Category Archives: World of Warcraft

Of Gnomes and Pandas

There’s been a lot of discussion about the silliness of WoW’s next expansion, or, more specifically, pandas. Spearheading the doomsayers, in a somewhat unlikely casting, Nils, who has been blogging almost nonstop about why he dislikes Mists of Pandaria. Some people support him, others oppose. At the center of the panda discussion seem to be two arguments “how can pandas not be silly?” vs. “How can they be sillier than gnomes?”

I agree, they aren’t. But I want to give a different point of view why I’m not a fan of pandas. That is a totally personal opinion, but maybe some people can relate.

Pandas are silly. Yes, gnomes are silly. Yes, space goats are silly, possibly even more. The point is: when I started playing, I didn’t like gnomes (incidentally, nobody did). When TBC was announced, I was furious about draenei. But at the time, I managed to live with it. It’s like a relationship. (Yes, dangerous comparison, yadda yadda, bear with me.) There’s always things you don’t like. Initially, you might not even realize them, ignore them, or glorify them. But even when they annoy you, you don’t immediately break up. You feel that those small annoyances are worth it overall. That works, to a certain point.

But then things start to cool down, and those annoyances start wearing on you. When your relationship ends, maybe not on the best terms ever, you might look back and wonder how you actually managed to live with all those small annoying things. And then you hear about her doing something stupid, and you go “wow, how COULD she?” And you might have a hell of a time slagging off with your friends. Over time, you’ll probably lose interest in that (you better do), but until then, it’s a valid strategy of coping with a breakup.

My MMO relationship with WoW is over, at least as an exclusive one. I have a lot of fun fooling around with other games at the moment. Maybe WoW will join their ranks again eventually. But most of the time, there’s a good reason not to “try again”. That’s for schmaltzy romance films.

Of course, Blizzard is not a girl. Blizzard is a company that wants money. They want me to come back, and many others like me, so you’d think they work for it. From the reactions I’ve read, they at least haven’t managed to amaze a lot of people who have been on the fence before. So that doesn’t look like a success.

The only reason why they wouldn’t want money from people like me, is if they assume they’ll get more money from other people not like me, and it’s a better deal overall. What Blizzard’s real business strategy is, we’ll probably never know. Whether it will be a success, time will tell.

[Blizzcon] WoW: The Bad

Took me a bit longer to get around to finish my series on Blizzcon’11 (after The Good, and The So-So). That’s mostly because I had little time to think about the points I liked least, and I wanted to give them some thought so I’d not be ranting without any substance.

I had a couple more points, but I cut it down to two which are most important to me, to give the post some more focus. Both of them have either-or problems, where I can see two possibilities of how they end up, and I like neither nor.

Yet Another Revamp of Talents

Talent choices in a game like WoW can be either meaningful, or interesting. If they’re meaningful, that means there is a difference in the choices. If there is a difference in choices, there will be a best option for each situation or spec. If there is a best option, choice stops being interesting.

I’ve seen people talk a lot about choices, but I have not seen anybody come up with a good idea how to make choices both meaningful and interesting. What I’ve seen at Blizzcon is a try to trade a bit of meaningful for interesting. I think they are on the best way achieve neither in the process.


Either this ends up badly tacked on, like EQ’s Legends of Norrath. I’m sure there are LoN players and I’m just not in the right community, but all I’ve ever seen is people getting their monthly free boosters for loot cards, which are generally some fluff item. Nothing against fluff items, they work fine in EQ. I’m not sure how well they’d work in today’s WoW, though. Housing is a great fluff sink. However, Blizzard might profit if they sell premium pets with better stats in their shop. Though that would probably annoy pet collectors.

Or this becomes an integral part of WoW. I’d rather not have a pet raid boss. Or, even worse, an extension of their announced quest model (“finishing a [daily] quest might give you a buff for the day”) where you better do 5 pet battles before the raid because it will give you a certain buff.

Late Realization

I’ve known the term “Pandaren” for years. Not that I used it much, but I had heard it. It wasn’t until last night, when I was driving home, that I realized that the “ren” wasn’t just any fancy ending, but derived from the Mandarin word “rén 人” for “person, people”. (cf. 人民共和国 for “people’s republic”, and 人民币, “people’s currency that will soon be worth more than dollar and euro, because capitalism and dictatorship under a self-proclaimed communist guise works frighteningly well”)

So the pandaren are literally the panda people. Except in China, of course, because the word “panda”, according to wikipedia, is of uncertain origin, and in China they’re typically called 熊貓, which literally means “bear cat”. So bear cat people.

With a name like that, I’ll call bullshit if we don’t get another druid race choice.

[Blizzcon] WoW: The So-So

After the good stuff, now the things I’m not sure or worried about. The outright disappointing things, I’ll talk about in another post.

Pandas as a race: We’re getting as the main selling point a race that started as an April fools. That is somewhat silly, literally. I never understood what the thing with these drinking pandas was. I concede that some players got really worked up about those pandas, so I guess it might work for them. I’m a bit worried that the whole panda focus we’ve seen yesterday makes for a one-trick-expansion though. That would be the last I want.

edit: If Blizzard is aiming for a more light-hearted expansion, I can get behind that. A lot of the great conflicts that we fought out in the past, against the Lich King, against Deathwing, but most of all, against each other, made the world a less likable place. If all I see is dreariness, what is there to fight for (instead of against)? If they succeed in making the world dear to me again, then that’s a plus.

Pandas as a race for both factions: Obviously somebody at Blizzard thought that pandas are so supremely awesome that nothing would be able to stand their ground against them, and whoever would end up with the not-panda would be annoyed. Huh. Like when Horde got the elves, and Alliance got some retcon space goats? And Horde got the goblins, and Alliance some weird werewolves? Even as someone who always played Horde, I feel for the Alliance routinely getting the short end of the stick when it comes to new races. I wouldn’t have complained if Horde would have gotten some ersatz pandas this time.

On the other hand, this will then be the first race that will be available to both factions. That raises interesting questions. One of the reasons why races are bound to factions was suspected to be PvP; at least, that’s what I heard. (It also fits well with my “PvP is the root of all evil” mantra, so it’s easy for me to believe.) The silhouette of a character already gave away their allegiance. This will go out of the window. Maybe that’s the first step to freer choice of faction/race combination? Maybe some EQ2-style betrayal? I’m probably assuming too much though. If anything, it would probably be an extra shop option for transfers.

Talent revamp: It looks like Blizzard really likes the way they’re doing talents in Diablo III; so much that they’re now porting this to WoW. It’s really a mixed bag (that’s why it ended up in this post, right?): on the one hand, it emphasizes interesting choice, and choice generally is good. (We recently had that discussion on several blogs. See Psychochild, Tobold. Yes, I’m paraphrasing the results. *g*). On the other hand, it feels like it clamps down the players in an even more rigid system than the talent revamp we got last time around. And Blizzard fundamentally redoing the whole talent system twice in such a short time means they’re obviously not happy. Will we get yet another one after this? By going the D3 route, Blizzard put all their talent eggs in one system basket. Let’s hope that basket works. And for two such different games at the same time.

Removal of ranged weapons: That felt very odd. There will be no ranged weapon slot any more. Warriors and Rogues will throw their weapons. Wands will be come main hand. Hunters are the exception, and will instead not have a melee slot any more. Does that mean they’ll have to hit the enemy over the head with their bow when it comes close? No, it seems minimum range will be removed too. Yay for point-blank bow shooting.

This is an example how Blizzard is going for fundamental changes more and more these days instead of minor fixes. Back in the good old days(tm), warriors, rogues, and hunters could equip ranged weapons. Priests, mages, and warlocks could equip wands. Paladins, shamans, and druids could equip… nothing in their ranged slot. That was considered the “hybrid tax”. And it was the reason hybrids ran around with Egan’s Blaster. Then, in patch 1.10, they got relics to equip in that slot. It was a fix to give hybrids something to do with their empty slot. Compare to today, where they merge melee and ranged slots, merge ranged weapons into melee ones, and work around that. Which one is better? I don’t know. I personally could do with a few less sweeping changes these days; we already had enough in cataclysm. On the other hand, I know that I might be prejudiced when it comes to that topic. But it seems we’re going full circle on this one, because relics are scheduled to be removed from the game again.

[Blizzcon] WoW: The Good

I can’t say I followed the Blizzcon information with bated breath. Instead, I skimmed over MMO Champion, and that’s almost it. Let me first say that a lot of information disappoints me. However, I realized that a lot of my posts lately had a negative vibe. So I’ll start with a positive thing I found in the information. Besides, it’s already past 1am here, and it’s a lot faster to write a post about the things I like instead of the things I don’t (sadly).

The saving grace for me so far? The mistweaver. It is a monk specialization, a healer. But not one of those pansy healers in dresses that stand in the back. No! This healer is supposed to be in the middle of things, punching and healing. A melee healer. This sounds all kinds of awesome on paper.

Back when I started playing Vanguard, the disciple was one of the classes I fell in love with. It worked wonderfully in this game. You hit stuff and healed people in your group. It was awesome fun. If Blizzard can pull this off well, this might be a real reason for me to try out this expansion.

Of course, and though I hate it, I have to become a bit negative or at least wary again. How are they actually going to pull that off, especially in raid settings? Melee has had a disadvantage in many situations in the game since… forever, almost. It’s only gotten worse over the years. Melee has to pay attention to at least as many environmental effects as ranged, and they lose their possibility to do damage if they have to move into the wrong direction. A healer that can’t heal because they have to dodge an environmental effect doesn’t sound very appealing. Especially because exactly those elemental effects might necessitate healing. And especially especially since healers already have to juggle health bars. Watching health bars plus watching the ground around you plus intricate melee positioning is more than anybody has had to do so far, and sounds like a little bit too much stress in my book.

Vanguard also has another large advantage. In Vanguard, you can have two targets at all times. An offensive target, which you attack, and a defensive target, which gets beneficial effects. In Vanguard, disciples do their healing and buffing by cycling between group members, while they still can attack whatever is in front of them. I wonder how targeted healing will work with damage dealing in WoW, if you can always only attack or heal.

Of course, Blizzard could change a lot of things around to make the mistweaver work out better. They could reduce their reliance on move-out-of-the-fire effects, which would also make melee more fun again at the same time. In that way, by designing it to cater to a melee healer, they could fix the game back to an (in my opinion) overall better state. They could even extend their focus system to create something similar to the Vanguard offensive/defensive target system.

Blizzard obviously isn’t afraid of change, just look at the “yet another major talent remake” that is planned for the next expansion. But we’ll see whether they can change the game in a way to make this class/spec work.

What do you think? How on earth could Blizzard make a melee healer class work in WoW? Or do you disagree and think such a class would be fine in the current situation, without any changes needed?

I missed the date

I haven’t played WoW much recently. In fact, I’m not sure I played it at all in the last two weeks. Healing random dungeons as a priest was fun for a time, but the new world content didn’t grab me. It’s just all too much Horde vs. Alliance for me. I always played my characters more along the lines of the Cenarion Circle or Argent Dawn. Having this constant fighting being shoved down my throat, and almost no chance to avoid it, is one of the reasons Cataclysm didn’t end up as the thing I was looking for.

Anyway, back to the point. Two weeks of not playing, so that was a good sign to finally cancel my account. Second time since 1.6 only. I even had it in my calendar: 18 October, WoW account renews.

Well, it renewed at 2:32am in the morning. At least now it says 18 November, 2:32 will be the next renew.

Crap. Oh well. Another month to maybe or not play the game more. Another month to tell the few remaining friends what I’m up to. Though with Real IDs, I could’ve done that through Starcraft II for less money.

Movie and Game Music

I love music. I played the piano for many years, starting when I was 6. Stopping it when I went to university (because I didn’t have access to a piano, and didn’t want to save the money to buy an electrical one) is one of the few things I would change if I could live my life again. Needless to say, music is important to me. My friends and colleagues tell me it’s easy to recognize me when I walk by, even if they don’t see me: it’s not so much the gait, but the fact that I’m almost constantly humming or whistling when I walk.

There are some melodies that I don’t know where I got them from, or whether I made them up. They form a repertoire I use all the time; I combine them with each other, with songs I just heard, and so son. Several bits and pieces of WoW music made it into that repertoire. I never looked up their names, because to me, it forms part of the magic to not know their name and where they came from.

As you gathered from that, I generally play with sound and music on. I know many players (especially of MMO games) turn off their music, and sometimes even their sound, to play their own favorite music. I rarely do that. Music is an integral part of a game experience for me. Sometimes more than the latest and greatest graphics.

The fact that some WoW pieces made it into my repertoire means that in my book, WoW did it right, music-wise. Since I don’t know the names, I can’t point out which I like most, but I’ll at least try to listen to them and give you pointers  at the end of this post.

I wonder whether one of the reasons that Rift hasn’t “clicked” with me yet is the music. To me, it sounds too generic. “Cue generic theme no. 23, please!”, and such. I still have barely touched Scarlet Gorge, so it might be too early to judge. But at level 29, I would’ve expected some memorable music already, and most of it simply sounds like muzak to me so far.

Now, of course, you might argue that these WoW songs are ingrained my head because I played the game for 6 years. I thought so myself. But last night, I was amazed when I watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” for the first time in about 8 years. (A decent movie, I might add, as an opinion from someone who read most of what there is to be read by Tolkien. And “decent” is probably close to the best you can get when it comes to a LotR movie.) I suddenly realized that the hobbit theme song was one of those that made it into my repertoire. I’ve watched the movie in the theater once, and then maybe once or twice on DVD shortly after they were released. And still, that one song stuck with me over  8 years. To me, that’s a sign that music that “clicks” with you doesn’t need a lot of repetition. You hear it, and it stays with you.

Please, game designers, don’t disregard good music. I don’t want choirs singing faux-latin ad nauseam (Faux latin is one of my pet peeves!), I don’t want bombast all the time. If you care to get a top-notch graphics designer, pay the money to get a great movie or game musician. I agree that the basic fighting sounds you’ll hear millions of times over the course of a game are important; get good sound designer for them. But if you want to create worlds, give them a flavor. And in my option, nothing invokes feelings and images better than music.


Alright, so I went and tried to find out what some of my favorite WoW themes are. I never bought a collector’s edition (for various reasons, a different one each time), so i don’t have any soundtrack CD and need to go by what youtube tells me. These are in no particular order, because this post has been in my draft section for too long as it is, and I don’t want to spend another week ranking the music:

  • the Barrens theme (or, I guess, more generally, the “horde wilderness” theme), especially the clarinet theme
  • the human wood theme, as in Elwood Forest
  • the Tanaris, Silithus, and Ahn’Qiraj theme, especially the klezmer, and how the music slowly is deconstructed the farther you move into the temple
  • TBC: I liked a lot of the music there, but it didn’t stick with me. It was just ambient music. Decent ambient music, but still ambient music.
  • the Grizzly Hills theme
  • the Storm Peaks theme
  • Cataclysm: Why can’t I think of any new theme in there that caught me? Might this be a contributor to why I finally got tired of WoW?

The Gold Pet

So Blizzard finally accepted the inevitable. You can’t fight gold sellers. And if you can’t, why not try and make some money of it at least? We’ve all seen how Blizzard is creating its own ebay for Diablo 3. And soon, they will add another pet to WoW. Only this time, you can sell it for gold. Brace for the incoming flamestorm. Or, if you’re like me, don’t, because you don’t read the “right” forums.

To be honest, I am very dispassionate about the whole thing. It’s yet another pet, and not even a really cute one either. Or rather, it’s trying so hard to be cute that it looks a bit weird. And instead of buying gold from third parties, you now can buy the pet, and hope to sell it for gold, without the risk of getting your account banned. Oh noes. The sky is falling.

The question is: will it sell well enough? Blizzard increased the demand potentially by making it per-character, and not per-account. But it’s hard to gauge the demand, and that may make the prices vary wildly. Maybe at some point, there will be an official pet:gold ratio, but I doubt it. The problem is also that, if you want gold, you can invest real-world money. But it doesn’t work the other way round, because you don’t have a monetary advantage from buying the pet. That’s why PLEX work: every EVE player is naturally interested in getting their hands on them, because they will save on subscription money. But only a small subset of WoW players will be buying the pet.

So, I’m interested how this will play out. I won’t buy or sell any of them. Hell, I’m thinking about canceling my subscription for only the second time since I started playing in 2005. But I’ll watch it and maybe ask friends whether they noticed anything in that regard in a month or two.

Azshara, or: The Primacy of Economics

Back when I started playing WoW, there were a couple of zones that had a lasting impression on me. I remember playing for the first time, and getting ready to leave the Valley of Trials. When I realized that this was only a small part of a huge zone, which itself was only a tiny part of a world, I was in awe. I remember the Barrens, which (save the god awful chat) will always have a place in my heart as the vast areas of savannah you traversed (it helped you didn’t have a mount, of course). I remember Blackrock Spire, and the vertigo looking down from the bridge towards General Drakkisath‘s room to the very bottom, and all the places I had walked through to get there. And mapping out Blackrock Spire and Blackwing Lair, in my head, to figure out what way I was looking when I stood on the “balcony”, and that it all fit. But I think most of all, it is Azshara I remember.

It might be a curious choice, because there never was much of note there. But when I read Shintar’s notes about old Tanaris, I realized that this was not so curious after all. The zone had a very distinct feel. It was stuck in eternal autumn. There were lots of old ruins there, it was the site of an ancient catastrophe. But most of all, it was empty. It felt like wilderness. You could go there and actually feel like you were at the border of civilization, in an untamed world. Except for one short quest chain (the infamous tablet quests, which gave immense amounts of experience for little work in the later years), there was little reason to go there. I remember the weekly trips through the zone, down the cliff, along the coast, to the tiny island of Duke Hydraxis to pick up the Aqual Quintessence for Molten Core. Other than that, if you were in a Server First Guild, or you were really lucky, you might spot Azuregos. If not, you might run across his spirit.

Sometimes, you might even see both of them up at the same time, especially later on when Azuregos wasn't as interesting as a raid target any more.

In short, it was a place I liked to hang out at. A place that I could explore, and be sure that there were few people who actually had visited the nooks and crannies too. I went there every now and then to relax. I liked being at what felt like Land’s End.

Every now and then, there would be talks about changing some of the zones (most of the times, just rumors among players). Opening up Hyjal, or Gilneas. Remaking Winterspring, or Silithus. And of course, making Azshara “useful”. I was always happy when it turned out that nothing would change in my private wasteland.

But economics dictate that an opportunity not used has a cost. And land that lies waste is a great opportunity. After all, everything in the game should have a use, and every area should have quests to do, right? Even though technically, in a virtual world, space doesn’t cost much after it was designed once, and populating it is probably about as expensive as designing a new area. But the Azshara we know, and that I loved, came to an end when the world was torn asunder. It was finally civilized, made useful for the grand goal of a smooth leveling curve.

The new Azshara sure has a lot more entertainment value than the old one. There’s many quests, easy and fast transportation, and it has direct access through Orgrimmar (granted, I was always a bit surprised that one of the most remote areas of the game happened to end up north of one of the main capitals).

Azshara, to me, is an analogy to the evolution of virtual worlds. From an area that was world, and little less, it transformed into the often-quoted theme park. Quite literally so, with a roller coaster going through the whole zone. And a resort! And, of course, it’s the goblins that built all this. Economy outside of the game has changed the face of the world, with the help of the most greedy and economy-fixated ingame race. Now, instead of silent autumnal cliffs and dunes, we have arsepunk everywhere. By the way, thank you for that word Melmoth, I rarely found my own opinion on that topic put into words that well!

My sentiments might be fueled to a large degree by nostalgia. Nevertheless, losing Azshara was, I realize now, one of those thousand little things that made me lose interest in WoW over the last years. Sic transit gloria mundi. Rest in peace, old Azshara, I will remember you for what you once were, not what you are now.