Friday, March 29, 2013

Starting All Over Again

I hung around Taris on the Old Man, just north of Dynamet Hospital, practicing some healing.  While I don't typically heal these days, I know that when I run a toon that has that capability, you never know when you'll be pressed into service.

Like this day.

My oldest and I had grouped up, and I was waiting for her to arrive on her Sentinel.*  I knew that while she'd been playing MMOs for a while, she was still unfamiliar with certain aspects of the game.  This was going to be her first group quest, I figured that if nothing else, this should prove to be an interesting experience.

She appeared with Kira in tow.  "Ready to do Fallen Stars?" I asked in group chat.


"Okay.  I'll be healing, since nobody else has that spec.  Once we buff up we can go."

"What's a buff?  That thing you wear on your head in Survivor?"

Hmm.  I hadn't expected that.  Okay, I guess I'll have to back up and get more basic than what I'd expected.  "Buffing is a stats boost," I began.  "In some MMOs you can drink or eat and get a buff, and in TOR each class has its own unique buff.  Mine is Lucky Shots, and yours is Force something-or-other.  When in a group, you can select that buff and everyone will get that buff; it's considered polite to buff up everyone else when grouping up."

Force Might suddenly appeared next to Lucky Shots.

"Good.  Okay, let's go."

We moved into the heroic area for Fallen Stars and quickly came upon our first mob.  "Look at the boss there," she typed.

"In a heroic you'll see a lot of elites like that.  You'll know a real boss when you see it."  I scanned the group: one healer, one elite, and one strong melee.  "Okay, I'm going to send in Corso to tank, and once he gets going you can attack.  We need to get rid of the healer first, and then we can work on the rest."




Corso flew in on his jet pack, and the fight began.

We quickly dispatched the enemy medic, and my oldest moved in on the elite.  I would have tried to DPS down the strong melee enemy, but I wasn't going to quibble.  I dropped a few medpacks down, but for the most part we DPSed down the mob quickly enough that I didn't need to worry about it.  It's saying something about your ability to down a mob when Corso doesn't reach even half health.**

Now that she had the basic method down, we DPSed our way through the area and eventually found ourselves before the ship at the end.  "I'm pretty sure that once we touch this the boss will fly in," I typed.  "It's been a while since I've done Falling Stars."

"Okay," she replied.

"Here's the thing.  This boss will take a while to kill, and bosses have immunity from a lot of CC's."


"CC = Crowd Control.  Stuns, interrupts, that sort of thing."

"Oh, that stuff."

"Yeah.  Don't bother wasting Focus on those, since they won't work."


"Alright, here we go."  I went over and triggered the boss, who flew in for the attack.

Now this was a fight.  I was healing so much that Corso lost aggro to me, and since he had no way of getting it back --his abilities were on CD for a while-- I had to grin and bear it.  Rule #1 of healing says that you can't heal when you're dead, so I spent a lot of energy healing myself while the boss wailed on me.  Good thing that I'd worked with my oldest on using mods and enhancements in gear, because otherwise we'd have wiped.

The boss finally bit it when Corso finally got his aggro abilities back off of CD and I was finally able to get that boss off my back.

"Wooo!" my oldest typed as we entered the final cutscene.

"Yep, that's it."

"Are there any more around?"

"There are some 2+ heroics in the bonus area, but others are 4-man."

"When do you think I'll be ready for a 4-man?"

"We'll see, kid.  We'll see."

*She was upstairs on the laptop.  From what she informed me later, her brother and sister were watching too, so I really felt on display.

**If you've ever played a smuggler, you know what I'm talking about.  Corso is famous for losing most of his health on decently sized mobs, which makes me wonder just how well equipped of a tank he is.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Me and My Big Mouth, Part Whatever

You know how I said that it'd be terrifying to see 20 DKs on a side in Alterac Valley?

Be careful what you wish for.

I was blowing off some steam tonight when I got into an Alterac Valley run.  During the countdown I got up, grabbed a drink, and settled in to check the player lists.

"Holy crap," I said in BG chat.  "I think half of their team are DKs!"

I counted the list a few times and found they had 19 DKs with one slot left empty.  Sure enough the last slot was filled by another DK.

"We're gonna get whiplash by all the Death Grips," a Priest quipped.

"At least a lot of them play like crap at this level," a Warrior added.

"Yeah," I said.  "We're gonna need it."

The DKs belief in their own invincibility proved their undoing in the game.  We had about 15 players stay back and defend Belinda, while the rest pushed down toward Drek.  Another Rogue and I hung out in Icewing Bunker, catching those who broke through to try to capture it.  The DKs were like a wave of blue frost crashing against our defense, but they were unable to break it.

In the end we won on sheer attrition, which was perfectly fine with me.

Still, I ought to have learned by now to keep my mouth shut.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

No One Expects the Ninja Smuggler!

I'd plotted for this moment for close to a month.

While my TOR toons are all on The Harbinger (US), I'd gone out of my way to roll up a Smuggler on The Shadowlands (US).  I gave my new Smuggler an unusual appearance, too:  as a Human, I decided to give him a distinctively older look:  gray hair and a beard.*  I even gave him a name that is a vague echo of my own.

When nobody was looking, I surreptitiously leveled him out of Ord Mantell and into Coruscant.  Deciding to go against my tendencies, I made him a DPS Scoundrel:  enough healing to use in a pinch, but preferring to fight close in and use Dirty Kicks and Pistol Whips and Backblasts to keep the enemy busy.

The kids finally took notice of the ol' Greybeard in the Justicar section of Coruscant, but they figured I was merely leveling another alt.  They never noticed the server I was on.

I knew my oldest's Sentinel was on Taris, working on the other quests while getting ready to take down Watcher One.  That gave me something to shoot for.

On Saturday night I arrived on Taris, cleared the first area, and hooked up with an Ops group to take down the World Boss.  Rather than getting in close to assist with DPS, I instead hung back and tossed heals around.  Seriously, I needed the practice, as each healer class operates differently.

Then I waited.

Sunday afternoon, my oldest logged into TOR on the laptop upstairs.  I took careful note of her toon's name, scampered downstairs, and logged into Ol' Greybeard.  A quick check of the social lists, and there she was.

I'd made a point of letting them do their thing without interference for the longest time, so I wasn't sure what her reaction would be.  I was betting it'd be something like the traditional teenager rolling of the eyes and "Da-aad", but you never know.

I sent whispered her a hello with her real name in it.


I got distracted by some rakghouls, then decided to go upstairs and knock on the door.

The door opened.  "What do you want this ti-- oh, hi Dad."

"Expecting someone?"

"I thought it was my brother."

"Oh."  I decided not to pursue that issue further.  "I sent you a hello.  Did you get it?"

"What?  What, where?"

My youngest picked up on my question a bit more quickly.  "You mean in the game?"

"Really?!" my oldest squeaked and ran back to the laptop.

I went back downstairs and pinged her again.  "Hit slash 'r' to reply," I added.

"This was you?" she replied.  "I thought you were a stalker!"

"Oh."  Gee, thanks.  I guess I earned that one without any announcements beforehand.

"Where are you at?"

"I'm in the Endar Spire, bashing pirates.  Are you still in the cave?"

"Yes, I haven't left yet."

"Do you need a hand?  I know you have Fallen Stars on your list."

I heard the excited babbling among my kids from even where I was.  "No, not right now," came the reply.  "Gottagonowbye!"

A few moments later what sounded like herd of elephants came down the stairs.

"I thought you were a stalker!" my oldest said as she skidded to a stop, her brother and sister right behind her.  "There was another person who was pestering me to do Fall of the Locust until I left the area and went back to Olaris Spaceport."

"Good.  But I figured your real name would have tipped you off."

"Yeah, but wouldn't a stalker have figured that out?"

"Good point.  But if you've been careful about who you tell your toon's name to, it wouldn't be an issue.  After all, the account is registered in my name and e-mail."


"Still, if you want to do Fallen Stars, or if your sister needs help on Coruscant, I can help out."

"Really?!"  The shrieks were deafening.

"Yeah, really.  I can help out from time to time, but only if you want me to."


I had to close up shop because my ears were ringing too much.  Still, I considered the mission a success.  I figured that they were ready for dipping their toes into a bit of group content.  From there, the next steps were dealing with in-game chat, but I have to teach them those skills first.  It's a bit different than dealing with IMs to friends, and as my oldest surmised, there are a lot of unsavory characters out there.  Things can also mutate and take on a life of their own, which is more the province of Facebook, but you still have to be on your guard.

A small step into a larger world.  Yeah, that's it.

*Okay, fess up.  When was the last time you saw a toon deliberately designed to look old, or at least middle aged?  I know my answer:  almost never.  WoW doesn't even have that option, and I don't think LOTRO or AoC do either, but TOR does.  WoW does allow you to select gray, but not look middle aged, and while LOTRO does (that's what I get for tinkering with Elves in character creation) AoC might not.  Still, you know it's lonely being the "old guy" when you're in an Ops group of 20 or so and everybody is some stunningly youthful toon.

EtA:  Clarified the "*" section after receiving some comments.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where Have You Gone, Svala Sorrowgrave?

The news that Blizzard is going to stop putting out new 5-man instances for Mists seems to have caused a bit of a stir.

Those people who gear up using LFR kind of shrugged and said "no big deal".  So did those who like the new Scenario concept.  And the "I love dailies" crowd chuckled and continued muttering to themselves in a corner.

But for me, I see this as the continuation of what started in Cataclysm.

Cataclysm began the deviation from the standard Warcraft pattern by instituting Heroic-only 5-mans, and then segregated them further by separating them out in the LFG queue.  I can presume this was done so that those who wanted to either gear up to the latest tier or max their VP acquisition could do so in the most efficient manner, but as in all things there were unintended consequences.

By subdividing 5-mans like that, the queue times soared to levels only previously seen in obsolete 5-man end game instances.*  Starting with the Zuls --Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub-- people began to complain about a lack of variety in their instance runs.  Finally, the new Heroics created an "asshat divide" within 5-mans:  asshats flooded the 5-man Heroics, particularly the latest ones, while people who simply enjoyed running instances gravitated toward the baseline 5-man Normal instances.

However, those who enjoyed 5-man Normals found their options sadly lacking as compared to their Heroic brethren.  Unlike Wrath, which had the same number of Normal 5-mans as their Heroic version --16, if you were curious-- there were only 7 Normals vs. 14 Heroics in Cataclysm.**  Perhaps the statistical data for Wrath showed that not a lot of people ran the ICC Normals, but instead of making the last patch's instances Heroic-only, Blizz took their solution a step further in Cata and eliminated the Normal option entirely from all major patch instances.  It wouldn't be so drastic a step if it weren't that Cata dropped with only 7 Normal instances as opposed to 12 in Wrath.

And now we come to Mists.

Mists shipped with 4 Normal 5-mans (9 Heroic), and that's going to be it.  If you're an instance runner, you're out of luck.

While Blizzard will point out the Scenario model that is new to Mists, they are all tuned for max level and are designed for a "dungeon-lite" experience.  I look on them as the equivalent of a multi-player Daily that you can queue for, not a traditional instanced dungeon.

So what happened to the slate of instances we are used to seeing in an expac?


Blizzard has decided to use LFR for mid-expac progression, and as a consequence instances have drawn the short end of the stick.  To be fair there were only 4 new instances post-release in Wrath versus 5 in Cataclysm, but those 4 represented only 25% of the overall total of Wrath instances as opposed to 36% in Cata.  Think about it:  Wrath shipped with 12 instances, while Cata had 9 (7 normal).  If you look at Normal instances alone, this is a further erosion from the Wrath model:  12 -> 7 -> 4.

If you only ran Normals, Blizzard didn't design any new instances for you at all once Cataclysm dropped, so this erosion isn't new behavior to you.  What is new, however, are how few Normal instances are now available and the lack of future prospects for those instances.

As much as Dave Kosak Twittered that there will be more 5-mans in future expacs, the numbers don't lie.  Instances are less important to Blizzard moving forward.  Scenarios and LFR will get the development time previously allocated to instances, and the expectation is that you will use instances to assist you in getting that initial "raid ready", but instances as a viable max level activity will be phased out.

Before someone says that Blizzard is swimming in money given the number of subs that WoW has, remember that profit doesn't translate into more development staff.  Even if there were more development staff around, items such as Pet Battles have taken up significant development time, further eroding the time to devote to 5-man instances.

Finally, let's not forget the elephant in the room:  Titan.  It could also be that Blizzard is shifting priorities to their next gen MMO.  Any low hanging fruit, such as instance development, will get put on the back burner.

I think we can safely say that the BC/Wrath era of instances is now over.  I'll miss having a lot of instances to run, as my limited playing time prohibits even LFR from being an option, and Scenarios are of little use to someone still leveling a toon in Pandaria.  But I also thought it a mistake by Blizzard in Cataclysm to not pair up Normal instances with the latter Heroics, as those Normals became a refuge from the drama that so often infected Cata Heroics.

But hey, popularity doesn't lie, right?

*I once waited 2 hours for the queue to pop for a 5-man Heroic Tempest Keep/MgT run back in Cata.  Amazing how much farming you can get done in that time.

**Since BC instituted the Heroic we can't count Vanilla, but in BC there were 16 instances and all had Normal and Heroic settings.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

...And lo, there were Death Knights as far as the eye could see...

The L55-L59 battleground range is (in)famous for two reasons:  this is the first range where an expac's gear becomes available, and this is the first range where DKs appear.

I will not speak of BC clown gear, other than to say that Orcs certainly do look pretty in them.

While it may have taken several months, the flood of Monks and Pandaren leveling through Azeroth has died down.  The general makeup of your average leveling BG has evened out to an even composition of various classes.  (For the record, the Mistweaver and Windwalker Monks are far more popular than Brewmaster, with a slight nod to Windwalker at the moment in the 40s/50s BGs.)

That is, until the Great DK Invasion.

I can only imagine what it was like those first few months of Wrath when everybody and anybody created a DK.  I remember the one time this past Winter when I was the only non-Monk on my side in a Warsong Gulch battleground, but the idea of having almost half of an Alterac Valley run composed of Death Knights terrifies me.  It's bad enough when there are ten of them per side in AV, but more?

The consolation I can take in witnessing DKs swarming over everything is that not a lot of them know how to play their class.  As a player who leveled a Warlock via BGs in Cata, I know firsthand how little fun it is when a group of DKs decide to play Death Grip Ping Pong with you.  The fact that I've not been Death Gripped all over the place when even clothies know to target me mercilessly speaks volumes.

That influx of powerful but unskilled DKs has reinvigorated BGs a bit for me.  The slog of trying to get to at least the first expac, coupled with a long losing streak, can wear a player down.  It got so bad at one point in a WSG game that I ended up parking in the middle platform above their base and waited for the thing to end.  The Horde team had us on farm, but instead of people simply running away and not respawning in the graveyard, we kept feeding the beast.  I couldn't bring myself to drop group, because WSG had only 4 minutes left in the timer, but there was no way we could win.  So I got up and got some coffee instead of stressing over this.

"Get their flag!  Get their flag!" someone said over BG chat.

"I can't," I replied.  "They've got a Monk, a Lock, and a Feral protecting it."

"Get it anyway!"

"I'm not going to add to their HKs."

But on the flip side, with the instability induced by BC gear and new Death Knights, the Alliance has finally started making inroads on Eye of the Storm and has been dominating Alterac Valley.*  I've stealthed in Stonehearth Bunker several times now, watched the wave of Hordies go by, and leave SHB empty for me to recap.  You'd think that after the first three or four times I wouldn't be able to get away with this, but it keeps happening in either SHB or Icewing Bunker.

I realize that this state of flux will subside by the time I reach the Wrath level.  DKs will gain more skill or will drop out, leaving a leaner, meaner group to contend with.  Still, I intend to enjoy this chaos while it lasts.  Rogues thrive on chaos, you know.

*YBMV -- Your battlegroup may vary.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Don't Know Where Ya Been, My Lad, But I See Ya Won First Prize

I was out of commission due to illness most of last week, so there's not that much to report.  I mean, I played a little, but I didn't really do much of anything at all.

Somewhere around Christmas time I finally splurged and bought Skyrim (hey, it was on sale).  Sure, it's about a year or so too late to be relevant, but I figured I'd play around with the game and see if I liked it.  I've heard enough about the sandbox nature of the game to make me interested, and the fact that you're not forced into FPS mode but you can zoom out a bit into a more familiar third person mode is even better.*

The game is okay so far, but nothing so engrossing that I would find myself up way past my bedtime playing. The graphics are nice, and the old style quest finding is a welcome change to the MMO style quest markers, but when I sit down to play a game I find myself skipping over Skyrim for Civ IV or an MMO.  The fact that (I believe) that purchasing the DVD of the game appears to be irrelevant as the game uses Steam to download to my computer doesn't exactly help, either, since I'm not that big of a fan of the Steam ownership model:  you don't purchase a copy of the game itself, you only purchase the right to play the game, just like Amazon's Kindle purchases.

However, there was one aspect of Skyrim that I was unprepared for.

Like quite a few people, I use Curse to manage my WoW addons, and once every couple of months I hop onto Curse to make sure all of my addons are up to date.**  I've gotten used to having WoW as the only game in my stable with a Curse connection, so imagine my surprise when I saw Skyrim pop up as an option.

Curious, I clicked on Skyrim and loaded the database of mods, just to see what I could add.  There were mods to make lockpicking easier --something Ol' Fumblefingers can definitely use-- as well as mods for tracking your mats and whatnot.  But by far the most popular mod was something I didn't expect:  Nude Females.

No, really.

Apparently this game isn't "Rated M for Mature" enough for some folks, and they took it upon themselves to create a few mods to "tweak" the models for the game.  Making more detailed facial models is one thing, but making sure what's under a toon's clothing is anatomically accurate is quite another.  I'd almost be inclined to believe that the mod's creators had altruistic intentions except that you won't find an equivalent mod for male toons.

Just like some people can't play Age of Conan without going "Oooo, boobies!"***, some people need that in-game nakedness that the nude female mods --yes, there are more than one-- provide.  This is akin to people who like to zoom in and watch the female Night Elf breast bounce, I suppose.

Me, I just don't get it.  If you're interested in this aspect of the game, why are you playing and not surfing the Internet instead?

*It's been a while since I mentioned it, but I find that FPS games give me headaches, and one of the reasons I suspect that MMO's don't is due to the game's viewpoint.  With third person mode, I can use my character as a focal point and not have issues with the constantly changing terrain.

**If I were a raider or already into Mists content it'd be a lot more frequent updates, but I'm still about 30 levels away from needing to purchase Mists.

***Go hang around Tortage on any server, and you'll see what I mean.  I suspect that some people play Demonologists in AoC just so they can have the nude Succubus hanging around.  And if you thought that the Shivarra in WoW was bad, the AoC Succubus makes the Shivarra look tame.  But that AoC Succubus has a very sinister look about her.  Oh, and the AoC Incubus (for female Demonologist toons) has just as little clothing and the same uncomfortably malign feel to them.