Saturday 31 March 2007

Happiness can come suddenly

Well, I broke my "no blues since the Ramparts" duck after a run through Sethekk Halls. Not with the Shoulderpads of Assassination, unfortunately, but still.

The run got off to a slightly rough start; the party was a Druid plus the Warrior, Paladin, Druid and me who'd been running places like Scholomance as a team of 4 just before the expansion, but thanks to various holidays, illnesses and such we hadn't played together for a while. It showed in the first couple of rooms, not least thanks to a few comedy attempted-sap pulls by yours truly, combined with assorted fears, bird knockbacks and other such fun. Still, we pulled ourselves together and proceeded to romp through the rest of the dungeon, wiping lightly on Darkweaver Syth (who dropped nothing useful), and again on Talon King Ikiss a couple of times before we worked out standing next to him while he exploded was a Bad Thing(TM). Still, down he went in the end, and... click to loot... see what Mail armour he'll inevitably drop... but no! There's Terokk's Nightmace and a Ravenclaw Band. The mace is rather nice, with the same DPS as my Grand Marshal's Slicer, and would be a fair upgrade on the green sword I have in my off-hand, but at 2.00 it's a bit slower than would be ideal so better suited to the warrior. The ring, on the other hand is perfect for a combat rogue, so I calmly explained that, although doubtless useful to a warrior, it was perhaps better suited to one whose sole raison d'etre was to deal damage, vis-à-vis me. Or words to that effect, anyway (the precise phrase may have been closer to "don't you dare roll on my sodding ring"; there's a limit to extreme loot politeness y'know). So! Useful blue items for two of us, and some quest completion as well, not a bad afternoon's work. But I still don't like random loot tables...

Thursday 29 March 2007

It's so sweet of you to be so nice to me

Ran through the Mana Tombs for the first time last night with a group of level 70s, mostly for Consortium reputation. I'm Honored with, I think, all the other Outland factions just from general questing/instance running, but was only halfway through Friendly with the Consortium even after a bunch of repeated ogre bead/insignia turn-ins, and I'm keen to get their Fel Leather recipes.

A fairly unremarkable run, but the final boss dropped the Ethereal Warp-Bow. Obviously there's no hunter in the party (goes without saying), and no disenchanter to turn it into a shard. Now, I think everyone's experienced, or at least heard of, the loot ninja. We tend to have the opposite problem in our guild, Extreme Loot Politeness. Everyone passes on a BoP they can't use (in fact I'm so used to passing on blue items I can't use I passed on a blue pair of BoE boots, and everyone else positively insisted I /rolled, which I did, got higher than the highest Greed roll, and felt slightly guilty when the original winner handed them over... still, I suppose I can say I've got a blue drop from a dungeon after Hellfire Ramparts, not that it'll forestall my whinging as I can't actually use it, but I digress). Now, if a BoP drop is something nobody can even equip, a quick /roll and the winner heads off to the Antiques Roadshow for appraisal: "ah, now, yes, wonderful craftsmanship on these Beast Lord Shoulders, you can really tell the quality of them... excellent stat bonuses... I suppose you're wondering about the value? Well, I've got some bad news I'm afraid. If they were Bind on Equip, you could expect to make between five and six hundred gold pieces at auction, possibly up to a thousand. As they're soulbound, though... I'll give you one gold seventeen silver, and you'll be grateful." Sometimes, though, you'll get an item that one or two people in the group could sort of use, like a ranged weapon when there's a warrior and rogue but no hunter, or a +healing/spell damage ring when the primary casters have something better but a feral druid could us it in one of their alternative gear sets. And that's where the politeness kicks in...
"Well, I suppose if nobody else wants it, I could always..."
"It's a slight improvement over my current..."
"Oh, no, you have it. It's got good +Stamina for you as a tank"
"Well, yes, but the Critical Strike Rating would be better for you as a rogue"
"True... but then, if I have a bow equipped, I can't use the Deadly Throw ability"
"Well you take it anyway, I've never used a bow before so my skill is zero"
"No, no, you can plink away with it to improve your skill, you have it"

Eventually, one person relents (usually when someone else shouts "SOMEONE TAKE THE DAMN THING BEFORE HIS CORPSE DESPAWNS!"), and then we all head back to Shattrath to fight over whose quests to work on next...
"No, really, let's do that group quest you have"
"No, honestly, it can wait, let's work on that chain of yours with the nice reward"

Wednesday 28 March 2007

And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride

There's a magnificent article by Caitlin Moran in The Times, "My life as a bearded dwarf". Though there's been a fair amount of media coverage of "online worlds", it's tended to be about Second Life, which is all well and good but misses what makes WoW more instantly addictive: I spent an hour tootling around a pretty snowy mountain running a few errands — delivering parcels, relaying messages, buying nicer boots, earning a bob or two; already the addictive side of WoW was becoming apparent — through a cunning combination of small, quick tasks and longer, more complex ones that can be chipped away at over time, there’s always something you could “pop in” and do, or just spend “ten minutes more” knocking off.

Monday 26 March 2007

Ain't complaining 'bout what I got

Actually, that post title might not be strictly accurate. Another Steamvaults run this weekend, final boss dropped: Beast Lord Shoulders. Again. Goes without saying there was no hunter in the group. Total number of blue drops now gained from instances since Hellfire Ramparts: zero. Obviously karmic vengeance from ending up with the Shadowrend Longblade, Garrote-String Necklace *and* Bracers of Finesse from the Ramparts. Course they're now all long-replaced. Oh well. If WoW is a virtual operant conditioning chamber like EverQuest before it, how long do you keep pressing the lever when it doesn't give a food pellet?

(Should I somehow get on a successful Black Morass run where Latro's Shifting Sword drops *and I win it*, expect the next post to be "Random Loot, and why it's the greatest reward system ever.")

Anyway, I played a fair bit of STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, and was most impressed by its loot system, which doesn't consist of playing the same level over and over and over and over and over again until some bloke drops the Brilliant Assault Rifle Of Brilliantness. Sorry! Sorry. Last loot whine, promise. It's not a bad game; reminds me of a post-apocalyptic Operation Flashpoint with some RPG elements (an inventory, NPCs with dialogue driving the story and providing "side quests"). In that, it's also somewhat reminiscent of Deus Ex, but it doesn't quite scale the same heights; then again, not much does. Still, it serves its prime purpose of being an assault rifle-blazing alternative to WoW.

Friday 23 March 2007

Just a shadow you're seein' that he's chasing

Phase 1 of my cutting down on WoW started yesterday as STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl turned up in the post. I haven't played an FPS for a long time, and fancied a bit of blasting away with assorted ordnance, so got that installed, then thought I'd just check the auction house in WoW before heading off to The Zone. While checking auctions, a couple of friends were around, so I thought I might as well see if they fancied a quick instance or something... and somehow found myself leading an adventure-hungry group.

My leadership style is perhaps best described as "bold indecision" (only not really so bold).
"Where shall we go?"
"I don't mind"
"Me neither"
(repeat for a while)
Eventually I figured, seeing as I could do with the first part of the Karazhan key (even if I'm unlikely to actually go there, it'd be nice to have the key just in case), we should try the Shadow Labyrinth, and nobody shouted "NOOOOOO!" so off we headed, a Mage, Priest, 2 Druids (one feral, one oomkin) and me the Rogue, to confront... whatever it is that hangs around in the Shadow Labyrinth. Shadowy Geoff and his cohorts, probably.

Once inside came the other burden of leadership: painting targets (using the raid target symbols to indicate who to attack, sheep, sap etc.) It's not always necessary, especially if you have a particularly experienced or tight-knit group, but I find it really helps, especially in groups that haven't played together before. It took me a little while, but I think I got the hang of it; the main thing I found was to not spend an age agonising over who should do what to whom (as it were), just make sure everyone knows what you mean by the symbols (say "sap sun, sheep diamond, kill skull", or whatever), and slap 'em on. The first couple of encounters I'd be trying to weigh up the pros and cons of sheeping an Acolyte and sapping a Cultist versus sapping the Priest and sheeping the Cultist versus a heavy pamphletting campaign against the Zealot combined with sonically disorienting the Warlock by playing Weather Report at him, but it's no good having perfectly designated targets if your party dozed off in the meantime, and your Well Fed buff expires after two fights. Generally, you'll want to be controlling high armour/hitpoint tank-types while eliminating low armour/hitpoint caster/healer types, but so long as people aren't hitting sheep/sapped targets, that's the main thing.

Speaking of sapped targets, these high level instances make me really glad I took the Improved Sap talent. I was always loathe to spend points in the Subtlety tree which could've otherwise gone on Poking People With Sharpened Implements talents, but with one sapped target and one polymorphed sheep wandering around going "baa", groups of four were a breeze to deal with, and groups of five and six were manageable, rather than "AAAAAAAHHHH! I'M COVERED IN MOBS!" Not that everything went totally smoothly, of course, where's the fun in that? The odd parried sap or eagle-eyed mob gave us a couple of good old "oops!" pulls, and some particularly annoying fear-inducing demons caused us to wipe at one point, but by and large we cleared the trash rather well.

The bosses were fun, and mostly offered slightly more interesting fights than standing in the same place for ten minutes spamming attacks (look away now if you don't want to know anything about the place, though we're hardly talking detailed walk-through...) The first, Ambassador Hellmaw, was pretty straightforward; keep away from the acid spray, and play the Benny Hill theme tune now and again when he Fears. The second, Blackheart the Inciter, you might have heard of for his particularly fun ability: mass mind control. Periodically, he'll cast a spell causing the party to attack each other for 15 seconds. This is either a bit of a laugh, especially if on voice comms, or (according to the forums) an outrage that shouldn't be allowed. When we got controlled, I'd end up in a fight with the tanking druid, which wasn't too bad (our defences being reasonably matched to each others damage), and whatever the rest of the group ended up doing, it wasn't serious enough to kill anyone (I'm not sure if that's a damning indictment, that we couldn't even manage to kill our own priest). For the third boss, Grandmaster Vorpil, voidwalkers periodically spawn around the room and head for Vorpil; if they reach him, they heal him, which is obviously a Bad Thing(tm). The spawn rate of the voidwalkers gets faster as the fight goes on, so it was a particularly inopportune time for my internet connection to start playing silly buggers, causing us to wipe. Ah well; once properly reconnected, we took him down without a problem. Finally, there's Murmur (not Shadowy Geoff as I predicted, sadly). The most fun with Murmur was clearing the mobs around him; the tank was checking what to pull, and I initially suggested "Run into the middle of the room and shout 'come on, I'll take you all on!'". The mage, who'd been there before, explained about the lines, mobs moving between lines, when to pull etc., and off we went... Nobody's entirely sure what happened then, possibly a rogue Mage or Priest spell pulled a few more mobs than intended... and over the course of the chaotic fight, the Priest had to use fear a couple of times to stay alive, causing mobs to run back into the main room bringing yet more mobs out with them... somehow, though, we survived, and had indeed cleared all but one group of mobs, so I think my original strategy had some merit after all. Murmur himself was pretty nasty, causing another wipe when the Priest was hit with the Touch of Murmur at a particularly bad time and his Sonic Boom did for me (I'm *sure* I was outside the circle that it's supposed to affect), but we got him down on the second attempt, I grabbed the first key fragment for Karazhan, and home for tea and biscuits.

So, all in all, a nice run, but (and you knew there was going to be a "but" coming, didn't you)... the loot once again somewhat took the gloss off it. There were the usual few assorted greens, couple of blue gems in chests, but from the bosses... One druid got the Idol of the Emerald Queen then the Broach of Hightened Potential from the first two, so a good start. Then Grandmaster Vorpil... he can drop: the Blackout Truncheon (a lovely offhand weapon for me), the Jewel of Charismatic Mystique (a threat-reducing trinket, handy for DPS-types), the Wrathfire Hand-Cannon (a gun which would be slightly wasted on our group, but I could've used it at least) or the Hallowed Pauldrons, part of the priest's Dungeon 3 set. Did he drop any of these? No. He dropped the Breastplate of Many Graces, a piece of plate armour totally useless to any of us, but absolutely perfect for the Paladin alt of the feral Druid. Then off to Murmur, and does *he* drop a nice Dungeon 3 piece one of us can use? Don't be daft, it’s a Tidefury Kilt.

In some ways, rewards have come on in leaps and bounds in the Burning Crusade with many things available via token turn-in (to name a few: Halaa battle and research tokens for PvP/general killing in Nagrand; Spirit Shards from Auchindoun bosses (if your faction controls the zone); Badges of Justice from bosses in Heroic versions of instances; cross-class tokens for Tier 4 armour (with multiple sets available for some classes for different roles)). So why, *why* is the Dungeon 3 set still on the "11% drop from boss X" system that sends me into such paroxysms of furious rage? I was under the impression that the Dungeon sets of armour were aimed at the more casual player, in which case surely they should be prime candidates for one of the token systems? Are five-man dungeons not the absolute worst possible place for a boss to drop a piece of any of the nine sets, where (at best) there's a 4 in 9 chance it won't be any use to the party? At the very least, the Tier 4 token system would increase the chance that *someone* could take the token and make use of it (while increasing the chance of fights over who should get it, maybe, but such is life). Better still, non-heroic equivalents of the Badges of Justice in level 70 instances would, to my mind, be the perfect way of getting the Dungeon 3 set. I'm not saying I want a full Dungeon 3 set after a couple of hours strolling through one instance; say, have each boss drop one token, and have pieces of armour cost around five tokens, or (probably better to avoid first-boss-farming) just have the final boss drop a token, and have pieces of armour cost one or two tokens. That way everyone gets *something* for finishing an instance, and you can pick up a set of armour by running a load of different instances, rather than the same sodding one over and over and over and over and over again because that 11% drop just isn't happening... Maybe that would be too easy for the current Dungeon 3 sets, but even if it's a new "Dungeon 2.5" set, or a random selection of other items you could turn in the tokens for, or... just anything! Anything apart from getting to the end of another instance and seeing a piece of Dungeon 3 armour for a class not in the group drop.

Thursday 22 March 2007

See the cross-eyed pirates sitting perched in the sun

I think my second stint of World of Warcraft is starting to come to an end. The timing is about right; since starting City of Heroes in June 2004, I seem to have followed a rough cycle of being heavily into an MMO for about six months (CoH), then 'fading out' for a bit, playing a few single player games or trying other things (both the US and EU WoW betas, late 2004/early 2005), then getting into an MMO for another six months (WoW, from February 2005), 'fading out' and trying other things (back to CoH a bit, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), back to an MMO for six months (City of Villains in October 2005), other things (Auto Assault and Dungeons and Dragons Online for a month or so each, 14 day trial of EVE, Oblivion, back to CoV for a new issue there), taking us up to the Return to WoW around October 2006, now reaching the six month point.

It's not a sudden thing, the transition from Playing to Not Playing, I just find myself logging in less often, not devoting quite so much time at work to calculating an optimal character build, and browsing around to see what other games are out there, to which end reports from the recent Game Developer's Conference (GDC) have thrown up a few interesting possibilities.

A while back, I was contemplating Vanguard quite seriously, but I'm ready for a move away from the fantasy genre, so neither that nor Lord of the Rings Online hold much appeal. Van Hemlock pointed out Stargate Worlds, which has a lot of good looking features. I haven't particularly watched the series, but game-wise it sounds like it's shaping up very nicely (then again, everything shapes up very nicely in pre-launch publicity...) Also in the Sci-Fi MMORPG-with-fast-paced-ranged-weapon-combat field, there's Tabula Rasa, the gameplay videos of that on the Massively Online Gamer podcast look great, and it has some interesting sounding features like character "cloning", so you don't always have to totally re-start to try something different. In that same podcast, Fallen Earth gets a big thumbs up for the character customisation; even while formulating a previous rant, I hadn't considered a "body hair" setting...

Most of those seem to be aiming for a late 2007/early 2008 release; a little sooner than that, June with luck, there's Pirates of the Burning Sea. The Massively Online Gamer podcast has some nice footage of that; I particularly liked the "foot stamp" move while swordfighting, causing your opponent to hop in pain for a while. Digging around their developer logs, there's also an account of a naval engagement ("12.01.06 Beta Update – 7v7 battle!", about halfway down at the time of posting) which, as an expert on age of sail warfare (that is, I've read a couple of C S Forester and Patrick O'Brian books), sounds rather fun. I'll certainly be keeping a weather eye on that one.

Monday 19 March 2007

Weekend Warcrafting

Another quiet weekend of Warcraft, as I wasn't around very much. Managed to work through a Netherstorm quest chain to get the X-52 Pilot's Leggings, and popped into Alterac Valley a couple of times as it was bonus honour weekend there. Curiously, the Horde won both matches; back in December, when I last spent a fair amount of time in battlegrounds, Alterac Valley was an all but guaranteed Alliance victory, I think my results there were something like 38 wins and 1 loss. I think much of that was a self fulfilling prophecy; it was "known" that the Horde lose Alterac Valley, so some Horde players wouldn't even bother trying particularly hard, so the rest of the Horde team in that battleground were at a further disadvantage, so they probably would lose, thus continuing the cycle. In fact, there's only one key to Alterac Valley: zerg for your life! In both the weekend games, the Horde had this nailed, and when they'd captured a graveyard or two, half the Alliance tried to defend, which merely delays the inevitable.

Thursday 15 March 2007

A cravin' love for blazing speed

I saw Upper Blackrock Spire for the first time last night. One of our guild was keen to get their Drakefire Amulet, so we gathered a motley crew of level 60-70 characters for an edge-of-your-seat life-or-death struggle against the forces of darkness... Well, either that or The Keystone Kops Do UBRS as, we charged around, pulled everything in sight and generally stormed through the place. Blue items dropped in cascades including a Manual of Eviscerate XI and Dal'Rend's Tribal Guardian (oh, how I dreamed of Dal'Rend's Arms ten levels ago), with everything somewhat heartbreakingly being turned into shards, except... Finkle's Skinner! Almost totally pointless now; to skin a beast, you need (beast level * 5) skinning skill, so when the maximum skill was 300, the +10 skinning it gave was vital for getting leather and hides from beasts above level 60. With the upper limit for skills now being 375, there's an extra five level "cushion"; still, you never know when you might need to skin a level 76 beast, and as it replaces a dull old regular skinning knife we decided it would be a shame to shard the entire contents of the dungeon, so I grabbed it.

After that, I wandered over to Shadowmoon Valley, as I've been working through the quest line that ends up with the Stealther's Helm of Second Sight as a reward (hey, you know my hat fixation... and visually, it's a major improvement over the lime green crash helmet that is the Helm of the Claw; stat-wise the Stealther's Helm wins too, especially as I still haven't picked up a meta-gem for the Helm of the Claw). Got a few items, found a group, killed a dragon, and home for tea, crumpets and a nice helm, huzzah! Just in time as well, as at that point my router decided that staying connected for more than five minutes at a time was too much like hard work, *sigh*

Tuesday 13 March 2007

I think this time we shall escape

I logged onto WoW around 8.30 last night without a great deal of enthusiasm, just intending to potter around the auction house a bit and maybe do a couple of quests, to find a guildmate trying to form up a posse to bust Thrall out of Durnholde Keep. Fitting in with the general "bite sized" nature of Burning Crusade instances, they reckoned we could be done within two hours, which sounded like I could still get enough sleep that I wouldn't need to hook up to an intravenous supply of coffee at work the next day, so we saddled up for Caverns of Time.

After the ease of being able to quickly fly anywhere in Outland from Shattrath, getting back to Tanaris is something of a drag, being about the most awkward place in the old world for the Alliance to get to. After reaching the Caverns, a couple of the group started the quest to gain access to Old Hillsbrad (I'd popped in over the weekend to get the riding crop pattern), which involves following an NPC slowly wandering around the place explaining what's going on. Much like the introduction to Shattrath quest, where you follow Khadgar's servant around the city, it's not very interactive. It's a bit like a coach trip, with the driver droning "and on your left, you can see the bridge where the Blood Elf attack on the city was halted, we'll be stopping there so you can pick up your 'I repulsed the bloody siege of Shattrath and all I got was this lousy tabard' souvenirs". It's a little more interesting than just being given pages of dialogue, and five minutes is hardly the end of the world, but if you're just in a bit of a hurry (or have done the quest on another character), it might be nice to have a couple of options: "Yes, I'd love to take the tour!" and "Don't worry, I've seen those episodes of Star Trek, and Stargate SG1, and that new Primeval thing on ITV, portals in time, I get the idea, just send me back to Old Hillsbrad already". As an aside, WoWwiki says "it might be hard to do depending on alliance/horde activity in the cave", which I hadn't thought about; doing the quest on a PvP server must be like taking the same coach trip but periodically having to fend off hijackers storming the bus, while the driver's still pointing out the sights...

Anyway, within half an hour of logging in, we were all ready for the quest itself (which isn't bad going for WoW). And as far as quests go, I have to say, Escape from Durnholde Keep is a peach, about the most fun I've had in Warcraft for a long time. Whether it was the group composition (a feral Druid, Priest, Warlock, Paladin and me as a Rogue), or the fact that we clicked as a team, we didn't even suffer the Mandatory Initial Wipe (despite trying our best at one point, with runners from one group bringing a couple of adds at the same time that a patrol turned up around the corner). I think it would be fair to say we rocked the socks of the mobs clean off, even if they weren't wearing socks in the first place (not an easy task, as anyone who has attempted to put socks onto an angry dragonkin just so they can be rocked off again will attest to). Maybe it was our levels, but at 70, 66, 68, 66 and 70 I don't think we were stupidly overpowered.

What really made the difference, though, was the design of the instance. Up until now, I hadn't seen much variety in Burning Crusade instances. The settings change, and the mobs you encounter, but by and large they've been "Start at point A; defeat many groups of (Orcs/Naga/Broken Draenei/Annoyed Shrews); defeat Boss A; repeat for Bosses B and C". They've been fun enough to run through with a decent group, but not particularly memorable.

Escape from Durnholde Keep actually involves you in the story (minor spoilers follow, if you're desperate not to know anything of the quest): you start by setting buildings on fire to cause a diversion, luring in the first boss; then you rescue Thrall and fight your way out of the keep, defeating the second boss at the exit as he tries to stop you; then it's a ride into town for the denouement in the form of a big fight with a dragon. None of this is particularly complex, but it just lifts interest sufficiently so you don't feel it's a straight march from A to B, killing everything that moves along the way. The closest parallel I can think of is my favourite bit of an old world instance, the fight on the pyramid steps in Zul'Farrak, where you face off against wave after wave of trolls like a cross between Zulu and the end of The Gauntlet.

Adding such scripted elements isn't without problem, though; one of our group had previously failed the quest when a vital NPC hadn't turned up. Others had been in groups where over-eager participants had freed Thrall without everyone having the chance to talk to him to receive the next section of the quest. Fortunately we didn't hit any bugs, and ensured everyone talked to the right people, but it just goes to show the difficulty of implementing even simple additional elements over "kill stuff!" in instances.

Loot-wise, my standard diatribe on random loot was forestalled by the bosses dropping three useful items. None for me, but I at least got a couple of green bits to sell; the quest reward was a bit of an anticlimax, though, as even with a couple of gems slotted the Southshore Sneakers you can get are worse in almost every respect than the Sure Step Boots I've been wearing since my first Hellfire Ramparts run.

Sure enough, we were done in about an hour and a half as well, so the initial two hour estimate was pretty much spot on. A nicely sized instance with a few interesting scripted elements and a good team made for a great evening. Next stop, the Black Morass!

Monday 12 March 2007

Weekend Warcrafting

Quiet weekend in WoW, with lots of rugby on instead... Aside from the wild excitement of creeping up to 350 leatherworking, allowing me to make riding crops if I just spend another seventeen years grinding the insane components needed, the highlight was probably a quick zap through the Auchendai Crypts. Remember I mentioned our guild's mandatory "wipe on the first encounter or two"? We continued this policy quite magnificently...
Priest: "Watch out if they summon a Possessor. Those things are nasty, have to be taken down quickly."
First group, a Posessor is summoned, takes control of our tank who mows through our cloth wearers, much death ensues.
Us: "We should watch out for those Posessors. They're nasty, take them down quickly..."

After that, everything went rather nicely, including the loot; few greens for me, and useful things for our group from both bosses, including a ring from the final chap I had a roll on, but lost; not that I was too distraught, it was only a very slight improvement on a green ring I'd picked up from the auction house.

Friday 9 March 2007

Roads of battle, paths of victory

Doubtless you're all on the edge of your seats, so just to let you know... the final honour point calculations came in, and yes, I got that Grand Marshal's Slicer with a whole 52 points to spare.

I'd rather been hoping for the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, to hold aloft the sword from the bosom of the waters of Loch Modan, and that merely drawing it would smite any opponent who dared glance in my direction. As it turned out, the quartermaster handed it over with barely a second glance, muttering something about it being the 73rd that day, and combat continued much as before, apart from each swing dealing an extra 17 to 23 points of damage. Perhaps I'd built it up a little too much... Still, on the plus side, the ludicrously oversized blade is longer than my legs, so when wandering around with it strapped to my belt I plough furrows in the earth, which should be of considerable benefit to any agrarian communities in the zones where I quest. Provided they're not quest objectives, that is, otherwise the improved crop yield may be offset slightly by the wholesale slaughter with added "ploughshares into swords"-type irony...

Thursday 8 March 2007

Too Much of Nothing

My first day of level 70-ness didn't get off to a great start, with the new 2.10 patch proving somewhat troublesome (the downloader managed to get about a megabyte at a time before going off in a sulk and having to be restarted), and when it finally did finish installing, the servers were all down. Still, they were back up before too long, so it was on with the evening's main task: getting the last 1,000 or so honour points for a big ol' sword. A couple of Warsongs and an Alterac later, a couple of guildmates suggested a run to the Steamvaults, which sounded like fun, so off we went.

Our group was two Druids (one feral, tanking, one boomkin), a Mage, a Priest, and me, the Rogue. After the obligatory early wipe (I think it's the law that within the first five fights, you have to have a bad pull with extra fear-into-another-group) we kicked arse and took names, only didn't have a pen or paper for the name taking part, and there wasn't another death along the way. No problem with Druid tanking after their changes in 2.10 (even with an aggro-happy Mage and Rogue doing their best to make his life difficult). A couple of the group got bits of the Karazhan key, and I got the Helm of the Claw (with meta socket) from a quest in there (not so useful at the moment, as I don't meet any of the meta-gem-requirements, but hey, it's another hat for the collection. An astonishingly ugly hat, but a hat nonetheless), so not a bad run all told.

As for loot... take a guess. Yes, I'm afraid it's another loot whine, as to add to my single, solitary, somewhat lonely looking trash green item from runs through the Slave Pens and the Underbog, I got... nothing. Well... I sort of won a shard, but let the enchanter keep it (as I'm buttering him up for a nice enchantment on my Grand Marshal's Slicer, once I actually get it). But no blues for me, and indeed no blues for anyone in the party, as the only potentially useful items were for a healer, and our Priest was already decked out in better stuff. Still, I'm fine with that. Really. Totally fine. Absolutely happy, yes siree, I don't need any of this 'loot' stuff, nope, not me, it's friendship and exploration that's important, yes, who cares about loot, certainly not me, no no no, why do you keep going on about loot? Eh? Eh? I've told you! It's not important! Stop talking about it! Stop it! LA LA LA LA LA I'M NOT READING THE LOOT TABLES OF BOSSES TO FIND OUT WHAT MIGHT HAVE DROPPED LA LA LA LA LA LA.

*Ahem*. Sorry about that. Anyway, it really is good to see these instances regardless of loot, and at a touch over two hours, it's a good size. Indeed, getting out in good time meant I could fit a few more battlegrounds in, so I'm fervently hoping the estimated honour for yesterday isn't too inaccurate as I ought to finally qualify for that Slicer! Not that I care about it, you understand, I only PvP for the challenge, and the cameraderie, and... oh, wait, I've done that rant already.

Wednesday 7 March 2007

Sittin' on Top of the World

Well, that's level 70 reached. I was wandering around the Blade's Edge Mountains, but had reached that slightly annoying point where there are a few quests to complete in disparate locations. Previously I've been fairly methodical about clearing zones as much as possible before moving on to the next, but being 85% of the way to level 70 I thought "sod it" and headed up to Netherstorm. Sure enough, a quick wander around Area 52 netted a stack o' quests, all within a short ride, and a short while later the death of some Blood Elf captain netted that last little sliver of XP.

Tuesday 6 March 2007

Boots of Draenic Leather

I was working on my leatherworking last night, and using a combination of accumulated items in the bank, a few auction house purchases and a rampage through Nagrand denuding it of much of its native wildlife, I managed to increase my leatherworking skill by a massive seven or eight points. Woo! It's now 341, allowing me to craft a couple of bits of armour that might have been briefly useful several levels ago, some nice leg armour kits with expensive components, and bongo drums, presumably for tapping out some crazy jazz rhythms. That's insane, daddy-o!

Crafting has something of a split personality. On the one hand, it seems set up such that you only need a small number of crafters. At the very, very least, a crafter needs to make one item per point of crafting skill, so to hit the maximum crafting skill of 375, they'll likely have made 400+ items; outside an Alchemist drinking his own potions, that's far more than the crafter themselves will need. Furthermore, the sheer quantity of raw materials required to make those items needs one person to spend a lot of time and effort (or money) acquiring materials, or, more ideally, several people gathering resources to supply one crafter.

On the other hand, however, everyone is given an incentive to craft, with most professions now having either bind on pickup recipes (i.e. only the person who crafted the item can use it), or items requiring a certain crafting skill to use (in much the same way that most engineering items always needed a certain engineering skill to use, so e.g. drums require a certain leatherworking skill).

So you have your eye on the bind on pickup Trousers of Splendidness, and you're crafting away working on improving your skill to get to the required level for them, and you think "well, I might as well help my buddies out" (or perhaps "muahahahaha, I'll make me some money by selling stuff"). And that's a bit of a problem for tailors, leatherworkers and blacksmiths. Everyone is bombarded with quest rewards as they adventure around the world, which tends to be enough to give a fairly decent outfit. On top of that, there's the items randomly dropped by mobs (quite where wolves keep those greatswords, shields and cuirasses is a constant source of mystery); if they're not directly useful, they can always be traded around a guild, or put up for sale at the auction house. These drops can be *anything*; a Cheesemongers Hatstand of the Wombat? Absolutely! An Undercoated Wardrobe of the Herring-pickler? You bet! (OK, I exaggerate slightly. But the items cover the whole level range of the game, for every possible type of weapon/armour, and with a wide variety of possibly bonuses). In contrast, within a range of ten levels or so there'll probably be... one set of crafted armour that may be vaguely applicable to your class. If you're lucky. Granted, the crafted item is available then and there (presuming the crafter has the raw materials), but with an active guild and/or auction house there's almost always a superior alternative (usually a range of them depending on which stats you prefer).

To an extent, this is offset by other things the crafter can produce, like a tailor's bags or a leatherworker's armour kits, so now and again you can increase your skill while making these useful items. But inevitably (for leatherworking at least, I'm guessing it's similar for others) there comes a point where, in order to increase your skill, you need to make more useless armour and dump it on the auction house for less than the raw materials would fetch (as you're competing with every other leatherworker dumping the same useless armour), or send it off for disenchantment. Which is all the more galling when you could've used the same components to make a couple of stamina giving armour patches that people really would find useful, but wouldn't have increased your skill.

At the very least, it would be nice if there were some more generally useful items that could be used to skill up, but it doesn't seem like it would take a giant leap to make the armour crafting system more useful. The Wild Leather items, for example; when made, they have a random enchantment (... of the Monkey, Tiger, Wolf etc.) This makes them even more staggeringly useless than the rest of the armour that you can craft (remember, random loot = bad), unless you get lucky and happen to get a useful stat combination. However, if you could *control* what enchantment they were assigned (start with ten pieces of thick leather, and say add elemental fire and a feather for ... of the Monkey, elemental earth and a pearl for ... of the Tiger, whatever), all of a sudden you've got more choice with what you can make. Having gem slots in crafted items is a step in the right direction, but they only turn up on some of the higher level Rare pieces. Ah well. In the meantime, I'm off to some dungeons to try and get some Stylin' Hat patterns to add to my headwear collection.

Monday 5 March 2007

Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule

I haven't been paying much attention to jewels or enchantments on the road to level 70, as most items are replaced fairly regularly on the way, but now I'm nearly there I thought I'd have a quick browse of the auction house to see what sort of jewels might be affordable. I hit a bit of a snag, though; I believe the Auctioneer add-on puts me at a slight advantage over plain interface users, as it gives a "Gem" option to filter results, but even with that applied I was seeing over 850 items for sale, both cut and uncut gems. With the speed of auction house paging, that's not really a viable number of results to browse through, especially as you don't want to buy an item on page 1 and find the same thing for half the price on page 20. I ran a few searches for specific gems, but typing "Bright Blood Garnet", search, checking results, "Delicate Blood Garnet", search, etc., isn't much fun either. A cursory Google didn't really turn up any add-ons or similar to help (though it was very cursory, as I was busy typing "Solid Azure Moonstone", search, "Jagged Deep Peridot", search, for much of the day); anyone found a better way of doing it?

Thursday 1 March 2007

The Warcraft Armory

Blizzard have just unleashed The Armory on an unsuspecting world, a searchable database of characters, guilds and arena teams. While much of the same information is available in-game using the "Inspect" option, The Armory also includes things like talents and trade skills (apparently... it seems to be a bit overloaded/flaky, so I haven't quite got a character sheet up yet). Reaction on the forums is mixed, strangely enough (I don't think you'll be stunned to learn that many posters consider it "an outrage"), but personally I think it looks great, and could be really useful for guilds.

(Incidentally, for those of you who may, perhaps, be at work, with, say, a firewall that blocks "Games" related web content... maybe the firewall rules haven't been updated to block The Armory yet. Not that I could possibly condone browsing it when you should be working, no.)