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Moving Slowly in Warlords of Draenor November 20, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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So here’s the thing.  Despite the last week being mostly talk about the expansion and such, I haven’t really been playing a lot more World of Warcraft.

Part of that is because I was binging pretty hard on the game during the two weeks preceding the launch.  Such a sprint usually leads to some time away from game.  So, in the midst of the big launch weekend I spent time in EVE Online getting myself home from the last deployment.  I also spent a couple hours messing around with the Isle of Refuge prestige home in EverQuest II.  And I downloaded and played the demo for Combat Mission: Red Thunder, the eastern front expansion to the revised Combat Mission series.  As with the original series, the Normandy scenarios don’t excite me, but the eastern front is wild.  I many need to buy this when I have some free time.

Not that I did not find time to play World of Warcraft.  Given the binge of the last couple weeks, I probably played more of it than I might have otherwise because of the expansion.  But I am clearly in no hurry.  I took some time out to level up my rogue, who made it to 88 over the weekend, getting me closer to having four alts ready for Draenor.  I even did some pet battles, finally getting my first trio up to level 25.

In Draenor itself I have been moseying along at a more leisurely pace, trying to move Vikund forward on a broad front, which means taking some time out from strict adventuring to cover other things.  As such, he just made it to level 94 last night.

WDLevel94

If you were stuck behind queues all weekend, that probably seems like a lot of progress.  On a server that was open for most of the launch, that wasn’t too tough.  I think Earl got there with his alt in the first 24 hours… and then he made a new alt because he has a friend who is giving WoW a try, so he is off playing with him.  But you can find people who have hit level 100 pretty readily at this point.  Too fast?

As for Vikund, in following the story, that puts him through the first pass in Shadowmoon Valley, through much of Gorgrond, and back into Shadowmoon Valley, with an outpost setup in Talador.

The Draenor you have

Draenor Zones

That’s been fun.  The quests have been good.  I think I have finally gotten used to the little hand icon having replaced the little cog icon for things you need to click on during a quest.  I realize that has been in place since Mists of Pandaria, but age sometimes means it takes longer to get used to change.

The zones look really good, certainly when compared to how things looked back in the days of Outland.  I have always been a bit biased against The Burning Crusade in part because the zones did not really click with me.  Hellfire Peninsula, as a place to start, set a negative tone for me on looks alone.  The Warlords of Draenor zones so far have been stop and gawk good.  I am also a bit jealous of my daughter who has both horde and alliance level 90 characters to play.  As always, the horde architecture, in their towns and garrisons, looks interesting and exotic while the human themed alliance garrisons look rather staid and maybe a bit dull.  I might need to work on a horde alt at some point.

The lack of flying mounts has been interesting.  It has certainly put me back in touch with my collection of ground mounts and I have selected a few that seem appropriate for the expansion so far.  For example, talbuk mounts fit fight in with Shadowmoon Valley, where wild talbuk roam.

Cobalt riding talbuk

Cobalt riding talbuk

Getting back to ground mounts also exposed what having constant access to flying mounts for nearly year does to me.  I hit 90 in Pandaria with Vikund almost exactly a year ago, and at this point I have three alts there with him.

At first, navigating around the new expansion, once I was out in Shadowmoon Valley, seemed really difficult.  I was having a really tough time getting to locations for quests and such.  I was ready to chalk this up to some sort of Blizzard design flaw.  Then I went back and played Trianis for a bit, running him through the Jade Forest quests in Pandaria, and noticed I was having the same problems.  Basically, I had become so used to flying that I was automatically just heading straight towards objectives, oblivious of what the map might indicate, and running into all sorts of obstacles.

So I am back to looking at the map now, charting a route, looking for paths to follow and landmarks to use for navigation.

I have also been working on trade skills.  I managed to get all of them unlocked for Draenor so I can level them up to 700 now.

Vikund's Various Professions

Vikund’s Various Professions

I am getting used to how trade skills work and new recipes get unlocked.  No more visits to the skill trainer.

I am way out ahead on mining, thanks largely to the the mine being unlocked in my garrison.  I upgraded that to level 2 which yielded a huge jump in ore plus there are now mining carts scattered about the mine every day to harvest as well.

Mining cart fun

Mining cart fun

I have also been dumping the draenic stone I have been pulling up mining into work orders that turn it into ore, so I am well supplied with ore for now.  I then use some of that ore to feed work orders at the engineering works to turn that into gearspring parts, the universal engineering component for Draenor.  I am saving those up for a Blingtron 5000 at the moment.

And, to my joy, I also unlocked the fishing shack, which involved me running out to do a fishing quest.

On the Shadowmoon Valley shore

On the Shadowmoon Valley shore

There was a pond in my garrison, but until the fishing shack was built, all it yielded was junk with a value of 1 copper.  Now I can fish there.  And I was able to upgrade the fishing shack to level 2 almost immediately.

Hey, upgraded fishing shack

Hey, upgraded fishing shack

Having the fishing shack not only opened up fishing in the garrison, but also gets me a daily fishing quest so I have a reason to take fishing on the road.

Fishing in Gorgrond

Fishing in Gorgrond

I also managed to fish up a blue quality fishing pole early on, which gives me +100 fishing skill.  A hell of a catch, and enough to make me go back to actually using a fishing pole for the bonuses.  I stopped doing that in Pandaria as you no longer need to equip a pole to do simple fishing.  But for a +100 skill boost I will trade out my weapon for a pole.  I just have to remember I have it equipped.  Last night I slowly beat several mobs to death with my fishing pole.  That won’t do, I might damage the pole!

Finishing in turn put me on to cooking.  That took a bit with the new process where by you have to collect a stack of a particular fish… anywhere from 5 to 20… before you can process them to extract meat for cooking.  The reagents bank tab on Vikund is now filling up with partial stacks of various fish. (Also, I am about ready to purchase a second reagents tab.  I love the concept, and it is the one place where I use the sort button religiously.  But I am a pack rat and the damn thing is nearly full already.   Am I going to have to wait until the next expansion for that.)

Cooking the basic recipes gets you new recipes, but I am now waiting for some recipes to take advantage of some of the meat I have stocked up in the reagents tab as well.  It all comes down to bag and bank space again.

So despite my uncertainty as to how the whole garrison thing fits into the world, it is keeping me busy and engaged.  I am also keeping my followers busy, though it looks like I need to take some care not to focus too much on leveling up a specific follower, as the highest level follower seems to drive the level of missions you get to run.  With a level 97 follower I realized that I needed to use the two level 92 followers in my pack lest they be always at a disadvantage.

Overall, the whole expansion has been good for me so far.  I am enjoying it even if I only feel compelled to move forward slowly.  There is lots to do, but I haven’t seen anything yet from Blizzard to indicate that we won’t be hanging out in Draenor for another two year stretch.

Orc Villains, Best Villains – WoW Passes 10 Million Subscribers Again November 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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IRVINE, Calif.—November 19, 2014—On November 13, millions of Azeroth’s champions enlisted for the war against the Iron Horde with the launch of World of Warcraft®: Warlords of Draenor, the fifth expansion to the world’s #1 subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.* Blizzard Entertainment today announced that as of the first 24 hours of the expansion’s availability, more than 3.3 million copies had sold-through and the game’s global subscriber base had passed 10 million, with growth across all major regions.

Blizzard Press Release

It looks like orcs might trump pandas (and destroying the old world) when it comes to igniting the WoW player base.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Warlords who get it done

I am not sure what it means when you have more than 10 million subscribers, up 2.6 million in the last month and a half, but are talking about moving 3.3 million units of the expansion in the first 24 hours.  Does that 3.3 million number include all the early sales?  Is that an indication of what the US/EU player population is, as the rest of the world was waiting for the expansion to drop? (It launched in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau today according to the press release.)

Subscriber numbers (what constitutes a subscriber is mentioned in the press release) had dropped to 6.8 million in the second quarter of 2014, down further from the slight dip to 7.6 million in the first quarter when the first blush excitement for the expansion had passed, and which was likely only that small because Blizzard said they sold through 1.5 million pre-orders of Warlords of Draenor back then to people interested in getting their insta-90s early.  Then in the third quarter subscriptions bounced back, hitting 7.4 million, with the announcement of a date for the expansion.

Now WoW is back above the 10 million mark, something we have not seen since the post-Cataclysm climb down from the 12 million subscriber high water mark before pandas appeared on the scene. (First quarter of 2012 the subscribers were listed as 10.1 million.)

Now, where will the number be in a month and a half, when we close out the fourth quarter of 2014?

Addendum: Visual aids from Twitter on subscriptions.

I am surprised that WotLK held as many subscribers as it did over its two year run.  I mean, I sat there and ground out everything in the Argent Tournament during that second year, I just didn’t think so many other people did as well.

Blizzard Offers Up 5 Days for Draenor Launch Problems November 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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As I suspected, once things calmed down a bit Blizzard came out with some compensation for the troubles people were experiencing with the launch of Warlords of Draenor.  This was posted in the forums earlier today.

WoW Community:

I know how much everyone was looking forward to this expansion, and once you were able to get in and start having fun, all the comments I’ve seen indicate that this is one of our best yet. But the quality of the content does not excuse the subpar launch experience we delivered, and I apologize for that.

The first two days of the expansion were not a great experience, with many of you facing high queues or significant gameplay problems. We worked around the clock to tackle the demand issues and technical challenges, and fortunately things started looking better on Saturday. While millions of you were able to get in and play over the weekend, with many already reaching level 100, others still ran into very lengthy queues, particularly on the highest-population realms.

To help address this, we’ve expanded the new instancing tech we used to improve queues on Saturday and we’re continuing the process of applying that to raise the capacity of all realms again. This will result in approximately double the prelaunch capacity on each realm, which should greatly reduce queue times for most realms if not eliminate queues altogether.

In recognition of the difficulties so many of you ran into when trying to play over the first few days, we’re adding five days’ worth of extra time to every subscription in the Americas, Oceania, and Europe that was active as of Friday, November 14. Things are already in a much better place than they were going into the weekend, so I hope you’ll now be able to focus on having a ton of fun with this expansion.

I also hope you’ll accept my apology and keep your faith in us. The support voiced by many of you as we worked through the challenges was immensely appreciated. We’re extremely grateful to be part of such a passionate community. We love World of Warcraft, and we’re very proud of this expansion, so stumbling out of the gates like this was very disappointing for all of us.

On behalf of the World of Warcraft development team, as well as everyone at Blizzard, thank you all again for your patience and understanding.

See you in Draenor.

Sincerely,
J. Allen Brack
Executive Producer, World of Warcraft

Looking at my account history… which is kind of strange, as it runs back to 2005… this 5 days will mean that Blizzard has comped my account a total of 19 days for various reasons, not including a “return for 7 days free” offer.  It is also the largest credit, the previous high water mark being a 3 day credit awarded back in November of 2008, which corresponds with the launch of Wrath of the Lich King.  I don’t remember what I might have gotten the credit for, but there were queues going on back then as well.

Warlords of Draenor – Garrison Life November 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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I said multiple times during the months long run up to the Warlords of Draenor expansion that I was going to try to avert my eyes and ignore details about the release so as to be surprised and engaged when the launch came.

I was pretty successful in that regard, as I felt almost no sense of the final product having been spoiled or played out before I even arrived, leaving aside the semi-meta idea that we’re going to be killing ourselves a ton of orcs.  But the day I tire of slaying orcs is the day I should probably hang up my sword and devote myself full time to Pokemon or internet spaceships.

So when it came to garrisons, I had no idea what they would really end up being.  I listened to what Blizzard said about them at BlizzCon last year, when they announced the expansion, filed that away and thought no more about it.

The Garrison Slide

I pretty much just remember this slide

Now though, a couple levels and a zone and a half into the expansion, color me surprised on a couple fronts when it comes to garrisons.

The first surprise was that garrisons do not seem to be an option, a side item akin to the farm or pet battles during Mists of Pandaria, or just some sort of end game exercise to keep us busy during the next content drought.  When you finish the starter zone, you are lead by the nose to a specific spot in the zone… along with everybody else in your faction on your server, one of the great Blizzard oversights of the launch… and are set towards building your garrison.  I went with the flow for my first character, Vikund, as it seemed to be a required step on the path into the game.  Plus he is, as I noted previously, my “do all the things” character, so I’ll try any task with him.  But I will have to see if I can skip that, and how far you can get without it, when I bring my next character into Draenor.

Vikund however jumped onto the whole garrison thing with both feet and got his garrison to level 2 pretty quickly.  I am just not sure what to think about it.  Frankly, I am not even sure how it leveled up.  This post is impressions based only on what I have seen in game, and the game seems pretty cagey about indicating progress towards levels and such.

Level 2 Alliance garrison layout

Level 2 Alliance garrison layout

More after the cut because aimless verbosity.

(more…)

Blizzard – Up All Night Working on Draenor Queues November 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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We’re making preparations for the Europe maintenance beginning in just an hour, and along with hardware upgrades we will be implementing some of the performance improvements we’ve been testing. One of these is a fairly large change to the way the game world is run by the servers—expanding the phasing tech used for the Tanaan intro experience to the entire continent of Draenor. This will allow us to run multiple copies of Draenor simultaneously, spreading out server population, while attempting to keep guilds and parties within the same copy.

-Blizzard, Warlords of Draenor Launch Update

A little over 48 hours into the Warlords of Draenor launch Blizzard has upped the ante.  To counter the “we didn’t quite think this through” problems associated with too many people congregating at key spots in Draenor… problems that made the company limit server populations, thus making for horrendous queues on the more popular servers (insert my usual “shards are bad, mkay” rant here)… Blizzard is going to apply phasing, used in the intro experience to keep players more spread out, to all of Warlords of Draenor.

We’re not quite getting the zone copies that SOE has had going since 2004 to accommodate players crowding into specific areas of the game, something I mentioned might be handy in my post on Thursday.

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea zone

But we are getting something akin to it.

Blizzard had server down time last night to make this change and upgrade hardware, and so far this morning things are looking… better.

My daughter has some characters on a high population server, and hasn’t been able to get on there because the server queue has consistently been 4K or higher.  This morning, no queue.  Things seem to be better according to Blizzard.  There are still problems, I still see some servers locked, but huge queues do not seem to be as prevalent.

We’re continuing to monitor realms and track any individual issues as they occur. We’re still seeing some issues occurring now that Europe is in their peak playtime, but with greatly reduced frequency compared to before maintenance.

All realms are now set back up to their normal population caps. Queues being experienced now are due to demand beyond what the realms are normally capable of handling, and we’ll be looking into how to reduce them further.

Now, how will this play out through the weekend?  Since they have made garrison’s an OCD delight by giving us followers and missions to check up on, queues will cause some of us grievous mental distress if we can’t get in and take care of business.

I'd just sit here and play Hearthstone if this worked

I’d just sit here and play Hearthstone if this worked

Are you able to get into the game now?

Warlords of Draenor – An Early Success November 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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In one of those “fools rush in… and get the best seats” moments, I got home from work yesterday, started up my computer, launched World of Warcraft, logged in, and started playing.

No fuss, no muss, no queue, no problem.  I just logged in, decided to go with Vikund as first into Draenor, took the quest, and off I went.

The quest is hard to miss

The quest is hard to miss

I am not sure you can actually refuse the quest.  I tried with another character and the game seemed pretty persistent.  Anyway, I was in the game and headed out on my first try.

This happens to me once in a while, where I wander into a minefield and pass through unscathed by sheer luck.  I know that many people were having problems, and my luck is not in any way to say that everything was fine.  My daughter was interested in a level 90 on another server, where she ended up in a queue nearly 4,000 players deep and estimated to get her to the front of the line in about 7 hours.  She watched that for a bit then decided to join me on Eldre’Thalas, only to find that logins had been locked for the server.  So there were problems in my own house, and I had to hear my daughter moan about how she couldn’t get in while I was happily playing.

Because I was on and in game, which at that point appeared to be the big hurdle.  The server itself was only listed as “medium” when it came to load and I found Earl already on and level 91.  He had passed through the starter area and now it was my turn.  It is through the portal and off to work with Khadgar and Thrall.

Vikund, Khadgar, and Thrall

Vikund, Khadgar, and Thrall

The intro zone is a short, story driven event meant to give you the “why we fight” look at the expansion.  I was interested in the emphasis placed on the “bad” guys, the leaders of the Iron Horde, the so-called Warlords of Draenor, who were each introduced in a very cinematic fashion, like an 80s ensemble cast complete with action shot pose and dramatic name reveal.

The special guest star was the Eye of Kilrogg, which played a supporting role.

I won’t try to record the details of the intro zone.  I am sure there are guides out there, should you need one.  It was a quick lark.  As always, I took every opportunity I could to pose with Thrall.

Vikund and Thrall

Vikund and Thrall

I have built this “Homer Simpson/Mr. Burns” relationship with Thrall in my brain over the years, where we have interacted on many occasions yet, whenever we meet, Thrall doesn’t know me.  I just need an orc version of Waylon Smithers (or maybe a goblin) to start reciting past events to Thrall like, “he helped you escape from Durnhold Keep, he once shot you with a BB gun, you sent him into Deepholm to save Azeroth, he was on the team that brought Garrosh Hellscream to justice…” to complete the scene.

I was interested to see that Vikund’s gear, which is mostly Siege of Orgrimar LFR level purples, was not immediately worse than what was being handed out for the first few quests.  Vikund is probably better geared, sitting at the end of Pandaria, than he has ever been, so not trading up immediately was a new experience.  Eventually, he got something that was the same item level for one of the garrison quests, but it lacked a gem socket, didn’t have an enchant, and was otherwise almost identical, so I let it sit in the bag with the rest of the stuff.

I was a bit disappointed that, for no good reason, the game client refused to take screen shots during one of the cinematics where all of the orc warlords were standing together at the top of a cliff in a rather epic pose.  A movie poster level of positioning.  But Blizz seems to be odd on that front.  Sometimes screenshots work during cinematics, sometimes they do not.  I will have to run Fraps with the next character into Draenor.

Anyway, I thought the whole thing was nicely done.  Though it was probably a lot of work for a relatively short encounter, it does lay the foundation for the expansion.

A whole zone for a 30 minute intro

A whole zone for a 30 minute intro

I made it through and was dumped on the beach in Shadowmoon Valley, where I was given a “you made it” achievement.  There should probably be a special “you made it through all the technical issues” feat of strength achievement for getting there within 24 hours of the launch, but that might be rubbing salt in the wound.

Welcome to Draenor!

Welcome to Draenor!

From that point the game was very determined to get me into my garrison.  This does not appear to be an optional thing, but a requirement to progress.  Granted, I wanted a garrison, so I did not explore much when it came to “can I bypass this?” but it sure seemed like a requirement.  You end up at the site of your Garrison… with a few dozen other people in my case… where you have to collect some resources and kill a few things.  The resources were not consumed when others collected them, so it wasn’t an all out race grab them.  You basically flagged trees to be cut down, and with each you got an old school Warcraft RTS peon response.

The mobs to kill were contested, but were available in abundance as well.  I was thankful once again that Blizz made special quest mobs available to everybody who got in some damage, as there was a huge mob waiting to slay the one named guy we all needed.

That went pretty quickly, and I was soon standing before my garrison.

I will call it "Jim"

I will call it “Jim”

There were, naturally, some quests waiting within.  I went out to collect some things, kill some other things.  I built a barracks and visited the various vendors that are present just to see what I had.  And then it was time to head off to a school event for my daughter.  My wife is the PTA president, so we can’t skip this sort of thing, we need to be there to support her.

So I logged off.

Nooooooooo!

A couple hours later, when we returned home, I wasn’t able to log back in.  I managed to get into the server selection, but for quite a stretch it would not connect to a server.

This I can screen shot, but not the cinematic

This I could screen shot, but not the cinematic

My daughter was similarly locked out.  She gave up and went to bed while I sat around reading the various news stories and blue posts about DDoS attacks and unexpected issues.  Some of it was out of Blizzard’s hands and some of it was stuff they weren’t going to find until we all hit the game at once.  Then again, there was at least one Blizzard note I read that mentioned a problem caused by too many people being at the same place in the game, which got a big eye roll from me, since that was the system they designed.  Everybody ends up standing at that spot where the garrison is built, as an example.

As usual, some people were philosophical about the whole thing, while others were complaining that Blizzard had effectively stolen their money or other over the top statements.

Yes, it was bad at times and Blizzard should know we don’t appreciate it.  They own a lot of the problems.  In all likelihood Blizz will comp everybody a day or two  to cover this, and the storm will pass shortly.  But if you are bitching about having skipped school or taken a vacation day for this… well, I have to ask if this is your first online game.  I did that once, called in sick for a video game launch.  I think it was in 1989, when Gemstone opened up on GEnie after having been in the beta for a while.  It was an unplayable disaster on day one and my time was wasted.  Nothing has changed in 25 years.  If you are smart, you do that once and you learn your lesson.

Anyway, in the midst of all of this, while my screen sat in the trying to connect state on the server selection page, a tweet came through from Blizzard CS suggesting that people log out and back in.  I was hesitant, but had nothing to lose.  So I gave it a shot and, sure enough, I was able to log back in just fine, I was back in the game, back in my garrison, and ready to go.

I ran off and got my first follower, whom I sent on a mission which got me a second follower.  I sent them both off and rode out to the first town/quest hub.  There is kind of an interesting moment when you ride out of your garrison and down the road and you hit the point where you exit what is essentially the instance your garrison occupies and load into the shared world.  As it happened I was riding my chopper down the road and hit that transition point to find myself riding right next to a guy, also on a chopper and headed to the same location.

I saw Potshot online and he was able to get into the game at about that time as well.  However, there seemed to be a problem with people getting into the starter zone then, and he was stuck in the Blasted Lands getting the same automated message, “The portal you are trying to access… Draenor… is busy or out or service, please try again later.”  So all was not yet peaches and cream.  But Blizzard has a downtime today and some patches to do.  Tonight should be better than last night, and tomorrow night better than tonight, and at some point in a couple of days it will be a complete non-issue and we’ll move on to complaining about something else.

After a bit more running around, it was time for bed at my end.  And so ended my first look at the new expansion.

Others looking at day one:

Friday Night Addendum:

Oh, now I feel your pain.  Now I know the rage and humiliation of having to sit in a queue.

This will not stand!

This will not stand!

Big changes from Blizz incoming.  This should be… interesting.

Warlords of Draenor Day November 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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The date has finally arrived.  Warlords of Draenor, the long awaited 5th expansion for World of Warcraft has landed.  And if, like me, you were somewhat underwhelmed by the attention the game got inside of BlizzCon, rest assured that outside Blizzard was spending a lot of time drawing attention to the game.

WoD ad in Times Square

WoD ad in Times Square

The expansion launched in the US at midnight my local time, and midnight CET in Europe.  Blizz had a mini FAQ about the launch and how to access it, assuming you’re not already deep into the expansion.  I did not stay up for the launch (despite my daughter’s pleas) or play hooky for day one fun.  I will get online to see it tonight.  Everything should have settled down a bit by then, as there were reports of servers going down, denial of service attacks, and the usual set of “too many players in one location” problems.

I am looking for the announcement that somebody in Europe hit level 100 about the time I went to bed last night and some larger count of players who arrived at the level cap before I awoke. (Yeah, this.)

I spent the evening running up to the launch getting my rogue, mentioned in yesterday’s post, up to level 85 and into Pandaria.  I would say that there is something unique about getting into one expansion just hours before the next one launches, but there were a bunch of people also in the process of leveling up one last character before WoD.  I do not know if I am just on an especially active server or if that whole cross-server zones is tricking me, but I was never alone in a zone pretty much all the way up the ladder.  There was always somebody on the same quest, or running through the same quest hub.

Of course, the joined servers and cross-server zones might not seem like the best idea today, with people pouring back into the game.  This is where SOE’s ability to spawn multiple versions of zones pays off, awkward though it can sometimes be when you and your friends aren’t all in the same zone.

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Piled with heirloom gear, going from level 83 into Pandaria did not take much time, so I looked into getting in on a Garrosh run.  If I had been an ilevel 550 or above healer, I could have gone on a mythic level run, but as an ilevel 515 retribution pally I couldn’t even find a normal mode group.

Earl was on as well, and he defended the honor of the guild, finishing up the epic quest line… which earns both a personal and a guild achievement… with just 7 hours to go before the expansion, at which point her turned around and got in on a Garrosh run and walked away with an ilevel 550 1h heirloom sword that will grow with him to level 100.  He will be a mighty DPS tank in our group… not that he hasn’t been up until now.

Ula had also found some time to get online and hit 600 in tailoring, finishing off the last tradeskill we needed for another guild achievement.  That also unlocked the heirloom pants at the guild vendor.  Trianis made it to Pandaria without heirloom pants!  Are they going to boost heirlooms to work until level 90 at some point, the way they boosted them from 80 to 85 previously?

Anyway, the dark portal looms, Draenor awaits, the focus of the game for probably the next two years will be on this map.

The Draenor you have

The Draenor you have

I also logged into EVE Online for a little while last night to participate in an operation.  I had not logged in for nearly a week (good thing that we are still deployed at the same location, or I would be a little lost lamb in the middle of Omist) and I suspect that I won’t be logging in this weekend unless there are serious problems with Warlords of Draenor.

Addendum: I noticed that when Mists of Pandaria came out I put up a list of the expansions and the gap of time between each, so I figured I should carry that forward.

  • 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
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days

Average time between expansions: 728 days, up 8 days from the previous launch.

Final Decisions Before Warlords of Draenor November 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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I have a seemingly simple decision to make about Warlords of Draenor, which is, to put it bluntly, “Who goes first?”

Who will I push through the dark portal into Draenor, which character of mine will be the first to see what is to be seen in the new expansion?

In the past, there has not been much in the way of a decisions.  I had a level cap character that was part of the instance group and a level cap character for solo play.  The instance group character would wait for the group while the solo character would head off on his own.  That worked through vanilla, The Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King.  My paladin, Vikund was part of the group and my hunter, Tistann, was my solo character.

And then came Cataclysm, which screwed up so many things.  The group tried new characters, quickly grew bored at the fast pace of the revamped old-world content, where epic dungeons like Sunken Temple were carved down to fit the “30 minute or less” run time that the Dungeon Finder seemed to demand.  We ran off to play other games after not too long, though if we had gone back to our old group and picked up where we left off at the end of WotLK, things might have gone better.

In the mean time, I ran my instance group character to level cap in Cata along with my solo character and then stopped playing.

Until I returned about a year after Mists of Pandaria, where I again ran my instance group character, Vikund, to the level cap along with Tistann.  And then the instance group returned to Azeroth and I had to get in there and level up one of my druids so I would have somebody to play in the group.  That druid, Alioto, is now level 90, as is my insta-90 character, a Death Knight named Tokarev.

So I have four level cap characters from which to choose, and potentially one more character on the way.  My rogue, Trianis, is level 83 already.  He won’t make it to 90 by Thursday (though weighed down in heirloom gear, he’ll be 85 tonight given 90 minutes of play time), but he could be an option for the instance group give our bad attendance of late.  He could be level 90 by the time all five of us are online at the same time.

This is basically the first time I have had this wide of a choice.

The Draenor Contestants

The Draenor Contestants

Who should I send off to do what?

Vikund

My oldest character in the game and the one I tend to think of a “me” in Azeroth and beyond, the character I most identify with.  He was a pain to level back in the day when Paladins had no ranged attack except versus undead and no sort of “charge” substitute like warriors.  I still remember being out in the crowded fields of Westfall having to run up to melee range of each mob only to have some mage or hunter tag the mob just before I got there.  Vikund represents both identity and ~effort~ of a sort.  So it is somewhat of a big deal to me where he goes.

My gut response is to use this moment when the whole group is back to the same level to trade him back in as a regular member.  His glory days… my glory days… were from when he got swapped into the group at level 40 to replace the rogue I rolled up.  The rogue was not working for me.  So Vikund stepped in and went through the back half of vanilla as well as all of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King in the instance group.  There was a point when I was almost actually good at playing him.  And he is in a lot of those memory screen shots.

Through the years in Azeroth

Through the years in Azeroth

The flip side of this is that the instance group has been moving slowly of late.  Despite a blitz by four of us, the full group hasn’t finished Pandaria yet… and WoD is tomorrow.  I am not sure if I want to I want to leave him loitering while the group gets its act together for the expansion.  Furthermore, since the end of Wrath of the Lich King, Vikund has been my “do all the things” character.  He is the one who has the most exalted reps, who ground out Argent Tournament, who got the explorer achievement, and has basically become my “achiever” in Azeroth, as limited as my achievements might be.

So despite my desire to have him rejoin the group for old time’s sake, I think he will remain my trail blazer.  He will be the first one into Draenor, the first with a Garrison, the first to complete it, the one to do all the faction rep, the one who runs down every quest line, and so on.

Besides which, with him in the group we end up with two plate and three cloth wearers.  It would be nice to have somebody there to big on leather or mail.

Tistann

Tistann was my second character on the Eldre’Thalas server, and is second in my heart only to Vikund.  He was a hunter back when the class was complicated, awkward, and didn’t quite fit into the whole tank/healer/DPS scheme of things.  For quite a while, hunters were the odd class out.  But if there was a class that was completely unlike playing a paladin, the hunter was it.  Plus both classes were generally reviled for group play back in 2005.

But a hunter could solo like no other.  You lacked bag space because you had to devote a slot to a quiver or ammo pouch and you had to keep track of ammo as well as keeping food not just for yourself but also your pet.  I have a level 40 orc hunter sitting around that I will never delete because he is still equipped from circa 2006, with a quiver full of arrows and stacks of food for his pet.  However, your flexibility with a pet to cover for you made up for that.

So through the years Vikund has blazed the trail, worked his way up to level cap first, and then Tistann comes bouncing up to the cap right behind him, generally taking about half the effort.  Even at level cap in Pandaria, Vikund still has to work at soloing elites on Timeless Isle while Tistann and the right pet can blow through them non-stop without breaking a sweat, with a lower gear score to boot.  Part of that is me being bad at the game, but I am universally bad, so it also says something about hunters.

With that in mind, I think Tistann will continue on in his role of second to the summit solo.  I could bring him into the instance group.  That would give us a mail wearer.  But then we would end up as all ranged DPS.  Not that I am in love with melee DPS, despite the fact that is pretty much every other character on this list, but sometimes it is good to have somebody else on the boss even though running around and positioning yourself can be a pain.

Alioto

The real reason to make a druid is to get flight form, which may be the single best argument for having flight in World of Warcraft.  I used to think my default go to class was the hunter… until I counted characters and realized I had more druids than anything.  I have two druids on the alliance side of Eldre’Thalas.  If you are a true fan of druids, you have to have two because it is the only class that has four specs.  And there isn’t even a spec that really sucks.  Well, I’ve never warmed to Boomkin, but it gets play in the game.

Alioto is spec’d feral as his primary for DPS and whatever the tank spec is as a backup for evenings when Earl can’t make it and we want to go do something silly.  My other druid is spec’d healing and boomkin… I know these specs have actual names, but I never remember them… and is level 82, so could in theory make it to group level with some effort.  But DPS and backup tank actually fits well with the group, and actually being able to jump into bear form while in feral spec has saved us a couple of times.

So Alioto staying with the group is the default choice.  The easy choice.

That said, I am not exactly thrilled with feral DPS as a class/role, and doubly so after having played a real rogue up to level 83 already.  Feral spec has its moments, but it pales in comparison to a rogue.  But it is the spec that works with the group at the moment.

Tokarev

This is my insta-90 character.  Death Knights have always been somewhat interesting to be, but not enough to devote the effort to leveling one up to cap.  Tokarev has been around for a while, at least since WotLK, but has remained down the list when it comes to what to play.  So I decided to boost him.  So I went from having a level 68 that I played now and again to having a level 90 that I played now and again.  I also got a level 600 jewel crafter.  I ran him around a bit.  He is mostly equipped with Timeless Isle gear that he earned on his own.  He does a lot of damage.  So he might make a decent character to swap into the group.  A melee DPS who can take a punch and hold a boss for that last few seconds until he dies has some value.

Trianis

I am not sure where his name came from.  I think it was a name generator pick.  It certainly wasn’t from my collection of often re-used names.

But he was going to be a throw-away character in any case.  I rolled him up specifically as part of the summer Loremaster project.  He isn’t even on Eldre’Thalas, but on Korialstrasz, which might be the one server name more difficult to say that Eldre’Thalas.  The two servers are now joined, so he effectively plays in the same world as my other characters on Eldre’Thalas, but I have to change servers to log him in.  But he was just a temp, so no big deal.

And then, as I ran him through the 1-60 game and into The Burning Crusade, I really started to enjoy playing him.  I think was due to the fact that I did not go with the subtlety spec, which is what I have always picked in the past because rogues mean maximum stealth in my book.  This time I went with the combat spec, which ended up being a better play style for me.

And so, when I finally gave up on the Loremaster project at the end of Summer, I kept playing him.  I went slowly at first, getting him into WotLK.  Then I sped up some, using the Dungeon Finder to level him up through Northrend, which was both easy and showed that the combat spec worked well in a dungeon group.  I let him sit at 80 for a bit while I farmed materials for his tailoring and enchanting trade skills, which also made Vikund a tidy sum of gold.  The gray drops alone from WotLK and Cata heroics add up.  Then I piled on any herilooms I could buy/find on him and sent him into Cataclysm, where he has been good for a level a night with just about an hour invested.

The heirloom gravy train will be over soon, and which point I’ll send all that gear to my monk, but even leveling through Pandaria wasn’t a huge chore in past runs.  That is the blessing/curse of the five level expansions.  You can grind through them pretty quickly, but they also don’t provide as much substance.

So the question will be, can I level Trianis up in time to swap him in for Alioto in the instance group?  And should I?  I found the combat rogue more fun to play, even in groups, than the feral druid.

Other Last Minute Items

Who ends up doing what will be one of those things that will only be truly decided at the moment it is required.  I suspect Vikund will be first into Draenor.

But there are other things to think about, as in what to do with this last evening before the expansion.

I have been tempted, for example, to pay the 5K gold (saw it as low as 3.5K over the weekend) to go on a “Garry Carry” raid, where a guild sells you a spot on a normal mode Downfall run so you can defeat Garrosh and get that guaranteed bind on account heirloom items.  That will go away as soon as the expansion drops, and there is a minor compulsive feeling within me to “get it” before the opportunity is lost.

I also haven’t bothered to queue up and finish that special, pre-launch UBRS run, for which there is an achievement as I recall.  I did get in one group a while back, but it was a very bad group running all over the place.  So the second time we wiped on trash because the tank ran ahead while the healer was AFK, I left for other tasks.

Is there anything else I should do on the eve of the expansion?  By the time I get home from work tomorrow, Draenor will be open, people will be flooding through the Dark Portal in a reverse invasion, and there will be long lines for all the rides in the fun new section of the amusement park.  I will have to go in, just to see.  But after the first look, it might be worthwhile to go back to Trianis and get him a little closer to 90.  The only thing that has been slowing him down up to this point is that all of the Cataclysm zones seems to be quite active, full of players also driving to level up before the expansion.  Maybe they’ll all go away and I’ll have a bit of peace to move ahead.

What will you be doing on the eve of the expansion?

First Glance at WoW 6.0 October 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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It was a happenin’ time in Stormwind last night.  The place was overrun with people… at least the bank was… enough to make you believe that World of Warcraft subscriptions are up 600K users from their second quarter dip down to 6.8 million.

Actually, I have no doubt that the subscription numbers are up to 7.4 million, I just have to admire Blizzard’s preemptive end-run around potentially depressing news regarding subscription numbers for the third quarter of this year, which ended just a couple weeks back.  We may eventually know what that number was back on September 30th (or maybe we do, totally missed that in the footnotes) when the third quarter results come out in about a month or so, but it doesn’t really matter because the number today is 7.4 million.  Basically WoW subs jumped by about one and a half EVE Onlines.

Anyway, it was happenin’ because the long awaited WoW 6.0 patch was successfully deployed yesterday.

W6NowLive

And with that came a pile of changes.  The patch notes are long.

Of course, the first thing I saw was the new character models.

I am not in love with the new human models.

The design philosophy seemed to be “make these guys look a bit lost and not quite up to their tasks” or some such.  Of course, I thought the originals were just fine, and they were a bit more ruggedly handsome to boot.  So my pally went from looking like a hero to some guy who looked like he just got off the Google bus from SF.  Fortunately, the barber shop lets you change hair style and color as well as which of the faces your character has.  I was able to tinker that into something more acceptable for about 50 gold.  At least he looks a little less like a hipster waiter in a themed restaurant. (Belghast’s post has pictures and describes a similar need to change up.)

The new Vikund in Azeroth

The new Vikund in Azeroth

The new male dwarf models are hideously ugly… so are pretty much unchanged.  Basically they have a more high def texture so you can, by changing faces, dial in exactly how weather worn and craggy you want to be.  The range seems to go from “worn hard and put away wet” to “one step from Dark Iron,” your choice.  Dwarves live a hard life.

The male night elf models, on the other hand, do look like an upgrade.  They seem more lithe and and smooth and generally more like the high born.  A pity about the way they now run.  Rather than a feral grace, the male night elf runs like a guy who has pebbles in his shoes or who is trying to run barefoot over a hot beach.  Not sure who felt that captured the essence of the night elves, but I am not on board.

So I am not a big fan of the model change.  It doesn’t hurt the game to my mind, so it isn’t a huge deal, but I wonder if the time could have been better spent… or better directed.  Certainly the goal of retaining your character’s essence through the upgraded models failed for me. (Though there is an out, but now I’ve change my look for the new models. Bleh.)

Of course, the character model malaise faded into the background when I found that two of my characters had lost levels as part of the patch.  Color me confused, but I didn’t see anything in the patch notes about changing experience.  One of them, Alioto, my instance group character, who had been 88 for months, was suddenly back to level 87.  Granted, he was just ONE experience point shy of level 88, but he was no longer that level.

One point shy...

One point shy…

So I figure this might be akin to what happens in LOTRO when they tinker with exp, that I will just have to get a kill and I will be bumped back up to where I was, which was a third of the way into 88.  But no, I went and killed something, leveled up, and was only into 88 as far as the experience from that one kill would take me.

I could not figure out a pattern as to what might have caused this.  I first noticed it on my rogue, the character I had been using for the Outland quest achievements, who was past the halfway point into level 71 out in Shadowmoon Valley when I last left him.  Now he was one experience point shy of 71.  But he had just gotten that level over the weekend, so I thought maybe it was newly leveled characters.  But then there was Alioto, who had leveled up back in June.  Plus I had another character who leveled up on Friday at Darkmoon Faire, and he was just fine.

So I have no idea what happened and I have not seen anything mentioned about this anywhere, certainly not in today’s “whoops” patch notes for the first post-6.0.2 hotfix.  Anybody?

That was the low point of the evening, not being thrilled with the new look and having lost experience on a couple of characters where it matters. (Maybe THAT was the link! Hah!)  But after that it was mostly upside.

The stat squish seems to be working from what I can see.  Vikund, once over 500K hit points (with buffs) during Siege of Orgrimmar LFR groups, now sits at a much more modest 57K hit points, and his mighty two handed sword checks in at mere 98 dps.

Big sword, small dps

Big sword, small dps

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a screen shot of the “before” stats, though I know I have one tucked away somewhere, but for comparison my now level 70 rogue was dual wielding heirloom weapons at level 71 that were each flagged as doing 133 dps.  Those now show damage at just 32.68 dps.  I am going to have to go check how that level 20 hunter I have is faring.

But eventually we got to the high point of the night, when I started in on the inventory changes.

The new button to organize your bags… well, I probably shouldn’t have touched that until I had tinkered with some of the settings, because it moved everything.   That said, my only real objection is that I have to have my hearthstone in slot 1 of bag 1, as I have had it since the end of time.  Then I went to the bank and made the best 100 gold investment ever.  The new reagent tab in the bank is not free.

This bank is not a charity

This bank is not a charity

But once I paid the 100 gold and pressed the big button at the bottom, I was a very happy person.

All the reagents I had on me...

All the reagents I had on me…

There it is.  On one character this change basically opened up 89 inventory slots on my character and in my bank.  That was maybe the most extreme example, but I am not sure any character had less than 50 slots freed up by this action.  Best 100 gold spent ever, Totally worth it.

I was a little less thrilled by the toy box.  It works and it looks okay (if maybe a bit too widely spaced), but because it lists out all possible toys, I am now daunted by how many I am missing.  I have less toys than I thought, though perhaps I was applying toy more widely than Blizz was.  Also, there was the perennial Blizzard problem with what to do about dupes.  On various characters I had toys that were flagged as “already known,” but I am never sure what to do about them.  I am paranoid about deleting them, but I don’t want to keep them around cluttering up my bank. (Though that is certainly less of an issue at the moment.)  I have old pet tokens in the same situation, can’t redeem them, afraid to delete them, nothing to do but store them.

That out of the way, I went out to see the first bit of new content.  There is a set of lead-in quests that the game tells you about the moment you log in, at least if you are level 90.

Hey, did you hear? New quest!

Hey, did you hear? New quest!

You can click right on that to get the quest which sends you out to the Blasted Lands which is changed (or phased) to reflect the Iron Horde coming through their shiny new strawberry flavored dark portal.

The new dark portal

The new dark portal

There is a quest chain to run down which is primarily there to lay down the lore for you.  This is one of those times when you really should slow down and read the quest text.  There are not that many quests and the whole thing should take less than an hour if you digest everything, unless quest mobs are completely hunted out, (Though I was there when the zone was packed and that wasn’t much of a problem), or maybe 20 minutes if you blitz through like a crazed Munchkin.

This allowed me to play a bit with some of the changes.

As it turns out, retribution paladins are even easier now.  My rotation used to include a build-up to trigger a damage enhancing buff before I could really start in on the high damage attacks.  However, that buff seems to be gone now, so it is just build up for a big hit and let it fly.

The new quest log… well… I will have to play with it a bit.  Basically, the quest log and the map have been joined into a single window.  It seems to be well done… and it flags all of the quests by their type, which is new and useful… but I am going to have to use it for a while longer before I am settled on it.

The quest tracking in the mini-map is… changed.  Quest objectives are little yellow dots, but not the same little yellow dots they have used forever.  We have new little yellow dots, and they mark more things.  I was also able to turn off the new comic book outline effect when mousing over things right away thanks to a tip on twitter.  I was not big on that at all, but I am somebody who plays WoW with floating names off as well.

Questing itself seems to follow on in the Mists of Pandaria style, where it is meant to tell a story or involve you in an activity that changes things as opposed to old format which often seemed more interested in having you slaughter 12-30 things.  If you didn’t like the Pandaria style, you probably won’t like it in Draenor.  I actually liked the Pandaria philosophy, so it looks good to me.

The quest line itself shows you around the zone, has a cinematic, and then sends you off to the king in Stormwind where you get an achievement for completing this limited time event, plus a new title and the special Iron Starlette pet. (Oh, and now there is a gear reward, which wasn’t there last night. Erf.)

The big turn-in

The big turn-in

The pet looks like a barbed metal ball.  It is visible in the picture of Vikund up at the top.

As for the old kiwi-lime portal to the old Outland, that is gone from Azeroth.  You now have to take a special portal in the tower of magic to get there.

A vision of past portals

A vision of past portals

In general I am pretty happy with the state of things.  I still have to try out my other classes to see how they play now.  The healing thing has me a bit nervous, as I was a pretty marginal healer with my druid to start with, depending a lot on insta-heals to get me out of jams.  And I still have to queue up for the special, limited time Upper Blackrock Spire dungeon, which is only available through the Dungeon Finder currently.  I also wish I could manage the Garrosh heirloom smash and grab, but that is for real raiders and not LFR scum like me.

Overall though I am keen to see how things will play out when the expansion finally drops in a little less than a month.

Others looking at the new patch:

WoW 6.0 Drops Today – 30 Day Countdown to Draenor Begins October 14, 2014

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

At 1am this morning Blizzard was planning to take down all of its servers to start applying the big pre-Warlords of Draenor 6.0 patch.  I did not stay up to see if that went off exactly on time, but the big transition has begun, and Azeroth will be a slightly different place when we are all able to log back in at some point today.  The target time for completion is 11am today, but I will be happy if the game is up some time after dinner this evening.

Here come the changes

Here come the changes

All sorts of new things will be arriving in game.  There will be new character models, a new map interface, a new way to organize gear in your bags, changes to gear, stats, classes, and all sorts of things that were talked about 11 months ago at BlizzCon when Blizzard announced the expansion.  And this is all before we get to the actual Warlords of Draenor content.

Of course, some things will be going away.  There is a whole host of pets, mounts, gear, and achievements that will no longer be obtainable now that the patch is being applied.  This is, I guess, how Blizzard protects the value of things that were difficult to obtain.  Nobody will be able to hit level 100 and go back and twink that achievement you had to do the hard way at level 90 back in the day.

Then there is the stat squish.  And the removal of guild levels.  The patch notes are just overflowing with stuff.

Now it is time to see if the instance group can be roused from its lazy summer slumber.  We have about enough time to hit 90 and finish off the normal mode dungeons before the expansion goes live next month, if we can just all get logged on together again.  I’d like to be able to do the limited time special Upper Blackrock Spire. We shall see.

I think the biggest change I am looking forward to is the ones that will free up some bag space.  The toy box… and I have collected and held on to a lot of such items over the years… and the additional 98 slots of bank storage for crafting materials will be great.  I will probably spend the first night after the patch just getting all those things stored away so I will once again have space in my bags and bank.   And then it will be off to the Blasted Lands to see the precursor of the Iron Horde.

Is there anything you are looking forward to (or dreading) in the patch?

Addendum: And there it is…