Shadowlands: Making Hell Less Hellish?

I asked for one thing and one thing only for Christmas in 2019. I wanted the family to buy a copy of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands and give it to me as a gift, because there wasn’t much else I wanted and I knew I’d be buying and playing the game anyway.

Raid nights in World of Warcraft have become the modern equivalent of the 1960-1970’s bowling nights that my parents set their calendars by. Raiding is my excuse to go out and talk to friends organized around a common goal. WoW is one of my religions, in other words.

…and I treat it like most people treat their religion. There is a lot of stuff in there that I don’t do, but I show up for the big gatherings so that I can pretend I’m part of the thing that is greater than I am by myself. Myself as a middling average MMO player. Try killing a raid boss by yourself and tell me how easy it is if you don’t think raiding doesn’t make you part of something greater than yourself. On second thought, don’t tell me. I won’t believe you anyway.

For fifteen years leading up to this point in the lore that World of Warcraft is based on, I’ve been telling fellow players Sylvanas wants to be the next Lich King.” I’ve been waiting for the day when she would approach the Frozen Throne of the Lich King to take the helm of domination from the creature that had once been Bolvar Fordragon. As it turns out, I was wrong. This is revealed in the trailer for Shadowlands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4gBChg6AII

It was after watching this trailer that I decided I would just go ahead and get someone to pre-purchase a copy of the game for me. The family even sprang for the collector’s edition and got me a unique mount, transmog, pets and hearthstone. Then the wait began. A longer wait than there ever had been between two expansions in the history of the game. They even truncated the final story arch for Battle for Azeroth because they really needed the programmers to focus on ironing out the bugs in Shadowlands.

Shadowlands Developer Update with John Hight and Ion Hazzikostas Liveblog posted 2020/07/08

It was a grand scheme that they were setting themselves to achieve, and I cheered them all the way to the finish line. When the pre-patch rolled out I started leveling alternate characters for the first time since Warlords of Draenor, and started my first new toons from level one since Pandaria. That is how daunting the level grind from 1 to 90, 100, 110 and 120 was. It was hard enough in Wrath just getting to 80, and the level grind on foot in Classic World of Warcraft is interminable. But then, Classic WoW was about the role-playing and not about the endgame. Not for the average players.

In Shadowlands the leveling to 50 is effortless. It is so effortless that you can easily find it meaningless. At least it is doable in a few days time now, and you can create as many characters as you need without having to invest a month on each one leveling to max. This is important because every expansion of the game since the Classic game was introduced in 2004 has been centered around endgame play and the multiplayer (maximum of 30 players) raids that are part of the endgame. The players are so focused on the endgame that most of them only play the other content in the game to the extent that they are required to play it in order to be allowed to get into raids. They set clocks, and then race to max level, never stopping to enjoy the sights along the way.

Not me. I am a true Austinite. I am a slacker. As a slacker, I’m going to progress at exactly the speed required to get to where I want to be by the time I’m supposed to get there. So I waited for the game to release. Patiently, and then impatiently, and then finally really, really hoping that it would come out soon.

“You have our commitment that we will be releasing Shadowlands this fall,” executive producer John Hight announced today, “even if we end up shipping it from our homes.”

eurogamer.net

As luck would have it, I was on the tail-end end of a 30 hour manic bender when the game went live on Tuesday October 27, 2020. Because of that I was completely out of sorts through the first intro sequence in the game. It was longer than most of the other expansion’s introductions, and smacked of being lead by Khadgar through the perils of Draenor under the control of Garrosh’s Iron Horde. This was not boding well for me, because Warlords of Draenor is hands down my least favorite of the World of Warcraft expansions, and was the largest contributor towards my taking a hiatus from the game for a year of Legion.

I decided to get some sleep and start fresh the next day, but I have to say that even with fresh eyes, I wasn’t very impressed with the styling of the game. You start off in the Maw, most players least favorite region to play in (more on that in a bit) it is the Shadowlands version of hell, and it is familiarly hellish in that most of the architecture appears to be drawn straight from early models of Diablo I, II & III (I hear Diablo IV is on the drawing board now, too) The Jailer’s attempts a being ominous are mildly convincing if not clearly contrived.

You of course escape hell er, the Maw, and then find you have been transported to the part of the afterlife that isn’t Hell. Again, there is a vague familiarity about the creatures that is reassuring if not slightly tedious. I’m not sure what to expect from a game I’ve been playing for over a decade that keeps insisting on changing while at the same time staying essentially the same.

The first character that you take through the content is required to engage with the content directly by playing through the various regions of the afterlife. Mercifully you are allowed to skip this tour with all characters after the first one. I didn’t get interested in the story until reaching Ardenweald, the fourth of five new areas that you must play through, where I intended to spend as much time as possible in the game. Since I play druids as my main characters, being in the nature zone of Ardenweald seems perfectly fitting for the headcanon that I’ve set up and still desperately try to maintain for my characters. Going to the final zone and meeting the villain that will be the final boss in the first Shadowlands raid was almost an anticlimax after spending time romping around Ardenweald in my druid’s stag travel form, picking flowers (herbalist) and making potions (alchemist).

The developers are of course keeping us on the ground yet again in this expansion. I’ve resigned myself to flightlessness in new expansions, although I bridle at being lectured about flying by blue angels that can’t seem to figure out what wings are for themselves. There are fractured ground structures that have to be navigated in order to do anything in game, and no road leads directly anywhere, if you can find a road at all, another designer ploy that is tiresomely consistent across every game I play these days. If only we could fly. If only.

I don’t think they understand the level of frustration that their mazes induce in people who can get lost going from the front door of their house to the bathroom. But then the developers clearly aren’t designing the game for nearly sixty year-old Meniere’s sufferers with dysgraphia either. For us there is TomTom. Learn it, love it, live and die by it.

I don’t know who these blue angels are. Bastion? What is Bastion? Ah, the ferryman on the river Styx have moved up to angel status. Okay, I’ll accept that, even if I can’t figure out why I would submit to having my memories pulled out of my ears and then be set to the task of ferrying souls for an eternity. It’s a purpose, I guess. If I find a class that will need to stay there in order to make them most effective for endgame play, I will take the time to figure out the why of that area’s story.

Maldraxxus is a little harder to deal with. Too much slime, not enough honor to be the Valhalla it is trying to pretend it is. More of Hel’s undead (especially looking like Hel’s army in Thor: Ragnarok) than of Odin’s Valhalla, and we’ve seen what that looks like in Legion. This touches on a major objection that I’ve heard more than once about this expansion. We already know about the afterlife in the universe that Warcraft is set in, don’t we? The Loa? The Light? It’s almost like they tacked on the bits that were established afterlife lore in the previous versions of the game as an afterthought in this expansion, making the Loa into natural demigods that are beneath the notice of the Winter Queen (not this Winter Queen) and the elementals don’t even figure into the afterlife at all. Which is odd, since they are spirits. The Light shows up in Bastion somewhere, so I’ve heard.

Maldraxxus and its central battle arena is just more of that glory of endless battle bullshit that teenagers think is fun. What is the point of this? On the other hand, the House of the Chosen offers the first bit of hope that I might find some tidbit of storyline to hang onto in Maldraxxus, but then only if that means I get to vacuum up all the slime and get to straighten all the walls so they are perfectly vertical again. Giving a druid a runesword? Yeah, that makes sense. Glad I didn’t have to keep the cursed thing. If I ever get around to playing Deathknights again, they’ll enjoy the hell out of Maldraxxus.

Revendreth, the fifth and final area of Shadowlands that you visit, and its ruler Sire Denathrius, both look like they come out of old English fiction. A sort of blend of Elric of Melnibone and the background lore of every vampire novel ever written, with a little bit of the Prisoner thrown in as flavoring. I really don’t know what to say about this region. It is the only part of the afterlife that vaguely makes sense in relation to the rest of World of Warcraft lore, and that only because it seems to tie into story arcs that have been developing in the background since the beginning:

BellularGamingThe ANCIENT Dreadlord Scheme Revealed – Sep 15, 2020

…But then the Dreadlords never seemed to fit into the rest of the lore that was set out for Warcraft or World of Warcraft. Where they came from and what they were was never quite clear. Apparently it will be made clear in this expansion, if game lore is your thing. Look for the Lost Journal in Revendreth to find the book Enemy Infiltration – Preface and read it for yourself.

The important part of this entire story (for me anyway) can be summed up in a few short sentences. The raid fights are new and interesting and include fight mechanics that have not been part of fights in previous expansions of World of Warcraft. Both silly and difficult, they offer a diversion to players who are looking for multiplayer challenges to make their lives more meaningful. At least that part of the game lived up to expectations. I would be pretty bored if it didn’t.

Mythic Trap: Castle Nathria Raid

As I get back into raiding again after being forced out of my weekly routines by having to do without electricity and water for almost a week here in Austin, the news arrives that Blizzard is once again changing the game that they never can seem to just leave well enough alone:

In an interview with Polygon prior to BlizzConline’s opening ceremony, Feasel and Frank Kowalkowski, World of Warcraft’s technical director, spoke about how The Maw will expand and evolve in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ upcoming 9.1 patch, Chains of Domination. The Maw is about to become a warzone, ironically making it a much safer place for the Champions of Azeroth.

polygon.com (spoilers)

Making hell less hellish kinda defeats the point of hell. Expecting people to want to spend time in hell? That is where Blizzard went off the rails. Killing demons in Diablo by the dozens with a single strike is what makes that version of hell entertaining for some people. Why you go back after defeating the Devil the first time? That is the question that needs answering here.

Still, turning the Maw into a warzone? Okay, that might prove to be interesting enough to make me give it a second pass now. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime I’ll be over in Ardenweald trying to earn the reputation for my Winter Queen’s court. Oh, and also grinding reputation with the Avowed so that I can help make shadestones for those expensive raid cauldrons that we have to set out twice a night.

Be seeing you.”

Eternity vs. Finality

“Join us in undeath” she said, in a quavering voice. It was definitely a female voice. I was just as sure that I had misheard her.

“Beg pardon?” I asked.

“Give in to the truth.” she whispered. “Join us in undeath.”

“I’m afraid I can’t understand you. Are you saying you are not alive? Then how are you speaking?”

“Many things speak that have not life.” The voice replied. “Do the rocks not shout their permanence at you? Does the water not speak of eternal motion? Is it so hard to believe in undeath?”

“Well, since you put it that way” I said “why don’t the things that speak as you suggest not use words that I can understand?”

“Can you not understand permanence? Can you not comprehend endless motion?”

“I began and I will end.” I said. “That is the truth that I know. What can I really know of permanence? What temporary being can comprehend eternity? I can grasp the concepts. I can’t really know the meaning.”

“Then join us.” The voice repeated. “Join us in undeath.”

“Let’s say I believe you are undead.” I replied. “What does that mean? Do you have substance? I can’t see you.”

“We are all around you. You cannot see us because your impermanence will not let you see. You have but to speak assent, and you will be one of us.”

“I will assume then that you do have substance. Are you confined within that substance forever? Or can you change what you are?”

“We are not water and we are not rocks. We are neither permanence nor fluidity. We are undeath.”

“Ah. So you are defined by what you are not. You are the alternative to death?”

“We are undeath”

“Yes. I think we’ve established that fact.”

“Do not mock that which you cannot understand.”

“No offense intended. I beg your pardon ma’am. I just want to know why this choice is being offered to me now?”

“All who face death are offered this choice at their moment of transition.”

“You mean my time is up then?” I hadn’t thought about where or when I was until this very moment. Where was I? It wasn’t home, wherever this place was. It was too… fuzzy. Worse than my usual myopia. Were those my bookshelves? No. No, mine were not that large. Or were they smaller than mine? Were they even shelves? Bars, maybe? It was so damn hard to see. Where were my glasses? I started to reach out and realized that I had no arms. I didn’t have legs either, now that I tried to move those. They were simply not present. I started to panic. “What has happened to my body? Where am I?”

“Your people have many names for this place. The place of transition? Translation? Perhaps you wait for the ferryman? Purgatory? It is hard to say what concept that you would find meaningful in its description. It is the place of gathering. It is the place of weighing and judging. All come here before taking their place in the universe.”

“My wife and children? Are they here too?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Are they here now?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Can I see them? Can I talk to them?”

“This is your time and place. Yours and yours alone. Choose now.”

“All right then. What are my choices?”

“Ending or remaining are your choices. Choose.”

I contemplated existence. It had been a good life. She was beautiful, my wife. Maybe not beautiful to other people, but beautiful to me. She showed up just when I needed her in life, and stayed with me through all the ups and downs. We had beautiful children. They grew and moved on and had their own children.

I had work that had been rewarding. I had made the world a better place, I hoped anyway. It had been a good life. “What is there here that would make me want to stay here?” I asked.

“There is continued existence.” The voice said. It sounded impatient now. Demanding. “You will not cease to be and will continue on as you are now. Choose.”

I surveyed my existence. I couldn’t really see. There was little to hear other than the voice. What feeling there was was vague, but not unpleasant. It was a feeling like the edge of sleep. I could go on dreaming like this forever if I wanted. Surveying the landscape of my past life, possibly glancing other times and worlds. “Is this all that there is here?” I asked.

“Choose.” said the voice. It was definitely impatient now.

I wanted to see Terry again. I wanted to see her and Susan and Bill. To see them and their kids. I wanted to see mom and dad again, though they have been dead for years now. Now? What is now anyway? Eternal presence? I wanted to see my grandparents again, lost to me so long ago that their faces are blurred by time itself. I wanted to live, but living was over. Living was not a choice that I had now.

“Let me go,” I said.

“The choice has been made.” said the voice.

There was a blinding light. I blinked my eyes. There was a field in front of me. In the distance I could see Terry and the kids, and their kids in front of them. Behind them was mom and dad and their parents and their parents, parents waiting. Waiting in a field of flowers.

I had made the right choice. I ran to them with open arms and they opened their arms for me in anticipation. “I’m free,” I thought. “I’m fr…”

Afterword

This is the kind of thing that sprouts up in your head after you’ve spent a solid 36 hours straight turning other players and non-player characters into zombies during the pre-patch event for Shadowlands. Featured image is a screencap from the Shadowlands cinematic trailer.

10 Stacks of Determination

My raiding guild went into Uldir to get the achievement Glory of the Uldir Raider. I just happened to be free that night, so I tagged along for the experience. Like most meta achievements, this one grants a new in-game mount that you can show off to people who aren’t lucky enough to be part of a successful raiding guild.

All of the achievements that are required to get the raid-wide meta were pretty straightforward. We only had to reset the boss (pulling them out of the room the fight is supposed to occur in usually achieves this goal) a few times in order to get all of them, and so we ended up with the mount at the end of the day’s run.

On the last boss (G’huun – wowhead, blizzardwatch) several people voiced the opinion that they hated that fight. I know why they hate it. It is a fiddling, unforgiving fight when it comes to getting the mechanics down correctly. You have to understand how far you can throw the power matrix in the fight. You have to know which ground effects do what, where to stand and which effects can be damaged and removed by you. You have to know which adds to focus on and when. It is a complex fight.

I love that fight. I love it because the fight can’t be bulldozed. It is frustrating and it is unforgiving, and I love it. I love it either in spite of or because of the fact that I could reliably be summoned into that fight in Looking for Raid (LFR) when it was the end of progression in Battle for Azeroth, the current expansion for World of Warcraft. I love it because if you simply understand the mechanics of the fight and can execute them correctly, you can defeat the boss without too much trouble. Most probably I love it because most World of Warcraft players hate it, and would rather quit raiding than have to work that hard to defeat a boss.

In LFR, G’huun was a test of fire. We went through thousands of players in the cumulative months that G’huun was the last boss in the expansion, thousands of players joining and quitting while I and the other determined players just waited for that right random group of newbs to come along that could understand that the fight wasn’t about killing the boss. It was about satisfying the mechanics of the fight so that you could get the privilege of facing off against the boss. Dozens of newbs at a time would show up and complain not this boss, and then bail out.

Some of them had done the boss before that week. I know there was a few times I was one of them. When I was tanking on my Druids Tarashal or Tharthurm, I almost never got to kill the first boss of that wing of the raid before having to tank G’huun, the final boss. Tanks never have to wait to get into a raid. Almost never. No one ever wants to tank and few players want to heal. I play Druids most often these days precisely because I can fulfill any required role in the fight. Taunting, damaging, or keeping players alive. I don’t really care which role I get to fulfill just as long as I get to play.

It is those others, those players that only want to play characters that can inflict damage that are the bane of LFR. If you play a class that can only deal damage, your queues are anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, just waiting to be summoned into an instance. And yet, after having to wait an hour they would see it was the last boss and not the first one, and they would bail on the fight. Half of those players could have done at least one of the other two roles in the fight, but refused to take that kind of responsibility, thusly making the damage queues even longer by not checking off the box that says “yes I’ll heal” or “yes I’ll tank”. It is those players disgust at having to do something complex that they didn’t want to have to learn, even though they clicked on the raid finder and signed up to do that raid. Their disgust at having to do that fight one more time. It gave me an inner glow.

ranthonyings

When I said I loved this fight in raid chat that night with my raiding guild, I misspoke. I said that I kicked thousands of players from the fight and that was why I loved it. I probably only initiated kicks on dozens of players. Trolls. Elitists. Whining complainers. I kicked dozens of those. Shut up and do your job or leave. It is really just that simple.

Uncomfortable conversations.

Uncomfortable conversations are why I don’t like talking as much as I like writing. I kicked dozens of players for saying things like this fight is easy. For castigating healers for letting them die. For blaming the tanks for wipes, especially when I wasn’t the tank. If I’m tanking, and someone says you suck I just leave the group. This is especially true if we’ve killed a boss or wiped on a boss previously in the group. If you’ve done either of those in the group before you leave, you can leave without getting the 30 minute coward debuff. Tanks get right back in another raid, so why stay where you aren’t wanted? Aside from which, the group you just left will wait an hour for another tank to show up. Waiting through dozens of trolls that get bored and pull the boss just for kicks, or in the mistaken belief that 10 stacks of determination would give them the buff they needed to beat the boss. I’ve met a few of those in this expansion. 10 stacks of determination and we can beat him! Not this boss.

It was when I was tossing power matrixes on Benelbur that I realized I loved the fight. There were several times I would be sitting alone with that Gnome Mage just waiting for twenty-four other players to show back up and try again. There was one time when we had the smoothest crew on power matrixes and we couldn’t get a tank that could deal with the complexity of the fight down on the floor. We went through three sets of tanks before we had one guy who was well geared enough to do it alone, and we knew we could get the origination beam to fire and the real fight to begin. That made all those hours of work that day worth the trouble. I made new friends that day, as I did most days when I found someone else who was willing to take the time to master a task for the sheer pleasure of it.

Those were my best friends when I was drafting for a living, too. Those people who were not afraid of learning CAD. People who were not threatened by something new they didn’t understand. Those people are treasures to me. They don’t need ten additional stacks of determination because they were born with ten stacks of their very own. Just point them in the right direction and get out of the way, because they will figure out what needs to be done and get it done if you simply give them the space to do it in.

An Empty Heart

I’ve known a simple fact about MMO programmers for awhile now. They don’t understand why people have more than one toon to play in the first place. In their eyes, you play your one character and you only play that one character. You are, after all, only one person. One player.

As if any of us is really only one thing all the time.

They may understand a player wanting to be self-sufficient in gameplay, but it is their goal to keep you from being self-sufficient. They want you to trade with other characters directly or buy off the auction house. If you are a regular raider you will end up relying on your guildmates to help you because you will have no choice. The programmers and developers want it to be this way; and really, MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. There is no point in dealing with strangers in a game if you can do everything yourself. If you can generate the food, potions, gear, gems and enchants all on your own then there is no working economy in the MMO, and the game will eventually die from a lack of players.

Getting beyond the simple desire to provide what you need to play without having to spend precious gold to do it, there are other reasons to play alternate characters (alts) than wanting to be able to max out all your professions and flood the auction house with goods that other players will have to buy from you. Sometimes you just want to be someone else in the game. And that someone else has to be capable of playing at the level that your other character plays at in order to be of any use to your friends that you have to rely on.

…and that observation brings me to the subject of this post. In the last World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, they introduced a new type of gear that was permanently equipped. It was called an artifact, and in Legion the artifact item was your weapon. You got that weapon at the beginning of the expansion and carried it to the end of the expansion, upgrading it as you went along. The linear nature of the item and the requirement that it had to be uniquely upgraded for each character essentially kept players from leveling any alt characters that could rival their first/main toons in power and ability in-game, without spending the exact same amount of time working on each and every alt that you wanted to level.

When Blizzard introduced Battle for Azeroth (BfA) they destroyed the special powers of our artifact weapons, rendering them useless aside from the ability to transmogrify their unique appearances onto our new weapons (I especially like the blue and cinnamon bear models for druids) and they introduced the new artifact that we would be using for the entire BfA expansion, the Heart of Azeroth. That artifact has a similar leveling system to the one that was in the weapons in Legion, without all the unique appearances that made leveling up your artifact in Legion something that you enjoyed doing.

Since there is no player reward for leveling the artifact, there has been a lot of complaining about the limitations that the Heart of Azeroth and the azerite system imposes on players, and the additional work that goes into leveling each and every alt through the exact same grind that each player has done on their main toon.

I skipped most of Legion, so I didn’t spend a lot of time working on and gaining abilities with my artifact weapons before they took them away from us. I also didn’t notice that the azerite system in the Heart of Azeroth was really any different than the grinding that was required to level weapons in Legion. I do miss my alternate characters and I haven’t taken the time to level alts in any real shape or form since Mists of Pandaria ended. Since Warlords of Draenor bored me into playing different games for over a year.

So this is me, dusting off my keyboard for a little bit of reflection on the subject of artificial limitations and the programmers that think we can’t see them out there setting limits on us.

Back in the day, I wrote quite a few pieces on this subject. I wrote one on endgame materials scarcity in Wrath of the Lich King. In Cataclysm I mused on the quandary of Murglesnout and marveled at the amount of materials it took to make a single trinket for my inscriptionatrix. During those brief span of years I managed to get myself kicked off the forums multiple times by moderators intent on maintaining the illusion that the game was fun, fun, fun! all the time.

I last ventured onto the forum during the great #NoFlyNoBuy revolt, where I penned a piece titled Flight Has Always Been a Perk; An Example of Confirmation Bias. After the end of Warlords of Draenor, as Legion was being rolled out, I got fed up with the design philosophy of the developers at Blizzard and decided to take a year off of World of Warcraft.

When I came back to the game at the end of Legion, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t take the game seriously anymore. I deleted half my characters in order to prove to myself that I was serious about not taking the game seriously. If the developers at Blizzard decided not to put flight into the game, well, that was the game I was playing when I signed up. If they decided that you had to work three hours a day, every day, just to keep up in the game, well, that was the game I was playing. Admittedly, I don’t spend more than my subscription fee to stay in the game anymore, so my gifts to Blizzard for their content has dropped off a bit since I first subscribed back at the end of Burning Crusade.

This is me, trying not to take the fun things in life seriously. But still, I think it bears mentioning that I would have a lot more fun in the game if I just could play my alts at the same level that my main toon can play without having to spend months of additional work building their artifacts up to the level that my main is at.

This week Blizzard introduced what they are calling the Echoes of Ny’alotha system into Battle for Azeroth, making it possible for players to purchase the essences they have earned on their mains for the (empty) Heart of Azeroth on their alts. The most common response to players who rebel at being asked to spend even more time in-game grinding on content is,

What? Do you want free gear then?

Now that you mention it, yes. Free gear would be nice. I really don’t see why we are required to re-level alt gear through several layers of endgame content just to be able to play with our friends. But wanting free gear is beside the point here. Essences for the Heart of Azeroth artifact are not gear. The Heart of Azeroth does take up a gear slot on your character (your necklace) but it is not gear in the normal sense of gameplay anymore than the Legion weapons were gear in the normal sense. Most of us have been working on leveling the Heart of Azeroth for two years. It isn’t something you can just replace with a better piece of gear when it happens to drop in dungeons or raids or quests.

Essences serve the same purpose that relics served in Legion weapons. Unlike Legion relics, essences are assembled through specific actions by the player and are a permanent part of the Heart of Azeroth. In other words, essences are not gear that drops and you can equip or replace them as you desire. They are more like talents that you can select after you have enabled them. For as long as World of Warcraft is called Battle for Azeroth, the essences will be part of your Heart of Azeroth.

Essences are the key to being able to do your job in a raid setting, and some of us want to raid on more than one toon. Asking people to work through content they have already done, on toons they no longer want to play, to get essences they’ve already earned once, is insulting. Blizzard should just make the damn things account wide. The way they should have been treated from the beginning of BfA.

If there is one reason I don’t play alts in BfA, this is it. This was true for Legion as I mentioned previously. I can’t just get on an alt and play when I want to play an alt. I have to grind through lower level content, or even more of the same content I’m already playing, in order to play the alt and do the other thing I wanted to do with it if that other thing requires that I be competitive.

Blizzard insists that their new currency system allows essences to be account-wide. There still aren’t account-wide essences if I have to buy them after working to get them on one toon. I can’t believe that real people are applauding this new currency system. If I have a 120 toon, all the essences I’ve earned on other toons should be available to that toon. Like pets are, like toys are, like mounts are and, oh yeah, like heirloom gear is! those things really are account-wide. Why should I have to work to gain the things again at all? I’ve already done it once.

I have other games I’d rather be playing, will be playing. I don’t need to be given more work to do in game in order to be able to play the parts of the game I want to play. If I’m starting over, then I have other games I am neglecting that I probably should start instead.

Patch 8.3 Visions of N’Zoth

This is something I’ve never done before, set out to learn about the content of a patch before the patch drops. Today is patch day. When the servers go live after morning maintenance today (Tuesday January 14, 2019) World of Warcraft patch 8.3 Visions of N’Zoth will be the version of the game that we all will be playing.

If you are like me, you have no idea what is in that patch. Never fear, Wowhead is here. Wowhead.com: Patch 8.3 Visions of N’Zoth Battle for Azeroth (BFA) Content Overview. I’ve been relying on Wowhead for about a decade now. I’ve been a contributor for about that long as well, which means I upload my data to Wowhead’s servers so that they can crunch all the numbers and tell us all where the things we want will be dropping most frequently. When I have a quick question that needs to be answered about World of Warcraft, Wowhead.com is where I go to get that general question answered. So what is in Patch 8.3?

Features of Patch 8.3 include the Mechagnomes and Vulpera as new Allied Races, a new raid Ny’alotha the Waking City, new world activities in Titan Assaults and Horrific Visions, heritage armor sets for Worgen and Goblins, and Auction House improvements!

Wowhead.com

The new raid will not be available until next Tuesday (January 21) but all the rest of the patch’s content will start being available to the player base when maintenance ends this afternoon, scheduled for 3:00 pm PST.


I had hoped to get back to this post before server time today. I had hoped that the patch had pre-loaded like most patches do for World of Warcraft. But, alas, the patch is loading now (7:30 pm) so I’m not raiding. The guild also isn’t raiding. They aren’t raiding because they are busily grinding on the new content trying to upgrade their new legendary cloaks.

Leveling the cloaks is important because leveling the cloak will allow you to equip more of the new corruption gear as it drops. This is the mechanic that insures that people cannot just buy into gear upgrades. They will have to play the game on their main toons in order to equip new gear.


I didn’t even have a main toon until the Legion expansion of the game. I played all my toons according to what mood I was in. If I was in a killing mood, I played Eieloris or one of my other Rogue toons. Stunning, pickpocketing and shanking players and NPC’s repeatedly. Nothing relieves the desire to strangle somebody more than garroting somebody. Or just strangulating somebody, a Death Knight talent. Death Knights were also for dark mood days.

If I was depressed and feeling like playing alone I would get on either my Warlocks if it was a dark depression, or on my hunters if it was just me wanting to be alone. These days I don’t play World of Warcraft if I don’t want to socialize, I play one of the dozens of mobile games that I have downloaded on my phone. So I’m down to one Warlock and no Hunters these days. I just don’t ever feel like playing them. Creavishop is the only Warlock I need since you can only have one Dark Lord at a time. He wants to rule the universe with an iron fist, like Sargeras and Gul’dan. An unquenchable lust for power marks Warlocks as a class.

My mains are both Druids. Tharthurm on Nordrassil and Tarashal on Muradin. I have alts but I rarely play any of them. I even have Druid alts for all the races that can be Druids in World of Warcraft, but I don’t play those much either. I picked Druid as my class because Druid is the most versatile class. They are most versatile because they can tank, heal or deal damage in equal measure given the demands of a fight or the vagaries of my moods. Like playing alts in previous expansions, roles in multiplayer battles are a matter of mood and current ability. Sometimes I’m just not up to tanking or healing.

Playing alts is something that Blizzard has chosen to punish us for doing. Working on an alt is discouraged through restricting key components of the gearing system to specific toons and not applying these components account wide. If you gain faction reputation on one toon in the game, only that toon has that reputation. In previous expansions this was mostly a minor annoyance, but in Battle for Azeroth it is a restriction on leveling alts because enhancements for the Heart of Azeroth, the power item in this expansion like weapons were in Legion, are gotten through reputation gains and repetitive play of specific content. If you want to play an alt then you have to grind reputations on that alt, and then you have to grind content on the alt. This requires that you spend as much time gearing your alts as you spend gearing your main. This makes alts only playable when you really don’t have anything else to do in game, and I have plenty to do just trying to keep my two mains (one for each faction) up to speed.

I haven’t even leveled Creavishop‘s enchanting skills to max. He’s not feeling like much of a Dark Lord these days. I could play more, but I already spend between six and twelve hours a week raiding on two toons. If I need to play more than that to keep my other toons maxxed out, Blizzard should pay me to play the game, not the other way ’round.


The patch took an hour to download. I really wish I had seen the prompt to download in advance. Downloading in advance always makes patch days easier to deal with. Horrific visions appear to be dominating my immediate gaming future, because they are key to leveling the legendary cloak that you get from Prince Wrathion. Before I can get the cloak I will have to get through the quest chains introducing the new assault areas for Visions of N’Zoth. You are given the first breadcrumb quest when you log on after installing the patch.

After being reintroduced to Prince Wrathion, following Magni back to the Chamber of Heart, and working through the dialogs, you are sent to Uldum. At least it’s close to Silithus and the Chamber of Heart. I would have preferred the area to have been Ulduar. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in that raid when it was new because I wasn’t quite up to raiding level before it was superseded by the next raid in Wrath of the Lich King. Uldum I remember quite well.

They’ve updated the areas where the assaults take place. Uldum looks pretty much the same as before. The other area that is part of the assault mechanic is the Eternal Vale in Pandaria. I really liked that area before Garrosh defiled it at the end of the Pandaria expansion. It will be nice to see it again the way it was originally, or at least repaired.


My progress in the content has been achingly slow. I’ve had little spare time to play. This, for once, might have been a good thing. Google’s news feed put this story at the top of the feed yesterday.

massivelyop.com

In it is a video from BellularGaming describing the current work arounds for problems in the game that he brought up in UH BLIZZ… How’d 8.3 Launch In This State?

BellularGamingUH BLIZZ… How’d 8.3 Launch In This State? – Jan 16, 2020

What are the work arounds? Not playing parts of the game before Blizzard patches the errors that went out with the first patch. Good. I think I have that procedure covered. Mastered it, even.


So I’ve finally gotten the cloak for my two Druids (1/24/20) I’m only two weeks late. Now it is time to level the things; because, like all legendary items in the last few expansions, just having the thing isn’t good enough. You have to work to level it as well. I’m reading up on how that is done. I still don’t think a user’s manual should be required to figure out how to play a game. But, I want to do this right. So I’m studying the problem. The confusion stems from that less-than-polished programming mentioned previously.

Horrific Visions

This is the first point of confusion. They named two completely different activities in the game with identical names. You should not confuse the horrific visions that you do in Uldum and/or the Eternal Vale with the ones that occur in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Wowhead separates them into lesser and greater visions so as to establish some clarity; but really, not naming different things by the same name would have been the way to avoid confusion. I spent a half-hour on the first quest in the chain just trying to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to be doing there.

It would have helped if I had read the quest text or even just taken the time to look at the quest tracker on the right of the screen (which probably showed I needed to drink a potion) under the minimap, but it was 5:00 am and I was just killing time waiting for the dishes to finish washing so I could start a second load of dishes and then stumble off to bed, so I fumbled around for thirty minutes and only managed to die. When I finally logged back on this evening the daily quest tied to the lesser horrific vision for this part of the week had changed to Preventative Measures which was not a mystery to complete, and that allowed me to complete the chain quest Descending Into Madness. I could then move on to opening the tenebrious gateway and starting the greater vision that allows completion of the quest Into the Darkest Depths.

Side note. The quests are shown to be given in Stormwind on the images for the quests on Wowhead. However, all of the quests that I am getting are given and turned in at the Chamber of Heart. It is also worth noting that most of the quest chains show you opening the tenebrious gateway with the quest Opening the Gateway before you get the quest Descending Into Madness. You have to do Descending before you can get the gateway quest in the current build of the game. Just one more minor confusion in a whole host of confusions in this patch. I would never have noticed that confusion had I not needed to consult Wowhead (and text fellow guildies who have already muddled through the quests) because the quest instructions given in the game are so vague as to mean just about anything.

Going into the tenebrious gateway can be done without consuming the Vessel of Horrific Visions. If you are like me you already have one, but you still have to buy a second one in order to complete the quest. Entering the gateway costs nothing, though. I’m told this is like the Mage Tower events that were a part of Legion.

I wouldn’t know. I skipped most of Legion in protest of the restrictions placed on flight in Warlords of Draenor and planned for Legion. It was only the fact that I missed my raiding guild family that brought me back to the game towards the end of Legion, long after the Mage Tower events were a thing that you spent time doing. I may have to go back and do some of them now. Depends on if I find a Legion artifact weapon appearance that I have to unlock there.

The Vessel of Horrific Visions is only consumed when you talk to Wrathion and go into Stormwind/Orgrimmar. I won’t be attempting a greater horrific vision (GHV) right now. Today I’m going to gather up as much Coalescing Visions as I can. You should do that every day that you can until you hit the maximum capacity that you can carry. Those will get you more Vessels of Horrific Visions which are the only way into the GHV, one of the limiting factors put in place to slow down leveling the legendary cloak.

SignsOfKelaniEverything You NEED TO KNOW About Horrific Visions – Jan 14, 2020

Do not listen to other players when they tell you to solo the first GHV. Get a wingman each time you go in, if you can. Especially the first one. When you get back from killing either corrupted Thrall or corrupted Alleria for the first time, be sure to do the the next few quests. You want to get the quest Accessing the Archives from Wrathion, which tells you to talk to MOTHER. Then talk to MOTHER and access the Titan Research Archive. Be sure to research the Sanity Restoration Orb at the Titan Research Archive before attempting to re-enter the GHV for the second time. You will likely run out of sanity before you can kill Thrall or Alleria unless you have the sanity restoration orb to restore your sanity during the encounter. Going with a buddy the first time ensures you have enough sanity (because they will likely already have done the first GHV, or at least will double the DPS) to successfully complete the horrific vision.

Once you have the Sanity Restoration Orbs available you can complete the the instance solo for the first 5 levels of your cloak, so long as you have sufficient health and damage (DPS) to kill the boss before they kill you. I could solo the instance as a balance druid using stealth to get to the boss, killing the two guards to open the room with the boss in it, then killing the boss before running out of sanity, but it was a very close race achieving this. With the orbs it was no sweat to restore my sanity while flasking, eating and pre-potting before the boss fight.

Getting the sixth level of the cloak requires you to go into a second area of the map for a quest item. The medium difficulty areas can be soloed now (March 10th, 2020) if you have the ability to do moderate damage and if you have selected the right research in the talent tree for your cloak. Specifically you want Emergency Cranial Defibrillation and Elite Extermination as soon as you can get them if you run the GHV’s solo, and the ability to get a PUG together to run them as a group can be maddening. If you can pull it off on your own, I suggest you do that and not worry overly much about failing the occasional vision until you get to the cloak level that that requires you to enter the hard areas of the vision. More on that when I get there.

Shadowlands

I asked for one gift for Christmas. I got it, thanks to my immediate family. Here is the trailer for it.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands trailer

The point the Son made upon seeing it was “Oh, great. Now Ner’zhul is free on Azeroth. Here is a decent twenty minute video on the subject of Ner’Zhul. If you just want the short version of the lore, Ner’zhul’s soul was trapped in the helm of the Lich King. Was trapped, is trapped no longer.

So we have that question to ponder on, as well as what role Bolvar will play in the next expansion, if he plays any role at all. In any case, I’m looking forward to the day when the expansion goes live. It should be interesting, now that Sylvanas has shown what she thinks of the paltry power of the Lich King.

Tis the Season

As I’m contemplating the impending holiday season, the final cutscene from the Battle For Azeroth ending raid springs to mind.

World of WarcraftAzshara’s Eternal Palace – Raid Finale Cinematic (Spoilers) – Jul 9, 2019

Why is that? Well, since the Old Gods are returning in the upcoming Shadowlands expansion for World of Warcraft, I’m thinking that maybe a Lovecraft Christmas is in order. Something like this tree from 2011 that made the rounds on Facebook in 2012.

We could even create a soundtrack for this season from the various songs inspired by Lovecraft’s fantasy writing that appear on various Blue Oyster Cult albums, some of these songs penned by fantasy and science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. Here’s one from a recent album with an appropriate name and theme.

Blue Oyster Cult: The Old Gods Return

Down But Not Out

I’m back! Did you miss me?

On Tuesday I started feeling the effects of an oncoming attack, but I was determined to raid with my group in World of Warcraft as scheduled. We managed to do our average best, although we didn’t clear the entire heroic level of Azshara’s palace the first night. On Wednesday I felt worse. The start of a two-day migraine set in, a knot of pain right in the center of my skull. I did manage to show up and raid again that day, but I wasn’t my best and it showed. Thursday the pain was so bad that I sat in the library with no lights on for the entire day, wishing the pain would go away. Even the monitor for the laptop set to the lowest light setting was bright enough to cause stabbing pain, so I just sat there listening to podcasts wishing I could do something else.

On Friday night the vertigo started. It was pretty mild, compared to vertigo attacks of the past. No projectile vomiting. No lying on the bathroom floor. The room would start spinning, and then I would re-orient myself by staring at a point on the wall for ten minutes or so. When I went to bed the vertigo was so bad and persistent that I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t focus on a point in the dark. So I took a valium and finally fell asleep. On Saturday the vertigo could not be dispelled any longer. No amount of re-orientation would make it stop, and I was beginning to get nauseous. Time for the Xanax, which I stayed on for the entire day and through most of Sunday morning.

I woke up about an hour ago. I feel dizzy now. Dizzy, not vertiginous. The lights are still too bright but they don’t hurt like they did Wednesday. I’ve got to go visit my ENT on Tuesday to get a refill on my Betahistine anyway, so at least I’ll have some symptomatic stuff to talk with her about while I’m there. I’m going to try the vestibular exercises that my physical therapist gave me as soon as I publish this. I tried them on Friday when the vertigo started and they just made things worse. Fingers crossed.