Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Man On The Moon


Yesterday, I waffled about the state of play of a AAA games company, unable to do the groundwork for an eagerly awaited expansion. This is not the first expansion, it is in fact the fifth and Blizzard should really know better.

Since Sunday everybody has been patting themselves on the back saying "job well done" (or if you are a Peon "Job Done"). The fact is that the game is still not stable last night I gave up with constantly getting "World Server is Down"

 
This seems to occur when unable to open an instance, and is still happening with sufficient frequency to suggest that Blizzard are still a long way from having a stable platform. Warlords of Draenor is based on the concept of Garrisons, and Garrisons need instances, and the instances do not have enough resources.
 
Interestingly enough I noticed a little message in my chat window last night that many people might not have noticed, but it will be familiar to anyone who used to chain through dungeons until they hit their maximum for the hour.
 
 
Apparently we are limited to 10 instances an hour, and that raises more questions than answers for me. My intend way of playing was going to be based around logging in on all available characters and setting the Followers on their course to complete their next mission. At the moment that is 12 characters and in the future could quite feasibly be higher.
 
If I dip into 10 Garrisons, in the first 10 minutes...
Are scenarios and dungeons no longer available for 50 minutes?
Can I revisit a Garrison that was opened already in the allotted time frame?
 
It could result in people being far more careful about leaving the confines of the Garrison unless they have a clear plan of the activity for next hour. Of course Blizzard have not communicated this information, and it was only 8 months ago that the limit was increased from 5 to 10 to accommodate additional dungeon crawling during the Great Pandaria Content Famine.
 
I may be a unique player with multiple characters and a new found adoration of Garrisons Followers and Missions, but maybe I am part of a large population. Either way it is unlikely that more resources will be ploughed into the Server farm just so that I can play the way I want to.
 
 
 
 

Monday, 17 November 2014

That Smell


It is two weeks since I last wrote, and so much has happened in the interim, like the small matter of Blizzcon and the launch of a new WoW expansion in the shape of Warlords of Draenor.

I like many was excluded from the Beta testing so the last four days have consisted of me and 7+ Million people all wanting to occupy the same small space. I am writing today about the expansion as I have so far found it and please forgive me if I ramble and meander on a myriad (not a Vindicator or an NPC on Draenor) of different topics. So without further ado here is my list of 9 normal days for Blizzard and a world of pain for the rest of us.

Blizzcon

It might come as a shock to many, but I actually like Blizzard, but I am not a fan boy and I don't play every game that Blizzard wafts under our noses. I have admittedly played all of their current games but I only play one game and have done for the last decade.

This was a Blizzcon decidedly short on WoW news and with a new expansion so shortly after the Blizzcon. Who cared anyway, you can keep Overwatch and the Manga styled shoot 'em up, where you can leap around like a PvP rogue all you want, because I am old and have the reactions of an oil tanker which is heading in the wrong direction. Thanks Blizzard, but no thanks.

Launch Night

For the second expansion in a row I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having not been in the beta, I might know where I am going, but I have no idea how I am supposed to get there.

As usual I chose badly and opted for the portal from the mages tower. I then wasted precious time at the site of the pre-expansion instead of being in the thick of it outside the Portal. Needless to say I was far from alone. That mistake would cost me dear and by the time I arrived at the right spot it looked like a Mardi Gras (without the oversized dragon mounts and Tundra wide load vehicles).



The result of this chaos was that I took another player for a spin around the Timeless Isle on my own and did some dailies for XP and then went to bed

Launch Day Carnage

I managed to sneak home for a crafty play at lunch time, having been forced to go to work by my darling wife. The numbers playing was heavily reduced from the evening before and I was able to sail through Tanaan Jungle before grinding to a halt where garrisons should be.

Part of the problem for the player is knowing when something is a Realm issue or in this case is a game issue. We have endured logon queues, no instances, horrendous lag, random reboots, scheduled maintenance, unscheduled maintenance and in general a very poor release.

Friday

A holiday from work for the sole purpose of playing WoW. If I had known in advance I would have left the expansion for a week and sailed through without any issues. The game was actually relatively stable during the day, as long as you exclude Garrisons. What am I saying Garrisons is the expansion, everything else is the same fluff we have had for a decade only with nicer decoration.

Of course as soon as the European school kids came home, everything went South again and the evening was totally unplayable.

Saturday

More of the same, everything was busy all day as people tried to put long stretches of play together between the disconnects and reboots.

Sunday

At last we finally had a game worth playing. It is still not perfect but it would have been acceptable to have this level of performance on Launch day. It is obvious the Blizzard team have worked tirelessly to fix these problems, but it also true that this expansion was not ready and not tested to the required standard.

I have not kept up with many blog posts during the last few days but the following was a gem from Alternative Chat.

"The use of the area as an Instance is beginning to cause more than a few issues: add to that the obviously phased content that exists in the World and... well, this is the issue I never saw coming, because I assumed Blizzard would understand the interest in the feature, and have learnt the obvious and well-reported complaints from Beta. I find it rather dismaying therefore that no-one does seem to have grasped just how many people would want to play this on release, and that the same issues that crippled the Beta servers still exist on Live, but in greatly increased levels."

This is very interesting because I don't remember reading about big problems of phasing on Beta, and if this is correct (I have no reason to doubt Alternative Chat) then Blizzard have been exceptionally negligent. If it didn't work with a few thousand playing how the hell did you expect it to work with 7 Million people all wanting the same content at approximately the same time.

Smart arsed comments about Blizzard not being able to nip out to the nearest computer hardware shop and purchase a few more Blade servers does not cut it. They knew it was coming and chose to buy their collective heads in the sand and hope that the live servers would be more stable than the Beta realms.

Alternative Ways of Playing

Being able to only play for 30-45 minutes up to the establishment of Garrisons forced me to play with my entire cast of characters. Priority always goes to my Hunter main, but why keep trying to flog a dead horse when I can be in a position to have 12 Garrisons creating resources and sending the Followers out on extra missions. Right now I would be happy to be able to scroll through all the Garrisons assign the followers missions, then logout. Rinse and repeat every hour or so.

I know it is all shiny and new and in 6 months time I will not be doing Missions, but right now it is the game. Levelling, Dungeons and Raiding can all wait until I am in need of a change of pace. The Sunsong Ranch was exciting to start with but this takes the meta game to a new level. It reminds me of a very early version of Football Manager, in which you would setup your team taking hours to prepare for a match and then the computer would go off and generate a summary of the game. Somehow Real Madrid would manage to lose to Accrington Stanley 4 - 6, even when the real score is more likely to be 10-1 to Real Madrid.

It is ironic that non of my Alliance are Epic, but the second follower on my solitary Horde character is Purple. I am honestly surprised that it is not Legendary (I am guessing there is no such thing) just to rub more salt into the wound..

Blizzard Loves Horde

What I have seen of the game and to be honest it is not much is that the Horde Garrison is far nicer than the Alliance base. The snowy environment the undulating surface, the whole zone seems better. Is it not bad enough that Blizzard writes Horde centric storylines without giving them a better landscape, better quests and infinitely better heroes.

The Horde have Duratan for godsake, who is so much cooler than Maraad, who is a little sad and a little mad. Duratan wears a Wolf on his head and back, and if I am not mistaken has a zone named after him.

No Flying

It is normal behaviour for Blizzard to restrict Flying, but in this case I can totally understand. On the other hand the landscape is mountainous with rocky cliff faces and caves and ridges with small pathways. The result is huge amounts of wasted time plotting the best route around an obstacle. I ended up in the sea for 10 minutes trying to find a way to get back on the shoreline and I have done huge detours when the only way across is to find the rock that acts like bridge. There is Fortress Anquish which is a nightmare to traverse. I appreciate the No fly zone, but I would appreciate less confusing maps.

Realms, Instances and Connected Realms

As a regular player it became obvious a long time ago that various continents and Instances are not on the same server as the Azeroth Realm that you provisionally sit on. During The Burning Crusade it was not uncommon for Outlands to be unavailable but if you had a character in Stormwind or Ironforge you could quite happily play. With Connected Realms I have that Anachronos can have World Server is down and Alonsus is working fine. My advice is to not have all your eggs in one basket and keep some of your characters on different servers for times like this.

I assume that the problem with Garrisons is connected to the message, "Unable to find Instance" I assume this to be like running an application in Citrix and when the Citrix server is full the performance becomes unstable for those in it, and non existent for those without a session. The only solution is to add more resources and extra servers to the Citrix farm. This is exactly what Bashiok was saying on Saturday.

What is most perplexing is that the problem occurred on Beta and the demand forecasting on Blizzards behalf appears to be very poor. They should know exactly how many copies of the expansion have been sold and of course they have regular feedback on subscription numbers.

DDoS

As I understand it was only an attack on North America, and in some respects Blizzard should be well versed in dealing with these internet bandits, and especially should have expected an attack on a launch day, for the extra publicity.

Unfortunately with all the issues that have come with this launch, it makes you wonder what effect it had. I am guessing it was nothing more than an additional nuisance factor.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Badge


"Game Over", with two weeks left until World of Warcraft soars again, I am now finished for this expansion. No tasks to perform, no reputation to gain, no vegetables to grow, no herbs to pick, no ore to mine, no animals to skin.

The bucket list that I never had is now empty and I am left without a need to logon. It is strange that at the end of an expansion I have been playing more than I have for a long time. I am tempted to take a WoW vacation for 14 days and come back refreshed for the marathon sessions that we will all take part in. Staying up into the small hours on release day, taking days off work to level up to the new maximum. Whatever my intentions are, and however hard I try, everybody else seems to be ahead of me. Only at the end of an expansion can I feel smug that I have achieved as much as possible and can enjoy watching everybody else scurrying along whilst I am able to put my feet and enjoy a long cool drink.

It is possible for me to collect some Heirloom weapons or even get unbelievably lucky and gain the last Ordos gear that I could use on my alts, but it really does not matter any more and I can no more stop the next expansion, than King Canute could stop the tide.

My new level 90 Orc Hunter, the gift from Blizzard, last night gained four new pieces of equipment, and I am surprised how quickly and well I have been able to gear up in a three week period. I am now sitting on an average iLevel of 546, and the chance of borrowing the Heirloom Warbow when the time come round.

My haul of Four new pieces of gear came at a cost, and that cost was sitting through the worst LFR group of all time. I am now utterly proud that the Horde can be that bad at PvE. I have sat through some inept Alliance LFR performances, but this was an utter disgrace. The Siege of Orgrimmar, Vale of Eternal Sorrows was the site of this disaster. Immerseus was one of the quickest cleanest kills, but the Fallen Protectors got up to 25% determination bonus. Norushen also wiped the party on four occasions, some which only lasted less than a minute.

My favourite part of the whole experience was the lack of understanding of the fights and in particular the four phases of Sha of Pride. The Manifestation of Pride that appears behind the party would be dealt with by one or on some occasions two people. Thankfully they were both Hunters, expelling the myth that Hunters are the Noob class of choice.

The only explanation I have for this whole debacle is that there are a lot of returning players or else new players with level 90's that they as yet do not understand. The only reason for the eventual success is that most people are overpowered, and it is raw power that eventually ran roughshod over the content.

I am utterly embarrassed to have witnessed such a performance but kind of delighted to know the Horde are as bad as the Alliance.

Monday, 27 October 2014

I Feel Free


No more Frogs! After a mad flurry of Frog genocide I have for the immediate future given up frogging or looking in through steamy car windows.

Instead my interest was piqued by Cymre who wrote about the Toys available in Hallows's End. I am normally not very interested in anything available from the holiday events, they have long since been consigned to the "Been there, seen it, done it and bought the T-shirt" bucket of Blizzard content.

Oddly enough the same people who are attracted Pet Battle collecting seem to like collecting the new craze "Toys". Who would have thought, that collectors like collecting? Almost hidden away in the Holiday news was the availability of two new pets to collect for the princely sum of 150 Tricky Treats. I did some quick calculations and decided it was eminently doable and decided to take out my Panda, who could do an Azeroth tour in the process. It turned out that 150 could be obtained from Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdom. It is a boring process but it suits my weekend schedule of cleaning my house and hours spent on unmanned flight paths.

Having snagged Cursed Birman, I decided to repeat the task with Queen of Transportation my Frost Mage. The ability to portal is invaluable for this task and decided to change the landscape a little and went for Outlands, Northrend and Pandaria. Two days messing around for 2 pets that I will never use. I still can't explain why I would do this content other than "because I could" or "it was there".

Having snagged two new pets it made perfect sense to go Pet Battling with them and it was not long before I found a fertile spot with weird cockroaches and fire beetles to snag. I have long since discovered that owning weak battle pets does not count, and if you are serious about the business you want a complete collection of Blue Rare pets and nothing else will do. This is the time to remove the poor quality pets and capture both new and Rare pets. Finding Rares can take an age and in some respects it is far more rewarding flying around Azeroth for a guaranteed pet than dancing with the RNG Gods.

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My weekend of Pet Battling was brought to sudden standstill when I got bombarded by my Guild asking if I want to kill Garrosh for the guaranteed Heirloom Weapon. I seemed to have missed an announcement some where along the line but Alternative Chat is making the most the Heirlooms and even paying 8000 Gold per head for a Garrosh Kill with the Realms top Raiding Teams. For a full rundown on how get in and smash and grab some gear the Bare Butted One has all the answers.

My Hunter Main was first up and won the Warbow without any major issues. From what I could see it was an A-Team Alts run. The second run was a complete disaster with everybody getting mind-controlled with 5% to go being the best result. With everybody stepping down a peg or two with everybody changing roles and classes it had none of the panache of the first run.

My Warbow which was still an upgrade will now service my 3 level 90 Hunters and will also be available when my wife finally levels a 4th member of the Hunter community. A staff would be nice and would be usable by 4 characters and a Two Handed weapon would be usable by 3. This would just leave a Monk and Rogue. It would cost more than 8000 Gold to buy those two a place in Heirloom run. We still have two weeks left, who knows what might happen, and besides it is still a better place for a weapon than queueing for UBRS and not getting a drop from there.

Friday, 24 October 2014

A Whole Lotta Rosie


As a Joe Average player with declining reactions brought on by age, I tend not to be a chart topper. That is not to say that my Hunter cannot rock up under the right conditions. I have often said that being an Altoholic means that it becomes very difficult to cope with mass changes or spec changes. I pick a spec and live with it. Some of those characters are genuine dual spec (I don't include a Frost and Fire mage in that list) with a DPS and a Healer spec, and I have tried Tanking on DK and Pally.

This is a lot of info to take in, and any changes will need to be assimilated slowly and if not played regularly will be soon forgotten. Never a week goes by without taking out one of me three Hunters out for a spin, and except for a brief flirtation with Marksman have all been Beastmasters since birth. I can cope with a certain amount of change on a Hunter, including changes like removing mana (what a day to celebrate that was), and the recent bloat removal. This liposuction needed to be done to the Hunter class and some of the other classes and specs, but not all of them. More buttons does not make for a better experience but neither it would appear do less. Beastmaster is basically a two button rotation with the occasional GCD thrown in. I have learnt to live without casting Hunter's Mark for a long time now, but for some reason Serpent Sting is like losing a limb.

I have yet to discover exactly what state all the classes and specs are currently in, but I have noticed a huge improvement in my Combat Rogue's figures which is something that I didn't think was possible. What is more shocking still is that Dps on my Balance Druid is now hitting the floor. Boomkin was always the strange hybrid, but it had it's moments. First it went Oom and then it went Boom and now it is just crap. The eclipse seems to move along like a metronome and is not controlled by the player who could speed up gaps in between eclipses. Now it requires a PhD to work out the timings and according to Icy Veins it is less important than before:

4.2. Applying and Refreshing DoTs

Applying and refreshing DoTs is not longer as complicated as it has historically been for Balance Druids, but it remains extremely important.
Simply put, it is best if your DoTs are applied when benefiting from their respective Peaks (Lunar Peak Icon Lunar Peak for Moonfire Icon Moonfire and Solar Peak Icon Solar Peak for Sunfire Icon Sunfire). Note, however, that this does not actually affect the periodic damage of your DoTs at all. The only part of the DoTs damage that is increased by Peaks is the instant damage. So, applying and refreshing DoTs at Peaks is definitely a DPS bonus, but not a very great one.

As mentioned in the rotation at the start of the guide, Sunfire's duration is such that it will not last until you complete a full cycle (and return to Solar Peak). Furthermore, Sunfire cannot be cast when you are not in Solar Eclipse. This means that in order to keep up Sunfire, you need refresh it shortly before leaving Solar Eclipse, or that sometimes you will need to refresh it immediately on re-entering Solar Eclipse to prevent it from dropping off. This is acceptable.
There no longer is any real restriction about when it is too soon to refresh a DoT. As long as you refresh Moonfire each time you reach Lunar Peak, and Solar Eclipse at Solar Peak and right before leaving Solar Eclipse, then you should have no problems.

I hope that makes sense to you because I am losing the will to live. (Having played Balance since reading and writing this, Blizzard makes it easy by lighting up your icons, when you  need to press them). I am using the right spells as per rotation and I have reasonable gear, so what is causing the huge discrepancy?

The stat squish seems to be throwing up some peculiar situations where it is possible with proc to one-shot a mob. The term one-shot is often overused, to suggest an easy kill at the first attempt. I am talking about mobs that just roll over and die, and the next one will require a semblance of a rotation.
I always liked that as a game play, the ability to miss, dodge or one-shot, especially for a Marksman, with Sniper Training. The ability to one-shot requires for the character to have a downside in the style of James Bond. 007 is a trained killer but he has a weakness in beautiful women, alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. Some might argue what is the downside to beautiful women, but he can easily be manipulated by the opposite sex and lured into a trap.

Frost Mages seem to be in exactly the same place as before, minus the one spell that is missing from my action bar. A quick browse reveals that Invocation has gone, but I worked that out myself and the other was Alter Time. This was one spell that I always thought would be really useful if only I knew when to use it.

I have already mentioned that Combat Rogue is looking fairly sexy (more playable for idiots like me), but there is absolutely no easy AoE for this class. Every other class can drop something on the ground but since combat lost Fan of Knives there is nothing I can see that is obvious to replace it.

I am slightly biased towards AoE damage after spending so much time killing frogs. I am no longer going to need to hunt down Lesser Whatsits because I am fairly certain they are not required moving into Draenor.

A couple of aspects that have annoyed me about Blizzard are the On/Off need a Legendary cloak to do Ordos. It was not communicated well and the only way to test is to fling yourself off a broken bridge. Along the same lines is the horrible PvP flag that we still get for innocently joining a group using the new Group Finder. join a group and automatically accept the PvP flag. It should be in Big Bold Red Letters "PvP" so that the majority of people who don't want to be part of a teenage Rogue's Ganking fantasy can stay well away.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

We All Stand Together


The last two posts I have made, make reference to the new Group Finder and the custom groups for Frog killing on the Timeless Isle. Original I thought this was a useless usage of a new tool. Grumpy yesterday put me straight and that there is a new reason to Group and murder Timeless Frogs.

Apparently I had all the aspects but I had failed to put them together. With the absence of Valor, we can now collect Lesser Whatsits of Chance to our hearts content. The upshot is that the easiest way is to group into 5 mans and create Frog Genocide on a grand scale.


 The droprate appears to be around one Lesser Whatsits of Chance per Frog, and with a kill rate of around 20 per minute depending on the competition and the group composition. This beats the 5 from the Dailies at Halfhill Market which would take 5-10 minutes. There is no other task that generates Lesser Whatsits of Chance at anything near to that rate. It is possible to do the Daily and Weekly (50 Epochs) at the same time.

Kudos to Grumpy for letting me know about this little secret and if you need some armour upgrades and are running short of Lesser Whatsits then you now know where to go.

Good luck but it is a frustrating place to be if you don't have a nice ranged AoE.

Monday, 20 October 2014

I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More


I was reminded of a fact by Grimmtooth, who questioned whether nostalgia is showing previous pre-expansions in a better light. The obvious facts are that was WoW was better in the past, and Blizzard used to know how to throw a good pre-expansion party.

The reality is that large chunks of the game are vastly superior to the original game and that pre-expansions are always damp squibs, with the exception of the Zombie curse which seems to have a close proximity to what is currently going on in West Africa with the outbreak of Ebola.

The Zombie event rendered the game totally unplayable and Blizzard made light of the event being curtailed by several days. It is of course a memorable event, but it not something than anybody would wish to repeat, and Grimmtooth highlighted the fact that these are normally short introductions into the next expansion. Under normal circumstances the current content plus a holiday event would be enough to keep us busy, but personally I think the lack of content for such a long period might have driven some us a little stir crazy.

I have had a few more days to devour the content and I might have got some things wrong as well as having some more opinions on 6.0.2. The first on my list of errors is the Raid Finder, it is a much better tool than I gave it credit for, and the customisable sections allows like minded people to go around murdering frogs on the Timeless Isle, but I was right that Celestials and Ordos need to be considered as Raids, especially Ordos. Celestials can be ignited by one tank managing to stay alive for 30 seconds without assistance, and a group of 10 people can make short work of these bosses. Ordos could benefit from a meeting stone to take the pressure off the Warlocks. I have also lost track of my characters weekly activities now that Saved Instances addon does not record Celestial kills and is a little suspect about recording Ordos kills too.

The other mistake I made was the tidy up bags button which I did not know existed or maybe it doesn't and it is just on the Bagnon addon. Unfortunately it often causes more problems than it solves. Two steps forward and one step backwards. I am however delighted with the amount of space saved by bigger stacks and the Toy cupboard. It seems very odd crafting with materials that are in the bank. It is one less aspect of realism in the game and a giant plus for convenience.

One thing I have noticed is that with all the changes, this is in fact the Pre-Patch and not the Anniversary and Pre-Patch rolled into one. There will be no PvP in Tarren Mill unless I am doing it on my own and besides with the huge queue times to do the UBRS mini adventure, it will take me 4 weeks to snag all the weapons, and that is if I get very luck indeed.

One other change I would like to discuss is the no more valor points and  upgrades with Lesser Whatsits of Chance. Originally when MoP first dropped I had far too many things to do to concentrate on just one character to get 1000 Valor. Later in the patch with all major activities completed I could rig the Valor of the Ancients and the Deeds of Valor used in-conjunction with the glitch which allowed the Valor of the Ancients to be still active from the week before. This was a perpetual valor stream so much so that it was possible to valor cap on all my level capped characters.
The downside was that you could only earn 1000 on any single character. The new system which is only in place for the next 3 weeks will essentially reward hard work.
 
1 upgrade = 250 valor = 50 Lesser Whatsits of Chance


In any given week you could only manage to generate enough new valor points for 4 upgrades, now you can generate as much as you like. The only downside is that you need to keep doing something in order to generate them. They do drop off everything , but even so when you need to hundreds of them, the droprate is still never enough. The positive in this is that I can do these tasks whilst waiting for UBRS.