WoW: Cloak Crazy

As of last night, I completed my third and final run through Wrathion’s quest chain in World of Warcraft, earning my rogue her legendary cloak. She follows in the footsteps of my warlock and my monk, who had previously earned theirs.

My World of Warcraft characters show off their legendary cloaksWhen I first completed it on my warlock, I figured I’d never have the patience to attempt such a massive grind again. However, with nothing better to do in this seemingly endless pre-expansion lull, I ended up giving it a go again on my other level 90s. A variety of nerfs had made it much less of a grind than it once was, though still quite an effort.

I still have fairly mixed feelings on the legendary quest, but in the end, I think my positive memories will outshine the negative ones.

A legendary journey:

Yes, it is an ungodly grind, even in its heavily nerfed state. If I never see the Isle of Thunder or its associated raid again, it will be too soon (EXECUTUS). And I still don’t really think a legendary item is something that should just be handed out to anyone and everyone. It may not be a popular opinion, but I think Burning Crusade had the best philosophy to handling legendaries.

However, while I do tend the mock the idea of “accomplishment” in video games, I must admit there is a certain satisfaction to completing such a long journey.

More importantly, it was one of the better pieces of storytelling Warcraft has seen in recent memory. Wrathion is a very interesting and complex character, and it’s great to see a strong anti-hero in WoW again. Let us hope he doesn’t go the way of Illidan and Kael’thas.

My rogue's story is told at the completion of the legendary quest chain in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaAlthough he can be deadly serious at times, Wrathion also brings a lot of humour with him, and the writers manage to incorporate it in a way that doesn’t seem clownish or detract from the player’s ability to take him seriously. That’s a difficult tightrope to walk, and one WoW rarely succeeds at.

And some of his banter with Anduin is just sheer gold.

The few aspects of the chain that didn’t involve a massive grind offered some very fun gameplay, as well.

As I was working through the quests on my monk and rogue, I came to the conclusion that a major portion of my motivation was simply the desire to replay the solo challenges at the Thunder Forge and the Celestial temples.

A lot of people — including myself — like to complain that WoW is far too easy, and there’s a lot of legitimacy to that complaint, but it’s actually a little more nuanced than that. The vast majority of WoW’s content is insultingly easy, but there is difficult content, as well — but it’s insanely, brutally difficult.

What WoW is severely lacking is moderately challenging content. There is no happy medium; only ludicrous extremes.

The solo challenges on the legendary quest fell into that sweet spot of being difficult, but not overly frustrating. I’d usually only die once or twice on each before completing it. And because it’s solo, there’s no sting of letting anyone down if you fail, or feeling of being carried if you succeed.

My monk participates in Niuzao's challenge as part of the legendary questline in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaI really wish we could have more content like that.

Controversy. There’s always controversy:

Of course, just as I was finishing up my final legendary quest, Blizzard came out with the announcement they’ll be removing the entire storyline from the game when Warlords of Draenor is released.

The odds of my ever attempting the quest again were very low, so this doesn’t effect me much, but I still think it’s bad for the game.

Blizzard has made a lot of questionable decisions lately. This isn’t necessarily the worst, but it’s definitely the most confusing.

Nobody benefits from this. It fractures the lore, eliminates an impressive chunk of content, and results in people having less to do during the next year-long content drought.

Content should never, ever be removed unless there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. It’s a known fact that no MMO developer on the planet can produce content faster than players can consume it. A large stable of legacy content is one of the ways to mitigate player boredom during content lulls. Why would Blizzard shoot themselves in the foot by eliminating some?

My monk's image floats above the Seat of Knowledge after earning her legendary cloak in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaI’ve heard Blizzard talk about how it’s a problem that all of the game’s story is so scattered and disjointed. Why would they make that problem even worse by gutting Mists of Pandaria’s main storyline and eliminating a massive amount of development for two crucial lore figures?

The only explanation we’ve gotten so far is that it’s meant as a reward for those who played during MoP, but that doesn’t make any sense. The reward was getting the cloak when it was still relevant. Removing the storyline going forward doesn’t reward anyone, but it does punish a lot of people.

I honestly find it a little insulting that Blizzard thinks I’m a sufficiently petty person that I would view kicking the teeth of everyone who came after me as a reward.

It also seems to indicate that Blizzard cares more about stroking the egos of a vanishingly small minority who find some kind of prestige in a cloak you get from LFR than about its own epic lore and story. That doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence for the future of this franchise.

The news that Warlords of Draenor’s legendary quest will also be temporary content has dampened my already minimal enthusiasm for the new expansion. On top of removing flying, on top of the lack of new features, on top of the wacky lore, I also have the to spend the whole expansion worrying I won’t be able to grind fast enough to finish the chain in time?

Bleh. It’s hard to convince myself it’s even worth playing at that point.

My warlock showing off her legendary cloak in World of WarcraftIt’s rather a trainwreck from a PR perspective, too. They announced the chain’s removal far too late, such that anyone who sees the announcement and thinks, “Damn, I better get on finishing that” will have no reasonable chance of completing the chain unless they were already very close.

And it comes across as incredibly tone-deaf considering how sensitive people are about all that’s being removed in Warlords of Draenor. One of my favourite comments on the matter to date has been, “They ran out of things to remove from the new expansion, so they started removing things from live.”

This is why I struggle to maintain my former level of love for World of Warcraft. It’s not that Blizzard isn’t putting out great content. They are. But there’s inevitably some kind of poison pill, some utterly baffling and pointlessly punitive decision that puts a damper on the festivities. I can never just relax and enjoy the game.

Edit: Because I’m a masochist, I posted this rant on the official forums. If you agree with me, or if you disagree, post and help keep the discussion going.

Always look on the bright side of life…

Well, at least I can be glad I got all the cloaks I wanted while I still could. I’ll enjoy my memories of the storyline, even as I mourn its loss.

Heroes of the Storm Alpha Thoughts

I’ve been playing around with the technical alpha of Heroes of the Storm for a couple weeks now, so I thought it was time to put together my thoughts so far.

My team prepares to begin a match in the Heroes of the Storm alphaFor the most part, I’m enjoying it a lot, and it has met or exceeded nearly all of my expectations. It is exactly what Blizzard wanted it to be: a simple, casual brawler with a fast pace and no shortage of action.

I don’t want to spend too much time going on about how the map objectives make matches much more dynamic than in other MOBAs, or how the removal of in-match gold and items puts the focus purely on the action. Much has already been written about those things in other previews, and all you really need to know is that those things are as cool as you think they will be.

I’d say my favourite maps so far are Haunted Mines and Blackheart’s Bay. I like how Mines almost turns into a totally different game every time the mines open, and it’s a really beautiful map. For whatever reason, Bay seems to always make for the most action-packed games, and Blackheart himself is pretty funny.

“Argh! Argh! …What? It’s just fun to say.”

My least favourites right now are Garden of Terror and Dragonshire. Those seem to be the most similar to traditional MOBA matches. Although I will say that the announcer for Garden of Terror is hilarious.

On the heroes front, I find the ones I thought I’d like and the ones I actually like are quite different. Going in, I was most excited to play Nova and Tyrande, but in practice, my favourite heroes so far are Illidan, Valla, and Tassadar. Valla, in particular, is very fun, and I’m glad I preordered Reaper of Souls, since it included a free unlock of Valla in the full version of Heroes.

Laying an ambush as Tyrande in the Heroes of the Storm alphaTyrande wasn’t bad to play, but I found her a little finicky, and she didn’t feel very powerful to me. I’ve only been able to give Nova a try during the last week, and I’m still making up my mind about her. She’s fun, but maybe not quite as fun as Valla or Illidan. Although she’s not really that hard of a hero to play, Nova can be high stress because any mistakes you make with her can prove costly.

That said, the sheer cool factor of playing as Nova can’t be denied, which brings me to another major highlight of Heroes: the thrill of being able to play as so many iconic Blizzard characters. I wouldn’t be enjoying this game nearly as much as I am if not for the sheer joy of, “I’m frickin’ Arthas, yo!”

I’m trying to put together a stable of heroes I like to represent all franchises and all roles. Valla and Illidan cover DPS, and Tassadar is my main support, but I’m still searching for a good warrior and specialist. Arthas is a decently fun warrior, so he might be my pick there. I’ve yet to find a specialist that really clicked. Nazeebo is kind of fun, but I’m not terribly passionate about him.

I am starting to see where some of the addictiveness of MOBAs comes from. There’s always a new hero to try.

The thing that most surprised me about Heroes is how much detail and personality the game has. Little touches like the flocks of seagulls that scatter before you on Blackheart’s Bay or the banter between heroes.

Destroying the enemy base on Blackheart's Bay in the Heroes of the Storm alphaI really love how much dialogue there is — didn’t expect that at all. I especially like how some pairings of heroes have unique dialogue based on their backstory. There have been some real nerdgasm moments. The other day, I was playing Arthas and killed Uther the Lightbringer, and I heard Arthas say, “Where is your precious Light now, Uther?”

Awesome.

I’ve also quite enjoyed some of the smack talk between the Brothers Stormrage and the not-so-friendly rivalry between Nova and Kerrigan.

All that said, the game is not without its shortcomings.

Concerns:

Whenever people talk of MOBAs, the issue of player toxicity is front and center. MOBAs have earned a reputation as wretched hives of scum and villainy, the lowest rung of gaming society. My experience has been that they’re not really any worse than many other online games — DotA 2 was no nastier than your average WoW battleground — but that’s still really bad, and it’s a serious concern.

I haven’t run into too much bad behaviour in Heroes so far, but it’s still alpha, and there are very few people playing. Things will undoubtedly get much worse once the floodgates open. Blizzard has taken some efforts to mitigate the potential for toxic behaviour by eliminating mechanics that put players into competition with their own team mates, as well as the ability to chat with the enemy team, but I doubt that will be enough.

Delivering coins on Blackheart's Bay in the Heroes of the Storm alphaEven in these early days, I have run into my share of frothing at the mouth nerd-ragers.

I can’t understand why people take it all so seriously, especially in a game this basic and especially in bloody alpha. We’re supposed to be testing the game, not proving ourselves to be the most gosu gamers around.

The free to play implementation leaves something to be desired, too. It’s not bad enough to ruin the game by any stretch of the imagination — it’s light years ahead of, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic — but it’s definitely a system that puts profit ahead of players.

Heroes uses roughly the same model as League of Legends. You’re expected to pay to unlock heroes permanently, but a random selection of heroes are available to play for free, changing every week, and you can earn an in-game currency (gold, in this case) to unlock heroes without paying real world cash. Gold comes from playing matches, doing daily quests, and from leveling up your account and heroes.

You can also unlock cosmetics like unique hero skins and fancy mounts, and these are only available for cash.

I’m not a huge fan of having to unlock heroes in the first place. I’d prefer DotA 2’s system, where all heroes are free, and you only pay for cosmetics.

That said, having to unlock them with cash or grind is not the end of the world, but the system could be handled better.

My team assembles before a match in the Heroes of the Storm alphaWhat bothers me the most is the huge and seemingly arbitrary disparity in prices between different heroes. It’s very demoralizing when a hero you want is, for no apparent reason, vastly more expensive than other, similar heroes. For example, Chen Stormstout is nearly eight times more expensive than Muradin Bronzebeard.

In what world does that make sense?

For this reason, Nova will likely not join my roster of unlocked heroes in the immediate future. I don’t feel comfortable dropping cash in an alpha, and I don’t see myself having 10,000 gold to burn any time soon.

That said, I’ve been playing for less than a month, and I’ve already managed to unlock four heroes without spending money, so I guess the situation’s not really that bad.

* * *

Despite a few complaints, and the buggy and unreliable nature of alpha, I do find myself enjoying Heroes of the Storm immensely, despite my general distaste for competitive gaming.

If you’re not in the alpha and have any questions, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer them. And if you are in the alpha, share your thoughts.