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Community Blog Topic: Is Leveling Too Easy?

July 20, 2013
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Never failing to be (more than) fashionably late, here is my response to last week’s Community Blog Topic.  I resisted writing about it for a while, fearing that I would end up being entirely too ranty about the whole thing, and then just gave in to my ranty tendencies.

The notion that leveling has become too easy in a post-Cataclysm Azeroth is so completely presumptuous that it makes me want to go on a Deathwing-style rampage.  The vast majority of players who say that WoW questing has become “too easy” are people who have leveled one (or likely multiple) characters to max level; who are playing with one or several heirlooms; and who are extremely familiar with MMO gameplay and leveling, either exclusively through WoW or through a variety of games.

By and large, long-time players don’t want an extended leveling experience – they want it to be as abbreviated as possible.  While there are certainly some exceptions, most notably those players who invent new challenges like Ironman,  these are much less common than players who quickly push to max level.

WoW is much more focused on endgame content than arguably any other active MMO.  For quite some time now (probably since Burning Crusade), WoW has not been about the journey, but the destination.  Leveling is simply a means to an end, and while we can certainly hash it out over whether that’s helpful or harmful to the playerbase in general, we can’t deny that this is the current climate of the game.

As such, it’s silly to argue over whether leveling is “too easy” for experienced WoW players.  Simplicity doesn’t matter – speed does.  While the two may go hand-in-hand, it’s important to see how one is a by-product of the other.  Fast leveling means a full set of heirlooms, and heirlooms quickly trivialize the difficulty of any content.

If you want to look at leveling difficulty from the only perspective that could possibly matter, ask a player who has never played an MMO before whether they found WoW’s leveling too easy.  Here’s why:

Do you want to keep playing World of Warcraft?  Do you want it to be around for  a few more expansions, and several more years?  If you have any desire to continue playing WoW, then you should recognize that you have a personal investment in new players’ enjoyment of the game.

Many people have come and gone in the 5 years that I’ve been playing WoW, including people who I expected to continue subscribing until the servers went offline.  WoW’s membership has been on the decline since the end of Wrath, and while I don’t believe that’s a sign of the end times for the game, it does mean that we are constantly in need of new blood.

I think it’s a safe guess that the majority of people who self-identify as “gamers” have already tried WoW at this point in the MMO’s lifespan.  Blizzard knows this and has, to the chagrin of some seasoned players, tailored the leveling experience to be friendlier and more accessible to players of all skill levels and gaming experience … and that’s a really good thing.

While it may seem extremely self-satisfying to pat ourselves on the back and reminisce about the days when we had to walk 1o miles uphill in the Barrens to get from Darnassus to Stormwind, this selective nostalgia is often a way to define our experience as better or more important than the experiences of newer players.

What did we gain from having a leveling experience that was especially brutal, grindy, and punishing?  I’m sure there will be those reading this who would reply, “We learned how to play our class!” which simply doesn’t ring true to me.  Perhaps this was the case when we only had 60 levels of talents, passive abilities, and spells to sift through, but it’s difficult to see how it could ever be true with 90.

A level 20 warrior and a level 90 warrior don’t have very much in common.  With the Cataclysm revamp, Blizzard ensured that each class specialization gets some of its flavor early on, but a level 20 character still uses only a very limited number of abilities.  This is how leveling should be – complexity should build as we become accustomed to our surroundings and our character.  It would be entirely overwhelming, particularly for new MMO players, to have all those abilities available at the start.  So while it’s a noble goal to wish that leveling could teach us how to play our characters at max level, the reality is that there is a huge jump in the learning curve when we hit 90 – a jump we only “have” to make IF we are players who want to learn our class in that way.

A prevalent value judgment made by the majority of WoW and MMO players is that, unless you are willing/capable of fully understanding your character and class at max level, you are doing something wrong.  As a community, we largely fail to recognize that it entirely possible to have a blast playing WoW while not necessarily understanding everything you’re doing.

If you aren’t looking to get into hardcore progression raiding or top the PvP brackets, there is nothing inherently wrong with deciding not to min/max your character.  There is nothing wrong with the choice to play WoW casually, at one’s own pace and skill level.  Those who do choose to make their ways into the upper echelons of WoW’s raiding and PvP communities need not act as if that choice makes their experience more meaningful or more correct than the experiences of  those who don’t.  We are all having a great time playing a game that we love, and playing it in the way that best suits us.

Bottom line – questions like this worry me.  When we ask questions that come from the often myopic viewpoints of veteran players in spaces frequented by all types of WoW players, there is a big risk of alienating and demoralizing new players who read the title of this post and think, “Leveling is EASY?”  And, inevitably:  “If that was supposed to be easy, how will I ever be able to do anything at max level?  Why is it worth my time to continue?”

Unweaving the Mistweaver Mystery

July 8, 2013
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So, Tzufit.  How come you’re playing a monk now?

It’s a question I’ve been asked many times since last October, when the switch became more-or-less official.  And, several times, I’ve explained that it has nothing to do with healing numbers or group composition for my raid team.  We like our progression, but we are true believers in the oft-mocked “bring the player, not the class” doctrine.  Members of our raid group are welcome to main whatever toon they want to play, as long as that toon can fill the role we need.

Nor was this the first time that I’ve claimed a new “main”character.  At various times I’ve identified most with a gnome warlock, a Forsaken priest, a death knight tank, a resto druid, and now a Pandaren monk.  While that might make me sound a bit flippant about my character choices, the decision to switch to a new main has always been a difficult one for me.  Switching away from my druid – from Tzufit herself – was especially hard, in no small part because hers is the name by which the community knows me.  Even now, Tzufit remains the GM of my guild, the name people generally call me in Vent, and it’s how I refer to myself in-game.

With all that baggage coming into the expansion, why did I decide to make the switch?  What exactly does monk healing have that druid healing doesn’t, and OMG ARE YOU ABANDONING DRUIDS YOU JERKFACE?

I liked the vast majority of what was going on with druid healing in Cataclysm.  With the major talent revamp in Mists of Pandaria, resto druids gained spells – and yet, I felt like I had fewer buttons to press.  (A caveat here for any resto druids reading, shaking your heads, and thinking “she’s completely wrong!” … I probably am completely wrong.  Like I said, I haven’t done much with my resto druid in either of the Mists raid tiers, so I have no doubt that I’m missing some of the bigger picture.)

Nourish wasn’t worth using anymore.  (Alas, poor Nourish, I knew you well – in Wrath.)  Healing Touch wasn’t worth using anymore.  (Fine.  Good riddance.)  Healing Mushrooms, which I absolutely hated as a concept anyway, were still extremely situational at that point.  My only consolation was that I had tree form back, but after finally coming to grips with my Night Elf model, I felt like I was going through yet another identity crisis.

Enter the monk.

From the moment the monk class was announced at Blizzcon 2011, I knew a few things.  I knew I’d level a monk to 90, I knew that I would want to learn to heal, I knew I would probably love monk healing because I always wanted a true damage/healing hybrid, and I knew that Tzufit was going to have some serious competition.

My monk was in Mogu’shan Vaults the same week she hit 90.  Tzufit was there for our first kills of Stone Guardians and Feng, but my monk was on the roster for everything else up to and including Lei Shen.  I love this class.

I particularly love all the meta-games that accompany Mistweaver healing.  I have to think about generating Chi, and decide when to spend it and when to save it.  I have to spend enough Chi to generate stacks of Mana Tea so that I’ll have effective mana regeneration.  And, of course, there’s Fistweaving, which is an entirely different playstyle that can either contribute meaningfully to DPS or just OOM you and potentially get you killed if you try to do it on certain encounters.

I’ve heard a few players say that Brewmasters are the most challenging tanks to play well, because there is so much more direct interaction with your abilities and your mitigation than for the other tanking classes. For me, Mistweavers are the most challenging (and interesting) healers for very similar reasons.  No other healing class has such a direct responsibility for its mana management, or so many different options about how to approach an encounter.

Especially once your raid team starts to outgear content, healing in particular has a tendency to get boring.  I enjoy healing because, before we get to that outgeared/on farm stage, each encounter is different every time I see it.  One of the tanks might forget a cooldown this week, when he barely took any damage last week.  A DPS could stand in fire this week, when she played perfectly last week.  Healing is the least predictable of any of the roles, and that’s why I like it.

Mistweaver healing has continued to keep my interest, even after my raid team has normal ToT on farm, because there were other ways I could challenge myself.  Because there are so many meta-games involved when I heal on my monk, I can invent new challenges.  I can attempt to spend the entire fight DPSing and see how long I can go without casting a heal, or I can be completely wasteful with my mana and see how quickly I can get it all back.  While there was some potential for this on my Druid (Wrath heroics “healed” as a boomkin, for example), it’s much more built-in to the Mistweaver spec than it is Resto.

Other factors went into my decision, of course.  I’ve already written about my reasons for appreciating the female Pandaren model, I’m a huge fan of the lore and aesthetic of WoW’s monks, and the novelty of the class was also a draw.  I’ll be brutally honest:  I love the special-snowflake fuzzies that come from knowing that I’m one of a limited number of “casual” raiders who is working on heroic content with a Mistweaver monk.  I enjoy feeling like the tiniest bit of a trailblazer in that regard.

For every other class in the game, including those that got major revamps going into Mists, Blizzard had to balance what they and the players wanted that class to be with all the history and nostalgia of what the class has always been.  It’s the difference between designing your own home and remodeling an existing one.  No matter how much Blizzard redesigns a class to modernize it, the class will inevitably be saddled with notions of what it used to be.

So I suppose the short answer (now that you’ve made it through 1000 words) is, I was ready for something new.  Blizzard did an amazing job with the Mistweaver spec.  I wasn’t convinced it was possible, but the developers managed to create a healer that feels different from every other healer in the game, but still feels like a spec that belongs in WoW.  It’s the WoW we know and love, but it’s also brand new.

Meet Hachidori, my main.  Maybe someday she’ll get promoted to GM.  For today, she’s at least made it on to my blog’s header image.

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Justice Points Podcast

July 6, 2013
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I am thrilled to tell you all about a new project I’ve been working on for the last few weeks! Apple Cider Mage and I are co-hosting a brand new WoW podcast called “Justice Points.” We plan to record weekly and will discuss issues related to social justice and feminism in Azeroth.

Our introductory episode is now avaiable on the Justice Points website. You can also follow the podcast on Twitter @justicepoints.  We would love any suggestions you have about topics we can cover in future episodes, and are also looking for people who may be interested in joining us as guests.  This coming week we will release a new episode about women in Mists of Pandaria’s lore.

Thanks for listening!

Update on the Mom-Mage

July 1, 2013
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As some may recall, my mom took her first steps in WoW about a year ago when she tried out the Pandaren starting area while it was still in Beta.  Before the new expansion was released she leveled a Night Elf mage to 20, and I leveled a hunter alongside her so she could get an idea of whether WoW was something she’d want to try in earnest after Mists was released.

Good news … she’s still playing!

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After a long hiatus during the school year (my mom is a college professor), she has finally found time to get back into the game now that she’s on summer break.  She created her brand new Pandaren mage a little over a month ago and has been having a great time.

We have been using Skype to communicate as we play, because I thought it might be a better option than Vent.  Skype is simpler to set up and, by default, doesn’t use a push-to-talk system, so she doesn’t have to worry about trying to hit another button if she has a question or needs to ask for help.

This time around, we found a few ways to make the experience a little easier.  Her first mage had been Frost-speced, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  Unfortunately, the control that Frost offers a seasoned player is a bit complicated for a brand new player, and the Water Elemental proved to be more trouble than it was worth.  Taking the water elemental glyph might have made the situation a little more tolerable (since “Bubbly” wouldn’t be lagging behind, pulling other mobs while he gleefully blasted the one we were supposed to be fighting), but it couldn’t have worked.  My mom already didn’t like her water elemental because he constantly got in between the camera and her character, and she had a really hard time trying to click anything when he was around.  Since the water elemental glyph increases his size in addition to letting him cast while moving, it simply wasn’t an option.

Instead, she’s trying Arcane on her new mage.  I thought this might work out a little better, as Arcane Barrage hits pretty hard on low-level mobs even for characters who aren’t decked out in heirlooms.  She also got the hang of the Arcane Blast / Missiles pretty quickly, and has had a lot of fun with learning to stack up her charges.

Originally, I leveled a Pandaren shaman alongside her, but when she quickly outleveled me (!!!), I switched over to a Gnome rogue I’d left in the early 30 range.  She’s now level 35, and is very eagerly anticipating buying a flying mount.  She is most excited about getting to Pandaria some day, though that may be a while off.

So far, we’ve been lucky to have generally positive experiences.  I took her into her first dungeon (Scarlet Halls) a few weeks ago, and she loved it even if she found it incredibly chaotic.  (And, really, dungeons ARE so chaotic, when you stop to think about it.  Particularly at low levels, and when you have a tank who knows where to go, you rush through from start to finish with barely a moment to stop and loot.)

I’ve been handing over extra battle pets to her from the moment she created her toon, and she nearly always has one of them following her – though she’s not particularly interested in pet battling.  Currently, her top picks seem to be the Phoenix Hatchling and the Core Hound Pup.

She also really enjoys wandering around Azeroth, though sometimes she wishes there were more places she could go to just look around without having to fight mobs.  The first time I got her into Stormwind, she spent over an hour exploring the city.  She also found her way to Ironforge via the tram, explored the in-world version of Zul Gurub, figured how to buy her first mount and riding training, and has made her way all over the Eastern Kingdoms.  And, you know what?  I think that’s pretty rad.  It’s definitely a hell of a lot more coherent than I was when I first started playing.

There have certainly been some hiccups along the way.  It sounds like there’s a pretty decent amount of death happening when I’m not with her, but she understands repairing and knows what to do if she has to accept a rez at the Spirit Healer.  We’ve had a few problems with objects that are difficult to click, or quests that she doesn’t see on her first pass through a quest hub, and the obnoxious Deadwind Pass with its vultures that are 30 levels higher than the toons who mistakenly wander up there from Duskwood.  (That was one of the incidents that required an emergency phone call, and a talk with the Spirit Healer.)

Overall, though, it’s sounds like she’s having a great time so far.  Yesterday morning she asked me to call her, and then she told me a story about a good Samaritan near Booty Bay.  She needed to kill some giants down there, and one of them had “5000!” health.  She stood there for a while, intimidated, until someone on a “seriously big deal dragon!” flew down and said hello to her.  They told her to go ahead and attack the mob, and then they would help.

I’ve recommended that she should be cautious when she speaks to people in-game, and maybe the cynicism of a 5+ year WoW player is doing more harm than good, because – at first – she was afraid to attack the mob since she thought the other player would just fly away and leave her to die.  But this person again encouraged her to attack and promised to help.  When she finally did, they killed the mob “with one spell!” so that she could complete the quest.  She said that she jumped up and down and thanked them before they flew off.

Then, this morning, she was out in Stranglethorn again fighting something underwater along the south coastline.  She noticed a level 90 character fishing nearby, and swam over to watch because fishing is something we haven’t really gone over yet.  The person (who I think was probably a priest, from her description), saw that she wasn’t at full health and healed her.  That, she thought, was cool enough, but then the priest kept an eye on her as she was questing, and put “sparkly U-shaped things!” (shields?  possibly?) on her as she fought the mobs.

To the player on the “seriously big deal dragon!” and the angler-priest:  I wish I knew who you were.  Thank you so SO much.  I know there’s a lot of crap that goes on in our community.  I know that often it seems like there is more bad than good.  But you totally made a new player’s day with your patience and willingness to help … and you totally made a seasoned vet’s day by showing her just how amazing our community can be when it’s at its best.

To the rest of us:  That’s all it takes.  Helping to kill one quest mob or casting one heal can be the moment that makes a difference to a new player.

In preparation for this post, I called my mom to ask what the best and worst parts of WoW were so far.  Her worst experiences were things that I think happened to most of us at the start – getting lost, getting into a situation we can’t get out of, dying and not being able to find our bodies.  Her original answer for the best part of WoW was getting her mount.  But then, a few minutes after we got off the phone, she sent me these texts:

I should have said that my favorite was bonding with my daughter while we commit genocides.
Use it.
But not my name.

Pretty rad, Mom.  Pretty rad.

Battlefield: Boredom

June 29, 2013
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I should probably point out, before I launch into this rant, that I have no inherently bad feelings about dailies.  At MoP’s launch, I actually had a lot of fun with some of the daily quests, especially the ones for the Anglers and the Tillers.  I enjoyed the majority of the Isle of Thunder dailies as well, even if they did get a bit lengthy once your server unlocked all the areas.  In general, I don’t mind doing dailies, but I also don’t often find them especially compelling or fun.  I think it’s probably not such a bad thing that Blizzard wants to give its players an incentive to log in and do something every day, but I’m not the sort of person who needs that incentive.  I can almost always find something I want to do in-game, and my tastes tend toward raiding, dungeons, working on alts, and so forth.  Repetitive quests aren’t high on the list for me.

Fortunately, we’re in the middle of an expansion in which Blizzard has done just about everything they can to ensure that we have multiple paths to achieve pretty much anything we want.  I’ve never bought into the idea that we are “required” to do anything at all in-game, and if I don’t enjoy one particular progression path, I just find another that suits me.

All that said … if someone asked me to design the most obnoxious daily quests I could think of, my answer probably wouldn’t look much different than the Battlefield: Barrens quests.

Escort yourselves, you jerk kodo.

Escort yourself, you jerk kodo.

The 5.3 Barrens “weekly” is grindy to an absolute extreme.  While the Valor Points reward is fantastic, and probably even proportionate to the amount of work that you do, it’s certainly not an enjoyable process.  We’re talking about getting 600 items over the course of a week, and – depending upon your skill and your character’s gear – you may be grinding those 600 items one mob at a time.  I made the mistake of doing this weekly quest on my mage, who had been level 90 for about 2 days at the time and was sporting a 455 iLevel.  It took a very long time.

I found that the mobs hit a fresh 90 pretty darn hard, but I stuck with it because the initial questline eventually rewards a pair of 502 boots.  In an irony that is not uncommon for WoW in this expansion, the only characters who need the loot provided by this quest (or by the random enchant Kor’kron items) are those who are relatively undergeared; and relatively undergeared characters are the only ones who are going to have difficulty getting through this questline.

Worse still, many of the zone objective actively discourage cooperation.  I really like the idea of the commanders and caravans, which remind me somewhat of the rifts and zone invasions in Rift that add a random and exciting element to what might be a slow-moving leveling experience.  In that sense, I hope Blizzard will continue to experiment with these zone events in the future – but with a different implementation.

Commanders work pretty well as-is, since their health scales based upon the number of people who are in combat with them, and everyone who participates in the fight is rewarded for their efforts.  Caravans are a different story.  When you defend a caravan, the loot that drops from the attacking mobs goes only to the first person who tags each mob.  While they usually only drop one item, if you escort a caravan from start to finish then you will probably fight between 10 and 15 mobs.

Having people spam instant-casts just to be able to hit a mob first seems to go against the general idea of caravans being a faction-specific group objective.  Realistically, these mobs probably shouldn’t drop loot at all – when I soloed caravans, I usually didn’t have time to loot along the way, so I’d end up flying back along the entire path of dead orcs to pick up my 15 lumber after the fact.  The items these mobs drop should be incorporated into the reward you get for successfully escorting a caravan to its destination.  (Of course, the items you get for commanders and caravans are more or less randomly determined, so it’s entirely possible that you may end up with 300 oil and 20 lumber if you’re only participating in the zone events and not also grinding specific mobs.)

As for the over-turned shipments, I imagine that these are a lot of fun on PvP realms where opposing factions can battle it out as everyone swarms to the area.  Even so, there must be a decent number of people who wait for another player to engage the opposing faction in a fight, and then try to loot as much of the cargo as they can without being noticed.  (Maybe that’s part of the fun?  Perhaps someone who plays on a PvP realm can weigh in, here.)  On PvE realms, this event is substantially less interesting, as it is basically a simple test of who can stand in the best strategic area to loot as many items as quickly as possible.

Despite a lot of potential for future experimentation with zone events, I’ve found Patch 5.3 to be the weakest overall in this expansion.  While the new scenarios have given us some idea of how “the Story” is progressing, there simply isn’t enough going on in the Barrens quests to keep them interesting.  We’ve also gone through yet another patch in which there has been no solution to address the difficulty of gearing a new 90 so that they can participate in current content … but that discussion, and more about the difficulty of alting in Pandaria, is another post for another day.

How are you enjoying Patch 5.3?  Have you regularly participated in the Battleground: Barrens quests and events?  Do you enjoy the new “zone event” style of questing/dailies?

Twisted Nether Interview

June 13, 2013
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Episode 202 of the Twisted Nether Blogcast (the fantastically named “Bloggers Go Whoosh!”), is now available on the podcast’s website.  Thanks once again to Fimlys and Hydra for being such wonderful hosts – I had a great time talking to them about the newly announced Flexible Raiding system, and all things blogging.

Visiting the Nether

June 6, 2013
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This Sunday, June 9, I’ll be visiting Hydra and Fimlys to chat on the Twisted Nether Blogcast!  If you’d like to listen to the show live, it begins at 8 pm Pacific (11 pm Eastern) and you can listen/chat on the live stream page.  Hope to see you all there!

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