a game that is usually so eager to inform you about everything. Dalaran sparkles a little more because of him.

    Who else is out there?

    I’m glad I discovered Sheddle because that experience suddenly made me a lot more aware of the world and NPCs around me. They came alive again, like they hadn’t for a long time. I started to wonder “what else might there be that I have overlooked in the past? What other NPCs are there, only sharing their secrets with those that seek to find them?” I sat on every other chair in Dalaran just to make sure.

    So where are they?? What special places in WoW have you found that are hiding away secretly to be discovered by those with open eyes and inquisitive minds? Which NPCs have I overlooked on my speedy journeys and never known for their silly, unexpected services? I’d really love to know.