Tag Archives: Shadowlands

Diablo II Resurrected and the Rest of BlizzConline 2021

BlizzConline has come and gone.  It was certainly more subdued than any BlizzCon though, when you don’t have a packed auditorium cheering, you cannot expect the same energy.

BlizzCon Online over yesterday

Yesterday I went through what I considered the “important bit” for me, the status of WoW Classic and the coming of The Burning Crusade.  But that was obviously not all that Blizzard had to talk about.  So here, in my order of importance, are other bits from BlizzConline.

Diablo II Resurrected

This was the other item I was keen to hear about, and I was not disappointed.  Blizzard officially announced their remaster of Diablo II.  Having just replayed the original last year… and no longer really having the option since my big new monitor simply won’t work with it… I am excited to see this.  I am pretty much a guaranteed sale here.

The return of the classic

What they showed… remastered 3D graphics as well as the option for the 2D experience… up on screen side by side with the original looked very good, both true to the original and updated to current standards.  They also have some improvements… a larger stash, a more comprehensible character and skill sheet… that looks good.  The details are up on the site for the product, including the graphical comparisons.

Plus they are going to launch it on PC, XBox, PlayStation, and Switch.  Seems like they are going all in on this.  They are even hyping up cross-play for different platforms, so you can access your character on any of the above hardware.  I am only interested in it on the PC really, where it will be $40. (Or $60 with Diablo III and all its addons thrown in.)

As with Burning Crusade Classic, the deep dive panel (video here) was less technically focused… again, no slides or charts or numbers… and more about the drive to deliver both an authentic Diablo II experience and bring the game in line with modern expectations.  The level of detail discussed was impressive.  I suspect we’ll hear again from David Brevik about how Blizzard can’t do this, that, or the other thing, as occurs whenever talk of a Diablo II remaster comes up, but Blizz seems set to prove him wrong.

And it is expected to launch in 2021, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they did a repeat of the original for an end of the year release.  That fact that the list December on the page where you can pre-order it… because of course you can pre-order it… seems a likely sign.  We shall see.

I am excited about this, though I know Blizz has dropped the ball on the remaster thing before, back with Warcraft III.  I hope they learned the right lessons from that.  But if they are going out on consoles, this will have a lot of resources behind it.

Shadowlands Updates

It isn’t so much that I dislike the Shadowlands expansion… it seems interesting and fun in its own way, and I jumped on board at launch… it is more than when I stack rank what I want to play on a given evening it tends to fall into third or fourth place… fourth now that Valheim is on the scene.  Unfortunately, that means I am so far behind on covenant stuff (they barely know me at this point) and have missed so much that I am probably out until the second summer of Shadowlands when they smooth out the curve to let the slackers catch up.

Anyway, they announced the first big content drop, the 9.1 Chains of Domination update.  Kaylriene has a write up that covers it and the presentations in more depth than I could manage, so that probably ought to be your destination if this is relevant to your interests.

Blizzard Arcade Collection

Blizzard, on a retro rampage with their 30th anniversary, has brought back their original console titles, The Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing, and Blackthorne, in the Blizzard Arcade Collection.

Back in the lineup

I have never played any of these titles.  I know just enough about them to get the occasional reference to them in WoW… the Vikings, for example, are in Uldaman.  But the games have been brought up to date and will be available on XBox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC.  I might actually give this a try on my Switch Lite.

Diablo Immortal

We have been hearing about this since BlizzCon 2018 when Blizzard failed to manage expectations after putting the Diablo franchise in the position of honor in the schedule, leading everybody and their dog to expect a Diablo IV announcement.  They told us directly to not get our hopes up, but it was right there on the schedule.  And then after the keynote the schedule was updated to say Diablo Immortal.

Phone Diablo

Still, the word out there is that it is a pretty solid title, sitting in the story line between Diablo II and Diablo III.  I would probably give it a try on my iPad if it isn’t to dear in price… absolutely if it is free, though we know how that can go.  Of course, that is part of the problem;  we still don’t know many solid details about the game and the Blizzard site about it doesn’t have much to add.  I feel like I know way more about Diablo II Resurrected after two days than I do about Diablo Immortal after more than two years.

Hearthstone Classic

I’m not going to play this.  I played just enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed mount in WoW, and then a bit more on my iPad, but it isn’t a game that holds me.  I am just amused that they’ve thrown so many expansions and changes into the game that they’re ready to drag out a classic version… though I guess it has been six years.  Time flies.

Diablo IV and Overwatch 2

We heard about the rogue class in Diablo IV and about the myriad PvE missions in Overwatch 2, but both titles are still more than a year out, so I just cannot get myself at all worked up.  There are too many things to interest me between now and whenever to divert my attention.  Also, the announcements were not all that earth shattering.  I’m not saying there isn’t something Blizz could say about either that would kindle a deep interest, they’re just not there yet.

BlizzConline Overall

Not bad.

I mean, it is hard to argue with some of the solid announcements they had.  There was enough WoW focused stuff to keep me engaged along with enough other stuff that it didn’t feel like the “WoWCon” BlizzCons of a decade back.

I was also happy it was free and readily available via multiple services and that the videos from the panels were uploaded and ready on YouTube almost immediately.

Still, it didn’t quite have the full BlizzCon feel.  As I said previously, it felt different not being in front of a live studio audience.  I may love the written word, but writing “the audience roared” and hearing a BlizzCon audience roar of its own accord in reaction to something announced on stage at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I didn’t mind the chatty nature of the panels.  I like to hear the devs talk and they have done some nice videos in the past like that.  I especially remember the series with some of the original devs talking about making WoW as part of the WoW Classic launch build up.  But I am not sure that eight minutes of that in a 30 minute panel that is labeled as a “deep dive” is quite on the mark.

I felt that there was a lot less hard information presented and that the details that were given us often were not accompanied by the bullet point slide pages to which we have grown accustomed from past BlizzCon panels.  It isn’t real unless it is in PowerPoint, right?

I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that the panels and presentations were all pre-recorded and just queued up to play.  With no live audience and nobody holding up today’s paper in frame ransom note style how could we tell?

In fact, in writing that, I will swap to saying that I would actually be surprised to find that most, if not all, of the panels were NOT pre-recorded and queued up to play.  I mean, why wouldn’t you go that route?  Though, if you did, you’d think we’d get more slides.

So, it was good for what it was.  Life in the pandemic dictates what we can do.  I think they could have done better with info, but maybe the things I wanted had not been nailed down yet.  I don’t think it had quite the impact that a live BlizzCon would have, but we still got some very big announcements.

SupreData says WoW Jumped in Subscribers and Revenue

SuperData Research put out its report for digital revenue for November, which saw record numbers.

  • Digital games earned $11.5B in November 2020, the highest monthly revenue ever. Overall earnings were up 15% over November 2019. Mobile grew 9% while PC rose 22% to reach a new revenue record, which was driven largely by the release of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Console earnings were up 24% but fell slightly below the all-time record set in April 2020.

According to another report they put out, Black Friday fell short of 2019 by 10% due to a variety of reasons, mostly on the console front.  But PC sales were the big winner, with World of Warcraft topping that end of their monthly chart.

SuperData Research Top 10 – November 2020

World of Warcraft took first place on PC for digital sales, leaping past the usual suspects that make up the top four names nearly every month, due to the Shadowlands expansion.

  • The release of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands led to the game’s highest monthly revenue since 2008 and player numbers since 2010. Compared to the launch of the Battle for Azeroth expansion in August 2018, earnings and user numbers were 50% and 34% higher, respectively. It is unlikely the game will sustain these high player numbers for more than one to two more months. The title is now highly dependent on major expansions to drive temporary spikes in revenue and user numbers.

Great numbers… the highest revenue since 2008 and the most players since 2010… but the caveat is pretty real.  This spike was driven by the new expansion and history shows that those numbers will taper off if they don’t have content that will deliver for players over time.  It would be good to follow strength with strength, like maybe having some news in time for BlizzConline in February about plans for WoW Classic and The Burning Crusade.

After WoW we have the usual four, League of Legends and the heavily Asian titles, Dungeon Fighter Online, Crossfire, and Fantasy Westward Journey Online.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War dropped into six place with its Warzone free to play mode.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War sold 5.7M digital units in November, a 7% increase compared to the previous franchise record holder Black Ops 4. The ongoing success of the free-to-play Warzone mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare helped drive interest in the latest title. Warzone will likely continue to be the most common way gamers experience Call of Duty on PC or console in the near future. Thanks to Warzone, Modern Warfare had 2.7 times as many players as Cold War in November 2020.

World of Tanks returned to the list in seventh position, followed by Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, which launched early in November.

  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla sold 1.7M units, 50% more than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at launch. The latest game benefited from a positive reception to Odyssey, from being a showpiece game for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S and also from a last-minute delay of Cyberpunk 2077. Even though the game’s overall revenue was up 23% over Odyssey at launch, in-game revenue was down 62%. This was likely because Valhalla did not offer a paid experience booster at launch, which Odyssey was criticized for featuring. However, Ubisoft did add a booster into Valhalla in December.

Then the list wraps up with Roblox and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which was in sixth spot last month.

On the console list Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War topped the chart while Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla managed fourth position.  Staple of the console list, Grand Theft Auto V managed to hold on another month in eighth, while Fortnite grabbed 10th spot.

On the mobile side of the chart Free Fire, the mobile shooter from Singapore, returned to the top spot, while Pokemon Go fell into second place after topping the list last month.  Bell weather title Candy Crush Saga held on in seventh position while Honour of Kings, which held the top spot for many months this year, stayed on the list in ninth position.

Not on any of the charts, the sleeper hit of 2020, Among Us, gets a special mention in the November report.

  • Among Us had roughly half a billion monthly active users in November. The title is now by far the most popular game ever in terms of monthly players. Since Among Us is not heavily monetized, earnings figures are comparatively smaller. The PC version (which has a $5 upfront price) accounted for the majority of revenue from August to November (64%) despite having an extremely small share of the total player base (3% in November).

So that is November.  For December we will no doubt see Cyberpunk 2077 jump onto the PC and console charts, and we’ll have to see how well World of Warcraft holds on after its trip to the number one position.

Choosing my Covenant in Shadowlands

I’ve slipped a bit on keeping up with Shadowlands, though that is less to do with the expansion and more to do with my ability to juggle multiple games.  I can generally focus on two MMOs… and only if one of them is EVE Online, which is different enough from everything else to not overlap.  So if I get hooked up with something in WoW Classic… which I have been… then I am generally playing that and not retail WoW or some other fantasy MMORPG.

Anyway, I left off last time having finished up in Ravendreth, at which point you get sent back to Oribos to make the big decision.

Choose your destiny – Bastion, Ravendreth, Maldraxxus, or Ardenweald

As I noted previously, the whole level 50 to 60 experience and tour through the four zones is just an elaborate intro to the expansion. I know for many the end game is the game, but this looks like Blizzard’s attempt to make the end game the game for everybody.

And I am not necessarily against that.  I have done a lot of the world quest and story line quests and other events after hitting level cap since Wrath of the Lich King.  We’ll have to see how people deal with the idea that you can hit level cap so quickly and then spend the next two years doing events and alternate progress.

So there I was in Oribos to pick my covenant.  There are representatives from all four hanging out there by Bolvar Fordragon and you have to talk to each one to update the quest that ends with you picking one.  Given my reactions to the various zones, Maldraxxus, the Necrolords, or Ravendreth, the Venthyr, seemed the best options.  In the end the Venthyr abilities won me other, and I made the choice.

As sure as I can be

Once you click the button you are semi-committed.  I hear it is a bit of a pain to change covenants, but I haven’t felt the need to track that down.

Oh, and an achievement.  Always an achievement.

I have chosen

And then it is off to your chosen covenant to dig deeper into their tale.  There are more story lines to run down, world quests to do, and currencies to acquire, with which you can unlock various things.

I am not sure why I chose the command table, it ended up being exactly what I expected

And, eventually, you get back into the Maw and back on the trail of Anduin, Jaina, Thrall, and Baine, the four leaders who helped get you out of the Maw in the first place, after which you spent ten levels getting introduced to people while they suffered.

In fact, the commute to the Maw becomes a pretty regular routine, such that the awe and amazement that NPCs first displayed when you showed up seems somewhat misplaced.  You’re jumping down the portal to the Maw as part of your daily commute because there is always something to do there.

Jumping into the Maw yet again

That doesn’t necessarily make me happy.  The Maw is one of those zones where it is really easy to get in over your head or have an unfortunate respawn.  I die a lot in the Maw, which seems odd in the land of the dead, but you roll with it.  It is inconvenient and usual, and my repair bill is huge… or it seems huge.  It would bankrupt me in WoW Classic.  But somehow my gold balance keeps slowly rising due to the rewards.  I had some gray vendor trash that would have paid for an epic mount in vanilla.

But the Maw is the path to Torghast, which is the center of things.  I do a bit better in there than out in the Maw solo.  My ret pally has just enough oomph to deal with most things, if I choose the right zone boosts.

I’ve been in and rescued Blaine Bloodhoof so far, though he seemed surly afterwards.  He probably knows how much time I spent dawdling before I got to him.

Blaine just sitting there in Oribos

I haven’t gotten much further past there, though I have run down a couple more stories in Ravendreth.

That achievement

But I don’t feel in that much of a hurry to carry on.  If we’re going to be doing end game for two years, then there isn’t any reason to get burned out on it a month in.

And then there are alts.  With the easy run to level 60… and, honestly, the run from 1 to 60 is pretty manageable compared to the pre-squish days… this seems like an expansion where people can get a lot of max level alts going.  I pushed my hunter, always first among my alts, into the expansion, but haven’t decided which path to take with him.  Once you have one character at level cap you get a choice.  You can go the full tour route, or you can commit to a covenant straight up and run with that.

Choose your experience

I haven’t decided for my hunter yet.  You can go on with the tour path as long as you want, but the moment you choose a covenant you give up the tour and cannot return to that path.  I am not sure which covenant would suit him, or even if I want to jump straight into end game world quests and what not right away.

As for the rest of the group, Skonk went with Kyrian and Bastion, that seeming compatible with a priest, and Ula went with The Night Fae in Ardenweald so she could spend more time with her pal Moonberry.  Ula has pushed ahead and already has a mount even.

My pally will keep swinging away in Ravendreth.

More places to explore

And I’ll just have to see where it ends up taking me.

WoW Shadowlands Sales Stacked Up Against Past Releases

This has become a staple post after every WoW expansion release, usually because Blizzard puts out a press release about the first day sales full of superlatives.  And so it goes for Shadowlands.

This time though Blizzard has out done itself with a press release declaring Shadowlands “the fastest-selling PC game of all time industry-wide” having had 3.7 million first day sales.  That is some boast, though the previous champion was, by their accounting, was Diablo III which had 3.5 million first day sales.

They also have a few additional brags.

  • In the months leading up to the expansion’s release and the time since launch, the game reached and has sustained its highest number of players on monthly or longer-term subscriptions compared to the same period ahead of and following any WoW expansion in the past decade, in both the West and the East.
  • Players have spent more time in Azeroth year to date than in the same period of any of the last 10 years.
  • In addition, total player time in game this year to date has nearly doubled compared to the same period last year.

The last bullet point is a solid one, since numbers were up a year ago due to WoW Classic, so topping that says something.  The first point is time bound by expansions that launched in the last decade, which basically means since they pissed a lot of people off with the Cataclysm expansion.  The game’s peak no doubt remains in the Wrath of the Lich King era.

A chart from 2015 back when we used to get subscriber numbers

Still, it is good to see the game doing well, though for the video game industry the pandemic has been a rising tide that has lifted all boats it seems.

Anyway, like I said, there is a press release like this every expansion.  Battle for Azeroth had one two years back which pegged its first day sales at 3.4 million, and Legion had one before that which put it at 3.3 million, and so on down the line.  The totals, so far as I could figure it out some time back, should now look like this:

  • Shadowlands – 3.7 million
  • Battle for Azeroth – 3.4 million
  • WoW Legion – 3.3 million
  • Warlords of Draenor – 3.3 million
  • Mists of Pandaria – 2.7 million (first week)
  • Cataclysm – 3.3 million
  • Wrath of the Lich King – 2.8 million
  • The Burning Crusade – 2.4 million
  • World of Warcraft – 240,000

Those are mostly “first 24 hours” of sales, except where noted.  After Cataclysm Blizzard needed to give Mists of Pandaria a bit more runway to get into the zone I guess.

And, of course, we get into what really counts as day one sales.

With the original World of Warcraft  launch, that was all boxes purchased retail.  I recall the story of Blizzard having to divert the truck filled with employee versions of the collector’s edition to the retail channel because the game was selling out.

Day one of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King both saw midnight launch parties at retailers.  I recall a pallet of TBC collector’s edition boxes sitting on the floor at Fry’s in Sunnyvale the day it launched.  But I haven’t been down to a retail store to buy a physical box for a WoW expansion since WotLK.  Since then digital sales and pre-orders have been my thing and have no doubt come to dominate the sales numbers.

Because, technically, that 3.7 million number isn’t the first day sales number.  That is the number of units they were able to recognize revenue on due to having shipped the product on November 23rd.  The expansion had been selling via pre-orders for a long time.

I have a post back from November 7, 2019 where I compared four upcoming MMORPG expansions that mentions that the Shadowlands pre-orders were already open and available.  That is more than a year ago, so we are not talking a single day sales record… or probably even “fastest selling” if we were able to get the actual sales data from Blizzard.  I strongly suspect that the most sales in the shortest space of time still belongs to some of the older titles.

I am now also curious about how long pre-order periods have been for WoW expansions over the years.  I am going to guess that Shadowlands, which ran over a year in pre-order mode, would top that list.

Still, that is a lot of sales, and with that big revenue recognition burst I expect we’ll see World of Warcraft pop up a few spots on the SuperData Research November chart when we get that later this month.  Can it dethrone League of Legends?

Of course, as that list I made indicates, nobody is likely to debate whether or not Blizzard can move boxes, virtual or otherwise.  Can they keep the subscribers though?  That has been a problem for several expansions in the last decade.

Other coverage of this announcement:

Addendum: Shadowlands record broken already by Cyberpunk 2077.

Fitting in with the Venthyr in Ravendreth

The fourth and final faction zone in the initial tour of the Shadowlands expansion is Ravendreth.  Saving the best for last?  I think so.

Here’s the thing.  While I am far too lazy, cheap, and self-conscious to try and pull off the sort of overwrought goth vampire look myself… also, I live where it is warm and sunny most of the year… I am way into it as a voyeur of sorts.  I read a bunch of Anne Rice in the 90s and had a girlfriend or two who wore black lipstick and liked to hang out in graveyards.  That probably cements my poser status, but whatever.  I’m into it in my way.

So if you put me in an overcast zone with Gothic architecture, and a host of crazily coifed pale NPCs in high boots, tight breeches, and flowing gowns and I am ready for adventure.

Yeah, I stand out in my green armor and engineer’s goggles, but I’d fix that if Blizz would let me transmog into any of the outfits around me.

Transmog me please

Granted, I was a little worried when I got in and the first thing I heard was another bad British accent.  But the hired help speaks their with their own low dialect and accent and, if nothing else, class based accents are a thing in Britain.  The main cast has the effete and cultured tones of a long run down aristocracy.  Just the ticket.

The story starts out with an introduction and then a carriage ride.  I was a bit disappointed that, unlike such vehicles in past zones, I did not get to hop onto the back and ride along on the outside.

In the carriage through the night

That said, I did end up outside the thing soon enough.

We seem to have fallen

This sets up a bit of exploration and exposition in the zone before getting into the meat of the tale and the range of exotic characters that make up the cast, like Sire Denathrius.

The Sire speaks

My problem with this post is that, like my previous zone posts, I don’t want to give away the story, but I am tempted to post too many screen shots of various aspects of the zone.  I took a lot of screen shots.

Suffice to say that in such a baroque group of characters there is strife, intrigue, and not everybody is telling you the truth at the start.  Also, everybody is very tall.

The guys without shirts fit in better than I do… also, I still have candy canes in my bag

Like every place else in the Shadowlands, Ravendreth is short of anima, though the Venthyr can extract it directly from the souls sent to their realm, souls tainted by greed, pride, and like sins that are there to have their flaws corrected.  But the Venthyr themselves seem to reflect much of what they are there to address.  Also, did I mention the architecture?

Mirror adjustment time

Their infighting ends up sending you back to the Maw once more… by this point everybody is calling you “The Maw-walker” because the place seems to have a revolving door the way you can come and go.

You also get a peek into Torghast, the tower in which the captured heroes… Jaina, Andiun, Thrall, and Baine, who helped you out then were captured and faced torment while you explored four zones of content… are being held.  You don’t actually see them, much less make any move to help them, but it introduces you to the mechanics of amina powers you can get there.  It is the dungeon where the expansion will no doubt focus for now.  And then you’re out again, though you go through a ritual to exit rather than just taking the usual door out in the Maw.

It isn’t as painful as it looks

And then there is the return fall… you do a lot of falling in Ravendreth.

Here I go again

Somewhere around then I hit level 60.

And at the cap again

It is clear to me at this point that all of this, the journey into the Maw, the visit to Oribos, the runs through Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald, and Ravendreth, and the climb to the level cap, are all part of one coordinated intro to the expansion.

I’ve seen a few people throwing stones at those rushing to level cap, but in the case of Shadowlands it is more like you’ve finished the tutorial.  It is something of a bold strategy for Blizzard, and we’ll have to see if it pays off.  Lots of people will make it to 60 easily.  That can be heady.  I enjoyed something similar last year with the EverQuest II expansion.  But will people stick around or will it be only the hardcore and late comers in two months?

Anyway, I finished up the main story and got the achievement.

Ravendreth Story Complete

I liked the story, the twists, and the characters in Ravendreth.  And, of course, the scenery.  Even the cut scenes have some great locations.

I want to go to this location

And in looking around I found that I could actually ride the carriages that seem to follow a regular route.  You just jump on and go.

Along for the ride

On the other hand, this zone felt a tougher than the previous three, though I will admit that things seemed to start ramping up towards the end of Ardenweald.  My pet theory is that we’re encountering a bit of the BFA scaling problem again, where difficulty is boosted with both your character level and your equipped item level, such that equipping new gear rather perversely made you less powerful and the trick was to never upgrade until you were at level cap.

Normally I would just say I am bad, but I was an unstoppable killing machine in Bastion and Maldraxxus, felt a bit of slowing in Ardenwealed, and had to work to keep up in Ravendreth.  Either the zones got harder, the scaling is still broken, or I got worse as I played through, take your pick.

Anyway, done there it was time to go back to Oribos and make the decision about which covenant to join.

Ardenweald and the Electric Blue Dream

Having finished up the main story line in Maldraxxus, it was time to move on to the next zone, Ardenweald, which is home to forest dwellers and nature lovers of all kind.  After the mayhem of Maldraxxus I was a bit skeptical of a tree-hugging zone.

This was not helped by the fact that the first couple of fairies you run into are named Moonberry and Featherlight.  How very granola.

But then pretty much the first thing they ask you to do is kill a guy, not because of bad feelings or memories, but because he is simply in the way, and I was appeased.  Murder for hire is the same in Birkenstocks as it in hobnail boots.  So off we went.

Faeries gotta slay too I guess

While I am not a huge fan of the elven forest lifestyle, I am also not set against it either.  Ardenweald isn’t as bright and sunny as Bastion, nor does it scream out at you to have your war face on at all times like Maldraxxus.  There are stretches where the zone presents an inviting open vista.

Out on the open road into the blue

But like the elves, there is always a darkness out there somewhere, and you end up delving into it naturally enough.  Darkness and blue.  So much blue.  Dark blues, medium blues, and the blues you generally encounter in the UI’s of science fiction games.

There is a “blue bear-y” joke in there

After the grotesque intensity of Maldraxxus, Ardenweald was a bit more of a relaxing ride.  There were some intense points, and being in a forest with hills and valleys always means that the path to where you want to go isn’t always straight, but it moved along smoothly.  Maybe a bit too smoothly, as I kind of lost the thread of the story as I went through.  In the end it was all about getting an intro to the Winter Queen, proving your worth, and getting her to make the right decision.

And something about a dragon that has since slipped my brain…

Anyway, I made it through to the end, and got my audience with the Winter Queen.

She is taller in person than in the visions

After that it was back to Oribos to report in and get the achievement for the story line.

Add another one to the list

There wasn’t even a side trip into the Maw this time around.  Not a bad zone, but it didn’t really stick with me.  By the time I was done a lot of what had transpired was forgotten.

But finishing up there opened up the next zone for me, Ravendreth and the final faction of the expansion.

Debut in the Theater of Pain

The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. It takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick it off with a killer to grab attention. Then you gotta take it up a notch. But you don’t want to blow your wad. So then you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.

-Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

My first impressions of the Shadowlands expansion were colored by the contrast between the epic struggle in the Maw followed by the bland, Elysium fields of Bastion, where everybody seems to be working on their personal issues.  It felt like something of a downshift into.  I understand the Rob Gordon rules of cooling it off a notch, but Bastion felt like a few notches down.

I get that Oribos and Bastion had to shoulder the intro segment, had to get you settled and set the ground work for what was to come.  But, as I said in my previous post, one minute we’re fighting beside heroes in the Maw, the next we’re talking about our feelings and being shown where the Inn is located.

I will also grant that Bastion got better by the end, but that largely involved some invaders from another zone, Maldraxxus, which is, naturally enough, the hook to send you off to that zone.  You head back to Oribos and get sent off to Maldraxxus, flying in over a very different landscape from Bastion.

It isn’t easy being green

But the highlight of the view is flying over an arena called the Theater of Pain.

The Theater of Pain

It is huge and detailed, ringed with giant spectators, and the floor bustles with activity as you fly over it.  I immediately wondered if I would be able to go inside, and I was not disappointed.  You are pretty much flung immediately into the giant brawl that dominates the center of the arena.

The brawl awaits

If is a giant battle royale with a host of NPCs, regular and elite, with other players mixed in as well.  I have to say that I enjoyed this initial Maldraxxus  event a lot.  Part of me just likes getting in the thick of things and whacking mobs with my shovel.  It was crazy chaotic and the antidote to the tame reflection of Bastion.

As you battle your way through the event, the story of the zone comes into focus.  There is dissent between the powers of Maldraxxus, and of course, you’re there just in time, a champion who has bested the arena, to help try and set things right.

Leadership goes to the large in Maldraxxus

Maldraxxusis the land of war in the Shadowlands, but it is also a place of the crazy grotesque.  Stitches would fit right in… barely be noticed… in the landscape of Maldraxxus.  And as the land of war, there isn’t a lot of stopping to talk about one’s feelings.  Leave that to Bastion.  If you’re hear, you’re going to fight.

You are, naturally enough, the champion who can help the locals put down the rebellion and restore order by finding and activating the five runs, one for each house of Maldraxxus.

Rune Three Finished

Also, the spot in the picture above is where I, and a lot of people seemed to get stalled.  You are told to activate a rune, but it isn’t really clear how you do that at first glance.  I saw people bumping all over the place.  What you do is stand in the shiny swirl on the ground, which gives you a button to activate your current rune.

So you get to ride about visiting each of the houses that make up the zone.  There are probably mounts that fit more in with the theme, but I felt being on my chopper set the right mood in the land of war.

Riding in Maldraxxus

Also, I still like that mount more than a decade later.  And I actually saw a few of them out and about.

The passenger ability is fun as well

There are a lot of the standard quest tropes, though I was okay with them giving up on the “thow ingredients as the NPC calls them out” potion making mechanic that has been in the last few expansions at various points.  This time around it seemed to be “just throw the stuff in the pot already and let’s move on with things” on that front.

There were a couple of new things.  I cannot, for example, recall having had to play dead to get dragged off into an enemy camp before.

I’m dead, just carry me inside please

As Peter Falk said in Anzio, the living tend to lay on the stomachs in a protective fashion while the dead tend to just flop on their backs.  I don’t know if that is true, but it seems reasonable.

But there is also plenty of the same, like riding on a great big construct to slaughter the bad guys.

Going into battle on an abomination

As Bastion is light and airy, Maldraxxus does carry its dark and somewhat sickly green theme throughout most of the zone, trending towards orange, blue, or gray in places, but always dank in feeling.

Zangarmarsh meets Icecrown in a way… mushrooms and bone architecture

Before you’re done with the zone you do get to pop back into the Maw for a bit, but only to rescue on person.  You don’t see Jaina, Anduin, Baine, or Thrall, though you get a quick clip of them suffering in Toghast, a tower within the Maw.  But they are still holding out while you figure out what is going on elsewhere.  Then it is back to the portal and out of there.

Who said leaving the Maw was hard? I do it regularly.

After obtaining the five runes, you open the door to speak with the Primus… and get your achievement for having finished up the basic story line.

A three-fer

I also finally received an upgrade to the sword I picked up in the pre-launch events.

A better blade at last

Vain as I am I guess, I keep transmoging my new gear into my standard look, the green armor, Wildhammer Clan tabard, and the silver shovel as my weapon.  I just like my old look, though the transmog costs are eating into my gold.  Blizz will make you suffer, financially at least, for fashion.

All in all, great zone, 10/10, would adventure there again.  I want to get another melee class in there, maybe a Deathknight, to do the Theater of Pain intro.  That set the tone for the whole zone.  I even managed to get the exploration achievement while I was there, probably the first step towards some eventual pathfinder achievement.

explored

Meanwhile I have probably a third of Bastion still to explore.

And now the main story line has sent me off to the next zone, Ardenweald, which is said to be all nature, forests, and elves.  We shall see if my Maldraxxus high will carry me forward.

On the general game front, I keep seeing Blizz drop patches.  They claim to have fixed some of the phasing issues, though I haven’t had a chance to try that out since that patch.  Blizz does seem to have messed up chat channels though.  I have a few tabs for specific things, like guild chat.  For the moment everything seems to get dumped into the main tab and all the others are empty.  I’m sure they’ll get to it, but still… and there have been times again when the server has been a bit laggy.

My main problem though seems to be not being able to see the quest giver question mark floating over the heads of giant mobs.  I keep turning around looking for where the quest is, only to find that I need to look up.

A Smooth Slide into Shadowlands

I expressed some concern about the launch of the Shadowlands expansion in my post on Sunday, wondering if the server problems I had been seeing might impact the new experience.

But when it came down to it, at least on the Eldre’Thalas server, things seemed to go pretty smoothly.  (Though there were problems elsewhere I hear.)

I had read that the starting hook for the expansion hook would be out in front of the fountain before Stormwind Keep, so set myself up there early in the day.

The fountain, with some people beginning to gather

A little before 3pm local time, the hour of the launch for me, I logged in to gather with the other early birds to get right into things.  Ula had some free time as well, so we grouped up and waited around the fountain, which by that point was quite crowded.

The early crowd is ready

Moments after 3pm hit there was an announcement in the area by Highlord Darion Mograine.

Hear ye!

And then a death gate opened up before the fountain and people started piling in.

If all your friends jumped into a death gate, would you do it too?

It was through there to Icecrown and Bolvar Fordragon who had a few feats of strength for people to go through before he sent them off into the Maw to go find the people scooped up by Sylvanas in the pre-invasion.

So why am I dragging your little bits around the ceremony again?

And then it was into the Maw, the so-called crucible of the damned.

Welcome to The Maw

And it was a grim, dark hellscape with some of the tormented to fight and some of the regulars to find.  You end up with Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall to start with and end up on an exciting run through the place.  You find Anduin Wrynn and have to work to free him, and then Warchief Baine Bloodhoof.  The place is a torment and everybody wants to get out, and has been struggling to do so since they were taken.

Together you work your way to what my be a way out of the place, a portal that seems to respond only to your presence.  So they cover you while you escape.

Jaina, Baine, Anduin, and Thrall while you fiddle with the thing

And then, hey presto, you’re teleported to Orbios and your first achievement.

I fought the Maw and the Maw won…

There you meet the locals, talk about what is going on, get a tour of the place, and generally take your time, heedless of the fact that your recent pals are still being tormented.  But they have a way of doing things.  There is apparently enormous red tape in the after life.

From there you get sent off to Bastion to ingratiate yourself with the locals and run through their bright and shiny lands, the polar opposite of the Maw when it comes to style, and help them deal with their personal issues.

Seriously, Jaina, Thrall, Baine, and Anduin got themselves recaptured covering your escape, and were clearly unhappy about it.

Anduin is not at all happy

And now you’re farting around with really some of the most annoyingly chirpy mobs in the game who all sound like they’re in a cult if you start paying close attention to what they’re saying.  It is like being in the 70s.

Still, when in Rome… so you go along with the initiation, fight your personal demons manifested, relive past events in brief, and haul around their anima, the precious resource that drives things around there.

At first I thought they said “anime”

You get some armor, spar with some initiates, dust, tidy up, and attend some more lectures on the whole thing.

Ula and Vikund at another seminar

Doing all the fetch and carry and introspection gets you a level pretty quickly.  I was level 52 before the evening was out, and well on my way to 53.  The first person made it to 60, the new level cap, in just three hours.

But I gather that the level grind is not the big deal in Shadowlands.  Once you get to the level cap you have to pick a covenant and start earning your way into that as an alternate advancement method.  Something beyond just a rep grind so far as I have seen, though I haven’t looked too closely yet.

You get some new gear naturally, though I was surprised that it took a while for the first pieces to show up.  They were not in a hurry to replace everything you had in the first half dozen quests.  And some of it wasn’t good enough to replace what I had.  While I didn’t work very hard on the Heart of Azeroth in Battle for Azeroth, the first neck slot quest reward wasn’t cutting it as a replacement.

Heart of Azeroth wins today, even if it is cut off from its life force

Likewise, the big sword I got from Nathanos Blightcaller was better than the first weapons that came my way as drops or rewards.

My blade remains viable

And while the server seemed solid and I did not see any queues later in the evening when I logged back in, things were still a bit off.  I tried to group up with Ula again later on and we got stuck in different phases even though we were on the same quest.  We tried the dreaded “party sync” option, and while it did indeed get us onto the same quest again, we remained in different phases.

And perhaps some of the quests are meant to be solo, but it would be nice to have some indication of that.  Later, when we tried to add Skronk to the group, we had similar issues.  He couldn’t join the group at first, then he was in a different phase, and even after the part sync put us onto his quests, we still couldn’t all get into the same phase and visible to each other.

And that was on top of the usual factional annoyances.  This is one of the expansions where the Alliance and the Horde have identical experiences, so we’re all out there mixed together in Bastion.  But if a fellow Alliance member tags a mob, I can still join in and get credit, but if somebody from the Horde tags it, it is now gray to me and gets me no credit.  If we’re essentially fighting on the same side this round, maybe adjust that?  I don’t know.

But the advancement is going quickly enough that hopefully Bastion will be in the rear view mirror before too long.  It the sort of environment that brings up thoughts like, “I’m not saying Sylvanas is right, but looking at this place, I am not saying she is completely wrong either.”  Hell, one event involves a bunch of the locals sick of the routine and rising up against the status quo.  I had to go help put that down despite my sympathies.

Vikund ready to enforce conformity

But it is just a zone, and some zones you like and others you don’t, though the narrative in it feels like an extended intro that I kind of want to wrap up but never quite gets there.  Will I want to go through this with alts?

I will admit that the place looks pretty good.  A lot of work went into things.  I just have to get through Bastion and get back to rescuing people from the Maw, right?

Other first night posts:

 

Shadowlands and the Calm Before the Storm

The expansion lands tomorrow.  Here on the west coast of the US it will arrive at 3pm local time as part of the unified world wide launch.

The world-wide launch plan

So now it is just down to the waiting.  Certainly any planning I had to do is long since done.  While I have increased my characters at level cap count considerably… I had three after the level squish and have a dozen available today… I was always going in first with the usual suspect, Vikund my paladin.  He is my “do all the things” character.

Otherwise I have not paid close enough attention to Shadowlands and the mechanics of the expansion to have anything like a course charted.  It will be a surprise to me.

I do wonder if we will be in for a rocky launch though… rockier than usual.

All the normal stuff will happen, queues and disconnects and lots of crowding.  But the potential for more difficulties seems to be out there as well.

Blizzard seems to be working on changing and tuning the expansion, which was delayed by a month, right up until the last minute.  That means there won’t be much testing done on the final state things.  We’ll be testing live and in person instead.

If the pre-expansion updates are a guide, there is something to worry about on that front.  I follow WoWHead and Icy Veins on Twitter and their accounts have had regular posts about how Blizzard has broken quests and classes and mob drops and even cosmetic looks with the 9.0.x patches so far.

Meanwhile, I have noticed some issues cropping up with server performance.  Simple things, like turning in a quest, seem to get gummed up now and then as you sit and wait for things to catch up.  And I have had a series of what I call “silent disconnects” over the last week or so, where the client keeps running, but clearly isn’t connected to the server, so stops drawing any new mobs.  You get to just fly through an empty world of just the terrain stored locally on your machine… and the client doesn’t seem to ever get the message that it should throw an error.

Of course, before that I was getting lots of disconnects with errors, so perhaps Blizz cranked up the time out on those in the hope they would fix themselves.  And maybe that works some of the time.  I haven’t seen any active disconnect messages.  But when it doesn’t work, you’re left stuck in an empty world.  You cannot even exit the client from the menu.  That apparently needs some confirmation from the server, which it never gets.  I have to bring up the Task Manager and kill the process.

So, to sum up, we’re going to have one of the busiest days possible for the game when the game seems in something of a shaky state.  This could end up being a considerable challenge to the Blizzard crew.  It is a good thing they are launching on a Monday.  They have all week to spend on it before the weekenders show up.

At least WoW Classic will still be available.  And the addon apocalypse has been temporarily averted.

You may have heard that Amazon, which owns Twitch, which in turn owned and integrated the Curse Forge addon service into its client, sold Curse Forge to a company called Overwolf which, so far as I can tell from their web site, only has the Curse Forge stuff as a business model.  The transition from Twitch to Overwolf was slated to take place next week, right in the middle of the expansion launch and was expected to keep addon devs from being able to update their code.

Nothing says you care about gamers like being completely oblivious to things like that.  Not a good opening move for Overwolf.  Yes, they do support other games besides WoW, but I am going to bet that WoW is a pretty big deal to them.  Forcing all of those WoW players who use Curse Forge to look elsewhere during launch week seems like a possibly huge self-inflicted wound, given they’re business model is based on ad revenue.

Anyway, somebody pointed this out to them and they have delayed the transition for a week.  Still not excellent timing, but marginally better that the day of the launch.

We head into the Shadowlands tomorrow.  I just hope that doesn’t turn out to be a metaphor.

Further Adventures in Ice Crown and the Plaguelands

I mentioned the crazy nostalgic feel of the Shadowlands pre-events up in Northrend last week, how being back up in the Argent Tournament and fighting the scourge brought me back about a decade.

That feeling lasted about… three hours I’d say.  I went at it for two hours the day the pre-patch landed, and maybe an hour after that.  Enough to get the Argent Commendations, the event currency, to buy the battle pet that was part of the event.   Then I was back to playing with alts in other expansions because the level squish thing still has my attention.

But then, yesterday, Blizzard dropped the final pre-expansion patch that opened up the second round of quests, so I dropped in again with Vikund to get going on that.

Back again for the next round

I saw somewhere along the line that Blizz had upped the swan rate on the raid bosses appearing in Icecrown.  I hadn’t seen one the last time I was on, but this time they seemed to be popping up with great regularity.  They get an announcement in chat and show up on the map, at which point people rush over to get ready.

Everybody eyeing the boss

And then after a couple of minutes, the boss goes live and everything becomes a chaos of combat effects as the race to burn them down begins.

And then chaos

In between bosses, the live quest chain was a series of the usual tasks, though it did have a decent disguise and infiltrate segment that I enjoyed, and a bombing run, which is something I have liked since the first once back in The Burning Crusade.  There is a final boss fight, then you get sent back to Stormwind to report back to Greymane.

Back to Greymane

Turning in the quest got me the achievement for the pre-patch quests, so I gather than I did the essential story bits.  Now, if only I remembered them.

Death Rising achievement for the event

But Greymane wasn’t done with me yet.  He still had the quest to go out and slay Nathanos Blightcaller in the Eastern Plaguelands for me.  That was the boss a lot of people were talking about last week.  I headed out to the Plaguelands hoping that the interest in him hadn’t died down.

The beautiful brown Plaguelands

I landed at the nearest flight point and flew out to the point marked on the map.  I need not have worried about finding enough people out there.  The battle had begun before I arrived and it was chaos beyond even the boss battles in Icecrown.

He is in there somewhere

My main problem in the fight was actually being able to target him to get a hit in so the kill would count for me.  I threw out some AOE attacks in the middle of the scrum… consecrate for the win… and hoped for the best.  Then a cinematic came up with his final blow.

Nathanos about to get his

Tyrande got the killing blow in the video.  That is the way the lore will go down, though I couldn’t tell who was even hitting him during the fight.

I managed to get in and loot, which netted me a very nice sword, a serious upgrade to my own.

Nice blade

It is a pity it will be replaced pretty much immediately come the new expansion.  But I can enjoy it for a bit I suppose.

I had to loot quickly because I had the zombie taint on me.  The reason I had trouble targeting was that there were player zombies all over the fight.  Like the old days, with the WotLK per-expansion event, they pass on the zombie plague to others.  So I got my drop and then turned into a zombie myself.

Zombie time

I ran around and played with that for a bit.  Fortunately, if you’re tired of being a zombie one of your skills is “zombie explosion” in which you blow up.  That kills you and you can go back to your corpse and revive as your old self.  I did that and quickly flew away and then back to Stormwind for the final turn in.  The reward was more commendations.  I’ll have to see if there is anything else to spend them on.

Meanwhile, the zombie stuff was going on all over.  I got the taint a few more times in Stormwind as people ran around trying to infect people.  I eventually got up and out of the way of traffic and other players to avoid that.

That is a big blade… needs a transmog

I think I have finished up the minimum tour of the pre-expansion event.  I will probably work on some alts between now and the actual launch.  Just five days left to go.