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

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.

Change on the Wind

“This world is changing.

I have been to Northrend and Pandaria, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. For years, we have had war. And now it has changed.

We have been stuck in Draenor, fighting a war that ended decades ago, trying to change the past. But the future is different already.

I have been to Orgrimmar and heard goblins talk about trade deals with Ironforge and Gnomeregan. I have listened to druids talk about making Gilneas fit for human habitation again. I have seen society rebuilt in Pandaria, Alliance and Horde walk the same streets.

Things have changed. The peace we haven’t known for decades is here, right here, surrounding us, building a life without us to live it. There are commoners in Silvermoon talking – not venting propaganda, but actually talking – about how there might be peace with Dalaran and how the prisoners of the Violet Hold might be freed this year.

I have watched as the logging camps of the orcs moved from Ashenvale to Azshara and as the tauren moved in to teach the orcs agriculture. I have watched the last holdings of the Scourge torn down and replaced with farms and villages across the Eastern Kingdoms. The world has changed and we are no longer in it.

Even on Draenor, you don’t see it. But Vol’mar and Lion’s Watch hold the peace better than Thrallmar and Honor Hold ever did. There is no skirmish, only a focus on the true enemy. The draenei and the orcs are learning to live together. They fight side-by-side in Tanaan and Shattrath and Gorgrond. We have helped the races of a world stand together, and we have inspired the same back home.

I have seen shipments of Horde goods pass through Booty Bay en-route to Stormwind and I have heard rumours of High Elves being let back in to inhabit Western Silvermoon. I have heard of draenei towns being built across Kalimdor and the Exodar travelling the world to offer the Prophet’s wisdom. I have heard of Pandaren travellers accompanying orcs and dwarves to spread the word of Brewfest.

The world we live in changed. It changed without us. Even the Reliquary considers us an extremist faction, collecting artefacts to prop up a nation that doesn’t need them. The sin’dorei live now, in peace; they trade with the Horde, and the Horde supports them – a parasitic relationship has become symbiotic.

I want to be part of this world. I want to build peace and meet people and have friends in the Alliance; I want to close the door on the wars of the last four decades. I will be trapped in the past no longer.”

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.

Alternate Universe Azeroth 2: Lor’themar

There’s public outrage after Theramore comes to light in Silvermoon. Because it will, of course. The sentries haven’t been updated since Kael’thas’ betrayal, so they’re not monitoring conversations on human kingdoms – there are no people to update them, which is another cause for anger. Hundreds of families haven’t seen their relatives in years because of wars the Sin’dorei shouldn’t be involved in. Almost all of the Ghostlands are relying on the Forsaken to keep the Scourge at bay even after the Lich King’s defeat, and the Horde is forcing the Sin’dorei to keep fighting.

There are protests beyond anything seen before, about the military, the Ghostlands, the lack of food, the lack of transparency, the fact that the palace was rebuilt but there are still refugees in Quel’danas and the ruined western quarter. Lor’themar is forced to hold emergency meetings with the military brass because of the risk of riots. Protests devolve angrily into pro- and anti-Horde camps, and the Sunreavers become public enemy number one for allowing the blood elves to be complicit in one of the worst war crimes in recent history. During all of this, Thalen Songweaver and Fanlyr Silverthorn… disappear.

Aethas is held accountable, of course, but even he has no idea where the pro-Garroshians have fled to. The Sunreavers are hastily disbanded and re-absorbed into the Magisters, and Lor’themar forced to allow a people’s assembly to be elected to negotiate with a power-sharing council to avoid such heinous misdemeanours being repeated again. Relations with the Horde tremble, even if briefly.

Eventually, to sate the public, Lor’themar begins negotiations with Vereesa to allow the Quel’dorei an embassy. Lady Liadrin is sent to aid Horde forces, with more golems than guards, because the guards need a face more than ever, and the golems weren’t helping the case. In public, the reason is to aid the war effort and the draenei whom the elves owe a debt to. In private, Lor’themar is desperate to recapture Songweaver and Silverthorn before their escape turns into another public scandal.

Goodbyes

Keliera took one last glance across the bay as the golden strands of Quel’thalas drifted further and further out of reach. Her hands fiddled absentmindedly with the sheaf of papers she had with her.

“Havin’ second thoughts?” One of the goblin crewmembers stood next to her. “Don’t blame ya. Pretty sweet view you elves got.”

Keliera smirked. “Aye, but it’s just a front, really. The core’s not changed. I’m not sure it ever will. Better to go somewhere else, change things where they can be changed. If Silvermoon wants to stay rotten, I don’t want to be dragged down with it.”

“Well, there’s good folks in Pandaria. Best I’ve known. I’m sure you’ll find some friends.”

Keliera nodded. “Gonna miss it though. Met some good folks outside of it.” Memories flooded through her head – time-travelling in Netherstorm, drinks in Dalaran, blowing up Gallywix’s outhouse – as the coastline faded from view.

“Better to leave now, I think. I’ve got a lot more to do.” Keliera’s fingers rubbed over the surge ring she’d got in Northrend. She could feel it. Change. It felt good.

Well, I guess that’s a wrap. I said to myself that if there was no beta and no sign of Blizzard changing things by the time my subscription ended on June 3rd, I’d bow out. That’s a week away, and I feel like things have regressed, given the Rob Pardo comments we’ve heard about.

I can’t be sure whether I’ll ever return to WoW, but the continued lack of inclusivity and the poor jokes and comments seem to have learned little from the Cannibal Corpse fiasco three years ago. Blizzard as a whole is relying on the industry to back it up – but the industry is changing. Blizzard is the dinosaur in gaming right now, and somehow it thinks that by pretending it was twenty years ago, it’s going to coast by just fine. Change is hard, but inevitable, and it’s not going to wait.

Of Warlords, all I can say is that it looks pretty. The changes to LFR, the over-emphasis on Garrisons, the shoddy story ideas – none of them make me want to play it. I have said before, but Warlords is the only expansion I’ve seen announced where the information trickle after Blizzcon has made me like the expansion less and less.

I start Uni later this year. I doubt I’ll have time to play WoW. I doubt I’d be playing even if I wanted to right now. I can hope that Blizzard changes, but right now I feel like it’s best to move on and be thankful for the friends I made and the awesome times I had. It’s been great.

Alternate Universe Azeroth 1: Saurfang

I’m bored. Alternate Universes are fun.

Warcraft AU 1: Dranosh Lives

Context: Dranosh is not actually killed by Frostmourne at the Wrathgate. The Forsaken attack before he charges, and both he and Bolvar are kept barely alive by the Red Dragonfire until they are taken to Icecrown Citadel. Instead of Deathbringer Saurfang, the Horde and Alliance gunships encounter Orbaz Bloodbane, given renewed power by the Val’kyr.

Following his defeat, Muradin, Varian, Garrosh and Varok storm the citadel only to stumble upon the Lich King attempting to convert Dranosh into an even more powerful death knight.

LK: Dranosh… Heart of Draenor in the old tongue. How quaint. But I remember you. The shaman remembers you. Proud old Varok, who would not let the warlocks take his child… But I shall.

Dranosh: You’re… pathetic… I bow to no warlock magic… I am Saurfang… I am the blood of Draenor…

Varok breaks rank and charges towards the Lich King.

Varok: I made a promise to my wife before she died that I would hide my son, and keep him untainted! I will fulfill that promise. LOK’TAR OGAR!

Varok knocks the Lich King back with a cleave of immense power, and is then flung back against the wall by the Lich King slamming Frostmourne into the floor. Hordes of Val’kyr surround the Lich King as he disappears. The two Saurfangs embrace briefly, before Varok sags into his scarred son’s arms.

Dranosh: Father… Father, stay with me…

Varok: My task… is done. You are the Horde now, Dranosh… Lok’tar Ogar…

Varok passes away, cradled by Dranosh.

 ((To be continued))