Author Archives: Azuriel

BfA: Quick Thoughts

The latest WoW expansion quietly came out yesterday. I say “quietly” because I actually had no idea it was supposed to be released on Monday, rather than the traditional patch Tuesday. It also felt rather seemless traveling to Silithus again, grabbing the Heart of Azeroth, and then continuing on with questing in a new area.

As an aside, I was momentarily confused with Magni talking about how “the soul of Azeroth” was basically a clock floor in a Titan cave somewhere. Did I miss something? I get from context that Azeroth has a gestating Titan soul or whatever, but why does it look like that, specifically? Did the Pantheon craft around the soul? Then I realized none of it matters, and I went on with my life.

I started completing some of the quest hubs on the demon hunter before I realized that what I should have been doing is hitting all the resource nodes instead. There really is no better time to gather herbs/ore than the first few days of a new expansion. Three seconds of mining translating into 70g worth of materials? Yes, please. Here are some tips:

MAKE SURE TO TALK TO THE PROFESSION TRAINERS

I was hitting nodes for almost an hour before I realized that getting 1 herb was not normal. As it turns out, you have to pick up the skills from the Herb/Mining trainers before you start getting normal yields. Make sure to stop by again once you hit 25/50 skill, so you can start getting the Rank 2 versions, which increases yields again.

Check in with the Trade Goods vendor

Ask a guard for directions, and then buy a bunch of the ingredients. The base-level Cooking recipe can be made entirely with four different vendor items, which is nice. Even nicer is the fact that you can turn around and sell these 20s ingredients for like 10g+ apiece on the AH. Take advantage of it while you can. Also, people will apparently buy your food too, so sell the excess.

Jewelcrafting is back

At least for now, anyway. I have had incredible success in buying BfA ore for 30g apiece, and then prospecting it away for gems that sell, uncut, for ~400g. Unless you get a red one, which sells for ~1500g because it can be cut into a +5% XP gem that sells for 2000g (prices have crashed a bit). Or take those gems and turn them into rings that sell for a few thousand gold more.

Maybe Buy and Hold Instead

While there was some easy gold early on from selling herbs/ore, I did notice that by the time I logged off for the night, prices were in freefall. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the main one is that nearly everyone is going dual-gathering and hitting nodes left and right.

It’s tough to know what prices things will stabilize at, but look at the requirements for Flasks and such: dozens and dozens of herbs for one Flask. Nobody will be raiding for a few weeks yet, and no one is going to bother Flasking while they level, so demand for Flasks is zero. However… in a few weeks, everyone and their mother’s main tank will be gobbling up bushels of herbs. So the likelihood of BfA herbs staying around 10g apiece is minimal. In particular, you might want to check on Anchor Weed, as it appears to be a herb that replaces other herb spawns, and thus is going to be more rare.

In fact, I just looked at the TUJ and slapped my forehead. Around 9pm yesterday the price for Anchor Weed was 53g. As of this post, it’s 182g. I just talked about prospecting ore at 30g apiece, right? Now Storm Silver is up to 88g. That particular train has probably left the station already, but this seesaw action is something to keep an eye on in the coming days.

Farm nodes and sell when the price is high, buy and bank mats when the price is low.

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Split Baby

Have you ever seen a friend or coworker make a terrible decision in what felt like slow motion? Like they asked for your advice, you said “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and then they do the thing anyway? Then they stop back by, tell you the terrible result, and then detail their even worse plan for “fixing” things?

Welcome to the Fallout 76 PvP Show. Todd Howard is your host, and tonight he’ll be splitting a baby.

QuakeCon just ended, and there was an entire panel on Fallout 76. A transcript/summary of sorts is up on Reddit and that’s where I’m getting the following information:

Question: PVP. People are concerned. What’s the deal with griefing? How can we we enjoy our own game or ruin somebody else’s?

  • Todd jokes, “This is why I don’t go on reddit!”
  • The game is designed to be both PVE and PVP as part of the core experience. They want you to have a sense of danger around other players, but (and he muses here that it’s weird to say), they want that sense of danger without griefing.
  • When you shoot another player, you do only a small amount of damage to them, not full damage, akin to an annoyance or an invitation to PVP. If the other player shoots you back and engages, the kid gloves come off and everybody is doing full damage.
  • There’s a cap reward for killing another player; the higher their level, the bigger their reward. After you die, you can choose to “seek revenge”, which doubles the cap value that the enemy who killed you is worth.
  • Even if you do not engage the enemy, they can eventually kill you with that reduced damage. “Which sounds terrible…” but if you do that to somebody who doesn’t want to fight, you get no reward, you become a wanted murderer.
  • When you become a wanted murderer, a bounty is placed on you and is sent out to every player on the map. When a wanted murderer is killed, they pay the bounty out of their own cap supply (there was a large applause here).
  • A wanted murderer loses the ability to see other players on the map.
  • A wanted murder is always visible on the map to every player, even when sneaking.
  • Their goal was to turn players who are trying to ruin other players’ experiences into interesting content, and they are really happy with how it works.
  • As a side note, when you see other players on the map, you don’t get their exact location, only the general area.
  • Jeff shares that during the last play session, somebody became a murderer. He had just finished building a high-power sniper rifle when he got the notification of the bounty, and set out to take him down. He stalked the area until he came across the murderer exiting a building, where he popped his head clean off with his sniper. He looted some of the junk used a dance emote, took a picture over the body, and logged off.

Later on, there were two additional notes of… er… note:

  • You can choose to ignore specific players. If a player kills you, a button prompt appears allowing you to ignore them for that session. If you ignore them, they can’t see you on the map, which makes it pretty much impossible for them to mess with you due to the size of the map.
  • They’re also working on a pacifist flag that you can activate, so your stray bullets will never harm another player by mistake. They mentioned how players who were trying to egg other players on would wait for them to shoot a creature, then run in front of them in order to grief them, and the pacifist flag was born.

So, let’s recap. If you’re out in the world, you cannot be instantly killed by a sniper griefer. That’s good. Griefers can, apparently, keep poking you with bullets until you are near-death though. And if you were in the middle of fighting off a pack of feral ghouls…? Question mark. If they outright poke you to death, the “wanted murderer” status kicks in and they’ll be a big target for everyone else while also losing the ability to see other players coming for them on the map. It’s not specified whether or not this status persists if they log off, or lasts until they are killed, or what. The griefer will also lose Caps directly from their own pocket, although it isn’t specified what happens if they don’t have the amount of Caps available.

Or, you know, what happens if the griefer has a buddy or alt account. Account A kills you, gets Wanted status, Account B kills A, and then hands the bounty reward back over to A.

And just think about this PvP system for a moment. You “poke” them with bullets, and if they return fire, then the match is on. If you’re looking for a fight, there’s no reason not to just fire off a few rounds at everyone you see. I mean, the only way you can even find consensual PvP is by firing at other players. Presumably you would only start fights from an advantageous position, and being ahead on HP is already good. So we’re absolutely in a “shoot first, ask questions later” state.

Plus, death penalties are back. You don’t lose your weapons or armor, but you drop your “Junk,” which I’m assuming means generic crafting materials. Considering that that is probably why you are out exploring in the world in the first place, it’s pretty important. Unless, of course, you want to engage in some PvP, in which case you likely aren’t carrying around any Junk with you, since you drop it all on death.

So, we have two classes of players. The ones who want to fight and will have nothing to lose, literally, for just shooting you several times… and then everyone else just trying to get on with their day. Instead of, you know, just making PvE and PvP servers. This convoluted nonsense is what happens when you split a baby.

None of this is even what really worries me about Fallout 76. What worries me is the incredible lengths Bethesda is going through to prop up this pillar of specific gameplay. Which means this was an arbitrary, top-down design decision that they are willing to bend the whole game around just to make it work. “Every NPC is a human player!” You can still do that in a PvE server. So… why? Why bullet pokes instead of emotes, or raising a flag on your map marker, or just having PvP servers?

The simplest explanation is that they feel there’s nothing else worth doing in the game. Getting more powerful so you can kill your human opponents though? That’s a perpetual hamster wheel that will be spinning until the heat death of the universe, no further dev time required.

A Good Bad War

The final part of the War of Thorns pre-release event was released on Tuesday. Other than Elsa Jaina coming to the rescue on her father’s ghost ship, it was yet another exercise of Alliance impotence in the face of the only faction clearly capable of any strategic planning. But, whatever. Sylvanas needs a foil for her antics, and Anduin’s character is about as flimsy as aluminum foil already, so let’s all just buckle in for the inevitable “Sylvanas never prepared to face the power of LOVE!” arc.

What I wanted to talk about today though, was everything leading up to this point.

First, if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading A Good War. This is a short story that came with the collector’s edition of Battle for Azeroth, but was recently released for free. I’m going to “spoil” most of the biggest plot points below, but it is essentially “the rest of the story” in terms of the War of Thorns pre-expansion content already on Live servers.

One of the many, many poorly explained (in-game) motivations surrounding the actions of Sylvanas was why we were going to war in the first place. Yes, Azerite is bright and shiny and supposedly useful, but other than vague eye-brightening, is did not seem to have many effects. This is supposedly explained in the Before the Storm book, which I do not have access to, but we do have some quotes and a summary from Wowhead. The main takeaway is that when Sylvanas touched it…

She was no longer a Dark Lady or even a queen. She was a goddess of destruction and creation, and she was stunned that she had never understood how deeply the two were intertwined. Armies, cities, entire cultures – she could raise them.

And fell them. Stormwind would be among the first, yielding its people to swell the numbers of her own.

She could deal death on a scale that —

In short, Sylvanas wants to destroy Stormwind, murder its people, and revive them as Forsaken. She wants to do that because, as explained in A Good War:

[…] “I believe that there will be no permanent peace with the Alliance—not unless we win it on the battlefield on our terms. And believing that, answer this, Saurfang: what use is delaying the inevitable?”

[…]

“She pointed at the map. There was a large marking in Silithus, the place where the Dark Titan’s blade had pierced the world. “No matter what I do, that will change the balance of power. Azerite sightings are coming in from across the world, Saurfang. We still do not know its full potential, nor does the Alliance. We only know that it will create a new generation of warfare. What will war look like in twenty years? In a hundred?”

Saurfang’s voice had dropped to a low growl. “A hundred years of peace is a worthy goal.” But as soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to take them back. He knew what Sylvanas would say.

And he would agree with it.

The warchief did not disappoint. “If a hundred years of peace ends with a war that annihilates both sides, it was not a worthy goal. It was a coward’s bargain, trading the future for temporary comfort. The Horde’s children, and their children’s children, will curse our memories as they burn.”

This is the first major disconnect I see with people offering opinions concerning the start of the war. Sylvanas is starting a preemptive war, a war of opportunity, one in which the express goal is to completely destroy the Alliance forever, and to chain the people of Stormwind as slaves in undeath. Saurfang doesn’t necessarily know that last bit, but he knows the ultimate goal is the destruction of Stormwind. And he’s fine with that.

Until our navies are rebuilt, the high seas are wild again.

That would take years to change. And once that happened, yes, that stalemate would return, and war would become too costly to pursue.

And by all the spirits, Sylvanas was right, no matter how strongly Saurfang tried to deny it. War would come again one day, and if both factions were strong, that war would raze entire nations. How many different peoples on Azeroth would become extinct in that fight?

But before then, both sides have vulnerabilities and a limited time to exploit them. For a price, we can survive.

Just so we’re all crystal clear on this point: Saurfang and Sylvanas believe there can be no permanent peace between the Alliance and the Horde, that any attempt at peace is a “coward’s bargain,” and that they are actually doing everyone a favor in getting the war “out of the way” now, rather than later. And there are people crawling all over Reddit and elsewhere who suggest that this notion of war “makes sense” and is otherwise perfectly justifiable.

To which I say: I agree. The Alliance should have murdered the orcs as a race when they had the chance, rather than putting them in internment camps. That’s what we’re saying, right? There can be no permanent peace between the Alliance and the Horde because the Horde is a brutal faction of war-mongering monsters with no redeeming qualities. Well, maybe Taurens, but thus far they are simply a gelded race who lashed their ropes to a warchief that has zero respect for them.

In fairness, it’s possible Saurfang did not know about Sylvanas’ ultimate goal of torching Stormwind.

“And that is how you defeat Stormwind.” Saurfang was in awe. It was brilliant. Destroying the Alliance wouldn’t take a thousand victories. It would take one. With a single strategic push, the pressure on the Alliance would cripple them for years, just as long as they could not conjure any miracles on the battlefield. “You destroy the Alliance from within. Their military might counts for nothing if their members stand alone. Then we strike peace with the individual nations and carve them away from the Alliance, piece by piece.”

“If you want your enemy to bleed to death, you inflict a wound that cannot heal. That is why I need you to make the plan, High Overlord,” Sylvanas said. “The moment our strike begins, there will be no turning back. We can divide the Alliance only if the war to conquer Darnassus does not unite them against us. That only happens if the Horde wins an honorable victory, and I am not blind—the Horde does not trust me to wage war that way.”

Saurfang does not ponder on what it would mean to be a citizen of the Divided Alliance. I find it difficult to believe it would be pleasant, regardless of the Horde “striking peace with the individual nations.” It seems especially foolish considering how Saurfang already agreed with Sylvanas that peace was impossible anyway, given the atrocities committed by both factions up to this point. I have to imagine the point is that these nations would sue for peace because they were otherwise forever incapable of creating war. Peace for some, the torch for others.

In any case, we can see Teldrassil was intended to be taken as a means to shatter the Alliance with infighting. Crucially, the plan also hinged on being able to kill Malfurion and/or Tyrande. Taking out these faction leaders was not going to be a bonus, but a requirement. This was not explicitly called out in-game or even in the books, until later. When Saurfang hesitates in finishing off Malfurion, and allows him and Tyrande to escape, he Sylvanas reflects:

This battle was not about a piece of land. Even Saurfang knew that. Taking the World Tree was a way to inflict a wound that could never heal. Losing their homes and their leaders would have ended the kaldorei as a nation, if not a people. Even the loss of one leader would have been enough to create a tide of despair. The wounds of this battle would have bled, festered, decayed, and rotted the Alliance from the inside out. Anduin Wrynn would have lashed out in a final, desperate war, looking for a miracle, because only a miracle would save them.

But a miracle already had. A miracle granted by the honorable hand of a foolish old orc.

Incidentally, the constant referring to Saurfang as “honorable” is downright comical. Huge sections of A Good War talk about rogues sneaking about, assassinating targets with poison, and so on. Tossing an axe into the back of Malfurion is about as dishonorable as, you know, all of the actions that led to that moment in the first place. I dunno, maybe there is room in the definition of honor for waging preemptive war and “ending the kaldorei as a people.”

Anyway, when Saurfang comes back empty-handed, Sylvanas conceals her rage:

This conquest of Darnassus would rattle the kaldorei people. They would grieve for their lost, fear for their imprisoned, and tremble at the thought of the Horde ransacking their homes. But they would not fall to despair. Not anymore. Malfurion’s impossible survival would give them hope. Their wound would heal.

Even in this dark hour, they would say, Elune still watches over us.

And that was almost certainly true, wasn’t it? Elune had intervened. Perhaps she had even stayed Saurfang’s killing blow. And she wouldn’t be the only force beyond the Alliance to oppose Sylvanas’s true objective.

Sylvanas’s anger grew cold.

She had known this would happen. It had simply come sooner than expected. That was all.

“Sylvanas’s true objective.” A bit ominous, no? I am still assuming this to be “torching Stormwind and raising all of its people as undead,” but it could be foreshadowing of another sort. Possibly one with tentacles.

The book leaves out the conversation between Sylvanas and Delaryn depicted in the Warbringer video, but it expands on what happens immediately afterwards, when Sylvanas burns the World Tree. It is worth posting it in full:

He struggled to form words. Finally, pure hatred made him spit out a condemnation. “You have damned the Horde for a thousand generations. All of us. And for what? For what?”

Her expression didn’t waver. “This was your battle. Your strategy. And your failure. Darnassus was never the prize. It was a wedge that would split the Alliance apart. It was the weapon that would destroy hope. And you, my master strategist, gave that up to spare an enemy you defeated. I have taken it back.

When they come for us, they will do so in pain, not in glory. That may be our only chance at victory now.”

He wanted to kill her. He wanted to declare mak’gora and spill her blood in front of Horde and Alliance alike.

But she was right.

A wound that can never heal. That had always been the plan. And Saurfang had failed to inflict it. The story of Malfurion’s miraculous survival would have spread among the armies of the Alliance as proof that they were blessed in their cause.

War would still have come. That had been certain the moment Saurfang had led the Horde into Ashenvale. And it would have been what he had feared most: the meat grinder, spending so many lives to achieve so little, ending with a whimper, and thus dooming future generations to a war nobody could win. Once again, Sylvanas had seen it before he had.

And so . . .

She had sent a message. This was not a war that would end in a stalemate. Not now. The Alliance and the Horde would both understand that the only choices were victory or death. Lok‐tar ogar.

If World of Warcraft were not an MMO, I might have been excited at this turn of events. This feels like the penultimate chapter, the crest of a wave. Things will be sorted out once and for all.

But it won’t.

There will be an expansion after this one, and another after that. There will still be the Horde faction, and Forsaken running around in it, blighting things with Tauren chewing their cuds in the background. While I am convinced Sylvanas will no longer be warchief by the end of Battle for Azeroth, I can’t be certain whether it will be due to some impossibly sparkly “redemption” arc or because she went into hiding.

What I am certain of is that the Alliance will continue to be the bumbling white hats forever extending their hands in love and friendship and peace, only to get shit on by the Horde time and again. That is in spite of the fact that there should be no redemption for the Horde this time. And I don’t mean because Sylvanas burned the World Tree with all the civilians inside. I mean because the most honorable orc in all the Horde agreed that peace with the Alliance is impossible, and thus started a preemptive war in an attempt to destroy the faction permanently.

Like, I don’t think I can stress this enough. Even “preemptive war” makes it sound like the Horde were simply striking before the Alliance can move their war machines into position. To be clear, there were no Alliance war machines. The Alliance did not even really have access to Azerite. Sylvanas had ZERO Casus belli, and Saurfang the Honorable Orc drafted the battle strategy with minimum fuss. In fact, he was happy to do so, because he thought it would save Horde lives down the road. Which is all “justifiable” until you allow the Alliance the same courtesy.

By all rights, this expansion should end with the genocide of all orcs and Forsaken.

I suppose we’ll begin to see how it plays out in less than a week. If the Horde skates without Jania or Malfurion torching the Barrens though, I will be very… not surprised at all.

Consequences for crimes is so 2015.

The Last Reset

This week is the last reset before Battle for Azeroth goes Live.

In the three weeks that I have been back playing WoW, it has consumed a rather large part of my gaming time, as it did in the past. I have since reached the level cap with my paladin, rogue, warlock, demon hunter, and death knight. Two additional classes are just barely past level 100 – the priest and warrior – but I have had great fun with playing them, so I plan on getting them to the cap as well.

I am abandoning my mage at level 92, as I tried out all three specs and found them lacking. In fact, it’s pretty awful considering mage is the only class that can’t face-tank mobs, and yet cannot blow them up either. Or maybe WoD is still overtuned post-squish? All I know is that I accidentally aggroed a bunch of crabs in the the beginning Garrison quests, blew all my cooldowns, and still died. I don’t think I’ve died to non-elite mob pulls in… five years? Maybe longer.

Anyway, the shaman is a big Nope for me, Zappiboi notwithstanding, and I never was particularly serious about the hunter in all my time with WoW. I’m probably going to wait until I unlock Void Elves before using one of my three stockpiled instant-100/110 tokens on getting a monk up to speed.

This last reset is going to be somewhat important for me in the transmog department. Specifically, I have been trying to obtain the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion since the release of the Nighthold raid. A similar model drops from a world boss, but it’s one of 11, and the order was completely random week-to-week until recently. I’m not especially confident that Legion raids or the world boss will be soloable on a leather-wearing class at the beginning of BfA, nor do I imagine there being much interest in small-party raiding of old content. If I have to wait 2+ years to obtain these transmog items, well, they are effectively removed from the game as far as I’m concerned.

We’ll see how it goes. I will have six opportunities (3 leather classes + bonus rolls) to snag the chest piece, and potentially another two if the demon hunter tier piece chest (same model) can be used for transmog on other leather-wearing characters.

Tabletop Simulator

In case you were unaware, there is a Steam game out there called Tabletop Simulator (hereafter TS).

TS is basically an emulator for board games, with the Steam Workshop operating as a ROM storefront. In fact, I’m not even sure how any of this is particularly legal. TS by itself is “merely” a toolset… but it is fairly robust and powerful to the extent that it’d be difficult to find some board game that it couldn’t recreate.

Tabletop-Simulator-Agricola

Hand sizes of 14 cards is a bit much though

The first time I used it, my wife and I played Agricola with a friend on the West Coast. The version of Agricola we played did not have any scripting beyond the starting board state, so we still had to manually place the extra resources on the board each turn.

Something I really appreciate about the game is the ability to see the “hand” (i.e. mouse cursor) of other players – it allowed us to point to cards, see who was already moving a piece, and so on. The 3D nature of the simulator itself obviously leads itself to some exciting possibilities in custom games (or presumably in VR), but it is more of an annoyance in traditional scenarios. For example, it’s sometimes difficult to pick up only one card from a stack, or place down multiple cards, or accidentally stack pieces that you did not intend to stack.

Tabletop-Simulator-Catan

Classic millennial gaming.

The second session a few weeks later had us playing a semi-scripted Settlers of Catan game. The starting tiles and numbers were already randomly placed for us, and the roll of the dice would highlight exactly which tile produced resources that turn. Settlements and roads also snapped into place, so there was not a bunch physics-based fiddling necessary. Oh, and scoring was semi-automated as well. I was somewhat disappointed that resources did not automatically arrive in our hand, but I suppose there should be some sort of interaction going on. I did like how you can take cards out of other players’ hands, for when you move the Robber.

Tabletop-Simulator-Robots

Good thing we already knew how to play…

After Catan, we played a few rounds of Ricochet Robots. This used to be a fairly obscure board game that sold for $80+ on eBay, but it looks like it was reprinted here recently as it’s selling for about $40 on Amazon. There was not particular automation here either, as there really isn’t any need for any. There were a few features that I wish were available, and depending on how difficult it would be to code, it’s probably possible to add them myself.

Having played about ~10 hours of board games using Tabletop Simulator, I will say that there is no substitute for sitting around an actual table with real people in the room. Right-clicking and rolling dice will never be the same as rolling them yourself. But if you are in a scenario in which remote gaming sessions were the only option, Tabletop Simulator is an extremely viable option. To say nothing about its usefulness in testing new games before buying them, or using it in the wild ways of creating your own games, running D&D campaigns, and so on.

“Can’t I?”

The WoW community has been in a roiling boil for almost a week now over the pre-patch events transpiring in the lead-up to Battle for Azeroth. Specifically, there is a sense of incredulity surrounding the actions of Sylvanas. I recommend watching the Warbringer video below, but I will also include a little transcript:

Sylvanas: Secure the beach. Prepare to invade the tree.
Delaryn: (cough) Why? (cough) Why? You’ve already won. Only innocents remain in the tree.
Sylvanas: This is war.
Delaryn: No. This… is hatred… rage. Windrunner, you were… defender of your people. Do you not remember?
Sylvanas: I remember… a fool.
–Flashback of fighting, dying to Arthas, then being reborn–
Sylvanas: Life is pain. Hope fails. Now you understand.
–Tears fall from Delaryn, Sylvanas smiles–
Sylvanas: Ah, don’t grieve… you’ll soon join your loved ones.
Delaryn: I grieve for you. You’ve made life your enemy. And that is a war you’ll never win. You can kill us… but you cannot kill hope.
–Sylvanas glances at the tree, then back at Delaryn–
Sylvanas: Can’t I?
–Sylvanas turns Delaryn’s head towards the tree, and then looks at her commanders–
Sylvanas: Burn it. Burn it!

First, let me just say it: this cinematic animated short is amazing in isolation. Delaryn’s wounded coughing sounded a bit amateurish, but the dialog was tight, the imagery engaging, and it summarized Sylvanas’ entire character arc in less than four minutes.

Second, this is Sylvanas. “She would have had a more strategic plan!” Would she? I’m open for a longer debate on the subject, but to me, Sylvanas’ naked nihilism has been on display from the very beginning. Hell, I remember rolling a Forsaken character back in TBC and wondering how many expansions we would go before the Forsaken broke off and became a third faction. The casual sociopathy in plague deployment, and the understanding that the race only expanded by desecrating the dead always made it feel like the Horde accepted the Forsaken only grudgingly, out of existential considerations. The Forsaken were a part of the Horde, but stood apart.

That said, I sympathize with most of the outrage.

If you are a Horde player entertaining the fantasy of being part of an honorable band of misfits just trying to survive, Blizzard has been throwing you under the bus lately. I was not actively playing through the entire Garrosh arc, but the summaries are reading pretty similar already.

That’s not even getting into the problems that the Taurens and other Horde races/classes should be having with A) burning Teldrassil to the ground, B) being tasked with killing Malfurion (a druid leader to both factions), or C) working with a Warchief whose motto is “Life is pain, hope fails.” Sylvanas might get a pass during Legion, but if there is not widespread in-game, in-character outrage from at least the druid and shaman corners, then the Blizzard criticism is 100% warranted.

[Edit: Ah, Saurfang, you beautiful bastard. Well played, Blizzard.]

On the Alliance side, when turning in the post-fall quest to Anduin, he says:

You have shown courage and heart, champion. On this, one of the Alliance’s darkest days. My whole life, I have prayed for peace in this world. But that dream can never be realized so long as Sylvanas Windrunner leads the Horde. She expects this atrocity to crush our spirits. Shatter our unity. But this I vow… the Alliance will endure… and the Bashee Queen’s insidious reign will be ended.

So, regardless of whether Sylvanas retreads exactly the same path as Garrosh or veers into a more interesting direction, I think there is enough foreshadowing here to suggest, at a minimum, she will not remain the Warchief by the end of the expansion. Which is a rather high turnover rate for even the most diehard Horde fan to endure.

We’ll see how it plays out in the coming months and patches.

Let me just say though, oof, that Alliance quest inside the burning Darnassus was rough. And brilliant. It took my 10+ years of completing quests in WoW and used it to twist the knife in a way that not Arthas or Sargeras ever could. We can kill Old Gods… but how many civilians can we save from the flames?

Twenty-five. I saved twenty-five. Out of nine hundred and eighty-two.

[WISP] The Division

(e.g. Why I Stopped Playing: The Division)

I can show you precisely the moment I decided to stop playing The Division:

TheDivision-BossSponge

I’d like to read the Tom Clancy book about taking 6+ bullets to the face…

There is nothing particularly special about this “boss” character. I had actually died to him once already, as he has a machine gun and is able to just keep firing for like 30 seconds as he walks around your cover and mows you down in a realistic way. Having respawned, I was able to safely stay at my pictured elevated position. I was compelled to take this screenshot because I just shot this dude 5 times in the face with a sniper rifle, and he still has a sliver of “armor” left.

I have had a tone issue with The Division almost from the beginning. This is not a game where you are shooting zombies. You are not even shooting infected people behaving erratically. You are shooting “looters” or “Cleaners” (who are trying to burn the infection out) or gang members or prisoners who broke out of jail. Granted, all of your enemies appear to be killing innocent civilians or otherwise impeding efforts to maintain law and order. But… The Division (thus far) made no attempt to even address the wholesale slaughter of people trying to survive in a government quarantine zone.

TheDivision-Beauty

A very, very pretty quarantine zone.

I bring this up because “motivation” is hugely critical in cover-based shooters for me. The core gameplay in these games is so banal and simplified, there is often nothing else to go on. Stay in cover, peek and shoot. Leave cover, die. The Division technically has some additional elements like special powers, and is definitely geared towards small-squad teamplay, including a trinity of sorts.

But otherwise? Peek and shoot. And 100% of the missions up to the point I stopped playing had been about killing people for vague reasons. Even when you are rescuing hostages, there is no sense that A) the hostages were actually being ransomed, or B) the hostages will be better off going back home.

I was actually going to quit playing two weeks ago, but Alex posted this live-action video in the comments. That was… kinda compelling, and set me in the right frame of mind for getting back into the game.

…at least up until I kept encountering these predictable boss characters, with their predictable face armor which takes a half-dozen sniper rifle rounds to remove.

I understand that the game is a looter shooter, and things are not supposed to make too much sense – not quite sure how a new holster is somehow giving me extra armor, but whatever. It would be quite the boring game if the first rifle you picked up from the body of an enemy was the same one you used throughout the entire experience.

But… I just can’t do it anymore. The Division just piles up too much unsupported nonsense and my suspension of disbelief cannot bear the weight. And if I don’t respect the setting and don’t care about the story, there is zero reason to play a cover-based shooter. So I’m not, anymore.

Combat Flow

I have been playing a lot of WoW the past week or so. While the original goal was to grind some reputation to unlock Allied Races, I am now focusing my time on getting my stable of alts up to level 110 prior to BfA going Live. And in that time, I am finding it fascinating how great (or horrible!) combat feels for the different classes.

My “main” in Legion has been a druid Moonkin. The thought process was A) I wanted to DPS, and B) my historical knowledge of Feral was that you basically had to play Dance Dance Revolution perfectly to only achieve adequate DPS. Thus, for pretty much the entire expansion, I stayed Moonkin. That is in spite of Moonkins feeling terrible to play.

I say Moonkins feel terrible, but it’s difficult to enunciate why. There just doesn’t seem to be any particular flow. Let’s say that I’m facing a fresh target 30 yards away. I can start with a New Moon rotation, which is a 3-spell sequence of escalating damage and cast times. The target is likely to die by the time they get hit with the third spell, and I’ll have enough Astral Power to fire off at least two Starsurges (instant-cast, hard-hitting spells) to finish off anything that survives. Then the clunkiness comes in. While the New Moon rotation is on cooldown, I pretty much just spam Solar Wrath until I can Starsurge again, or I toss on two dots and hope for instant-cast Lunar Strike procs from being hit.

One of the alts I’m leveling is a Demo warlock, so let’s compare there. Starting at 30 yards, I cast Summon: Dreadstalkers, followed by two Shadowbolts, then Hand of Gul’dan. At this point, the mob is either dead or about to be dead from the force of like 6-8 demons auto-attacking. When the Dreadstalkers go away, I get two Demonbolt instant-cast procs, which are mini-Pyroblasts that also give me Soul Shards to recast Summon: Dreadstalker and/or Hand of Gul’dan.

There is a flow with the Demo warlock that practically turns into a roiling boil if you immediately engage another enemy. Compare that to the Moonkin, with it’s anemic refractory period inbetween possibly blowing one mob up.

Another flow impediment is just a clunky rotation. Exhibit A: the Unholy Death Knight. Festering Strike costs 2 runes, and gives your target some Festering Wounds. If you hit them twice, they’ll have four debuffs, and you can spend your two remaining runes on Scourge Strike to pop two of them. And now… you wait for runes to regenerate, or possibly throw out a Death Coil. Alternatively, you can only Festering Strike once, and then Scourge Strike four times, the latter two of which won’t deal extra damage. If there’s a 2nd mob, you just sort of face-tank them for a while. I mean, you have AoE options like Outbreak or Death & Decay/Defile, but those consume runes too, and you’re left with awkward gaps in the rotation regardless.

Retribution paladin used to be the king of awkward rotation gaps, but I have been enjoying it since the 8.0 patch thus far. Judgment, Blade of Justice, Templar’s Verdict is sometimes enough to kill a mob outright. If not, Crusader’s Strike and another Blade of Justice (via Art of War proc) will get you another 3 Holy Power for another Templar’s Verdict. If the mob still ain’t dead, or if something else wandered into range, Wake of Ashes hits hard and instantly gives you 5 Holy Power for some additional Templar’s Verdicts. Point being, there may be some gaps later on, but they only show up after prolonged combat.

Sometimes the rotation is fine, but there is something else that is ever-so-slightly grating about the class, which interrupts the flow. That has been my experience with Havoc (aka DPS) demon hunters. Nominally, the spec feels fine. In fact, it is extremely satisfying when you gather up mobs and watch them literally melt from Eye Beam every 30 seconds. The problem is… the sounds. The auto-attack and Demon’s Bite and Chaos Strike abilities make a discordant “ching-ching” sound, like metal on metal. It’s annoying as shit, and just about enough to get me to not want to play the class entirely, despite loving everything else about the kit. I might seriously investigate if there’s an addon or something that can change the sounds that those abilities make.

Of all the alts I’ve played thus far, the one that was the most surprisingly satisfying to play has been the Fury warrior. As far as I can tell, the spec is not even that particularly strong. But, guys, seriously, give it a go sometime. Charging your foe, hitting with Raging Blow/Blood Thirst/repeat, then launching into that amazing Rampage animation… glorious. Left, right, both swords. If you’re not careful, there can be a 1-2 second boner-killing gap in buttons to press within the rotation, but it’s otherwise a very good time. The sounds, the animation, the damage, the flow – the whole package.

Having said all that, it’s entirely possibly I have been doing things wrong. Talents play a huge part in rotations and spec feel, and I may have simply picked the wrong ones. For example, I’m looking at Icy Veins right now, and it’s saying that the New Moon talent for Moonkins is crap, which probably has a lot to do with how weak/clunky the spec feels. I’m not sure that spamming Solar Wrath or casting DoTs on mobs that should ideally die within 10-15 seconds will feel better, but maybe. The rest of my alts are all sub-110 also, so it’s possible that mobs scaled below max level are weaker than my druid main is used to fighting. As I bring each one to the level cap – almost entirely from doing Legion invasions once every few days – we’ll see how they feel.

It has been an interesting experience playing all these classes/specs nonetheless. A lot of people have kinda railed against the notion of making leveling new classes a trivial exercise, between heirlooms and XP streamlining and other nerfs. But I feel like it’s a great tragedy for new players of WoW to be coming in and possibly losing on the character creation screen. Or if not outright losing by sticking with a clunky spec/class, missing out on a class/spec that they would enjoy playing 1000% better than whatever they originally picked. This isn’t FF14 where you lose nothing in particular by switching classes. I’m stuck with the druid main at least until BfA – unless I’m willing to forever abandon unlocking the Allied Races – because I sure as shit ain’t grinding up the reputation again.

In any case, it’s my goal to get a stable full of max-level alts ready for the BfA release. And, you know, hopefully find the one that’s the most fun to play.

Waiting Games

The Alpha 17 patch for 7 Days to Die has been pushed back from “late July” to August. There are some sweeping changes being done to guns and weapon mods in general, in addition to introducing new vehicles and such. It will remain to be seen if these changes are enough to make the game feel fresh, but honestly, it won’t take much to bring me back anyway.

Fallout 76’s release date is November 14th. I was hoping that “beta access” actually meant beta access, but it’s more like the now-current industry standard of pre-release. Evidence? Beta will take place in October, starting with a small group and then getting larger, and XBox users will be first.

Battlefield 5 will be released on October 19th, or slightly earlier if you’re subscribed to Origin Access. There should be an open beta sometimes in September, which I suppose matches the “beta” of Fallout 76. Hopefully the “open beta” is actually open, e.g. free.

WoW’s latest expansion will be hitting August 14th, of course.

In the meantime, I’m mostly playing the waiting game. I log into WoW, check the Emissary quest, WQs, and Order Hall mission lists to see if there are any easy reputation gains, for Allied Races purposes. I recently upgraded all of my heirlooms to level 110, and equipped them on all my alts. I have recently discovered how lucrative the Invasions can be from an XP standpoint – with 55% bonus XP, clearing the map is basically an entire level – but the quests are account-wide, so I’m kinda cycling through my characters. If there is time/interest leftover, I do some mog runs.

Honestly, I should probably be spending this time playing something else entirely. But, as always, it’s tough to play something else when you really want to be playing something in particular that you can’t. In my case, since they have not be released/updated yet.

goals, Lowercase

I have unlocked Legion flying.

The process was not nearly as painful as I was anticipating, primarily because the reputation requirement was only Revered, instead of Exalted. Well, that, and the fact that I had already unlocked Pathfinder Part 1 before I stopped playing last time, in addition to doing some of the beginning quests at the Broken Shore. In any case, flying is as majestic and freeing and worthwhile as it has ever been. Although it annoys me greatly that Blizzard will continue dangling it in front of us, that simply confirms the notion that it is a carrot worth pursuing every time.

Unlocking the Alliance Allied Races was a secondary goal that I may well abandon entirely. The requirement is Exalted with two factions introduced in Argus, and completing all the quests sticks you at the beginning of Honored. While the reputation is a bit easier to grind out nowadays – most World Quests give you both factions’ rep, and at 75 a pop – that is still… an inordinate amount of grinding. Blizzard is apparently sticking to their guns in terms of still requiring Exalted into BFA, which is just further mind-boggling, considering you then still have to level up new characters from level 20. I suppose Blizzard considers this a sort of cosmetic Thing To Do, but it’s bizarre to me that they’d go through the trouble of creating entirely new skins and racial abilities and heritage armor, and then leave it in soon-to-be-dead content with an expansion around the corner.

I mean, it’s one thing to leave in the WoD grind to unlock flying, as that just impacts WoD. But imagine if new players had to grind Cataclysm reputation to unlock flying in the vanilla zones. Six expansions from now, there will likely still be Void Elves running around, provided that anyone gets bored enough to spend 6+ weeks grinding rep.

Instead of that, I have been turning my gaze towards some of my alts. As mentioned before, I only have the one max-level character: the druid. For my other alts, I made sure to do the beginning artifact quests, so they are generally level 102. Thus far, I have only touched two since patch 8.0.

The first was the Demon Hunter. I… just don’t know about this class. The whole double-jumping and free-gliding aspect of it make the class extremely fun from a mobility perspective. From a fun perspective though, the button-pushing aspect leaves something to be desired. I guess technically it’s extremely similar to Rogue mechanics – press A to build up resources to press B – but I think the key difference is that all the attacks feels like the same on the Demon Hunter. Stab-Thrust-Spin feels a lot more varied than Spin-Spin-Spin, even if you’re doing comparable damage.

Alternatively, I could just be annoyed how little self-healing Demon Hunters have (at this level?). I was in Stormheim and there was one of those quests where you have to weaken a mob before using an item on them to make them stop fighting. Which is normally fine, whatever. However, the regen mechanic with Demon Hunters is based on the mobs dying and dropping health orbs, which… doesn’t happen when you don’t kill the mobs. Can’t just bandage anymore either, unless you have a Tailor or buy bandages off the AH. And who carries food around these days?

The other class I played for a bit was Rogue, and it’s as fun as it’s ever been. Stealth, blowing mobs up in a few GCDs, re-stealth and go on to the next one. I’ve stuck with Outlaw thus far because I like Grappling Hook and Pistol Shot, but I do miss being able to Shadowstep to the next mob and basically ninja my way around the world.

In the coming days, I want to give the Paladin, Death Knight, and Warlock another go now that War Mode is a thing I can keep turned off. Also, I have never had a Monk past level 20, so that would seem to be a good target for one of my free level 100 boosts. Don’t know what I would use the other one on – perhaps an Allied Race, if I ever unlock one? – but I’m tempted to boost a Horde character either on my current server or another one, just to get access to the Horde storyline.

Provided, of course, that my attention span for WoW holds out.