Saturday, September 21, 2019

WoW Cl....Retail?

My Warrior in Classic is still level 31 and I don't think I've done anything more robust than checking a few auctions and turning in a couple of quests that had sat completed for a while.

Retail has two important events happening this week. Firstly is the double reputation on world quests event. I've had the various BfA reputations sitting close to exalted for some time now. I had made a concerted effort to reach revered with all of them in order to obtain flying. Since then, I've been logging in once every three days or so to clear out the emissary quests and get the free rep/gold/resources for little effort. With normally annoying reputations like the Tortollans and Rustbolt Resistance suddenly much less of a problem, I've been logging in every morning to clear the maps of world quests.

As of today I have everything but those two reputations on exalted. The Rustbolt Resistance should be done in two days time and Tortollans done tomorrow. Additionally, I finished the achievement in Nazjatar that unlocks the third rank of that particular essence as it's minor trait so prove to be a decent boost for my character. Unfortunately, I realized I don't actually have enough currency to purchase that essence until tomorrow. Bad luck.

The second major reason I'm logging into retail is the Brewfest event. Turns out, I never play World of Warcraft during the month of September. I know that, because I've every other holiday achievement completed since 2011. I'm not sure what it is about the fall that makes me WoW averse but its been pretty consistent for a while now. I'm guessing its the combination of Fall weather and college football that makes me less likely to sit in front of a computer for long stretches at a time. Maybe fall has just lacked tantalizing updates on the WoW front. Either way, I have WoW Classic to thank for helping finish the meta-achievement I've been sitting on for closing in on a decade.

Tomorrow should also be the end of my interest in Brewday stuff. The meta-achievement is what I'm after. The large amounts of pets and transmog gear isn't overly important to me. The mounts with a 2% drop chance are never something I'm particularly fond of grinding out.

So I suppose that leaves the question of my interest in retail after my reps are done. I suspect I will be on the sidelines until the next pet xp bonus event. I might not stick my head in the door and see if the Timewalking stuff is interesting but next week is Warlords of Draenor dungeons, not exactly an expansion I have nostalgic feelings for.

For reasons, that I can't actually remember, I had preordered the Link's Awakening amiibo some months back.






He's undoubtedly a handsome fellow, but I've never had the fondness for The Legend of Zelda that others have. My plan was to eventually get the Link's Awakening remake but I wasn't necessarily in a huge hurry to do so, particularly since I still haven't completed Breath of the Wild.

But tomorrow will be spent with me and the wife in the car for a ten hour trip. I expect my next couple of days will be a bit busy as well. I don't want to spoil the details, but the impact on my free time could be a bit ruff.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

WoW Classic - Level 32

As I finish up a run of Blackfathom Deeps with the Familia de Everwake, I'm struck with a reminder as to why the Scarlet Monastary dungeons were so popular.

It's because they were short.

My neck and shoulders are stiff and I've got a case of the grumps. The dungeon run went well, we only had one wipe, but that's just a lot of time sitting for me. Out of all the things I missed form WoW Classic, the time commitment required from basic dungeons isn't one of them. I've always preferred shorter but more often play sessions. That's really the one major design choice of Retail WoW that I unilaterally preferred over Classic.

Granted there are a lot of great reasons to have super duper long dungeons in the game. It makes them feel like real honest to God dungeons and not just another level in a linear video game. It's a good choice, it's just one that's a literal pain in my butt. I'm going to start keeping the foam roller in the computer room if this keeps up.



With all that said and done I'm a healthy and hearty level 32 now. The best part of doing all these dungeons with our group is that I'm the only mail wearer/melee attacker. My little guy is rocking blues in about every slot a level 32 can have in Classic.



But good God this gear is so ugly. Leveling has always left characters looking like clown fiestas but usually there is a certain charm to it. Casters just look like absent minded academics who were really late to work. Blizzard's 2004 rendition of chain armor looks like snake skin after it's been shed.

In more alarming news, I'm 8 levels away from my mount and currently stuck at 8 gold. I think we may be hoofing it for a while as the mount plus riding skill cost 10 times that. Back in the day when Classic was current content, I got the money for both my level 40 and level 60 epic mounts by playing the auction house. This was before auctioneer was an add on and you could make pretty good money by buying materials in the morning when demand was lower and then selling them for more in the evening; this is particularly true if you buy out every competitor and immediately relist that stock at a much higher price.


I got impatient for the last 100 gold I needed for my epic mount so I took a more direct approach. I would look up Darkmoon Faire cards on the AH, note their prices, and then immediately offer them in trade chat for 20% more. Someone would whisper me, I'd buy the card off the AH, and then teleport to whatever city they were in.

Unfortunately, the economy at this point in Classic just isn't robust enough to support these kind of shenanigans. Drops are still so rare and buyers so few that there isn't enough confusion and laziness to take advantage of yet.

Oh well, 60% increase in movement speed matters but it's not the end of the world if I end up hoofing it into my mid 40s. It might kill me a little inside as I get passed by someone lower level than me on their mount but that's just how it's going to be.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

WoW Classic - Lazy Sunday Edition

WoW is hitting that perfect pace for me. Nice, slow, gradual leveling. Killing anything and everything in my way. Occasionally get a nice XP boost with the turn in of a quest. Enjoying the music and ambience. It's a beautify, steady drip of nice.

Which makes for terrible blogging material.

Progress on my warrior is still a bit slow. I've only hit 29 this morning. Instead, as I had predicted in my previous blog post, I have become enamored with my Alliance mage. Compared to a warrior the leveling is just crazy easy. Killing from range and the easier pulling makes the content trivial. I can count on one hand the number of times I've died on mage. My kill count on my warrior is a number to high to contemplate.

There is more downtime; drinking for mana is slower than bandaging damage on my warrior. But I also like that bit. It lets me throw a couple of dishes in the dishwasher, tidy up the living room, answer chat messages on Discord. The very design of warrior is "go go go". Use lose rage if you dwaddle between pulls.

The mage is much more my preferred style of pace. If I wanted action I would play a real video game. That statement isn't totally fair, PVP I think holds it's own as a competitive action game. But day to day overworld work does not.

I'm playing on Pagle, a US server with an apparent lopsided Alliance-Horde ratio. Finishing quest objectives Horde side is difficult sometimes. On the Allliance side, Westfall is borderline unplayable. More players than potential spawn points was the norm making some quests only completable during offpeak times. Whatever effect layering is supposed to have simply isn't getting the job done.

Shadowfang Keep is in the bag. Gameplay wise the instance is a pretty standard experience. The setting is one of my favorites though. The spooky undead vibe the first two Forsaken zones have is always a treat to me. Additionally, SFK is the first real plot line in Classic I've come across that actually has some payoff in the future. While I always felt that the Cataclysm version of SFK was a let down, the role the Worgen curse and the Gilnean Kingdom have on many of the future expansions was really neat to see.

The one downside: The narrow confines of the instance made playing as a Tauren claustrophobic. Having to readjust my camera several times a pull was quite uncomfortable. Combine that with a hunter with a minimum range for her shots and it was difficult to position some pulls in a way that made everyone happy.

Either way things seem to be chugging along just fine. The vast majority of my gameplay has been WoW Classic. I played a couple hours of Breath of the Wild in my never ending quest to get into that game. I found the purchase of a Switch Pro Controller to greatly impact my enjoyment of the game. Those Joycons have the buttons positioned just like the DS and 3DS, which is to say far to close together for a normal sized human adult. The Switch, which should have come in the damn box with the console, actually makes playing on the system for longer than an hour at a time possible without hand cramps.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

WoW Classic | A Conundrum

One of my biggest problems with retail World of Warcraft was that they never seemed to work on the features that would have actually made the game more approachable and sociable. Guild features, for instance, were never fleshed out to anything meaningful. Eventually, we got guild perks (for a while) and guild banks but those really are the bare essentials.

It's been 15 years and Blizzard is only just now talking about a mentoring system. Just the ability to temporarily drop down in level so that you can play seamlessly with your friends. We know they have the technology to do it, the Timewalking events make that much clear.

That said, it wouldn't really help my situation in WoW Classic. My Tauren Warrior sits at level 27 while my family's characters sit at levels below that. I primarily rolled this character to try out tanking with a group that includes no randoms and it's gone great. Unfortunately the other people in my life aren't complete shut-ins and don't have as much free time as I do to keep leveling up. If I want to group and do content that is still somewhat relevant to us then I'm essentially forced to stop playing.

We've finished up Wailing Caverns now about two times. Its the only dungeon we can reasonably access that can handle our current 12+ level gap. I have no real interest in doing it again but it was a nice little romp. A couple of thoughts:

  • I greatly underestimated the maze it used to be back then. Or maybe I just have a poor sense of direction. It's a good thing I live in a time where Google Maps exist.
  • I greatly oversitmated the "platforming boss". If you don't know, there is a small gap about 3/4 of the way through the dungeon. Failing your jump means you have to walk a bunch to try it again. I keenly recall this being a massive chasm 15 years ago that required pixel perfect platforming skills. Turns out it's very much not. It's like a foot across. Sometimes I can't tell if I really sucked at this game or not.
  • The shield from the turtle never drops. Never dropped then. Never drops now. #nochanges
  • Tanking is very easy when your 8 levels higher than everything else in the dungeon. 
  • 3 manning and 4 manning these dungeons, even at the appropriate level, really isn't that big of a deal. Seriously, these dungeons use to be multi-hour affairs me and my friends would congratulate each other on. I really do used to suck.
  • Playing with real life friends is so much better than randoms. This was already known but I really forgot just how much better life is when you're experiencing it with people your constantly worried will go on a barrage of hate speech any minute. Crowd control! Focused targeting! Not going afk for 20 minutes! I'm never playing a game with randoms again!


Now, about the inability to level; this isn't that huge of an issue. I can, after all, level my professions (done), do low level quests (also done), or level an alt.

So an alt is now in my future. I'm struggled deciding which class though. I have zero desire to group with randoms in any sort of committed way, so dungeons are mostly out. So strong soloing classes are mandatory. I've also done a lot of the early Horde quests, so something on the Alliance side makes sense as well. At this point I'm strongly considering pushing forward on a Human Mage.

I actually started leveling a Human Mage on retail right before Classic came out. Mage was my second main (although an Undead one) and Classic seems like a good time to remember those old memories. My first ever character was actually a Warlock, but I found the gameplay so boring I quit WoW for about a year. ( I was also convinced Everquest 2 was going to win the MMO war of 2004. It didn't.) Pet classes always feel fiddly to me. DoTs feel even more indirect. Soul shards and life tap management feel like paperwork. Not to mention that Warlocks spent a decent portion of Classic as rogue-fodder on PVP servers and not much else.

Anyhow, what drew me to mage at first was the flavor. An undead who can light people on fire is as aspirational a career goal as any. Wizards were stuffy old dudes with long beards who had to memorize their spells everyday. But WoW Mages felt different. Druids, Hunters and Shamans were all naturey. I lived in a rural area and hated it; if I wanted outdoorsey nonsense I could have left my bedroom. Warriors were as bland as you could make a thing. Literally everyone on my server was already a rogue. Priests and Paladins were some Alliance bullshit. So a wizarding we would go.

What made me fall in love with the class was, oddly enough, movement. Playing a mage in PVP always felt to me like playing a game of basketball. It was about movement, restricting your opponents movement, and area denial. Blink, Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Polymorph, etc. Instead of an elderly man chanting and drawing on the ground in sidewalk chalk, I felt like an athlete hauling ass around the battlefield and controlling the show. This was the end of my high school, and therefor, athletic career. WoW doesn't have the physicality of a real sport, but it showed me that video games could certainly have the same mental approach.

I've mentioned in a previous post that I was attracted to playing my Priest because healing was such a compelling and different way of playing. We've all played how many hundreds of hours of killing things. When a video game lets me choose a different paradigm completely it has my interest. And a mage in World of Warcraft offers that. Granted, they are still really good at killing things. But take dueling a rogue:
  • each player strategically using and reacting to each cooldown, 
  • mentally keeping track on the timing of each other's abilities, 
  • carefully controlling positioning (me as far as possible from the rogue, them on my butt for backstab damage), 
  • using abilities in odd ways (like using Counterspell to keep a Rogue in combat and preventing a free restealth),
  • looking for tells in their actions (is he trying to get to my front instead of the back? He wants to gouge me and reset the fight).
 So in the end it was still a thinking man's class, but a type of mage that wore sneakers and not flip flops. This sort of memory feels very personal and very in the moment. Some of WoW Classic's nostalgia was going to still be effective. The background music in the Barren's, old Orgrimmar, etc. I'm not sure if the memories of playing my mage will be the same.

I guess we'll find out as long as my squad keeps dragging their feet.

Friday, September 6, 2019

I Cheat | WoW Classic - Day 11

Stonetalon Mountains are complete and my handsome Tauren Warrior is 26 going on 27. Leveling has slowed to a crawl for a couple of reasons. Mostly it's because I play a warrior, I die a lot, it's kinda their gimmick.

I tend to be "well-rounded" in my gaming interests. There are few genres I don't enjoy, and very few modes of play I can't stomach. The major exception to this "exploration". I rarely get the urge to simply wonder a digital landscape. I have to be in the right frame of mind, and when I am, I'd rather go explore the meatspace around me. It's usually a sign that I need to start planning a vacation.

 So when I play a game like World of Warcraft I use a guide. Frankly, I use a guide for every game. But for World of Warcraft we get the benefits of add-ons as well. For as far back as I remember I used a website called wow-pro.com. The sketchy gold selling name is noted. Falling back into my old habits I tried to use the add-on version of this site but I began running into roadblock after roadblock. The guides never did a great job of acknowledging the different capabilities of each class. Some quests just aren't doable at certain levels for certain classes, namely warriors who struggle to solo elites or huge packs without the corresponding gear.

So now I've downloaded another add-on named Questie. This one basically imports the newer quest marking features from retail WoW, telling you where you can pick up quests and where the objectives to complete them are. You can customize the addon as well. I know of several people who turn off the objective markers, for instance.

This works well for me. I don't want to tedious run about at the speed of slow looking for a quest that may or not be somewhere. It holds no value to me. I want to see the content. I have the Lorekeeper titles for both Alliance and Horde on retail. I use Wowhead's uploader tool to see if there are quests that I missed.

In video games I like structure. I like to know what it is I need to do, and I like to do it until I'm good enough at it to pass on to the next stage. My favorite game is Mega Man X. Go right, jump and shoot. Love it. Shooting at various breakables until you unearth the hidden powerups? No, that's what I use a guide for.

Occasionally I get grief for this. It's unpure or whatever. I don't care. I've learned a while ago that I'm much happier when I take from a game the parts I like and ignore the parts I don't. I'm not cheating on a workout or on a diet. It's a game, it's fine.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nintendo Direct Reactions

Nintendo came out of left field with a massive Nintendo Direct and I had thoughts on it. So many thoughts I decided to give my brain a rest and regurgitate them out of my mind and into cyberspace. This frees up space for things like deciding what I'll do for lunch. Which is probably a sandwich. Maybe some soup.


Overwatch
People who play first person shooters with a controller should be put on a list. People who play multiplayer first person shooters with a controller should be put on the list in bold lettering. I don't know what should be done with that list once we have it, but I want to know who these psychos are.

Luigi's Mansion 3 Multiplayer
Sounds cool, but the chances of me convincing the three people I know with Switches to buy a copy of this game at release and playing with me is asymptotically close to zero.

Trials of Mana
Never got into the series, but would really like to. I'm a sucker for "archive" releases like this. I will definitely buy this at some point. I will probably even play it too!

Super Kirby Clash
"Free to start" is fine by me. I miss the day of game demos and and it always scores bonus points for me. Will give this a try.

Banjo-Kazooie in Smash
This was already known so no surprise here. We had a Nintendo 64 growing up but I honestly can't say I remember if we own this game or it's sequel at any point. 3D platformers were never my cup of tea. Babysitting the camera feels like the developer's job, not mine. The Banjo Games are playable on Xbox Game Pass and I've given them a shot, but I don't feel they particularly age well. I got two unexpected niche characters in Joker and Dragon Quest Hero so I'm glad to see a character other people are excited for.

Terry in Smash
I don't think anyone was actually excited about this. That's not true, there are hundreds of Fatal Fury fans still around and they just got their moonshot. Happy for them, and I'm glad an important game series is getting a bigger platform like this. He's in Capcom vs. SNK 2 which I played for about a month on my Dreamcast. I don't expect that to help me in actually playing the character as I'm still bad fighting games.

Doom 64 on Switch
What?

Jedi Knight 2
What? 

Tokyo Mirage Sessions Ported to Switch
Nintendo's war on the value of my WiiU collection continues unabated.

Deadly Premonitions 2
I don't know what this is, but "cult horror mystery game" seems right up my wife's alley. She likes murder things. It worries me.

Divinity Original Sin 2
An all-time Hall of Famer on my "One-Day I Will Play This or Anything Else in This Series. Probably."

SNES Games on Nintendo Switch Online
This is the part I'm most excited for. 30 year old games I rent for a year. Sometimes I suspect the modern day games industry isn't really aligned with my interests.

SNES Controller for $30
I've had terrible luck with knock SNES USB controllers I've bought off Amazon. If this thing actually works on for emulation on my PC it's an instabuy. I know there are some other reasonable wireless SNES controllers out there, but I'm counting Nintendo's usual superior build quality here.

Tetris 99
I like Tetris. I hate Tetris Battle Royale. Tetris isn't improved my multiplayer, only it's business model. Fleshing out Tetris 99 into an actual Tetris game makes me happy. Not sure there's enough here to warrant a purchase yet though. I know there's a "retail" release that comes with a year of Switch Online coming out soon. Seems like something I would buy with a good promotion on Black Friday.

Xenoblade Chronicles Port
I can't tell if Xenoblade Chronicles has become the Skyrim of Ports or if there are several hundred Xenoblade titles being released with similar names.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
This will be World of Warcraft Classic, Part 2 for me. Love love love. Me and my boy Scoot are going to Zip Zoom all over this game.



Plus I'll get to play with my wife, she loves the series as much as I do.

Sans from Undertale in Smash as Mii Gunner
Never played Undertale, love the soundtrack though.

Devil May Cry 2 Port
What? Even more inexplicable since the PS4 and Xbox One got the trilogy as one disc.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Curry Dex
You can collect all the curry, but not all the Pokemon. Game Freak has to keep making Pokemon games and it seems like they're getting sulky about it.

Puzzle Quest HD
A bad game in disguise as a good one. I've almost wrote a review twice on this game since I've started this blog. It's tedious, it's too simple to be interesting, and there's so much randomness that you end up with limited agency when actually playing the game. But Puzzle RPG sounds so cool people will buy it anyways.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

WoW Classic: Getting Comfy Edition

My gauntlet of social obligations are completed and have left me feeling ... dehydrated. And in surprisingly good spirits. My ability to operate socially can be limited. A couple hours here and there and I can be one smooth operator. But anything more extended than a night out and my batteries quickly drain to zero.

So today (and much of last night) are when I revert to my beloved shut-in status. A cloudy mid-60s mood has taken over the Casa de Everwake. I have a campfire scented candle rolling, a plate of hotdish leftovers, and a Tauren Warrior who just completed the Barrens at the dizzying level of 22.

Right now WoW Classic is very much in my wheelhouse. It's familiar, it feels good to play it, it feels good to have a goal in my life that both feels important and without real consequences. There are very few experiences that can consistently bring me into the mental state of flow.

The feeling of just "locking in" to a task and pushing until I reach my goal or have my flow broken is a feeling that I've been chasing all my life. I guess I'm a flow junkie. I think everyone knows what I'm talking about, although I'm sure we all experience it much differently and from different sources.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to receive this flow from experiences I can't always recapture at will. Growing up it often came from sporting events, baseball in particular. But when I decided against pursuing the sport in college those opportunities dried up (slow pitch softball beer leagues don't really hit the same spot). Writing once served that place for me as well, but doing something professionally, particularly under the duress of the 2010 Great Recession, knocked a lot of the enjoyment out of that for me.

And playing World of Warcraft used to get me there as well. For me, WoW has unraveled in a lot of ways. The story lines no longer interest me, thematically the world feels bland and uninspired, and the sociability of the whole thing isn't. But at some point the beautiful second to second gameplay just took a nose dive. It's hard to get a handle on exactly when that happened. The obvious perpetrator is the ability prune. Classes simply got too simple to be interesting anymore. And while that's true to an extent, playing Classic is proof that for most specs the day to day overworld rotations are more complex in retail than they are live.

But they are not more fun.

They are more complicated, but to me they also feel way more fiddly. Every DPS class seems to have some form of combo points or some standard "Long Cooldown > DoT > Medium Cooldown > Situational Ability > Filler" rotation. The pacing to every fight in retail simply feels off. Fights either take too long or aren't long enough. Rotations are either glorified quick-time events or brain dead stupid. Classic, for whatever reason, seems to be interesting with every mob I engage. (Except for Ret Paladins. They were always boring to play.) I'm sure there are other outside factors affecting this feeling, but moment to moment Classic just feels better. 

These "core gameplay loops" don't have to be complicated: at their core Mario games are about pressing A to jump. I think WoW Classic rotations are just complicated enough to be interesting while being somewhat brainless enough that you can multitask watching Netflix or chatting with others. WoW Retail asks enough from you to make multitasking difficult, but isn't interesting enough to complete hold your attention.

When I originally played WoW, I leveled while chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger or while chatting with my college roommates as I played on my laptop. Nowadays I play while talking to my wife or watching a Twitch stream. WoW Classic hits that sweet spot for me in so many different ways that no development team could ever really be expected to accommodate. But I'm glad I got an opportunity to get my flow back.