Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Expansions

Cataclysm is the first WoW expansion since The Burning Crusade to get a pair of new playable races.  This isn't exactly news*, since Cata has been out for almost half a year.  Since that time, however, we've had plenty of opportunity to get used to Goblins and Worgen out there in the field, so I thought I'd do a bit of compare/contrast with Blood Elves and Draenei, and how their introduction was handled.

The Burning Crusade - Shoehorning Made Perfect

When BC came out, Vanilla was still fresh.  The old content wasn't quite so old or creaky, but Blizzard did learn quite a bit about how to pace content.  Outland's instances and questlines were more streamlined than Vanilla, and nowhere was this new approach more apparent than the new BC races.  The Blood Elf and Draenei starting areas had a better flow to them than the old Vanilla ones, and when you finished the Ghostlands or Bloodmyst Isle you were well indoctrinated into each race's viewpoint.

Then you left those starting areas, and returned to the world of Vanilla.

Vanilla was almost exactly the same as before, with the exception of the lone Blood Elf or Draenei in a quest hub.  Occasionally, that NPC would have an actual quest chain attached --the Blood Elf at Freewind Post or the Draenei at Forest Song, for example-- but mostly the NPC was a reminder that yeah, there were a couple of extra races in Azeroth.  The anachronisms of the Blood Elves in Azshara remained, causing no small amount of confusion to people joining WoW in BC or Wrath.  "How come the Orc is so upset about trusting them?" I once asked Soul.  "Aren't we all part of the same Horde?"

"That was a Vanilla quest chain," he replied, "and it was never updated or removed."

Vanilla was --by and large-- not well integrated with the two new races, but Blizz compensated for it once you reached Outland. 

BC wasn't entirely about the Sindorei or Draenei, but there are plenty of times when it sure seems that way.  The new races weren't there for decoration, they were an vital part of the entire story.  After spending most of your leveling time in Vanilla forgetting the lore of the starting areas, Outland was almost an overdose on the stuff.  While the Orc lore took center stage in Nagrand, Hellfire Peninsula, and Blade's Edge Mountains, were it not for Kael and the Blood Elves, the Horde probably wouldn't even be there.  The same goes for the Sons of Lothar and the Alliance:  nice, but not necessary.  The arrival of the Draenei aboard The Exodar made it necessary.

Cataclysm - Well, That's One Way of Integrating Things:  Blow it all up!

After passing on Wrath, Blizz added two races into the fold for Cataclysm:  Goblins and Worgen.  The reworking of the Old World afforded Blizz the rare chance to seamlessly integrate the two new races into Azeroth, and they ran with it.  They did a great job of fixing the problems with plopping new races into an unchanged basic game, and they are to be commended for completing the unfinished backstory on the Worgen.

Once you reach the Cata zones, however, the two new races simply become invisible.

Sure, there's Goldmine the NPC and the Goblin outpost in Twilight Highlands, but outside of that, where are the two new races given any significant face time?  I think there was one --one!-- Worgen questgiver in Vashj'ir, but that was it.

Okay, I understand that the emphasis in this expansion is on the Earthen Ring, the Guardians of Hyjal, and some of the original races, but come on.  Draenei (and the Taunka Shaman, Toshe Chaosrender) get more face time as members of the Earthen Ring than Worgen do in the entire set of Cata zones.  And the Krazzworks in Twilight Highlands could easily have been a neutral Goblin outpost under attack by Twilight Drakes.  The new races are merely there in the new Cata zones; the main storylines in Cataclysm have passed them by.

This begs the question:  were the two new races even necessary for Cataclysm?  After all, the reworking of Vanilla WoW, which was so vital to incorporating the Goblins and Worgen into each faction, is available to anyone who plays only the basic game.  There is no Cata-specific content that emphasizes their racial story, despite the obvious potential lead-ins the Worgen could have had in Hyjal (or the Goblins in Vashj'ir, who could have had some of their shipping fleets sunk by the kraken).  Instead, the new races come off as being the Scrappy Doo of Cataclysm, which is a shame.



*Yep, and my nickname is Sherlock, too!  Okay, not really.  Anyhoo....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Exploring for Fun and Profit

If there's one thing that's gotten an update in the BC starting areas, it's the level of the guards.  Sure, that happened everywhere, but when you can fly over Northshire Abbey or Deathknell, you just don't notice.

Until you want that Explorer achievement, that is.

I was doing just that on Neve while I was waiting for a BG to pop, cruising through Darnassus (gotta love flying up the trunk of Teldrassil), and then I hit Azuremyst Isle.  Typically, it's not a big deal.  The guards throughout most of the Isle are the traditional level, so I got lulled to sleep thinking that all I had to do was pop into Ammen Vale and then scoot over to Bloodmist Isle to finish up the achieve.

Neve approached, forded the river, and rode her strider up the cleft and into the guards patrolling the entrance to the Vale.  She got smacked at, but I didn't think anything of it until I turned her around to head back.  She was immediately pulled off her mount and pummeled.

Did you know that the L90 guards hit for damage that range into the six figures?

And that using Invisibility to sneak past the guards won't work either?

I haven't had as much an exciting time getting that Explorer achievement since I got my original award on Quintalan on the Stormscale PvP server.

***

While I play battlegrounds, I typically don't engage in PvP play these days.  That's a far cry from my time on Stormscale, where I made a habit of looking over my shoulder and I developed a healthy distaste for the Alliance gankers in Hillsbrad.  Even then, I wasn't the sort to go out of my way to go after low level toons on the other side.  (Now, if I caught an Alliance player going after some Hordies, that was another story.)

Being on a PvE server means that you don't notice the faction territory quite so much as when you're on a PvP server.  That first time when I ventured into Loch Modan and I saw that big red "Loch Modan - Alliance Territory" flash overhead, I gulped.  I was sure that tons of Alliance would just pour out from behind every boulder and I'd be a smudge on the ground.  After all, when you get ganked in Tarren Mill 3-4 times a night, you learn to expect that stuff.  Much to my surprise, however, I kept moving and nobody seemed to really care that I was in the area.

If I thought it was terrifying on a PvP server to cross into enemy territory, I was extremely underwhelmed when I did it on a PvE server.  There isn't a big red "hey dummy!" alert, so you really don't get that sense of "things could go really really bad" that you get on a PvP server.

Unless you're a lowbie who encounters a max level toon from a rival faction, that is.

Her adventure with the Ammen Vale guards aside, Neve was cruising right along through Bloodmist Isle when she rode up toward the Vector Coil.  There, toiling among Kael's traitorous Sunhawks, was a lone Draenei.  I pulled Neve up to watch as he dispatched a nest of them, and then he turned and saw her.

If a toon could have a deer-in-the-headlights look, it was this guy.

Neve paused a moment longer, nodded and waved at the Draenei, and sped on her way.  Happy hunting!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Simple Observation

"Org is where it's at."

"The Exodar is so freaking dead, just a couple of bank alts and some noobs."

"Dal has gone the way of Shattrath."

"Everybody's in Stormwind."

Heard those lately?  I sure have, whether by fellow WoW bloggers, guildies, or random instance/BG puggers, people know the emphasis of this latest expansion is on the capital cities.  For some cities, their day in the sun is over; for others, they never had one in the first place.

Blizz has stated several times that with Cataclysm, they wanted to return the emphasis to each faction's capital city.  In that respect, they succeeded brilliantly.  Instead of having one Sanctuary where both factions congregate and overwhelm players' frame rates, they divided the crowd between Orgrimmar and Stormwind.

However, every time I pass through another faction city, something just feels missing.

Do I miss the throng in Dalaran on a Tuesday night?  Hell no.  After a major patch bundle, my framerate would drop to 6 fps and stay there until I got out of dodge.  By comparison, Org is a walk in the park.  Same with Stormwind, where your flying mount can perch on dozens of buildings and get out of the heavy traffic.

I think what bothers me about Dalaran and the other leftovers is that they are cities, and they didn't stop existing when the Cataclysm redesign happened.  But nobody goes there --especially the BC faction cities-- unless there's an occasional World Event or something monumental happens like 4.0.1 drops and everyone tests out new attack rotations.  They're like a downtown street the morning after Oktoberfest.

Now, I'm sure that to most people the response is a shrug and a "So what?  Change is the nature of things, and as each expansion has come and gone, the center of the WoW-verse has moved on.  Get used to it."

Maybe so, but I think that Blizzard can do something here to make the other cities feel more organic:  more NPCs.

I've watched the Shattered Sun train, and I've watch the kids play and run through the Lower City, and I think more of that is what all of these empty cities need.  With the dawn of the quest marker system built into WoW, you don't really need to hover over each NPC to find the one you're supposed to talk to anyway, so why not add extraneous NPCs to each neglected city to give it a lot more flavor?  That way the apple vendor in Ironforge isn't hawking fruit to an empty room. And why on earth is there one single delegation wandering about the streets of Silvermoon City --and Champion Vranesh-- when there could be more crowds moving back and forth?

A lot of these NPCs could have a set route and a series of pauses through the city that don't interfere with any player doing legit business --like at an AH or a bank-- while making an empty AH seem a bit fuller.  They don't even need to say anything out loud, just be there and make the cities feel, well, lived in.

And should a future redesign of WoW send players back to another of these cities, Blizzard could simply remove the NPCs.  Their presence would no longer be needed.

This obviously isn't the highest priority on Blizzard's drawing board right now, with 4.1's release fast approaching and 4.2 and 4.3 already well under way in the design/build stages.  However, at first blush it seems like a relatively easy thing to implement, if only for a couple of NPCs a week.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Imitating Budd

No, I don't mean by pretending I'm an Manataur.

If you've ever seen the movie Up, you know there's a scene where the two protagonists meet Dug, the talking dog.  When he begins to describe the collar that allows him to talk, Dug is distracted by a "Squirrel!"

Well, that's sort of what I've been up to lately on Tomakan.

I've been leveling Tom's Engineering, and since I didn't feel like paying the AH prices for Fel Iron and Adamantite, I've been rummaging around Outland, farming the stuff.  And in true Budd fashion, the "Shiny!" has been distracting me.

"Well," I thought, "since I'm here, I might as well solo a few heroic BC instances.

"And oh look, there's a quest here.

"And I can pick up the To Hellfire and Back achieve with a few more quests.

"And I can see about getting enough rep to get into the Tempest Keep heroic 5-mans.

"And here's some quests that lead into Draenei lore."

"And...."

Well, you get the point.

This is why I put on blinders when I was leveling Tom and Neve to L85; the lure of the Shiny! is just too great.  Maybe if you've got a stable full of alts this is all old hat, but to me, this is still new.  Yes, even BC, because I'm exploring things from an Alliance point of view.

***

One thing that I've been struck by is how perception is indeed reality in Azeroth.  Take Dustwallow Marsh, for example.  If you've leveled through there as Horde like I have, there are a few simple truths to the region:  the Grimtotems are a loose cannon, the buildup to Onyxia dominates the questing, and Theramore dominates the area.  If you get even just a little close to the place at level, the magnitude of the stone walls and cannons --and oh yeah, the soldiers-- make the place look impregnable.  Brackenwall Village is your kids' backyard fort built with leftover lumber by comparison.

Then try leveling an Alliance toon and take the ship from Menethil Harbor.

Once you land on the dock, the first thing you're struck by is how empty Theramore really is.  With such a frontal display of might, your mind conjures up a battalion or two of Lordaeron's finest.  While there are buildings around, there are so few NPCs to match.  What's more is that a good portion of them are actively trying to subvert Jaina's leadership.  Once I got over the surprise, I laughed.  Psychological warfare is alive and well in Azeroth.

***

I'll elaborate on this in a later post, but I'm struck by the parallels to the history surrounding the BC races.  Both the Sindorei and the Draenei had most of their race willingly turn away from the Light and embrace the Burning Legion.  Both have dealt with genocidal campaigns, and barely cling to survival.  Both mistrust the other, yet would do well to examine their own ranks more closely.

***

Heard Around Azeroth

In Battle of Gilneas:
BL:  I can't believe half of our team is AFK!
Neve:  We're not.  We're getting corpse camped by two Hunters, two Locks...  ::dies:: and a Priest.
BL:  And you can't break through that??
Neve:  Not when they're on the boat with you.
Priest:  And no @#$% tanks, either!!

In Honor Hold, Hellfire Peninsula:
[Tomakan (L85) is perusing the offerings by the Honor Hold Quartermaster for curiosity's sake]
Warrior:  ::challenges Tomakan to duel::
Tomakan:  ::inspects the Warrior, finds he's L61, and Declines::
Warrior:  ::challenges Tomakan to duel::
Tomakan:  WTH is wrong with you?  ::Declines::
Warrior:  /flexes  I'm bad!  I'm bad!
Tomakan:  ::Mounts and flies off to a Shattered Halls run::
Warrior:  ::challenges Tomakan to duel::



Thursday, April 7, 2011

What just happened?

I'm being bribed...

"This system is meant to address the unacceptable queue times currently being experienced by those that queue for the DPS role at max level. The long queue times are, of course, caused by a very simple lack of representation in the Dungeon Finder by tanks, and to some extent healers."

"but perhaps we can bribe them a little"

What is this, I don't even...

I suppose something was necessary to address the problem, but seriously? Resulting to tactics my mother would use to get you to do what she wants? That doesn't sit so well.

I'm at a point now, as are most regular players, which I don't really need valor points except for my off spec gear - and I'm not overly concerned about gearing it up.

But wait Mr. Awesomely-Bearded Deftig, you get a nice bonus, what do you have to be upset about?

First, thanks. My beard is awesome, isn't it?

Right, I get the fine opportunity to jump out into the LFD maelstrom and do the same thing that frustrates and burns me out - tank for a bunch of randoms.

It may sound elitest of me, but I don't particularly enjoy running the dungeons anymore. The faster I can pull, the better the dps is, the more geared the healer is, the quicker I can end that dungeon - THE BETTER. My faction grind for Cataclysm is over, I don't need any gear out of there and frankly, I only have one 85 (by choice - warriors are just the best class). And I don't feel the need to help you gear up your 9th level 85 alt while you struggle to remember where you put hex on your hotbar because you rarely play that character.

"Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers"

No shit, ya don't say?

I'm to the point now where I haven't run a heroic dungeon as a tank is roughly two weeks - and in the one dungeon I did run, it was with a guild group going because one of our members was gearing up a tank.

So is the bribe even worth it?

"offer them a chance to get some of those elusive pets and mounts "

Hey that's great and all, but I long ago lost hope of getting any of those instance drop mounts. If I'm not farming Stratholme 5 times per hour now, what makes you think I'm really going to be so inclined to throw myself onto the mercy of the LFD and HOPE I get a decent enough group to finish the dungeon, and also again HOPE I'm lucky enough to get the mount out of a bag? Do you think that would actually happen? Ya, right...

Also, say you're lucky enough to have actually gotten one of the mounts. You now have a chance to get the exact same one as before and get extra peeved!!

"Even if they don't get a pet or mount, or get one they already have"

Not to mention how cheap of a reward it would feel. My guild took a group of players through and earned every achievement to get iron bound protodrakes. I'm proud of that mount because we worked as a team and finished them out (in honesty, we did finish the final achievement once Cata was released). But none the less we still did something and that mounts carries some significance aside from the fact that I was patient enough to carry a group of people I don't know through a dungeon.

Will this ultimately result in me participating? Probably a few times, but not very happily... Because, sadly, pvp is not very fun anymore. And now that the guild is funding repairs, I don't have the need to do dailies, I haven't even been logging in. At the VERY least, this gives something to do...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blitzkrieg

I've done my share of battlegrounds in the past, but a couple of days ago I tried my hand at something new:  rated battlegrounds.

The result can be described in two words:  Ye Gods.

Although we were in three BGs that night, I think we set some sort of record for losing in the Battle of Gilneas, because we lost in exactly 01:44.  The opposing team swarmed over us and took the flags as if we weren't even there.  Their composition --something like 50/30/20 Healers/Rogues/Tanks-- made it impossible to get more than a few hits in before getting obliterated.

"Geez, Q," one of the guildies told me, "I only got two heals out on your mage before she bit it."

Oh yeah.  Now I know what a mop feels like when you're dumped in dirty water. 

I think the only BG experience that is comparable is the time I ported into Alterac Valley as Tom to find only five fellow Alliance players against a full complement of Hordies.  Even then, I lasted longer in the ensuing fight against an 8:1 ratio.

If you want to run rated BGs, think about Arenas first.  Trust me.  For myself, I think I'm going to stick to regular BGs, because by comparison the pace is much more relaxing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pry a knife out of Neve's back.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Like the font color?

Good, cause you're gonna see a lot more of it soon!

Yes, that's right, Parallel Context is going to be an official mouthpiece of Blizzard.  You hear it here, it must be true!

There will be the occasional guest post by GC and others, but in general the three of us will be providing the WoW community with official updates that --due to our extensive readership-- will be disseminated more thoroughly than is currently possible on the WoW Forums.

One nice little side effect of this is that we can provide Blizz with suggestions that will be taken to the highest levels of development.  For example, my suggestion to prevent ninjas in a PuG --flipping a switch so that if a player drops group after a loot roll in an instance they will be unable to roll for loot for a one week period-- has been favorably received by the development staff, and a version of this upgrade will be in the 4.1 PTR shortly. 

We look forward to serving you in the future with timely, cogent updates on the game we all love:  Ultima Online!


EtA: I'd be remiss in pointing out that a few of my fellow WoW bloggers have similar momentous announcements for this Friday:

Rades at OrcishDraenic Army Knife

Vidyala at ManaliciousOrcalicious