Friday, 10 July 2009

A Big Bowl of Sprouts: Another This Post

Elnia at the pink pigtail inn posted recently about Heirlooms, and the reason she finds them distasteful.

As I say in the title, the only thing I can really say to that is: This

Okay, that's not true. I do have more to say.

The other thing I have to say is this: Northrend is like a sodding great bowl of sprouts.

The reason Cold Weather Flying exists at all is because Blizzard didn't want people to "skip over" the content in Northrend. In 3.2 you'll be able to buy a Tome of Cold Weather Flying which will give you the option to ... umm ... fly in Northrend thereby skipping over all of the content.

But it's okay! Because you can only buy it at level 80!

Which means it will only be available to people who have already "experienced" the "content".

I've said this a lot, I'll say it again.

Fuck you, Blizzard.

I am not a fucking six year old. I am not in fucking primary school. I am a fucking adult and I can make my own fucking decisions.

I really like experiencing the content. I'm a complete altaholic, I recently rolled a Dwarvish Hunter in order to experience the low-level Alliance content in an exciting new way (with guns!). I do not need to be *forced* to experience the content. I do not need to prove myself by grinding my way to Eighty.

Either the leveling content is an important part of the game, or it's a speedbump on the way to eighty. If it's a speedbump, then ditch it. Let everybody fly in Northrend so they can get to endgame faster. Or alternatively if the content is good enough that it's worth experiencing on its own merits then - well let us fly through it anyway and we'll stop and experience the content in our own sweet time when we think it deserves it. But for fuck's sake Blizzard, stop treating me like I need to get to level 80 before I'm qualified to decide how I want to play the game.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Colour Coded For Your Convenience!

You know what was a completely fucking stupid design decision?

Colour coding gear.

Okay, yes I know it wasn't really stupid. It was actually very sensible, but it leads to grade-A stupidity amongst the cretins who play this game.

Misneach Aggro Junkie posted recently about a particular wankstain he had suffered the misfortune of pugging with, who had spent the entire raid complaining that he (Misneach) was "in blues" and therefore "couldn't tank" a 25 man raid.

By "in blues" for what it's worth the guy meant "in a mixture of blue Heroic drops and Epics, none of which came from 25 mans because funnily enough, it is hard to get 25-man gear without going into 25-mans". By "unable to tank a 25 man raid" he meant "Def Capped and with over 25K Hit Points unbuffed".

I strongly suspect that had Misneach showed up for the raid wearing - say the Battlegear of Might or for that matter Corruptor Raiment and the guy wouldn't have batted an eyelid. Because purple gear is *always* better than blue gear. Doesn't matter what the stats on it are, doesn't matter whether it's designed for your class or your role. Doesn't matter if you're about to go into a fight with heavy elemental damage and you need a resist set, purples are always better than blues. Always.

I've been on the receiving end of this myself, although in a more positive way. Some of my (very nice) Alliance guildies were genuinely amazed that I can crack 2k DPS in "mostly blue" gear. It's nice that they think I'm awesome, but the reason I can do that is because I've ... well ... put quite a lot of time and effort into making sure that the gear I've got is the best for the job I'm doing (which is killing things with a big sword) - I could have swapped out my green belt for any number of Epics (some of them even Plate) but there's no sense in trading Strength and Hit Rating for Stamina and Defense even if it's a prettier colour.

The right blues are better than the wrong purples. The right blues properly gemmed and enchanted are a metric assload better than the wrong purples. The right blues properly gemmed and enchanted, combined with sufficient knowledge of the game to know what the right gems and enchants actually are, are so much more important than having "epics" that it beggars belief.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Desperately Seeking Ner'Zhul

The thing about Northrend is that it's all about Arthas. They do their best to pretend it's all about you, but this just underlines the fact that no, it's about Arthas.

In a fit of pique I decided that if I wanted to play a game that was all about Arthas, I'd play Warcraft III. Which I did.

I suck at it, by the way.

I'm only halfway through the second mission of the Scourge campaign (which is at least giving me renewed enthusiasm for my Death Knight and making me really tempted to dual-spec Unholy) but I've started to notice something. Or rather, be reminded of something.

The Lich King, right. Isn't actually Arthas at all, is he? He's Ner'zhul.

I remember when I first played the game (and got about halfway through the Scourge campaign before realising I sucked and quitting) I was a little bit confused by this - I knew a little bit about WoW (mostly from the board game in point of fact) and I'd always thought Kel'Thuzad was the big bad of the scourge, not a minion of somebody else, and I'd been deeply confused by the fact that the Lich King was apparently an Orc, of all things.

Since then I've got more into WoW, and I've looked more into the lore and the background and it turns out that Ner'zhul is actually kind of awesome. Former high Shaman of the Shadowmoon clan, he was tricked into serving Kil'Jaedan, believing himself to be saving his people (this of course parallels the way he would later trick Arthas into becoming his servant, believing he was saving Lordaeron). Unlike Arthas, however, Ner'Zhul turned away from the Demon when he realised its nature, and it was his advice that saved Durotan of the Frostwolf clan from taking the Blood of Mannoroth (which, incidentally, is the only thing that made it possible for the New Horde to exist). Of course he also blew up Draenor, and he ultimately cared more for his own advancement than the good of the Horde, but that doesn't change the fact that he refused to hand his people over to the Demons, and it was as punishment for that defiance that he was transformed into the Lich King.

(The question of why an Orc from a shamanistic society ruled by a warchief would call himself a king is something that I don't think any of us need to dwell on too much)

By comparison, Arthas' story is rather less interesting. He shares a great many personality traits with Ner'zhul, but when you get right down to it Arthas was an uppity princeling who wanted too much too soon, while Ner'zhul was a leader in his own right long before his corruption and transformation into the Lich King.

In Wrath of the Lich King there is no reference to Ner'zhul whatsoever. A bit of cursory googling around the subject reveals that in Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, Arthas consumes Ner'zhul, essentially reclaiming his identity despite having sacrificed his humanity.

This, to be frank, annoys me.

This is going to get into difficult ground, because I'm about to do that thing that really annoying people do with Lord of the Rings, where I start drawing parallels between fictional races in a computer game and real races of people in the world. I fully admit that I might just be an aggrieved Horde fanboy who's trying to justify his indignation, but here's the thing.

What you have here is two characters. One of them is - and let's not beat around the bush here - a young, blonde-haired blue-eyed white man from a recognisably European culture. The other is an elderly shaman from a tribalistic society whose ancestral homeland and adopted homeland look an awful lot like Africa (what with the elephants and zebras and everything).

Somewhere along the line, somebody at Blizzard decided that the blond-haired white guy was more interesting to write about.

The thing is, I do actually get this. When I first played Warcraft III I was really annoyed that the Lich King was just some Orc I'd never heard of. Looking back on it, part of the reason I had that reaction was because I instinctively react better to stories about blond white guys from places that look like Europe than to stories about non-white guys from places that look like Africa. This is, in fact, a problem.

The book Arthas: Rise of the Lich King contains the following passage (courtesy of the internet):

“We are one, Arthas. Together, we are the Lich King. No more Ner’zhul, no more Arthas—only this one glorious being. With my knowledge, we can—”
His eyes bulged as the sword impaled him.
Arthas stepped forward, plunging the glittering, hungering Frostmourne ever deeper into the dream-being that had once been Ner’zhul, then the Lich King, and was soon to be nothing, nothing at all. He slipped his other arm around the body, pressing his lips so close to the green ear that the gesture was almost intimate, as intimate as the act of taking a life always was and always would be.
“No,” Arthas whispered. “No we. No one tells me what to do. I’ve got everything I need from you—now the power is mine and mine alone. Now there is only I. I am the Lich King. And I am ready.”
The orc shuddered in his arms, stunned by the betrayal, and vanished.

Now leaving aside the fact that Arthas is still saying "No one tells me what to do" like a spoiled child - how the hell is this Paladin-school dropout supposed to have overcome the will of Ner'zhul, who was a master Shaman *and* a master Warlock *and*, let's not forget, the freaking Lich King while Arthas was still whining to Uther the Lightbringer. I mean, I know DKs are OP and everything but what, was Ner'zhul in PvE gear?

The whole thing smacks of a rather nasty retcon. Blizzard (and, if I'm honest, most of the player base) loves the image of "Arthas the Lich King". The Fallen Paladin. The Great Betrayer of Lordaeron. So they had to get rid of Ner'zhul, because they wanted the face of the Scourge to be Arthas. They wanted the iconic image of Wrath to be a man with blond hair, pale skin, and blue-green eyes.

One of the things I love about the Horde is that they provide a way to play a different sort of fantasy hero: one that isn't a knight in armour or a wizard in a high tower. Yes sometimes the Horde cultures look a little bit offensive (trolls genuinely bug me) and there's a fine line between inspiration and appropriation, but on the whole I think it's a genuinely positive thing. But when Orcs and Tauren are sidelined in favour of Humans and Elves (even Blood Elves, this isn't just a Horde/Alliance thing) it sends the message that the cultures whose imagery those races draw upon are less interesting and important than the cultures who inspired the humans and the elves.

Or, to put it another way: "elderly orcish shaman tricked into betraying his people, then tortured and transfigured into a disembodied spirit of death, and fused into the body of a human prince and seeking revenge against both the living, and the demons who destroyed him" is an interesting and unique character. "Fallen Paladin" is the third most cliched character concept in fantasy.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Weekend Riddles

Question: When is a Nerf not a Nerf?

Answer: When it's a buff.

Tamarind wrote a while ago about about an attempt to 3-man Blood Furnace with three squishy DPSers which ultimately failed because the guy playing the mage kept bitching about how it had been "nerfed".

Except of course it hadn't. It's just that the game was now balanced for Ulduar, which meant that all of us had access to powers that were well beyond anything characters of our level would have had back in the BC days.

It is a peculiar ... well ... peculiarity of the WoW-playing mindset that so few people actually notice this. Whenever a boss gets its damage cut or its health decreased, people cry from the rooftops that the game is being nerfed for the casuals. Whenever a class gets its mitigation buffed or its DPS improved, people cheer and say that it's about damned time (or complain that their own class needs buffing *as well*). Very few people seem to notice that these changes amount to the exact same thing.

I've been thinking recently about the "difficulty" of Northrend instances. A lot of people say that Wrath Heroics are too easy. I don't think that's actually the problem. I think the problem is that Wrath player characters are too powerful.

As about ten bajillion other people have said before me, Northrend instances all boil down to AoE, rinse, repeat. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but it's not like you're using AoE because it's the *only* way to deal with a situation (like you have a dozen mobs attacking you and you need to burn them all down right the fuck now or you're dead) you're using AoE because it gets you through pulls very slightly faster and makes your DPS numbers very slightly bigger.

Basically you're using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but the problem is that once you've given somebody a sledgehammer, you can never make them use a nutcracker again. Once the DPS has access to powerful, reliable AoE attacks, and once tanks have access to powerful, reliable AoE threat, and once healers have access to powerful, reliable AoE heals, there is absolutely no reason to take trash pulls seriously, because "spam AoE" is not only the *easiest* strategy it's also the *best* strategy.

Just making the instances "harder" - in the sense of increasing the health and damage of the mobs - won't fix the problem. Northrend instances are already "hard" - at least in the sense that the mobs in them have loads of health and do lots of damage. The problem is that they're hard in a completely uninteresting way.

Take, for example, Skarvald and Dalronn in Utgarde Keep. Skarvald has a random charge that hits for about 8K on cloth, Dalronn has effectively no aggro table, instead firing Shadow Bolts at random members of the party. What this basically means is that your party is taking a bunch of random damage that you can't do anything about and either you're high enough level and sufficiently well geared to heal through it, or you aren't. Apart from the most basic strategic decisions (kill the wizard first) there's nothing else to the fight. The tank does his best to get the two untankable bosses standing in one place, and you shower them with your AoE spam until they die, doing your best to make sure the caster cops it first. There's nothing to pay attention to, nothing to interrupt, you can just either heal through it or you can't, you can kill them quickly enough or you can't. There's nothing you can do better, there's nothing you can do differently, you just spam your attacks until the bastards drop.

Whether what you're cracking a nut or smashing down a wall, you're still just swinging a hammer.

The problem is that high-level WoW characters have access to too many blunt instruments. Crowd Control is only necessary if you don't have the ability to kill five mobs as quickly as one. Kill orders are only necessary if you're limited to targeting one enemy at a time, and if the enemies have usefully different abilities that can actually make a difference in a fight. You don't have to sheep the healers if you can kill everything before they can get a spell off. You don't have to move out of fire if there's so much AoE healing coming in that your health isn't going below 90% anyway. You don't have to worry about aggro if everything is just getting nuked.

Making dungeons "harder" isn't the answer, there have to be limits on what the player characters can do. Otherwise they'll just go away, level or gear up a bit and then AoE everything into the ground like before.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

More Thoughts on Content, the Four Percent

Larisa, over at pink pigtail inn, observed that a flood of epics doesn't make up for lack of content.

You know what would make up for lack of content? More content.

Specifically, more content targeted at people who *haven't* already cleared Ulduar.

Blizzard's new raiding policy was based on the observation that only four percent of the player base ever saw the Sunwell. They realised that 80% of their effort was going into content that only 4% of their player base got to see.

Their response to this was to nerf the bejeezus out of endgame raiding so that a larger proportion of the player base could see the content on which they were spending eighty percent of their development time.

I wonder if it ever occurred to them to do the opposite. To devote the eighty percent of their development time that was previously devoted to raid content to providing content for the ninety-six percent of the player base who weren't raiding.

Let me put it this way. Suppose you ran a restaurant. Suppose you had a particular dish that required eighty percent of your resources to make. Suppose that making this dish was so expensive that only four percent of your customers could afford it. So you start to skimp on some of the ingredients, you're still devoting eighty percent of your time to making this one dish, but now you're producing a cut-price, watered down version of it. And sure, you're selling it to more people, but you had to take a couple of other things off the menu, and people are only buying it because it's there. So you aren't actually making any more money, and your customers aren't any more satisfied, particularly not the four percent who bought the special dish when it was expensive. All you've succeeded in doing is reaching the essentially arbitrary goal of getting more people to eat the only thing you're interested in making.

And that's the real problem. Only four percent of players saw Sunwell, but that four percent included pretty much everybody who works for Blizzard. It's almost like the rest of us exist only to validate Blizzard's desire to produce these big dungeons where plot happens. They don't want us to enjoy playing the game, they want us to look at their big giant bosses in their big giant fortresses and watch their damned cutscenes.

If Blizzard really cared about catering to the 96% of their player base who aren't in hardcore raiding guilds, they would stop focusing all of their damned attention on raiding. There's fourteen bosses in Ulduar. Since the average Northrend dungeon contains fewer than five bosses, the development time that went into it could have given us three whole dungeons. They could have stuck a couple of new quests into all the starting zones in the old world, or put some damned content in Azshara or done something - anything - for those of us who don't want to go down a hole with twenty-five other guys three nights a week.

Another "This" Post


I've got more to say about the weird attitudes people have to gearing, levelling, and the fallacious idea that having better stuff makes you a better player, but for now, just this

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Looking Stupider By The Day

Datamined details on the ATC Raid

Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

The leaders of the Horde and Alliance are morons. Tirion Fordring is a moron. Anub'Arak is a moron.