Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons in Lore - Stormstout Brewery

One thing we learn about the Pandaren as we adventure through their homeland is that they value quite highly the art of making beer. Not only can you make a Brewmaster Monk, but you can learn the Way of the Brew cooking recipes in Halfhill, and there are numerous quests and scenarios centered around saving beer, or making beer, or drinking beer. With the focus the Pandaren have on beer you might expect there to be more breweries around, but it seems that most of the brewers are more of the home brew types. There is one prominent brewery however, and it sits in the middle of the Valley of the Four Winds.

When you first enter the valley from the Jade Forest, you come across what may be a familiar face in Chen Stormstout. Chen was a prominent figure in Warcraft III where he played a part in the founding of Durotar. He was born on the Wandering Isle, so when you team up with him in the Valley of the Four Winds the entire land is new to him as well. He's traveling with his niece, Li Li, who was also born on the wandering isle. When the mists parted they made their way to Pandaria to explore their ancestral home.

As you quest through the valley, you see Chen and Li Li discovering new places and people as you go, and at some points you even join up with them to perform tasks. Early on, you'll learn of the Stormstout Brewery within the valley, and this gets Chen's attention because it's the first he's heard his family name used since coming to Pandaria. He will rush off to check on the brewery while you and Li Li continue to explore the valley. Eventually you'll catch up with Chen at the brewery, and not all is well.

The brewery itself seems to be in operation, but it has been overrun with a number of different pests and unwelcome guests. Hozen have infiltrated the stores of beer to throw their own party. Virmen have infested the grain and barley reserves. On top of that, flying beer monsters known as alementals seem to be causing havoc in the main brewing areas. Together with Chen and Li Li you fight your way in to the brewery to deal with the intruders and find out why the alementals are in such a frenzy. When you enter you meat Auntie Stormstout who explains that Uncle Gao was put in charge of the brewery while the others went beyond the wall to fight. In the mean time, the hozen entered and stole the secret recipes that Gao would need to make the brew correctly. Looks like it's time to do some house cleaning!

The first boss you deal with is the Hozen, Ook-Ook, who along with his hozen buddies has broken in to the brewery to throw a party. You interrupt the party and use the beer barrels to your advantage. By taking out Ook-Ook, you earn the respect from the lesser Hozen, who throw a dance party in your name after the fight.

Hozen Dance Party
Hoptallus and his offspring have infested the grain stores of the brewery. He's quite possibly the largest virmen in existence, known to eat entire crop fields in a single night. It's up to you to clear him out of the brewery and save the ingredients from spoiling.

Yan-Zhu the Uncasked
At the end of the brewery in the tasting room, you finally come across the main cause of trouble for the Stormstouts. Uncle Gao, in his effort to come up with a new brew that will make the Stormstout name a mainstay in brewing again, has unleashed the alemental, Yan-Zhu. Unable to contain the volatile brew, it's up to you and Chen to fight off the large flying beer monster.

Once Yan-Zhu is casked, you can give Uncle Gao the recipes, and he can start making some good brew with the help of Chen. Before you bid him and Uncle Gao farewell though, head back to Auntie Stormstout and try some of Ling Ling's Favorite Tea. You might find it helps you see some other creatures around the Brewery. Find them all and you'll get a virmen pet of your very own.

What is Worth Fighting For?
When all is said in done, you're going into the Stormstout Brewery to help Chen Stormstout reunite with his family and clear out the intruders and pests from the place. You have to stop Uncle Gao's failed brewing experiments and set the Stormstouts on the path to creating great brews again. It serves as a an end to the Chen Stormstout story line in the Valley, but I don't think that's the last we'll hear from Chen Stormstout, or his niece Li Li.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lessons in Lore - Temple of the Jade Serpent

This morning I'll take a look at the first dungeon in Mists of Pandaria. You can jump into this dungeon via the dungeon finder as soon as you're 85, but to have a better understanding of what's going on you should quest through the Jade Forest until you've completed a group of quests that take place in a non dungeon instance of the temple. You should also finish the quests leading up to and including the climactic event that takes places at the Serpent's Head. Please be aware that there will be spoilers for these events and others in the dungeon in the post below.

Temple Courtyard
The Temple of the Jade Serpent rests on the eastern side of the Jade Forest, overlooking the coast. The temple is a monument to the last emperor of Pandaria's triumph over the Sha of Doubt thousands of years ago. At some point while questing in the zone, you'll be tasked to deliver a shipment of jade to the center of the forest where a group of Pandaren are hard at work building a statue of Yu'Lon, the Jade Serpent. Then you'll get the opportunity to go inside the temple before anything has gone wrong. Inside is a huge library, the Waters of Everseeing, and a large courtyard where the guardians of the temple train. You'll also meet Yu'Lon herself, and she explains that the statue being built is meant for her to pass into when she dies, and a new celestial guardian will be born.

Upon leaving the temple, however, events take place that alter the course of Yu'Lon and all of the Pandaren in the Temple of the Jade Serpent. The Horde and the Alliance go to war near the jade statue, and their anger and hate draws the Sha of Doubt up out of the ground, destroying the statue in the process. Together with Lorewalker Cho, you push the Sha back, but this is just the beginning of problems as the Sha and its minions proceed to invade the temple and corrupt its inhabitants. This is where we start when we enter the dungeon for the first time.

Sha of Doubt makes its first appearance.

Wise Mari
When you first met Wise Mari he was a simple waterspeaker plagued by mischievous water sprites. He spent most of his time gaining insight and knowledge from the Waters of Everseeing. Now he is hostile, driven to distrust and suspicion under the influence of the Sha. By attacking him you're able to force the Sha out, and he eventually calms down.

Lorewalker Stonestep
As you enter the library, you'll notice that the Sha have infested the many books and scrolls scattered about the place. You'll have to face down corrupted versions of characters from Pandaren stories and lore as you make your way down to the bottom where Lorewalker Stonestep is waiting. Once there you will have to battle Sha who have personified one of two stories. In the Trial of the Yaungol, you will have to fight against the manifestations of Strife and Peril. If you get the Champion of the Five Suns you will have to shoot the suns out of the sky before they possess Zao Sunseeker. Once defeated, the library returns to some sense of order, and Lorewalker Stonestep sends you on to the courtyard. On the way there, you see many of the temple guardians have been slain.

Liu Flameheart
Once the most devoted of the temple priestesses, Liu is now consumed with uncertainty as to the future of the jade serpent. With the statue destroyed, what will happen to the spirit of Yu'Lon? She fiercely protects the heart of the temple from anyone who might intrude. Including you. As you attack her, she continually calls upon her training to fight paw and foot. Eventually she will even call upon the spirit of Yu'Lon to defend her, and you must defeat the image of the jade serpent to finally break her out of her trance and open the doors to the cause the suffering and pain within the temple.

Sha of Doubt
Being trapped underneath the temple for thousands of years has caused the Sha of Doubt to obsess over Yu'Lon and corrupting her influence on the Pandaren people. With the battle of the Horde and Alliance giving it enough strength to break free it used this opportunity to strike at its obsession. Now its up to you to defeat the Sha and drive it back from the temple. Upon defeating it, you save the temple from its corrupting influence for now, but can the Sha ever truly be defeated? 

What is worth fighting for?
To echo a phrase used in the Mists of Pandaria trailer, I've decided to use the last part of each of these posts to summarize why we as characters fight the monsters in each dungeon. For the Temple of the Jade Serpent, it's fairly straight forward. The war between the Alliance and Horde has freed the long trapped Sha of Doubt from the ground where it was imprisoned long ago. The Sha then seized this opportunity to attack the home of the Jade Serpent Yu'Lon, corrupting its inhabitants. It's up to us to free the temple from the influence and doubt of the Sha; to clean up the mess that the Horde and the Alliance have made by bringing their war to this land. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

All in a Day's Work

Lal and Elionene hit level 90 last weekend. Since then it's been a little overwhelming as to what to spend our time doing. There are numerous daily quests, scenarios, heroics, and of course there are the rest of Townlong Steppes and the Dread Wastes to finish. I like having options, and when you have limited time to play, you're forced to prioritize what you do in game. Here's what I've done.

Since my primary goal is to enjoy the story of Pandaria, I'm much more inclined to focus on finishing the quest chains in each zone. We're very close to finishing Townlong and then it will be on to Dread Wastes, where there is a new daily hub with the Klaxxi. While I say that is my primary goal, I will admit to being distracting by the many other quest hubs. We needed to do Golden Lotus every day because Lal is a tailor and Elio is a Leatherworker, and we needed Honored status with the Golden Lotus to have access to our patterns. It took us about a week to get there, and now Lal has her fancy epics made because she's been able to stockpile cloth since we started leveling. With Elio, on the other hand, I can't make one piece of epic gear because I need a lot of Spirit of Harmony just to make one piece.

We'll continue to do Golden Lotus to open up the other factions. We're also pretty hooked on farming, as it seems to be the best way to get guaranteed Motes of Harmony once you have opened up your farm. It really isn't that difficult either. Then there's the Cloud Serpent dailies, which we have been doing, but I don't feel  are that necessary because it's just for the mount, whereas some of the other factions were about gear for when we start raiding. Most of our raiders have just hit 90, so the next few weeks should see us finally getting into regular heroic runs.

Speaking of heroics, I've only done a couple and they've seemed fairly standard. I've also done a few Scenarios that have been a lot of fun because it's something different. I haven't gotten to do as many as I would have liked due to the amount of other things there are to do, but I am looking forward to writing out some lore posts for the dungeons soon.

I see a few people on the forums complaining about the amount of dailies they "have" to do and the fact that there is no cap makes it a horrible burden. If you're one of those people, I can understand what you're saying, but I would also advise you just to look at what's there, and prioritize. If you're after gear, you only have to worry about Golden Lotus and Klaxxi for the most part. You can get any honor gear without reputation from the vendor in Townlong. Valor gear is available with rep, but the valor gear is not something you need to start raiding, so you have time to work your way up with the reputations and then get the valor gear you need to fill in the gaps you haven't gotten from the raid instances.Other reps, such as Tillers, Cloud Serpents, and Anglers, offer mainly cosmetic rewards such as mounts and pets. I'd save those for if you have time, or after you've got your gear situation settled. You could argue that Tillers is more necessary than the others because you can grow Motes of Harmony and ingredients for buff food.

I've taken some fun screen shots. This one is of a Pandaren that will play music for you if you pay her two gold. She's located in Halfhill at the market, as well as in the Alliance city on the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. You'll also see Lal and Elio at the top of Mount Neverest up above, and a nice shot I took from Zouchin Village in Northern Kun-Lai. I'm continually impressed at the art design in Mists. Everything from Jade forest to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms has been a delight to look at and quest around.

Since turning 90, I've had the chance to tame two of the new rare hunter pets, and our guild got together for the Wanderer's festival in Krasarang last Sunday. I'll be sure to put up shots of that in the next post. Until then, have a good morning!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Best Expansion No One is Playing

Or at least that's what the analysts would like you to believe based on the early estimated sales figures. You can read the brief summary at Massively by clicking the link below.


The short of it is Mists of Pandaria reportedly only sold an estimated 700,000 physical copies of the game in its initial release. I admit I was a little surprised at this development. And then a little skeptical when I read that it didn't include digital sales. This was the first expansion that allowed a direct digital download, and much like people took advantage of that with Diablo III, I had to assume they would do the same thing with Mists. My own unique situation involved buying one digital download (for my wife) and then picking up a physical copy for myself at the local game store on Monday night.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the game store was there were a lot fewer people waiting around than in years previous. I've been to midnight releases now for Wrath, Cata, and Mists. The Wrath release was at a mall in Burlington, MA. There were well over a hundred people, some in costume, and one of the fast food places brought everyone free chicken sandwiches while we waited. When Cata came out, we had moved to North Carolina. The town was less populated, but there were still probably 60-70 people at the game store with the line going out the door. Now with mists, at the same store where I got Cataclysm, there were maybe 30 people total, and we all comfortably fit inside the store.

I didn't think much of it until they started handing out the games at midnight. I would say around 80% of them were the big box collector's editions. I was only there for the regular edition, and the only reason I didn't download it is because I had a gift card to the store. It dawned on me that the low turn out was due to the availability of the digital download, but the only way to get the collector's edition with all the bells and whistles was to through a retailer. If I based sales expectations on my experience, I'd say that digital sales were three or four times as much as the physical sales. That would put Mists total sales up above the two million mark, and close to the sales from previous year.

Then Massively did a follow up to their first article.


That's more encouraging. I hope Blizzard releases some actual numbers for us before November.

I have to ask myself why I care. Sales of the game don't really help or hinder my enjoyment of the game, so what does it matter? Mists of Pandaria is a wonderful expansion. I've only played it for a week, but I look forward to logging in every night. The zones are beautiful. The quests are fun and entertaining, and the new lore of Pandaira is fascinating. The few dungeons I've done have been well laid out and a lot of fun. There are an overwhelming amount of things to do at max level, which may be good or bad depending on your personality, but I like that there are options.

A lot of people in the various forums where Warcraft is discussed dismissed this expansion as Kung-Fu Panda in WoW or argued that the inclusion of pet battles meant Blizzard was catering to the Pokemon kids (news flash, a lot of those kids are grown up now and still enjoy it). The company got a lot of flack for what some considered a very bad Diablo III release. But the expansion is so much more than that. I can't get over the art, or the variety of quests. The NPCs are some of the best I've seen to date in the game. I've never seen Kung-Fu Panda, but I know the Pandaren have a rich and detailed history that stretches long before the movies existed.

My hope is that the game begins to attract attention for these things, and that the pretenses that people may have dismissed it for initially get washed away. It would be like a movie that doesn't do so great on opening day, but word of mouth gets out this movie was the best movie in the franchise, and eventually you have droves of people going to see it. I would not be surprised to see WoW subscriber numbers start climbing back up and with it a lot of expectations for the future of Warcraft. Which leads me to my next thought. How are they going to top this one?

(EDIT: http://www.mmo-champion.com/content/2949-2-7-Million-copies-of-MoP-sold-WoW-passes-10M-Subscribers

2.7 million copies sold and back over 10 millions subscribers. I guess that answers that question. I'd still like to know digital versus physical copies of the game sold, and I wouldn't be surprised to see those numbers grow rapidly over the next few weeks.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My First Day in Pandaria

Months after seeing the majesty of the Jade Forest on the beta for Mists of Pandaria, I finally made my first foray back onto the island yesterday. I picked up the basic game at the local game store at midnight, but because we live on the east coast I wasn't going to be able to stay up until 3 AM when the expansion went live. Instead I went to bed because unlike some others I did not have the luxury of taking any time off work to play. I did manage to leave a bit early though, and all the way home I couldn't stop chanting, "Pandas Pandas Pandas Pandas!"

Eating a hasty dinner, my wife and I logged in together. She had actually already gotten to play, but spent the time leveling professions, waiting for me before actually heading to Pandaria. Elionene is and will always be my main, so along with Lal, we got sent on a special mission for the King of Stormwind to the mysterious new found land in the south. I enjoyed the quest set up quite a bit. I'm excited to experience new stories and lore again. 

I won't spoil any specific quests or things here for those that may have not have seen it all yet, but we played well into the evening and made it probably 65% of the way to level 86. In that time, I feel like we'd barely made a dent into the Jade Forest having just arrived at Dawn's Blossom before we stopped. In that time we had defeated horde forces, befriended two new races of people, and fought off an invading force of a third new race. And that was just the beginning of the zone.

As I said before when I was in the beta, the setting of Pandaria is beautiful. It's seemingly endless and so full of color. The Pandaren villages are bustling with activity, and there's always something to new and interesting around every corner. I found myself content just to look around and click on various NPCs to see what they had to say. One of the meditating Pandaren in the first village told me, "You are only good for ordering food at restaurants and spending your guild's money!' That made me smile. Later on, at Dawn's Blossom, a little Pandaren girl showed me she could burp. It was most impressive. 

One particular area had me in awe at the design. The Den of Sorrow is a small cave with water shrines inside, and a waterfall as well. A main story line quest takes you inside, so you shouldn't have to worry about missing it. The calm atmosphere of a haunted cave with the sound of falling water was so peaceful. Speaking of the sound, I was sure to turn up my music volume while playing, so I could enjoy the wonderful music in the new areas. One of my guild members was thrilled to hear a string duet in Pearlfin Village that was wonderful indeed. If you happen to be in Dawn's Blossom stop by the local inn, The Drunken Hozen, for what must be some of the best music ever composed for World of Warcraft. I heard several different songs upon leaving and entering the inn over the course of the night. They were all great.

The quests flowed smoothly from one to the other, and I have to say I'm enjoying the new quest reward system where everything you get is good for your class and current spec. As a hunter, spec doesn't really dictate gear choices that much, so that was one less thing to worry about. None of the items were upgrades to my normal Dragon Soul gear yet, but as we continued on the stat difference started to close. One quest even gave us a new vanity pet!

While there were plenty of the regular kill and fetch quests, there were a few other quests that stood out. A set of three or so quests have you reliving a story as three different story tellers. Along with being fun and different, there was a small story reveal that propelled you onward. I thought it was really cool. If you want to make sure you don't miss it it's part of the quests in Pearlfin Village, which you should arrive at shortly after leaving the first Pandaren village of Paw'don, and involves the Alliance NPCs from SI:7.

I'm looking forward to continuing the story tonight, and maybe try our the first dungeon of the zone, Temple of the Jade Serpent.  I ran it during the beta, but it wasn't quite the same as running it with a guild group at level with quests. As I've done in the past, I plan to write a lore post about each dungeon, and how it fits into the overarching lore of Pandaria and the World of Warcraft. Happy hunting, and see you in Pandaria!

Friday, June 8, 2012

There Will Be Posts

The Mists beta inspired me to write again, yet I've done very little of it since then. I've also not been in the beta since then. Part of me wants to save it for the actual experience, and so my hope is that when that time comes, you'll start to see this blog come to life again.

Our guild finished up the legendary quest line in Dragon Soul for one of our rogues. We decided then to take a break from raiding to play other games and hopefully avoid burnout before the next expansion is released. A few of us have joined up to fight the spawn of the burning hells in Diablo III, while others are just taking time away from gaming altogether. The hard part now is going to get everyone back together, so we don't forget about playing WoW. We're such a small guild that unless it's a raid night, you're unlikely to see more than a few people online other than yourself at any given time.

As our last hurrah before the break, we did make a run through Karazhan on some level 70 characters. The fights and mechanics were still fairly easy with just class and balance changes, but it was fun to see that place again. I'll never get tired of the opera event or the scenery of Kara. It's still the best raid in the game, in my opinion.

What is everyone else doing as the Cataclysm ends and the Mists are set to appear?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Novelty Mounts

I wanted to take a moment to brag on my guild a bit. We're a small group. There are only 12 or 13 of us that are active, some more than others, but once or twice a week 10 of us come together to run normal raids. We've been clearing Dragon Soul for a few weeks now, and we're one week away from completing the legendary for one of our rogues (we have two).

The first night we completed madness of Deathwing (which was in the first week of the 5% nerf), he dropped a mount. Needless to say we were quite excited. There are a few mount and pet collectors in the guild, though I'm not one of them. (I worked hard for my Cenarion War Hippogryph back in the Burning Crusade, and I have no desire to ride anything else.) We had a roll off, and it went to our holy priest, Lal. Here she is riding her fancy new dragon.


Wowhead lists the Blazing Drake as a 2% drop. But that was awhile ago. Last night we were short a person, but since we really needed to get the final few fragments for the legendary, we went anyway. With the nerf now up to 20%, it wasn't all that bad. We had two healed most of the raid before with the exception of the final fight.

As we finished off Ultraxion, I went to distribute the loot as normal (and prayed that we wouldn't have to DE junk, or sell yet another tier piece for 5 lousy gold pieces), and to my surprise I saw a funny looking dragon. Experiment 12-B. Most of us didn't even realize there was a mount drop on this fight, but here it was. A .5% chance. Point. 5. Iamma, our resto shaman won the roll. What's with all of the healers getting the mounts? 12-B is a chromatic dragon, the same that you see in Blackwing Lair. It's a pretty color, and you can see it in the middle of the rest of us below.

Such cool colors.

We continued on with the nine of us and got to the last fight. We got Deathwing to 4% before losing our tanks to the heavy hitting adds and then we fell apart. We still had plenty of time left before quitting time, so even though it was disheartening to wipe, we went at it again and beat it with less issues. Our first 9 person, 2 heal kill of Madness. Woot! And for our efforts, he decided to drop the reins of the blazing drake again! This time, the bear tank, Gilgalen, won the roll.

So on a night where we almost decided to cancel the raid, we completed it with only 9 people and won two rare mounts for our efforts. Go team! We're now only a week away from finishing the legendary quest chain for the Fangs of the Father. Not bad!

Even though we're not at the cutting edge of raiding, and we're somewhat lackadaisical about heroics, I think I've had the most fun raiding with this group of people in Dragon Soul of any other group or raid. The difficulty level hasn't overshadowed the enjoyment of getting together with friends to kill Internet dragons, and while there are always elusive pieces of loot we're still waiting to see drop, the rewards have overall been adequate with fun surprises like dragon mounts. I'm really excited to complete the legendary for one of our rogues, even if we're near the end of the expansion. It's the first legendary we've worked long and hard for as a guild, and the first legendary we will have obtained in the tier it was meant for.

I think it will only get better in Pandaria, and I can't think of a better group of people to explore it with.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dragon Soul Nerfs and Mass QQ

It was just announced that Dragon Soul would be nerfed a further 5% after the scheduled maintenance on April 30th. This brings the Power of the Aspects debuff to 20% total. In that same Facebook post I linked to, the comments are rife with the crying and gnashing of teeth from players who are upset about further nerfing an already easy raid. The words facerolling and noob are thrown around. Jabs are taken at the incompetence of people that can now complete the raid and bringing regular mode down to the level of the Raid Finder version. There are a few comments here and there about the ability to toggle the nerf on or off, but so far the overwhelming consensus is that Blizzard is ruining the game, past its prime, and everyone is leaving the game for Tera or Guild Wars 2.

At least that's what one might gather from the comments on Facebook, and probably from comments on the official site under the identical post.

It grates on me to see so many people upset. On one hand, I can understand the frustration of seeing rewards you worked hard for suddenly becoming available to people through content being nerfed. Suddenly what you accomplished doesn't seem so special because the epics and titles are available to more people. We tend to see rare things as trophies, and it makes us feel good to be one of the few with those trophies. If everyone has it, it's not unique, and it's not easy to see if someone got a title or epic long before someone else did. Sure, you can look up achievement dates on the armory, but that's a bit cumbersome. So it's hard to take pride in doing something first if that's not really apparent.

On the other hand, I don't see what the big deal is. It benefits Blizzard (and thus the longevity of this game we play) to make content available to as many people as possible. And for the last several years the expectation is that raids and dungeons will get nerfed. Especially at the end of the expansion. It opens up the world to millions of people who didn't have the time or ability to see the content before. What's the point of keeping people from getting epic rewards? So we can feel unique and special and superior? What's the point of gear anyway? The point of gear is to make top content easier to finish. And then later we replace that gear with other epics, and then at the start of a new expansion we replace the purples with greens. Gear is only a means to an end. The same can be said for nerfs.

I also see a lot of misconceptions. I don't have the stats. Neither do many other players. Claims to the effect that everyone has already beaten the content, and thus nerfs aren't necessary, should just be thrown out. Blizzard wouldn't be nerfing it further if that was the case. Blizzard has access to more information about who is raiding, and who is beating the raids, than anyone else. Maybe a lot of raiders have beaten the content, and the nerf is to encourage people who haven't stepped foot in Dragon Soul to try it out. I don't know. But neither do most of these people complaining and making wild claims about raiding stats.

I'm not sure where I intended to go with this post, so I'll just leave you with a what if. What if, instead of being elitist and lording it over people that we've beaten content first, we extended help and encouragement to those working on content we've completed so that they could accomplish the same things? What if we spent less time telling people they're noobs because they haven't done what we have or because they chose not to pursue the same challenges we did? What if we just took pride in our own accomplishments without comparing ourselves to everyone else? What if doing all of that made mechanical nerfs unnecessary?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cataclysm Postmortem

With a lot to look forward to in Mists of Pandaria, I'm going to take a moment to hit the highlights of World of Warcraft's fourth expansion. These observations all come from a fairly casual perspective. I've participated in Raid Finder, but the majority of my time was spent leading 10 person raids with my guild. We formed at the end of Wrath, so Cataclysm is our first expansion together as a guild, and my first expansion as a guild leader. I think we've done well, and again, I'm really looking forward to hitting the shores of Pandaria in the near future. In the mean time, here is how I felt the Cataclysm shook out.

The expansion started out tough. Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight were not the nice, happy, introductory raids to Cataclysm like Naxxramas 2.0 was for Wrath of the Lich King. There were some nerfs eventually, but overall, it was hard for a new raiding guild to get started. Firelands proved just as tough, if not more so. That is until they nerfed it. Even with the lower health and damage, Ragnaros was a ridiculously hard fight due to the amount of things happening, and you know, the fire everywhere. Dragon Soul was the first raid of the expansion that felt properly tuned to me. What I mean by properly tuned is that the average raid group makes steady progress throughout the raid, without hitting any enormous roadblocks that couldn't be over come with gear or practice. While that could be said about any encounter, I never felt hopeless against a boss in Dragon Soul, only that we just needed some more time and effort. It's a little more complicated by the introduction of Raid Finder, which allowed us to see and try versions of the fights before we attempted them in 10 person raids.

Speaking of Raid Finder, I think it's a great idea. At one point, playing WoW was not something I could do with my wife, and I only had scant moments where I got to play for any length of time. Raid Finder is perfect for the people without enough time to commit to a guild and weekly raid schedules. It's a good learning tool for those that do run with guild groups, but I learned early on not to get to worked up about gear from Raid Finder. There were too many people wheeling and dealing with the drops to make it worth it.  This is something being addressed in Mists of Pandaria and the way that loot will work in Raid and Dungeon Finder, so that people can't game the system.

80 to 85
I've posted before what I thought about the 5 levels we were given in Cataclysm. It seemed like it wasn't quite enough, but part of that might have been from the leveling zones we were given. Most people zipped around on flying mounts and went from quest hub to quest hub in a linear fashion which made leveling a breeze. Not that it's all that hard to begin with. Because so much of the expansion focused on the revamped 1 to 60 experience, I think the end game levelers rightfully felt that they were given the short end of the stick. With Mists of Pandaria, we again have only 5 levels to work on, but these will now be focused on one continent that we'll have to travel by foot for those 5 levels. While this may slow people down a bit, I believe it will also make the leveling experience more rewarding.

I used to be a pretty big lore junky. I still am, to an extent, but I haven't kept up with it like I used to. Wrath of the Lich King had one of the best story lines to date as it dealt with some of the major players from the Warcraft RTS games and pitted us against one of the main characters from those games. A lot of us have been playing WoW for the sole purpose of taking down Arthas, the Lich King, and in Wrath, we were given that chance. Cataclysm also brought back a character from the history books. But unlike Arthas, I don't think Deathwing instilled as much intrigue in players because he was not heavily featured in previous games. Still, it was a lot of fun to see the world affected and changed due to his reawakening, even if it did create a sort of skewed timeline with Outland and Northrend.

Each of the new zones and raids fit well with the story. Unlike places like Ulduar (which was still awesome) and Trial of the Crusader, the Cataclysm raids didn't seem to be shoehorned in to fill time until we fought the real bad guy. And even though I'm not a horde player, I enjoyed the Thrall story line. Thrall is a favorite character of mine from the RTS games and the WoW Novels. His journey and the fate of the dragon aspects concludes a long standing storyline for the WoW universe. I'm looking forward to what's in store for Thrall, even as the focus switches to Garrosh, The Horde, and Varian Wrynn.

Final Thoughts
Cataclysm was a blast. We concluded some more long standing story lines withing the universe. Blizzard perfected the tuning of raids, and introduced a whole new way to raid in the process. Leveling wasn't as dynamic as it could have been, but things are looking hopeful for the future. More than anything, I'm ready to put the destruction of the world behind us, and move on to newly discovered lands.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Mists are Inspiring

Cherry Blossoms
Back when it was announced, I signed up for the WoW Annual Pass. My key purposes for doing so were to get an in-game mount and Diablo III (when it was released), and it was all for the low low price of telling Blizzard I would play their game for another year. Something that was a pretty safe bet. Along with that annual pass came a free invitation to play in the Mists of Pandaria beta when it started, which it did recently. I was not planning on participating much in the beta because I didn't want to spoil myself, or bother with bug reports. That didn't stop me from installing it as soon as I got the invite though.

After installing, I tried to make a pandaran monk, but I logged into about 150,000 other pandaran monks in their starting zone who also got invites this weekend, and the game crashed shortly after that. This being a beta, I was prepared for this. Since the game hadn't fully downloaded, I let it sit for awhile and went to watch TV. Then I get a message from a guildie who happens to write about WoW for a living, asking me if I'd run a dungeon with him because he needs some input for his piece that's due soon. Let's see... midnight? Check. Work night? Yeah, check again... Sure. Why not?

I copy over my main, my hunter Elionene, and log into Pandaria where the other 150,000 people who got their invites at the same time as I did are just starting their adventure in the Jade Forest. I try to adjust my video settings, and the game crashes. I make a note and log back in. I meet up with my guild mate and we form a group and queue up for the first dungeon, Temple of the Jade Serpent. The first thing I notice is that I have no macros or key bindings. I was expecting no addons, but I'd forgotten about the macros and things, so I take a few moments to set up the vital ones. (Later I read a neat trick at WoW Insider for copying over your saved stuff from your real account, along with some other nifty beta advice.)

Apparently the first boss is dead or defeated when we log in. It takes a second to get my bearings and then I realize I'm in a huge library. It's impressive. We find our way to the rest of the group and we fight off a stationary water boss (who I'm told is similar to the Lurker Below mechanics, and I confirm this is true). I think we wiped, but the group seemed understanding, and we ran back in and killed him. From there we go through a series of hallways into a courtyard and fight off some monsters and fight another boss that turns into a dragon. The last boss is one of the Sha. The Sha of Doubt to be exact. I told the party I wasn't sure we could beat him. I didn't know why, but I was very doubtful it would happen. I'm still wondering if they ever got that.

Cloud Sepents
We did end up wiping to him twice. The healer (a pandaran monk healer who kept placing these huge statues everywhere) couldn't heal through some of the damage. Something clicked in the third go round, maybe we overcame the doubt, and we won. So that was fun. I was distracted by my macros and key bindings being off, and I wasn't getting very good frame rates, probably because I was still downloading game information in the background.

After that, I ran from the starting area to the center of the zone where my guildie showed me a pretty awesome bridge. And it was on the way there that I realized how beautiful this place was. It was lush and green with flowers and trees everywhere. Epic stone statues, and the Temple of the Jade Serpent towering above it all. My guild mate showed me the Dawn Bridge. A very long bridge with scenic viewing areas built in. It ended at the top of a hill with a breathtaking view of the temple. I couldn't help gawking at it. I was inspired.

To write again that is. It's been over a year since I've posted anything here about Warcraft. I've thought about it many times, but nothing seemed interesting enough, and I took the time to play other games and do other things. My guild progressed through Cataclysm at a fairly good rate. We've beaten all the normal content, which for a bunch of friends raiding together is really all we wanted to do (with a few exceptions).

Dawn Bridge
But seeing the beta, and what we have to look forward to in Mists of Pandaria, got me excited about WoW again. I never gave it up, but I was logging in mainly to interact with the people in my guild, and lead a few raids to clear content, or level an alt with my wife. I wasn't compelled to write about any of that like I was when I saw cloud serpents being ridden through the azure sky from the top of a skinny mountain that I'd walked to across a serpentine bridge. I kept thinking how the last couple of expansions were pretty bleak. Northrend was cold and foreboding. The Cataclysm destroyed much of the existing world. This is the first time in awhile we've seen some places that are flourishing and vibrant.

It feels good to write again. I plan to continue to do so, whether it's about the beta or lore or anything else. I've also included a few pictures of some of the sites I saw. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks, and have a good morning.