Legion & Legacy - End-of-year Thoughts

Just because I haven't been playing WoW doesn't mean that it has been completely off my radar. For one thing, the launch of the Legion expansion in late summer was hard to miss. And I do have to hand it to the WoW community: They are very good at building hype. I actually watched a video of someone talking so enthusiastically about just how much fun he was having with Legion that part of me was genuinely tempted to give it a try. I know better of course, but I have to give kudos to people for still managing to rouse these kinds of feelings in me after all these years and despite of my brain knowing better.

Following the reactions to Legion once the launch hype had died down was also interesting because... either Blizzard really never learns, people will complain no matter what, or maybe a bit of both. The reason I'm saying this is that after all the "there's nothing to do" moans about Warlords of Draenor, we are now back to people complaining about excessive grind and alt-unfriendliness - the exact same things that people were criticising about Mists of Pandaria. It's pretty fascinating to observe even without playing myself.

Meanwhile, I have been feeling a genuine itch to play some Vanilla again, but after just getting a new PC I'm uncertain about how to go about it. The memory of how much of a hassle it was to get the Vanilla client up and running last time doesn't exactly endear me to going through all of that again. And it makes me kind of sad to say it but... I also think I'm pretty much done with Kronos. I didn't really put down deep enough roots on it, and the fact that it's a PvP server just makes it too hard for me to casually enjoy myself on my own. I was really hoping that the opening of the gates of Ahn'qiraj would invigorate my interest somehow, but seeing how I wasn't even able to observe the event peacefully, the opposite was the case. It's annoying that the private server community has such a hard-on for PvP servers that good PvE options are few and far between. Mind you, I don't regret giving it a try, but it also taught me that PvP servers are not worth my time in the long run.

But oh, what's this...?

The drama around Nostalrius continues, and apparently they have now decided to relaunch. I've previously written about why I don't think Blizzard will ever create official Vanilla servers, but it's hard to not feel at least a spark of hope these days considering that they've gone on record only this month to say that they are still thinking about it. The Nost team on the other hand, previously the community's untiring official champions for legacy servers, have now decided to throw their toys out of the pram and will just do the same thing as other private server hosts, which is to keep going and simply ignore any cease and desists from Blizzard. One can't help but see this as unhelpful to the cause... if you thought that official Vanilla servers ever had a chance that is. For many that were quite happy to play on private servers on the other hand, the return of Nost is a joyous day. And you know what? I think at this point it might be for me too... because they are also relaunching their PvE server.

It will be the last one to go up as part of an incredibly badly thought-out staggered release and will likely be the least populated... but all that is perfectly fine by me. Maybe in the new year I will give levelling another Vanilla character a shot, this time without constantly having to worry about gank attempts.


The Opening of the Gates

In a strange juxtaposition of retro gaming and modern social media, I found out that the Ahn'Qiraj war effort on Kronos had been completed because a message from Kronos' official Facebook page about it showed up on my Facebook feed. It stated that there was going to be a delay of five days before the grand opening of the gates, to allow the armies to get into position. I have no idea whether that's true to the original Vanilla experience, but it was certainly convenient to have the whole event moved to a weekend, when I'd actually have a chance to poke my head in to see what was happening.

On Saturday evening I then saw another post stating that the event had started, though the gates to the raid weren't supposed to open until Sunday. I logged right in, having already parked my paladin at Cenarion Hold the day before.

Silithus was the busiest I've ever seen it in any iteration of the game, and I excitedly started to ride south, passing an awe-inspiringly huge NPC army in the process. Then I saw my first Anubisath! I stopped to take a screenshot... and a few seconds later I was dead, killed by Horde. Oh right, PvP server.

I released my spirit and watched the continuous stream of Alliance ghosts running back to their bodies for a few seconds, then logged out. My plan to "witness" the event, maybe even record it on video or something, was clearly futile under the circumstances, and I had so many more fun things to do that evening than let myself get ganked over and over again.

But you know... well done, guys.

(Tekai once again has a more informative post about what's been happening.)


All Quiet on the Western Front

You may have guessed from my recent silence on here that my Vanilla WoW playing has been put on the backburner again. Both Neverwinter and SWTOR have been demanding my time due to the draw of group play, limited-time events and promises of new content. Despite of the uncertainty inherent in playing on a private Vanilla WoW server, I actually feel quite safe in leaving it for a while now and coming back later. The whole Nostalrius drama has shown that there is a clear demand for Vanilla WoW, and I now think that in one form or another, options to play it will actually be around for a long time.

The one thing that won't be around on Kronos forever is the Ahn'Qiraj war effort. I actually found myself wondering today whether I had already managed to miss it and logged back in purely to check on this. As it turns out, it's still going. At the time of writing this, the Alliance is missing 3720 purple lotus, 2860 linen and 97700 silk bandages, while the Horde is short on 2840 firebloom, 1700 purple lotus and 37500 wool bandages. Who'd have thought that silk bandages would be such a bottleneck?

This means that the war effort has been going for nearly five months now. I was going to wonder out loud whether that isn't quite long, but as it happens Tekai pointed out only yesterday that on retail, 90 percent of all realms had opened the gates within three months. So yes, it most definitely is slow.

I'm starting to think that I might want to log in at least once a week to keep an eye on the event's progression. Slow or not, things are getting very close now. There's a chance that I might actually witness the opening of the gates yet.


Bloodless Mountain Lions

I haven't spent that much time on Kronos over the past couple of weeks because I needed some downtime to clear my bags. I'm serious! I had levelled my hunter's leatherworking and crafted a whole bunch of chest and leg pieces that were good enough that I knew they would sell well on the auction house and yield a fair bit more money that way than if I simply vendored them. But you can't flood the AH with ten of the same item, you've got to let them trickle in one by one... so my play sessions consisted of logging in, emptying my mailbox, re-listing things on the AH and logging off again.

This weekend I would have felt like playing some more again, but the Kronos team decided to use Saturday of all days to take the server down for maintenance. I have to laugh at the people who think that Blizzard could just "throw up" a bunch of Vanilla servers and nobody would mind the imperfections. They clearly haven't seen the reactions of people who've been deprived of a completely free service provided by volunteers for a mere couple of hours...

That said, I've since taken my hunter to Hillsbrad Foothills. It was an annoying trek, but I had a breadcrumb quest and I was going to be damned if I had to abandon it. There were some nice quests there too.

I didn't witness any epic Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battles, but the steady stream of Alliance players travelling to Alterac or the Scarlet Monastery was certainly noticeable. I got killed two or three times and got away another couple. In fact, I got quite close to nearly killing a level 30+ paladin but ended up aggroing all kinds of wildlife during my clumsy kiting so that I eventually had to retreat to Tarren Mill to get some health back.

There was one quest in particular that stood out: Elixir of Pain, which is part of a chain. This part asks you to collect ten blood samples from mountain lions. I had cleared the area of cats all the way to the Hillsbrad Fields before I saw my first quest item drop - in fact, I had already begun to wonder whether I was killing the right mobs. Old Wowhead comments also bemoan the bad drop rate, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology I could check Kronos' own database for the exact drop rate on this server: 15%. Ouch! You do the maths for how many mountain lions one has to kill on average to get ten blood samples then...

I'll be honest: I considered abandoning it. But then I realised that I'd need more leather anyway, so to hell with it. I think I gained almost a whole level doing nothing but hunting mountain lions while listening to some random podcasty-type videos. As I've said before, grinding isn't always bad. I needed that leather anyway.


I saw the Warcraft Movie!

... and it wasn't bad. It wasn't fantastic either, but overall I enjoyed it.

It manages to bring the cartoony world of Azeroth to life in a convincing manner while maintaining its colourful charm. Everything from the acting to the effects is at least solid (though I thought the orcs' voices sounded a bit hollow and hard to understand sometimes).

I could tell that they made a lot of changes to the lore, though I was never that good with the details from the RTS games as I never actually played them. So most of the changes just sparked a "hm, I'm pretty sure that's not how that went in the original version" while I scratched my head a little as I couldn't actually remember just how that particular part of the plot was supposed to go. At least I could usually make a good guess as to why they made a change at that particular point (e.g. to make a character look more sympathetic or to provide a simplified explanation for something that's pretty convoluted in the "real" lore).

I think the film's biggest problem is that while it keeps events moving at a brisk pace and never gets boring, it fails to really get its claws into the viewers on an emotional level and get them to care about what's going on. To make a Lord of the Rings comparison, it's missing its "Shire", the part where we get introduced to the beauty of the world of Azeroth and develop a connection to it, seeing it as something worth fighting for. There is a lot of jumping back and forth between different characters, but few of them get enough screen time that you can really connect to them. And the few that do either aren't all that likeable (in my opinion) or end up dying. (Khadgar is the notable exception here.) It's not so bad if you already know who all these people are and have a previous investment, but I can definitely see how this could cause the film to fall flat for uninitiated audiences.


More Lowbie Dungeons on Horde Side

It felt oddly satisfying to do Wailing Caverns on my hunter at level - I mentioned that I never managed to do this back in actual Vanilla times (probably because back then I was levelling my hunter shortly before BC launch, so most people were focused on the upcoming expansion already), so this sort of "better late than never" experience was oddly cathartic.

As you'd expect of these old-school dungeons, each run was quite an experience.

During my first run, things seemed to be going almost too smoothly for a while, until we had a near wipe deep inside the instance - me and the mage were the only ones to survive, due to him re-sheeping one mob while I turned my cat's taunt on and spammed mend pet on it until the situation had stabilised. The warrior tank and the warlock decided that they were going to wait for the healer to run back and res them, but in classic Wailing Caverns fashion, our priest got lost on the way back. He did eventually find his way back to the rest of the group (I think he dug up a map from the internet or something), but not until a good fifteen minutes or so had passed.

Killing all the bosses was also a shocking drain on my ammunition - and I'm not some noob who goes into an instance with a half-empty ammo pouch. It got a little nerve-wracking towards the end (I didn't want to have to start meleeing things), and by the time we killed Mutanus, I had exactly five bullets left. Dodged that particular bullet (excuse the pun)!

That could have been it if I had actually managed to get all my quests done in that single run, however for two of them I was still short on drops, which prompted me to look for another group several days later. Pro tip: While watching the chat for LFG requests, a great way to pass the time in a productive manner at this level is to fish at one of the oases in the Barrens. Deviate Fish sell quite nicely.

Just as I was starting to get a bit impatient and began to think that it probably wasn't going to happen that day, I saw a lonely tank looking for group for Wailing Caverns, quickly snatched him up, and about five minutes later we were on our way.

I was kind of amused when this tank asked if we all knew how Vanilla dungeons worked - he was apparently quite old-school and the healer soon commended him on his excellent pulling. The tank explained that in Vanilla, the art of pulling was what tanking was all about, prompting me to add that the art of dealing damage was all about not pulling, which earned a few chuckles.

About halfway through, our warlock disconnected and didn't come back, which prompted the group to replace him with a mage. Said mage actually showed that the tank's question at the start had not been unreasonable, because he had trouble finding the instance entrance and expected all the quests to come from the NPC at the door. We finished without any further issues, I got a nice new bow and managed to complete both of my remaining quests. We also must have killed everything considerably more quickly than last time, because even though we did the entire instance once again, I came nowhere near close to running out of bullets this time.

Once again, this could have been it, except that someone suggested that we should continue to Shadowfang Keep as a group since we were doing so well. Everyone but the shaman healer agreed, and he was soon replaced by a priest.

I'd forgotten just how packed with trash mobs and claustrophobic SFK was in Vanilla. More than once I actually found myself unable to shoot things and forced into melee range since I couldn't get to the minimum distance required to use my ranged attacks (damn those spiral staircases).

Still, initially things seemed to be going well, until our healer DCed somewhat suddenly. He had been saying something about his baby waking up, so we figured that this was the reason for the sudden disappearance. We eventually replaced him with a level 18 priest, which is a tad low for the instance but seemed reasonable considering that he didn't have to hit things. However, we soon ran into trouble in the room with the many stairs and ramps after Odo the Blindwatcher, where our healer's immense aggro radius caused way too many mobs to descend on us all at once. We wiped and tried again more carefully, but still got too many of them, simply doing too much damage to us. I eventually lost count of the number of wipes we had in that room - five or six perhaps - but eventually we had whittled the problematic group down to a manageable size and were able to proceed.

Sadly we didn't have much luck once we actually made it to Arugal, who once again wiped us in short order. (I suppose it didn't help that he was level 26 and I was the highest level in the group at 24.) I think we had two attempts on him, and then found after running back that everything up to the courtyard had respawned, which prompted several people to throw in the towel. Bit of a shame, but it was still a productive run overall - I got lots of leather for my leatherworking and as mentioned, my little tauren dinged 24.


Back in the Saddle

Kronos has been back up again for a couple of days, but it's still a bit wobbly on its legs sometimes. I logged onto my paladin to see how things were going and a stranger ran up to me and traded me The Light and How to Swing It. However, before I could even do as much as say "thanks, stranger", I was disconnected and unable to log back in again. So, if you happen to read this, random stranger in Ironforge: I didn't mean to be rude, and thank you again!

Fortunately the server was stable enough for me to spend some time playing this Saturday, as I wanted to make use of the rested XP my new tauren hunter had accumulated during the downtime.

Before the servers succumbed to the DDoS attack, I had actually gone out and tamed a hyena as my second pet as planned, but I struggled with both of my pets being unhappy and absolutely ravenous 24/7. I had taken up fishing to keep my cat happy but didn't have enough suitable food for the hyena at hand, causing me to stable it for a couple of levels while I saved up random meat drops. Fortunately Petopia confirmed for me that this was just a side effect of the initial low loyalty level and that both pets would become less ravenous over time as their loyalty increased, which turned out to be true.

I also made a bit of a fool of myself when I meant to go to Orgrimmar to contribute some wool bandages to the war effort and kept looking for the zeppelin docking point in Thunder Bluff. After I gave up and googled it, I found out that this particular connection wasn't actually added until Wrath of the Lich King. Oops!

Two quests from Thunder Bluff reminded me of the existence of Ragefire Chasm. Maybe it's because of my early Alliance experiences, but I always kind of forget that this particular instance even exists, as I always think of the Deadmines as the lowest-level dungeon.

I decided that I wanted to run it. Fortunately there were plenty of LFG requests flying around, however I was soon reminded that things are a bit different when you play a pure damage dealer. On my paladin I could be relatively picky and wait for a group to be looking for a tank or healer at a convenient time, but when you play dps, things are a bit different. I would whisper someone who was "LFM", get no response, and a few moments later they were now only looking for a tank or healer. You just have to be quick and/or lucky... or you can take it upon yourself to be the person who actually puts the group together, which is a bit more work but also more reliable. So the next time I saw someone "LFG RFC", I snatched them up right away, and luckily it turned out to be a warrior willing to tank. It took maybe five minutes to put a full group together, and we ended up with "four undead and a cow" as one of my group mates put it.

There wasn't that much to say about the run itself. We had one near-wipe (the surviving rogue and I ran back out since we were still close to the door) but otherwise things went smoothly. Another time one of the two rogues fell off a cliff and died. I had to chuckle when a group member congratulated my pet (!) on levelling up, and that by name (!!). Quite a contrast to the silent LFG culture where you're lucky if people address you at all, never mind using anyone's name.

Back in the Barrens I also completed one of the more infamous group quests on Horde side: Counterattack! For those who never got to experience it, it's a group quest you get after hunting down centaur leaders in three different oases around the Crossroads (which is an annoying prerequisite to begin with). It involves an event where hordes of centaurs attack, until eventually an elite warlord spawns who hits like an absolute truck, able to two or three-shot players of the right level in average gear.

I was worried that it would be a pain to find a group for this, but as it happened one was forming up just as I was approaching the bunker with the quest giver to hand in the head of the third centaur leader. That said, even with a full five-man group people died to the warlord repeatedly, and most of the time I ended up desperately kiting him around the bunker. I've said before that I'm not very good at kiting, but it's interesting what the threat of impending death will do for your learning curve!

As an extra annoyance it turned out that the banner that he drops can only be picked up by one person at a time, forcing us to redo the whole event five times. One guy was even rude enough to quit the instant he got his own quest item, but fortunately everyone else at least agreed that this was very improper and definitely shun-worthy behaviour.

All in all it was a fun play session and allowed my hunter to hit level 20, a couple of hours earlier in terms of /played than my paladin. Plans for next time: to mop up the rest of the northern Barrens quests and get into Wailing Caverns!