Onwards and upwards

Tap, tap, tap. Is this thing on?

It's been a long while since I posted anything, mainly due to a lack of motivation and anything interesting to report. The Shattered Ravens managed to defeat Deathwing (several times in the end) but motivation has been somewhat lacking - not too surprising given we've been playing for eight years. Pandaria brought a flurry of excitement and activity, but that then seemed to founder under the weight of dailies and even hardcore, longtime players are feeling burned out. Despite that, we've just started dabbling in raids and we had our first outing last week (which proved painful, though that's not too unusual for a first visit). This week's run was, however, cancelled due to a shortage of players - we've had a couple of people stop playing, some move to another guild and others focussing on real-world issues (a couple of new arrivals). That's left us with exactly the right number of tanks and healers (and a surfeit of DPS), so if any of the healers/tanks can't make it we're stuck. I'm one of those who've changed roles, playing Muirrin my Resto Druid instead of Andromache (Leafshine, our other Resto is currently tanking a new sapling) though Andro remains my go-to-gal for day-to-day mooching around Pandaria (she's pursuing Golden Lotus and August Celestials while Murrin chases Golden Lotus and Shado Pan).

There's no easy solution to this shortage of bodies - a diversification of roles (though it doesn't help that most of the altoholics are already in the tank/healer slots so there's limited flexibility), or drawing in new blood. A limitation here is that we've traditionally recruited from friends or friends of friends rather than having an open recruitment policy. That's served us well in the past and kept things mostly cordial within the guild (though it's not stopped the occasional blow-up), but we may have exhausted that pool (at least those who don't mind the Ravens' casual bimbling approach to things). It may be that we end up using LFR more rather than organizing guild runs, but as a key draw for raiding to me is playing with my friends rather than strangers, I'd rather do that as a stop-gap rather than as the norm.

Of course there's also scenarios and heroics to do - neither Andro nor Mu have done major ammounts of each so there's plenty of room for gearing up and having fun, albeit in smaller groups.

Addendum: Less time playing WOW (as seems to be the case) has meant time to dabble in other interests be they MMOs (LOTRO, TSW and GW2, though without my guildees they feel a tad empty ), offline games (Total War Shogun 2, Skyrim or Sleeping Dogs on the PC, Borderlands 2 and Tomb Raider on the PS3 or Civ 5 on the Mac), or catching up on various TV series (notably Burn Notice, The Mentalist, Covert Affairs, Falling Skies, Supernatural and Grimm). And lots of books to plow through, so plenty going on :)

When I woke this morning I found a Beta invite waiting in my mailbox and expected a long download before I could play it. As it happened, after 15 minutes sufficient sections of the game had downloaded to allow me to play and I was able to sneak in a brief exploration of the Wandering Isle before heading to work. Of course, I had my trusty camera with me and snapped the following:

 

Pandaria Beta loading

 

Pandaria Character Generation

Pandaria Character Selection

Pandaria - a first view of the dojo

The dojo

The Wandering Isle

 

 

 

 

 

The Wandering Isle

The Village

The Wandering Isle 

Inside the Dojo 

We have Panda-sign

So, the Mists of Pandaria is starting and yours truly has a beta invite (and played briefly this morning). Time to dust of the Witching Hour and report on the goings-on on the Wandering Isle and elsewhere in Azeroth!

Nope, not dead or quit the game - just not been blogging.

A lot of recent playing has either been dailies (having recently completed the Molten Front sets) or the guild's weekly raids (we're currently saying hello to Nefarian). A lot of time has also been spent with my druid alts, either Muirrin (my lvl 85 healer/boomkin who has recently been dabling in healing heroics) or Samair (my worgen kitty/bear druid who is currently working through Wrath content). Both have provided a very different experience to Andro - though I'll freely admit I suck at boomkin DPS - and have been fun to play. I really should get my hunter and paladin out more too (as they're both in the 80s, just not at 85 yet ...

[CC'd from Ravens guildspam]

 

It is with sad regret that Andromatche must announce her resignation of leadership of the Shuttered Rivens and her departure from Azerath and the Weald of Wartcraft. Catastrophe has proved to be an utter faceroll and the enjoyment has gone from the game. There's only so many times you can say "u noob" to Deathwhinge as you solo him or change your hairdo for raids. Instead, she's going to concentrate on some truly hardcore games - Nintendogs (on the GBA) and My little Sparklepony (on the Wii). You can also find her online playing the totallay awsome wowkiller MMO Final Fantasy XIV where she goes by the name Loof Lirpa (to protect her from the legions of adoring fans, stalkers and gnomes).
 
Andro's not leaving you all in the lurch though; she's arranged for Stromboli's return to the guild and the gnomish rodent promises to have fun and frolics ready for everyone soon (involving sheep, stepladders and a pound of lard I believe). She's also generously chosen to tackle abuse of the guild bank by selling off all its goods and pocketing the proceeds (which have already been spent on Haris Pilton bags which are, like, totally awsome) and has instead left you a million lucky rabbits feet and a train set.
 
So long suckers.
 
 Andromatche,
Ubermage, vanquisher of carebears and gankers, scourge of the l33t and prettiest non-dwarf in Weald of Wartcraft

A bit of Argybargy

Last night saw the Ravens down Argolath in Baradin Hold. A number of guildees had killed him in Pugs (as well as some other bosses in Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight) but this was our first all-guild raid boss kill of Cataclysm.

 

RIP Pit Lord Argolath

It begins at the end of the world with your resurrection. The baddies have won the war, and in a last ditch effort to save Telaria you're reborn (though technology or the intervention of higher powers) and will be sent back through time to prevent the catastrophe from happened.

So far, so Terminator. This is the basic premise of Rift, the new MMO from Trion Worlds (a company I'll admit to being oblivious to until earlier this year). A couple of people I know got into the Beta and praised it highly - a notable event given recent disasters like FF XIV. I thought I'd take a spin and pre-ordered the game (which was a chore in its own right, but that's another story...).

The game itself releases 1 March (NA) and 4 March (Europe) but "headstart" for pre-orders began last Thursday so I was able to spend a chunk of Sunday mooching around Telaria.

It's surprisingly pretty, in an Aion kind of way, but unlike Aion (or other high character-detail games like Lotro) it seems to run very well with smooth animation and long view distances. I'm not running it on max detail levels yet (though I plan on giving it a whirl) but medium is still pretty and largely lag free (the only graphics lag I noticed was in a huge outdoor raid, and that was of the Wintergrasp door lag level of awkwardness - the game was still playable.

Like WoW (and Warhammer, which is possibly a closer parallel) the game has two factions - the Guardians (dwarves, high elves and Mathosian humans) and the Defiant (Kelari 'dark elves', Ethian humans and Bahmi 'ogres'.) The Guardians are a faith-based group (while the Defiant are technologists) and are the "good guys" but only in the sense that the Alliance are in WoW; it's all a matter of perspective and both groups are pitted against the big nasty in the form of Regulos and the Blood Storm (and the Rifts that strike the world). Each has a couple of unique abilities (some passive) such as sprinting, a spirit-fox form to reduce aggro radius, angelic leaps and so on. None seem game breaking, but they help differentiate the races.

 

Classes and abilities

There are four core classes called callings - warrior, cleric, mage and rogue - which provide a basic template for the character but within each calling there are 8 "souls" that are more specific classes (e.g. Paladin for Warriors, Pyromancer for Mages, Druid for Clerics, Bladedancer for Rogues). Of the 8 souls, each character can have three active - you pick one soul as your first action once you start playing and get a second while in the start area and a third in the first zone of the main world. The 8 are broken into broad categories - Offensive, Defensive, Support, Healing so you can mix and match - a mage, for example can have an Offensive soul, a Healing soul and a Support soul and thus be able to DPS, heal (to some extent) and provide debuffs. A mage can thus serve as a healer (e.g. with the Chloromancer soul) and a cleric as a tank (with the Shaman soul). Okay, there are some exceptions - mages can't tank (they don't have a Defensive soul) but there's a lot of possibilities here, particularly as characters can save "roles" (like a WoW spec) with particular combinations of souls and talent points, allowing them to have an offensive role, a defensive role, a healing role (etc).

Speaking of talent points, here things get interesting. In effect each soul is a talent tree and you spread the points you gain from levelling across them. You can focus on one soul, or you can be a jack of all trades. Like most trees, each soul tree has roots and branches. Branches are where you spend your points, selecting talents that will benefit your character (and like WoW you need to spend 5 points in a tier before you can buy points from the next tier). Roots are the total points spent in that tree and determine your abilities (rather than them being directly level-bases); you'll start with a couple of abilities for that character then gain more at 2, 4, 6, 8 (etc) points spent in the tree. Abilities aren't static - as you level you can buy higher ranks, improving their effectiveness.

You can have six characters per Shard (server) which, on PvE realms at least (I've not looked at a PvP one) can be spread across both factions. However, each faction only has one starting area and there's no racial limitation on classes so things might get a little samey after a while.

 

Combat

            Combat in Rift seems to flow quite well and isn't radically different to other games. Your effectiveness and survivability is dependent on your souls (so a mage taking on multiple mobs can get messy) but with care and attention there are few problems soloing the quests in the starter area and the first zone of the real world. There are the usual caveats; over-camped quest mobs (where grouping is an advantage) and the hated kill-10-rats quests (which Rift doesn't manage to escape).

On the flip side, there are the eponymous Rifts themselves that emerge across the landscape, sometimes in isolated (and initially soloable) incidents and then morphing into large and unpleasant invasions. Here Rift takes a leaf out of Warhammer Online's book and has "public groups" that anyone can join so as to defeat the bigger, badder mobs. Each rift spawns several waves of increasingly nasty opponents, ending with a mini boss (who varies from the unpleasant to the downright ouch-worthy). Once the encounter is over, rewards are dished out automatically depending on your level of involvement (there's a contribution meter on the Rift indicator). It mostly works, though occasionally on the bigger bosses (which often have associated world quests) seem to have missed out on the kill credit (and thus quest completion) presumably because another raid (in the biggest encounters there are often multiple raids) was recognized as the killer despite others' contribution. That might be a hiccup or misunderstanding on my part so will have to see how it goes. Rewards may be crystals or items of various

            My one worry here harkens back to Warhammer too; there many of the public quests, in their initial form at least, became unplayable once the first wave of characters passed through; there simply weren't enough bodies to make the encounters survivable. Will the same happen to Rifts (which are a central part of the game, including the mechanism for acquiring new souls)? I'm hoping that the Rifts will scale with the number of players but from what I've seen so far I presume there'll still be a minimum force level that may be a challenge to meet.

            I can't comment on Instances in Rift as I've not been into one yet (and in the back of my mind I recall the poor implementation in Warhammer that effectively killed my participation in that game). I have, however, been into one of Rift's Warfronts (the equivalent of a WoW Battleground), having been sent there by a succession of quests. It seemed to play very much like a WOW battlefield with an item to be captured, the holding of which awards point and when the counter hits 500 that group wins. There may be more nuances than that, but as a level 12 in a 10-19 battleground I spend much of the game desperately trying to survive and pull my weight J

            One thing to note is dying, which seems to hybridize the WoW, Aion and Lotro systems. Once per hour you can "Soul Walk" (self rez, though it takes a few seconds to kick in). At other times, you can corpse-run or rez at the 'spirit healer' (resurrection technician; delete as appropriate). After the first few levels, dying costs you 10% of you soul's vitality and if you hit 0% you suffer rez-sickeness for four minutes (50% stats); rezzing at the spirit healer-analogue hits you for a much higher part of your vitality. You can, however, visit a Healer who both restores your vitality and cures you rez sickness, the more restoration needed the higher the cost. It's not explained overly in game (so I guess I should have read the manual) but seems to work quite well as a balancing mechanism. I died quite a lot ...

 

Economics

            The monetary system of Rift is Silver, Gold and Platinum (and by my teens I was just edging into the platinum so spending power is broadly analogous to copper, silver and gold in WoW). There's an AH system, mailboxes, character banks and the ability to buy more bank bag slots. Bags, so far, are titchy - 4 and 6 slotters mostly, though some are larger - so space is sometimes at a premium (characters can have 5 bags, banks 8 but you have to buy the bank bag slots and prices escalate). Items follow a colour-coding system almost identical to WoW.

            Each character can have up to three tradeskills that may be crafting skills (Apothecary, armorsmith, artificer, outfitter, runecrafter, weaponsmith) or gatherers (butcher, forager, miner). A rough equivalency with WoW is:

 

            Rift                              WOW

Apothecary                Alchemist

Armorsmith                Blacksmith (armorsmith)

Artificer                       Jewelcrafter(ish)

Outfitter                       Tailor/Leatherworker

Runecrafter                Enchanter

Weaponsmith            Blacksmith (weaponsmith)

Butcher                       Skinner

Forager                      Herbalist

Miner                          Miner

 

            The crafting system is closer to that of Lotro than WOW, requiring workbenches and with the ability to enhance the basic recipes with additional components. It's not as heavily tiered as Lotro though (which required you to make gain X number of points in a tier before progressing) rather it uses a wow-like points system. It feels quite sleek and polished, though it remains to be seem how effective it is (in my two crafting professions I've only gained 20-30 skill points while by gathering profession is in the 50s; the next skill tier kicks in at 75).

            There seem to be an array of vendors though I've not availed myself of them but a mix of loot, quest rewards and selling trash ensures a decent supply of money. In this it feels more like WoW than LotrO (where maintaining cash-flow always seemed a chore) and I seem to have plenty of money for my needs. Of course, crafters tend to luck out here, needing to diss items for crafting mats such as salvaging armour and weapons, or runebreaking items (disenchanting) for materials.

 

Travel

            Initially, travel will be by running or walking though mounts are available if you can afford them. You can also bind to specific cities using devices known as Porticulums. There's no griffin/horse network, so get used to using auto-run!

 

In summary

            In summary, Rift is quite a polished game. It seems to be pitched squarely at WoW players and is sufficiently similar to be picked up without any difficulty. I've yet to run into any significant game issues and most features you're familiar with in modern MMOs are there (or are due to implemented in content patches). However, that similarity may be its downfall - it doesn't (yet at least) offer anything radically different to Blizzard's juggernaut and while its release timing (and darker tone) may lure people dissatisfied with Cataclysm away from WoW, can it hold their attention? Other games like Aion and War managed to lure some of Warcraft's demographic, but in a lot of cases didn't hold their attention for long and they came back to WoW. Can Rift break the cycle? I'm not convinced, though from what I've seen it's technically better game than NCSoft's offering (though at times it did remind me of Guild Wars to an extent). It's certainly more geared towards the western audience than the Korean grind-fests, but is there enough there to keep people? A lot will depend on the players and the type of community they build (which I'm not hopeful about - I've already seen plenty of the inane/offensive barrens-chat type chat-channel conversations, abuse of the need-greed mechanism and general selfishness for quest mobs).

            For now, it's a fun game but the proof will be in the pudding; can it hold my attention beyond the starter levels or, like Aion (which was tedious), Conan (which was just plain bad) and Warhammer (which seemed too focussed on PvP to the exclusion of instances) will it quickly loose it's attraction? WOW I've been playing for six years (and to a lesser extent Lotro for four or so); most of those others only lasted a few weeks. Thankfully, none of those were as horrible as FFXIV which took longer to patch than I ever spent playing (actually, it took longer to figure out the subscription system than I spent playing), had the worst excuse for a manual I've ever seen (Rifts is much better, though not quite at the Lotro or original WOW levels), and which which required a kick-ass system to run on minimal settings (hence my killing it amost right away) despite having piss-poor content.

... than a werewolf with a top hat.

 

Top hat and tail

 

 

Obsessions

Muirrin is obsessed (well, I am, and she's the avatar for this obsession).

Ando is, as I may have mentioned before, something of a pet and mount collector and while I've been a tad slack in aquiring them recently (there's only so many horses, striders, cats, etc a mage can have) there's one in particular she'd love to get her hands on: the bike. I could buy one on the AH or commission a guildee to make one, but with young Muirrin a 450-rated engineer, I set my heart on doing it myself (farming the matts and rep needed).

As a consequence, Muirrin has broken off from swimming around Vashj'ir and instead been scouring Northrend for quests that award Alliance Vanguard rep (either directly or via the subsidiary factions). She's done everything she can find in Borean Tundra, Howling Fjords and Grizzly Hills as well as large chunks of Dragonblight and Storm Peaks. gaining about 80% of a level while doing so (Northrend mob-kill XP may be nerfed for 80s, quest XP isn't) Friendly and honored flew by but things slowed as she worked through revered and honored. She hit the first "wall" at about 1k into the Exalted grind, then another at 11k. In both cases I managed to dig out new blocks of quests I'd skipped or missed, dragging things inexorably foreward.

Yesterday I was sure I'd need to do half a dozen heroics to grind the rep through championing, but in the end two blocks of quests allowed Mu to push to 18.5k/21k. I'm pretty sure that's it for regular quests unless she unlocks somethign else (there is one more chain, but it's a pain and has its own mini-grind part way though). She might finish on Saturday (as she can grind just over 1000 rep a day through dailies) but a single heroic instance might see her sorted too ... will have to see.

Getting Worgenized

It's been a funny couple of days.

To allow for new Cata characters I've split my Alliance and Horde characters onto different accounts (which made for some interesting interaction with officers of the Horde-side guild I'm in as the account-move removes guild affiliation). All done now though, so space for a new Worgen (and A N Other, who may be a dwarf Shaman - I'm still deciding) and for sundry gobbos.

I finally got the last of my Vanilla characters to 80 at about 9:30pm on Monday (so about 90 minutes before the Cata launch). This young lady, Muirrin, began life as a Tauren male - Eben - but he got lonely and race-changed. He's been kicking around since the summer of 2005 (when he reached level 35 and got stuck in a rut) so it's one of the longest climbs to the level cap of any of my toons.

My Cata boxes didn't arrive on Monday (but more on those in a mo) nor did those of several other guildies so we decided to hit various dungerons for rep, reward and quest completions. We were in Drak Tharon Keep when the masses in Stormwind were asked to log off to allow Cata to be activated (only to not get on as the longin servers were swamped) and weren't booted off. As such, we emerged from DTK (having noticed Guild Rep starting to appear) to a fairly quiet Steamwheedle Cartel.

My door buzzer rang at about 10am on Tuesday morning, announcing the arrival of my CE, and as I was walking to pick up the doorphone and hit the unlock, the postman pushed my normal copy through the letterbox. Given the standard copy was posted on Friday and the CE on Monday, what are the odds both would arrive within 30 seconds of each other ... :)

Andro at NespirahAndro (and Muirrin) spent a while wandering round Vashj'ir on Tuesday afternoon - I knew of a particular bottleneck that I wanted to get them past before the ravening hordes came out of school in the late afternoon, and once that was done (and Muirrin hitting 81, ironic given she'd just dinged 80 ...) Muirrin headed back to the peace and quiet of the old world to complete quests in Grizzly Hills and Storm Peaks; while mob-kill XP has been reduced to 10% of what it was, quest XP hasn't so she netted another half-level completing Grizzly Hills and Storm Peaks. It was nice to get the achievements (and gold) for this but the main reason was rep, specifically Alliance Vanguard as she wants the chopper schematic. She's almost there - just 8k left, which hopefully can be sorted with dailys, Tournament quests and some "retro" heroics.

At the World TreeThe population shift to the new zones has had another effect: Less competition for rare spawns. Andro netted Old Crystalbark, Griegen and Dirkee (in all three cases Muirrin spotted them first and I switched to Andro to hunt them down). Maebh, my hunter, has continued her quest for pets (specifically Aotona and Skoll), and while Aotona still eludes her (save for finding the bird dead on Saturday) she finally bagged Skoll, completing her set of all four Northrend spirit beasts (now the two Cata ones to get ...)

She's been making various sorties around Storm peaks looking for him (since I know the spawn points) and noted they were camped solid all weekend. Things were quieter yesterday, but still no joy. I decided on one last pass before bed and turned up zip. I contemplated logging off in an inn but thought nah, I'll do my usual trick of the last fortnight and log at the spawn point overlooking Brunnhildar Village. I was just landing and pop. He appeared in front of me. Addrenalin kicked in and I made a hash of the first tame attempt but took a deep breath and dropped a trap and managed to grab him at the second try. Heart pounding and hands trembling was probably not the best thing at bed time ...

GilneasSo I decided to push my baby Worgen through the first few levels, reaching the point where she was in the village and thus had access to the mailbox (and heirlooms) and to profession trainers.

I'm in two minds about pushing towards 85. Yes, Muirrin is 81 and we have a couple of 82s (and one 83) in the guild - the Realm-First 85 was about 1pm, 14 hours after launch, so I expect some in the guild will be there before the weekend. I saw much of Vashj'ir and Hyjal in the beta so the explorer in me isn't chomping at the bit and I'd like to savor the zones (and the other three) rather than rushing through them. I'll probably take two 80s through each of the starter zones (initially at least - Andro will aim to do them all, achievement junkie that she is) but given they'll be mobbed, I (well, Muirrin at least) may continue to lurk in the old world for a little while, making the most of the peace and quiet.

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