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!
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!
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.”
“But not my name.”
Pretty rad, Mom. Pretty rad.
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.
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?
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.
I’m going to say something that may be painfully obvious to the rest of the world, but which has only fully formed in my head in the last week or so:
- The more challenging, innovative, and interesting a raid encounter is on normal, the less efficient it will be on LFR.
- The more efficient, troll-proof, and straight-forward a raid encounter is on LFR, the less interesting it will be on normal.
The reason for this is simple – LFR and normal mode raiding have fundamentally different goals:
Normal raids are (generally) worked through by an established, consistent raid group over the course of several weeks and months, throughout the life-span of a raiding tier. They require significant cooperation and planning. Additional challenges like achievements and heroic modes are designed to prolong the shelf-life of that tier, and provide additional rewards for repeating the content.
LFR is a system designed to be accessible to all max-level characters. It is supposed to provide the “feel” of raiding, but without the time commitment or coordination. In addition, it provides exposure to new encounters for normal-mode raiders who are there to learn, and for players who raid exclusively in LFR, it is a chance to experience current raiding content. The gear and Valor point rewards can be desirable to both raiders and non-raiders.
See the problem here? Normal raiding is about prolonging the experience and challenge of a raid tier. LFR is designed to abridge it. As much as Blizzard has worked to improve the system since it was first released, this is a problem that simply will not go away because the fights themselves are not designed to be able to serve these two purposes simultaneously.
The “best” LFR was pretty inarguably Dragon Soul. It generally went quickly, the fights required minimal explanation, and the raid itself had been designed so that only one major boss ability could be removed from the normal version of the encounter in order to make it translatable to Raid Finder. There were a few fights that required significantly more coordination (Hagara, Spine), but many could be reduced to a strategy something like, “Stack up for healing, DPS the boss.”
Of course, Dragon Soul was not a very good raid. No small part of this was because Dragon Soul wasn’t particularly challenging, nor did it call for innovative strategies. The fights were more complex on normal than they were on LFR difficulty, but because they had specifically been designed to be translatable to the LFR setting, many of their strategies could also be reduced to “Stack up for healing, except during X,” X being the additional mechanic that had been removed for LFR.
This type of fight, a “brute force” or “turret” encounter (think Patchwerk, Ultraxion), works very well for LFR. It requires minimal explanation and it means that your group will not wipe if a few people aren’t doing their jobs very well. By contrast, an “execution fight” (Spine, Elegon, Durumu) can be extremely fun and interesting in a traditional raid environment, while making you want to delete your account after wiping repeatedly to it on LFR.
Throne of Thunder has been described by Blizzard as the next Ulduar, and while I’m not exactly certain about that comparison, I can say that ToT is easily the most fun I’ve had in a raid instance since Wrath. That said, I don’t go anywhere near the ToT LFR unless I have a group of guildies with me, and I have absolutely no intention of bothering with it on my alts. It’s really a great and unique raid, and that means it is necessarily a terrible LFR experience. If the primary goal of the LFR system is to provide an abridged, efficient experience of the normal version of the raid, the ToT LFR has failed in this regard.
How can Blizzard’s encounter designers serve two masters in this sense? How can they create boss mechanics that are challenging, creative, new – while also being easily explainable, immune to sabotage, and not overly dependent on individual performance? The simple answer: They can’t.
What’s the solution? Well, I have two ideas, each of which pose their own sets of problems.
Option 1: Buff the Rewards
The simplest change to implement would be to significantly buff to the rewards provided by LFR. In tier 15, LFR rewards are a substantially lower than the comparable normal-mode gear, only slightly higher than normal-mode gear from the previous tier, and are actually lower than double-upgraded normal gear from the previous tier.
As such, there is little incentive for many normal-mode raiders to complete the ToT LFR each week. There are plenty of alternative ways to cap Valor, and since few of the early fights in Throne of Thunder have hard DPS checks, there is little reason to attempt to replace any gear that wasn’t already 489 or better prior to the current patch. For players whose only raiding opportunities come from LFR, the difficulty and time commitment involved are major reasons to avoid the ToT LFRs for the moment.
Frankly, I think merely buffing the rewards would be a poor choice. It solves none of the inherent problems with the conversion of raid encounters to LFR difficulty, and it doesn’t change the time commitment required to complete ToT’s LFR. It may also serve to make LFR even less accessible to non-raiders who do not know the fights and who are more undergeared than traditional raiders who use the system.
Furthermore, buffing the rewards from LFR only increases the incentive to run LFR for those people who are motivated by improving their gear. This is not a universal motivation, and it is a motivation that Blizzard has frequently said they would like to de-emphasize if they can find a reasonable way to do so. As such, this solution would only motivate a portion of the playerbase now, and might end up being completely ineffective if WoW’s gear system is someday given a major overhaul.
Option 2: Change the System
Alternatively (and requiring much more effort), Blizzard could keep the rewards exactly as they are, but alter the content of the LFR system drastically. In order for LFR to be successful, and for it to be successful even in raid tiers that have significantly complex and challenging mechanics, encounters would need to be substantially redesigned in order to make them nearly fail-proof.
Essentially, what we would need is a system that constantly provides us with a steady stream of clear instructions, delivered in a way that isn’t overly immersion-breaking. We need fights that are very forgiving of mistakes and which have few mechanics that can easily kill a player. We need NPCs who are capable of tanking and healing effectively for situations when players aren’t able or willing to do so – possibly even to the extent that LFR could create a group with 25 DPS players if no dedicated tanks or healers were available at that time.
Fortunately, this system already exists in the game. It’s called a scenario.
The intelligence of tanking and healing NPCs isn’t perfect, obviously. We also can’t force anyone to listen to the instructions given by these NPCs, or stand in the healing circles and buffs they provide. But imagine an LFR version of Durumu in which a Shado-Pan warrior is always the target for the blue, red, and yellow beams, and knows how to move the beams correctly to complete that phase of the fight. Or, better still, imagine another member of the Shado-Pan assault who bravely hops into Durumu’s maze and shouts, “Follow me!” Would some people still die to the maze? Of course. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. But we would be providing players with a more consistent and accurate form of instruction than dropping them into a group with 24 strangers and hoping someone knows or cares enough to explain.
I would love a system like this. It sounds a lot more fun than the current incarnation of LFR, and it would be a much more appropriate difficultly level for the rewards provided. I have no doubt that there might be some objections to such a severe nerf or alternation to the raid encounters, and certainly it would make LFR have less of the “feel” of a traditional raiding environment. The biggest downside would be the sheer amount of time Blizzard would have to invest to create a system like this. Each fight in a raid tier would essentially have to be redesigned from the ground up as a mini-scenario.
A scenario, however, is a much better model for LFR than what it is now, which is something closer to a random battleground. Battlegrounds don’t provide much in the way of guidance when it comes to strategy or objectives, and rely heavily on players to explain these to their group (with what can be disastrous results). Whether this is the best way to deliver information in battlegrounds can also be debated, but there is a clear distinction that makes it less problematic than in LFR. In a battleground, there are always players who win. Even if we have two teams who are totally clueless about how Arathi Basin works, someone is going to win the battleground at the end, or at least receive a minor reward of Honor Points if all either team manages to do is kill each other a few times. If a group wipes repeatedly to Durumu and never manages to down him, there is no consolation prize. There are no players who win.
Something’s Gotta Give
It is in the best interest of normal-mode raiders for Blizzard to continue to create new and unique raiding tiers. It is in the best interest of anyone who regularly uses LFR for Blizzard to create efficient and fun translations of those encounters. Working within the confines of the current systems, these goals are mutually exclusive. While Tier 14 probably came the closest to achieving both simultaneously, but the breakdown was clear in fights like Elegon and Garalon.
A steady stream of nerfs to LFR content after it has been released isn’t the best answer, either. Many players shy away from a particularly difficult LFR encounter after they’ve seen just how bad it can be, and may be unwilling to return to it even after it has been nerfed. Additionally, there are plenty of encounters that simply are not easy to nerf in a correct way, or in any way, that will make them easier to complete on LFR. In many cases, it is not simply a matter of removing one mechanic or decreasing damage across the board – a more creative and nuanced solution is required.
In a perfect world with unlimited developer resources, I think the best answer would be to make LFRs more like scenarios in the ways discussed above. Properly implemented, this would not only solve some of the issues with difficulty and trolling, but also reduce the long queue times for DPS and tanks. In order to ensure the success of LFR in the long run, Blizzard must find some way to revamp the current system so that it is a fun experience and not a weekly chore that seems to eat up more and more time each tier.
Do you agree that better raids make for worse LFRs? How would you solve this problem? Would you enjoy LFR if it were more like a scenario? Or, do you think that would make LFR too easy and unfairly reward those who participate?
The first part of the Throne of Thunder LFR has just gone live, and it’s time to show those trolls we mean business. Since reports from the PTR told us that t15 LFRs are likely to be a lot less forgiving than the previous tier, it is even more important to be sure we are giving our LFR groups some information on the fights. Below you will find copy and paste strategies for the 3 bosses in “Last Stand of the Zandalari.”
Jin’rokh the Breaker
/i TANKS: This fight has a tank swap. You need to taunt whenever the other tank gets the debuff Static Wound.
/i EVERYONE ELSE: If you are targeted by Focused Lightning, kite it away from the group and do not let it go through the pools of water that will be on the ground.
/i Unless you are kiting, you should stand in the pool of water for a DPS and healing buff. Run out of the water when the boss casts Lightning Storm or you will die. Once a pool is Electrified, you cannot go back into it.
/i TANKS: One tank will be on Horridon and one will be on the adds who come through these 4 doors. Tanks should trade places after each door to clear the Triple Puncture debuff that Horridon will put on you.
/i HEALERS: The troll adds put up lots of debuffs. Please dispel as much as you can as often as you can. PRIESTS: Please use Mass Dispell on the first door.
/i EVERYONE: Do NOT stand at Horridon’s head or his tail. Dinomancers are first kill priority, AoE down the other trolls. Click the Orb of Command when it drops. Avoid all the ground effects – DBM will yell at you if you are in them.
Council of Elders
/i TANKS: Only Frost King needs to be “tanked,” other bosses cast or charge. You will get a stacking debuff called Frigid Assault. You must swap before the debuff reaches 15 stacks or you will be stunned.
/i EVERYONE ELSE: First kill priority are Loa Spirits and Living Sands. They MUST die within 20 seconds! If no adds are up, DPS the empowered boss – the BIG PURPLE one.
/i On Frost King: Stack up on the person who gets the Frostbite debuff. On Priestess: Interrupt Wrath of the Loa, kill spirits.
/i On Kazra’jin: Avoid his charges. Use damage reduction CDs when he uses Overload, DON’T KILL YOURSELF by reflecting too much damage! On Sul: Interrupt Sand Bolt, kill adds, don’t stand in quicksand.