Gaming Thoughts: September 2017

Why do I only want to play WoW when I’m least able to? I’ve had zero craving for it for almost 6 months and now it’s almost October and because I’m about to go back to uni… I want to play.

Except I also don’t want to play. And I guess that’s okay.

My issue is really the same as it’s always been, a combo of three things:

  1. I don’t have time to play the way I want to and do all the content I wish I could do;
  2. I don’t really enjoy the way the story is going
  3. I’m terrible at time management and have no idea how much time I should be putting aside for WoW vs work.

I really, badly want to play, but at the same time I don’t know how to start and manage my time well. But… I have to learn how to effectively manage my time well. Putting this off is not going to help.

And probably, the best thing to do if I want to create a healthy video gaming habit, rather than ignoring it, is regular check-ins. So… I guess, consider this the start of an ongoing series.

Moving forward, I think I should outline a few things that I want as goals to aim for:

  1. I’d like to not get bogged down in a ‘chore’ list, but rather outline a weekly or long-term goal to pursue.
  2. I’m going to do, on a daily basis, what strikes my fancy rather than feeling obligated to do something.
  3. It would be nice to raid once a week.
  4. It is impossible to multi-main in this expansion, so I will focus on finishing class quests and levelling professions on my alts.
  5. If I’m bored and want to level an alt rather than play a main, I’m not going to feel bad about it.

Therefore, I’m going to try limiting myself to 1 1/2 hours on weekdays, and 3 hours on weekends – and re-look at these goals midway through term. Wish me luck!

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Nostalgic Without Time

I’ve been on a retro games kick recently, but also on an Overwatch kick, which I started after the last free weekend. It’s actually quite fun, which is something I never thought I’d say about an FPS game. But the thing that’s been occupying my mind recently is how fast time seems to slip away.

I also turned 21 last week, which may be somewhat to do with this. But I have also been thinking a lot about the games I played when I was younger. Many of them were MMOs, and many I drifted between in a time when more MMOs were P2P and I was still a very young gamer, before I eventually settled on WoW. Despite the fact that I ended up playing some of these games for little more than an afternoon, and certainly never progressed far in any of them, they all do collectively hold a place in my happy childhood memories, and the music in all of them is still very evocative to me.

Part of the reason for this consideration has also been the fact that in 2016 I’ve become a much more varied gamer. Most of my teenage years were spent exclusively on WoW, but I’ve realised that as I grow older I simply do have less time for it. Hell, I don’t think I’ve been on the game in about 8 weeks now, and while it is still a favourite when on holiday, at university I just don’t have the time to fit it in (or a computer that can play it decently). I’ve really enjoyed games like Stardew Valley and Tomb Raider this year that I never before thought were genres that interested me, and now as we head towards Christmas I’m looking at a wider variety of things to have a go with.

I simply don’t have the time to play WoW, do all my academic work and write and read for leisure, which is something that’s been quite aggravating to me over my university career. Part of this inevitably comes down to my fatal flaw of timing and planning, but part is also simply the fact that university is so busy and filled with things that I consider more important. Gaming is a great release and wind-down for me, rather than an all-consuming hobby, and so WoW sort of fades back into the background. If I don’t have the time to dedicate to making it fun, what’s the point of playing it when I can play something that is immediately fun?

I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve been so occupied with a time where I was more innocent and where games were just fun whatever I did. There’s something that is unbeatable about the feeling of just starting a game, having no idea where anything or what anything is, and just finding out by accident. I don’t think I’m alone in trying to recreate that, whether through expansions, different game modes or indeed different genres.

But in the end, I guess I have to keep moving forward and just try to make time – like I am doing now, instead of writing an essay.

There’ll always be more games, at least – and the last part of the reason for this occupation of my mind is that Maplestory 2 is finally on its way to North American servers! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f_oWzZSGCI&t=31s

Legion Hype Review

Every expansion, Blizzard creates some sort of tie-in outside the main game – something to explain the lore, or get us hyped up. One day Theramore is blown up, the next Gorehowl is embedded in a taxi in Times Square.

In Legion, that model has been updated quite a bit, and I have to say I’m very impressed. Legion’s lead-ups have – before the pre-launch event begins this upcoming week – covered one novel, a selection of comics, videos and an audio drama. Most importantly of all – the vast majority of it was free to access for everyone. Let’s discuss.

(NB: There’ll be no discussion here of the Illidan novel as I’ve yet to read it, though I hear it’s very good!)

Comics

Our first hint of lore came with the release of the first comic, dealing with Magni Bronzebeard’s return, his daughter Moira’s reaction and the clans of Ironforge. This was quickly followed by comics revolving around the Nightborne’s alliance with the Legion and the beginning of the Nightfallen’s rebellion; the mantle of leadership falling into Anduin Wrynn’s hands following his father’s disappearance; and the eruption of war between the Drogbar and Highmountain Tauren in the wake of the seizing of the Hammer of Khaz’goroth.

The comics came in both a default PDF version and an animated version with sound and music available on Madefire. As comics go, they’re very well-made, and in the Madefire adaptations Blizzard have stumbled upon a format that is unique, eye-catching and a level above a regular comic.

In comparison to the other pieces, the comics stand out as perhaps the weakest of Blizzard’s tie-ins, but on their own they still shine. They provide a depth and visceral experience that makes you feel almost there, and the stories covered within give just a hint of the plotlines to come. I was very impressed by them, and rather disappointed that we didn’t get more – Sylvanas/Genn tie-ins would particularly have been served well by this format, I think, and learning more about the other factions of Legion couldn’t hurt. But as a taster, they were fantastic, and I’d love to see more in future.

Harbingers Shorts

In the vein of past shorts Blizzard has produced (Shaohao’s Burdens and Lords of War) the three Harbingers shorts follow a storybook (and, as some have now pointed out, Hearthstone-style) format with beautiful animation, voicing and music. With just three episodes, there is less on show here than we’ve seen in the past, but each episode stands out very well.

The three episodes explore briefly the motivations and recent actions of the three titular ‘Harbingers’ – Gul’dan, Khadgar, and Illidan – no doubt marking them as main players of the expansion. Each features unique and well-drawn graphics, and I have to say I was very impressed, having not been as enthused by Maraad’s narration during Lords of War. These more personal stories brought us a lot closer to the stories of these three characters, and definitely got me more interested in where they were going.

There were some outright stunning scenes during these shorts – Gul’dan’s experience at the Throne of the Elements, as he draws close to, then rejects the elements in favour of darker powers, was haunting. The beam of magic shooting out of Karazhan was also visually stunning, as was the shot of Kor’vas removing her eyes to become a Demon Hunter. In particular, the Illidan short is the first thing I’ve seen that has truly enthused me about Demon Hunters.

I would again have liked to seen a couple more of these – having only three designated ‘main’ characters in Legion is a change from Warlords, or indeed Mists – though hopefully it sets the stage for other characters to impress during the expansion. Now part of a well-tred tradition, the Legion tie-in shorts were some of the best yet, and long may they continue.

Audio Drama

This was the wildcard, I have to admit. I was incredibly surprised to see Tomb of Sargeras announced, and very interested to listen to it. If you haven’t, I completely recommend you listen to all four episodes, available on Youtube and iTunes.

Written by Robert Brooks, who has done many past short stories over the past two expansions and adds Tomb to an impressive array including most recently two of the four comics and Chronicle, Tomb of Sargeras impresses both in literary and audio fashion. Between Brooks’ writing (which I’ve found to be among the best in the universe) and the incredible narration of Steven Pacey (who covers both the narration and all the character voices), Tomb is unexpected, stunning and incredibly immersive.

For me, Blizzard have almost nailed this format on the first try. The music and effects are just as well-chosen as that of the comics and shorts, the story is well-paced and intriguing, and the narration is perfect. I was blown away, and I have to say Tomb went above and beyond anything I expected. For me, it’s the breakout star of Blizzard’s Legion tie-ins.

The only disappointment was, actually, how fast it went. Released over four episodes, one a day, Tomb was over in a week, and after it ended I just wanted more. It covered a crucial story point we likely won’t see explored in game – the events at the Tomb just before the invasion begins – and included some incredible new lore about Aegwynn, the Pillars of Creation and the Tomb itself before the expansion even launches. This is one of the things I’ve loved most about these tie-ins – they haven’t been afraid to reveal things before the game does.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Legion has had some of the best lore and tie-in materials I’ve seen, with not as much produced for one expansion since Cataclysm, and certainly never released all as fast. I can only hope that the tone Blizzard have set will continue, both throughout Legion and in the expansions to come, as it’s some of the best work they’ve done.

As with every release, it wasn’t perfect, and it can be improved on. In particular, the provision for hearing-impaired players was incredibly lacking, something I don’t think Blizzard anticipated would be a problem, as I’ve certainly never seen so much hype for out-of-game materials before. Dedicated players have created transcripts, but it would be nice for this omission to be rectified in future – everyone deserves to experience what is some of the best-made lore I’ve seen in years.

Blizzard have set the bar higher than ever before with Legion, and following the hype they created for Warlords, to say even that is an achievement. I hope beyond hope that they live up to it, because I don’t think an expansion has ever deserved its hype more. This kind of fantastic lore-building – stuff we rarely see in such detail in-game – absolutely needs to continue. Well done to all who created such fantastic tie-ins.

Thoughts On 7.0.3

I’m not really sure how to start a post like this, because whenever I talk about a patch it’s some long ramble on Twitter, usually punctuated with what I hate about a patch (5.3 stands out to me as a sore spot).

This, on the other hand, will be mostly positive – horrendous, horrendous camera issues aside (if you don’t know what I’m on about, go do Al’akir or Alysrazor).

My main’s an unholy death knight, and I have to say, the rotation has improved immensely. Not that I have ever really had a problem with the rotation as such, but Legion feels so much more fun. Festering Wounds add a much better dimension to disease management, and I now have actual reasons to use each of my strikes. Epidemic works a lot better than blood boil.

I have come across some negatives – mobility, in particular, was a big selling point of unholy for me personally, and I’m not especially pleased with the reduction in it. A similar thing goes for rune cooldowns – with now only Runic Corruption to help speed this up, I’m left with periods where I literally cannot do anything except auto-attack, and then suddenly surge into having too much to do at once. If there was a way of levelling this out, it’d help.

That said, I remain pretty confident with the spec, especially considering the perks of Artifacts aren’t even in play yet.

Regarding nearly enough everything else, I’m sad about the lack of garrison gold, but there’s already been a positive effect – the price of WoW Tokens is on the decline! Hopefully affordability is not far away. The sudden surge of resources is also helping me to level up a few professions on alts before the expansion’s end.

The addition of the ‘Unlearned’ tab on professions is a welcome addition for me to figure out what I’m missing, though addons do add a level of detail missing from this tab. The sneak peek at Legion recipes is also appreciated.

All in all, I’m looking forward to Legion! (Expect a hype post soon)

Finding Yourself

I recently read a post by the inimitable Alternative Chat, whose philosophy on the game is one I think everyone would do well to take in and think about at a time like this, when we’re not even a year into an expansion but already looking at its end. To sum up a little, Alternative asks a few questions:

Do you enjoy playing the game? Do you have solutions for the problems you see? Do you believe Blizzard can fix the problems?

If the answer to any of these is no, then what reasons do you still have to play?

It’s an interesting thing to consider, especially when weighing up whether or not it’s time to cut that sub for a bit, or indeed for good. I myself left for a three-month period at the tail end of 5.4; I, like many others, returned in the WoD hype, having heard nothing but good reviews of the levelling content.

And then endgame hit. So, going into the next expansion (especially if the price remains at its elevated level) I’m not sure I’ll be as quick off the mark. But this relies on the assumption that I’m going to quit, which… I don’t know. I never know. It took months of internal wrangling last time, because the fact of the matter is I, like so many others, am emotionally attached to this damn game. I have invested… a lot. No one wants to see their investment go down the pan, but… Maybe if that’s the case, we should stop seeing it that way.

Back in the heyday of Burning Crusade and Wrath, and even Cataclysm, I had far less anguish about taking breaks. If I felt burnout, or content was lacking, I stopped, I played other games, I returned when I felt the desire to play WoW again. I should probably take this attitude now; if I dislike the content, there’s nothing stopping me from returning if I want to.

The backlash to this is also understandable – how am I supposed to influence a game, critique it and try and ensure it’s what I want to be, if I’m not paying and playing? If Blizzard makes its future decisions based on what is most popular, and the things I like are not being represented because I am not there… Is it going to just get worse?

The ultimate answer to this is we just don’t know.

Burnout is inevitable, I think, whether or not you are casual or hardcore, and what you tell everyone else you are – my worry in recent expansions is that burnout appears to be coming to me faster each time; I don’t know if this exponential acceleration of burnout is due to a change in how I play or how I approach the game, whether the content is inherently more grindy or less fun, or indeed whether it’s just me getting old, though I hope not.

I play this game for story, for the occasional roleplaying experience, for the landscapes and the cinematics and the characters. WoD’s endgame has precious little via any avenue given my self-professed casual status – beyond the 16 garrison campaign mini-chains and the legendary quest, there is little to find.

So, beyond finishing the legendary chain, Hellfire Citadel LFR, and the 6.2 garrison campaigns, my future is unknown. I’m not sure if I’ll stay, but I’m not the only one dependent on my account – unless the powers that be (my relatives) decide they don’t want to continue trying to get past level 20, my sub will probably stay on.

Unfortunately, we are not Blizzard. We cannot say with any certainty whether sub numbers are carefully tracked, whether player activity is tracked, what activities are most popular – all we know is that shareholders are told subscriber numbers at a certain milestone, four times a year.

The only thing that will determine whether Blizzard cares for us beyond money is the future; I have long since abandoned hope, and indeed my playing WoD surprised myself. I was disappointed.

But it’s good to take some time, analyse what you want out of the game, whether you’re getting it, and why you’re still playing.

Like all good things, WoW is best taken in moderation. It’s good to make sure you’re getting satisfaction from other parts of life. Have a good summer, folks.

World Events and You: Grind or Go Home

WoW’s holiday events come round once each per year – a period of anytime between a weekend and a month in which the whole game has decorations, fun NPCs pop up in capital cities and limited-time quests and events can be embarked on at all levels for costumes, mounts, pets and toys. A fun time for all.

Except when it’s not. And recently, it’s become less and less fun.

The first time I noticed that a world event was less a fun, unique occasion was 2014’s Day of the Dead. Usually a caricature on the Latin American Dia de los Muertos, this year’s weekend-long festival included new content and achievements: several costumes at 100g each which transformed you into a colourful celebrant. The achievements?

Kill 1, 20 and 50 people also wearing the costumes.

I would have been content enough had the achievement been just to buy a costume, but I attempted it anyway – and did not get a single kill after half an hour of farming in the Stormwind City graveyard.

Needless to say, I gave up. It was not worth the stress, the endless time spent as a ghost, or the repair costs. It was definitely not fun and it did not involve much of me celebrating the dead, more cursing my own death.

This behaviour was mirrored by the inclusion in 2015 of new Love is in the Air content – namely a prism of love, costing 40 tokens, and an achievement to have 50 stacks of the buff it gives you.

I similarly attempted this achievement, and after spending 2 hours in a group, it collapsed before my turn. In fact, it collapsed less than halfway to my turn. It was again, not fun, and I don’t think it was much in the spirit of things.

So I question why on earth an achievement wants me to spend so long on it during a time of festivity?

It seems completely at odds with the traditional view of world events in WoW – low-intensity, lots of fun items to share with your friends, and the occasionally challenging – but by no means impossible – achievement. No world event content has before been so mind-numbing as to force me to stand in a circle, pressing one button every minute, for hours.

It beggars belief, and it cannot be allowed to continue. I am fairly confident that Blizzard has their own metrics that’ll show just how engaged people are with this content, but if this is the way it’s going to be, then I’ll just stop doing holiday content. I refuse to do content that isn’t fun.

There are, of course, other ways they could re-tune these holidays to have a festive rather than a grindy spirit. Calavera, for example, could instead of killing 50 people, be killing 5 – 1 of each colour of costume. They Really Love Me could involve various coloured beams instead of just pink, and require you to be under the effects of each colour beam.

Either achievement could have you do it to different races or classes, in different locales. This would be far more in tune with what holiday content usually involves.

But it does not. And it’s for that reason that, until it’s changed, I’m going to opt out of holiday content. Because it doesn’t make me want to celebrate whatever occasion it is. It makes me detest it.

Gaming Philosophy and Warlords of Draenor

Or: Staying in Pandaria and Avoiding Queuecraft

It’s been a few days – less than a week – since Warlords of Draenor’s launch across all servers, and I suppose I feel validated in my decision to hold off – at least, initially, until Christmastime – by the severe lag and server issues that are plaguing American and European realms.

I’m not exactly averse to ever getting Warlords of Draenor. WoW is still a game I love and it’s provided me with some wonderful memories. But I still can’t shake the hesitancy, the feeling that this isn’t what we should be focusing on that has plagued me since Blizzcon ’13. The graphics are pretty. The dynamics of the game look engaging. But the story feels inherently flawed, just as much as it felt flawed when it was announced.

That’s why I’m reluctant. I’ve always had apprehensions when expansions have been announced – Cataclysm in particular I initially thought would be horrible – but those thoughts are usually abated by the beta’s trickle of information.

Draenor still feels wrong to me. I don’t know if that’s intentional or if I’m in a minority here. It feels like a distraction. It feels inexplicable, like the only way to distract from the military and economic issues that would inevitably follow the wars of the past few years is to throw our characters into a universe where they have to work with an army entirely separate to the one in Azeroth’s, because we’re cut off from our homeworld entirely.

It intensely aggravates me. It reeks even more of Blizzard’s consistent avoidance of consequences. I can still tell that, when the threat of the Iron Horde is over, we are probably going to re-open the portal, head home, and forget it all happened. The contained issue of a Draenor that we were never meant to encounter is solved by the fact that we will cut it off from our own reality once we’re done with it.

That’s why I have found it so hard to invest in the story of Warlords of Draenor, as pretty as Shadowmoon Valley and Talador and Tanaan Jungle are, and as cool and innovative as the bosses may be. It’s not our story.

I… want to know what happens after Mists of Pandaria. I want to help out with the rebuilding, to see the effects we’ve had on the ecosystem of the Valley of Four Winds. To show Orgrimmar being slowly turned back into the multicultural hub of the Horde it was meant to be. The ramifications of changing the orcish position of Warchief into a trollish one. The political effects of Dalaran’s shift from neutral to Alliance – and possibly now back to  neutral. Whether Theramore will be rebuilt, whether the Mana Bomb affected the wildlife like it did in Terokkar Forest.

These are not stories that will be told. They are never told. Blizzard cannot maintain coherence between the old worlds of expansions past and the modern changes of the new worlds. We see them go back to old continents once or twice per expansion – 4.1, 5.3, the occasional quest chain – if we are lucky. Blizzard is great at a contained story – but at tying their stories together, they have so far fallen short. I don’t want to make a blanket statement that they won’t succeed in Warlords. But I cannot build the optimism. So I’ll wait until the verdicts on 6.0’s story come in.

Otherwise, I’m now at university. My time for World of Warcraft usually stretches to maybe 1 hour per day. I’m holding off on Warlords of Draenor – for better or worse – until Christmas, l have the time and resources to play and enjoy Warlords of Draenor, if I do buy it. I hope that I’ll be proven wrong when I do eventually join in. And that the servers will look a bit better. Until then, I’ll be doing whatever takes my fancy in-game and wishing the best of luck to those trying to access Draenor.