#WoW – Where I Learned to Pay Attention

Previous to WoD, if you played a second specialization (outside of mages, hunters, rogues and warlocks), you needed a 2nd set of gear.  Tanks, DPS and Healers needed different stats and you ended up with a full 2nd set of gear in the bag.  Leveling up this was even more ridiculous, as you’d hit cap and not have a single item for the 2nd spec.

WoD turns that around a fair bit.  Regular armor has multiple mail stats that vary depending on the spec in use.  So my monk is either Agility or Intellect based, depending.  This applies to the helm, chest, shoulders, legs, arms, wrist and feet.  I found this out the hard way, let’s say.

In order to run heroics you need to pass silver in the proving grounds.  Very similar to the Guardian challenge in TSW and in my opinion, the 2nd best thing MoP brought into the game (outside Flex raiding).  There are bronze, silver and gold runs for tanks, dps and healers, in increasing difficulty.

I had leveled as physical DPS, so the dps proving grounds were extremely easy.  I was geared, knew that I needed to interrupt and could move around to avoid stuff.  Simple cakes.

I mentioned before I wanted to try healing again, what with the DPS queues being stupid.  So I reset my macros and tried healing again.  Of note, I did heal as a monk on MoP, just not often.  I knew the rotation and the buttons.

I still failed bronze.  Badly.

I didn’t really understand why.  My skills were set up, my UI tweaked a bit.  I was pressing the right buttons.  So I tried again, and failed once more.  I started looking at the amount I was healing and realized it was quite low.  I looked at the gear quickly, sure enough my chest was Intellect as were other pieces. Try again, lose once more.

Frustrated at this point, I went over each piece on my character and noticed a big chunk was wrong.  Necklace, 2x rings, 2x trinkets, cloak and weapon did not have Intellect.  I was running at half power, at least.  So I looked at my handy treasure map, found a few intellect pieces I could collect, bought a weapon on the AH and went to work.

I passed silver without any real issues on the next attempt.  My healing normal healing throughput was what I was getting as a crit before.  Astounding difference in power and it just started going together.

So yeah, the proving grounds did what they were supposed to do.  Make me pay attention.  Lesson learned.

#WoW – More Things to do at 100

I think last night was my first full session at 100.  I mentioned previously that I was sort of dropped to my own devices when I completed Nagrand.  So what did I do?  I installed some mods.

Ok, not so fancy sure.  But this was a fresh install of WoW a month back and I didn’t really do anything that merited a mod.  This time, I opted for a few items.  Curse has all the mods listed, or a link at least.

  • A full UI replacement.  There’s not a lot to be said here than I think this should be the new default WoW UI.  It seems every game today allows the end user to manually move the elements around and ElvUI does that and more.
  • I’ve had this mod since Vanilla.  I have a long history with fishing.  WoW’s is the simplest implementation and casting in my garrison is great.  I’d have to triple check but I’m pretty sure I have 4 characters over 500 fishing.  I won’t bore you with the math about how many casts that took.
  • DeadlyBossMod.  Eh, don’t really need this yet.
  • HandyNotes + WoD treasures. This updates your map to show the location of treasures, points of interest and the rare spawns. There’s a fun part about discovery, certainly.  Then there’s the “where the hell is that box” part of it.
  • This gives you a popup anytime a rare is spotted near you.  I used this with my Hunter to find rare pets.  Works great in WoD since there are dozens of rares per zone.

So that stuff took a bit to set up.  But it’s good now.

I then focused on my garrison followers.  WoWhead has a good guide on it.  I had already collected 20 or so, so this was more of a stragglers issue.  In particular Leorjah who is practically hidden and the Archmage Vision (throwback to the TBC version).  In the process, I hit ~30 followers so I had to de-activate quite a few.  Considering I like some of the companions, that’s an odd choice to make.  So my thought process on hiding them is as follows:

  1. Focus on green-ranked followers
  2. Is one of the traits tradeskill based? A tradeskill I won’t use? (skinning).  Hide ‘em.
  3. Do they have traits that increase success, XP gained, reduce mission time or are a bodyguard? Keep ‘em.

I now have a few at level 100.  One in particular rolled great and has half mission time, double garrison rewards.  In a play session, I can get 2-3 missions out of him due to the short times, so I can collect ~200 resources.  Actually, I think I made about 1000 resources in 2 days because of that guy, combined with work orders on the mill.

This process had me running around the zones, finding folk and other rares I had missed.  I found some other treasures, completed some archeology (maxed now) and stored those results in my garrison.  Of really cool note, the back of your keep has a room built just for archeology finds.  That is amazeballs.  They are pre-slotted, so you can’t move them but it’s something.

Two particular notes to close off for now.  Archeology was/is/will be a pastime tradeskill.  Every other tradeskill interacts with some other feature (fishing is actually a big deal again) but not this one.  There’s some pretty cool lore and you get some items for the garrison.  What’s a little bugger is the way the zones work.  As an Alliance, I had 3 digsites in Frostfire – which is a massive pain to get to the first time and there’s only 1 flight point for the entire zone.  Eh.  Nagrand has digsites in the level 100 zones, where enemies have about a million hit points and you dig under them.  Since archeology dig sites are manually placed (I mean literally, someone picked the exact spots) there was obviously some logic applied here.  Why a flavor skill would put you in a heavy combat zone is beyond me.  As a monk, I send my cat to distract the enemies while I dig, then run away like a coward.  Works great.

The second part is a note on the music.  I typically play games with the music and sound are near equal levels.  Sound is a cue for action and there’s a certain rhythm to it.  WoD is a bit different in that the music has been updated but none of the sound has.  The speeches given by characters are still at near full level but the sounds – mounting, combat, clicking – are all disabled, while the music is full blast.  And there’s different music all over the place, 4-5 tracks per zone at least.  The garrison has one for the keep alone.  I am incredibly impressed.

#WoW – Level 100 Review

I hit 100 sometime over the weekend.  A week to clear “all” the content for leveling and I’ve upgraded my garrison to level 3.  When I completed Nagrand (which had a pretty neat cinematic) the final quest just dropped progress forward.  It was an odd feeling, sort of like hitting the finish line and then a lack of fireworks.  I was expecting some breadcrumbs to lead you to the other features.

The zones themselves are pretty well done.  Spires of Arak is my favorite zone as the lore is interesting.  Skettis has always piqued my interest and this zone does a super job explaining what happened to make them as they are.  Plus, there are next to no orcs in this zone.

The one I liked the least was Talador.  It was like a rehash of TBC and was more of an homage than actual progress.  Using a Shredder to attack hundreds of orcs wasn’t a whole lot of fun.  The garrison artillery skill was pretty cool though.  I went through Tuurem and didn’t notice til the end.  I spent the majority of my time in TBC within Terrokar, as it was the final point of leveling, was the central hub and had level 70 content as well.  I came out feeing “meh”.

Nagrand is an odd one.  There is a lot more vertical movement in this zone than I expected, in particular in the middle of the zone.  The elemental plateau was neat, as well as Oshu’gun.  That I took down the earth element lead in 10 seconds seemed pretty stupid to be honest but the story was solid.  The final quest taking on Garrosh was neat.  Also, the solo arena section was pretty cool, somewhat similar to the Brawling Guild.  The garrison buff that I took was a mount that I could use in combat, which is essentially a zone-wide speed boost.  Maybe there’s more content at 100, with what I hear about hunts.  Overall well done.

If I was to rank, favorite to least, it’d be something like this:

  1. Spires of Arak
  2. Shadowmoon Valley
  3. Nagrand
  4. Gorgrond
  5. Talador

What to do at 100

Well the first thing is to keep the garrison going and the missions.  I am running short on resources to update the buildings I have and still have an empty slot.  But that makes sense if there’s a long game.  I have an odd issue with the gathering garrison nodes.  The way the game works with these items is that you no longer need mining or herbalism.  Skinning can only be done in-field, so that still has some use.  Fishing is the odd one out, since it’s used for cooking and alchemy.  I have so many herbs and ore, I don’t know what to do with them.

The daily quests in the garrison are broken outside of the dungeon runs.  I say this in that the progress is for each takes a while and heavily contested.  If there was open grouping it wouldn’t be so bad but the way it’s implemented now is very poor.

Treasure hunting is neat but only 1 time.  There’s some interesting acrobatics involved to find some of them.  Rare hunting is fun too, with some interesting rewards.  It’d be better if the rewards reset on a weekly basis though, would keep people in the zones a bit more.  I mean that the rewards themselves are neat but of such low ilevel, that once you hit 100 there’s not much point to go back.  Timeless Isle worked because of the meta game, you gained faction/currency for something else.  The zones need this – and not just Nagrand.

I’ve yet to run a dungeon.  The first few weeks of an expansion are all about tweaking the content.  I think I’ll wait another while before giving it a shot.

Overall Impressions

The leveling experience of WoW 2.0 is pretty good.  My Timeless Isle gear was replaced pretty quickly and my monk had a good power curve for the entire process.  I took my time, did all the quests I could and really enjoyed the scenery.  I appreciate the lack of flight, it makes the world seem busier.  The open world content works well, with rares everywhere, treasures to find and things to do.  If they can make that content repeatable, then it’s gold.  The plot/story is confusing at times but decently executed.  There’s a heavy saturation of Orcs but that’s expected.

I took the time to read all the quest text, which certainly stretched out my adventure.  I think the first time through it took about an hour for the intro quest up until I had a level 1 garrison.  I did it the other night with an alt in about 20 minutes, just to have the resources generate.  I can see how people got to 100 so quickly, and really, I sort of feel bad for them.  There’s a ton of good work and the data motivates your character.  I’m thinking the writers had a lot of Game of Thrones viewing because main characters just dropped dead in every zone.  Understanding why they did is kind of core to the game, no?

Garrisons are a neat feature that has a fair amount of potential for the “long game”. That said, this is the first expansion in a long time that is so alt-unfriendly because of the garrisons.  I realize this must be something that’s hard to balance in terms of power output.  The old MoP gardens were just resource farms, simple an just made gold.  WoD’s garrisons actually give you tangible power rewards and sharing that across a slew of alts (I have 5 that are 90+) would “break” certain parts of the game I guess.  The social aspect of garrisons is also lacking.

But I guess the final question/answer boils down to, is it fun?  And the answer there is yes, 90 to 100 is fun. Lots of fun.

WoW – A Reboot by Any Other Name

The more I think of WoD, the more I think it’s an attempt to reboot WoW in its entirety –  WoW2 if you will.  Here are a few items to support that theory.

  • Everyone is given a “free” level 90, with the option to purchase more. This bypasses 10 years of content, provides you all the gear you need to start as well.
  • Each profession can be completed from 1 – max in WoD through catch-up mechanisms. This invalidates any gathering node from 1-90 and all crafting items, which also guts a fair chunk of the economy.
  • The story is a 30 year return in the past with new characters. The actions of the past 10 years have next to no impact on the events in WoD, with the exception of Garrosh breaking out of jail. The lore context is not used at all (Illidan, Lich King, Death Wing) might as well not have existed, other than a kick off point. Reminds me of Marvel’s What If?
  • A near brand new graphics engine for combat and presentation. The game doesn’t look 10 years old and the new architecture is based on merged realms.
  • All mechanics have been drastically simplified, which has dropped the skill cap by a large amount. It’s much less an RPG as it is an action game.
  • The only reason to do any of the “old” content is for achievements or pets/mounts/toys/transmog. Given the power curve, you don’t need other people to do this.

In reality, the game is more accessible today than it has ever been.  If you skipped 2 expansions, you can easily jump in.  Never played before?  Probably the easiest MMO to get into on the market today.  It’s clearly the least feature-rich expansion ever launched and you’d have trouble convincing me that it took 13 months between patches just for garrisons.

Simple sells.  It sells enough to put the game back above 10m subscribers.  Are garrisons enough to keep those people around longer than 3 months?

It’s certainly an interesting balance of changing the game enough to attract new folk while not alienating their core audience.

SWTOR / WoW – Stuck in the Middle

Safety Note to start the post.  Be smart, don’t tailgate a vehicle that you can’t see around.  My bus got rear-ended by a car today.  The bus won. It will always win.

Day 6 was better, so I’ll start with SWTOR first.

SWTOR

Today was credit making day.  Given that I’m only able to run a single session of crew skills, what with them each taking 20-30 minutes, it was a cycle session on the GTN.  I found a few items that didn’t sell, namely items in the 47-55 range since Makeb/Oricon replaces it all.  It’s funny how a level 46 item will sell easily and a 47 won’t get the light of day.

I also remembered that my older characters had bank accounts.  Bank accounts full of materials.  Materials that are worth credits.  My Sorc and Powertech both hit the 50 GTN cap well before the bank was empty.  My Operative and Juggernaut are still rookies though, so the bank is relatively empty except for legacy/custom gear.  Side note, weapons in SWTOR, while customizable and quite unremarkable.  Which is an odd contrast to other games with customization.  Reminds me a bit of the Esper in Wildstar, where the weapon is an afterthought.  SWTOR does have the best looking gear though.  That stuff is sweet.

My Sorc 3 days ago was at about 700k.  He’s at 1.2m now.  I think I’ve made about 1m across them all, which gets me closer to the Tatooine stronghold.  It’s nice to have a goal.  All this working up to Patch 3, the Shadow of Revan expansion, which I should be more than prepared for.

Side note for a future post.  I am confused by the Dev Blogs for SoR.  The goal of the expansion (in particular disciplines) was to get rid of skill bloat and hyrbridization (it’s now a word).  That the dev blogs are introducing new skills that supercede old ones is conflicting.  Not a new skill that’s standalone – a skill that replaces an old one.  I’ll get into that closer to release.

WoW

At 7:30 the queue was just short of 2000 but dropped relatively quickly – 45 minutes or so.  There were only a dozen or so servers with queue times based on the realm status page.  Area52 and Stormrage the only PvE ones as well, at least from what I could see.  Once I did get in, the server was relatively stable with only a few lag hiccups.  I was in long enough to complete Gorgrond.

Shadowmoon Valley kicks off the campaign for the Alliance.  It’s an decent story of the Draenei foothold in the lands, their massive attack by the horde and some cool sacrifice/birth of a hero substory (Yrel is neato – the only female lead I’ve even heard of in this expansion).  It’s very intro-based and the zone is open enough to have a view of everything.  The zone starts with orcs, goes to a bunch of animals that are poisoned, then finishes with orcs.  There’s a scenario of sorts to finish the zone.

Gorgrond is half about orcs and half about poisoned natural folks (a theme maybe).  You get to meet some Gronn as well.  I read all the quest text but it had nothing to do with anything outside of shamanism (you resurrect what appears to be a demi-god) until the last scenario quest.  That one was all orcs and you take on attacking a huge base.  I died.  A few times.  I could have just stayed back and let everyone else manage it.  Yrel was there and the demi-god.  I didn’t get the point of this story at all.  The outpost was a Lumber Mill which gave me a giant shredder.  The thing did no appreciable damage but did let me find some garrison resources, so yay?

2 zones in, level 94 now.  Can’t figure out what perks I’ve gained, though it almost appears as if they reset every log on.  I’ve gotten the improved chi(?) 3 times now, since every time I log back in I’m at 5 chi.  I am of the firm opinion that random perks while leveling is a stupid mechanic.

Garrison is still a tossup for me.  I upgraded my mine for 1000g.  Ore sells for about 6g per, so 3 days or so and I make my money back.  My follower missions are annoying, with only a single interface point per zone.  What happens is that when I get to that interface, all of them have completed, so there’s no actual decisions to be made about who’s going on the mission.  I see what’s there, it automatically sorts on who’s best and I just assign from the top down.  My 2 year old daughter plays more complex games.  94 and still haven’t figured out how to get a follower with me in the field.  I cut trees to get more resources, to do what exactly?  Run more missions?  I mean, it’s polished to high heck and you have decision points while leveling but it doesn’t yet have any real impact on the game.  I get 5 different quests per zone.  Whoopie.  I think the thing that annoys me the most is the complete lack of customization.  I can’t put trophies, or medals or items that represent my progress in a zone.  All I get are followers, who I can’t actually see outside of a menu.

So far, my experience is one of high polish but no depth.  And I’m simply a stone skipping across the surface.

Restarting the Story

Day 5.  Kids were tired so I was able to start WoW at about 7EST.  That had a queue of ~2400.  I just left it open and played some SWTOR in the meantime.  I think it was about 10pm when I could finally log in.  From the garrison to any other flight point gave me an error that the instance could not be loaded.  It also told me that the world server had crashed.  Quit that pretty quick.  Good news is that I have 5 more days of game time, so yay?  We’ll see tonight but from what I can tell, there are still a few dozen servers that are in the red.

SWTOR

I had mentioned that I cleaned out my bags and re-focused on making some credits right?  Well, the previous night’s purge gave me about 500K in sales.  I collected my crew skills, assigned new ones, posted on the GTN and then moved on.

To a Jedi Knight of all things.  I’ve heard that a Knight and Smuggler are somewhat on par in terms of story quality and I have an odd dislike for the Smuggler (due to the IA), so knight I went.  Funny story actually, as I had played a knight in the beta, so there were quite a few spots that were a sort of déjà vu feeling.  I had tried to do a few of the Tython quests in addition to the class ones.  I completed 1 of them total, due to the way the items and drops were spread out – which I remember as being a grind issue back in beta.

See, while leveling my other characters, I tend to pick up the nearby quests.  Incidental completion means free credits, exp and sometimes gear.  If a quest was above 75% complete, then I’d take the time.  If it wasn’t, then I’d drop it.  This was if it was even in line with where I was going.  So assuming the quest was in the path, I’d say about 50% or so could be completed.  Makeb was more like 100% but that’s an odd one.  That I only did 1 on Tython was odd.

So I leave Tython at 11 and completed Coruscant by 20.  I was leveling at a crazy pace and it was hard to keep a trainer nearby to stay on track.  Eh.  I also wasn’t paying a ton of attention and forgot to get my advanced class after Tython and only did it at 20.  You forget about the playstyle differences between the classes.  I opted for a DPS only knight (sentinel), who from what I hear is the highest DPS class in the game.  We’ll see how that runs out.

Story-wise there’s not much to report.  The decisions given strongly push you to light side.  The dark side choices aren’t evil per-se, just a strong push for an emotional response.   Feelings lead to the dark side I guess.  I do find it funny to be called “the strongest jedi ever met” and I’m only level 10.  I’m fighting apprentices and masters like it’s a big deal.  From a story perspective, I get that line of thinking.  The level is an MMO mechanic, so that a level 10 sith master is technically weaker than a level 54 frog, but lore-wise it’s the opposite.

Story closing Tython and Coruscant is 2 folks who turned dark (or were always) and I hunted them down.  I’m the jedi police.  Balmorra is next I think.  I took slicing to get some cash while levelling.  The speed of progress meant that I was too low level to pick up boxes in the sewer portion (there are like, 50 friggin’ lock boxes there) but I’m good now for the next planet.  Companions are ho-hum, with a droid and a jedi padawan at my side, neither of which has much of a character to speak of.  I hear the story gets a lot stronger later on, in particular when you get Scourge at the tail end.  Looking forward to that.

What’s neat is that when my night was over, I logged into my Dromund Kass (Empire) stronghold with my jedi.  I think it’s a smart thing to have a single house for all alts.  Quite a few games support this today, or at least access from an alt to a main’s house.  SWTOR isn’t super alt friendly, but with legacy perks, collectible gear and strongholds being shared, it’s a solid step.

Queues and Musings

Almost a rhyme.

WoW Queues

In which I posit a theory that analytics predicted the issue with queues.  First off, the playerbase over time debate.  See subscription numbers, vs Expansion dates.  Data points for 2014 are in.

wowsubs

  1. There’s always an uptick a few months before an expansion.  One measured in millions of players.
  2. Vanilla gained the most players (highest vertical)
  3. BC had continual growth.
  4. WotLK had a great launch and then went flat.
  5. Cataclysm was not favorably seen by the majority of the playerbase and has had the largest drop.  There was never an uptick.  And this is when you got D3 for free if you subbed for a year…which is the flatline.
  6. MoP had a decent launch but suffered a massive drop that eventually stabilized and had an uptick.
  7. There’s an uptick pattern for WoD.

Specifically for populations on servers.

  1. That said, given that there haven’t been any server closures, there are ~40% less people playing than at peak in WotLK.
  2. Blizzard’s method of merging is called connected realms, which puts two more servers together in order to balance populations.
  3. Some realms have never been connected and have always had high populations.
  4. Stormrage is the Alliance server, Area 52 the Horde one, where the ratios are extreme variants (95:1).  PvE specific.
  5. Due to flying since BC, open-PvP in WoW is more or less dead, making PvP servers redundant outside of a) ganking and b) timeless isle.  (My thought is that TI was a test base for no-flying in WoD, in particular the PvP implications).
  6. PvE servers are Alliance favored, PvP are Horde.
  7. All this to say that servers have high concentrations of players of a particular faction and that this trend has increased overtime.  e.g. Alliance players will tend to move to Alliance heavy servers.  It’s a funnel effect.

All that data to say that patterns indicate an uptick of ~1 million players.  Those players would be concentrated on a specific set of servers and that those servers are faction-weighted.  The “queue cap” if you will, seems to hover around 150,000 players (not absolute but scale), with quite a few servers containing many more players.  Actually, it was closer to 100,000 at WoD launch, then was raised over the weekend.  Fixed sever sizes and allocations are not feasible with such large swings between the servers.

Dynamic resource allocation (think the Amazon Cloud) is about the only way to manage this type of problem.  Connected Realms do a bit of this.  Instancing all of WoD does this as well.  However, the scale of this instancing has yet to support the servers with > 200,000 players.  They have stated that they want to address that this week.

For clarity, this isn’t a hardware issue. It’s a service issue. Building a cloud like service with 10 year old tech ain’t easy. Heck, it’s hard with 1 year old tech. My issue isn’t that the solution is complex, readily agree. My issue is that the evidence rather clearly pointed to this problem (and could address a lot of the population issues) if more efforts were put on it. Though, knowing Blizz, in crunch time they tend to align with polish rather than below water tech. After all, most people will forget about this in 3 months and complain the servers are empty again.

In an ironic twist, this is pretty much what SWTOR has in place, though that game doesn’t have seamless phasing between instances.

SWTOR

From that segue, I completed the Imperial Agent storyline due to the 12 hour queue in WoD.  I was pleasantly surprised at the final twists.  I thought it was a bit odd for the final decision to be done through proxy and that the choice, while in character, was likely not the one considered canon.  I decided to side with the Empire and serve the Sith, rather than intelligence proper.  Still, a fun and solid story, by far the best of the bunch so far. And with a better understanding of talents and power, the use of stealth made each mission fly by.

I bought the apartment on DK for 5,000, just to get an idea of what to expect.  I’m not poor, with somewhere around 3m across the 4 characters, but decided to hold off the Tatooine investment for now.  Placed some items, completed the quest, got some conquest harvesting items too.  Looks neat, though it’s more akin to Lego than a freeform service like Wildstar or Rift.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at improving my financial position.  That meant emptying the bags on the GTN (auction house).  That’s been somewhat fruitful.  Looking at the long game though, I wanted to see which tradeskills turned the best profit.  Suffice to say that crafting items seems to turn a fair bit less than simply selling the base materials, at least for now.  And that the sweet spot of cash making is not in top tier material.  In my traditional ways, I have a spreadsheet of all the material I can dig up based on my gathering tradeskills.  Some are clearly more profitable than others.  So much so that my Sorcerer, while completing some GSI missions on Makeb, ran a few crew skills and has a potential profit of 300,000.  My other 55s are all running their own as well, with 2-3 minutes of work setting up about 50,000 each of sales (log on, collect previous skills & GTN, post new items, assign new skills).

I am hesitant to spend any of the credits on temporary items, such as gear, given that the expansion is 2 weeks away.  My 140/156 mods are more than enough for now.  So for now, I’ll just run crew skill missions and see about getting a Republic character off the ground with the 12x boost.