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Picture of the Day – Attack Chopper Cat March 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Gaff has belatedly wandered back to World of Warcraft with the rest of us.  He can now join us in our wait for Warlords of Draenor.  But he is just getting started with Mists of Pandaria, so he has a little while until he hits level cap.  His druid was the first of his characters into Pandaria, and he was in cat form when he jumped into the gyrocopter strafing mission.

Attack Cats are Go!

Attack Cats are Go!

I cannot tell if he is calling for blood or just terrified.  That is not a naturally tenable position for a cat.

Making the Jump into Pandaria February 6, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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After the previous weeks run through three instances, the group had all ascended to level 85.   That left us with some choices as to how to proceed.

The minimal completionist path was to at least take on the Twilight Highlands long enough to get to Grim Batol, the last normal mode instance in Cataclysm, before heading off to Pandaria.  The argument for this would be that we could at least say we had “done” Cataclysm by some very basic measure.

The “onward and upward” path would take us directly into Mists of Pandaria, bypassing the remains of CataclysmCata becomes a “fly over” expansion, and we are in and out in the minimum time.  And why not?  Pandaria has more than enough group content to keep us going at least out to the inevitable group summer hiatus, and probably enough to last us until Warlords of Draenor finally makes its way to us.

And then there was what I will call “the middle path” in our discussions.  This was the idea that we should take our time at level 85 and knock out some or all of the heroic-only five person instances that were included in Cataclysm.  I was all excited about the idea of Heroic Deadmines back in August 2009, it might be reasonable to follow up on that and see what came of it.  Pandaria isn’t going anywhere, and Draenor isn’t close.  Why not hang around in Cataclysm for a while?

In the end, the argument for the middle path hinged on a bag.  Specifically, the Tattered Hexcloth Bag.

TatteredHexclothBag

We are, as always in World of Warcraft, suffering for lack of bag and bank space.  And the promise of 24 slot bag as a quest reward from Zul’Aman, one of the level 70 raids converted into a five person heroic instance for Cataclysm, was like the lure of shoes to Lee’s army before Gettysburg.   We will go a fair bit out of our way for that.

Plus there is the allure of this instance, and its companion Zul’Gurub, as large, sprawling affairs that could eat up a whole evenings adventuring.  We would view that as a good thing. (And I know some people are unhappy about the conversion of these raids to five person instances, but it looks awesome from where I sit as somebody who only does the five person group content.)

The only hitch is that the two converted raids are flagged as “Level 85++” and, frankly, we just aren’t that good.

So the amended plan for the middle path included a brief foray into Pandaria to get that first round of gear when the time was right.  We didn’t think we would need it for Grim Batol, but it would help with Heroic Deadmines and would likely be a necessity for the converted raids.  We would hold off on the Pandaria thing as long as possible.

And then Earl was away this past weekend and we couldn’t think of anything else to do, so we went into Pandaria early.  Go us.

Our roster for the evening was:

  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

And we all had the lead-in quest for Pandaria, so we headed off to meet up with Sky Admiral Rogers.

Meeting the Skymarshal

Meeting the Sky Admiral

Musings on the intro to Pandaria after the cut.  If you have been there, you are pretty much excused for reading further.

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An Embarrassment of Options… December 3, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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12 comments

I find myself in a very different position game-wise than I was in just a month back.

With the return of the instance group to World of Warcraft I have found my “to do” list for the game growing out of control.

The odd bit is that, each time I complete something on my list, it seems to spawn a couple more items.

For example, I wanted to get my pally, who is my main “do all the things” character, through Pandaria and up to level 90.

VikundLevel90

That was a simple achievement based goal that would allow me to see a good stretch of the expansion… though not as much as I thought I would see… and put at least one character at the top of the heap, ready for the next expansion, and able to indulge in whatever level cap things Blizzard had laid out.

Easy stuff.  I figured it wouldn’t take too much of my time and I might be in danger of running out of things I wanted to do.

Instead, upon getting to 90, I have found myself:

  • Finishing up the zone quest lines one by one.
  • Running dailies for various factions because I want items they offer (usually mounts). The Order of the Cloud Serpent are at the top of the list.
  • Harvesting for sales at the auction house, as all them mounts cost money.
  • Harvesting to get engineering up to 600 (at 590 now) so I can build some of the neat things available, such as the Blingtron 4000.  Motes of Harmony and trillium are my main obstacles at the moment.
  • Running Timeless Isle when I can get Pia to come play, to gear myself and a few alts up.  And achievements.  And general “oooh, lookit that!” fun.  And dying.
  • Running scenarios with Earl.  Did one over the weekend and it went well, so I want to try others.

All of which could easily take up my play time budget.  There are a lot of dailies in Pandaria.  It wasn’t very hard for me to get the Every Day I’m Pan-da-ren achievement.  I managed it before I found a bunch of the daily quests.

However, on top of that,there is also the official guild group.  I have been working on Alioto, both to learn how to play the feral druid DPS role better, since we’ll be hitting Cataclysm instances soon, and to work on inscription, the latter being both useful to the group and mildly lucrative.

Then there is also the unofficial second guild group.  The four of us who play regularly have alts that are in the 68 to 70 range that have been playing together now and again when we have all been on.  I have a level 70 druid there as well, in the healing role.  He healed his way through Burning Crusade instances.  Since he also has inscription as a trade skill, I am thinking about dropping that and picking up mining, which would be more lucrative but which would mean going back and skilling up again.

After which there is my hunter, Tistann, who is sitting at 85 now and ready to jump into Pandaria.  Something about wanting a second character at level cap and seeing the content as a ranged player rather than in the melee role.

Then there is a Draenei Death Knight I have pulled out of storage, Tokarev, because I am sort of interested in running the Outland instances as a tank.  He is 60 and ready to embark.  We’ll see if I can find time for him.  He might be a candidate for my insta-90 character in Warlords of Draenor if I don’t.

Finally, there is every other alt I have on the server, which falls at the low end of my hierarchy of things I want to do.  No real plans there, but they all stare at me when I am logging in, wondering when they will next be able to come out and play.  And then there are the characters on other servers.

On top of all of that, there are at least a half a dozen sort of general blog posts about WoW I want to write based on having returned to the game, which are in addition to the “I did a thing” posts that I write.  Sorry in advance on that, both because the topic of WoW will likely dominate the post count for a while and because I will be writing from the perspective of somebody who has come back to the game after a long absence and will thus end up writing more than a few things that will be blindingly obvious to those who never left.

And while the rush back to Azeroth was all sparked by the Warlords of Draenor announcement at BlizzCon early last month, I find myself in no hurry to get to the next expansion.   Unlike many people, WoD could come too soon for me, being as invested as I am in my own little plans at the moment and feeling like there is still some catching up to do.  We shall see.  I am still excited about the expansion, but there is so much to do!

Other games, of course, will suffer because of this.  War Thunder has fallen by the wayside.  I am back to doing fleets on demand only in EVE Online.  I am good for fleet ops and jump in on that, but there is no time for mining or ratting or what not there.  Meanwhile, things like skill trees in Lord of the Rings Online, updates in Rift, nostalgia in EverQuest, and any thoughts about GuildWars 2 are all off the back burner in stored away in the fridge at this point.

Of course, that could all change.  Burn out is a surprisingly easy point to reach.  But for now I am happy, the rest of the guild seems invested in WoW for the moment as well, so we can make plans, talk, and play together.

Addendum: And as Cuppy reminded me, Pet Battles are also on my list somewhere.  See, more stuff just keeps popping up.

Greetings from the Timeless Isle… of DEATH! December 2, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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I am not sure what I expected to Timeless Isle to be.

When it came into the game with patch 5.0.4 one of my higher level friends who had been playing with us on Garnoa, leveling up a new character, ran off to try it out and was never seen again in the 1-60 area of the game where we were playing.  She would occasionally link some purple item that dropped with stats that seemed impossibly high to somebody rolling around doing level 30 content.  But I figured it must have been fun since it occupied all of her game time.

Then the instance group made its way back to Azeroth, I actually rolled on into Pandaria and made it to level 90, and suddenly the Timeless Isle was a possibility.  I could actually go there… once I figured out how to get there.  There is a quest.  Chromie sends you there, though she is hiding.  Her “?” on the mini-map shows up over an instance entrance, but she is actually behind a parapet above that and not visible unless you are above her.

Chromie at rest

Chromie at rest

I found her, eventually, and she sent me off… to die.

Like I said, I hadn’t actually read anything tangible about the Timeless Isle, so I did not know what to expect.  A number of people have discussed the rewards. But the content?  Not so much.

I guess that I expected it to be something like Ember Isle in Rift, something of an additional area to occupy level cap players that was incrementally more difficult, but still primarily solo in focus.

Instead I wound up on an island consisting of extra tough normal mobs, extra tough elite mobs, and named mobs that a simple group of five would be hard pressed to dent.  The first real quest on the island, which just send you on a tour, had me running through groups of hostile elites which killed me repeatedly.  And the island is a “no fly” zone, so you cannot avoid all those hostiles wandering the grounds.

I managed to finish that and the next quest before I had died so many times I was getting the paper doll warning that my equipment was in danger of running out of durability.

Timeless Isle may be many things, but it isn’t a solo playground for those with quest drop gear.

Being clearly out of my depth, I sought professional help.  More rambling and some silly pictures after the cut.

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I Might Have Binged on WoW Recently… November 20, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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10 comments

My paladin from the original instance group, the one I raced ahead with.  Well he is done racing ahead for now, at least when it comes to levels.

VikundLevel90

I started him into Pandaria pretty much as soon as it became clear that the instance group was going to come back to World of Warcraft.  In my first post about that the week after BlizzCon I noted that he was already level 87 and that I would be substituting another character into the group to replace him.

So, basically, I went from 85 to 90 in about a week and a half.  And while that sounds very quick, I did play a lot of WoW during that time.  There is no War Thunder post this week because I skipped that.  I barely did anything in EVE Online except move to Curse.  I did not even work on alts in WoW once I got Alioto to 80 so he could join the instance group.  I was unusually focused on playing through Mists of Pandaria.  I jumped right into it… which is almost literally how you start there.  And I had a full ration of blue bar which, thanks to always logging out in town or at an inn, lasted nearly to the end.  I did not “feel normal” until I was at half way through level 89.

No, really, jumping into Pandaria

No, really, jumping into Pandaria

I did consume quite a bit of content along the way.  I finished out the quests for the story line in the Jade Forest, the Valley of the Four Winds, and the Krasarang Wilds, ending up well into the Kun-Lai Summit story line, out by the Chow Farmstead, before my experience bar disappeared.  In addition, I also ran four of the dungeons as part of normal mode Dungeon Finder groups.  I hit the Stormstout Brewery, the Temple of the Jade Serpent, the Mogu’Shan Palace, and the Shadow-pan Monastery one time each.

Pandaria

Pandaria

So what was it like?

It was nice.  The quest lines are very much in the Cataclysm 80-85 mode, where there is an over-arcing story to the zone.  There are a lot more cut scenes and, unlike in Cataclysm, where every zone had its own story, the stories merge between the zones in Pandaria.  And the stories are engaging, the characters are amusing, and beer figures prominently.  If you do not like achievements popping up though, Pandaria won’t make you any happier.  In addition to the normal achievements for completing zone quest lines, there are progress pop-ups that tell you that you have finished a given segment of the story line.  Instead of a raw quest completion count, they track those segments for the zone achievement, and you cannot turn them off.

The overland zones are still very solo oriented.  There is still phasing.  I am concerned at how our group will do with the overland content.  But running around by myself was fun.  The quests are more varied than the old days.  You still end up killing 10 of this and 10 of that, but there is a mix of other non-FedEx style quests.  And the Valley of the Four Winds is practically The Shire if you enjoy domestic chores and the like.  And, I tell you true, there is a woman out there that will demand that you attend to her giant melons.  She is quite insistent.

Also, I killed a giant bug and, thanks to phasing, it’s dead corpse is still sitting in the zone.  I find it oddly satisfying to see it still there after the battle.

The instances were also fun enough.  I came in as DPS via Dungeon Finder, the mode was the usual random group “run, run, run” mode, but there seemed to be a variety of different boss encounters.  I look forward to actually being able to appreciate them when the instance group gets there and goes through them at a slow to moderate pace.

Pandaria is also very pretty, perhaps the pretties place in Azeroth.  And the Valley of the Four Winds isn’t just Shire-like in its quests, it is also a beautiful and lush green valley.  Just replace pandas with hobbits, sink a few hobbit holes, and you are set.

I was interested to see that my gear wasn’t instantly obsolete the moment I jumped into the expansion.  In fact, the gear I had from trying to get into the Fall of Theramore that preceded Pandaria remained better than green drops until Kun-Lai Summit, though I did pick up some nice instance blues that were clearly a step up.  Meanwhile, the numbers in Pandaria seem out of hand.  It is like dealing with ISK in EVE Online, you start to wonder if you counted too many zeroes.  Of course, I just came from playing in the 1-60 experience, so suddenly seeing myself do 15K DPS might just be comparison shock.  Still, I see why they are thinking about doing the item squish as part of the gear revamp for Warlords of Draenor.

Overall I am having fun.  My initial aversion to panda cuteness went away pretty quickly.  I still plan to move forward and finish the story line, collecting gold rather than experience along the way.  And there are all sorts of other aspects to the Mists of Pandaria expansion I have yet to explore.

That said, if you had any thought about this expansion moving the game back towards World of Warcraft of 2006, you will be disappointed.  Overland is very solo oriented, phasing is still a thing (though it isn’t used as much as I thought it might be, every battle doesn’t go away after you finish your bit), achievements are still a very big thing, pop-culture references abound including playing with nearly every martial arts movie trope that ever was, and I do not know enough about Chinese culture to be able to draw the line between treating it with respect and being culturally insensitive.  I haven’t seen any serious outrage over the expansion, but I have no idea how it played in China either.  (And we’ve been okay with trolls talking about voodoo and sounding like they are from Jamaica for 9 years, so maybe that ship has sailed.)

So I will carry on, though I will probably spend some more time with alts going forward.  I have that other druid in the midst of Burning Crusade content, which is where one of the unofficial guild alt groups is currently questing, not to mention half a dozen other characters at various states of development on that server alone.

And, as a wrap up, a few screen shots from along the path to 90.

The Rush Back to Azeroth November 13, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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11 comments

There may be crit mass to return to wow pre expansion. FYI

That was the content of a text message on my phone from Potshot on Friday.  And while I don’t want to over play the significance of the medium, in our general level of communication, email is the default, instant message is for more immediate issues, and text messages to phones tend to be more akin to picking up the hotline to the Kremlin during the Cold War.

Past text messages from him on my phone… I never clear them out because I so rarely even get text messages… in part because it isn’t a smart phone, but just a cheap old mobile… tend to be about needing to find each other at places like GDC or the train station.  And while it turned out that the medium for the message was chosen mostly because that was all that was available to him at the moment, I still think it says something that he opted for that at the moment rather than waiting for other avenues of communication to become available.

And by the end of the text exchange, it was clear that four out of five of the instance group was on board for an early return to World of Warcraft, thanks to the Warlords of Draenor announcement.   And it seems likely that all five of us will be heading back to Azeroth. Mike was just out of town for the weekend so couldn’t jump on the bandwagon, but he had been expressing interest in WoW when I mentioned I was back and playing it.

So we have circled around back to our game of origin.  As a group we kicked off in WoW back in late 2006 with the intent of going through as much of the five person group content as possible.  Our first instance run was just over seven years ago.  We completed the Deadmines on our third attempt.

Victory over VanCleef

Victory over VanCleef

We hit most of the dungeons in vanilla WoW, foundered a bit in Burning Crusade, and hit our peak in WoW during Wrath of the Lich King. But eventually we hit the last instance in Lich King. While waiting for Cataclysm we re-rolled as Horde on a PVP-RP server just to change things up.  Somewhere in there we stepped out and played Warhammer Online and Lord of the Rings Online.  But after Cataclysm dropped, we felt unsatisfied with the game, so we decided to leave Azeroth and ventured into the wilderness.

We wandered far and wide.  Runes of Magic got a test runGuild Wars was tried on for size.  We staged another return to Lord of the Rings Online.  We attempted to play as a group in EverQuest II until we had enough of struggling against the game.  There have been a couple of prods at Dungeons & Dragons Online. We threw ourselves into Rift. We dabbled in Need for Speed World.  Three of us spent a bit of time in Neverwinter Nights 2 and Diablo III.  A part of the group ran together in World of Tanks, even forming a clan.  And, most recently, we have worked on getting into Neverwinter.

The story of our group, or at least the parts that I have written down, has been traced on this blog.  You can read it by selecting the Instance Group category.  The tale stands at 247 posts as of this one, or just over 8% of the total posts on the blog.

And that does not even count the scouting trips some of us have taken in search of the next game for the group.  Champions Online was touched on, as was Star Trek Online.  I know a couple of us tried Fallen Earth, and three of us tried the original Guild Wars for a couple weeks. Earl jumped into Star Wars: The Old Republic and, like so many people, hit level cap and cancelled.  Potshot went into Age of Conan and The Secret World to explore.  We have tossed around EverQuest as an idea on several occasions.  I think as many as four of us tried Guild Wars 2 at various stages.  TorilMUD and the idea of text held a glimmer at one point.  Even the possibility of EVE Online has been discussed, though it clearly does not work with the varied play budget of our group.  I have even asked for suggestions on this front in the past.

Of all of those games, I think only Rift got anywhere close to the same sort of interest from the whole group as WoW did back in the day.  Of course, since Rift is also the game most like WoW on that list, I suppose it is not hard to understand why.  And we could return to Rift.  It has been a good game for us, becoming as close to a second home outside of Azeroth as we have managed.

But the Storm Legion expansion did not thrill any of us.  And for a game to succeed with the group, at least a couple members of the group need to be excited about it, need to be playing during the rest of the week, and need to be mapping out what we do and where we go next.  Nobody took that role with Storm Legion, and so Rift foundered.

So now, just over two and a half years after we last ran an instance as a group in World of Warcraft, we are jumping back in.  I had already been been back and playing some WoW for a while.  Ula was in game with me on Saturday morning, Potshot by Saturday afternoon, and Earl was loaded back in and had already purchased Pandaria by Sunday.  And we were online a lot.  The guild hadn’t even been looted or otherwise compromised.  We even managed to get a level guild level in our initial flurry.

Guild Level 4! Oh Boy!

Guild Level 4! Oh Boy!

There was a burst of excitement and activity and joy at just being back in Azeroth.

And, of course, some confusion.  A lot has changed since we last played.  I had a bit of a head start, having played on Garona for a while, but even I was a bit puzzled at how to play my retribution paladin after all of this time.  Fortunately Blizzard has some help for that.  In the spells and skill book, there is now a tab devoted to the core abilities of your class.

Retribution Pally in 6 Skills

Retribution Pally in 6 Skills

That isn’t exactly an Elitist Jerks level of class detail, but it seemed to be a good refresher course on how to deal with the class.

So there we were back and happy and running around figuring out where we left off.

Which, of course, should lead to a pretty obvious question.  Didn’t we leave WoW for a reason?  And has anything changed that might make us think that things will be different after we come back?

Clearly we need a plan.

Part of the problem was that, at Cataclysm launch, we went back to character creation and rolled up a whole new set of characters with an eye to seeing the changes to the old world and all the various features.  That was our plan.

Unfortunately, the old world had changed a lot, the old instances… or the updated versions thereof… seemed too easy, and the new tools, like Dungeon Finder, trivialized travel.  Add in the fact that after a few years of playing the game we actually picked up some game skills, and the whole thing seemed too easy.  Even at our normal plodding pace in instances… compared to the “run, run, run!” method that Dungeon Finder groups seem to follow these days… we were able to knock out three instances an evening and still get to bed before midnight.

Meanwhile, the original group of characters was still sitting there.  They still had three instances… added after we were done… in WotLK to finish.

So Potshot put forth what we will call “The Plan,” which is to pick up where we left off with the original group and continue their story.  First, we warm up by knocking off those last WotLK instances, actually finishing the content we declared done about four years back.  Then we move into the Cataclysm 80 to 85 content, trying to do whatever we can as a group and taking on the instances there as we find them.  And we also plan to avoid the Dungeon Finder, insisting on actual travel to whatever instances we may need to run.  See the world and all that.

Easy enough I suppose.

But the plan also calls for us to come back to the same character in the same roles, where I may have cocked things up a bit.  The original group, as it stands now, is:

  • 80 Warrior – Earlthecat
  • 80 Warlock – Bungholio
  • 81 Priest – Skronk
  • 81 Mage – Ula
  • 87 Paladin – Vikund

Earl and Bung have both been good.  Bung just doesn’t play outside of group time, while Earl has a warrior alt he drove through Cataclysm on his own time.  Skronk and Ula have both edged over the level 80 line.  And I have clearly said “see ya!” to the rest of the group, running off ahead and into Pandaria.

Vikund is clearly out of the band for now.  I will be running him up to level 90 through the Pandaria content on my own.

Fortunately, I have a backup plan.

When we left off WoW back in the day, I had druid mired in the middle of the WotLK content.  I took a chunk of the weekend getting him from 77 to 80 so that he can replace Vikund in the lineup.  The only question will be, how to play him.  He will be taking Vikund’s old DPS slot, so do I go feral and be the cat, or do I go whatever the other spec is… balance I think… and be the boomkin crap owl?

So we have the lineup.  We are all excited as we get settled back into the comfortable setting of Azeroth.  And we have a plan.

Now will it stick?  Can we revive the old group, carry on, and have fun?

And, of course, can we get all five of us online at the same time?  That has been the main issue so far this year.

Nostalgia Starts in Azeroth This Time September 3, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Even before the August in Review article was posted, I knew where our autumnal path would take us initially.

My daughter had been asking the previous week if we could go back and play World of Warcraft.  It has probably been a good 18 months since either of us played it with any sort of dedication, and nearly a year since the last subscription lapsed.  So, aside from a seven day venture into the game back in March, WoW hasn’t been on the menu for quite a while.

So I said that we could pick the game up again, but I insisted that we have a plan.  So while I downloaded the client to her new iMac over the course of several evenings (our internet connection, still slow, is good for about 1GB an hour if nothing else is going on, and the WoW client is now about 22GB), we decided on the parameters for this outing.  I especially wanted to focus on things we had not done before.

We decided to do a fresh start on a new server.  That was a tough one as, unlike my time in LOTRO, which has been characterized by a series of restarts on new servers, with a new one hitting about every other year, I have played on the Eldre’Thalas in WoW since 2006.  We have at least one character in our guild (a Chandigar alt, for those who know him) that hasn’t logged on in 6 years according to the status.  The guild itself, Twilight Cadre, is a variation of our TorilMUD guild name, Shades of Twilight, because it was a collection of people from that guild which started it.

My daughter insisted that we roll up pandas.  That was fine.  I had only done the very briefest bit of the panda starting area way back when Mists of Pandaria launched.  And we decided to go horde this time around, which was also good.  I have not done any of the horde side of things since before Cataclysm launched. So that left us with pretty much new content to pursue up until level 60.

And we decided to stick to pandas only in our guild, to give them names based on Hawaiian cities, and to call our guild… after much debate… Kamaaina Discount. (WoW won’t allow Kama’aina.)

Finally, I added a goal for myself, which was to figure out pet battles, since that looked like something I might enjoy.

So by this past weekend we were all set to go.  We rolled up on the Garona server.  My daughter chose shaman as her first class, while I went with a hunter.  While I declared the old hunter class, with all its now-removed warts, to be my favorite class, the current hunter class is only moderately interesting to me.  I would have rolled a druid if they had been allowed under game lore.  They are the most flexible class in game now, and an easy contender for my favorite in the current state of the game.  I might have to sneak in a troll druid at some later date.

Lots of words about returning to WoW after the cut.

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Half Price Pandas November 27, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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19 comments

Now, you cannot take every sale, promotion, or other offer as a sign of something wrong.  Coke goes on sale at the supermarket practically every third week where I live, and I don’t start wondering if they, or the store, are in trouble because of it.

Still, when a WoW expansion goes half price just two months after launch, it is something that makes you go “hmmm…”

I recall, back in the day, Burning Crusade going for full price until just before Wrath of the Lich King.

Reduced in price, not in size…

Yes, it is the high holiday shopping season, a time for deals.  And this offer appears to be directed to former subscribers. (Offer ends November 29th)  And, of course, the market has changed since 2006 and Burning Crusade.

Then again, Amazon.com had the Pandaria Collector’s edition for half price as well, and that is generally a sign of excess stock.

I still have no burning desire to go back to Azeroth.  Well, post-Cataclysm Azeroth in any case.  But I am sure this will get a few more people back in the game.

Monday Morning Panda Blues October 1, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warplanes.
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8 comments

Last week there was the usual rush to declare victory or defeat, at least on the sales front, when it came to Mists of Pandaria.

Pandas; heroes or not?

Retail sales were pegged at 600-700K units, which is down considerably from past expansions.  Of course, that is only physical boxes shipped.  There are only pulled-from-various-orifices estimates on digital downloads. (Some of which were pretty positive.)  Only Blizzard knows the real answer there, though if there is no press release from them you can guess that they did not set any records.  We will have to wait for the quarterly report for those numbers if that is the case.

Blizzard was pushing the digital side pretty hard, and the option does come with the advantage of having everything pre-loaded and ready to go come launch.

Did anybody NOT see these ads?

And Blizzard itself is offering free server transfers due to queues on a few servers.  Eight US servers with long queues does not seem like a lot compared to the full list of servers, but how many MMOs get queues after 3 months, much less after nearly eight years?

Another press release I don’t expect to see is one announcing how much money Trion Worlds raised from their own little jab at Mists of Panadaria.

Our expansion saves pandas… sort of

Trion Worlds announced their own “buy our expansion and save a panda” offer, where they declared… well, I’ll used their blurb.

Trion Worlds, Inc. will donate US$1.00 to Pandas International for each copy of Storm Legion that is pre-ordered through StormLegion.com, worldwide (excluding Alabama, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, even though we really wish they’d let us), between 12:00am PDT September 26, 2012 through 11:59pm PDT October 3, 2012, up to a maximum amount of US$10,000.00. Know why we have to do that? Maine. Weird, right? We don’t know what they have against Pandas, or why $10,000 is a magical number, either. This contribution is not tax deductible, but it would be pretty awesome if it were. Pandas International is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization located at P.O. Box 620335, Littleton, Colorado 80162, whose mission is to ensure the preservation and propagation of the endangered Giant Panda.

The reason I suspect that we won’t see a follow up press release on this because even if they make the 10,000 mark, it would still be during the same week when Blizzard sold more than 600K boxes.  And if they don’t make that mark… well, really nothing to brag about then.  This sort of publicity works better for somebody like The Oatmeal, who just wanted to annoy someone, than as a method to sell game boxes.

Then there is actually playing the game itself.  I have a number of friends who pre-ordered the expansion because… well… its WoW and they always get the expansion… who seem reasonably happy.  I did hear more than once a little bemusement that after the panda starting zone it was a bit of a bummer to then have to work their way through all of the old content to get to the rest of the expansion with their new character.

One friend failed to outsmart the system by using a refer a friend bonus to grant levels to their new panda monk.  Unfortunately, impatient with the starter zone, they apparently applied those levels right away and ended up with a level 30 monk they didn’t know how to play.  Let that be a warning to you.

I decided to give the new panda starting area a look.  I think one of the smarter things that Blizzard did was opening up the full selection of races to all players, regardless of which expansions they own.  Selling boxes is a good boost to income, but keeping people subscribed is the winning strategy.

Anyway, a new panda warrior was born.

Up next, the panda obesity problem…

The panda starter area is very nice and does not, I gather, degrade Asian culture for western consumption, or play to western stereotypes of Asian culture, since nobody seems to be out there protesting.  I guess pandas are too cute… or Victoria’s Secret models are too thin.

My patience for starting a new character in WoW is fairly low at this point, but I made it pretty far into the tutorial.  The monkeys who climb on your back and need to be shaken off might be a joke too close to home for some who spend too much time in Azeroth, but the whole thing is good for new players as it introduces new game concepts at a measured pace.  It might be too slow for veterans, but you will come out of it knowing the basics of the game.

The only real surprise was that on a Sunday afternoon I only saw a single other person in the starter area.  I realize that, being on the conveyor belt of such an area, you won’t run into a clump of people, but just one seemed quite sparse.  But my own server, Eldre’Thalas, seems to be somewhat sparse overall these days.  I couldn’t even take care of my item level needs at the auction house the previous week.  It has fallen quite a ways from the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, when the queue to get on during the first few days was 700+ players deep at times.

But, nice though the starter area is, it did not respark any desire for WoW in me.  I did not run out and buy the expansion or decide to stay subscribed.

There is still a great deal of nostalgia for WoW in our regular group.  The topic comes up now and again, even when I am not making videos designed to ignite those emotions.  But our own time in the game peaked about the time our server’s population did, during Wrath of the Lich King.  WoW has moved towards the point EverQuest occupies in my heart.  The disappointing part is that, unlike EverQuest, we cannot go back to revisit old WoW as Blizzard washed it all away with Cataclysm.

And the world keeps turning.

Mists of Pandaria Launches Today September 25, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
16 comments

Nearly eight years after launching World of Warcraft, Blizzard today shipped the fourth expansion to its mega money making MMO, Mists of Pandaria.  As is the case with any Blizzard product release, there were midnight launch events all over.

I do wonder if, in the age of digital distribution, how long retailers will be willing to expand their hours for something that seems to be moving away from brick and mortar.

Mists of Pandaria continues the pattern set previously of WoW expansions coming out about every two years.

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days

Making the average time between releases just shy of 716 days.

I strongly suspect that Blizzard’s ability to get away with an expansion every two years with, at times, a seeming modest investment in additional content in between, while continuing to grow until recently, was a big influence on SOE who, up to that point, seemed to feel that cranking out an expansion every six months, finished or not, was necessary to stay afloat.  They have flailed about significantly less in the last few years.

Mists of Pandaria will likely stem the tide of subscription losses for now.  WoW has gone from over 12 million subscribers just after the launch of Cataclysm to 9.1 million at the last quarterly report.  We will know in a year or so if Pandas are a magic elixir or just a plateau on the way down.  Mike Morhaime wisely declined to make predictions on that topic.

Unlike past WoW expansions, I will not be picking up Mists of Pandaria today.  Our regular group grew bored of Cataclysm and moved on to other games.  We are currently playing Rift.

But a lot of people have been waiting for this day.  How about you?

Oh, and Ultima Online turned 15 today.  Imagine that. [Link fixed]