Thursday, October 29, 2009


On my realm, Oculus was -I kid you not- the heroic daily at least twice a week. Every week since the heroic daily was introduced. There was one week where it was the daily heroic FOUR DAYS IN A ROW. This is not hyperbole.

And you know what? Oculus was a fun idea. Oculus is cool to run once or twice. Oculus would have worked OK based on the original design of Wrath, but since last November things have spiraled out of control a bit when it comes to heroics, and Oculus doesn't have a place anymore. Right now, all of the other heroics are ludicrously easy faceroll affairs where trash is reduced to a minor AoE speedbump and bosses are barely more challenging than the easiest trash used to be. But even after gear scaling was added to the drakes, their unfamiliarity, complicated mechanics, and limited moveset causes Oculus to be the only demanding heroic left. Which is cool if you want a challenge (for NO reward), but sucks if you are, like most of us, just trying to get the boring, pointless heroic out of the way as quickly as possible so you can get on to something fun (and after the first few times, Oculus just plain isn't fun). Daily Heroics are not all created equal. Getting VH or ToC is a cause for celebration, while Oculus is dreaded the world over. You know what I'm talking about.

Well guess what? After 3.3 ships, you NEVER HAVE TO RUN OCULUS AGAIN (unless you actually want to). This is from the LFG system Q&A, and note that Oculus is called out specifically:

When is the particular dungeon determined and is it fixed if you degroup? Say you find yourself assigned Oculus and you have no desire to do that. If you degroup (taking the deserter debuff) and jump back into LFG 15 minutes later, are you locked into having Oculus once it has been assigned once even though you haven't completed it?
The dungeon is determined once the group is filled. If the group does not like the instance that's been selected, they can leave, get the Deserter debuff, and try again to get a different random dungeon once the 15-minute debuff dissipates.

...and just to be ABSOLUTELY SURE that we really did just hear a choir of angels in jubilation as Oculus is removed from the equation, because it's far too good to be true, someone asked again:

You sort of answers this before, but if I got put in a dungeon that I -really- didn't want to do as my first random heroic of the day, and I drop group, wait the 15 minutes and join a new one, do I still get the 2 Frost Emblems? Or do I -have- to take the first random heroic that is presented to me to earn my Frost?
No, you will still be eligible for the daily loot even if you don't complete the first random Heroic dungeon you enter.

Thank. You. Blizzard.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blizzard endorsing gear checking and certain loot rules?

I don't have a ton of time to blog today, but I really wanted to point out some of the 3.3 patch notes that came with the latest build. They give details about how random dungeon groups will work using the new tool. The things that really popped out at me:

As part of the matchmaking system, some of the more difficult dungeons will have a minimum gear requirement.


The Need Before Greed loot system will be the unalterable default looting system for pick-up groups in the Dungeon System and has been updated.

Need Before Greed will now recognize gear appropriate for a class in three ways: the class must be able to equip the item, pure melee will be unable to roll on spell power items, and classes are limited to their dominant armor type (ex. paladins for plate) [emphasis mine]. All items will still be available via Greed rolls as well as the new Disenchant option should no member be able to use the item.

Well, then. Does this constitute an endorsement by Blizzard of requiring certain gear levels for groups? And is Blizzard saying that the "right" way to loot is to give priority to your primary armor class (ie priest automatically wins cloth over a druid, etc.)? What do you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Glory of the Ulduar Raider

Until last night, my butt was incomplete. Because it didn't have a Rusted Proto-Drake permanently attached to it.

After much struggle with scheduling (including a death in a key guildie's family!), we managed to get two nights in a row on Yogg hard mode, and finally downed it, completing the Glory of the Ulduar Raider achievement. Me and my butt are very, very happy.

For those interested, here's the story of how we did Yogg Hard mode (One Light in the Darkness) with just Thorim helping us.

Originally, our group makeup was:


Disc. Priest
Resto Shaman
Resto Druid

2 Mages

We struggled with Phase 2, needing things to go very well with the RNG to down the brain in two portal phases, which I would consider necessary for victory here, as the raid begins to run low on sanity if Phase 2 goes on too long. We would send myself (the DK), the dps warrior, the ret paladin, and the resto shaman down into the brain room, which gave us full coverage on debuffs.

We made it to Phase 3 a few times this way, but always lost people due to poor positioning, loose adds, or failure to look away during the lunatic gaze that reduces your sanity. Basically, we would always be behind on tentacles and run ragged, often with a few people dead, by the time we made it to Phase 3.

The turnaround for us was a night where the dps warrior couldn't make it. We could bring a second ret paladin in his place, but that paladin didn't have the gear or experience on this fight that the warrior brought, making us doubt the chances of getting the brain down in 2 portals. Then our Guildmaster, the resto shaman, hit on an idea: she would do the fight as Enhancement and the priest and druid would 2-heal it! The healing requirements are not all that intense compared to, say, Firefighter, and having an extra dps in the brain room had the potential to be a huge buff to our ability to clear the phase quickly. And best of all, any dispels needed on the portal team could be covered by the shaman/pally combo!

It took about an hour and a half of attempts with this new setup to win. Most of the attempts were wiped not by user error, but by terrible luck with all of the randomized aspects of the fight, such as tentacle placements, targets of Yogg's abilities, and placement of the floating skulls in the portal rooms. One particularly bad attempt found me constricted just as the portals spawned. I was quickly broken out, and ran toward the portal, thinking I would make it. Instead, I was feared by Yogg just long enough to miss the portal. The next attempt, we zoned into the portal room and found that both sets of floating skulls were positioned such that there was no way to dps the targets without losing sanity non-stop the entire time. Randomized screw-overs like that were the most frustrating and disheartening part of the experience. We could play perfectly, and still be wiped by the random number generator, which is clearly > all. I'm not a big fan of that. Yeah, hard modes are supposed to be hard. But they should challenge your ability to play more than they challenge your ability to have good luck. And I think Yogg Hard goes a little too far in the luck direction.

But we did it! We are now in the top 40 US guilds that only do 10-man raiding according to Guildox, and join a group of only about 50 of such guilds to have earned drakes. And we managed this rank despite constant difficulties getting together our hard mode groups due to a string of RL events that made the attendance of many of our roster of only 12 raiders sporadic. Though it took us a month between downing Firefighter and One Light, we actually only spent a grand total of about 7 hours spread over 4-5 nights working on it. That's only 3 normal-length nights of attempts. I'm pretty proud of us.

I know my guildies don't even know about this blog, but I still want to thank them for their friendship, skill, perseverence, patience, and class throughout this entire journey to our drakes. They are an incredible group of people and players that make this game worth playing for me, and I would never have enhanced my butt dragonally without them. I can't wait to fly around REALLY FAST alongside them again!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Try League of Legends! Totally Free Open Beta is Open, and Totally Free!

I love this game.

Shorter Games Can Be Better

Here's an interesting piece at the Escapist about the plight of gamers who have grown up and found they just don't have time to indulge in a 30-hour game with work, kids, spouses, and everything else demanding more and more of their attention. The author actually seeks out games with story modes lasting 8-10 hours, and that represents a month's game investment to him.

I'd take this a step further and advocate that more games be made intentionally shorter, but also cost less. Then, if the game does well, sell DLC or sequels to it. That way, once the game is 30 hours long it cost $65, but if I just wanted an 8-hour diversion, I can spend $30 on the basic game.

LFG Tool: Random Dungeons = More Daily Grind! [UPDATED 10/28]

[UPDATE 10/28: PTR Patch notes: "Daily Heroic and normal dungeon quests have been removed." We're back to only one random dungeon a day!]

So the new cross-server LFG tool is up on the PTRs, and it seems Blizzard finally figured out why they couldn't seem to force everyone to use the interface to put together random groups before: Blizzard was failing to pay them off.

So in the new patch, you'll get 2 Frost Emblems (used to get tier 10 gear, think Triumph Emblems right now) and a nice chunk of cash for doing one random dungeon with a PuG assembled by the automatic random LFG tool every day.

And if any of you raid, you'll be groaning because they just added another heroic dungeon you have to do every single day just to keep up on your raid gear. On top of going back to having to do the daily heroic every day. And the difficulty of the heroics aren't going up, so enjoy your daily trip to Faceroll City. Oh, sorry now it's TWO daily trips!

[UPDATE: The following paragraph is inaccurate, as per this quote from the Twitter developer Q&A:

Q: May I create a group with 4 friends and then use the LFG interface to gain the random dungeon reward?
A: Yes. In fact, you can join it with a full group of 5 and still get the random dungeon reward. The reward is for doing a random dungeon, not necessarily for having random members. ]

Though the emblem reward is constant, the monetary reward scales based on how much of your group is premade when you join the LFG queu. So the way to do this if you are a raider is get a group of 4 guildies, and randomize the last guy. This is going to be AWESOME for casuals and undergeared alts who solo-queu, as they constantly get matched with full 4-man groups in tier 10 and get a free ride through the instance (not that every solo-queur is bad, I'm just pointing out who is going to benefit most here). So basically, Blizzard is subsidizing the act of carrying people through an instance; it's Welfare Heroics (because they clearly weren't easy enough yet!!). Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, if I didn't feel pressured to log in every day to keep up on my raid gear, hearkening back to the old days of 2 hours of herb farming for every 1 hour of raiding (back when you could stack every elixir buff at once).

And the best part? Let me quote's coverage of the random LFG tool:

"After everyone is ready, you are teleported directly into the instance it has randomly selected."

Too bad that "randomly selected" instance is always-


-going to be effing Oculus.

Update (from comments): Just to put it into perspective, here is the fastest way to gear up in all of the emblem stuff from tier 9:

It took nearly two months of dailies every day, along with weekly clears of ToC, to get everything I needed, and that's actually reduced from what I would have needed because my tier chestpiece wasn't good so I made the crafted one instead, and the badge trinket wasn't good for me either.

Full tier = 210 emblems
trinket= 50
sigil= 25
ring= 35

total= 320

In the first 5 weeks, since they unlocked the bosses one at a time (and in Icecrown I doubt we'll be full-clearing the place week 1, so the effect should be the same) you could get a total of 45 emblems. Not even enough for one of the bigger tier pieces. In that same time, you could get 70 emblems from the heroic daily if you did it every single day.

That puts you just over 1/3 of the way to fully geared. If you do the heroic daily religiously, every day, for 5 weeks.

If after that you full-clear toc every week and do the daily heroic every day, it would take another SEVEN WEEKS to buy every upgrade available. That's *13 weeks* total of never missing a *SINGLE DAY* of daily heroics. "Casual-friendly" my ass.

And this is without even considering the tank gear I should now start building if I really want to optimize our progression potential!

It takes a long time to gather the emblems you need to get the best gear you can to help your guild progress. I only stopped doing the daily heroic every day a few weeks ago, and I only have enough emblems on my main to buy 1 tier 245 piece once we clear toc 10 hard for the tribute chest (focused on Yogg hard atm). Because I'm *still* not done with emblems, even 2 months later.

Sure, no one is "forcing" me to do this. But I want to be the absolute best-geared I can be to help myself and my friends succeed. And because of the grindy dailies, I have to faceroll through a heroic every single day in order to do that. I fail to see the difference between this and herb grinding back in vanilla. Sure, you didn't have to make all those elixirs, but if you didn't, you weren't going to succeed nearly as much in the raid dungeons. They changed that elixir stuff for a reason. And now they're bringing it right back, only with an extra dose of welfare on top.

UPDATE 10/23: According to Twitter WoW dev Q&A:

Q: With T10, are we going to see tokens like in Ulduar? or like CC? CC style had every class and spec rolling on same thing.

A: With t10 we're going to see a hybrid. The tier 10 items (the ones with item levels you'd find in the 10-player raid) will be purchased with Emblems of Frost.

The tier 10.5 items (the ones with item levels you'd find in the 25-player raid) will be obtained by getting a token (one that is specific to 3 or 4 classes, much like the ulduar tokens) and using it to upgrade the tier 10 item that was purchased with emblems of frost.
So tier 10 is another badge farm, with no alternative to get the tier pieces from drops in the 10-man. And in fact, even the 25-man raiders have to badge farm, since they can't use their tier tokens unless they already bought the base tier 10 piece with badges!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm super-psyched for Icecrown!

I played a lot of WC3 story mode. I had found Starcraft such a revelation that it was impossible for me to not want to submerge myself in the combination of epic narrative and fun art and gameplay when WC3 came out. I had been largely a console gamer before this, so WC3's story mode was one of my formative PC gaming experiences, and also one of my first forays into hardcore fantasy fiction (aside from my dad reading the Hobbit to me before bed as a child).

So to finally see the end of that story play out, and experience in a more personal way so many nostalgic and sentimentally symbolic touchpoints, is very exciting to me.

Yes, many aspects of the story are cliched or predictable. Arthas is a reverse King Arthur, and the Lich King might as well be named Darth Sauron, complete with black outfit, flowing cloak, and spiky spires with magic eyes at the top. At least Arthas's motivation for his fall makes some semblance of sense, unlike Anakin's hubris and puppy love (if you even consider "Episode 3" to be canon).

I'm more interested in the epic feel around the whole thing, and the reactions of the world and the other characters to him. I'm expecting to see something awesome, and that's what's got me excited.

Jaina and Sylvanas will be able to finally resolve their long-standing Arthas issues. We'll see where the Ashbringer's story goes, what happens to the Mograines and the Saurfangs, and the fate of Bolvar Fordragon.

And Shadowmourne, which a small part of me is just too afraid to hope might be available, at least in some partial, gimped way, to 10-man raid groups. That story is something I'd really like to be able to take part in, rather than be completely shut out of solely because of raid size. I've made my piece with the other 10 v 25 crap (mostly), but man would I be excited to have a shot at that thing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why MMOs aren't holding me.

We've all heard the accusations leveled at the dreaded WoW Tourist. For the first few days of Aion, nothing was discussed in general chat other than World of Warcraft. It's the big elephant in the room that somehow simultaneously feeds other MMOs while pushing them out of the way.

I very much enjoyed Champions Online and Aion. I purchased both, and thought they were both fun, well-produced, streamlined takes on the genre.

Notice the past tense there.

I let both accounts lapse. This was partly because of my life-consuming addiction to League of Legends, which, by the way, makes terrible blog fodder because it requires so much specialized knowledge to have a discussion about. But my lack of continued interest in other MMOs is mostly because of how grindy they are. And I don't really mean that as a criticism, since they are exactly as grindy as World of Warcraft has always been. It's just that I can't healthily have room in my life for more than one grindy game. I already went through the grind in WoW to get where I am today, and I just can't stomach another grind to reach an endgame that I don't even know will be exciting. At least with WoW, I know I'm going to enjoy instancing and raiding and gearing up and learning my class and playing with my established guildies at 80, so I know that the grind of an alt is going to be worth it. But I really have no idea how worthwhile the effort I put into CO or Aion is going to end up being, and that makes it very difficult to put in the effort required.

(note: I played both games extensively in beta for months. So even though my live account only lasted a month, I actually played the games for longer than most current subscribers have had enough to time to. So I'm not sure I can really be called a "tourist" at this point.)

The core of the grinding problem is the same complaint that was leveled at WoW, even in its first year: it's two different games. After 60 levels of solo questing through an exciting world, perhaps sprinkled with the occasional 5-man group, the transition to max-level play was jarring, as it was suddenly completely dependent on grouping, and to a large extent, raiding, which is a very different activity from leveling. Very little of the WoW leveling experience prepares you for the max-level experience; it's almost like starting from scratch. CO and Aion felt the same to me.

So far, the MMO genre has suffered greatly for grafting together a grind engine (leveling and questing) with the actual game (grouping, PvP, raiding, etc). It's starting to feel a lot like saying that you can't play Team Fortress 2 or Starcraft unless you do 20 hours of Minesweeper first.

So I'm calling for MMOs to all start giving you the "real" game UP FRONT. From 2 hours in, at the latest. Questing can be fun (though this is highly dependent on setting and art direction), and I'm not saying you need to get rid of it. There's a reason it's been so successful as a grinding device. But Cataclysm will need to let you go to Deadmines or whatever around level 12. Champions needs to have some kind of real grouping content starting as soon as you get to Millenium City. And Aion needs to find a way to open up PvP and grouping sometime in the mid-teens. Hopefully, APB will let you engage in its core mechanics early, and SWTOR will launch you into the core story immediately, and STO will let you have some Starfleet battles and away teams right after the tutorial. Those activities, not questing, are the reasons why those games are interesting. Let the players actually play, instead of requiring they invest hours and hours of time to grinding first before being allowed to start the game they actually paid for. If you must have grinding, let me grind the actual game instead of some unrelated pre-requisite.

League of Legends has a progression system, called the "Summoner" system, where you as the player gain meta-levels outside of matches, allowing you to unlock talent points and rune slots to augment your in-game abilities. And how do you gain experience for your summoner?

Playing the game.

Let's have more of that, please.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Icecrown Lore Predictions: We Will Have a Lich Queen [updated]

UPDATE 2 (10/8/09): It would seem that Jaina is here to stay in her current form, given that the latest PTR patch gave her an updated, hi-res character model. We all know that Blizz wouldn't bother if she was just going to die in the 5-man or require a remodel. C'est la vie.

Well that was quick! Here's the beginning of the quest line to help Mograine create Shadowmourne! It appears that he reforges the base axe by combining Arthas's old paladin hammer, Light's Vengeance, with some super-saronite. Then, it seems clear that parts of Frostmourne are used to complete the weapon. This points pretty strongly to Frostmourne being broken; perhaps we discover in the Halls of Reflection that this is the key to defeating the Lich King. My theory was fun while it lasted, but clearly things are going in another direction. Sadly, sources are pointing to some seriously bad stuff going down in the HoR. Doesn't look good for poor Jaina or Sylvanas. Do they really have to kill (or reduce to "damsel in distress" status) the only famous women in Azeroth? Please be more original than that.
[/end update]

As we all know, I love making predictions. Even though I'm wrong more often than right, I find speculation about the future to be a great joy. Trying to predict it is a riveting puzzle to me. I'm the kind of person who nerds out hardcore for shows like Lost.

So naturally I locked onto yesterday's information about the upcoming Icecrown 5-man dungeons like a Democratic Senator locks onto failure. That is to say, hard.

You can read the dungeon reveal in full here. The part I'm most interest in is:

Halls of Reflection
With Jaina and Sylvanas leading the way, adventurers who make it as far as these frigid halls will quickly recognize the weapon that lies ahead: Frostmourne, the corruptive, legendary device of the Lich King himself. The Lich King's private chambers are within reach, although they may be the death of anyone who ventures there.

Boss: The Lich King: Sylvanas, thirsty for vengeance against the corrupted prince who sentenced her to an existence as an undead monstrosity, and Jaina, eager to find a flicker of Arthas's soul locked somewhere within the Lich King, have brought their hand-picked allies to this final confrontation. Arthas's true power may only now be discovered. Is there any hope in this mission, or does only death await?

So we'll be following Jaina and Sylvanas into the room where Frostmourne is. Before I get into that, let me remind you of a few other things we know from Blizzcon:
  1. Arthas will not drop Frostmourne in the Icecrown raid. He instead drops an Axe, heretofore unknown, called Shadowmourne.
  2. Blizzard has "very special plans for Frostmourne".
  3. Jaina Proudmoore was not mentioned at all in the lore spoilers revealed for Cataclysm.
  4. Sylvanas is mentioned in Cataclysm as leading a Forsaken assault on Gilneas, which serves as the basis for the new Battleground.
And as the final part of my setup, consider the following facts about the Lich King:
  1. He never goes anywhere without Frostmourne. It's one of the key fonts of his power.
  2. He keeps letting us live because he's got "plans for us".
  3. He needs a "win". He hasn't done any major damage to us since the Wrath Gate, and he needs something to establish him as a more threatening enemy, and not some comedically mustache-twisting cartoon villain.
  4. Arthas used to love Jaina. The original Arthas is mostly or completely gone, and even his heart has been destroyed. But perhaps the Lich King still has some remnants of feelings for her.

All of the above, taken together, leads me to believe that, at the end of the Halls of Reflection dungeon, Jaina takes up Frostmourne (for noble reasons, of course). She most likely presumes to use it as a weapon against him in a desperate moment, but it is in fact all part of his plan to corrupt her over to his side. I think it's the Blizzard writers' intent to continue the legacy of the Lich King after Arthas is killed at the end of this expansion, and I think the way to do that is to start Jaina on a path of being corrupted by Frostmourne (where Ner'zhul's spirit desperately survives), and eventually to becoming the Lich Queen, even after the King is dead. His plan is to bring her to stand at his side, but in the end she actually becomes his successor.

C'mon, you know the sexist Blizzard artists wouldn't be able to resist giving her a skull-bra.

But what of Arthas in Icecrown? If Frostmourne is so powerful, how could he risk giving it up when his enemies crowd his doorstep? Simple: he's forged a mothertrucking UPGRADE.

The first two wings of the dungeon are the Forge of Souls, which gathers and forges souls for some unknown purpose, and the Halls of Saron, which is the core of Arthas's saronite mining operation.

Now why would they have us go through a forge and then a mine before assaulting the very location where Frostmourne is stored?

To give us some context for Shadowmourne. The soulforge was already used to empower a rune axe constructed from the mined saronite.

So that's my prediction: that we'll see Jaina take up Frostmourne while Arthas wields Shadowmourne. After we kill Arthas, Jaina will continue to be subtly corrupted by Frostmourne before emerging as the Lich Queen.

I can't wait to see just how completely off the mark I am! But at least I had fun speculating.

Posting Slowdown

For a long time there, I kept up a 3 days a week posting schedule. As you may have noticed, I've fallen off the rails in that respect. This is not a post about quitting blogging or anything like that. But I can't fit in constant blogging with my current RL situation. So I'll be posting when I have both the time and (hopefully) something interesting to say. I'm still around, even if it's sporadic.