Category Archives: Mists of Pandaria

Patch 5.3: Well, That Escalated Quickly

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I’m a little delayed, I know, since Escalation, World of Warcraft’s third content patch for Mists of Pandaria, was released about a week ago, but I’ve been a bit distracted by other things.  The bright side is that it’s given me a week to really delve into the content and see what the community at large thinks about it.

The first two patches were pretty expansive, introducing new areas, new factions to earn rep with, and taking several days or even weeks to complete.  It was almost overwhelming the first time I stepped into the 5.2 content — the mobs were a bit challenging, even with my shadow priest’s excellent gear, and the list of Things To Do was as long as my arm (granted, I’m kind of short and stubby, but you get what I mean).  Just when I thought I’d finished it all, I discovered the Isle of Giants and honestly at that point was so winded by everything else I said “screw it, I’ll go back and do it later.”  I still haven’t even gone into LFR for Throne of Thunder.  I was actually a little nervous once 5.3 was released so quickly, thinking that I was going to be hopelessly behind until at least 6.0.

Yeah.  Totally finished 5.3 in a day.  Hot damn.

This is where the first grumbles I’ve heard come in — compared to its predecessors, Escalation is really small.  Yesterday I heard someone say that she hated it because “there was no climax” to the story.  Let’s look at the definition of “escalation”:

es·ca·late  (sk-lt)
v. es·ca·lat·edes·ca·lat·inges·ca·lates
v.tr.
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.
v.intr.
To increase in intensity or extent: “a deepening long-term impasse that is certain to escalate” (Stewart L. Udall)

And things in the story are definitely increasing in intensity.  The Darkspear leader, Vol’jin, has the backing of both Horde and Alliance to take over for Hellscream and his harsh, often irresponsible rule.  Voices of dissent are becoming louder.  How long will it be before a real move is made against Orgrimmar and Vol’jin is declared Warchief?  Is he truly a better option than Hellscream?  Are there other players lurking in the wings?  The answers, presumably, will be coming in 5.4.  With a couple more planned content patches still being worked on, bringing the story to a major pinnacle now would mean that everything to follow would either have to match in epic scope or would be a steady decline back into “blah,” and that’s really not the most engaging way to tell a story, especially in an interactive form of media like a game.  Rocketing straight to “ULTIMATE BADASS OF ULTIMATE BADASSERY” without any real build-up is cheap and unfulfilling, especially when there’s so much to look at with regards to lore.

Speaking of lore, complaints have also been rolling in about how it’s dumb that the Alliance would be helping to put Vol’jin on the throne… wait, is it a throne?  Big spiky chair?  Place where the Warchief sits?  Whatever.  But Hellscream has already crossed lines that Thrall would have avoided altogether.  Remember the fate of Anduin Wrynn at the end of 5.1?  Under Thrall’s rule, the Horde and Alliance didn’t exactly have a truce, but Hellscream has proven himself to be a steamroller of destruction not just for his own people, but for the Alliance, as well.  It is in everybody’s best interests if the proverbial loose cannon is replaced by a more reasonable leader.  Given the Darkspear tribe’s main goal of just trying to rebuild their home post-Cataclysm versus command-and-conquer, a little cooperation from the Alliance (entirely possible, given Anduin’s tendency to seek peace rather than war) could mean that these two factions might even be able to reach a cease-fire.

It’s also been said that Blizzard is showing clear favor to the Horde with 5.3 content and that the Alliance don’t have as immersive or enriching of an experience on their side of the fence.  I haven’t brought an Alliance character through, but I will just point out that since the beginning of World of Warcraft, the Horde have been claiming that the devs are favoring the Alliance while the Alliance claim that the devs are favoring the Horde.  I played both sides of the same server once and let me tell you, the arguments were exactly the same except for the faction names being switched around.  Even if there really was “favoritism” going on in this patch, I can almost guarantee you that 5.4 will shift focus the other way and ultimately balance everything out.  Mists of Pandaria is proving to have one of the most intricate and expansive storylines yet, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that there’s always a method to the madness.  I have complete confidence that by the end of the Mists content, everyone will be sitting in there chairs going “OHHH!  That’s where they were going with it!”

In addition to drawing out the dramatic tension in the storyline, 5.3 is also serving as a great catch-up for those who don’t have regular access to raids, are trying to gear out alts, or who have just started playing.  During the Battlefield: Barrens event, players can complete a weekly quest to gather 100 each of four different materials and turn them in to receive one Radiant Mojo.  When combined with a piece of Latent gear, which has a decent chance to drop off of the very mobs being killed to complete the quest or can be purchased in exchange for more materials, the Radiant Mojo will create a piece of item level 489 gear specific to the player’s spec and class (489 is on par with Valor gear).  In one week, I ended up with three sets of shoulders, a pair of pants, and a belt.  Before combining them with the mojo, the items aren’t soulbound, meaning you can trade with other players for pieces you need, sell them for profit, or send them to alts.  It’s an amazing alternative to having to grind out the “oldschool” Pandaria reputations and run heroics ad nauseum to get Valor points — the payout for heroic runs in Mists versus Cataclysm is incredibly small.  With each patch, Blizzard has been making it easier for players to get caught up with their rep.  In 5.1, we got commendations that would allow all characters on our account to receive a major boost to rep gains as long as one character had received at least Revered status with the faction that the commendation was purchased from.  5.2 gave us work orders on our farm and the ability to “star” reputations while running dungeons for extra reputation towards that faction once per day.  Golden Lotus rep is no longer required to serve as a gateway for Shado-Pan and August Celestials quests.  The Latent gear offers an alternative to the grind so that new or hopelessly behind players can focus on newer reputations that offer higher item level rewards.

That’s the beauty of 5.3 — it offers multiple ways to achieve a goal.  Besides the alternate path to 489 gear, which is easily enough to get players into LFR, there’s also several ways you can get the materials needed to complete the Battlefield: Barrens weekly quest.  Mobs in the highlighted areas on the map have a 100% drop rate of the items you need.  There’s also physical objects that can be gathered, like barrels of oil or crates of meat, and have a chance to yield more materials than individual mob kills.  Occasionally a caravan, laden with the precious materials you require, will start out from one area in The Barrens and require your protection from raiders on the way to its destination.  Keep the caravan safe, and you’ll be given a crate of bonus supplies that contains a fair chunk of each of the kind required to complete your quest objectives.  If a caravan is overturned, those who get to the site quickly enough will find its contents strewn through the wreckage for yet another quick burst towards completion.

Arguments are, of course, being made that Blizzard is rewarding players who are one or all of the following:

  • lazy
  • noobs
  • casual
  • scrubs
  • (insert colorful accusation of homosexuality here)

Still others are sitting around in their gear from heroic Throne of Thunder and complaining that it isn’t fair because none of the gear offered in Escalation is an upgrade for them.  So essentially, those ranting about the Latent gear are either elitist or greedy, and definitely selfish.  These are the kids on the playground who want first pick of the swings and don’t mind pushing the smaller kids down into the dirt to get to them.  If they’re not having fun, then why should anyone else be allowed to have fun?  I imagine they’re also the type who, when losing at a board game, scream “I WIN” and knock all the pieces onto the floor.  As a funny sidenote, I’ve also noticed that most of these same kids claiming to be “oldschool” players who remember what the game was like “before easy mode” started playing World of Warcraft a full two or three years after I did.  If I really wanted to be a jerk, I could give these bullies a taste of their own medicine, but I’m more concerned with watching the player base grow rather than trying to impose some sort of social restriction that if you started playing after x date, you’re not allowed to do anything.  Oh noes, the purples are accessible to everyone!  The Legendary questline still isn’t.  Hell, I still need like 15 of the Sigils from the first part; I just don’t have the time or the patience to get them, and I’m fine with that.  So is every other casual player I know.  The hardcore and progression-based raiders are going to make up the majority of the I Haz Orange Weapons club.  The devs are not vomiting max-level gear all over everyone quite as freely as the vocal naysayers would have us believe.  It’s going to be okay, guys.  I promise.

Beyond the gear and the inevitable controversy surrounding it, we also get six heroic scenarios!  Hurray!  They are definitely more of a challenge than the original batch — bring your best game and halfway-decent gear if you want to succeed — but they’re still a quick and enjoyable way to get Valor points.  Even with the alternate path to Valor-quality gear, the Upgrade ethereals are back, and with reduced Valor and Justice costs.  Pet battles have been retooled a bit with regards to hit chance, and tooltips will now reflect this as a way to help battlers decide which attacks to use.  A new chapter of Raiding With Leashes has opened up with the obtainable pets dropping off of Burning Crusade-era raid bosses; finally, an excuse to go back to Karazhan!  There’s also one obtainable from turning in a Radiant Mojo to the Darkspear quartermaster at Razor Hill, a handful now available off of Throne of Thunder bosses, some Isle of Thunder and Isle of Giants drops, and a new wild pet for Northrend, which has the misfortune of being called an Unborn Val’kyr and looking like a baby angel.

There’s still a lot of value to Escalation, even if it doesn’t have the same epic scope to it as the other content patches.  The Battlefield: Barrens quest, however, is being treated as a world event, which means that it’s quite likely to disappear at some point, so get it done while you can!  My recommendation to avoid burnout (400 total materials is a pretty steep order to grind out, even if it is only once a week) is to split it up over 4 days.  With no new batches of dailies or factions to grind to Exalted, the general theme seems to fit right in with Vol’jin and his Darkspear trolls: “Take it easy, mon.”

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Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

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One of my favorite parts of World of Warcraft is getting to celebrate the holidays in-game.  It’s a week or two of festive decorations, chances at special vanity items, and themed fluff quests to serve as a distraction from the regular grind.  There are Azerothian counterparts for the major American holidays — Hallow’s End for Halloween, Pilgrim’s Bounty for Thanksgiving — and even versions of holidays from around the world, such as Day of the Dead and Chinese New Year.  Children’s Week runs during the same timeframe as Children’s Day, a real-life Japanese holiday celebrated on May 5th.  The questlines are easy; just take an orphan around the world, receive a battle pet as a reward, win.  There’s no grinding of tokens or special dungeon bosses to take out, no purple gear or mounts to drive yourself nuts over.  With the advent of account-wide pets, having enough alts means you can theoretically get all of the available pets in one year.  It’s the only holiday to have an achievement that encourages you to come back year after year, which I managed to screw myself out of by deleting the character who had 2 out of 3 already because I am just that smart.

For Children’s Week, players are tasked with taking various orphans for a whirlwind tour of the world, buying them small tokens of affection, and playing with them.  It sounds tedious, but it’s actually pretty heartwarming.  The Dalaran orphan quests lead you to the Bronze Dragonshrine, where they encounter a future version of themselves who has ascended to great heights within their communities, a reminder to us all that even if you come from very humble beginnings or lives of hardship, you can still accomplish amazing things.  In Orgrimmar (or Stormwind, if you’re rebel scum), the questline ends with the purchase of a rack of foam swords for all of the children living in the orphanage, who excitedly run around with their new treasures proclaiming your excellence.  I’m still waiting to find out what’s up with the Shattrath orphans, though.  Apparently Zaladormu and the other Keepers of Time know something about their future deeds, but they’re keeping mum on the subject.

The problem is that unless you know where to go in the first place, or just happen to stumble upon the quests, you’re going to miss out on all of it.  There’s no breadcrumb quests leading you to the three orphanages.  I’ve been playing the game for eight years and only this year did I find out that there was an orphanage in Dalaran that offered its own questline, which saddens me because I can’t help but think of the designers whose work is being missed thanks to this oversight.  Nor is there any kind of decoration that shows up in the cities to let everyone know that yes, there is a holiday this week, which seems like a missed opportunity considering the event’s Japanese heritage and the introduction of craftable origami creatures for the Inscription profession.  Mists of Pandaria, while primarily pulling from Chinese mythology, also shows some elements of Japanese and Korean influence; using some of the decorative lanterns and kites already added to the game could make sprucing up the cities easy.

The addition of a Pandarian orphanage would also be great here, not just for sake of keeping up with the expansions, but also from a lore perspective.  How many Pandarian children have found themselves orphaned since the parting of the mists and the violent battles against the Sha?  Character models for these orphans would be easy, since Pandaren are a playable race for both Horde and Alliance.  The same could be used for both, or the difference could be as subtle as different colors of clothing.  There’s certainly tons of important landmarks in Pandaria itself that could be used in the questlines.  Here’s a quick and dirty example of what the chain could look like:

Children’s Week
Offered by: Matron Geum-Ja (and yes, that totally is a Sympathy for Lady Vengeance reference)
Objective: Use the Pandarian Orphan Whistle to summon your orphan.
Turn-in: Orphan

An Inky-Dink Operation
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to walk on the mystical waters of Inkgill Mere.
Turn-in: Orphan

Doin’ Fine At The Shrine
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective (Horde): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Two Moons.
Objective (Alliance): Take your orphan to the Shrine of Seven Stars.
Turn-in: Orphan

Just Tillin’
Prerequisite: “Children’s Week” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to the market at Halfhill.
Turn-in: Orphan

I Wanna Go Fast
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Enter the Sky Race with your orphan.
Note: This is done like the “Ridin’ the Rocketway” quest in Azshara, where the player enters a cloud serpent vehicle with their orphan out and the two are taken on a scripted flight path around the racetrack.
Turn-in: Orphan

It’s Bugging Me…
Prerequisite: “An Inky-Dink Operation,” “Doin’ Fine At The Shrine,” and “Just Tillin'” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Take your orphan to meet the Klaxxi at Klaxxi’vess and buy them an Amber Figurine.
Note: Amber Figurine purchasable from Klaxxi Quartermaster only while this quest is active.
Turn-in: Orphan

Back To The Orphanage
Prerequisite: “I Wanna Go Fast” and “It’s Bugging Me” completed
Offered by: Orphan
Objective: Return to Matron Geum-Ja with your orphan.
Turn-in: Matron Geum-Ja

The reward for completing the entire quest chain, in keeping with the spirit of the other Children’s Week lines, would be a choice of battle pet:

Of course, the design team has their hands full right now with the upcoming 5.3 patch and future storyline patches to expand our Pandarian adventures, so it’s likely that deviating from those deadlines to update a once-a-year event with new content won’t be happening anytime soon.  That being said, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they take a moment to re-evaluate School of Hard Knocks, an achievement required for the For the Children meta-achievement which is, in turn, part of the significantly larger What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.

It seems like I’m not the only one out there bemoaning this achievement, either.  I somehow managed to get it completed back in 2009, but The Fiance is playing through the Children’s Week content for the very first time and I’m finally able to see what a colossal time-sink and pain in the ass it really is in its current incarnation.  It’s standard for the holiday meta-achievements to include at least one PvP achievement, which I think is only fair; after all, designers have to cater to both the PvP and PvE players out there as best as they can in order to keep either side from feeling neglected.  The problem is that the objectives for this particular achievement leave both camps out in the cold.

Let’s look at the PvPer’s plight: during Children’s Week, the required battlegrounds are inundated with inexperienced and undergeared players who are only in there to get their achievement.  The players who are there to earn honor and who are actually concerned with victories have to spend this entire week gritting their teeth and expecting a string of losses.  I was watching when The Fiance entered a battleground and was promptly kicked because he had his orphan out.  Simply put, the general attitude coming from the PvP group seems to be “we don’t want you here,” and I understand their frustration.  It’s the equivalent of trying to do a raid and having the other 24 members show up in greens without having read any boss strategies beforehand.  Does it excuse the insults and harassment being flung around?  No, not at all, but tensions are definitely running much higher than normal this week.

The Fiance is not a PvPer.  He had fun doing the easier battleground achievements in Winter’s Veil and Hallow’s End, but he isn’t interested in PvP otherwise.  He doesn’t have a PvP set or spec.  He plays on a PvE server because he wants to avoid PvP situations as much as possible.  Without basically being carried through each objective, he has zero chance of being able to complete the achievement.  Instead of making progress, he’s being called every nasty name in the book, singled out by the opposing faction, excluded from groups where he might have the opportunity to get the achievement out of the way… if Hard Knocks wasn’t required for the metas, he wouldn’t even “inconvenience” the PvPers by entering their battlegrounds to begin with.  But he has his sights set on the Violet Proto-Drake mount, so his only option is to either keep trying and failing, or giving up altogether.

School of Hard Knocks should not be removed from the requirements.  The holiday events already have a strong lean towards PvE, and just as there are many PvE players who would rather eat their own hand than enter a battleground, there’s plenty of PvPers for whom having to do regular quests or any kind of PvE content is a slow, agonizing death for their enjoyment of the game.  Including a PvP element for them is the best way to throw them a bone that doesn’t involve the addition of an entire alternate line of achievements that cater to their preferred play style — it’d be cool to have both PvE and PvP paths that lead to the same end, but would require a great deal of work to implement.  The trick here is to simplify the objective itself so that it is still enjoyable for PvPers, but not completely out of reach of those who choose to focus on PvE.  Currently, for completion, a player needs to summon his orphan and:

  • Capture the flag in Eye of the Storm
  • Assault a flag in Arathi Basin
  • Assault a tower in Alterac Valley
  • Return a fallen flag in Warsong Gulch

These are all highly-specific events that can quickly become impossible when you’re fighting against 29 other players to complete them.  There aren’t enough opportunities in a single 15 vs. 15 round of Eye of the Storm to capture the flag.  Some serious teamwork is required in order to make these happen, and while Blizzard as of late has been trying to encourage social play and working together within the game, it’s a lesson that’s just not sticking.  Whether it’s because we’re all jaded after eight years of play and have, in turn, caused even newer players to exhibit that same malaise when it comes to being considerate, or perhaps due to the lack of accountability for one’s attitude that seems to have tagged along with the implementation of cross-server groups, expecting an entire battleground to “play nice” has sadly become a mark of naivete.  Without being lucky enough to find a pre-made group specifically going for the achievement — I keep seeing this suggestion, but have yet to actually see it implemented — there’s just no way it’s going to happen.

If the objective were changed to something much more general, such as tasking the player with winning 10 battleground matches or getting 100 honor kills with their orphan present, there would still be an element of challenge and dedication required in order to complete the achievement, but it would be much more accessible for non-PvPers.  It would put it more in line with the difficulty level of G.N.E.R.D. Rage or With A Little Helper From My Friends, a welcome change from its current status as the hardest PvP achievement required for any of the holiday metas.  PvPers might even see some of their frustration alleviated as the focus shifts from completing specific tasks within the battleground itself and more towards playing to win, meaning that even those who usually are PvE-only will be putting their best foot forward to ensure victory.  Until these tweaks are made, however, I feel bad for The Fiance and all of the other players who will be kept from receiving their proto-drake this year because of this single achievement.

 

Children’s Week is pretty enjoyable in its current incarnation, but with even the most minor of changes could still be better.  Much like the orphans we’re asked to take care of, all it really needs is for someone to remember to come and visit it from time to time.

 

 

 

5.2 Legit 2 Quit: The (Thunder) King of Patches

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Initially I planned to hold off on reviewing 5.2 until the final stage was complete, but my server is just two stages in and already I’ve got a notebook page full of individual points to discuss, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, 5.2!  Isle of the Thunder King!  Lightning trolls and dinosaurs, every five-year-old and adult nerd’s dream, because let’s get one thing straight: dinosaurs make everything better.  No longer is Un’Goro Crater our only chance to run through herds of dinosaurs pretending to be Jeff Goldblum while the Jurassic Park score plays on our iTunes.  Now we have BIGGER DINOSAURS.  BETTER DINOSAURS.  DINOSAURS, MAN.

MOTHERFUCKING DINOSAURS.

Pictured: MOTHERFUCKING DINOSAURS.

Players must complete dailies for their specific faction’s presence on the island to further their cause and fulfill participation requirements to move on to the next stage.  It sort of reminds me of the rush to open the gates to Ahn’Qiraj during vanilla, something I have surprisingly fond memories of.  It gives a real sense of importance, of contribution to a common cause, a pretty sweet reward for your hard work by, you know, unlocking new and awesome content.

Problem is, a huge chunk of the people I’ve talked to have no idea how to get started.

I’ve heard a score of complaints about 5.2 — no flight on Isle of Thunder, more rep grinding, lag issues while on the island itself — all of which I plan to address later, but the most common one I hear is that nobody knows where to go to access the content.  Level 90 characters will receive an automatic quest at the Shrine of Two Moons (or the Alliance equivalent whose name I do not know, for I am a dirty Horde, but its name is probably Shrine of Goody Two Shoes… you know what?  That’s what I’m going with from now on) to talk to a Sunreaver Onslaught representative at Shado-Pan Garrison and catch a ride from her out to the island.  Easy enough, pretty self-explanatory if you take the 30 seconds to read the quest text.  From there, you’re pretty much on your own on figuring out how to get back there after your first round of dailies.  If you’re not the observant sort, you’re probably going to be confused.  The culling of the weak based on situational awareness?  Maybe.  Even if you do figure out where to go for Day Two, the portal to the island is a bit out of the way.  If you’re level 90, by this point in the game there’s a good chance you’ve finished all of your 5.0 reps, so you’re not doing dailies; you’re more likely to either be at your respective Shrine or working the farm in Halfhill.  It’s a very minor complaint and one easily remedied by taking the opportunity to alt-tab and check your email while you fly, but still another tick in the “support” column for my proposed fix.

Each side gets its own teleport device — for Horde, it’s the Sunreaver Beacon — that will transport the player from anywhere on the Isle of Thunder back to wherever their base of operations there happens to be.  In Stage 1, while fighting to secure the beach head, it was a ship off the coast of the island; now that a push inland has been made and we’re in Stage 2, both the Kirin Tor and the Sunreavers have established bases on terra firma.  Whether the location will change again with future stages remains to be seen, but the generality of the end location is rather nice.  No upgrades or trade-ins required, no temporary boosts, just a helpful little “hearthstone” of sorts on a 10-minute cooldown that can even be replaced for an extremely modest fee if lost or destroyed.  The catch is, you have to already be on the island in order to use it.  But why not let it be used from anywhere in Pandaria?  This would make travel to the Isle more convenient and alleviate any confusion as to how to return after the initial questline flight.  It might even encourage more participation in the event.

The Isle of Giants, a.k.a. BADASS DINOSAUR PARTY LAND, does not have a teleport device attached to it.  Hell, as far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s not even a quest or any mention of how to get there.  It’s off the coast of Kun Lai and requires flying over Fatigue waters, a fact that I only know because I Googled it.  Could I have missed a critical clue in-game?  Sure, anything’s possible, but then that would beg the question of just how obvious of a clue it is.  This is the only place for hunters to get their Tome of Dinomancy, which will allow them to tame the special Direhorn dinosaurs found on the island.  There’s a world boss and four new battle pets that can randomly drop from the Dinomancers on the island, and giant dinosaur bones that can be turned in for mounts, pets, and those ever-so-valuable Spirits of Harmony.  The mobs are elite, so it’s definitely not a challenge for the faint of heart (and bad of gear), but the rewards are awesome.  And yet there’s no breadcrumb trail to follow there, meaning that a good chunk of players are not experiencing content that the design team worked so hard to implement.  Throw in an introductory quest and call it a day.

But let’s talk about these new little mini-dino pets.  They’re unbelievably cute baby T-Rexes wearing adorably oversized stone skull masks (anyone else reminded of Cubone?), and each one of the quartet is a different color.  Personally, I’m a little disappointed at the lack of variety.  There’s at least four dinosaur models already in game that have been there since vanilla, and the Pterrorwing models introduced with 5.2 which are slightly different than the oldschool Pterrordax.  Just using one of the Zandalari hatchlings with their current model and then choosing between the other dinosaurs for the other three would have made the rewards for farming the Dinomancers even better, in my opinion.

There is, however, variety in how you choose to earn your new faction’s rep and add towards total stage completion.  Blizzard gives players a choice between PvE and PvP daily quests in Stage 2, meaning that no matter what your play style is, there’s something to keep you happy.  Unfortunately, PvP dailies appear to be giving about 600 less reputation than a round of their PvE counterparts.  Even though I, personally, am not a PvPer, I have my fingers crossed that the devs re-evaluate this disparity soon.

Going back to sources of confusion, there also seems to be a general sense of vagueness on how to read the progression numbers appearing on the world map of the Isle of Thunder.  The Stage part is pretty self-explanatory, but what about the actual stage progress and participation percentage?  Luckily, Dave Kosak, lead quest designer for World of Warcraft, sprang to the rescue via Twitter:

So sayeth the Kosak, and it was made so.

So sayeth the Kosak, and it was made so.

For those still unsure, according to this tweet, stage advancement is at least partially based on server population.  Elementary rules of statistics state that if you’ve got a smaller pool to start with, it takes fewer people to make up a larger percentage of the whole.  For example, to get 50% of a server with a population of 1000, you’d need 500 players, but if your base population is 5000, you’d need 2500 to achieve that same percentage.  Good on the development team for factoring in the low-population problem and making sure that it doesn’t negatively affect the players’ ability to experience content!

Except, maybe, in the case of the 5-man quests for the Shado-Pan Assault — Setting the Trap and Champions of the Thunder King.  My server, as previously mentioned, is pretty low-pop.  With heroics and raids, I have the luxury of popping over to Dungeon Finder to find a cross-realm group.  Pandaria, including the island, however, does not yet have cross-realm zoning enabled, what with the whole new content thing and all.  Even if CRZ was only enabled in these areas with respect to the matchmaking tool, there is no option to look for a group to complete a regular 5-man quest.  Trying to find a proper group to complete these quests when there’s just not a lot of people around to start with gives some pretty frustrating flashbacks to finding help for elite quests while leveling in vanilla.  I spent an hour just trying to find enough people for Setting the Trap today, and we ended up having to four-man it with off-spec heals using DPS gear and some outside assistance from an Alliance hunter who felt like being nice and helping us out with some pewpew.

To perhaps make things even more frustrating, the Shan’ze Ritual Stones, fairly rare to begin with and certainly not easily farmable, are non-refundable upon death.  If you summon one of the champions using your three stones and die in the process, you’ve got to spend another three for a new attempt.  The island itself is fairly unforgiving with mob density and difficulty — thankfully Ihgaluk Crag gives you a saurok disguise so that you can move freely throughout the mob-filled area while out of combat — so if your gear isn’t up to snuff, you’re probably going to be grinding your teeth a lot.  My shadow priest’s item level is 480 and I’ve still run into some pretty tense situations out there.  The Fiance isn’t even in full heroic gear yet and did a grand total of one round of dailies out there before deciding to wait until he gears up a bit more to continue.  It is possible to experience the Thunder King dailies without being in full purples, but you’ll definitely need to have some health potions and crafty use of your particular class’s mechanics at your disposal.  When in doubt, stick to solo pulls, and be mindful of your positioning in relation to other mobs.  S0me of the quest mobs can be a real pain regardless of gear, too; for example, the Zandalari Spiritwalker, one of the loa you’re required to kill for a daily in Za’Tual, has a Shadow Siphon spell that cannot be interrupted short of using an actual stun and does a sizeable chunk of healing to the mob.  As a shadowpriest, all I’ve got is Silence, which is ineffective against it, meaning I’m stuck doing the “two steps forward, one step back” dance.  It’s not a speedy kill for me unless other people happen to be in the area at the time.  The same goes for questing in the main areas, where mobs are so tightly packed in that it sometimes seems you can’t take two steps in any direction without aggroing.  When lots of people are around clearing them out, it’s no problem.  If you’re on during a non-peak hour, you’ve got to be Secret freakin’ Squirrel to avoid death.  Mobs requiring lots of movement, like the Zandalari Colossus and the Mighty Devilsaur, are a nightmare if the majority of your abilities have an actual cast time on them to the point that I usually won’t even attempt them (Devilsaur more than Colossus) unless other people are killing them, too. When the time comes that the Isle of Thunder is old news, the difficulty level will undoubtedly skyrocket for those late to the party just because there’ll be no one around to help thin out the herd or throw in some extra life-saving DPS.

Getting around the Isle of Thunder can also be a bit of a chore due to the lack of flight.  It’s time to pull out those trusty ground mounts — I recommend the Azure Waterstrider, available at Exalted reputation from the Anglers quartermaster, since it has innate water-walking abilities.  There’s been a lot of grumbling about not being able to fly the friendly skies on the island, as there was about having to wait until level 90 to fly in Pandaria, but it’s a pretty logical design choice.  Simply put, the developers want you to fully experience new content.  If you’re just flying over the whole thing, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the stuff that they worked hard to create.  For the longest time, there was no flight allowed in Kalimdor or Eastern Kingdoms, either; the special flight license to unlock that capability in the “old world” is a fairly recent addition.  As content ages, then the decision to either allow flying mounts or keep the kibosh on them in an area can be made, but until then, it’s set pretty firmly in stone, and all we can do is make the best of it, although trying to navigate through the main questing areas (Ihgaluk Crag, Court of Bones, and Za’Tual) can be somewhat aggravating without it due to differing ground levels, inconspicuous roads, and dead ends.

Lag has been an intermittent problem for those questing on the island, possibly due to phasing for each stage.  I’ve noticed times when standing on a main road on the Isle of Thunder where my zone map will display 0% completion for Stage 2, but moving off to the side will trigger a correct display for the progress bar.  When I first started the Thunder King dailies, I also noticed an annoying issue with capturable battle pets showing up on my mini-map and in the game world, only to disappear as soon as I ran up to them.  Since CRZ is, as previously stated, disabled for the 5.2 zones, I assume that this was also related to phasing, but it seems to have been fixed fairly quickly since I’m no longer having to deal with “ghost” pets.  Some lag is also undoubtedly linked to the number of players in the area at any given time, with more severe spikes prevalent during peak hours.  My hope is that as the crowd dies down a bit and more phases are unlocked, we’ll see some relief from the quirkier among zone behaviors.

Perhaps the most frequent complaint I hear is about Blizzard releasing yet another round of dailies for us to do.  Many complain that it’s the only way to get geared up, others claim it’s just the same old content being rehashed, a viewpoint that, as far as I’m concerned, requires completely ignoring everything written in the patch notes except for the word “dailies.”  After playing for eight years, I understand the burnout.  I really, really do.  I have Exalted with the Zandalari Tribe, now a Feat of Strength, that required more runs of Zul’Gurub than I’d care to admit to.  I ground out the rep for every single Pandaria faction introduced with 5.0 before commendations were released and recently spent months going back to complete the Argent Tournament.  Yes, we have to work for our purples, either by doing raids or kicking it with a good old-fashioned rep-grind (and I use “old-fashioned” loosely since, trust me, dailies have gotten WAY more fun and varied than they were back in the day), but isn’t that what everybody wanted?  Didn’t everyone used to complain about “welfare epics” and how easy it was for players to get geared up without putting in much effort?  Now that Blizzard’s put a to-do list in front of us with regards to gearing up, everyone’s yearning for the days of effortless gearing, where all you had to worry about farming was gold.  It goes to show that you really can’t please everyone.  The gear purchasable from the Isle of Thunder is at absolute worst level 496 (same as Dominance Offensive from 5.1) and at best level 522 (requires running heroic raids).  Just at Honored level with your faction’s Thunder rep, you can straight up purchase a level 476 epic belt for a couple hundred gold.  No valor tokens, no justice points, just a couple of days of questing and a mere pittance.  Is it the best epic out there?  Hell no, but for someone who’s just coming out of heroic gear, it’s an absolute steal.  The release of 5.2 saw valor prices being slashed for “old” gear, with 5.0 epics being cut cleanly in half and 5.1 marked down to 75% of their original price.  There was no sacrificing of stats or nerfing of items.  It’s the same stuff, but cheaper, and with the new dailies giving 5 valor tokens (and 2 Lesser Charms of Good Fortune) with each turn-in, an average of 10 dailies per 24-hour timer, it’s even easier to cover yourself in shiny purpz.  No one is forcing you to do every single daily in the game every day.  It’s not a contest, it’s not a rush.  If you’re in a raiding guild with an item level requirement, chances are there’s others doing the same dailies and therefore the same amount of work to get themselves up to speed.  Tag along with them.  Ask for help from the crafters in the guild — at honored with Golden Lotus, leatherworkers and tailors can get some pretty sweet patterns for epic gear.  If you log on and absolutely cannot handle the thought of doing a single daily, take a break.  Go do some instances, or log out of the game for the evening, pop some popcorn, and kick back with some Netflix.  You will get your gear.  Regardless of whether you’re in a hardcore guild or not, it is still a game, not a job, and just like with a job, if you overwork yourself, you’re going to burn out in an epic manner, no pun intended.

I’ve talked a lot about issues with 5.2, which may give the impression that I don’t like it.  Quite the contrary!  I think it’s a remarkable example of the quality content being turned out by World of Warcraft’s design team.  I daresay I even prefer it to Dominance Offensive, which, if you remember, I enjoyed quite a bit.  Do I really need to start screaming and flailing about how bad-ass dinosaurs are again?  Some of my favorite changes, however, took place off the island.

Remember when I wrote about changes I’d like to see to the crafting system?  I won’t even pretend that anyone from the design team is reading this, let alone was inspired by my suggestions, but somewhere along the line there was a shared wavelength, and each time a 24-hour crafting cooldown is used in Tailoring or Leatherworking (possibly others as well, which I haven’t yet tested), you will discover a new pattern, a phenomenon no longer reserved for the “newer” professions, Jewelcrafting and Inscription.  Season 12 PvP patterns required me to spend precious Spirits of Harmony for purchase, but now all I have to do is burn my daily cooldown for Imperial Silk, which I need to make anyway.

Another thing that made me punch the air was seeing how the factions window now indicates when you’ve purchased a commendation rep.  There’s no more need to commit to memory which ones you’ve bought and which ones you still need to pick up.  The new “star” system for championing Pandaria reputations now allows you to earn credit for whichever one you choose through dungeons.  Mists of Pandaria may have gone back to the old “only Exalted, only vanity” system for tabards, but with this, who needs anything else?  I’d like to see the championing tabards replaced completely by this system, and older reputations added into the mix.

If you’re still hurting for rep gains, you can now buy Sunsong Ranch for your own nefarious purposes, and enjoy hours of entertainment by lovingly trolling people who ask “how do I buy the farm?” in General chat with “helpful” suggestions.  It’s not so much buying, however, as it is taking 30 seconds to talk to Nana Mudclaw and obtaining the whole damn thing for the low, low price of 0 gold.  Much like J-Lo’s love, Sunsong Ranch doesn’t cost a thing.  The only requirement is that you be Exalted with the Tillers and have unlocked all 16 plots on the farm.  Once the farm is under your control, you can set your hearthstone there and fulfill daily work orders, two at a time, for whatever Pandaria faction you need.  The orders are simple: plant eight of the specified crop, then wait till the next day to harvest it and turn it over to the appropriate faction’s representatives who, awesomely enough, will actually show up on your farm upon turn-in to pick it up.  The biggest challenge is remembering to pick up your new work order before planting.  Patch 5.1 made farming easier by introducing the Master Plow to quickly till your empty plots, but 5.2 put the whole thing on cruise-control with the new seed bags that allow you to plant four plots at once using a targeting circle.  At this rate, I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with the farm in 5.3.

Pet battlers can now fight special legendary opponents that appear solo, but allow you to use your whole team against them.  Though legendary is technically higher quality than epic, I found my experience with the cricket Lucky Yi to be far easier than my attempt against the Darkmoon Faire pet master.  Don’t think it’s a cakewalk, though; there is definitely some strategy required.  I was disappointed that these legendary pets themselves are not tamable, but if you’ve defeated all of the other world pet tamers in battle, you will be able to pick up a daily quest from your faction’s Shrine that sends you out to battle these formidable foes and have a chance to reward you with a special battle pet on turn-in.  Colorful carp pets, similar in appearance to Fishy, can very occasionally be obtained by fishing from special pools available only during the new Anglers event.  El’s Extreme Anglin’ has a comprehensive and frequently-updated guide available for those with enough patience to give them a shot.

For those of us who grew up in the 90s and remember those cheesy game shows where kids like us were given a set amount of time to run through a toy store and grab everything they could before the buzzer, a very rare Key to the Palace of Lei Shen can randomly drop from mobs on the Isle of Thunder, be found in Troves of the Thunder King (if you’re lucky enough to find one), or show up in the reward container from your final quest of the day.  Taking one to the Shado-Pan Assault forces in the secret cave near the northern part of the island will be granted access to a special single-player scenario, where they must sneak their way through traps and collect as many treasure chests as they can in five minutes.  Once the timer is up, they’ll be taken to a treasure room, where they can use special keys that sometimes drop from the chests in the main room to unlock amazing coffers full of everything from Motes of Harmony to Shan’ze Ritual Stones  to Tattered Historical Parchments that can be turned in for special one-time use insignias that give you a boost to your rep with either the Sunreavers or the Kirin Tor.  Rarely, you may also be able to find Shado-Pan Assault insignias, as well.  There’s no limit to how many times you can run the scenario per week — all that matters is how many keys you have on you — but they can only drop from a mob source once during that timer.

The single-player scenario is a new mechanic being used fairly heavily in 5.2, not only with Lei Shen, but also apparently as an “introduction” of sorts to each new stage in progression on the Isle of Thunder.  On my first day questing since Stage 2’s implementation, I was instructed to follow a brave member of the Sunreaver Onslaught as she fought to clear the area of a malicious Zandalari spellcaster and his minions.  The end fight was not dissimilar to a dungeon boss, though the difficulty had been tweaked to be an appropriate challenge for solo play — and let me stress that, challenge.  It was anything but a face-roll and required dancing in and out of different zones to defeat it.  I’m excited to see more solo scenarios like this, as they give a fantastic sense of being a lone, powerful hero and further emphasize the feelings of importance and participation that I mentioned earlier on.

In general, 5.2 seems to be a “meatier” expansion than 5.1 that showcases more innovation than ever before.  Mists of Pandaria itself set the bar astronomically high for improvement, and has continued to vault over that bar with each content patch released.  Though not perfect (and to be fair, what game is?), it’s an experience that absolutely cannot be missed.

Blacksmithing: [Opened Can of Worms]

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One of the biggest distractions for me in any game is crafting.  Take my experiences in Skyrim, for example; I’ve logged several days’ worth of game time, and easily 80% of that has been spent running around picking flowers, then running back to the alchemist’s shop to gleefully mix random crap together in the hope that it makes something shiny and/or vendorable.  Beyond just fulfilling my obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s also an important mechanic that makes a player’s life much easier in the long run.  The ability to make unlimited healing potions is absolutely vital if you’re terrible at most videogames, i.e. me.

World of Warcraft is no exception to this rule, and though leveling the crafting professions can be something of a soul-destroying grind, I just can’t stop myself.  Maybe I’m more of a pain slut than I thought, I don’t know.  I’ve seen many changes to the profession system, from the addition of entirely new roles (holy shit, Jewelcrafting!) to minor tweaks in the form of allowing “tougher” items to give multiple skillups, thus making it ever so slightly easier and more cost-effective to craft your face off.  Mists of Pandaria introduced a newer and easier way to level cooking that allowed players with access to what I affectionately refer to as Panda-Lands to go from level 1 to 525 without having to do any more than some minimal fishing.  Now it’s looking like patch 5.2 is going to bring us a revamp of the often-bemoaned Blacksmithing profession, and on the surface it looks like a pretty sweet deal.  Truth is, it’s a pretty risky move that has just as much potential to flop as it does to succeed.

I’m a cheery person (lies artistic license), so I’d like to first take a look at the positives of this change.  If any profession needed a nerf to frustration, it’s Blacksmithing.  The sheer number of reagents required to max it out, especially during the “vanilla” levels, was mind-boggling, to say the least.  As a result, it tends to be somewhat difficult to find a fully-skilled Blacksmith, unless they a.) are masochists or b.) power-leveled it with the auction house.

There was supposed to be a picture here of somebody being whipped by a dominatrix with the caption “Origins of Copper Chain Armor” but I honestly cannot find one that even edges on safe-for-work so use your imagination, but not so hard that you get a boner because oh God please don’t do that shit while you read my blog, it’s weird.  –Ed.

The upcoming changes to Blacksmithing should make players a lot more likely to pick it up, meaning all of the delicious goodies that the profession brings will be much more readily available.  Players can power-level it using the Ghost Iron Ore projects, then go back and learn the “old” plans, freeing up time and mats to make only what they need rather than spamming the same bronze armor till it’s as gray as the ashes of your sanity.

Death Knights will also find this to be something of a blessing, since by the time they enter the game at level 55, leveling a profession would involve a great deal of farming and catch-up.  I expect we’ll see a high number of DK Blacksmiths as a result.  With Blacksmiths able to rely exclusively on Ghost Iron Ore for skill-ups, farming in lower-level areas should decrease, meaning that Engineers and Jewelcrafters who are mining in their level-appropriate zones will have to deal with far less competition from 90s on fast flying mounts.

HOWEVER.

It’s slightly disheartening for players who chose other professions that are not seeing this kind of revamp.  The multiple skill-up system has been extremely helpful to others, but there is a high probability that non-Blacksmiths are going to be a bit peeved.  Since the revamp is currently only live on the test realm, I’m hoping that they’re just revamping the one profession as an experiment, and that if it goes well, the rest will get the same treatment at the same time or shortly after 5.2 is released.

Then there’s the economic repercussions within the game itself.  The Ghost Iron projects don’t give gear, only vendorable items, so I assume that the dev team is banking on some sort of balance being struck by players who want to craft armor and weapons as they level.  The problem is that with the world revamp brought on by Cataclysm, quest rewards have caught up with crafted items to the point that the lower-level items are often equivalent or worse than what players can receive without having to put in the ore and jewels.  Unless these craftable items receive a boost to utility, it’s much more likely that the majority of the player base will simply wait until Pandaria levels and just farm the readily available Ghost Iron deposits to powerlevel it.  Beyond the few craftable item level 476 pieces and max-level belt buckles, all of which require a fair amount of mats, there’s a very real risk that Blacksmithing will be useless until level 90.  The market for lower-level crafted armor on my server is already virtually non-existent; this has the potential to be the final death knell, either by eradicating it completely, or causing price gouges, since most players will be eschewing the level-as-you-go model with the allure of e-z mode at level cap.  This will also be a blow to the ore and gem market, excepting in the case of Ghost Iron Ore, which will likely see even higher prices.  Though Engineering and Jewelcrafting will still require normal leveling procedures, they will eventually have to receive the same kind of revamp, lest the dev team risk completely alienating non-Blacksmith players, and at this point I expect the market for things like Mithril Ore and Shadowgems to disappear completely.  The same will happen for herbs, leather, and enchanting mats as the revamps continue.

Obviously, this is all still speculation, but the real question here is going to be how Blizzard is going to be able to keep all of these minutiae in balance without tipping the scales one way or another.  It’s no easy task, and though someday it will be my burden to bear, as well, I still don’t envy them for having to address it, although I suppose we could always blame Ghostcrawler if it fails.  (Note: Do not blame Ghostcrawler.  This was a joke.  –Ed.)

Now we come to the point where everyone says “O Most Benevolent Overlord Bunny, Future Dev of Our Hearts, how wouldst thou revamp yon professions in thy developmental glory?” and then the ghost of Shakespeare rises up to pimp-slap me for that sentence which nobody actually even uttered but I need to pretend like I’m popular because I have shitty self-esteem for which the pretended arrogance is just a defense mechanism, so I’m going to keep on pretending and answer.  I love lamp and run-on sentences.

Revamping the other professions to match up with Blacksmithing is a given.  My concern for the gathering markets leads me in the direction of just saying “screw it” and simplifying all crafting professions to use just one type of gathered material, which would then be available no matter what zone you’re in.  To clarify, players would be able to gather Ghost Iron Ore in Elwynn Forest just as easily as they can in the Valley of Four Winds.  This still reduces the problem of level 90s farming nodes that appropriate-level players require, since said nodes would be available anywhere.  Rather than removing the ability to create gear and weapons using the Ghost Iron projects, replace the “old” recipes with much more generalized pieces for various item levels that produce armor with random stats and bonuses, much like the system used in Diablo 3.  If the possible stats are upped to compete with current quest rewards, this could potentially revitalize the crafted item market — since it all uses the same type of ore, crafting them is much easier and more convenient, meaning more players are likely to actually try to craft useful armor for their appropriate level, which means the “rejects” can be put on the auction house for purchase by non-Blacksmiths.  Small tweaks to Tailoring already offer a similar system at higher levels, with the chance to craft not only uncommon quality gear, but also rare, a mechanic that could easily be carried over to others.

To break proposed changes down by profession and skill:

Gathering Professions: Unify all mats obtained using gathering professions into one type per quality.  Gems will be unified into one type per color, per quality.  Method of obtaining skill points in gathering professions will change to something closer to the Fishing system, with skill-ups being granted randomly as players gather items.

Alchemy: Philosopher’s Stone still required for transmutes, but no longer vendorable (I cannot tell you how many times I have accidentally sold the damn thing), and upgradable for character level range by turning in x amount of profession level-appropriate potions to Alchemy trainer.  Other options would be to make it upgradable using a quest that rewards the improved trinket, or change the base stone from a crafted item to an item purchasable from any Alchemy Supplies vendor.  Remove need to choose between Alchemy spec and implement an overall random chance for double-procs on potions, elixirs, flasks, and transmutes.  Adjust transmutes as needed to fit in with other revamps, i.e. Northrend jewel transmutes would be changed to convert x number of uncommon gems to rare gems and rare gems to epic gems once they’ve all be unified.  Change Northrend Alchemy Research to general Potion Research, Flask Research, Elixir Research, Transmute Research, etc.  Goblin Rocket Fuel will be changed to Engineering-only recipe.

Inscription: Pigments and inks simplified to one common type and one uncommon type each.  Add recipes for lower-level Rare-quality staves.  Change Northrend Inscription Research to general Major Glyph Research.

Jewelcrafting:  Recipes will now improve the stats of each type of cut rather than introduce new gems, like the jeweler system in Diablo 3.  Change different types of stone statues to statues offering different benefits, such as healing, +str, +sta, etc.  Simplify rings, necks, and trinkets to grant pieces with random stats, with new versions available for various character levels.  Unified uncommon-quality gems can be turned into a random batch of rare-quality gems once per day, and rare-quality gems may be shattered to create a random batch of uncommon-quality gems.  “Secrets of the Stone” and research on regular 24-hour timer now have the chance to discover any profession level-appropriate cuts not taught by the trainer.  Remove Cataclysm trinket quests and make higher-level trinket recipes obtainable from Jewelcrafting trainer.  Change Jewelcrafting trinkets from bind on pickup to bind on equip, which will open a new potential market and help to stabilize the economy.  Epic gem cuts will drop from all raid instances, stat bonuses dependent on level range for each raid.

Engineering:  Remove need to choose between specs and rename Goblin Rocket Fuel to Rocket Fuel.  Recipe for Rocket Fuel is now Engineer-only and will be trainable rather than crafted.  Volatile Rum component will either be removed altogether or made easier to obtain by addition to certain vendor item tables.  Various quality random-stat goggle/helm recipes will be craftable based on level, with goggles remaining Engineer-only, but special bind on equip helms usable by any profession added.  Addition of recipe for weather forecasting machine that will notify players of current weather all over the game world.  Remove Engineering requirement to use crafted mounts.  Eliminate Salt Shaker.

Tailoring:  Size of crafted bags will increase as skill level is raised.  All armor will now adhere to the random stat system with improvements to bonuses based on level.  Remove Tailoring requirement to use crafted mounts.  Unify thread reagent to one type, similar to Crystal Vials.  Revamp system for “special” cloth types (excepting Imperial Silk) to require x amount of cloth and elemental crafting pieces, such as fire, water, earth, etc.

Leatherworking:  Deeprock Salt/Refined Deeprock Salt and Salt Shaker no longer required.  All hides may be cured using salt purchasable from a supply vendor.  Add recipes for enchanted voodoo doll and toy kodo pets (Alliance equivalent for kodo may be substituted with elekk).  Armor adheres to random stat system with improvements to bonuses based on level.  Armor kit bonuses will also increase according to level.  Unify thread reagent to one type, as suggested with Tailoring.  Dragon scales will be replaced by a unified type of scale that will be obtainable from any “scaly” creature — dragons, crocodiles, turtles, etc. — in lieu of regular leather on their skin loot table.

Enchanting:  Disenchanting will yield unified dust or essence from uncommon items, shards from rare items, and crystals from epic items.  To avoid “breaking” the shard and crystal market by allowing level 90 players to steamroll through old instances and easily farm rare or epic items for mass disenchanting, yields will change to dust or essence if the level requirement of the item is x or more levels lower than the player disenchanting it.  Addition of Research on a 24-hour timer to learn new rare enchants, which will sacrifice 3 shards per use and give between 3 and 5 skill-ups at a time.

Fishing:  Clicking on the fishing bobber is no longer required to “catch” a fish; instead, the fish will automatically be caught at a random point during cast time and added to the player’s bags.  Find Fish is now a passive ability granted when a player learns the Fishing skill (like Find Herbs, etc.) rather than from a random drop.  Schools may be fished from by clicking on the school itself rather than attempting to land a cast within its confines, and will no longer require multiple casts to obtain full yield, as in the case of mining nodes and herbs.  Each school fished will give between 3 and 5 skill-ups.

Of course, I do realize that implementing these changes would be a fairly massive undertaking involving lots of man (and woman) hours, and would likely be about as big of a risk as the “official” changes being made, but when it comes to a player base as dedicated and loyal as those in World of Warcraft, any major change is a risk.  No solution is perfect.  No matter what any dev team decides, there will always be some vocal dissenters who believe that the changes have killed the game and ruined the experience for everyone.

The important thing, however, is to go into any major change with an open mind, no matter what side of the desk you’re on.  Skepticism is perfectly fine, but if we immediately dismiss something right out of the gate without even giving it a shot, who knows what we’re actually missing out on?  Because of this, I’m placing my faith in the dev team for World of Warcraft and assuming that they’ve covered the bases, discussed the risks, and so on.  They haven’t let me down yet.

And hey, one day, they might even pay me to do this shit.

Overlord Bunny’s Catch-Up Compendium for World of Warcraft

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After eight years of playing World of Warcraft, you can bet that I know the game inside and out.  I played during a time when hunters had to feed their pets or risk them defecting mid-combat and Auberdine was whole (and unbelievably annoying), where Blackwing Lair was the highest-level raid content available and +10 intellect on gear was pretty much game-breaking.  Hell, I remember when Thousand Needles was just a desert and there were maybe 10 quests in all of Azshara — three if you played Alliance.

Having so much experience with the game has given me the fairly rare gift of being able to fully appreciate each and every change, the subtleties of which are lost on players who only started during Cataclysm or Mists of Pandaria.  Watching the quest styles, the storyline, and the technology required to launch them all progress over time has been absolutely thrilling.  The problem is that I’ve also been able to see the cracks of age crop up throughout the older expansions, once heralded as revolutionary and ahead of the game, especially now that I’m leveling my fifth 90.

The developers have managed to keep World of Warcraft feeling pretty fresh, especially with the massive overhaul of the “classic” Azeroth that came with Cataclysm.  Skepticism ran pretty high before its release; I know I wasn’t the only one who ragequit for a short time after their plans to basically destroy the world as we knew it were announced.  We clung stubbornly to our simple grindfests and linear storylines.  I don’t think any of us could even have imagined the things that the design team managed to accomplish in Cata.  The Plaguelands are actually fun now, for God’s sake, something once thought impossible to pull off.  We also saw the first redesign of classic instances with the new and vastly improved Stockades and Deadmines (though I really do miss Mr. Smite).  And we finally realized just how sick of the “old ways” we were.

Well, except for a vocal minority who complain about the good old days and how WoW’s been dumbed down, which is funny since I still see them logged in and leveling panda monks on a daily basis.  Yes, the game has been simplified,  but you know what?  It needed it.  Even during the pre-Cata days, World of Warcraft was among the easier MMOs, certainly not as punishing as Everquest or Final Fantasy, and that was a breath of fresh air for those of us looking for a way to de-stress and just have fun.  I say Blizzard should put together a “vanilla” server for the oldschoolers who lament the game’s new directions and let them see how long they last.  I can tell you right now that if I had to go back to the old ways, I’d probably last another week before permanently giving up.

Mists of Pandaria continued the ascent into awesome with the most breathtaking landscapes and storylines yet.  It introduced more revamped instances (Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery) and a simplified way of leveling up cooking skills, allowing players to basically go from 1 to 500 by purchasing reagents from a supply vendor or doing a minimal amount of fishing in Pandaria.  Quests somehow became even more dynamic, earning reputation with the Pandaria factions was significantly less painful than the rep grinds of yore, and with patch 5.1, commendation tokens could be purchased to speed up reputation gains account-wide once the original character reached Revered status.  On top of rewarding valor points and gold, daily quests also gave Lesser Charms of Good Fortune which could be turned in 90 at a time to receive higher-quality charms that gave an extra loot roll in raids.

The past two expansions truly have been the developers feeding us all caviar on velvet cushions.  Unfortunately, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King have not fared quite so well.  When compared to the “new classic,” Cataclysm, and Pandaria, they seem woefully last-gen and frustrating.  New content for Pandaria is still being rolled out on a fairly regular basis, meaning that the design team’s attention is rightfully focused on delivering a more current player experience, but once that all dies down, I’d love to see them go back and make a few tweaks to Outlands and Northrend.

And, well, I’ll admit it, there’s one thing I’d like to see them change that expands to Azeroth, too.  In Pandaria, players receive class-specific quest rewards for their efforts.  Monks get monk gear, shamans get shaman gear, and the options (if there are any) encompass all possible specs.  Having played so many characters through the various expansions, I can tell you that there’s a huge dearth of decent gear for some class/spec combinations.  One of my alts is a Mistweaver monk, and in trying to outfit her appropriately (spirit > haste > intellect), I’ve found that I can be halfway through a zone before finding any upgrades that are useful to me.  Leather rewards are almost always agility-centric.  It’s true that I get lots of vendor fodder as a result, but in the meantime, my monk is woefully undergeared compared to what a rogue or a DPS warrior would have at her level.  Many of the rewards are useless for any class based on the fact that their stats haven’t been updated along with the game mechanics.  I still find strength/agility plate rather frequently, especially in Outlands.  Cataclysm gear may match current mechanics, but there still seems to be an imbalance as far as how much gear is available for various classes and specs.

Drop rates for quest items are another thing that were updated for ease from Cataclysm and on.  Anybody remember gathering murloc heads  back when Southshore still had Alliance areas?  The drop rate was atrocious.  Outlands was chock full of quests where you’d spend what seemed like an eternity doing murder circuits of mobs and waiting for respawns just for one person to complete an objective.  Northrend was admittedly a bit better, but there were still a few instances where my finger hovered over the “Abandon” button.  Revising the drop rates for quest items would make a huge difference in player enjoyment through these older areas.  To alleviate any concern over losing too much potential XP to the higher drop rates (and thus fewer mobs killed), the bonuses for quest turn-ins or mob kills could be increased just a tiny amount.

Cataclysm did affect several of the older reputations, such as Timbermaw Hold, by making them easier to max out.  Quests for these factions now give more rep upon completion than they did in the old days, but many others could benefit from a similar update.  Coilfang Armaments can no longer be turned in for Cenarion Expedition rep, and with the way that the quests are set up, it quickly becomes a grind-fest to either run Coilfang Reservoir instances ad nauseam or collect random drops, such as Unidentified Plant Parts.  A revamp of the quests in Outlands to “catch up”  to current styles (more on that later) could be a great time to increase reputation benefits, as well.  The same can go for Northrend in the case of the Argent Tournament.  I would be thrilled to see grand commendations available for these older factions or the introduction of “championing” tabards to those not already offering them, allowing players to purchase faction tabards at Friendly level and wear them in dungeons to funnel rep gains towards that faction.  As it stands, Burning Crusade factions require exalted to be able to purchase their tabards, which serve no purpose other than RP or completing achievements.  This isn’t an attempt to completely kill any sense of challenge, and great caution would need to be used in determining how to buff rep gains for the older reputations, but to be blunt, most people are not farming these reputations anymore for anything other than pets or mounts just because they are such an immense pain to complete compared to newer reputations.

As far as the aforementioned revamp of quests goes, Outlands is the primary culprit here.  Cataclysm and Pandaria tend to give their quests in small, manageable handfuls that make efficient questing easy, but Outlands throws them all in your face at once, filling up your map with turn-in points and objective areas so plentiful it becomes overwhelming to look at.  Streamlining quest delivery is definitely needed.  The auto-update feature introduced with Cataclysm, where quests may be completed and advanced in the field rather than having to go back into an objective area three or four times, would be an absolute godsend in earlier expansions.  An update to quest mechanics using newer technology now available would also help to dissipate the decidedly last-gen feeling now permeating Outlands.  Northrend’s quest mechanics aren’t too terribly far behind the current standard, but some minor tweaks are required, such as lowering the number of items required to complete a quest (25 Zul’Drak rats for Gluttonous Lurkers) for sake of ease or fixing the way that Gymer constantly gets stuck on environmental geometry and is so large that zooming the camera out all the way still makes it impossible to see what’s in front of you.

Another specific area of Northrend that could use a good revamp would be the Argent Tournament.  Horde and Alliance players must complete a rash of daily quests, most of which are static, in order to receive various types of tokens, starting with Aspirant’s Seals to unlock the ability to “champion” a city.  Once all of the required Aspirant’s Seals are turned in, players then need to present each of five city faction representatives with 25 Valiant’s Seals in order to unlock dailies rewarding Champion tokens which can then be turned in to each city faction’s Argent Tournament quartermaster for mounts, pets, and other vanity items.  Each pet costs 40 tokens, and each city offers two mounts: one costing 5 tokens and 350 gold, and one costing 100 tokens.  This doesn’t even take into account the Argent Hippogryph, available for 150 tokens, or the Argent Pony, which costs another 150 tokens and completes an achievement as well as giving you access to repair vendors while your Argent Squire/Gruntling is out (thankfully, you get this non-combat pet as a reward rather than having to pay for it, too).  The good news is that during this veritable blitzkrieg of dailies, you’ll likely hit exalted with your main Argent Tournament faction and unlock more dailies that reward Champion tokens, taking your maximum obtainable tokens from 5 per day to 14 per day, but let’s say you don’t.  Let’s look at the math and see what’s required to get every single pet, mount, or achievement item with this assumption in mind:

25 Aspirant’s Seals = 5 days
25 Valiant’s Seals x 5 city factions = 25 days
40 Champion tokens x 5 city factions = 25 days
5 Champion tokens, 350g x 5 city factions = 5 days, 1750g
100 Champion tokens x 5 city factions = 100 days
150 Champion tokens = 30 days
150 Champion tokens = 30 days
Subtract 20 days during which you will be able to earn both Valiant Seals and Champion tokens

TOTAL: 200 days

Yeah… about that.  The daily quests reward a few gold and some rep, but at level 90, other than obtaining the vanity items, there’s no real benefit to them.  Two hundred days for a “vintage” faction seems a little ridiculous.  If you get to the point of earning 14 Champion tokens per day then it will take significantly less time, but due to variables such as reputation gain buffs from level 25 guilds, previous faction-related quests completed, etc. it’s hard to give a concrete total since different players will reach this at different times.  How about lowering the token cost for players who have Exalted reputation with the various cities, or giving a regular currency cost option, i.e. either farm the tokens or pay the gold?

Another issue is the mechanics behind the jousting vehicle quests offered at the tournament.  Each of the special jousting mounts handle sluggishly, with wide turns required to change direction.  The controls feel clunky enough with a mouse; I can hardly imagine how awful it must be for keyboard-turners.  The delay between activating a vehicle ability and its actual triggering during each joust event can be as long as one or two seconds even with no game or input latency issues, which is a veritable eternity in the gaming world and often means the difference between success or failure.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to activate Shield Breaker while the enemy NPC was in front of me, only to have it tell me I was not, in fact, facing it, or to have it fire off once I had run off to the side or ahead of my competitor.  I’m not sure if this was done intentionally, in order to give it a more “realistic” feel, but I can’t really think of any other vehicle quests with such clumsy controls.  It’s less like riding a horse, and more like being dragged helplessly behind it.

More streamlining and updating of old instances would be fantastic, as well.  The first one to spring to mind is Blackrock Depths.  The Scarlet Monastery of old was split into four different instances, yet combined, I’m pretty sure they would still be smaller and more easily navigable than BRD.  Eight years later, I still have trouble finding my way through that instance, and I’ve never been on a run of it that’s lasted less than 45 minutes to an hour.  Getting to the instance itself can also be a hassle, since it requires running through a large quarry where not even ground mounts are allowed.  Mauradon is another confusing and overly massive dungeon, though it at least allows players to choose either the orange or purple entrance, or take a portal hidden in a twisty-turny cavern outside of the dungeon to a spot near the end.  It was a good start at trying to make it a little less daunting of a run, but improvements could still be made, especially seeing how the bar has been set with the other instance revamps.  Somewhat related, I’d also be excited to see non-classic raid bosses updated to drop pets and max-level five-man options available for old raid instances.  The developers went through all the trouble to make the content, after all, so why not ensure that as many players as possible get to see it?

I lied earlier, by the way, when I said there was only one thing on the classic continents to change.  One more thing that Azeroth could benefit from is a Cataclysm-style revamp of Silithus.  Silithus has already been redone once, shortly after the pre-Outlands introduction of the two raids making up Ahn’Qiraj, but obviously, that was several years ago, and it hasn’t been touched since.  The quests are still extremely oldschool and require farming the Encrypted Twilight Texts that drove so many of us to madness back in the day.  I was a bit disappointed to go back to it after Cataclysm and find no changes; it was almost like the developers forgot about it, a missed opportunity considering the Twilight forces already found throughout the zone that should have been a natural tie-in to the expansion.  Silithus is one of only two options for questing between the 55-60 range, the other being Blasted Lands, which while a lot of fun since its revision still goes stale after leveling a couple of characters through it.  Either way, the last few levels before Outlands are currently unpleasant, since you risk burning yourself out by playing the same content over and over or suffering through a boring grind.

Some exciting news for professions, however — patch 5.2 will be rolling out a simplified version of blacksmithing that allows players to level from 1 to 500 using Ghost Iron Ore and special crafting projects.  It remains to be seen if this will affect other professions (lord knows Jewelcrafting needs it), but in the meantime, here’s to hoping that it’s a sign of the developers making their entrance into the catch-up game to keep World of Warcraft interesting and around for a very long time.

5 Things In World of Warcraft That Will Ruin Your Day

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For the most part, I’ve always considered World of Warcraft a pretty lighthearted game when compared to other titles.  The graphics are bright and almost cartoonish, there’s tons of hidden jokes, and if you’ve spent any time with trade chat enabled, you’ll understand why I’m rounding off my list with it.  It’s really hard to find yourself completely depressed while playing, excepting awful PUGs where the tank is trying to do his thing in unsocketed, unenchanted PvP gear.  Simply put, the atmosphere just doesn’t allow it… unless you know where to look.

Bust out those tissues, kiddies (no, put the lotion away, we’re not doing that one yet).  You’re going to need them.

5. In-Game Memorials

You’ve probably noticed a few oddities dotting the landscape of Azeroth while questing.  A seemingly random gravestone in Hillsbrad is covered in flowers, compared to the plain grey slabs surrounding it.  At the top of an otherwise unassuming hill in The Barrens is an intricate shrine where an Orc warrior appears to lie sleeping.  I’m here to tell you that he isn’t sleeping.  He’s dead.  After watching this touching video compiled by player Avendesora on the Thunderhorn server, I’m pretty sure any flicker of happiness you might have once felt will have joined him, too.

Lots of forums have “you laugh, you lose” threads.  This video is sort of like that, except it’s more “You cry.  Everyone loses.”

I’m not meaning to be insensitive or say that this video should never have been made.  The memorials are insanely touching and people should know the stories behind them.  I must have done the Crusader Bridenbrad questline twenty times in my entire Warcraft career without ever giving it much thought.  About thirty seconds into the explanation, I started weeping like a little girl and continued to do so through the end of the video. I challenge anyone to make it through one viewing without at least getting a lump in their throat.

While the deaths themselves are tragic, they’re not people that most of us knew, so why are we all sitting here sniffling and hugging our cats?  Memorials like this force us to confront one very troubling question: if we died, how would our loved ones react?  We start to wonder if we’d get some sort of memorial ourselves, whether in-game or out, or if we’d just get a halfhearted “meh, that sucks” from the people we know.  It’s a sobering thought, and when it pops up next to such an outpouring of love, we start to imagine the pain and grief that those responsible must be feeling, which we then project onto our own friends and family by imagining their heartbreak.

Not to mention that one of those featured was a 12-year-old kid who died of cancer, and that is completely not right that anyone should be able to get that sick, let alone a freaking kid.

To Bradford C. Bridenbecker, Anthony Ray Stark, Jesse Morales, the unnamed player immortalized by Captain Armando Ossex, Michel Koiter, Dak Krause, and Ezra Chatterton, rest in peace.  You may be gone, but your stories live on not only for the people who knew and loved you, but also for millions of others who have visited your memorials.

4. Leza Dawnchaser

After the mists surrounding the strange land of Pandaria lifted, a member of the Dawnchaser clan, Leza, had a vision of a land so beautiful that she insisted Dezco (her husband) and their people follow her to make their homes there.  Dezco resisted at first due to the fact that Leza also happened to be super-pregnant, but she wouldn’t back down and he had no choice but to acquiesce to her wishes.

Yeah.  It's this NPC.  Now you can prepare yourselves accordingly.

Yeah. It’s this NPC. Now you can prepare yourselves accordingly.

When we first come across Leza, she’s already gone into labor on the floor of a tent in the Krasarang Wilds, but the delivery is being extremely difficult.  Dezco sends us to defeat the mogu forces in the area with the help of Kang Bramblestaff, leading us to the legendary Pools of Youth, whose waters can supposedly restore life.  Kang encourages us to take a bit back to Leza in the hopes that it will ease her distress.  Upon returning to a very worried Dezco, we are rewarded with a cutscene where he goes into the tent and offers her a drink of the magical water.

So at this point I’m sitting here all excited because yay, tauren babies, and then the cutscene goes on to show Leza collapse mid-push, prompting Dezco to frantically try and heal her.  Fade to black.

NO, WORLD OF WARCRAFT, THESE ARE THE DAWNCHASERS, NOT THE SOPRANOS.  UNFADE.  PEOPLE DO NOT DIE IN CHILDBIRTH IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT SO EVERYTHING TURNS OUT OK, RIGHT?

Everything turns out awful and sad and messed up.

The good news is that both babies are okay.  The bad news is that the camera now focuses on Leza’s birthing mat, empty except for a bundle of flowers.  Outside the tent, her body lies wrapped in a winding sheet atop a funeral pyre.

For added tears, Alliance players are treated to a questline where they learn that the Pools of Youth actually drain the life from whoever drinks it in order to restore the life of another, meaning that Kang Bramblestaff is a freaking moron who should have listened a little harder to his mother’s bedtime stories because he missed the crucial detail of “THIS WATER WILL STRAIGHT UP KILL YOU” when recounting them to convince us to give the water to Leza.  Congratulations, Player!  You’re partially responsible for the death of a new mother, leaving her husband alone in a strange land to raise two infants by himself!

Bonus Lore Conjecture: Maybe Kang Bramblestaff wasn’t such an idiot after all.  Maybe he was tired of these strangers invading the land of his people, bringing with them the Sha, and decided to take matters into his own hands.  Kill the Dawnchaser chieftain’s wife, and the whole clan might be so heartbroken that they’d go right back to wherever they came from.  One less filthy tauren in the world, am I right?

Is it just me or does that look like the satisfied smirk of a sociopath who's just killed again?

Is it just me or does that look like the satisfied smirk of a sociopath?

I think I just made the whole thing worse.

3. The Wrathgate

Since Cataclysm, I haven’t been able to get the Wrathgate cinematic to play past the first 30 seconds within the game.  I’m wondering if this has something to do with the removal of the follow-up quest, my beloved Battle for the Undercity, but at least the whole thing’s on YouTube in glorious HD.

Joss Wheedon could learn a thing or two from the team behind this very epic questline on how to kill everything and everyone the audience has ever loved.  By this point you’re pretty damn attached to Bolvar Fordragon and Saurfang the Younger.  And why not?  They’re formidable allies in the battle against the Lich King.  They are the Cool Kids on the first day of high school who have offered to take your nerdy, awkward self under their wing.

For a split second, you really believe that their combined forces might just be enough to survive their confrontation with Arthas.  Obviously they aren’t going to kill him, because that’s our job in Icecrown Citadel, but they’ll escape to fight another day, right?

Oh, Saurfang’s down.  Well, that’s okay, Arthas just shattered his weapon.  He’ll be fine.  He’ll… oh my God, did Arthas just steal his freaking soul?  It’s like watching Mufasa die all over again.  GET UP, SAURFANG!  GET U… no, dammit, he’s gone.  At least we still have Fordragon!

…And then Putriss shows up to take a giant Scourged crap all over your dreams.

It’s almost Shakespearean in the way that things go from bad to worse with no survivors.  I’m pretty sure King Lear had a lower body count than the Wrathgate battle.  This was the first time in World of Warcraft where the respective good guys didn’t win.

Seriously, did we really need the slow-motion shot of Fordragon gazing up at the sky, seeing the cavalry coming in but knowing that it’s too late for him?  Knife through the freaking heart, or what’s left of it.

2. Lilian Voss’s Daddy Issues

High Priest Benedictus Voss of the Scarlet Crusade chose to dedicate the childhood of his only daughter, Lilian, to turning her into a super-soldier against the plague.  While other children were playing tag in the streets, Lilian was learning how to fight with weapons, magic… anything she could possibly learn.

Lilian Voss, age 8

Lilian Voss, age 8

Unfortunately, Death is pretty much impervious to axes and polearms, and Lilian dies (at what age is unclear, but her extreme emotional immaturity and dependence on her father leads me to believe she was probably no older than 13), only to be raised in Tirisfal Glades by the Val’kyr working with the Forsaken.  Rather than allowing herself to be initiated into the ranks of the Forsaken, the very thing she had been trained in life to destroy, she refuses to accept her fate and piteously calls out for her father to come rescue her.  Novice Elreth, a Forsaken NPC, hands her a mirror and instructs her to look at her reflection, because clearly the undead are known for their sympathetic natures.  Of course, Lilian is completely freaked out and runs off crying to find her dear old crazy religious zealot dad.

Grief-stricken undead children are pretty bad at not getting caught by the Scarlet Crusade, which is exactly what happens to Lilian.  Throughout her ordeal, she holds steadfast to her belief that her father will save her, insisting that her captors bring the High Priest to her so that he can clear up the “misunderstanding.”  They tell her that her beloved father has ordered her execution.  In a fit of rage, Lilian conjures up the magical abilities she trained in as a child to free herself from her cage by turning into purple flames and kill the guards, then runs off into the night.

There is no sign of Lilian for quite some time, other than the mysterious mass-murders of Scarlet Crusaders all appearing to have been killed in the same grisly fashion.  Players finally catch her in the act, so to speak, and are told to escort her to the tower where Benedictus resides so that she may confront him.  It goes about as well as you’d expect.  She strangles him and throws his body from the top of the tower, then heads off for parts unknown.

It becomes pretty apparent, however, that this frightened, heartbroken little girl has taken on a solo mission to eradicate the Scarlet Crusade from the face of Azeroth.  She shows up in disguise as a questgiver for the Scarlet Monastery dungeon, instructing players to destroy the remaining Scarlet forces within.  While questing in the Western Plaguelands, players will encounter a Scarlet Crusade camp engulfed in purple flames, seemingly implying that Lilian was responsible for its destruction.

Upon reaching Scholomance, we find that Lilian has managed to fight her own way in, only to be captured by Darkmaster Gandling (after he taunts her by telling her how “beautiful” she is in a manner that is either cruel or creepy, depending on how old you imagine Lilian to have been before her death) and forced to fight against us.  After we defeat her, she begs us to let her die alone, and the tragic tale of the High Priest’s daughter comes to an end.

So let’s recap this perfect cycle of the effects of abuse here:

  • Completely isolated by her father from other children while growing up
  • Forced to do terrible things, such as murder, by her father
  • Becomes dependent on and attached to her father, in total denial of anything that might indicate he doesn’t feel the same for her
  • Betrayed by her father, who also attempts to have her killed
  • Flips out and kills him, then a bunch of other people
  • Engages in destructive behavior and puts herself into dangerous situations
Lilian Voss, age 18.

Lilian Voss, age 18.

1. Chen Stormstout: Alcoholic and Unfit Parent

You probably know Chen Stormstout as the delightfully drunken Pandaren who wanders around in an eternal pub crawl searching for the perfect beer.  On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad.  I mean, most of us went to college, so we’ve pretty much lived like a Stormstout for at least four years of our lives.

But imagine your wasted college-age self stumbling from bar to bar, through unfamiliar parts of town filled with potential dangers… with a six-year-old kid for whose health and well-being you are completely responsible for.  Child services would be snatching that kid up before you could say “show me the DNA test.”

Well, Pandaria doesn’t have social workers, meaning that Chen’s niece Li Li is going to be with him for a long, long time, assuming he doesn’t fall off of a cliff or choke on his own vomit in the meantime.

“It’s just a game,” you might argue.  “No one’s getting hurt.  Stop taking it so seriously!”  Of course someone’s getting hurt — Li Li.  The effects of her uncle’s constant drinking may not manifest themselves physically, but given the rough, sarcastic demeanor apparent in her lines throughout the game, being forced to act as the adult in this dysfunctional relationship has hardened her, potentially for life, unless Pandarens have mastered the art of intensive therapy sessions.

Through the World of Warcraft novels and supplementary short stories, we learn that Li Li’s mother is dead, but her father is still alive and well.  At the beginning, Uncle Chen exists for her primarily through the letters he sends her during his travels, undoubtedly exaggerating how amazing his life is as drunks are prone to do.  She romanticizes the idea of having a world traveler for an uncle, since she is too young and immature to read between the lines and see that he’s basically a panda hobo, and begins to act out herself by imitating his wandering.  Li Li’s father disapproves of her desire to be like Chen — and probably is the only voice of reason in this whole messed up scenario — but somehow ends up letting her join Chen on his sojourn through Pandaria (as far as I know, the lore does not fully explain how this came to pass).

So now we have Chen in charge of Li Li, though he is completely unfit to take care of himself, much less a child.  Li Li’s quotes throughout the game paint a compelling and heartbreaking picture of the way that her uncle’s rampant and culturally normalized alcoholism has ruined her childhood :

  • “Hey, you dumb old uncle! You left me behind!”  In his drunken state, Chen has apparently wandered off, leaving Li Li to fend for herself in an unfamiliar land (it’s established early on that Chen is from the Wandering Isles,  not Pandaria itself).
  • “Can we buy something? I’m hungry.”  Chen is almost certainly too busy drinking to do anything like cook for his niece, and based on the fact that he offers to trade some of his liquor stash for a place to sleep for the night, he’s blown all of their money on booze.
  • “Chen, I think I know why you like it here so much.”  Not ‘Uncle Chen.’  Chen.  It isn’t surprising, though.  How is Li Li supposed to look up to and respect her uncle, the drunk homeless guy?
  • “I can’t believe he left me with the weird mud guy.”  Are we sure Chen’s last name is Stormstout and not Anthony?  He’s just dropping his niece off with a weird hillbilly dude he met on the road like five minutes ago?  There is no way this won’t end in a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode.
  • “I can’t wait until I’m older, so I can finally find out what beer tastes like.”  Children of alcoholics often grow up to be alcoholics themselves, sometimes because of genetics, but most of the time because kids learn how to be an adult from the adults around them.  Chen is already Li Li’s role model, and through the properties of monkey-see-monkey-do that all kids engage in as the grow up, the seeds are already in place for Li Li to end up just like her uncle.
  • “I guess what I’m saying is… thanks.”  Li Li has developed a cold exterior out of necessity, a type of armor to prevent the true horror of her uncle’s illness from completely destroying her.  As a result, basic social interactions requiring any form of emotional input are difficult for her, paving the way for a lifetime of short and potentially damaging relationships when she is older.
  • “If beer gets you off your butt, then… sure. Let’s go find you some beer.”  Now Li Li finds herself having to bargain with her uncle to get him to take care of her, realizing that beer is more important to him than spending time with his beloved niece.  The tone that the voice actress uses here is one of defeat and resignation.
  • “There’s a whole big valley waiting for us, but you’re too focused on the bottom of that mug to see it.”  Chen is effectively blocking out the world in favor of drinking.  His day starts with a beer, and ends with a beer.  He likely neglects not only Li Li, but also his own health.
  • “You’re way cooler than Uncle Chen.”  The player is spending time with Li Li, taking her around to do quests and all of the other things that Chen is too wasted to do, leading her to develop what could potentially be an unhealthy attachment to a complete stranger just for showing her attention.  Move over, Lilian, we’re going to need some more room on that pole for when Li Li turns legal.

Not enough proof?  How about the quest that Li Li sends us on, Yellow and Red Make Orange, where she instructs us to bring back animal blood as part of a scheme to torture small creatures called virmen, promising that “this can only end in comedy”?  A study on serial killers conducted by several behavioral specialists recounted in this article states:

More often than not, serial killers come from troubled or broken homes. They are usually abandoned by their fathers… Many times there is a family history of mental illness, alcoholism and criminal behavior. They are often the victims of psychological, sexual or physical abuse (or any combination of the three). This abuse can result in lasting feelings of intimidation, embarrassment and helplessness. They grow up resenting their absent/abusive fathers and tend to transfer these feelings to other/all men … They tend to become very misanthropic and antisocial.

Many serial killers exhibit signs of mental problems as children … Children or adolescents who take pleasure in hurting other living things may be in need of psychological help. For some it is a passing phase that is looked back upon with shame and regret. For others who continue to enjoy such behavior and show no remorse for it, it can be a serious problem. The viciousness and violence increase over time and are eventually directed at human beings. Animals are merely practice for such people.

Jesus.  I need a drink.

5.1: Dominatin’ That Offensive

Standard

As may or may not have already become apparent, I play World of Warcraft.  A lot.  I’ve been playing it since shortly after the release of “vanilla,” a wild, lawless time during which hunters still had to worry about their pets getting pissed off and randomly deciding to say “peace out, bitch” and Molten Core was like the hardest raid ever, you guys.

Woooo.  34 attack power for a warrior.  Game breaking.  So excited.

Woooo. 34 attack power for a warrior. Game breaking. So excited.

The world of Azeroth has changed a whole Hell of a lot, and the benefit of basically  having  been in on the ground floor is that I’ve been able to watch its metamorphosis for long enough that every tiny tweak to the storyline, every added continent or race is a huge deal for me.  We already know that due to my aspirations as a game designer for the Warcraft team, I take special interest in lore, continuity, characterization, all of that stuff.  I often end up getting way too excited and emotionally invested in the story.  Because I like to pretend I’m important enough to have an opinion, and The Fiance is sick of hearing me go “Holy shit.  HOLY.  SHIT.  YOU HAVE TO COME LOOK AT THIS” every fifteen minutes, I have decided to start reviewing the things in the game that resonate with me, which will eventually come out to “all of it.”

The most recent addition that has made me completely lose my shit is the Dominance Offensive storyline.  As of patch 5.1, characters reaching the current level cap of 90 will automatically receive a quest to talk to a scout in the Krasarang Wilds at this new faction’s outpost.  Admittedly, before I actually played through the complete story, I was pretty unenthusiastic about it.  I’d just finished grinding through all of the other Pandaria reputations — the hard, pre-commendation way, might I add — so the idea of even more dailies made me throw up in my mouth a little.

What ended up pulling me in, however, was that once again the focus was so strongly on the ongoing battle between the Horde and the Alliance.  I got a little taste of it in the Fall of Theramore scenario when my Horde-y self straight up ruined Jaina Proudmoore’s day and absolutely loved it.  The Mists of Pandaria expansion itself opens with both factions vying for control of the mysterious new lands that have risen out of the mist.  Players choosing to create a Pandaren character find themselves in the middle of this power struggle and, at around level 12, are directed to select which side to ally themselves with.  The Dominance Offensive brings us back to this fight for, well, dominance, which has intensified since the discovery of an ancient mystical artifact known as the Divine Bell.  Its great power is sure to shift the balance towards whichever side controls it.  So far I’ve only played through the Horde storyline, meaning that I can only review that side of the story as of now, in which Garrosh Hellscream is determined to use the Divine Bell to strengthen his forces and push the Alliance out once and for all.

Garrosh is a mixed bag, both of dicks and the crazy.  But he looks totally badass.

Garrosh is a mixed bag, both of dicks and the crazy. But he looks totally badass.

The story starts to get interesting shortly after completing the second “act,” of sorts, Voice of the Gods.  Players are sent to retrieve an ancient tablet that is believed to reveal the location of a mythical artifact of reputed great power.  After running the typical errands — go here, find this, bring it back to the questgiver — a message from the leader of this excavation arrives in the mail with an attached facsimile of the translated tablet.

In the one-hundred-and-seventieth year of the Thunder King’s reign, the Korune spellweavers came to Lei Shen with their greatest creation. 

A bell cast from the makers’ flesh, shaped by stars’ fire, and bound by the breath of darkest shadow. This bell, when rung, could shake the world and call to the heavens.

Taken to war, the bell’s cacophonous tones stirred the hearts of Lei Shen’s warriors. It fueled their hatred and anger, lending them strength on the field of battle. The bell’s screaming voice struck fear and doubt into the hearts of the Emperor’s enemies, sending them fleeing in his path.

Awed by its power, the Thunder King described the instrument as “the voice of the gods,” and named it Shenqing, the Divine Bell.

Pretty cool, right?  Given Warchief Garrosh’s obsession with strengthening the might of the Horde, it’s no surprise that he’s on this like a naked dancing Night Elf on a mailbox in Ironforge.  (Don’t judge.  We’ve all done it.)

In the next chapter, “The Horde is Family,” we are directed to seek out everyone’s favorite alcoholic panda, Chen Stormstout.  We find him desperately trying to save the life of Vol’jin, leader of the Trolls.  Vol’jin has been poisoned, as it turns out, by Garrosh, who believes him to be standing in the way of achieving total Horde dominance.  He’s absolutely right, by the way.  Vol’jin is adhering to the old Troll standby and staying the Hell away from the voodoo; it is also made clear from the opening quests in the Troll storyline that his allegiance lies with Thrall and that he does not accept Garrosh as the Horde’s Warchief.  Gee, I wonder why.

The good news is that Vol’jin lives.  The bad news is that Garrosh tried to pull a Suge Knight on one of the most reasonable, awesome leaders in the entire game.  I’ll admit, I’m a Troll fangirl.  Like most of the rest of the Horde, they’re only doing what they’re doing to try and survive.  Their lands were destroyed in the Cataclysm, and all they want to do is find a safe place to call home.  Garrosh is definitely not making any friends with this latest campaign of his.

“Blood for Blood” guides us to the Kun-Lai Summit, where Garrosh’s forces need a little bit of backup on their quest to recover the Divine Bell.  Armies of vicious terracotta Mogu warriors have sprung to life at the ruins of the Korune in order to protect a codex describing a type of magic never seen before.  Could this be a key in the acquisition and use of the Divine Bell?  Yes.  Yes it can.  This is also where the only awkward bit of design in the entire storyline comes into play, and though it is a minor detail, I feel the need to point it out due to the confusion that it has caused: though the final quest in this entry is called “The Korune,” it does not, in fact, highlight the meta achievement objective of the same name.  Many players initially assumed this to be a bug,  but it is, in fact, working as intended since it triggers the completion of “Blood for Blood.”

We finally find out more about the mysterious Korune Mogu in “The Korune.”  Under the leadership of the terrifying Shan Kien, these Mogu are manipulating the power of the Sha themselves for their own nefarious purposes.  Our goal is to kidnap Shan Kien for later interrogation, that he may assist us in tracking down the Divine Bell once and for all.  The Blood Elves leading Garrosh’s excavations are beginning to grow restless.  They have lost many from their own ranks in the attempts to subjugate and harness the magical power of a race that none of them can even pretend to understand, even with their own arcane roots.  It’s easy to imagine rumors circulating about what use Garrosh could possibly have for these strange spells, each one more horrible than the last.  They couldn’t be true… could they?

Yep.  According to “Pride,” they are.  Garrosh turns his own soldiers into unwitting test subjects by infecting them with the power of the Sha that he seized from the Korune.  Baine Bloodhoof stands by Garrosh’s side and watches in horror as these crazed grunts run rampant throughout the Shrine of Two Moons, erupting into random acts of violence.  Garrosh’s experimentation with the magic of the Korune seems to have failed, and everyone except for him realizes this.  After “saving” these Orcs by beating the everliving shit out of them, the Blood Elves’ Lord Regent Lor’themar Theron appears to chastize Garrosh for his irresponsible actions.  He points out that the power of the Sha cannot be controlled and that it has decimated their troops more than it has helped them.  Garrosh arrogantly dismisses his concerns, insisting that the Horde must consume any and all power it comes across if it ever hopes to rise.  Lor’themar takes his leave, but not after making his displeasure apparent in a manner so subtle and coldly polite that it reminds me of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish from the Game of Thrones series.

We are able to further explore the effects of Garrosh’s iron hand on the Blood Elves upon being dispatched to Silvermoon City for “Rise of the Blood Elves.”  Garrosh has forced them to retrieve yet another mysterious artifact with unknown powers and bring it to their home city for further study. All investigations of the object have been fraught with disaster, as the negativity of the Sha overwhelms anyone attempting to reveal its secrets.  It is up to us to assist the Blood Elves in overcoming this devastating magic.  As a special bonus, the final quest in this chapter is called “What’s in the Box?” prompting me to spend the entire fight yelling “AAAAAAWWWWW, COME ON, WHAT’S IN THE BAAAAAAAAWWWWX” in my best (worst) Brad Pitt impression.

After the dirty work of the day has been completed, Lor’themar asks to speak to us in private.  What he has to say confirms his harsh view of Garrosh’s methods.

I am a ranger, not a politician.  But like it or not, the mantle of leadership has fallen on my shoulders.  My people, who have suffered through so many challenges and betrayals, look to me to secure their future.  We Sin’dorei were driven to the Horde by the bigotry and distrust of the Alliance.  Now, I look at our Warchief and I begin to see the very same racism.   He is willing to throw away our lives for his agenda.  Know this: I won’t stand idle if the Horde interests conflict with those of my people.  I may reconsider old alliances.

Keep your eyes open, champion.  We are all in this together… for now.

That doesn’t sound good.  In fact, I’d venture to say it’s double-plus ungood.

Baine Bloodhoof summons us in “Secrets of the Past” to assist him in the creation of an ancient memory brew that could potentially be used in extracting the necessary information from the captive Shan Kien.  The primary ingredient is the essence of another Mogu who lived during the time of the Divine Bell’s creation, which we obtain by somehow murdering a ghost (happens more often than you’d expect in this game) in a nearby tomb.  The cutscene we are treated to upon completion shows that Shan Kien shares the same bloodthirsty, borderline sociopathic tendencies as Garrosh as he seals his own people within the cave they’ve been working in and leaves them to die.  Though Baine never really took a stand against Garrosh’s deplorable tactics, I still came away from the story with the feeling that the peaceful nature of the Tauren is what stopped him from doing so.  He never actually got his hands dirty or involved himself in the Sha experiments, other than to summon us for assistance when it became apparent that Garrosh was dealing with things beyond his control.  Rather than allowing Garrosh to torture Shan Kien for the valuable information he possessed, Baine chose to brew the special elixir to much more gently and passively retrieve whatever it was he needed to know, to open a window into the Mogu leader’s memories without violence.

In “The Divine Bell,” we have finally discovered the location of the eponymous artifact, unfortunately at the same time that the Alliance has done the same.  With the aid of Garrosh’s right-hand man, Ishi, we must defeat Sarannha Skyglaive and take possession of what is rightfully no one’s except for the Mogu who created it, but for purposes of Horde pride we will refer to as “ours.”

*cough*whitepeople*cough*

*cough, cough*

This is where the quests actually turn to somewhat hard-mode for a moment.  Sarannha’s Night Elf Lady Squad stationed throughout the ruins hit hard and fast, and even with Ishi fighting alongside you, it’s pretty much at least one guaranteed death, especially in the last room where you get jumped by four at one time.  These mobs are probably some of the toughest non-rare elites in Pandaria outside of those found in instances.  After corpse-running your way back and finishing off (giggity) the last couple of guards, we reach Sarannha, who informs us that we’re too late and that the Divine Bell has already been taken to Darnassus.  Son of a bitch.

Not to be deterred, however, we are sent to Teldrassil for “The Darnassus Operation” and given a special stealth buff and “oh shit” charm to return you to the safe zone should you get caught.  Our mission is to avoid guards and sneak into the underbelly of the Cenarion Enclave to tag the bell, then return to Dominance Point to report our success.  I’m usually terrible at stealth sequences, as evidenced by the six and a half hours it took me to successfully complete Be Raptor, but I’m happy to report that this one is made of baby shampoo, i.e. no more tears.  It’s completely irritation free.  Just avoid any NPCs, something easy to do if you go behind buildings and have at least one functioning eyeball, and you win.  I was extremely grateful to the designers here for taking into consideration that not all of us are Solid Snake and tuning the difficulty of the quest accordingly.

Remember when I said earlier that Jaina had completely lost her shit after the destruction of Theramore?  Well, in “The Purge of Dalaran,” she’s decided to retaliate against the Horde, undoubtedly not just for stealing the Divine Bell but also for the aforementioned crimes against her fortress, by forcibly removing all of the Horde from the floating magical city, taking citizens and Sunreaver leaders as prisoners of war and sending her forces to exterminate any traces of resistance.  This is the part of the storyline where I really started biting the back of my hand and blurting out “OH GOD” and “NO WAY” as the quests progressed.  It’s actually the longest installment of the Dominance Offensive story, weighing it at 10 individual quests for completion.  We begin by liberating the captured citizens from the sewers of Dalaran, then fighting back against Jaina’s enforcers from the Silver Hand, and taking out their leaders.  After laying the smackdown upon the Alliance ranks, we are then tasked with freeing the important players of the Sunreavers.  Jaina patrols the city with her water elementals, teleporting any unwitting players who get too close (or accidentally tab-target and attack her) back to the Violet Hold where they’re forced to fight a “punishment” boss of sorts in order to escape again.  Luckily, she RP walks the whole way and is easy to dodge if you’re paying attention.

This part of the story carried with it an exhilarating feeling of immersion and triumph.  With each mission to save as many of the Horde in Dalaran as possible, I felt more and more like I was a freedom fighter.  My adrenaline was actually racing throughout the whole thing.  As sick and twisted as it sounds, I was happy with the choice of the designers to make it clear that not everyone was able to be saved.  A bubblegum ending where everyone lived happily ever after would have cheapened the horror of Jaina’s virtual genocide and detracted from the overall grittiness of the Dominance Offensive story.  This is a war, or at least the beginning stages of one, and it definitely feels like it.

The final installment is “Breath of Darkest Shadow.”  Garrosh Hellscream stands before his prize, ready to use the already proven uncontrollable force of the Sha as amplified by the Divine Bell to empower his Horde warriors.  It is up to us to prevent the ceremony from being interrupted.  Apparently we really suck at this, because Anduin Wrynn rushes to the scene and pleads with him to stop, that the terrible power of the bell should not be used in this manner, but Garrosh ignores him and proceeds.  As the Sha essence possesses Garrosh’s warriors and compels them to lash out and attack all bystanders, we are forced to put them down, destroying the mighty soldiers that the Warchief is so determined to create.  Only Garrosh and Anduin seem to be immune to the effects of the bell.  Ishi succumbs to its dark power and is summarily defeated by the player.  Rather than mourning his faithful friend, Garrosh steps over his body and dishonors him by calling him weak and useless.  Fans of Firefly will get this reference (and if you’re not, you’re a terrible person): Anduin is a leaf on the wind.

Too soon?

Too soon?

Well, maybe he doesn’t get fully Washed.  Alliance players will receive a follow-up quest called The Silence, in which it is revealed that Anduin is still clinging to life, though every bone in his body has been broken.  The Prophet Velen has been sent for to try and heal his grievous injuries.  Savvy Horde players will be given a hint as to Anduin’s miraculous survival if they highlight his body; the “corpse” still has 6 HP left.  Not quite dead, but close to it.

There is a design choice here that I’m rather disappointed with: the quest objectives inadvertently give some spoilers, listing 0/1 Defeat Ishi and 0/1 Defeat Anduin Wrynn.  Granted that Garrosh slamming Anduin through the Divine Bell is a twist on what would be expected, but we know from the get-go that we’re going to have to fight Ishi and that something is going to happen to Anduin.  A better objective would have been “Prevent the ceremony from any interruptions.”

But overall, the Dominance Offensive storyline was an example of game design and story development at its finest.  Mists of Pandaria, overall, is a shining jewel in World of Warcraft’s crown based on writing alone, but this takes it even further past “awesome” straight into “I cried, screamed, and ranted about this for three hours straight to everyone who would listen and I’m not afraid to admit it” territory.  It is so exceptionally good that it has actually shaken my confidence in my ability to be a game designer, because I cannot even imagine being able to top it.  Not that I’m going to stop trying, of course.  By the same token, it’s made me more determined than ever to not only refine my own storytelling skills, but also to find a spot for myself on a team that regularly creates such awe-inspiring things.

The progression method introduced with the Molten Front in Cataclysm and polished in MoP that intersperses storyline quests with dailies, revealing a steady stream of new chapters as the player’s reputation with the particular faction increases, is a great way to breathe new life into the otherwise mind-numbing grind to Exalted.  The epic-quality rewards for the “finale” quests are also a really fantastic goal to strive for; in the case of the Dominance Offensive, players will receive a Grand Wyvern flying mount that is the basic version of the Grand Armored Wyvern available for purchase at Exalted.  Also available from the Dominance Offensive quartermaster are epic item level 496 PvE gear pieces that are purchasable with Valor points, the best in the game obtainable thus far without raiding.

The Grand Commendation system introduced in 5.1makes life a lot easier by giving a 100% bonus to reputation gains with each faction that the commendation is purchased for, starting at Revered for the character who actually purchases it and extending account-wide for all other characters from the beginning.  Thankfully there is one available for the Dominance Offensive, meaning that players can more rapidly advance the story and experience the fantastic content that the design team has offered us here.

Regardless of what side you play, it’s pretty apparent that Garrosh has lost his damn mind.  His obsession with vengeance and domination has led him to (try to) murder the child of his enemy, King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind, and it is unclear as of yet what repercussions this will bring for the Horde.  Will the King snap, himself, after seeing his father assassinated by a Horde agent and now very nearly losing his son?  Will Velen be able to mend Anduin’s battered body?  How much longer will Garrosh be allowed to run roughshod on Azeroth as Warchief before his disenfranchised and rightfully malcontent subjects rise up against him, or will he maintain his deadly grip on the throne?  I could speculate even further on potential storylines for the future, but we shall see with the release of Patch 5.2 how exactly the tides are going to turn.

As an interesting side note, a few weeks ago the official World of Warcraft Twitter posed a hypothetical question to fans of who they’d like to see as a new Warchief.  Just making conversation, or a sign of things to come?