A Solo Heart

A death knight stands over rocky precipice in Stonecore.

You’d never be able to tell now but in high school I was a cross-country runner and skier. Most of the long-distance game was actually mental, not physical. Training gave me the endurance and muscles, speed but nothing ever prepared me for spending long chunks of time inside of  my head keeping myself motivated. I had to do whatever it took mentally to keep one foot in front of the other, especially when all my body was doing was telling me, “Stop. Just rest a second. Just slow down.”

When the rain was running into my eyes or when my lungs were burning, the little voice got louder and I had to focus on some meaningless phrase on repeat or the rhythm of my footsteps. There were no shortcuts here, just myself and the road and I wasn’t going to let the road beat me.

While I don’t think that playing World of Warcraft is even in the realm of marathons, I’ve always thought of myself as a decent solo player. I do things alone a lot as a way of focusing on a task or giving myself space and time to clear my head out. I’ve always had the tether of a guild or other people if I wanted to go do something else, so it’s been really interesting to have very little of either. For the past week or so I’ve been soloing dungeons on a death knight, on a server I have no guildmates on, just to see if I could.

The project started out very pragmatically last Christmas, where I rolled up a death knight one night because my friend told me that a guild had just transferred to Mal’ganis and were letting anyone in for free to get to exalted with the guild and buy the guild raid meta achievement mount. I created a death knight, not because I knew how to play one but because the mount required being level 85 and I figured that the shorter distance for leveling would be fine. I got exalted pretty quickly with the guild and bailed, and the death knight got left to rot with a nice mount sitting in her bags.

It’s hard to force myself to play something I don’t innately understand and I had better things to do, especially when most of early Outlands consisted of level 90s from Kel’thuzad smearing my already twice-dead corpse from the Dark Portal and back.

Now that we are a whole year later and I’ve run out of stuff to do with this expansion, my vigor for leveling alts has returned once again, especially with the recent change to Bind on Account items. The mount sitting in my death knight’s bags started calling to me, as leveling to 85 would be superbly easy now that I could load that toon up with awesome gear.

I started looking up leveling guides, clearing off my bars (a must-do whenever I come back to a particularly old set of action bars) and started asking questions. The goal was to get from Point A and Point B (level 62 to level 85) in the shortest, easy way possible – a spec built for murder (Blood), the best gear available (heirlooms) and all the content I knew like the back of my hand.

After spending two levels getting the gist of the spec from quests, I found myself getting bored. Remembering how blood death knights are the reigning queens of solo content, I wondered aloud if perhaps I could solo a dungeon. I was slightly above level but I picked something easy like Hellfire Ramparts.

Huh, that was easy.

It really surprised me that I managed to clear an entire dungeon, solo, at level 64 with no deaths. It was just Hellfire Ramparts, surely this would fall apart once I did a real dungeon.

So I did Blood Furnace.

Then Slave Pens.

Then Underbog.

Here, someone who was still relatively new to a class was not only soloing at-level dungeons but not even dying that much. I got some tweaks from my friends to my rotation and cooldowns and I was streaming all of my progress. I tackled all of Auchindoun, and even dying a bit, it still felt like I had accomplished something.

Here’s the funny thing about success, especially when you find yourself having an audience – the voices that were only you wrestling with yourself suddenly become you wrestling with how you feel everyone else thinks about you. The time I started hitting Wrath dungeons, more or less roughly at level as well, a new ticker-tape of self-criticism came in. I was only soloing because I had heirlooms. It isn’t because I was good, or capable. I had help. I had the best gear I could get my hands on. Every mistake I made, like when I wiped on trash or didn’t use my cooldowns properly, I felt like I was proving everyone along the way that had made some shitty comment about how women were terrible at video games.

The onslaught of internalized feelings that I was somehow letting ALL WOMEN GAMERS down because I failed on a trash pack in Ankahet was somewhat surprising. I’ve been pretty good at un-training my brain to stop with that kind of garbage, but the addition of an audience with Twitch streaming brought up some of those old, painful feelings. I don’t think anyone really chastises people who do solo content for their inability to get past one boss a couple times, but the idea that they could if that person was a woman seems plausible. It also doesn’t help that I keep undercutting my own ambition by how much help I have from things that are pretty good tools: guides, heirloom gear, advice from other people. Using these things versus not seems like common sense and I wonder if other solo-er type people have this internal debate with themselves. Using every trick and advantage seems like something we see players at the top of the game utilizing, why not me?

One of the things I’ve been trying to work hard on in general is the idea that making mistakes is valuable and I don’t think WoW is immune from that. I think myself, or even other women gamers, constantly pressure ourselves to come out of the gate perfect lest we invite the criticism of our skill reflect badly versus letting ourselves making necessary mistakes. When it comes to soloing, I feel like the idea that you have to constantly be able to perform flawlessly with no learning or training prior to feels antithetical to what soloing actually is. Soloing feels like an incredibly small portion of the player base, only really known for one or two faces and is comprised on the surface of highlight reels and gossip about “so-and-so totally did this” versus the countless hours, wipes, and trial and error it really requires. It’s an activity that is purely it’s own reward, to some degree. There’s no achievements for it. It also requires an entirely different set of skills, talents and utility that I think things like Brawler’s Guild and Proving Grounds have only begun to scratch at. Those things are suited for and designed entirely for one person to “win”. That’s what they are scaled for. The prescribed course of action is both a pure test of skill but I feel has a lower barrier to problem-solving than soloing content that was not made for one person. I say this, not as someone who has beaten Proving Grounds or Brawler’s Guild (though I’ve done both) but just coming from the perspective that there’s definitely places where you can tell that one was designed for a group and one wasn’t. There’s outright bosses I’ve encountered so far that are fairly impossible to solo due to mechanics (Svala in Utgarde Pinnacle) or that are fairly hard  just due to not having another person to kite (Obsidius in Blackrock Depths).

All of this stuff is what I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of days in my attempts to quell the little voice in my head that tells me to stop, to slow down. I think past the unique community that soloing represents (which feels very absent of other women), the need to overcome my desire to be perfect and my own fears as a woman gamer, soloing presents less the pragmatic goal that it once was and more of a way of proving so many things to myself. It is also really fun. Soloing, in my mind, feels like trying to answer a question that no one really asked of me.

As I creep closer to level 85, and consider about going straight 90 with only soloing dungeons, I realize that this yet another long distance to travel with its own mental game. And I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There’s no going from Point A to Point B without doing so.

 

 

Blizzcon 2013: Impressions

Blizzcon entrance, as seen from the glowing fountain of doom.

Blizzcon 2013 was not for the faint of heart. Between the travel woes, heat and the general fatigue that kept hitting me like a child with a wiffle bat, there was a lot of things to see and to do and it felt like I needed a time turner or perhaps de-aging myself 10 years to properly enjoy it all. Not to mention a lot more money. It was all worth it, though at times I wished I could have been curled up on my couch with the Virtual Ticket instead of braving the crowds. A lot of my best moments happened not in panels but rather behind the scenes hanging out with friends and meeting Blizzard people. However, this is going to be a rundown of the content we all got to see. I’ll save the granular discussions on particular issues for later.

Note: This is all based on my personal experiences and in the attempt to get this out today, I haven’t watched the panels I missed via the Virtual Ticket yet, so there’s gaps in my memory and knowledge. Be a little patient with possible corrections.

All That Real Life Stuff

Most of what gets discussed after the con is long over is not necessarily the panels but all the great memories you have while being at the con and getting to hang out with friends. This year’s Blizzcon theme definitely centered around the idea of friends and community and I felt like the feeling on the floor was no exception. Some of the greatest moments I had at Blizzcon was getting to just spend time with people I had only seen on Twitter or heard on podcasts. I admit that some of my real mopey-ness was feeling more like a public persona than being around people who know the “real” me like my guild-mates, most of whom weren’t in attendance this year. I did see a few though, which made me feel a lot better.

Getting to meet some of my heroes (and new faves like CM Nevalistis!) too though was also a big highlight – I got to meet Dave Kosak (head of Narrative), Helen Cheng (Quest designer and story bad-ass), and Craig Amai (head of Quest) as well as Bashiok and Nethaera, who was a personal inspiration. I had great conversations with all of them, some of whom I’ll go into more detail in other posts! I got to talk with Craig about Ji Firepaw and the need for representation in WoW, Helen and I got to finally meet and talk about the new expansion, and I got to briefly talk to Kosak about story stuff. Nethaera in particular is someone I got to speak with at length and as someone who particularly enjoys community engagement and public relations, seeing such a talented, storied woman publicly fronting Blizzard makes me really happy.

Warlords of Draenor

Let’s be real, there’s a lot of stuff about this expansion that I’m cautiously nervous about but I can unpack that later. The new expansion, despite all the weird timey-wimey-ness still seems really enjoyable to me. The quality of life changes (HIT, GONE! EXPERTISE, GONE!) are what really caught my attention overall. I love the idea of a garrison as someone who is an avid Animal Crossing: New Leaf player. Buy upgrades for my own personal town? Sure! Have helpers and followers? Absolutely.

The fact that the raid sizes and flexibility changes are now across the board except for Mythic is interesting; it might give me a new lease on raiding again, at least enough to do Heroic (basically the new Normal difficulty) even with a casual social guild. Being able to raid cross-realm from the start of the expansion on new content is basically what I had been hoping for since the beginning as much of my love of raiding comes from doing it with friends but often we didn’t have enough people to field a full 10P raid on new content. Flex mitigated that somewhat but not being able to do it with my core raid team was sad a lot of days. This might give me the needed flexibility (ha!) to get back into raiding a tiny bit. We shall see.

The idea of going back in time to a revamped Draenor is pretty interesting to me, even if it is just that my fangirl dreams have always included seeing a restored Temple of Karabor. From a roleplay standpoint, I know that I will be dusting off my deadspeaker draenei priest for sure.

Also, hello? Did anyone see those new model previews? Is anyone overjoyed at that sassy gnome lady face? Yesssss.

The fact that they also hinted at sticking in new content for explorers like myself as well as a lot of stuff for those of us who are on the more casual end of things (Potential future transmog changes? What!?) means that I feel less alienated by this new expansion even moreso than when I hit Mists of Pandaria, which was pretty alt-unfriendly and killed a lot of my drive to do stuff at 90.

I unfortunately did not get to play the demos as often or as long as I would have liked. When I sat down the one time to play Warlords, it was mostly to poke around Shadowmoon Valley (which is gorgeous by the way) and to explore. I didn’t tackle any of the quest content, which I really should have. I got most of my information about that from my boyfriend Alex and Sally Pine from WoW Insider.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard jumping into the MOBA/DoTA-like genre is both ironic and also not surprising. What is surprising is that I’m hearing that it has more elements of a character brawler and some PVE-ish elements to make it slightly different from your other fare in this category. I’m not a MOBA player at heart and I’ve never really done well with PVP-based games, nor grasping the complexities of item building and such. If Blizzard can make something similar to League of Legends but with an ease of entry for those of us who have been too scared of the community or too confused by the mechanics, then I suspect they will have a runaway hit on their hands.

The cinematic for the game also featuring two women was also a big plus for me. We will just have to see if there’s tons of female champs and if they go to the route that Riot did and made them pretty skimpily dressed. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Unlike the case with Diablo 3, where I got to try it out at last Blizzcon, the line for this was so extensive both days that I didn’t have the heart (or the feet) to stand in line to poke at it.

Diablo III and Hearthstone

I must admit I don’t have many things to say about either game. I know there’s been sweeping changes with D3 and I’ve been in the Hearthstone beta for a while now. What might push me back into doing D3 is the the demolition of the Auction House as well as transmog changes. My biggest gripe with D3 wasn’t combat or gear but rather that I was doing the same content over and over multiple times. As someone who is not used to that type of game, it was very boring to me despite liking the story, aesthetics and gameplay. So I’ll probably pick D3 back up when the new expansion material gets added.

As for Hearthstone? I’m really glad to see a potential e-sport that mechanically requires no trash-talking. Card games have always been alien to me but the idea of one that I can play on tablets or phones while I’m doing nothing else and don’t have to worry about gross people is really cool to me. I’ll get good at this game eventually. Eventually.

Blizzcon was really great for a lot of reasons and even though the negatives were there, I felt that it all balanced out. The only real drawbacks was that it exhausted my poor body very thoroughly and I’m going to take some time to recuperate. I know this rundown wasn’t nearly as juicy or potentially inflammatory as it could have been but I’m looking to do some piecemeal analysis once I get back on my feet. Expect stuff in the next couple of hours or days!

As always, it was a lot of fun meeting fans, listeners of my podcast as well as friends. You’re all wonderful. Same goes for the Blizzard employees who had to spend long hours working and dealing with fans.

 

 

A Bone to Pick

My guildies dressed up as dinosaurs.

My guildies dressed up as dinosaurs.

Despite the fact that there’s literally so many things to discuss about Patch 5.2, I feel like it’s a minute topic on a brain wandering idea that I want to focus on. I’ll get into my truly exciting discussion about waves and sea spray later, trust me.

My guildmates, particularly some of the people I play the game with the most, are mount and pet collectors. If there’s a pet out there, we have to have it, as soon as humanly possible. So when Patch 5.2 announced that there would be a giant island just for grinding out pets and mounts, needless to say we had to be there. See, the thing about the Isle of Giants is that it really is better go in a group. The dinosaurs (as well as the troll NPCs) all drop Giant Dinosaur bones, which is the currency used to purchase the Spectral Porcupette and the Bone-White Primal Raptor. The biggest dinosaurs on the island drop the most bones and are almost impossible to solo. So it seemed pretty common sense that we should group up with a proper tank and healer and grind out as many dinosaurs and Dinomancers as we could for a few hours to get possible pets and bones for everyone.

The way the bones work is that they are not shared; each cachet of bones from a mob is looted to one person from the tap group, round robin style. This means that to assure that everyone gets roughly the same amount of bones, you have to kill roughly the same amount of highest health mobs, and so on down the line. This is pretty easy to do if you have an organized group, so no problem there, right? Well while we were waiting for one of our party to get back from AFK, we noticed a curious conversation crop up in General chat. One of the server’s most recognizable farmers (who wasn’t a bot/cheating) was very strongly arguing about how the bones should be a shared loot to all parties involved in a kill. I found this really intriguing because it reminded me of something I had just said earlier when we were discussing the drop function: that Blizzard specifically designed these mobs to be most efficiently killed in a group that is concerned about the eventual fairness of everyone involved. This kind of mechanism hasn’t been seen since really Vanilla, where many tasks were unable to be attained without a huge raid group, much less solo. However, it is possible to solo some of the dinosaurs, but your bones per hour rate isn’t as efficient as a group of five who can tackle the biggest dinos. So it is possible to do this at your own pace. However, this farmer was really mad that all bones weren’t shared equally in a group. We pointed out that maybe his real motivation was less about a “fair share” so much as he wanted to be able to benefit from soloing and one-time grouping mechanics to take down a dinosaur but be fairly unconcerned with a group after that. It was seemingly mercenary to me.

This is how a lot of WoW mechanics work now, and I think that’s fine. I’m not saying that this is decaying WoW’s social space or people’s ability to be nice to eachother. For a lot of things, the potential to grief and content to be unseen was there with the old ways of doing things. The way that rare mobs have shared taps, world bosses have faction taps means a lot more people have a shot at getting something for their time. The fact that the dinosaur bones have two possible ways of proceeding – one is soloing and one is working with a group to ensure that everyone receives the same rewards is fascinating to me. It shows a mixture of both the old and the new. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn’t. The fact that it’s got two settings due to the health and bone drops scaling on mob size is cool to me. I think in a lot of cases, a lot of people do not have a group to do this with (which I noted) and so working towards a group’s equal progress for each individual is either new or something they can’t do. But isn’t this maybe a good time to take initiative and work on one? It doesn’t take more than a forum post or a call in Trade/General to form a rough alliance to assure that everyone gets some bones and pets. But I can see where people’s trust in other random individuals have decayed over time, potentially.

I have hope though.

My group managed to get roughly the same amount of bones for everyone (other than the person who was AFK for an hour) and secured all four raptor pets for everyone in the group, including some extras for significant others. When we all have our shiny Spectral Porcupettes or Bone-White Primal Raptors, it will be nice to think back on all the laughing on Mumble and screams when we aggroed an extra Primal Devilsaur. I’m exceptionally lucky that I have that, and I wonder if that’s what Blizzard is trying to push for again: not only mechanics to give everyone to see the content, but to possibly see it together.

What do you guys think about this?

Some Improvements for Playing with Portals

Apple Cider asks a portal trainer about portals.

Come on, how the heck do I get to Shrine of Seven Stars?

When I was writing another installment of my mage leveling guide today, I noticed something I had come across the night prior on my new level 20 mage – mages now get all their relevant city teleports at level 17. At the time, I didn’t realize this though. The system for mages of all levels to learn relevant teleport and portal spells is still very unintuitive. I believe that there is a reason why it happened and I hope to suggest some things to fix this, however.

With Patch 5.0, Blizzard significantly revamped the leveling and talent system so that when anyone is leveling up, they no longer have to visit a trainer to acquire new spells. This is great; it means you’re not constantly running back to a city and tracking down a trainer for your next spell. You can just pull it out of your spellbook and stick it on your bars. Mages had it slightly easier as we could, after a while, just teleport to our trainers. Everyone else was fucked though.

At level 17, all mages learn the base Teleport spell as well as the Portal spell at level 42. These two spells were designed recently to be icons that are a fly-out menu of every Teleport/Portal spell you have learned, making it easier for mages to pick an appropriate spell and keep your UI uncluttered. When you gain Teleport/Portal, you are given one free “out in the wild” teleport or portal spell to your “home” city (based on race). While leveling my Pandaren, I noticed she was given Orgrimmar. I figured I’d get other teleport spells at a later time. When checking the spells list on Wowhead, I noticed that every single city is listed as being learned at level 17. In order to learn all the cities available to you prior to level 60, you have to visit a Portal trainer.

This becomes somewhat of a problem to newer players (or even veteran players like myself) because it is not indicated anywhere that you can learn all the appropriate cities at level 17, or that to do so, you have to visit a Portal trainer.  Also, what city you learn for free is based on your race, so if you’re a Draenei, for instance, your free teleport is Exodar. This is great if you are still questing in that area, but most players I know skedaddle to Eastern Kingdoms by that point. Most cities are slightly more well-connected now but giving a mage a teleport spell to a city that isn’t central to their activities with no indication of where to get the other cities from isn’t very helpful. Sure, I eventually figured it out with the help of Wowhead, but what about someone who is new? Portal trainers aren’t listed on a guard’s gossip option, nor are they even standardized in terms of location when a mage teleports in.

This isn’t even limited to low-level mages either – it’s not immediately evident where to get new portals as you change expansions. I hit level 90 on my mage and it took me a while to find Larimaine here in Stormwind to learn my portal to Shrine of the Seven Stars. There’s no portal trainer in the faction capitals in Pandaria (despite having a portal room), unlike in Shattrath or Dalaran.

I believe that several things that could be changed if we want make this system better for everyone involved:

  1. Indicate in both the level ding pop-up and a mage’s spell book (similar to Riding skills) that there are additional teleport/portal spells available from a Portal Trainer.
  2. Standardize portal trainers in ALL cities, in similar locations. Some are near the Blasted Lands portal, some aren’t. Some are near portals to Stormwind/Orgrimmar in later content, some aren’t.
  3. Standardize a faction teleport – this directs all players to the faction capital. Make that portal trainer prominently standing when a mage teleports there to learn the other spells.
  4. Use a pop-up quest or tip to “teach” players where to go or who to talk to. Similar to the Dalaran quest about how to use the teleport stone at level 72, this might be an alternative method to teach newbies as to where to go.
  5. Give guards a gossip option for where a portal trainer in cities is located.

Hopefully if Blizzard makes some of these changes, it could lead to some nice quality of life changes for my fellow mages who are learning the teleportation arts. For any other issues with portals, please consult our handbook.

Edit: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/1012760/

I posted a version of this up in the Mage forums (for lack of a better place) so if you want to go discuss there or gives a thumbs up!

 

 

This Fight’s On Fire: Brawler’s Guild in 5.1

The Brawler's Pit in Deep Run Tram, Stormwind When Blizzard first announced this feature, I was excited. I loved soloing things! I really enjoyed being able to outlive and survive something incredibly big. Even though I was slightly squishy on my mage, I was a pretty veteran player and could keep up. I even had entire alts developed towards being able to solo stuff as well. The idea of being a non-traditional (see: Not a Death Knight) soloer is something I’ve always enjoyed.

Then all the drawbacks came in – invites would be sold via the Black Market Auction House. It would be open to a very select group of people at first. It was difficult in nature. It would be a queued line. And originally, that it had spectators and they were allowed to toss buffs or debuffs at you. This made me lose all interest in competing at first. The idea that your skill mattered very little if you were someone that would earn a lot of buffs or debuffs galled me in terms of having it be pure display of your ability to solo stuff. Having spectators made me a little queasy in terms of possible jeering as well. Thankfully, they removed the buffs/debuffs thing early on, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. This wasn’t necessarily the soloing challenge I had in mind, and it seemed to me that it was geared towards a different sort of people. An affluent, fairly well-geared person that enjoyed putting on a show. It was very gladiatorial in that aspect and I never considered myself as such. So in my mind, it would attract at first just the top-end raider types on my server who made most of their gold selling heroic Deathwing mount runs or something of that nature. I’d never be able to afford an invite, I’d never get in, and if I did, I’d be boo’ed to hell and back.

Curiously, I found myself sitting at the Black Market Auction House even still, chasing around bids as they spiraled up and up. I managed to scoot away with one for 60k, very pricey for the privilege of getting in on this on the first day, but with the same feeling of excitement nonetheless. What was wrong with me? Didn’t I already eschew the idea of the people getting into the Brawler’s Guild? I pushed the feeling aside and made my way to where-ever this guild might actually be. There was no note in the mail and no real indication other than the achievement.

The bar where the matches are held (Alliance-side, at least. Horde is actually held in Orgrimmar proper and is something akin to a tennis match with more spiked fencing) lives up to the hype: it’s tucked away in the tracks of the Deeprun Tram, far away from the civilized Stormwind. It’s full of NPCs who drink, fight, spectate and make bets. There’s shady vendors at every turn, dimly lit booths for people to drink and make deals. It’s modern, industrial and if the game were in real life, undoubtably would flirt with no smoking laws. You walk past the bouncers and definitely get the feeling that you’re in someone’s exclusive and dirty club.

Strangely, I didn’t really see all the high-end people (what ones my server actually has) I expected to be there on the first night; the same people who I saw with Cloud Serpents first after they had spend their first 24 hours of being 90 grinding out eggs without competition. No, it was a lot of people like me – somewhat casual, decently geared but not in full heroic kit. Players with some non-trivial amount of money but not a ton of obvious AH barons. Regular folk who obviously had the passion and the interest and who, it seemed to me, really wanted to be there. This is where my expectations and my reality met head-on and collided.

Everyone was really having a good time.

The stuffy elitism and stand-offishness that I had imagined in my head was replaced with a sense of camaraderie as I started to crank over matches. Maybe it was by the dint of our server designation (RP-PVE) but even the people piped in from other RP realms by CRZ were enthusiastically cheering and commentating matches. No one was behaving badly or being rude. I only had to snark one person for using crappy language. Overall, I felt pretty welcomed. Despite a fairly solid queue over the first day and the next, people started to recognize me really quickly. Friendships and alliances formed up even with other server folk; we gave out tips on fights, grouped together for buffs and shared feasts for optimal stat bonuses. Spectators and competitors alike would help resurrect the dead. I looked forward to going and seeing the same people being around. I even added a couple people to Battle.net.

If Blizzard had intended the small gateway growth to be a hidden social mechanic, then I think they are pretty genius in that respect. I’ve already made a friend or two and we’ve done stuff outside of Brawler’s Guild even. It’s fun seeing them succeed at matches or try out new things, and the banter between matches when you’re waiting on a deep queue keeps things from getting boring.

Murderaffes, Bombs and the Impending Enrage

Socializing and atmosphere aside, Blizzard did a decently good job creating and implementing the fights and queue mechanics themselves. For people who are not in the guild, it goes something like this:

  • A competitor talks to a bouncer standing at the match pit and gets in line. This queue is a buff that’s cast on you. You are alerted in-game when you next in line so you can prepare, and you can check your place in line with the bouncers as well. Leaving the Brawler’s Guild arena area will drop the buff from you.
  • You are ported into the arena when your fight is ready.
  • All fights are capped with a 3-minute enrage timer that lights up the floor nearing the 3-minute mark and then pelts you with fireballs until you die. Dying at the enrage even if boss also goes down results in a Brawler’s reward but no win to push you up in rank. This is so that tanks and healers can’t queue and elongate a fight to infinity. It also keeps queues moving decently fast though the expected time Blizzard wants you to spend in a queue is 15-30 minutes.

This process, via earned victories against bosses, moves you up from rank to rank. There are 8 ranks so far and most of the ranks have 3-4 bosses. The bosses are in a set order so that everyone fights the same mobs. A person in their first match of rank 5 will fight the same boss someone else at the same spot will. It makes things like watching others beneficial as it can give you ideas about how to approach a fight. The fights themselves are a mixture of all sorts of mechanics — council fights, environmental damage, kiting/facetanking, high DPS/burn fights, and using particular fight mechanics to debuff the boss. No one spec or class is ultimately suited better for all of the fights. Some classes that can kite effectively are good, but other classes that can self-heal are better on others. Some are tough for melee, some are tough for ranged. Most of the fights are memorable, either for being a smaller version of a more well-known fight, a famous NPC (which happens more in higher ranks) or a particularly amusing opponent. (Bruce, the first fight in Rank 1, is such an elegantly named croc that most people cheer him on instead of the player.) Some people will breeze through a string of fights and then get completely stuck on another. I’ve not really seen anyone approach the same fight quite the same way.

The fights I’ve managed to get stuck on were the fights with a very tight enrage timer with high execution needs. These are fights that require staying alive or kiting but also having to put out 60k DPS, somehow. All in all, even the fights I’ve gotten stuck on, I’ve had a decent enough time just trying over and over again to get it right and feeling that rush of adrenaline when I barely eek out a win while outrunning some raining fire.

The Downswing of Brawler’s Guild

My initial feelings on Brawler’s Guild were ultimately positive, but nothing gold can stay.

The first three or four days of the guild were really the pinnacle of the experience. I hadn’t expected Brawler’s Guild to be perfect forever, but I hadn’t foreseen that the good times would change so quickly.

Firstly, CRZ can be both a burden and blessing. CRZ is enabled for the zone provided that your server has not enough people queuing or participating on the server. I’m not sure how this works entirely, but the first couple of days were awesome, at least for me: RPers had flocked to spectate and made it definitely feel like a seedy fight club. It made the queues a bit unbearable at prime time and nights before midnight, but the spirit of socializing was fun. I can understand that this “benefit” can vary wildly depending on server designation and populations. Not every server is quite as quirky or polite as mine it seems.

However, CRZ has already been disabled on my server. That means that the place is back to being empty, with the same competitors queuing until the new people show up every day at 1 AM or so. This means watching the same matches but missing a lot of the patter and banter that made them a bit more theatrical.

Secondly, a lot of people are finding out that there is a hidden wall implemented that is beyond skill and that is gear. You will not be successful past rank 4 fights and every rank thereafter without increasingly decent gear, even if you are a burst class. If you aren’t? Good luck getting past certain fights. I wouldn’t say the mixture of mechanics are friendly in general, but there is definitely a need for a minimum level of gear to be able to DPS enough to not die to the enrage. What I had thought initially needed was just skill, but ultimately because it is a PVE competition, gear will always be a factor. I found this out the hard way – I was constantly dying to Akama in Rank 6 just due to not doing enough DPS on my most successful attempts when I wasn’t dying all the other attempts to being eaten alive. It seemed so hard to me that I couldn’t burst him down before getting overwhelmed by adds, and I couldn’t pull off him enough to DPS down adds without losing DPS time on him. Being a mage, I had very little in the way of survivability, so I was getting increasingly frustrated. I figured it might be a spec issue and went not only arcane but frost at one point, only to realize that it might be a gear thing. People who were progressing past me onto Rank 7 all had full 496 and above gear. Whispers were going around that some fights people were getting stuck on up there were needing 80k DPS! I got some upgrades and while the fight didn’t become magically easier, I did beat it the first time around with the new gear and as fire. This was the proof I needed for my point and I felt rather disappointed about it.

The problem is that one of the reasons I got into solo PVE stuff was because a lot of it just came down to skill or spec and being creative. Gear isn’t creative, it is merely a tool to future success but needing group PVE content gear for solo PVE content is a little bit disappointing because it brings that elitism I had been wary of at first back into play. You’re not going to see someone who casually raids at Rank 8 any time soon. I’m sure there’s a couple people who might, but for most of us, we’re not acquiring gear fast enough doing 3 normal bosses a week (even with LFR) to break required DPS checks even with perfect execution in Brawler’s Guild. We’re just not. I would like to reach rank 7 for the once-a-day invites I can sell or hand out to guilds mates, but I know Rank 8 is a little out of my reach.

Thirdly, there’s also problems with people. I know that this is probably just me being a whiny baby given that my server is downright docile in comparison to others like Illidan or Kel’thuzad or Mal’ganis but it seems to have opened up enough so that people who legitimately aren’t concerned with having fun or behaving or treating others well are there. I was doing dailies last night when I see two people from a notoriously vulgar guild talking in General about how they got the invites dropped off rares. Against my better judgement, I go to take a swing at Akama later and see them there, only to have to ask them to not talk about “raping a boss.” What ensued was a genuinely upsetting and creepy convo wherein I had to report both for language and felt myself pretty badly shaken for the entire interaction.

Could this have happened on Day 1? Oh absolutely. But the less effort, time or gold/resources something takes, the less people feel invested in being decent. It’s like Trade Chat – anyone can talk, so everyone, even the shitty people, feel like they can and should contribute. If this is elitism, then I’m okay with being called that. I’m not talking about people who lose fights regularly or whathaveyou, I’m talking about people who want to do nothing but show up and drag the same shitty language and shitty attitudes with them because they are narrow-minded gamers and they don’t have to care about anyone else. It’s like a battleground except you’re forced to be in the same room with them at all times due to the nature of Brawler’s Guild. It made me not want to go back honestly.

So despite my honeymoon period at the beginning, I can definitely see that my time spent at Brawler’s Guild will not be quite the same as when I had first stepped in. However, was it money well spent? Oh absolutely. I really like the idea of competing in solo PVE situations and the added social layer has been pretty fun. However, unfortunately like everything in WoW, if I want to participate, I have to put up with the fact that there are assholes. They might not be able to debuff me during a fight, but they’ve managed to debuff me a bit emotionally.

Blizzard hit on a good thing here, so I do hope they expand it. However, as the difficulty scales up and up, I wonder if the rest of us can keep up with the ever-increasing gear demands and the longer wait as more people jump into the fray.

Patch 5.0.4 – Apple Cider’s Setup

Cynwise had a really useful post this week regarding warlock’s keybinds and the patch. In short, he basically advised to “trash it” – remove everything off your bars and start from scratch. I found the advice, while directed at warlocks (*nose scrunch*) to be really useful for mages as well. There really isn’t a DPS player that couldn’t stand to benefit from patch-related Spring cleaning when it comes to your UI. A lot of add-ons are outdated and broken, so it might be a good time for everyone to start everything from scratch.

I decided for the benefit of other mages reading my blog, to give a peek behind the curtain as to what my set up is now that the patch has hit.

Apple Cider's UI

You can click on this for a full-sized image of my screen.

User Interface/Add-ons

A lot of my add-on dependency was broken after I started using a UI package. Prior to picking up ElvUI (back when it was a fork of TukUI in Wrath), I had used a lot of cosmetic mods to do roughly the same things that ElvUI did all at once. I stopped needing tons of mods for every part of my UI and just could snap everything to fit. My add-on list went from 60 mods to about 20 or less.  I know that ElvUI isn’t the choice of many people, but I have really liked how easy it is to use and the GUI has come a long way in being more friendly to first-time users. As someone who is used to configuring everything via /command, it’s been nice to see it evolve into something usable out of the box but with a high amount of customization.

As you can see, I run a fairly “standard” looking UI and like having tons of screen real estate. I like having all my information down and center. My right side action bar is typically mouseover, and my other bars are hidden via  mouse-scroll under my main number bar. My DBM timers sit in that space right of my timers/SCT, and then float underneath to right above my DoT timers. The box to the left of my player frame is CombustionHelper. My Skada DPS panel is hidden in combat.

Here is a list of all the add-ons I  use:

UI

Combat

Quality of Life

Extracurriculars

That is everything! It’s nice to keep a short list as patches usually break everything.

Keybinds

Cynwise had the right idea about getting rid of everything. I had a lot more space once I did that as a lot of our spells went missing.

Keybinds are somewhat of a herky-jerky exercise for me as I am a lady with very small hands and a normal-sized keyboard. Therefore, I tend to lean a bit more on mouse keybinds (via a Razer Naga) or single-keypress keybinds as combination binds often are too hard for me to reach or are uncomfortable.

Success with keybinds comes from answering these questions:

  • Can I actually reach these buttons? (If you can’t, you’re not going to use them, negating their usefulness)
  • Is this keybind comfortable? (If it isn’t, you might be hurting yourself in the process)
  • Is this something I need to use enough that it requires a keybind?
  • Can I macro more than one spell to this keybind and save my real estate? (If you can, do it! Very useful for classes like warlocks.)

We as mages thankfully do not have tons of spells for situational use so our woes are often not as problematic as other classes. I think I can be honest here – I have some abilities that I click. There’s just no good way for me to keybind these things without running out of keyboard/mouse options and they are not things I use often enough or on the fly (I don’t PVP on my mage) enough that it necessitates a bind. I know some people will flame me for that, but I am just not someone who has the hardware or hands for all the keybinds. People (often who have bigger hands) forget that some of us cannot use tons of SHIFT/ALT/CTRL modifiers for all of our abilities. If you use what it is comfortable to you to be repeatedly used, then you’ll be alright.

There are some things you absolutely should keybind – survival/defensive cooldowns, main nukes and hair-trigger utility spells. Everything else is negotiable.

My keybinds:

Number Row

  • 1 Dragon’s Breath*
  • 2 Fireball
  • 3 Living Bomb*
  • 4 Inferno Blast*
  • 5 Scorch
  • 6 Pyroblast
  • 7 Frost Nova
  • 8 Flamestrike
  • 9 Blizzard
  • ALT+1 **
  • ALT +2 **

Alphabet

  • Q  Counterspell*
  • W  Forward
  • E   Iceblock*
  • Y  Deep Freeze (This used to be Mana Shield)
  • I   Blink
  • A  Turn Left***
  • S  Backwards
  • D  Turn Right***
  • G  Spell Steal
  • X  Sit
  • ,  Remove UI (Ha!)

Mouse 

Note: My Naga buttons duplicate the NUMPAD basically.

  • M1  Push to Talk
  • M2  Temporal Shield (Used to be Mage Ward)
  • MMouse Click  Auto-run
  • END  Combustion
  • DOWN  Mirror Image
  • PD  Lifeblood
  • LEFT  Alter Time
  • Hm  Time Warp*
  • RIGHT  Potion/Trinket
  • PAGEUP  Trinket
  • N+  Ring of Frost
Not Bound
  • Polymorph*
  • Invisibility
  • Mana Gem (Not for Fire Spec)
  • Evocation
  • Escape Artist
  • Health Rock/Bandages/Food
  • Escape Artist

* = Macro
** = Keybinds I use on other characters that I haven’t found a use for on my mage
*** = I don’t have Strafing bound, I use mouse turning and directional key binds to steer. 

I’m So Good, I Astound Myself: Diablo III From the Perspective of a WoW Veteran

A character sheet showing Aislin the wizard in Diablo 3.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, last week was the release of Blizzard’s much-anticipated Diablo III. Prior to being gifted the game like every other annual pass subscriber, I hadn’t touched the franchise at all. Sure, I’d heard about it from friends and whatnot (especially the guy who made thousands of real American dollars off duping), but my understanding of it had mostly been that it was a grindy sort of punishing game that only showered rewards on the most intense, most faithful. In short, sort of video game martyrdom, casuals need not apply. Taken in by the allure of something honest-to-god FREE, I decided I’d at least give it a shot.

I’m not what you consider a “hardcore” gamer. My area of expertise with video games and their complexities extends about as far as you can see the boundaries of Warcraft. I’m not excessively good at twitch, I’m terrible at shooting things and I have never owned a console. I know, I know. Settle down.  It’s very rare for me to pick up a game that takes me away from the all-consuming timesink that is Warcraft, honestly. I thought I was going to just kick my way around Diablo until I got bored; I was not prepared for the temporal vortex that this game is, sucking away hours of your life in a blink of an eye all while having the most intense, mob-killing fun of your life. Okay, maybe I overstate a touch. But I haven’t “lost track of time” in a game since I played Myst when I was 11 or 12.

Part of this is just due to the fact that unlike World of Warcraft, Diablo is pretty much tailored to you being the only person in the world. Despite having multi-player mode, the story is essentially that you are the savior of the world, one of the glorious nephalem that crawled into being after the destruction of the Worldstone. You can immerse yourself as far as you want in studying all of the books that drop in game, or talking to NPCs as often as you want. You hear conversations around you and none of it is really affected by whatever other idiots might be in your presence. Being able to freely explore and achieve by myself was a real selling point for me. I made a solemn commitment to playing all of normal-mode myself because I really wanted to understand and grasp this story. I felt that Warcraft had been so focused on rushing to the endgame that I hadn’t really stopped to smell the lore roses. I had all the time in world now and I wasn’t going to let someone prod me forward. So I noodled around, clearing every map fully, respawning dungeons for events, reading every book that fell into my lap. It was legitimately fun seeing what main story was unfolding as much as it was seeing all the little stories that were happening in the background (the Templar companion’s story most of all, I feel, is a real masterstroke.) Having cleared through all of the acts in somewhere around 40 hours, I found the story entertaining even if it wasn’t that profound and had a lot of loose ends or plot holes. Why does almost no one care about Leah? Where did Adria go? Who’s running Caldeum now? A lot of the major reveals (Adria’s betrayal, Belial, the mysterious stranger being Tyrael) were telescoped fairly hard, even for someone who is a real Diablo lore newbie like myself. (Not to mention that major spoilers are in the achievements page.) There’s also the strange matter of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff  like your companion encountering a former self/similar person in Nightmare mode, having vendors you met in future acts being present in New Tristram who have, by virtue of their dialogue, always just been there.

The real success of this game though, for me, was just that there was a real proliferation of women characters, even if some of the consistent tropes of corruption/betrayal/death seemed to follow. For one, there’s your character if you choose to be a woman. There’s Leah, one of the main (and very capable protagonists) through Acts 1-3. Adria is present in Acts 2-3. There’s your companion the Enchantress, who despite the really annoying voice acting, is also a force to be reckoned with. Captain Asheara, leader of the Iron Wolves, makes a comeback in Act 2. The world feels persistently full of women who are not just there to be cannon fodder, it seems. Sure, no one really gives a shit about Leah after Diablo comes back, but it is a fair sight better than most other video games, like, ever. Some of the starting armor designs for women characters bugged me but you get progressively more clad as your power increases, so that at least was a small bone tossed at those of us who like armor to look like actual armor.

But Diablo isn’t JUST an RPG, it does have action.

Diablo has been, for the most part, a learning process – despite picking a caster class (wizard, naturally), I still had no idea about any of the actual class mechanics that go into playing it. I was doing alright through the first two acts with slows and as much hard-hitting DPS as I could muster. I also picked the Templar as my persistent companion, as having a tank proved to be indispensable. However, it wasn’t until I hit the back end of Act 2 and eventually Act 3 that I felt myself really struggling to stay alive. I had mastered the ubiquitous shift+casting, left-mouse -button movement, but I was still face-planting on the regular. Both my guildmate Adryon and my friend Mike, who play wizards as well, sat me down and give me such much needed advice and rares. First of all, Diablo’s DPS mechanics (which everyone has) work very differently than Warcraft’s. A lot your power is based off your weapon’s DPS and speed. This is very weird to me, as I’m used to a weapon essentially being a stat-stick. I was gifted a very nice slow 1H-er rare, patted on the head and told to use Disintegrate now. Not only did it tick faster but it did fuckloads of damage. Secondly, I got myself some Vitality. It is the difference between getting 2-shot and being able to survive full champion packs on Nightmare. I felt like a tiny god now. The game literally changed before my eyes and became a lot more enjoyable. Do I really understand most wizard-y things now? Well, no. I’ve always been fairly dumb to mechanics unless I’ve done extensive playing, but I feel a lot more capable now. I’ve been taken into the secret circle of more knowledgeable peers (Hello, Elective mode!) and taught the ways of truth. Playing a wizard is fucking fun. It just is. If you enjoy caster roles in RPGs, you will enjoy being a wizard. They are exceptionally smart and cocky, and their personality shines through beyond just the straight class mechanics. It doesn’t hurt that fem!wizards are voiced by Grey DeLisle, who was the voice of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Try not cackling when you massacre 8 mobs in a single blow with Electrocute, I dare you.

Diablo 3′s positives to me largely have been a lot of quality of life perks like Town Portals, the individuality of class choices and the cheap thrills of randomness and blowing shit up. It is easy to see these things. However, there have been criticisms aplenty, even if I find myself not overly concerned about them.

The persistent online-always mode was the cause of much of the anger, especially on launch day when most people were locked out from playing due to server overload. Had we not needed to get into Battle.net, the load would have been much less of a concern. This is to facilitate RealID/Battletags systems so while annoying (and having known no other ways prior to this), it has more of a benefit to me than harm. It also is an attempt to validate where items are coming from for the gold auction house as well as the impending Real Money Trading auction house. As someone who hopes to make a little cash this way, I don’t mind either of these reasons for being persistently online. As someone coming to this game new, I have no real dog in this fight. I enjoy the pleasures of having my friends list across multiple Blizzard games. But I can see where the frustration comes from.

The boss fights felt really…similar to Warcraft boss fights. Was this intentional or was it just a coincidence? It felt a little pandering. Azmodan gave me Lich-King era panic fits because of what seemed like Defile, Belial was Ragnaros all over again with tons of ground movement. The fights on normal didn’t feel exceptionally challenging or unique, even solo, with the exception of Diablo. Most of them just involved running away, shooting some random DPS and using a defensive cooldown. Most of the Diablo fight was like that too, but at least it felt like more of a skill fight rather than letting my pets do all the work. Obviously, I probably have my work cut out for me on Nightmare, Hell and Inferno respectively. However, doing a 4-ranged-party Skeleton King in sub-20 seconds drove a point home to me; it feels like some of WoW’s endgame motivations have leaked into Diablo. Normal is for storyseekers, Hell and Inferno are where the real “challenges” lie. Considering how fast people shot up to 60 to try and tackle world-firsts in Hell and Inferno modes, I feel like this iteration of design has left an indelible mark on the community as well. Does it deter me from greater challenges as I proceed towards level cap? Not in the slightest. However, it does make me look critically how even Blizzard’s success with one game in a different genre has impacted how they approach other parts of their franchise.

 All in all, Diablo 3 is a fun game. There’s no getting around that. I don’t think it’s going to have the long-term appeal that WoW has for me just due to the non-dynamic  nature of the content and linear paths of gameplay. That being said, I’m looking forward to hitting 60, I’m looking forward to going to Whimsyshire and I’m happy doing tons of boss runs with my friends. That is all I really need in a game and having it in a game besides WoW has been a bit of breath of fresh air during the typical expansion burnout period. We might be waiting on Mists of Pandaria to drop, but until then, consider me happy with Diablo until then.

Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions and Nitpicks

I’ve been enjoying the beta greatly. I’ve been taking it slowly, exploring a little bit on my mage and testing out glyphs and talents on random mobs I pass-by while taking screenshots. A lot of people have been doing the high-level quests but I tend to burn out fast when I do that so I’ve been plonking around with testing abilities and rotations primarily. I also rolled a monk (Shojuu) and have been leveling her in the early morning just to avoid the deluge of other people who are in the beta right now.

The art direction and mechanical development of this expansion is in such stark contrast to how half-formed Cataclysm felt; what the Blizzard development teams learned from Cataclysm’s challenges definitely reflects here. Abilities have a lot of polish and additional functionality, and the world feels so much more cohesive and alive. I could get lost in Pandaria and I’ve only been around the Jade Forest at this time.

One thing has stood out to me so far, while testing new Pandaren monks. Early on in the leveling experience, you meet Ji of the Huojin. He’s part of the Firepaw clan that’s in the first village you come to after leaving the initial starting area. As a female Pandaren I ran up to him to turn in my quest, only to be greeted by slightly creepy conversation text.

I went back and did the quest as a male just to see how it changed. It was similar text in that it was constructed similarly, but it did not have nearly the level of inappropriateness.

See for yourself.

What he says to women:
Hello, friend!
You’re some kind of gorgeous, aren’t you? I bet you can’t keep the men off of you!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

What he says to men:
Hello, friend!
You’ve got a strong look to you! I bet you’re all the rage with the ladies!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

It’s a subtle difference but it pulled me out of playing for a moment. I am aware that Ji is written to perhaps be slightly too friendly. I know people in real life who are like that. However, how it reads to me, as a woman in real life – it came off as exceedingly creepy, especially with the absence of a male-centered experience up until that point. The focus is on how beautiful she is, rather than strong. Given how Pandaren society seems to value strength and poise as gender-neutral traits, why make this guy espouse an exception? Add to the fact that this is stuff I hear from weird random dudes I know all the time, with the added “You and I are going to be good friends”…

…well it comes off as weird. I made a forum thread trying to break this down and it will probably get crapped on, but oh well. Part of beta testing is picking out bugs and giving suggestions and I actively want Pandaria to feel as cool as I know it could be, even if you are a lady Pandaren.  Recognition of gender is important, but not in a way that marginalizes. Blizzard hasn’t done a knock-up job of this in some places, but overall when I’ve leveled characters, I’ve not felt like the world I am presented with as a lady toon is wildly different from a male toon. It shouldn’t be that way in a fantasy game anyways! As I explained yesterday when bringing this topic up, “It’s one thing to encounter sexism from other players in roleplay who are dragging that stuff with them, but a game company can make a fantasy world in whatever image they choose. It should let women and men stand on equal footing, especially in a video game where mechanically it’d be a disservice otherwise.”

Obviously there’s a lot of unchallenged sexism in the developers and creatives at Blizzard themselves, but I felt that if I’m given access to the beta in order to make it better, why can’t better mean “less othering”?

It’s Time to Stop Time Warp Abuse

Apple Cider uses Time Warp outside of the Caverns of Time

Mages, have a seat over here. I need to talk to you about a subject of crucial importance. It is about your meddling with things better left in the hands of more experienced arcanists, or dare I even say it, shaman. The Powers-That-Be saw it fit to give us access to one of the highest forms of the arcane, the ability to bend time to our wills. And here I see so many hedge wizards and disgraceful magisters fiddling with it heedlessly. Didn’t we learn from the Bronze Dragonflight that time is very, very fragile thing? That it needs care and concern, wisdom and experience?

I am concerned with some of you in the mage community, particularly in Looking for Raid, who seem to not know a jot about when to pop Time Warp. Maybe some of you were never taught outside of the whole “PRESS THIS BUTTON MAKES DPS GO UP” thing, but we need to have a Serious Talk. Time Warp, like its sister spells Bloodlust/Heroism, are very powerful and need to be used responsibly. There’s nothing that raises my blood pressure faster than popping these spells at the wrong time, but mages need the sternest lecture, as most shaman at least have had a few years to get the hang of proper cooldown timing.

I’m looking at you, mage who used Time Warp on the last 15 percent of Mor’chok in LFR. I’m shaking my damn head.

How Do I Even USE This Thing?

Time Warp is a powerful raid-wide cooldown and has a severe debuff (shared with Bloodlust/Heroism) that keeps you from using it again for 10 whole minutes unless you die. It also has an internal cooldown of 5 minutes for use, so misusing it does have some consequences, especially if you hit it accidentally. The best way to keep yourself from using it when you do not mean to is to give it an accessible keybind that isn’t going to be smushed (or “fat-fingered”) if you are doing your normal mage business. I have it on one of my many mouse buttons, but set back from my normal keybinds so I don’t do just that.

Along with not using it at an incorrect moment due to user error, it’s also helpful to let people know that you used it as some people do not always pay attention to nor have notifications for when Time Warp goes out. There are mods that do automatic raid and party chat messages, but I am old school and just use a quirky macro to tell people when I use Time Warp. Be creative, you’re a mage! That’s what we’re supposed to be good at. Here’s what mine looks like:

#showtooltip Time Warp
/stopcasting
/cast Time Warp
/p WIBBLY WOBBLY TIMEY WIMEY STUFF!
/raid WIBBLY WOBBLY TIMEY WIMEY STUFF!

See? Now you can use Time Warp at the proper time and with maximum intent!

Since you seem to be so concerned with people who don’t use it at the right time, when should I actually hit Time Warp?

While I am a firm believer that the fight should really call for specific Time Warp or BL/Hero usage, there’s some general Rules of Thumb for “good” Time Warp casting.

  • Start of a fight – This is your basic, standard time to pop TW. Just make sure that it occurs after the mob has been pulled and your DPS is actually had time to start attacking and use cooldowns. This is usually your “heroic dungeon” flavor of Time Warp, where it shortens the fight.
  • Burn Phases – This is a specific kind of boss fight that demands that you do more DPS at a particular point rather than at the beginning or end of a fight (see: Zon’ozz, Hagara). Whether this is due to a mechanic that makes you do more DPS, takes away more of a boss’ health or is crucial to keeping your raid alive (periods of high group damage), this is something you should be aware of and not waste it beforehand. Note: Fights that have multiple burn phases should usually save heroism for later, rather than sooner.

These rules will cover your butt 90 percent of the time, especially in a casual setting. If you are playing at a higher level than just heroics or LFR, a rule that supersedes all of these is:

  • When Your Raid Leader Tells You To – ignoring the person who best knows the concerns of all roles involved (tanks, DPS and healers) in a fight will land you on the bench or possibly only conjuring food for your raid’s shaman if you’re not careful.

I do stress though, that educating yourself about a fight as well as a particular group’s strategy does way more good than any guide I could give you. However, I feel it is every mage’s best interests to know the reasons behind why people tell you to do things.

Note:  This post previously indicated also possibly using TW/BL/Hero during “execute” range at the end of the boss fight but see here as to why this is not actually mathematically advantageous.

Gosh, I Get It, Time Warp At the Right Time, Yadda Yadda, Why Do You Care So Much?

Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility!

But seriously, Time Warp is an intensely beneficial spell that benefits everyone in the group, not just you. Being selfish, careless, using it willy-nilly or with little regard for what’s going on  will earn you scorn, or even impede progress on a fight. I know that most people don’t care about LFR in terms of “doing things the right way” but it should be treated less like “anything goes” and more like a good place to refine your basic skills and have fun. Part of this, as a mage, means giving Time Warp to the group when it is sorely needed. It makes the rest of us look bad if you have no idea when you should be casting it. If I catch you mages goofing off with Time Warp, I will yell at you, make no mistake about that. See that I don’t have to.

I’ve got my Eye on you.

Thoughts on 4.3 – Transmogging, Casual PVE, Darkmoon Faire and More

Apple Cider pew pews Mannaroth in Well of Eternity.

It’s been a week, WoW fans. A week and we’ve already gotten our teeth deep into 4.3. I have been enjoying myself, especially now that I can enjoy a patch that offers me gear, dungeons and not have to worry about raiding much on top of that. This is my first new content patch where I haven’t been raiding since Burning Crusade started. It is a weird feeling, to be honest. Thanks to the efforts of my social-but-very-enthusiastic guild, we’ve been working on retro raids for transmogging gear, achievements and even stepping foot in Firelands to get me siphoned essences to finish my legendary*.

Overall, I’ve been having fun and have a lot of thoughts to what 4.3 has offered us thus far.

My priest stands in T6 gear at the character screen.

Transmogrification

I have always relished the idea of transmogrification. Even though I never played any MMORPGs prior to WoW, where such things as vanity layers or costume layers existed, I have been deep in my  heart a fashion nerd and roleplayer. I like having appropriate clothes for the occasion, especially since my real life self is a little too self-conscious and destitute for such things. My earliest memories of gear on my mage was that they “all matched” and being chided gently by guildies that I needed gear that was better than what I had on, rather than just all was the same color. (You can’t take my Mistscape Wizard Hat of the Owl AWAY FROM ME!)

However, when given the world of armor to play with, I found myself falling a little short on ideas (No gnome jokes, please.) Everyone else had must-have sets and creative uses of color, style and theme. With the exception of my priest, even my RP character concepts didn’t lend themselves to “iconic” gear for their personality. I had reams of gear in the bank saved because of how it looked and memories it held, but I’m still not sold on most things to wear. It has been fun to play with and to disguise horrible gear in the case of my shaman, who had a lot of trollroic armor. So while transmogging is quite possibly the best thing to happen to WoW in a long time, I feel so disappointed that I’m not taking advantage of it as whole-heartedly as everyone, even if I am the perfect person to do so. I will endeavor a little harder to come up with pretty sets, but I am glad that Blizzard implemented the feature anyways.

5 Man Dungeons – End Time, Well of Eternity and Hour of Twilight

In a word: exciting (and I get to be TALL!)

While I feel that some of the trio are less exciting than others, when taken all together, they are a very nice mixture of new boss mechanics, immersive storytelling and gameplay. The very obvious standout is Well of Eternity, which I have a feeling was supposed to be part of the rumoured War of the Ancients raid. It feels so complete and filled to the brim with interesting things that it feels almost a little out of place with the other two dungeons, which are still laid out around Wyrmrest on familiar ground. They also aren’t nearly as punishing as heroics have been immediately upon release, unlike in the past. Sure, I’ve seen a few PUG groups wipe on Tyrande, but nothing like the hours of frustration from trying to learn Ozruk.

Most of the dungeons feel fun and invigorating for a couple of reasons, I believe. First – less trash and it is more pragmatic and directed. In End Time, you basically make a big ring to clear out the boss area, or push forward to where the boss is, not long twisty hallways to get to a small room. It feels like a progression, not a crawl. Secondly, there’s a better mixture of mechanics designed to mess with ranged vs. melee, healers versus tanks, and some that just require smart use of mechanics that can be done by most group compositions. Not every fight requires heroism, not every fight requires 3 ranged. Most people have decent interrupts now and while some have been given longer cooldowns, most of the casts that need to be interrupted are on timers that don’t feel impossible to catch. There’s lots of stuff to not stand in, but it isn’t a 360-degree chain cleave, nor tons of puddles out at ranged while the melee gets to whack on the boss. Everyone feels responsible for their own mortality in some ways. Third, newness in both the fight mechanics and scenery. There’s things here we haven’t played with before – such as the hourglass feature on Murozond. It is commonly remarked as the most fun boss fight so far out of the three dungeons just because of it. I have even brought people back to life using it and I find that a little liberating, especially to people who are newer healers and feel pressured to keep everyone alive.

Additionally, there’s lots of nice new gear to be had in the dungeons and gotten with a minimum of fuss. You clear all three dungeons in roughly an hour and a half and due to less trash and less ridiculous bosses, it never feels like a slog. I’ve already managed to VP cap my mage and shaman for the week, which will make quick work of gearing up the other 85s I never play (due to heroics being boring as hell.) My only bone of contention is how limited the loot tables are for each item slot in your armor class. There’s not a lot of leeway for you if you only gear yourself via heroics, but I think that’s because of…

Looking For Raid

Now featuring Yor’sahj the Unpuggable!

Admittedly, my experiences so far with the Looking For Raid feature have been small. Last night, a small group of 8 or so guildies and I dropped ourselves into LFR (one of them as the main tank). We breezed through every boss (including said Yor’sahj) with nary a death or a wipe (until we lost a couple of people to the ice wall on Hagara) and finished in an hour and a half. This stands in stark contrast to some of my boyfriend’s exploits via the finder, which include every group wiping to Yor’sahj, but I digress. LFR seems like a reasonably good idea. It gives people the ability to legitimately see raid fights in a smaller, more forgiving environment, as well as collect gear and valor points. As my friend the main tank put it, “It is like pugging a heroic but with 24 other people.” I think that he had the right of it as well; while there may be more people, the atmosphere is roughly the same. Most people are quiet participants, there are occasionally boisterous and unhelpful ones and overall the experiences can vary. But it seemed to us last night that if you mix in a little bit of your own social group, that it can go quite smoothly and make it very fun to participate. One of us got two very good loot drops and I got to test my hand at raid healing without the stress of trying to learn Firelands fights or freak out that no one was directing assignments. Granted, I think our positive turn at the LFR was mostly due to a lucky bit of competency out of the raid (the other tank, most of the healers, DPS knowing how to target swap), but I think overall, this has the potential to ease people into raiding or give people end-game choices. I know some people who have long maintained that PUGging and casual raiding has ruined WoW, but I think my ability to have fun last night is more important than their opinions on the matter.

The Darkmoon Faire

Finally, after testing it extensively on the PTR, the faire is here. So far it is exactly what it promised to be – fun dailies, lots of vanity items like mounts and pets to acquire, as well as added mysteries and bonuses that you can gain while doing PVP and dungeons. Ticket generation seems a lot slower than I’d like for a week-per-month event, but as Rickiep00h from Something Awful posited:

If it were permanently open, it would be Molten Front 2. Enjoyable at first, but ultimately another annoying grind.

It’s a compelling point, and not just because of the fact that Molten Front fails in all the ways that DMF succeeds – the rewards are not meaningful to progression in quite the same way that MF put them at the time, especially to casual players. However, they are meaningful to people as much as they want to make them. People who enjoy vanity rewards or transmogging sets for gear make them purposeful and have value, those who do not enjoy them do not have to participate. It helps both alts and mains in different ways – one way is via trade skill points (imagine getting 5 points once a month to get you around a tricky spot between 285-300) and one is money and loot. This means you have different goals and reasons to bring more than one toon to the Faire, unlike doing the same dailies for the same thing in the Front. It also lays out the path of tasks very concretely and without much effort – the quests are short, fun, and require very little exertion in terms of killing mobs, even the Grisly Trophies quest. It doesn’t consistently open more and more dailies to keep you occupied, like in a hallway full of infinitely opening doors that lead to nowhere. DMF is a return to a lot of the old fun seen in earlier quest design and development before Titan was a thing – anyone remember Isle of Quel’danas? Sure, not quite the same carrot-on-a-stick there but I can feel a familiar tingle of the fun. The Faire seems to hold fast to the idea that it is a magical, mysterious and slightly sinister fair in the woods. Molten Front gave us an illusion of choice and individuality and left us with nothing but a bad taste in our mouth.

So in short, get out there and fish yourself up a Sea Pony. I got both it and my rare fish achievement in the same hour. Many more are reporting the same thing with the Steelscale Crushfish, so get yourself closer to Salty!

*Art courtesy of Aly Flock.