Friday, May 17, 2024

A Hunting We Will Go or Be Vewy, Vewy, Quiet - I'm Hunting Pandas!

Somewhat to my surprise, I was at my PC at exactly six o' clock yesterday evening, when the timer ticked down to zero for the start of World of Warcraft's Pandaria Remix event. I logged in, partly expecting a queue of some kind, but there was none. It was straight to character select and the option to make a "Timerunner", which is what Blizzard has chosen to call participants in this glorious experiment.

Skipping ahead a step, the whole affair is typically garlanded with unnecessary trimmings. When I arrived in the world, I found myself immediately engaged in some kind of overly complicated, hard-to-follow narrative, involving dragons and time-portals and the inevitable ill-defined existential threat to natural order.

It would have been quite confusing enough on its own but since I was thrown into the middle of it all with what seemed like hundreds of other players, half of them riding mounts the size of busses (I'm surprised no-one was driving an actual bus...) it was positively over-whelming. 

This not being my first - or probably my fifty-first - server launch, I was able to handle it but I would like to go back and start over when things have quietened down, just to see if any of it actually makes any kind of sense. I tend to doubt it.

Going back to character creation, I'd forgotten just how basic a function it is in WoW. I'm so used to spending half an hour just trying to get my eyebrows right, it came as a bit of a shock to realize there was next to nothing for me to do.

Once you've set the trifecta - race, gender, class - there are just eight appearance settings you need to consider and half of those are colors. Given the paucity of options on offer it seems bizarre that "Eyesight" made the cut. Also, what the hell do they mean by "Eyesight", anyway?

In WoW's Character Creation, "Eyesight" means whether you you're blind in one eye, both or neither. I am honestly not sure whether this is Blizzard attempting to be culturally sensitive by offering a disability option or the exact opposite.

I'm assuming that blindness in the game is purely cosmetic, which certainly points towards the latter. If giving your character cataracts actually does impact gameplay, then I take my hat off to whoever came up with the idea. It would be quite radical.

I decided not to risk it. I felt I'd already taken enough of a cultural back-step by making my character blonde. 

Once I was in the game, everything proceeded smoothly. Very smoothly for a new server. At least at first. After about half an hour or so the disconnects began and eventually drove me out but until then, everything was fine.

By then I'd spent around an hour in the Remix, some of it on the Timeless Isle, which is where everything begins, the rest in the starting area of the Pandaria expansion, the name of which escapes me, even though I've been there twice this month already.

Last time I was playing a Goblin for the Horde. This time I was playing a Gnome for the Alliance. Both times I was playing a Hunter.

I was thinking about it as I ran around two-shotting mobs with my bow: the WoW Hunter has to be one of my all-time favorite MMORPG classes. I know it has something of a bad reputation but for all the right reasons. 

Hunters are self-sufficient to an infuriating degree. They can manage pretty well on their own in a genre where team-play is often deemed essential. Even more annoyingly, when played well, they can fit into a group with alarming efficiency. Playing a Hunter is often considered EZ-Mode and not without good reason. If what you're looking for out of your gameplay is relaxation and control, you could do a lot worse.

Given that WoW took a huge amount of inspiration from EverQuest and that many of the original design team had played EQ, I can't help feeling one of the reasons the Hunter is so good is that the Ranger in EQ was so bad.  

Rangers in early EverQuest were deeply disappointing, weak in almost all regards. They got beefed up eventually but for years they were, at best, comedy relief. The WoW Hunter looks like someone asked the EQ Ranger Class Lead for a list of improvements that would make the class worth playing and then doubled down on all of them.

I didn't think about it at the time but it was probably quite important that I pick a class and race I'm comfortable with for this experiment. I'm feeling more and more inclined to re-sub for a month or two while the Remix goes on and if I do, it's not impossible this could end up being my highest character. 

It is apparently possible to level all the way to the cap in the event. When it's over, Timerunners will be converted to regular characters on your regular server, or wherever you made them, if you picked somewhere else. My current highest character on Live is 50 so he may well get overtaken if I decide to take this thing even half-seriously.

From what I've seen so far, I just might. Pandaria is a very enjoyable expansion. I've already played through a lot of it and I remember it quite fondly, which is more than I can say of several others. I certainly wouldn't mind pottering through it again, especially on fast-forward.

That said, I didn't find the xp rate that invigorating yesterday. I was expecting something a bit faster. As I said, I did two levels in about an hour, which is probably what I'd have guessed I would have gotten in the regular game at the same point.

Then again, there is all that Level Squish nonsense. I may be thinking of how many levels I used to get in an hour, back when there were twice as many. It's hard to keep track.

Other than the leveling speed, there's also the loot. A big deal has been made of the cosmetics but that doesn't mean much to me. Not because I'm not into playing dolly dress-up with my characters. As multiple posts on this blog can attest, I very much am. No, the problem is that I think most WoW characters look pretty bad, whatever they're wearing.

When I see people proudly sharing screenshots of their best-dressed characters I can rarely see what it is they think they're cerebrating. WoW has a particular aesthetic that definitely works but it does not shine in close-ups. I think my characters in almost any other MMORPG look better than even my better-dressed Azerothians.

I do like the new loot, though. The mobs drop little chests that give Remix-specific loot and it's fun to open them. I also like the gem system, which once again reminds me very specifically of Augments and Adornments in the two EQs. They seem like they'll be fun to play around with, not least because the mechanic for slotting and unslotting them is very straightforward.

I can't say the same about the weirdly overwrought system for scrapping items you don't want and turning them into Bronze, the Remix currency. To do that you have to spawn a portal in the world, then open it and drag and drop your items inside. It's very tactile and fun at first but I'm not sure how entertaining it'll be when you have to do it for the thousandth time.

All in all, though, I thought it was a promising start. I'm quite keen to get back and dig into it a bit more. I would think that by the time I hit Level 20, the kick-out point for freeloaders, I should have a pretty clear idea whether I want to subscribe for a month. 

If not, I can always just make another character and try again. It'll be a Warlock, I expect. If it's not a Hunter, it usually is.


  1. I only played for about two hours, so the luster may wear off in time, but so far the remix is the most fun I've had in WoW since... maybe Pandaria the first time?

    I'm not even entirely sure what it is I'm enjoying so much. Some mix of nostalgia and the constant flow of rewards. I was worried the new gear mechanics would add too much bloat, and they may yet as I get more upgrades, but so far most of the new abilities they're adding are passive, and I'm kind of enjoying playing a paladin who can constantly erupt with fire and call meteors down from the heavens. Real wrath of god feeling.

    I will say Pandaria probably has the best leveling story of any expansion; I expected to mostly ignore quests and go straight to group content, and I may still go that way in time, but I ended up doing a lot more of the Jade Forest quests than I expected, just cause I got caught up in the story.

    Also, scenarios! I missed scenarios so much. I still can't believe they never added them to any other expansion. They're so fun.

    This endeavour does give me some hope for WoW's future. It's such a radical reversal of their usual rigid, miserly design philosophy. Rewards are plentiful, you can fly and even dragonride straight off the bat, and they even seem to have loosened the level restrictions on transmog for some reason. I can transmog anything pre-Dragonflight on my level ~15 character.

    1. I played for an other hour or so after I wrote this post and it is really good fun. Pandaria was always a good place to level but the loot makes it even more enjoyable. I also got the free dragon mount and tried dragon riding, which was a hoot. I might do a post about that at some point.

      The whole thing feels like a good holiday event, which is basically what it is. Three months is a bit of a long holiday but it's not like you have to stay there for all of it. It's definitely a good addition to the range of events they're able to run. I imagine if it's well-received they'll do more versions of it to alleviate content lulls in the future.

  2. I can't say I've ever seen an angry gnome in WoW before, but I think you just created one.

    1. I could have done a whole post on Character Creation (I almost did anyway.) Either I've forgotten a lot about how it used to work or there have been some changes since I last made a character. I was really pleased with her although I did very little to change her from the character the game offered me. I wouldn't normally play a blonde but she just looks so spoiled and surly I couldn't resist.

  3. I'll eventually write a post of my own but it's been good fun so far. My husband absolutely loves it too. It's an interesting mix of simplifying old systems and adding new ones on top. I wonder whether they'll take any lessons from people's responses into the main game.

    1. Looking forward to reading it. I've played several sessions now and it feels very good. Hard to say how much of that is down to the new variations and how much the underlying strength of the Pandaria content but the new stuff certainly sits very well on top of the old.

  4. > To do that you have to spawn a portal in the world, then open it and drag and drop your items inside. It's very tactile and fun at first but I'm not sure how entertaining it'll be when you have to do it for the thousandth time.

    You can simply right-click on the items in your inventory when the scrapping portal is open.

    1. Thanks! I figured that out eventually. I do actually like the extra effort they've taken to give the process an in-game reality of a kind.


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