Monthly Archives: November 2013

I Might Have Binged on WoW Recently…

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.

EverQuest Mac Goes Quietly Into the Night

I missed it.  November 18th was the last day for EverQuest Macintosh Edition.  As noted at the one site I could find covering the topic, the Al’Kabor server is now down.  But the event passed without much notice otherwise.

No longer available

No longer available

The EverQuest Mac forums are still up for the moment, but they will be going away soon.

I wrote a piece back in October when SOE announced that they were closing down EverQuest Mac that summarizes a bit of the story of the server, which ran for just over a decade.  The final moment has passed.  The game is just part of history now.

The Instance Group Returns to Northrend

Sort of.

As has been the case for much of 2013, we could only muster four out of five of the group.  Still, everybody has successfully resubscribed, patched, and logged into the game in the last week, so everybody is on board with the idea if not able to be present.  We are going to take another run at Azeroth.

So it was time to get the old team out, our original level 1 to 80 instance group, and do some warm-up exercises.  The planned group was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 80 Human Warrior Tank (missing)
  • Bungholio – Level 80 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 80 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Skronk – Level 81 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Ula – Level 81 Gnome Mage DPS

However, as Earl was out of town, we had to make do.

Alioto the druid is my latest character substitution into the group.  I had to change out because I ran ahead in levels with Vikund, my paladin.

Alioto is named after the former mayor of San Francisco because… well… I needed a name and that popped into my head and, more importantly on a very old WoW server, was actually available.  He is one of a selection of druids in WoW that have exactly the same dual spec options and professions.  I always seem to go feral for solo, healing for random instances, herbalism for harvesting, and inscription for a trade.  I actually have more such druids than hunters.

Even on the same server

Just on one server

But now I had a chance to change this pattern.  I cleared out my healing spec on Alioto and picked up the new… well, new to me… Guardian druid spec, which is for durids wat is bare.  Or bear.  I pretty much had to do that because, if you look at our line up, there are not a lot of other realistic tanking options.  Though, as things will turn out, the cloth wearing priest healer will do in a pinch.

The plan was a warm-up exercise to see if we could actually work as a team with the somewhat changed classes of WoW.  Our target was to scout out the three final 5 player instances in Wrath of the Lich King.  Those were added after we had “finished” the last instance… Utgarde Pinnacle… in the expansion.

Time to finish off what we started.

More after the break due to an excess of verbiage and screen shots.

Continue reading

WoW 9th Anniversary Present

I noticed on Twitter today that Blizzard was retweeting congratulations on World of Warcraft’s 9th anniversary.  So I wasn’t too surprised to log in and find something in my in-game mail box.

From the WoW team

From the WoW Dev team

But what was the celebration package?  Just a little buff to use during the anniversary week.

WoW9AnnivPackage

It also launches a firework when you use it.

Not exactly the Onyxia whelpling pet we got four years back, but still a nice little treat.  I am probably more interested in the reputation gain that the experience boost.

And there is also a feat of strength achievement to go with it.  I have those back to the 4th anniversary, which is when they put in achievements, however I missed last year’s when I wasn’t playing.

Another year has gone by.

Addendum:

The Celebration package also changes your tabard to something special when used.

9th Anniversary Tabard

9th Anniversary Tabard

Limited time only I am sure.

A Return to Curse

On reading about our new deployment, my first thought was along the lines of “Didn’t I just get the hell out of Curse?”

It wasn’t as though our gate camp deployment down there was bad.  It just seemed like more of a training exercise than a mission with some concrete end goals.  And given the proximity of Curse to my various caches of ships and supplies, it seemed like we could have gone elsewhere for training.

New Eden Simplified

My stuff vs. Curse

Even after the big battle at KW-I6T, when our fleet headed for “home” in Curse, I preferred to take my chances solo and head back to Deklein.

But when the call came I still packed myself up and headed down there via my now well worn route.  I even did so with some enthusiasm.  You see, there is a war on.

Headed on down to Curse again...

Headed on down to Curse again…

Granted, it isn’t our war, but you make due with what you have.  According to the GSF CEO update, the core group of the Russians have managed to set aside their differences and have allied to take on the N3 coalition holding the east of the New Eden, which includes Northern Coalition, Pandemic Legion, Nulli Secunda, and some more Russians.

And our role in this?  We aren’t taking sides or flagging anybody blue.  But we do have an agenda.

We are now going to do to NCdot and their friends in N3 exactly what they did to us in Fountain. We are going to be ‘honourable third parties’ in this war and make their lives and their gameplay hell. At every turn where they complain on the forums about how we are ruining their ‘good fights’ and ‘blobbing’, we will remind them with a sweet, false smile that this is exactly what they tried and failed to do to us.

The plan appears to be to drop on in any of the fights that crop up between the warring parties (like those at KW-I6T and L7ZS-5) to shoot N3 or, when fights are not available, to drop into N3’s backfield to sew terror and discord with their renters by sweeping them from space, attacking their structures, and generally being pains in their collective asses.  For this our forward base at G-0Q86 in Curse is pretty well situated.

Curse, in the midst of the troubles

Curse, in the midst of the troubles

And since this was to be an official CFC deployment to Curse (except for at least one alliance, which seems to be devoted to knocking off systems at the north end of the N3 coalition while the battles are happening in the south), logistical support could be expected.  I just had to get myself down there and buy a few doctrine ships on contract… the mix looks to be Siege Fleet stealth bombs, Dominix Fleet, and Prohpecy Fleet, which both my main and my alt can fly in… and wait for fleet ops to be announced.  And there were fleet ops running almost right away and all through the weekend.

I was fortunate in that my alt still had a jump clone down in Curse and a Harpy in the station with it, so he just had to jump and get over to G-0.  This was actually a bit risky, but he made it, docked up in the station in G-0 with the medical offices, set his death clone to there, and then warped over to the other station where we are staging.  Why we aren’t using the station with the medical facilities to stage seems like a pertinent question.  The official response I have so far is, “because we’re idiots.”

Then I just had to get Wilhelm down there.  I grabbed the last stealth bomber I had handy in Deklein and took the usual route into high sec then back to into null sec through the Great Wildlands.

That orange nebula south of Hek

That orange nebula south of Hek

I managed to make it through unmolested late on Sunday night.  I did hit a couple of active systems with a few people running around in them, but I just waved in local and they waved back.  I am going to guess that they were ratting or some such and were thus as uninterested in a fight as I was.

Anyway, I got through, did the clone thing, got myself set up with some doctrine ships, and am now ready for whatever operations might be in store.

Of course, I am wondering if I should have invested much in such ships.  The Rubicon expansion drops tomorrow.  CCP already has their mile-long list of patch notes posted, as well as dev blogs going into detail about balancing ship and modules, warp speed changes, mobile structures, and all sorts of other things.  And such updates tend to change the way wars are fought in null sec.  So next week we might be swapping out to an interdictor and interceptor only fleet doctrine or some such.  We shall see.

But I am in Curse again and ready to go.

Thrawn Dies at the End

I have a pile of partially finished… or in some cases barely started… posts about books saved on this blog.  Every time I finish reading a book or listening to an audio book, I feel some minor compulsion to write about it.

It is obviously not a major compulsion, since I rarely ever finish those posts.

Well, that and I have never really been good at the book report thing.  When I get to the end of a good book I want to talk about it with somebody else who has read it, not write a spoiler avoiding summary that cannot discuss the meat of the book.  Such is life.

Anyway, in an attempt to clean up my drafts folder, I am going to take what I have and try to hammer them into something I can post and throw them out there as Sunday posts.  Quality not guaranteed.

I am going to start with a pair of books, the wrap up of a trilogy, and I apologize for the spoilers.  Even the post title is a spoiler, done in pursuit of a dubiously humorous allusion.  But there is worse below.  And the series is over 20 years old now.  Anyway, on to whatever it is I am doing.

Two years ago I wrote up my feelings after reading Heir to the Empire again on its 20th anniversary.  I was somewhat serious in that post.  I am less so here.  Anyway, earlier this year, realizing I needed to pick my two titles for the month at Audible.com, I decided to finish off the series.  So I started in on Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.

Han looks really old...

Han looks really old…

My picks could have been better spent.

Much of what I wrote about Heir to the Empire applies to these two titles.  The production values are excellent.  The narrator is spot-on with voices 99% of the time.  But the good guys… Luke, Leia, Han, et al… remain as glued to the past as a middle aged guy who feels his life peaked in high school.  Everything they do ends up getting a reference back to the original movies.  Hell, Luke’s big plan of the second book is to break into the detention center of a Star Destroyer via the trash compactor.  And, like anybody who seems to live solidly in the past, they become dull and predictable.  I played “shout out the next line” in the car every time there was a dramatic pause, and for the the regular crew I was right every single time.

And it wasn’t just that I had read the books 20 years back.  This was just some tired writing.

But that was pretty much the case in the first book as well, so no change there.

What did change was that the master villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, couldn’t pick up the slack the way he did in the first book.  In the first book we were learning about him.  He was new and fresh and interesting.  However he didn’t evolve much after that.  He looks at some culture’s art, figures out their weakness, and devises a plan to exploit it.  He is wise and insightful, except when the plot needs him to be arrogant and blind.  He is the master of every engagement and thinking two moves ahead, except when the plot needs the New Republic to win.  And his every plan comes to fruition, unless it involves Luke, Leia, Han, et al.  In that case he is constantly thwarted by those meddling kids.

Seriously, rename the Millennium Falcon to the Mystery Machine, make R2D2 an incomprehensible talking dog, and C-3P0 a Maynard G. Krebs knock-off with a constant case of the munchies and the rest writes itself.

Meanwhile, the story is telegraphing the ending from the middle of the second book.  Really, the only big question is why it takes 600 more pages to get to the inevitable result.

The second book, Dark Force Rising, revolves around two key things.  The first is the mysterious “Dark Force” or “Katana Fleet” or “Lost Fleet” or “MacGuffin Fleet.”  This is a a fleet of 200 dreadnought class destroyers (Which seem to be about cruiser size in a fleet composition, since they are formidable but smaller than an imperial Star Destroyer.  Way to mix ship classes into a complete mess!) that went missing back during the clone wars.  The Old Republic was working on automation to save on crew requirements, so had linked all these ships together.  Then the crews were hit with a bout of space madness or some such, jumped the whole fleet off to some random location, died, and were never seen again.  Only somebody has found the ships and the race to collect them starts.

The second is the relationship between the martial but primitive Noghri and the rump Empire that seems content to use them as suicide commandos while manipulating them to keep them dependent on, and loyal to, the Empire.

For the first, Thrawn wins, grabbing 185 out of 200 ships.  But the New Republic is pretty relaxed about it because where is the Empire going to find crews… even with the automation reducing the requirements… to run 185 big ships?  Then somebody points out the whole “Empire able to make clones” thing and Mon Mothra (intentional error) shits a brick.

As for the second bit, enter meddling kids.  And we close wondering how long it will take Thrawn to die.

The Last Command opens up with Thrawn barreling to the peak of his mastery of the galaxy.  He is knocking over planets and taking whole sectors.  The New Republic is in a panic.  Grand Admiral Thrawn, dramatically lit, red eyes flashing, and laughing maniacally, stands at the gates of Moscow, his triumph at hand.

Enter meddling kids and some pissed off Noghri and the late Grand Admiral Thrawn is carried off by the chorus.

Close on Admiral Pellaeon, crestfallen at this turn of fortune (but secretly relieved at no longer having to look like a half-wit child next to Thrawn), taking over command of the rump Empire and forming a blue ribbon committee on unified paint schemes for all Imperial warships before retiring to the officer’s club to reminisce about the good old days when the Emperor was running the show and a man of his mild talents could rise to the rank of Admiral by just shuffling papers and avoiding any responsibility.

Or at least that is how I am calling it.  I couldn’t make it to the end of the last book, even with a professional voice actor reading it to me while in the car where I had nothing but traffic to deal with.  My mind kept wandering off… or perhaps it was running away to hide… and I would realize that I had missed great chunks of the narrative.

I am being unfair of course.  Part of the reason I lost interest is that the books are really in the “young adult” category at best and were written at a time when we were starved for anything Star Wars related.  Context is ever important.  These books were like mana in the 90s.

I did enjoy spotting the places where the books diverged from the eventual stories put forth in Episodes I, II, and III.  Things like the nature of the Clone Wars (a clone revolt), dark Jedi (no mention of Sith), and how Darth Vader lost his hand (no mention of Obi-wan sadistically leaving Anakin burned and dismembered on whatever industrial sweatshop world that was) spring to mind.  That was a fun game at times.

In they end, they are not bad books when you factor in their time, target audience, the constraints and demands that Lucas no doubt put on them, and the other titles from the 90s Expanded Universe collection.  These are still the best of that bunch and deserved to be best sellers back then.  But times have changed and so have I.

EverQuest II Tears of Veeshan Expansion Launches Quietly

Quietly is relative term in this case.  I am sure that if EverQuest II is your main game you were fully aware of what was going on with the game, including the Tears of Veeshan expansion that launched this week.

EQ2ToV_450px

But as something of an outsider to the SOE line of games these days… I am playing nothing from SOE at the moment… it seemed a bit quiet to me.

EverQuest II seems to be falling into the “Jan Brady” role in the EverQuest franchise family.  EverQuest, the older sibling, has already done most everything already, and when somebody wants to talk about the “good old days” or “classic MMOs,” EverQuest is the clear go-to title.

And how can EQII compete?

Tears of Veeshan is the 10th EQII expansion?  EQ launched its 10th expansion 8 years ago and already pushed out expansion number 20 this year.  And EQ even co-opts stuff that makes EQII unique, like housing.  You can just hear the sibling argument in your mind as EQII cries, “But housing was MY thing!  Why couldn’t you just let me have that for myself?”

Meanwhile, all attention is on the new baby, EverQuest Next.  Everybody loves that cute little tyke.

So there is EQII in the middle, “Hi everybody, I launched a new expansion!  Hello?”

As I said, I am not paying close attention to SOE games these days, not the way I would if I were playing them.  But I do watch the news.  I have EQ2 Wire in my RSS feed, which covers just about everything you need to know.  I was right there when SOE announced the straight to level 85 option and loosened up some of the restrictions on the free game.  Still I felt like I knew nothing about this expansion, though expansion excitement seemed to be low in a lot of places this year, which is odd.  Expansions are, in part, about re-igniting passion in your followers and giving people a reason to return to your game.  Look at BlizzCon and the Warlords of Draenor announcements.  Not everybody loved what was announced, but by the end of the weekend everybody seemed to have an opinion on what Blizz had on tap.   Yeah, not a fair comparison, orders of magnitude and such. But I still wasn’t sure what was Tears of Veeshan bringing to the table after SOE Live.

Now I do.

And a lot of what was in the expansion does seem a bit mundane when listed out.  Feldon has the meat of the details, but the overview is kind of a yawn for an outsider.

  • New Dragon based Alternate Advancement tree
  • Alternate Advancement point cap raised to 340
  • A new overland area, Vesspyr
  • More quests of all shapes and sizes
  • 9 new dungeons
  • 2 new raid zone
  • More trade skill stuff
  • A new equipment tier for PvP
  • New Guild Hall options

Nothing there is going to make somebody think, “Ah, I must go play EverQuest II!”  There is substance there.  EQTraders has a big post up about just the crafting updates with the expansion.

Oh, and one more thing.  I left one item off the list.  It probably wasn’t that important, as it only made it as the 5th bullet item on SOE’s feature list for the game. SOE added a new class to the game.

Wait, what?  A Channeler class was added?

That seems like huge news for the game.  Why wasn’t this the headline?  Everything else almost drops to the level of trivia when you add that to the list.

I have long bitched and moaned about the fact that SOE launched EQII with 24 classes, which I felt was too many and really limited their expansion options, since “add a new class” is a clear go-to option for these sorts of things, a way to experience the game afresh, a way to get old hands at the game to re-roll and play through the older content again (and thus slowing down their consumption of the new content I suppose), or at least a way to sell more instant level 85 options.

And so, in the nine years of EverQuest II, they have only ever added one class to the game, the Beastlord… which, like so much else, was borrowed from Marcia… I mean EverQuest.

Anyway, to the outsider like me, this seems like the lead item, the big news, something that the EQII team should be talking up.  How will this change the game?  How will this make me want to re-roll?  What makes this class unique and the thing to have?  And maybe they are talking that up.  Maybe I just can’t hear them over the noise of the new baby and the ongoing nostalgia for the older sibling.

Being the middle child can be tough.

Quote of the Day – Did SOE Solve the Latency Problem?

In old MMOs, when monsters started to attack, dice rolls had already determined if they was going to hit you or not. We’re not doing that. We’re allowing you to move out of the way and do stuff that way. With positioning of your abilities versus what the monster is doing, it’s a very fluid situation. There’s no lather, rinse, repeat mechanic that works all the time.

Dave Georgeson, interview at Rock, Paper, Shotgun

The interview linked above is interesting if you want to learn more about the plans for EverQuest Next and Landmark.  I recommend it.

LandmarkLogo

There is a lot about the tools that will be available to end users and the scope of what players will be allowed to do.  Heady stuff, with ideas like “build your own MMO” being bandied about and EverQuest Next being referred to as just “a professionally developed alternative” to what players will be able to create in Landmark.  It all sounds like many steps beyond things like Wurm Online, right down to the griefing potential.

In the midst of all of that, there was some talk about players, classes, and combat, which included the quote at the top.  Again, sounds nifty!

Only reading that triggered a memory.  A few years back there was a new studio… and I have forgotten the name, date, and what not, so [citation needed]… and one of the developers was talking about them making a zombie MMO and generally criticizing combat in all MMOs up to that point.  He didn’t want hot bars and dice rolls behind the scenes, he wanted to swing a bat and, if it intersected with a zombie’s head, to score a hit and do damage.

Somebody else must remember this, right?  Help me out here.

[Addendum: Talyn found it! I am not crazy… in that regard at least.]

Anyway, that was doing things properly and he was quite dismissive of the MMO industry for not having done this already.

In due course a fair number of MMO devs sighed, shook their heads, and went on about how they would love to do that sort of thing, but the realities of network reliability and latency and client synchronization prevented it and that these loud mouthed upstarts would surely learn all of this in the fullness of time. (Or maybe it was just this post, which I was able to find once I had the date.)

If I recall right, they did, balance was restored to the force, and we all moved on.

At least until I read that quote up there at the top, which brought back those partial memories along with a few question… like, did Dave Georgeson really mean that?  No dice, no probability, just a check on positions and the intersection of objects in motion?  In real time?  In an MMO?  Over the internet?

Did SOE solve some critical network issue along the way here?  Or am I reading this wrong?

My alternate quote from that article, which also hits on a side detail is this:

Sometimes we ask questions that we know can only go one way. But the players are constantly having debates over stuff, so then we can go in and explain why we’re doing things a certain way. Because the more we can work with our players so they can understand why games need to be built a certain way, the better the suggestions will be.

This actually makes me feel a little better, as a number of questions that have popped on the round table have seemed to have only one possible outcome, so I was wondering why they bothered asking.  Now I know.

The Rush Back to Azeroth

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.

War Thunder – I Need Bombs! Lots of Bombs!

I did actually managed to break away from BizzCon and all the talk about Warlords of Draenor long enough to play some War Thunder this past weekend.

I followed my previous wandering path, continuing my goal to “fly all the planes!” and headed towards the German tree.

This time around however, I did not want to spend my time working my way up to rank 5 just to fly some key planes.  It isn’t that I didn’t have a model of an He-51 as a kid… I had two, including one done up as Adolf Galland‘s plane. (Did I ever mention I met him in person back in the late 80s?)  I just wanted to fly some things further up the tree.

Fortunately, by this point I had accumulated a sizable chunk of “free” experience… which in War Thunder terms as similar to the experience you earn in World of Tanks on gold tanks or tanks that you have trained up completely, in that you have to use the RMT currency to convert it to something useful, thus giving lie to at least one aspect of the word “free”… and was able to convert it into a boost up to rank 5 in the German air force.  That put me right into some serious bombers.  I was able to get into the Heinkel He-111.

He-111 in flight

He-111 in flight

As well as the Junkers Ju-88.

Junkers on a bomb run

Junkers taking some fire

Neither of these are brilliant ground attack aircraft like the A-20 Havoc I mentioned last week.  They are instead configured as medium daylight level bombers. (Though you can dive bomb with the Ju-88 if you so desire.)

Both of these planes are modest in speed, bristling with rifle caliber defensive armament, and otherwise not exactly remarkable.  Except, of course, that they carry lots of bombs.

These are smaller bombs.  They are in the 100 pound category, as opposed to the 250 or 500 pound bombs you can put on some of the allied planes I have flown so far.  The SBD even carries a 1,000 pound bomb on its central rack.

But what these bombs lack in size, they make up for in quantity.  If it take a couple of bombs to ensure a kill from altitude, it is better to have 20-30 bombs than just four.  And if you have lined up armored column coming up a canyon all in a nice straight line, you can lay down a stream of bombs right down the whole lot of them.

He-111 raining bombs

He-111 raining bombs

And, in War Thunder matches, destroying ground targets wins  the day.  Unless it is one of those domination maps where you have to land on airfields to claim them… though bombing enemy planes while they are trying to land is fun as well.

So the upside of these two planes is that they are well equipped to bomb the living crap out of ground targets.  In the aforementioned “armored column in a canyon” scenario I have destroyed as many as seven ground targets in a single run, which gets you all sort of bonus experience and everybody sees your name in status and you are seriously helping the team.

The downside is that other side appears to have figured this out.  So while I have wandered about the sky for whole matches completely unmolested in my Blenheim or TBF, these two planes attract enemy fighters like no other.  And this is where you figure out that “rifle caliber defensive armament,” even when you literally bristle with it like the He-111, isn’t all that effective.  The twin heavy .50 caliber guns on the A-20 will cause severe damage on a solid hit.  The 7.92mm single mounts on these birds really need a lucky shot to do anything at all.

And, to add to this, I really need to write a nasty letter to the Reich Air Ministry about the oddly fragile nature of the tail sections of German planes.  They clearly overlooked some sort of serious design flaw.

Here is my typical mission in one of these bombers.

The match starts.  I steer towards the enemy, climbing a bit to give myself some more altitude.  I arrive over the first target and unload my bombs pretty much unmolested.  Then, as I am waiting for a reload or heading in for another run, an enemy fighter finally catches up with me, gets into extreme range, and opens fire with a long, sustained burst.  This causes no damage to the plane, except for the tail section, which becomes completely inoperable.  The elevators and rudder are completely useless.  At this point the plane enters a shallow dive, with the nose down attitude increasing over time.  The controls will not respond, and eventually my flight path intersects the earth and that is the end of the flight.

Hop into the second plane, repeat.

And it isn’t just the bombers.  The third plane in my hangar is an early model Bf-109.

Messerschmitt's fighter

Messerschmitt’s fighter

The tail comes off of that thing as well.  Once, thanks to altitude and an upright angle of attack, I had the tail shot off and remained in the air for almost two minutes, wildly cork-screwing about using the ailerons to what effect I could, just  distract enemy fighters for a bit.  It worked, but that tail came off on practically the first hit.  I wonder how true to life that tendency on the German planes is.

One thing I know they did model well on the Bf-109 was the landing characteristics.  It is a pain to land, which is what I have always read.  Narrow landing gear and a light frame with a heavy but powerful engine up front can mean comedy when trying to put the plane down.  I have managed it, but more often than not I end up looking silly.  And, of course, on those matches where you have to land to capture airfields…

This actually won the match

This actually won the match

So the German planes seem to give their own unique experience.

I am now at a point where I have gone up the tree in four of the five air forces.  I am pondering whether it is worth buying my way into the Japanese tree to rank 5 to try the equivalent aircraft on that front, or if I should focus on one air force and try to get into some of the bigger bombers and faster fighters.

Where should an aircraft tourist go next?

And, as usual, after the cut I have some additional screen shots which I collected over the past week of play.

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