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.

 

 

Patch 5.4 Trailer – Burn in the Fires of My Hate

Garrosh stares hatefully.

 

Blizzard dropped the Patch 5.4 trailer for Siege of Orgrimmar on our heads early this morning and what a trailer it was. The overall quality and storytelling of each successive patch trailer has gone up significantly since their inception way back sometime in Vanilla but all of them have never failed to make me utterly hyped to play some more Warcraft. Blizzard’s got a real strength in their animatics/cinematics division and this was no exception – I am itching to log in and do anything in preparation for Patch 5.4.

Let’s review some of the things that were going on in this particular trailer, though, shall we?

Garrosh has gone completely corrupted/power-hungry at this point.

I can’t say for sure which one it is because it seems equally likely – he’s both influenced by the Sha but he’s also incredibly puffed up on his own ego, importance and hatred right now. He’s just as much a warmongering tyrant with something to prove who’s gotten way into his own ideology than just a pawn of the Sha-corruption. And honestly, a powerful male figurehead being lost in his own childish autonomy is far more fascinating than just him being taken over by the Old Gods. His dialogue in the video is similarly fiery, obstinate and hateful.

No one is going to get in his way and he’ll kill and hurt anyone who tries to. Which leads me to…

Taran Zhu got some snaps in before his supposed end, at least. (Edit: Dave Kosak cleared up that Taran Zhu’s is alive.)

I’ve not liked Taran Zhu in a lot of ways; he’s more of the same patronizing nonsense from other male leaders. But given his position as the only line of defense against whatever might ravage Pandaria (mogu, Sha), it’s probably justified in a lot of ways. While I feel that his initial presumption that the Alliance and Horde conflict was entirely to blame for the havoc within Pandaria’s own land, I feel like his assertion has finally come to bear. The fight between Taran Zhu and Garrosh was full of egos, certainly though. While Taran’s line about Grom was not only timely, correct and a sick fucking burn, both of them were taunting each other and it got the better of Taran.

Taran didn’t bring this on himself though, and for that I feel bad.

Vale is irreparably damaged now.

This is one of the biggest changes that really bothers me, even when Garrosh’s mining operation set up. Pandaria is such a beautiful, serene continent and we already saw parts of it that were completely given to destruction and corruption like the Dread Wastes. The idea of the Vale, the zone that the Celestials gave to us in order to help everyone is now being used by Garrosh’s plan to re-ignite an Old God makes a dramatically sad change to both the game and the story. I felt the same way when the Goblins were allowed to terraform and essentially destroy Azshara. There’s something about purposeful destruction of the most beautiful landscapes in WoW that really make me feel awful. Vale is where I spent a lot of time just hovering in the air, watching the sun go down.

There was a relative lack of anyone else that might have any involvement in bringing the fight to Garrosh.

I feel that the cinematic had a missed opportunity to do some strategic cutaways or montages over the dialogue (instead of the badass fight scene we got) to allude to anyone else that might be mad at Garrosh now. Taran Zhu mentioned the other members of the Horde, but absolutely nowhere were the Alliance mentioned or involved. A montage of people fighting while being referenced might have helped assuage my feelings that once again the Alliance get left out of a fight that’s rightfully ours to have. As I told Tzufit on Twitter: “(We’re) late to our own revenge, absent from our own war.”

While I can grasp that Taran Zhu is the ultimate symbol of the Pandarian people at this point, and so the fight was the struggle between the Azeroth factions and Pandaren-kind, the fact that the raid will involve all of  our fates, intertwined, left a bad taste in my mouth. Alliance are probably not going to get any payback for their grief at Theramore, nor any pro-active stance other than allegiances with the trolls. It still feels like we’re on the backburner for a fight that is igniting both factions right now and throwing power relations into the air. If not showing Varian, then at least Jaina?

Also why didn’t Taran Zhu have any sort of backup going on here? Where was Yalia? Where was Taoshi?

Overall, I’m excited. 

It can’t be helped, I’m always overwhelmed with purpose and emotions when I watch any of these trailers. The swell of music, the clang of weapons – it gets me right in the heart (same for Taran, I presume. Too soon?) and I want to just run and conscript myself back in with the Alliance army even though we’ve been relatively shafted in this conflict. The Barrens battles were relatively lukewarm as far as hyping me up for the growing war and subsequent raid instance. This was yet another sustaining breath of fresh air and I know that my guild is going to be lining up that first week, pumped to take down Garrosh and make him pay for his crimes.

 

 

 

Patch 5.4 – Flexible Raiding Feature Announced

Possible implementation of FLEX raiding with Crabby.

Last night, Blizzard dropped a big unannounced Patch 5.4 feature preview onto their blog – “flex” raiding. This raiding would be a new, fourth difficulty somewhere between LFR and normal-mode that would have it’s own ilvl. It is primarily to help those raiders that wish to do a level of content with pick-up groups as well as friends and family in a more casual, social environment. It would work with both friend groups and cross-realm lists, making it very inclusive for those of us who like to pull in people for raids from every corner of the globe. The premise of this works off the idea of scaling – similar to how rares and elites have been working since Patch 5.1. The minimum a group can have is 10 but will add health (and presumably damage) depending on how many people you have, up to 25 players. What also makes this convenient is that loot works exactly the same as LFR – it is awarded individually, based on loot specialization. This means, as promised, that there is no reason to not bring anyone you so choose, so long as you have a balanced role makeup. The devs seem adamant that they want this feature to be for everyone – no minimum ilvl requirement, and that every player should be able to come, rather than a specific class.

Blizzard making a move towards an inclusive social feature such as this is a big deal, especially to someone like me who only ever does raiding these days in a casual environment. My guild’s raid team is a very bare-bones 10-player raid that very frequently pulls in cross-realm players and cancels raids when we can’t scrape together 10 people for behind-the-curve content. The idea of being able to raid with anyone on current content and bringing a variable number of folks gives us way more freedom in terms of both difficulty of content (like raid meta achievements, which the blog said will be doable on Flex difficulty) and flexibility of raid filling. Giving the WoW audience even more reasons to pick and choose their raid experience as they see fit is always a move in the right direction.

Are there some drawbacks here? Absolutely. There’s the ilvl bloat we’re experiencing right now – we’re two content tiers in and we have many orders of ilvl gear that a potential casual player is looking at. Adding yet another swath of gear in between LFR and normal is only going to muddy this further. Will it give players more choices or is it going to just make attempting to figure out upgrade paths even more of a nightmare? There’s also the concern of this pulling even more skilled or socially-connected players away from the potential LFR pool. While random grouping methods have proliferated, I still feel that the subset of players that this is catering to might make them flee from the LFR queues. Lastly, the fact that all three have separate lockouts means there’s going to be some complaining of feeling like you “need” to do all three in order to obtain the best gear as fast as you can, especially if your guild is stuck behind a gear check.

Overall, though, I can’t help but seeing this as a future positive. My guild is even talking about this replacing LFR nights for us – we go in a big group of guildies and friends from other realms on a set night to help us get LFR gear for normal-mode raiding. If we get our own gear and perhaps tackle slightly harder content with only people we choose, this seems like an obvious choice. It cuts out the drawbacks from LFR and gives us more control over our raid experience, socially. We can invite cross-realm friends, do alt raids easier, and not have to cancel raid nights as much. I don’t think flex raiding is going to replace normal raid content for us, even though we only raid four hours a week. Are there guilds that could use this as a replacement for both LFR and normal modes? Absolutely. The idea that you can make that kind of choice now as a smaller, more casual or social guild is great!

I would even speculate that this tool might give rise to the pick-up raid group again on realms that might have lost out due to smaller, less experienced populations (so any place that wasn’t Mal’ganis, basically) – groups could form via Trade Chat again, and there’d be no loot disputes and would still only need a modicum of skill to participate, as well as the variable size making things a lot easier.  People that have long complained about how LFR/LFG destroyed server communities might see a breath of life to local raiding again. Basically, I’m tentatively optimistic about this as I feel that this is one of the few features that’ve announced in Mists of Pandaria that caters directly to the kinds of things I like to do in-game for precisely the people I want to do it with.

The question that remains in my mind is this – was this the big feature that Ghostcrawler had been teasing at for so long? Is it one of many things that Patch 5.4 promises? I’m excited if this is just the start of a laundry list of things that might improve our quality of (raiding) life in WoW in the future.

As for you guys, are you hyped about this possible addition? Does it affect you at all? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

The Trickle-Down Effect of Gear

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

It wasn’t until I was having a Twitter conversation with Snack Road (isn’t that how a lot of my blog posts begin these days?) that I realized there’s shenanigans going on with gear progression. It was merely a joke about Republicans at the time, but the trickle-down theory seems to be in full effect in World of Warcraft, and has been going on for a while.

For those of you who weren’t very cognizant of the Reagan era in the United States, “trickle down” was two slightly different ideas about economics and marketing that could be summed up as “The wealth at the top will eventually benefit the bottom.” Economically speaking, making sure the wealthiest in our country were taken care of with tax breaks and benefits would eventually benefit the poorest of our country. As far as the marketing theory is concerned, it describes that many products will start out only available or affordable to the richest but eventually lower in price so that all can afford it. The backlash of this is that once the “lower classes” have consumed or popularized a product, it is no longer wanted by those in the elite.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I feel like more than ever, Mists of Pandaria was a step backwards when it came to an even level of gear acquisition. One the major problems of this expansion was requiring both reputation and Valor Points for obtaining the first pieces of gear that was available to you once hitting 90. In the past, VP gear was not coupled with any reputation. It was a means of gear acquisition that anyone putting the time could benefit from. It started in Burning Crusade with badge gear – it was arguably some of the best pieces you could get unless you were chasing progression endgame and a lot of times, it was the best slot-filler or catch-up mechanism you could have asked for. In Cataclysm, it was so finely tuned to the point that most people I knew except at the very top of the raid game made use of regularly. It wasn’t until LFR being put in that we started to see a decay of that system – given that LFR was put in at the very end of the expansion, the effect wasn’t as immediate. What LFR was doing was not making yet another stepping stone in terms of a gear path, it was creating a ceiling of sorts, contextually. VP gear was locked behind reputation and valor points, valor points were made harder to acquire and capped. Each LFR having successively higher i-level requirements meant that in order to do LFR, considered the final or penultimate level of raiding you’d achieve as a slightly more casual raider meant that you had to gear chase a lot harder than before. While things like the wider choice of reputations, world bosses  and crafting has made it slightly easier, it still feels like the people at the top are benefiting the most from doing what they want to do, while the rest of the curve gets progressively less choices in the matter. Raiders who have the benefit of doing content quickly while relevant have access to the best gear, therefore not needing LFR at all. VP gear from reputation isn’t as necessary once the initial gearing hump of the first tier’s worth of content is over. These raiders are supplied they gear they need by skill alone perhaps, or eventually the content they are chewing through and their success is framed in such a way that other people can’t degrade it by being slower or caught up in circumstances beyond their control (bad loot streaks, raid team falling apart). You see this in not just how loot is obtained but in things like the Cutting Edge achievements. I felt the achievements were a vanity addition that suited the purpose to make top-end raiders happy for their accomplishments, and that’s not a bad thing. However, Blizzard’s design when it comes to gear paths is pretty textbook trickle down theory in a lot of ways and I’m not sure why. 

LFR was supposed to be the great liberator of the masses, but I feel that it’s striated people wanting to make the jump from starting-out gearwise to anything above it. Is this to preserve the value of upper-level gear? In short, raiders that were normal or heroic progressed were seemingly disgruntled from having to share the same base gear pool outside of the content before LFR was introduced. The whole notion of people getting epics without having to set foot in a raid seemed terrible, except to the people who actually were going to make use of it. With the advent of LFR, the gear pool that was shared was largely obliterated, became more gated in Mists and now has forked fairly divergently – those wanting to obtain gear at the highest levels will have to participate completely in it. This isn’t even trickle-down, like before, where raiders were turning their nose up at badge/VP gear, but a fairly inventive shut-out for all but a few opportunities. In order to do LFR, you never need higher than LFR gear, if you want to do normals, you do not “need” higher than normal gear to do it, roughly speaking. This preserves the sanctity of those chasing higher levels of content, in both gear and accomplishment, while giving people that would ordinarily benefit from structures that “spilled over” for high-end raiders something else to acquire. And in a lot of ways, I can even feel myself going, “Well, if you want to do Z content, why do you need X gear?” It’s a very ingrained way of thinking about content striated by acquisition and elitism. So in this fashion, whenever Blizzard purposefully “outmodes” gear i-levels or content, it is satisfying the high-end by making it unwanted by them (giving them new, better!) and satisfies those down at the bottom by giving them what was once a popular commodity.

Of course, this analogy falls apart a little given some of the choices we have in the game now, a couple of content patches in. It is possible to get a 522 ilvl 2-set just via world bosses, or Shado-Pan Offensive rep gear from doing LFR. All that being said, there’s still fairly apparent places where the trickle down is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. The most notable of these is crafted gear. It used to be the most sought-after for many classes, but the rise and fall of difficulty in terms of obtaining it has been most curious. The first thrust of good craftable gear was some of the tailoring gear – sets that lasted from Karazhan to Black Temple if you played your cards right. The patterns were learnable fairly quickly but making the gear was lengthy and grindy. There weren’t caps on how many pieces of cloth you could make a day but the materials were fairly hard to farm, so it took awhile to gain them. By the end of that expansion, it was to the system of crafting materials AND patterns dropping in the appropriate raids. This system lasted all the way to the beginning of Cataclysm, but what Wrath had introduced was eventually making the material needed for making the recipes purchasable with a currency. Cataclysm made the materials and patterns easily obtainable via the crafting professions but capped the materials significantly. Still, this meant that all you needed to get really solid crafted gear was time or currency. The efficacy of this gear started slipping behind though as people rapidly outpaced the ilvls over the course of the expansion. Mists is where the trickling was really brought to bear – not only did you have the basic level of epic patterns locked behind reps, but more to the point, the highest level of craftables were only able to be made with materials obtained from disenchanting epic gear (with a small chance of dropping from bosses)  of current content. So, basically, if you want gear that is on par with the highest level raids, you have to basically wait for either your raid team (if you have one) or someone else’s raid team to have a piece of gear they can shard. If you’re not a part of an established raid team, in essence you’re looking for another raid team’s cast-offs in order to make yourself better gear. The argument is that if you’re not part of an established raid team that’s doing the content, then why do you need the crafted gear at all? For some people, it could easily be BIS for a time, other people it is simply more of the gear chase but with a lot more restricted paths or options. The only time people outside of the “system” really benefit from crafted gear though is when they are in a situation where their environment is already raining down epics – meaning the highest tier of raiders on their servers are past the gearing curve and are sharding everything or enough people have entered the current content to create somewhat of a competitive market. If that’s not the very pinnacle of this theory, then I don’t know what is.

Still, all of this raises a lot more questions than answers, and I know that I’m glossing over a lot of situations in order to make a point about the theory. Is Blizzard merely acting in accordance to what the audience wants, or is it a more strident hand in directing the gear path for all “levels” of players? Since they are the ones responsible for the structures we have to move through to obtain gear, I can presume that this was done purposefully. The “No Elevators To Everest” seems to belie a developer belief (especially since many of the older ones are returning the fold) that everyone has to really struggle to get what they want, and some people are going to hit a ceiling of skill or success just due to their position and no further. While the parlance has dropped out  some, the idea of “welfare” epics couldn’t be more true now with the advent of LFR, but gamifying this so that no one ever really needs it anymore is an interesting mesh of Reagan-era social policies and Skinner Box perfection. There’s always going to be a subset of people that need enough gear to see the lower-bar content, but not more than that. If someone wants gear beyond that point badly enough, they have to go through great lengths to get it in order to not upset the overflow from the top. The idea that the developers are really giving us so many choices to be powerful but keeping the real power fairly divided and unobtainable seems to be what’s really at play here. Do I mind it terribly, from a personal standpoint? In some ways, yes. I might be casual but the practises of a game company to enforce power progression along lines that have typically caused strife elsewhere doesn’t seem to be the smartest move in the long run. Treating your broadest base and separating it further and further from the middle does little to make anyone feel good, but I suppose Blizzard has worked in enough distractions that no great portion falls through the cracks. Still, this is all something to think about going ahead. Are there iterations down the road that will even further divide the haves from the have-nots? Will desired/vogue gear be overturned even faster? Who knows, but I have seen the problems thus far and I’m not sure I like the direction Blizzard is taking us.

The Azerothian dream is not that every person must be level with every other person. The Azerothian dream is that every person must be free to become whatever God Blizzard intends they should become.

—–

For Snack Road’s thoughts on a similar topic of gearing, check his post!

Patch 5.2 – The Problem with Twins, Part 2

Patch 5.2 finally drops next Tuesday and with it, there has been quite a few things of note, particularly regarding the Twin Consort bosses I discussed. The 5.2 trailer, which was posted yesterday, was actually exciting and got me pumped for the raid content. The poetry, the story, feels like some of the patch trailers we’ve gotten before but a lot more cinematic. And while we got a glimpse of a lot of the story behind the Thunder King and his lackeys in the raid, guess who were missing.

That’s right, our wonderful twin ladies, Lu’lin and Suen. Kinda curious, don’t you think? Unfortunately my cynicism that Blizzard left them out of the trailer due to overwhelming shame might have a slightly more logical explanation, courtesy of the developer interview regarding all of the Throne of Thunder bosses earlier this week. This interview, incidentally, is what spurred me to post yet another discussion about these two Mogu sex robots bodyguards.

My thoughts on why the Twin Consorts were left out of the trailer might have been a mid-stream design change to their lore, as per Lead Encounter Designer Ion Hazzikostas:

An earlier version of the concept for the fight had them actually being spirits of the Sun and Moon, but that didn’t feel quite right (and we all know that the only true spirit of the Moon is Elune, and clearly she was not locked away by the Thunder King).

Now, this exceptionally generous on my part, but I suspect it is the only reason why they’d leave these female bosses out of the trailer video, given how long the machinima take to make. But like so many other things, I wonder if it because they like to leave developing female models for things out or to the last minute because everyone at Blizzard apparently is terrified about designing female models (worgen anyone?) Either way, it’s pretty odd that they are not in the trailer. I can distinctly remember most of them getting at least a second or two of screen time. (The only other female boss is Mar’li and the Council fight she’s a part of wasn’t in the trailer either.)

From people who have tested the bosses on PTR, and in even in just looking at the boss design, it’s pretty clear they kept the Sun/Moon aesthetic in the two of them.

It’s the rest of the interview that left me sputtering yesterday on Twitter:

  • Rumored to be the only known female mogu in existence, Lei Shen keeps his trophies close, and their combined arsenal against interlopers closer.
  • Players may have noticed the complete absence of any female mogu in their exploration of the continent of Pandaria.
  • Indeed, these were specifically created by Lei Shen and empowered to serve and guard him, and they are a direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole.

Are the developers reading my blog? It seems like they are taking the heavy early criticism of why the hell there’s two female Mogu as raid bosses but not anywhere in Mogu society to heart.  However, there’s so many more questions left open here now that it’s canonically known that they are the only two in existence and only created by Lei Shen. Such as, “Why would an essentially monogender culture have a leader that creates women” or maybe “Why are they sexualized?” Consorts are very specifically a sexualized term, and maybe the developers are mixing real world stuff with Mogu again, but there’s this lingering feeling that these two women weren’t shaped out of stone just to guard Lei Shen. All of this bothers me, little piece by little piece.

Maybe it’s the objectified language in the copy and interview – “treasures” “possessions” “trophies.” Lei Shen created the only two women in existence for their race and they aren’t even granted true humanity in any discussions surrounding them. It’s the fact that they were created to be submissive and servile to him, to protect him. It’s the fact that they are the sexualized equivalent of guard dogs. Giving life out of stone is a pretty terrifying concept as well when you wonder where Lei Shen got the souls (do they have souls) for this purpose.

The only high point in the discussion about these two was the fan-ramblings about what possibly inspired Lei Shen – why not create a bulky Mogu woman, particularly if they are bodyguards? Cynwise suggested that it might be possible fashioning after Burning Crusade eredari, which would explain the model choice. However, I suspect the model choice is less a reflection of Lei Shen’s ideals and more the developers still.

All in all, these two bosses are a serious dig in my excitement for this upcoming patch. We’ve had a lot of trouble with female NPCs in Pandaria thus far and the raid dungeons have not been exempt from this – the last three did not heavily feature any canonically indicated female bosses aside from Lei Shi (the elemental) and Grand Empress Shek’seer (whether or not any of the other Heart of Fear bosses were women is up in the air.) So the fact that the new raid only features three women, two of whom are prized constructs created by Lei Shen and were left out of the official trailer, makes me upset.

Throne has an abundance of bosses and only 3 of them (the Twins, and Mar’li) are actually women. This is in fact a step up from the last raids we have done, but it still feels like a step backwards in terms of Blizzard’s creative development choices.

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.