Friday, October 30, 2020

I Found A Fox

 


From character creation to level thirty-five in World of Warcraft Retail took me a fraction over twenty hours. Thirty-five is the new ninety. It puts my shaman just two levels behind my highest level character, the dwarf hunter I played during the Wrath of the Lich King era. He took something like three or four months to get to seventy. 

So, levelling certainly is fast. It's also surprsingly fun, although it's a very different kind of fun to the deep, immersive, compelling experience many of us in this corner of the blogosphere (Can spheres have corners?) were celebrating when Classic was fresh and new, around this time last year.


 

It doesn't quite feel like playing the same game. Leveling in Classic is very much about building your character while meeting people and making acquaintances. Retail is more about following a series of stories. The surprise for me was that some of those stories are not at all bad.

Much has been said about the trivialization of the leveling process in WoW. It's frequently derided as being challenge-free. It's supposed to be next to impossible for your character to die or run out of mana. That's certainly true at the beginning but by the mid-twenties my shaman found herself out of mana once or twice and in the thirties she began to have to make tactical decisions on what to fight and what to leave alone. It would be an exaggeration to say that leveling has become difficult in any way but it does start to require some thought and attention after a while. 


 

The idea that the game is any way prescriptive or on-rails for the solo player also fails to hold up to close examination. When I started I had every intention of leveling via Exile's Reach and a single expansion but that hasn't happened. 

Instead I've found myself following my inevitable pattern of dotting about the map here, there and anywhere. My shaman's path to thirty-five went roughly as follows: Exile's Reach - Zuldazar - Terrokar Forest - Valley of the Four Winds - Vale of Eternal Blossoms - Jade Forest - Kun'Lai Summit - Townlong Steppes - Vol'Dun


 

Not one of those zones has she completed. Instead she's left a trail of half-finished - or barely-started - quests behind her everywhere she's been. The game has a structure involving breadcrumb trails to quest hubs, it's true, but it doesn't seem to give much of a damn whether you follow them or not. I've stayed as long as the local story interested me or until another narrative crossed my path and drew me away. 

My journal has filled up and quests have been deleted on an almost hourly basis. I've had no compunction in dropping storylines that didn't seem to be going anywhere or to which I couldn't imagine myself returning but to the writers' credit, there haven't been many that outstayed their welcome or that I didn't find at least moderately entertaining for as long as I stuck with them.


 

Pandaria, as several people have suggested, is particularly good. The narrative is coherent, cohesive and, perhaps most surprising of all, convincing. It moves with logic and concision at a comprehensible pace. Characters make statements that seem sensible, then act on them accordingly. 

There's a minimum of clowning and a modicum of bathos. Humorous characters are gently amusing, serious characters are controlled and disciplined. All in all it's an impressive achievement.

Visually, it's a feast. The art team has done a magnicicent job of rendering a variety of biomes while holding to a convincing and (within the terms of fantasy gaming) naturalistic geography. I took a vast number of screenshots and did a great deal of gawping.


 

After thirty-five levels I'm coming round to the shaman class. Combat could not be described as thrilling but as the spellbook and the talent tree slowly fill out at least a few options for variety begin to present themselves. 

Out of combat is better. I love the spirit wolf form, especially with the specialization that adds to the speed buff. Being able to heal up after combat (or a fall) with a couple of casts is a massive improvement on drinking potions or sitting down to eat and drink. 


 

Best of all is the water-striding spell that lets the shaman run across lakes and seas as if they were dry land. I only wish that had turned up a few levels earlier. The impact was muted by the fact she could already ride flying mounts by then. Still, it'll come into its own in Battle for Azeroth zones. She won't be doing any flying there.

One sign of the immensely increased speed of levelling is that I didn't run into any inventory problems until she was already past thirty. She was going too fast to bother with any professions so she wasn't wighed down by crafting materials and everything she got seemed to be either meant for selling to vendors or for using there and then.


 

When her bags did finally fill up, mostly with cast-off armor and weaponry, she simply portalled back to Orgrimmar and threw it all in the vault. That's the only time she's visited a bank since she started. I doubt that's ever happened in any MMORPG I've ever played before.

Thirty-five was, of course, my target for starting the Vulpera access quests. Or, I should say, for completing the Vol'Dun zone storyline, since that seems to amount to the same thing. I'll have more to say about that another day but for now I'll just mention that she's currently camped next to the fox that starts it all off. I'm hoping to get it done tomorrow. 


 

After that, I had imagined making a Vulpera (a hunter, most likely) and leaving the shaman in semi-retirement, her job done. I've rather taken to her, though, and there are several unfiished storylines back in pandaland I'd like to see through to their conclusion. I think I might let her have a few days off and then come back to take her all the way to fifty before my month's subscription runs out.

Whether I renew it probably rests on the slight shoulders of that Vulpera, as yet unborn. It would be a bit silly to go to all this effort to get her and then not play her for a good while, though, wouldn't it? And I am having fun. More than I expected.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

October Songs


The end of the month draws near, bringing with it that inevitable round-up of musical notes, wherein I attempt to illuminate, explain and, with increasing frequency, justify the abstruse and peculiar titles I foisted upon the preceding month's posts. It's quite possibly my favorite regular feature, not least because it's the only one I have. Maybe I should get some more.

I was back at work for October but only for two days a week. I still managed more than twenty posts (keeping the numbers a little misty here because as I write there are still three days left in October). Last year I posted two hundred and fifty times, an all-time record. Today marks post two-fifty for 2020 so suck on that, 2019!

What's the takeaway? I guess that life-threatening illness increases productivity but not so much as a global pandemic will. You're welcome, life coaches everywhere.

Moving on...

September Songs - September Song - Last time out, I found the pitch-perfect title in September Songs. I knew the title of course. Everyone of a certain age would. I just added the "s". I vaguely remembered it was a Kurt Weill composition but I didn't associate it strongly with any particular performer.

Turns out everyone's had a crack at it and most of the results aren't pretty. I guess the best-known might be Frank Sinatra's version. I have a conflicted relationship with Sinatra. When I was growing up he was old peoples' music, then when I was in my twenties I acquired a hipsterish admiration for him which lasted a decade or two. Now I kind of go song by song. 

I was looking around for a version I actually liked when I happened on the above live take by Lou Reed. The song was  composed by Weill and Maxwell Anderson specifically for Walter Huston to perform in a 1938 Broadway show called Knickerbocker Holiday. They tailored it to match Huston's "gruff voice and limited vocal range", which probably explains why it works so well for Lou. There's no recording of Huston's stage performance but he reprised it for the 1950 movie September Affair. Can't say it does much for me.

Know Your Rights - The Clash - I was a big Clash fan at one time. Kinda not so sure about a lot of it, now. They seem to have dated in a way some other bands of the same era haven't. It's easy to forget just how fast they moved from art-punk to stadium rock and how alienating it felt at the time. I think I prefer Primal Scream's version. Bobby Gillespie made much the same transition but handled it with a deal more sang froid. 

That 31st Century - Power (remix) - Kanye West feat. Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz - The two above came straight out of my memory but for this one, like most of what's to come, we have to thank Lyrics.com. I've almost come full circle in how I title these posts. I've passed the point where I scan through titles and lyrics looking for something I can use for a post. Now I come up with a title first, then run it through a few search engines to see if anyone's had the same idea. It's astonishing how well that works. Although, I guess ymmv.

When I put "31st Century" into Lyrics.com I got three matches, which was three more than I was expecting. Public Enemy's Hitler Day is a great tune but it's a false positive. They never actually use the phrase. The third option, which I considered very seriously, was Deltron 3030's predictably futuristic Upgrade. In the end, though, that Kanye groove is just too mighty to ignore.

Fodder For The Cannons - Senses Working Overtime - XTC - I discovered Foxes and Fossils, somewhat inevitably, while trawling YouTube for all things fox-related. Judging by their many uploads they seem to occupy a bizarre niche - cover bands that play exclusively in car parks. Probably quite advantageous in current circumstances. Possibly because of the age/gender gap between the backline and the vocal trio (I think they may all be fathers/daughters/uncles/cousins or something. I haven't bothered to read into it too much) both their choice and interpretation of songs can be idiosyncratic, but in a much more instinctive way than someone like the irony-driven Nouvelle Vague.

I've Made My Plans - Frankly, Scarlett, I Don't Give A Damn - Sparks -I love Sparks but even I would concede they can be something of an acquired taste. This isn't one of their finest moments, either, although the performance is flawless as always. Still, even middling Mael bros. is beyond what most bands can hope for as a career best. 

She Bad - DJ Paimon - I can't remember how I found this. I thought it must have been from Lyrics.com but apparently not. It must have come to light somehow while I was "researching" the meaning and origin of "Paimon". However I found it, it's a find, for sure.

Up There - Land - Patti Smith Group - Between the time I first heard this in 1975 and sometime in the mid-90s, this Patti Smith epic was my second-favorite song of all time, behind the Velvet Underground's Heroin. It may still be. I just haven't made a top fifty list since about 1995. Maybe I should. There'd be a lot of Lana del Rey on it now, that's for sure.

The album version, linked under the green highlight above, is sublime but the pullout video, from her 1976 appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test, is one of the seminal musical memories of my youth. I don't think I'd ever seen anything as boundary-breaking on tv at the time. Everyone talks about that Bowie/Ronson moment from Top of the Pops but this worked me over harder. In my memory it ended with the band still howling while Whispering Bob sheltered under his jacket, trying to make the next link but, like my memory of him capping Cockney Rebel's rendition of My Only Vice by promising "they will never appear on this show again", it seems to be something I dreamed.

Pumpkin, Pumpkin - Pumpkin - The Regrettes - Some things never change. This could be from the nineties, the eighties, the seventies, the sixties... The chorus reminds me of Mott the Hoople's 1974 chart-scraper Foxy Foxy, itself something of a fifties pastiche. Double helping because it's Halloween.

Spend Your Wishes - Dolly Mixture - Speaking of things that never change, my favorite band of all time, from my favorite album of all time. Didn't need to look this one up. Sadly, no video of this song exists, at least until they make that damn documentary publicly available.

I Remembered You Older And Taller - Older and Taller - Regina Spektor - One of the many artists who, when I hear them, I always think "I should really listen to more of this". And then I don't.

She's Crafty - Beastie Boys - Instead, I end up listening to more stuff by people I already know a lot of stuff by and yet I still always manage to hear more stuff I didn't know by them. Or, in this case, find insane fan-made videos of those songs I already know, that I didn't know, but now am glad that I do. There's just a lot of stuff out there now. It's been sixty-five years, after all. God forbid I get into jazz and blues. Then it'd be a full century.

In Exile - The Dream Academy - I always get the Dream Academy confused with the Dream Syndicate, the Paisley Underground outfit. I like them both but I like the Dream Academy more. If I hadn't wanted to use them, I could have gone with the ever-delightful Taylor Swift, had her otherwise delicious and delicate Exile not been ruined by the ever-abrasive Bon Iver. Or we could have had Savage Sea by all-time heroes the Pop Group (for whom my band played support, twice, which I may have mentioned before, once or twenty times). Even I find most of the Pop Group's ouevre heavy going these days, though, so I'll spare you.

Fix It - Grizzly Bear - Probably should have spared us all this, too. I'm not much of a Grizzly Bear fan at the best of times but this is like the stodgiest of mid-seventies prog. It could be Wishbone Ash! I wouldn't have used the title at all if it hadn't been for the Solex remix. I love Solex but honestly I'm not sure even she can do much with this. She has at least managed to lose nearly half the running length, so there's that.

Figuring It Out - Aviation - The Last Shadow Puppets - I was a very late convert to the Arctic Monkeys. I was, obviously, aware of their work but I didn't really start paying attention until 2018's Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, an album I totally love from start to finish but which I now discover represents a highly controversial change of direction for the band. As for the Last Shadow Puppets, I pretty much know nothing about them but the name. On this evidence I think I'd better get myself up to speed and fast. They make terrific videos, too, or so it would appear. 

Hard Time Walking - Never See Me Again - Vivian Girls - They don't even get started in this live clip until more than fifty seconds in and the whole thing only lasts 2.26. That's economy!

Out-Foxed - Surrender To Strangeness - Buck 65 -  It's amazing how many old favorites keep cropping up, isn't it? I mean, it made sense when I was pulling these titles out of my mental Rolodex (a reference already dated long before this blog even began) but even now I'm supposedly randomizing my reach the same names insist on surfacing. Here's Buck doing it live in front of some bemused Canadians while being filmed from the crowd by someone who appears to have had far too much to drink. Rock 'n roll, eh? Oh, no, wait, this is hip hop...

Twenty The Hard Way - I knew I wanted to use this title and I was hoping someone else might have thought of it but no. Not really surprising. Twenty is kind of a hard throw any way. Beastie Boys to the rescue, once again.

Dark Side Of The MoonBrain Damage - Pink Floyd - Oh, boy. I guess there's no point pretending it wasn't the Floyd's record-breaking chart botherer that put this one into play. I don't know, though. Post-Syd Pink Floyd? Did I want to go there? Really? So I started to do some searching. Surely someone must have done an odd or amusing cover of this barnacled old classic. A ukukele orchestra or an Italian synthwave duo, maybe?

After scrolling past what seemed like a thousand earnest acoustic endeavours, pepped up by the occasional full band effort, I was pretty sure no-one had ever wrung a moment's interest out of the old warhorse. About the most fun I had was watching the proto-Spinal Tap studio musings of Roger Waters and the boys in a clip from the infamous "Live at Pompeii" (see above).

Then it occured to me. Pink Floyd don't own "dark side of the moon". It's a stock phrase. I bet lots of people have used it. And they have. It crops up in plenty of songs. Some of them are even by people I like. For starters there's Bowling For Soup's trademark bittersweet nostalgia in Why Don't I Miss You, turned into something almost magical here by two Nepalese teenagers, Rysa and Maggie. If this doesn't prove the universality of human experience I don't know what could.

I think I might do a whole post about Bowling For Soup one day. There's certainly enough to talk about. It would be pretty easy to do one on Momus, too, but I'm not the blogger for that. Too much research. For example, it can't be a co-incidence that both he and Eno used "Mistaken Memories of Medieaval Manhattan" as the title for entirely different pieces, can it? Eno's is three-quarters of an hour of ambient noodling, as you'd expect. Momus takes just under five minutes for a version with words, some of which are "dark side of the moon" and others "knights in white satin" and "topographic oceans", which kind of tells you where he's coming from.

James Taylor is even further down the "really?" list than Pink Floyd but like them he sure has written some corkers in his time. Fortunately, he's also fared far better with covers. Almost any James Taylor song you can think of you'll think of first in a version by someone else. I have a lot of time for Melanie, who I still regret not going to see on one of those bizarre school music trips I was talking about last time. Here, or rather up there, she is, doing the James Taylor standard Carolina in my Mind and doing it a hell of a lot better than he ever did.

Skipping over Immortal Technique's possibly prematurely incendiary The Point of No Return we come finally to If I Could Be Your Star by PMDawn. If this isn't playing over a post-break up scene in a movie or tv show somewhere right now then someone really hasn't been doing their job.

And I think that's it for October. Couple of days to go, sure, but I've written this now and I'm not writing another post today. Tail-enders can go into next month's count. It seems there are several songs going by the name "October Song", so that's the title sorted. I wonder if I can find one for every month of the year?

As I'm sure must be obvious, Blogger's latest update allows me to resize video clips. I just spotted that today. Not sure about it yet. What I'd really like to be able to do, consistently, is place two smaller images side-by-side as I've occasionally managed to do in the past. The previous version would do that, when it felt like it. The new one won't do it at all. If I try and force either of them, things break. Ho hum. Onwards and upwards, eh?

Full song titles used as post titles (even if altered)  - Large, Bold, Green Quotes from lyrics used as titles (even if altered) - Large, Bold, Blue Original titles from which quotes were drawn - Small, Italic, Bold, Green All other music - Small, Italic, Green

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dark Side Of The Moon


I was just about to power down the P.C. for the night when I spotted something new on Feedly. It was Wilhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob flagging up something I'd been waiting for, the official announcement of this year's EverQuest II expansion.

The EverQuest xpack, Claws of Veeshan, was announced a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if Darkpaw deliberately stagger the reveals so as to give each game a shot at maximum publicity? I guess that would make sense, although you have to wonder who might be interested other than people already playing, most of whom would presumably like to know the details as soon as possible. Maybe the EQII team is just further behind in the development race.

Anyway, we know now. Or we know about as much as we ever do before the beta begins. Because every expansion from every company has to have a beta these days. The era of exclusive in-house testing is long gone, if it ever existed. In fact, if I think about it, I seem to remember beta-testing the third EQII expansion, Echoes of Faydwer, back in 2006. Maybe expansions always had betas...

The beta for the latest, which we now know will be called Reign of Shadows, will begin sometime after the tenth of November, that being the date pre-orders open. I'll be placing my pre-order at the earliest opportunity, guaranteeing me a spot, which I have absolutely no intention of taking up. 

I don't want to spoil my own fun. I'm expecting to play the heck out of Reign of Shadows when it arrives. I've gotten good mileage out of every EQII expansion to date but last year's, Blood of Luclin, I found particularly enjoyable. I took one character all the way through the adventure signature questline, two to the end of the tradeskill questline and four more to somewhere around the mid-point of one, the other or both, by which time they'd reached the new level cap of one hundred and twenty.

After that I played through a good deal of the repeatable content well into the summer before I finally drifted away to other games. Even now I'm logging in every day to do something or other on the moon. 

It helped that I have a strong fund of nostalgia for Luclin, nostalgia which I'd never had a chance to indulge until now. More importantly, despite the expansion clearly feeling somewhat rushed and rough around the edges, I found the gameplay to be some of the most enjoyable for years.

My first and oldest Kerran. Born Dec 5th 2004. Original guild leader. Last seen in action 2005.

 

Nostalgia might be in short supply this time around. The sequel takes place on Luclin's dark side, a setting I've always had reservations about. Most of the original zones are dark, claustrophobic and visually unappealing. Also very dangerous. I remember travel being fraught with problems, not least because I could scarcely ever see where I was going. 

EverQuest II, I'm very pleased to say, doesn't really do dark, dingy, hard-to-see-your-axe-in-front-of-your-face zones. I'm very curious to see what the art team make of the five we know we're going to be getting, Echo Caverns, Shadeweaver's Thicket, Grimling Forest, Shar Vhal, and Vex Thal.

Echo Caverns I remember as being a fairly small cave with some trilobite-like creatures and a bunch of outlaws. Shadeweaver's Thicket was the Vah Shir (of whom more later) starting zone. I spent a  lot of time there but I can't remember it being much more than some crepuscular scrubland. I think it was too dark to see much in the way of detail.

Grimling Forest I remember all too clearly as a dark, confusing, deadly place filled with repulsive hyper-agressive, gibbering grimlings. I never had much fun there and even if I had been having any I wouldn't have been able to see what it was. 

Vex Thal was a raid zone. I honestly can't remember for sure if I've ever been there. As my characters in EverQuest have become godlike in comparison to old raid bosses (even the actual gods) I've visited most of the old raid zones just to explore but Vex Thal brings nothing to mind at all. Maybe I'll take my magician over to have a look sometime before RoS arrives, to see if I can refresh my memory.

Shar Vhal is the home city of the aforementioned Vah Shir. I'd like to say I know it well. I've certainly spent many hours there. Most of them I spent hopelessly lost. It's one of the most confusing fictional cities I've ever attempted to navigate. I sincerely hope the new version has fewer ramps and stairs and maybe about a tenth as many rooms.

The reason I spent so much time there is that for several years the character I played most often in EQ was a Vah Shir beastlord. Prior to the invention of the Heroic Character (aka boost to 85) she was my highest level, eventually making eighty-four the hard way.

My highest-level Kerran (at 36). Spent the last eight years posing as a ratonga at the New Halas bank.

The Vah Shir are one of two related races of cat people in the Everquest mythos, the other being the Kerrans. To cut a very long story short, the Vah Shir are Kerrans who got blown off-planet by the Erudites and crash-landed on the moon. 

Kerrans were in the original game from launch in 1999 in the form of an NPC race but when the third expansion, Shadows of Luclin, appeared less than three years later it brought with it the Vah Shir as a playable race. That choice then got flipped on its head with EQII in 2004, when Kerrans got the nod as the sequel's playable catfolk. 

It's hard to imagine anyone much cares by now (although I'm willing to bet someone does and they're going to let us all know how much on the forums) but at the time which cats were going to make it to the new game was quite a hot topic. A lot of people were emotionally invested in their Vah Shir characters so hearing the entire race had been wiped out in the destruction of Luclin didn't go down all that well. 

I recall many impassioned arguments being made along the lines of there having to have been at least some Vah Shir caught out on Norrath when the moon blew up but no, apparently they'd all gone home for the holidays or something. I don't believe any lore explanation for their complete disappearance was ever forthcoming.

Whatever, they're back now, or they will be when the expansion arrives. (No firm date for that yet, but there never is at this stage). Vah Shir become the twenty-second playable race and the first new addition to the roster for five years. In fact, I believe they're the first new race to become automatically available simply by owning the latest expansion since the Sarnak in 2007's Rise of Kunark. The Aerykin, who appared at the same time as 2014's Altar of Malice, had to be purchased separately in the cash shop. At least, that's how I remember it. Information available after the fact is conflicted.

As well as the new zones and a new race there's all the usual, expected stuff. What you'd call the content, I guess, including the adventure and tradeskill signature questlines and a bunch of solo, heroic and raid instances.

My third Kerran. Awake for a grand total of fifteen hours in fifteen years.

 

That would be plenty but rolled in with the expansion comes a major revamp of the Alternative Advancement (aka AA) system. Like World of Warcraft's recent level squish and associated levelling changes, the AA revamp is something all EQII players are going to get regardless of whether they buy the expansion or indeed subscribe. In that sense I wouldn't necessarily call it an expansion feature but that's splitting hair-balls.

AAs have lain fallow (some might say moribund) for a few years now, something about which there have been growing rumbles of discontent, since it was always a popular mechanic. When it was revealed, allegedly unitentionally, in one of this summer's Kander's Candor podcasts, the idea of a revamp was cautiously welcomed. I'd say most players would like one but everyone's anxious about how it might go.

Finally, slipping by almost unnoticed, there'a another revamp of sorts, this time to the guild structure, which now goes to 350 and receives an "all new content-driven guild leveling mechanism". I couldn't actually tell you what the current cap is. My guild is in the eighties somewhere. 

Since the beginning of the game guilds have levelled by means of Status, which has become a major currency over time. The proposed change to "content-driven" levelling reminds me very uncomfortably of the changes ArenaNet made to Guild Wars 2 guild progression, changes which comprehensively destroyed almost all the small guilds in the game.

I can easily imagine the guild changes turning out to be the PR disaster of this expansion. Let's hope they've thought it through. Fortunately I barely use any guild facilities or services these days so I should be safe to sit on the sidelines munching popcorn.

Other than that it all looks pretty good to me. I'm very much looking forward to visiting the dark side. And I'll definitely be making a Vah Shir. The only question being, which class?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Twenty The Hard Way


I spent what felt like most of today taking my goblin shaman in World of Warcraft from fifteen to twenty. First I waved the trolls of Zuldezar goodbye, hoping never to see their monumental ziggurat-city again. It's an impressive feat of engineering, sure, but a nightmare to navigate.

Back in Orgrimmar, itself no favorite of mine, I went to see Chromie, looking as out-of-place as you'd imagine a gnome among orcs might. After a quick look at the options I plumped for Cataclysm. I've always wanted to take a tour of the old world to see what changes nature wrought.

Chromie sent me to go read some Warolord's board or other. When I found it, there she was, sitting on her hourglass. Unlike her Stormwind version, who, in my limited experience at least, stands in one place and looks respectable, Orgrimmar-Chromie seems mischievious. She vanished and re-appeared twice in the short time I was with her. She even made a joke about it.

The options on the board she made me read were disappointing. Two zones I don't like (Searing Gorge and another volcanic/desert zone I forget) and one I'd never heard of. That one was at least a forest so I picked it and spoke to Chromie again.

She told me to go to the Pathfinder's Den, which obviously I had never heard of, and take the portal to Shattrath, which sounded vaguely familiar although I couldn't place it. I went to the spot marked on the map and spent five minutes checking all the portals I could find. None of them went to Shattrath.

I picked one that went somewhere else I'd never heard of, Silvermoon City, on the grounds that it also began with an "S".  It seemed to be full of elves. I wandered around for a few minutes before deciding it couldn't be the place. 

Looking it up online I discovered it was the starting city of the Blood Elves, as I'm sure every single person reading this already knows. Being almost as allergic to elves, particularly the Azerothian kind, as Syp, I have never played a Blood Elf, nor visited their city. It's better than the Night Elves' shack, which I know all too well, I'll say that for it but not much more.

 

If you meant the secret portal room you should have said so!

Back in the portal room again I tried to google my way to Shattrath. It turned out to be somewhere in Outland, part of the Burning Crusade expansion. How this makes it part of Cataclysm beats me but by that stage I wasn't interested in starting over. I'd wasted enough time.

I was set to waste a little more, since nothing I read online explained how to find the portal I needed. In the end I had to watch a YouTube video, although sadly not this one, which does actually show you where you need to go. The one I watched showed you where you used to have to go before they changed it in the pre-patch.

In the end I stumbled upon a comment on a thread on the forums that mentioned you have to go downstairs to find the portal I needed. That possibility had already occured to me and I had already looked for a way down but I hadn't been able to find one. 

With the information that the entrance to the cellar was off the opening corridor I eventually managed to find it. It doesn't help that if you stand at the top and look straight ahead all you see is a wall. Only as you get to what appears to be a dead end does it become apparent that there's a ramp going down.

By this point I was already wondering to myself just what exactly it is that Blizzard think they're doing with their game. This time last year we were all talking a lot about how Classic doesn't hold your hand and expects you to work things out for yourself, while at the same time making the point that, by the standards of 2004, it was actually doing the exact opposite.

Having spent most of this last week playing it (or trying to), I have to say that a lot less has changed in the last fifteen years than I thought. Compared to almost any other MMORPG I've played in years, Retail WoW is still fabulously confusing and astoundingly user-unfriendly. If its reputation as a casual-friendly MMO was ever deserved it can only have been because all the others were so impossibly unwelcoming. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

Damn you, quest tracker!

 

The sheer volume of pre-existing knowledge expected of a new or returning player, not just systems and mechanics but the basics of knowing the hell where you are, is overwhelming. I've been trying not to look too much up out of game but frankly, if I hadn't I'd still be wandering around Stormwind trying to find Chromie.

In the end I made it to Shattrath, whereupon I immediately got hopelessly lost. Before I could orient myself I'd somehow acquired yet another "take a tour of our fine city" quest. I had the quest tracker up and unbeknownst to me it had already defaulted to the tour, while I had it in my head, from the original instructions back in Orgrimmar, that I needed to head out into the woods.

Consequently I spent the next ten minutes running a full circle around the outside of Shattrath before I realised the yellow dot on my map was in the middle of the city. Finally I got it sorted out, found the NPC I was looking for just along the main road out of town and settled down to what seemed to be a never-ending sequence of kill quests.

The irony wasn't lost on me. I've been sniping at new Blizzard's propensity for gimmicky quests that have you riding animals, piloting aircraft or morphing into monsters. I really shouldn't be complaining that what I ended up doing this time felt so... old school. There's a happy medium, surely?

Only a hundred and ninety-nine more like him and that's the level!
Maybe if the kill quotas had been the regular ten at a time it wouldn't have been so bad but these were fourteen, twenty, twenty-five. And there were dozens of them, or it felt like it. I killed wolves for their skins (Bad drop rate. Turned a kill twelve into more than double that.), trees for their termites (Better. Kill a tree, out pop five termites), moths for their... I don't remember what the moths dropped. Mostly I just killed things so I could go back and tell someone they were dead. 

For a long while it was utterly routine. I can't say I fnd the shaman an exciting class to play. It's far behind hunter or warlock or mage for thrills. It certainly is steady, though, and robust. Very hard to kill. 

Best drop of the day!
Most fights seemed to take about twice as long as they would for either a hunter or a druid at the same level, although that has to be perception rather than reality. When the shaman dinged twenty I checked her played time against what it had taken the hunter and the shaman took exactly an hour longer, half of which is accounted for by the problems I recounted earier.

So it's not much slower but boy does it feel it. I wish I'd picked a Warlock for my Horde character now. I'm not relishing another fifteen levels of this just to get to the point where I can get going on my Vulpera quests.

The best part by far was when I ended up in a series of underground ruins packed with mobs. At times I had three or four of them on me at once and often I got adds on top of that. I had to heal myself a lot and at one point I ran out of mana! Really happened!

That part went faster than any of the rest. There was even an escort quest down there, which I failed on first attempt, when the extremely traditional rescuee, who would not move faster than a slow walk but had to attack every mob he saw, managed to get us about six mobs at once and got himself killed. 

And best quest reward.
I was going to leave him down there after that but it turned out I had to go back and pick up some stuff I'd missed. I gave him another chance only this time I made sure to pull things before he could spot them and that way we made it back to his camp alive.

Altogether it wasn't a bad afternoon's entertainment. It wasn't great, though. At times I did find myself musing over whether you can buy xp boosts in the store in WoW. I can see now why the double xp event Blizzard ran for a few months was so well-recieved. There's fast levelling and there's fast-feeling levelling. I know which this is.

That said, I wonder how much it has to do with the content itself? The five levels I did in Tirargarde Sound positively zipped by and I don't think that was just because I was playing a class I enjoy more. I think I might take the shaman back to talk to Chromie and try one of the other expansions for the next stage. Pandaria, perhaps.

Or maybe I should just learn to love the trolls and go back to Zandalar. I do get the sense that if what you're really after is the swiftest trip up the levels it's probably best to do what Blizzard want you to do and stick to the most recent content. Otherwise, I imagine, they're probably thinking you might as well go play Classic.

Geez! And just imagine doing the stuff I did today with Classic's xp rates... I think I'll probably give Burning Crusade Classic a miss.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Out-Foxed

 

When I read Dara's comment on yesterday's post, it occured to me that some of the assumptions I'd been making about unlocking the Vulpera race for my World of Warcraft probably didn't make a whole lot of sense. I've been following the story of the addition of the foxlike "allied race" to WoW since I first heard about it back in June of last year but only by way of sporadic mentions on Massively OP and the occasional blog.

I knew the Vulpera came as part of Battle for Azeroth, albeit as a late addition, arriving with Patch 8.3 at the start of this year. At the time, that meant you'd need to own BfA, which I didn't, and to have a near-max level character capable of killing stuff there, which I hadn't. You would also, of course, have to be subscribed, which I wasn't.

In addition, as I thought I understood it, there was a hefty reputation requirement and a quest chain to complete. That was about as much as I knew, and since I had no intention of buying the expansion at the time, that was where I left things, until more information began to filter out in the run-up to the launch of this year's expansion, Shadowlands.

Again I was picking up the pieces as I happened upon them in articles about the level squish and the upcoming pre-patch. By a few weeks ago I'd gathered that the reputation requirement was going to go away and access to all Battle for Azeroth content was going to be rolled into the regular subscription. Better yet, with the squish and the new leveling regime, a good portion of BfA would drop into the laps of players using the endless free trial.

Until this morning that was about as far as I'd taken it. In my mind I'd already decided I would subscribe, sooner rather than later, probably just for one month, so I could level up high enough to complete the questline and unlock the fox. I knew the Vulpera were a Horde-only race so I also assumed I'd need to level a Horde character, although if you'd asked me why an Alliance character wouldn't be able to do it I wouldn't have been able to give you much of an answer.

With Dara's comment the penny finally dropped. My idea that you needed to be the equivalent of a pre-squish 110 to start anything in Battle for Azeroth zones had to be pure tosh, didn't it? You can level in any expansion, including BfA, from ten to fifty now, can't you? 

The fearsome werewolf hunter with her narcoleptic pony and trained attack sheep.


I ought to know. I've been writing post after post about it for a week or more. You'd have thought it might have dawned on me sooner.  I even leveled my worgen hunter to the free cap of twenty last night in BfA zone Tirargarde Sound and still never made the connection.

Slapping myself for being so stupidly slow on the uptake I decided it was past time to go read up on the actual process of unlocking the allied races rather than working on hearsay and supposition. Dara mentioned that what I'd been thinking of as a questline was in fact an achievement (albeit one consisting of having completed a string of quests) so I started by reading up on "Secrets in the Sands".

From there I went via Reddit and the offical WoW Forums bfore ending up on Icy Veins. As usual, none of them was wholly to be trusted. Most sources still claim you need to be Exalted with the Voldunai, for example, and I didn't see any mention of the actual new level requirement for adventuring in the zone, Vol'dun

As Dara explains in a follow-up comment,  during most of the BfA era it was possible to address the zones in the expansion in any order because the content was designed to scale apropriately. It still does, to a degree, but as Wilhem makes clear in his post about leveling in the squished Wrath of the Lich King, "while the expansion now scales from 10 to 50, the individual zones are not all equally accessible.  There are different ranges for the zones."

As you can see from his list, though, some of those ranges are pretty generous. Two-thirds of them stretch from twenty to fifty. I was still hopeful that Vol'Dun might fall within the range of my new goblin shaman, at least by the time she caught the worgen hunter up and dinged twenty.

Can't help feeling there's a bit of "give with one hand, take with the other" going on here.

 

Not really trusting much that I read about WoW right now, I figured the best way to find out would be to log in and see for myself. Fortunately Blizzard have seen fit to include the new level ranges on the in-game map, so I was quickly able to confirm that Vol'dun is intended for characters between thirty-five and fifty.

Clearly my goblin wasn't going to be helping any foxfolk without doing a good deal more busy work for the trolls. Since I had her there anyway I knocked out a couple more levels, taking her to fifteen, but it didn't seem nearly as much fun as what the worgen had been doing. 

That was when I began to wonder whether, with the faction requirement gone, it might be possible for an Alliance character to swoop in, grab the necessary quests and knock out the achievement, which would presumably be account-wide, thereby unlocking the option to create a Vulpera character on the other side of the barricades.

I did a bit of checking on that. I found someone who said they'd done it. There's always one, isn't there?

You can't, in fact. As Dara clarifies in the second comment, the Secrets in the Sands achievement is Horde-only. Each of the two factions get separate zone storylines in BfA (probably in all expansions, I imagine) and this one is exclusively the property of the Horde.

Didn't stop me checking for myself, even so. The way things are in Azeroth at the moment it would be a brave player who took anything for granted without checking for themselves. I re-subbed my account and dusted off my highest character, a now-thirty-seven dwarf hunter. Perfect for the zone's required level range.

I think you mean "stay out of the way and don't touch anything" don't you?

 

After re-taking all his talents and sorting out his bags I watched a You Tube video to show me how to get him to Vol'dun. First he needed to get to Kul Tiras so I ran him through the meeting with the King in Stormwind. When he met Jaina on the docks he got the option to skip the Kul Tiras opening quests altogether but I figured he could use the xp so I took them anyway.

With that done, the trip to Vol'dun was simple enough. Just a boat trip from Kul Tiras. I was interested to see that the Admiral still offered him the choice of all four zones. At thirty-seven my hunter would be above the lower limit for all of them so it makes sense but I wonder if the game filters the options for lower-level characters? I ought to test that with my level twenty-five warlock, sometime.

In Vol'dun there was some business with a landing craft and a flare gun and then we were free to explore. I tried to google the exact location of the questgiver I wanted but I couldn't find anything much more specific than that it was in the North East of the zone near somewhere called the Abandoned Burrows.

As it happens, the Alliance foothold is also in the North East. I set out to look for fox prints. It wasn't long before I found a clutch of Vulperas being held captive by the indigenous snake people. They wouldn't speak to me even after I killed their captors. Neither would some freed foxes I ran into, nor the Vulpera flight master. At least they didn't attack me on sight like the snakes.

Don't give me the silent treatment. I know you can hear me!

 

A short while later I came across a couple of named Vulpera with a caravan. I thought I recognized their names as the ones who began the questline although now I think back on it I'm not sure. They were clearly supposed to be there to offer some kind of quest to someone. Just not to me.

Satisfied that there'd be no Alliance shortcut I decided to return to a modified version of the original plan. I'll need a Horde character of around level thirty-five, which is considerably better than having to get one to fifty or even forty-five. I don't think I can face another twenty levels with the trolls so I'll probably shift to another expansion then come back.

Given that the worgen hunter did five levels in an evening yesterday and the dwarf hunter went from thirty-seven to thirty-nine in a couple of hours, it shouldn't take too long. Shintar timed her journey from nought to fifty at around twenty-six hours and I imagine it slows up at least a little towards the end.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it. It's strange how, after lionizing Classic this time last year for being in almost every respect the antithesis, I find myself having a fine time leveling in Retail. I guess I just like levelling, period.

Still a lot of hoops to jump through just to be able to play a cute fox, though, isn't it?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Hard Time Walking

WARNING! Due to an unforseen error this entire post is a series of screenshots, including all the text. Don't click on the links because nothing will happen. For working links, see the footnote.