I spent an awful lot of time on my main two weeks ago, a phenomenon I associate with two things: One is that my guild began requesting that all characters identify the mains/alts they are associated with so people can start putting players together with their various toons and the other is the annual Love Is In The Air event.
On paper, the idea of associating the various alts with their mains in the guild makes a ton of sense. However, the unexpected side effect I found was that it allowed other guildies to send me requests for level 85 assistance while I was trying to work on leveling my Mage. The guild I’m in values helping each other out above pretty much everything else so when I’m asked to give an assist I try to be open to that unless there is some external factor like time that prevents it. So now that everyone knows my Mage is an alt for my Warrior, I found myself with less time for uninterrupted level grinding.
That may sound like a bigger complaint than it is, and while I do lament a bit that after weeks of earning double-digit level gains over the course of six or seven days I was only able to squeak out three during that week, focusing on my main did have some positive net effects.
The principal perk was that I finally got the chance to try my hand at tanking because some guild members needed a tank for non-heroic Halls of Origination. Fortunately I’m fairly familiar with that instance so I agreed to give it a go provided everyone there understood where I was at with the skill.
Let me tell you a few of my initial impressions from my first foray into tanking. The first is that tanking is very stressful. As a DPS you have basically two objectives: Put the hurt on and don’t die. When you’re tanking there is so much more going on at any given moment than even the most frenzied fights offer DPSers, it’s really easy to feel like you’re drowning, because it isn’t just “hold the aggro,” despite what it may appear from the outside. First of all there’s the threat, which is I’m sure something I’ll get better with in time so I wasn’t all that concerned with how well I was maintaining the aggro. I didn’t do very well, but it seemed like something that would eventually start to make sense, especially as I learn the rotations and abilities.
But once you scratch past that layer, you also have personal survival which I know is a healer concern primarily, but since as the tank you’re in charge of absorbing the blows you have to make sure you’re not making the healer’s job impossibly difficult. As such it seemed like the better I was at handling my own damage mitigation by watching for interrupts, making sure Spell Reflect was being used, popping Enraged Regeneration if it looked like I wasn’t going to get a heal exactly when I needed it and keeping an eye out for Last Stand necessity, the better I did overall. The thing is, DPS has to worry about survival as well but the difference is tanks are supposed to be getting hit so at some level you have to decide what is “good” damage to take and what is damage that needs to be avoided, interrupted or healed through.
A level above survival you also have group management. This is where I struggled the most I think. In one-on-one fights I did pretty well, but as soon as there was more than one mob in an area I found it frantic and frankly not all that fun to be trying to maintain threat across a group of enemies. This is where I definitely need to find some way to practice because I’m reasonably comfortable with my single-target threat maintenance abilities but I’m pretty terrible at target-switching and I had a lot of difficulty getting a handle on AoE threat generation.
I think crowd control is supposed to help with this a little bit but the other thing I struggled with was mob positioning, especially when it came to kiting casters away from CC’d mobs so AoE or errant clicks didn’t break the crowd control. I’m simply not sure how I’m supposed to convince casters to move toward me and go where I need them to be. Unlike melee mobs who keep moving toward you to continue hitting as long as you hold aggro, casters are more than happy to let you back away and of course that has two undesirable effects: The kiting fails as the mob stays right where they are and held aggro starts to fall off since backing out of your own attack range reduces the amount of threat you can generate as you spend time outside of melee range.
Overall it was an interesting learning experience and when it was over I decided to regroup a little and spend some additional time researching tanking strategies with a renewed perspective that came from having even a tiny bit of context to apply the lessons. The other thing I did was start to pay more attention to the tanks that ran the instances where I was filling the DPS role, principally during my Mage dungeon runs.
Then last week I actually did a LOT of dungeons because as I’ll talk about later the level grind through Outland was kind of dragging me down and I figured the dungeons at least were still really fun and, as a bonus, entirely new to me. Having that many LFD groups means you see a lot of various group compositions and a wide range of tanking styles and abilities. It seems to me that I can classify the tanks I’ve run with into three distinct groups and I should note ahead of time that these don’t seem to have anything to do with which class is being used, anecdotally it’s entirely dependent on player skill (though I would note that there seem to be a slightly larger number of Death Knights in the lower two categories and a fractionally larger number of Paladins in the top category, which could easily be accounted for by the simple number of tanking Paladins and the number of DKs in the game, many of whom probably queue as Tanks just to get into Dungeons faster).
- Fail Tanks
These guys are just not good. They drop aggro on mobs and don’t pick it back up, they pull way more mobs than they can handle and they almost universally hope the healers can compensate for their tendency to quickly get in over their heads. It’s possible to make it through a dungeon with one of these players, but it’s an exercise in frustration and typically involves several wipes. Within this category there are two types of players: New tanks who are learning and perhaps unwisely choosing to learn via the dungeon tool (this may explain why it seems a lot of these guys are DKs and learning to tank in Burning Crusade dungeons) and players who think they are actually doing it right and spend most of the time blaming everyone else for their failings and ragequitting.
- Mediocre Tanks
These are the kinds of tanks who can lead you through a dungeon and even keep the party from wiping but requires a lot more attention devotion from the DPS and healers to assist in drawing errant mobs back to the tank so he can pick them up again, target switching to avoid pulling threat off of single mobs, avoiding AoE spells at all costs and having healers pull out advanced techniques to keep them alive. These are the tanks that can shine when they have a stellar healer behind them or if the person they loose aggro to happens to be a plate-wearing Fury Warrior or something equally sturdy and melee-based. Most of the time it seems like people will tolerate these kinds of tanks with no real challenge to them which avoids unnecessary confrontation but dungeons tend to take at least 50% longer to complete with these kinds of tanks because there is no such thing as facerolling through an instance with one of these guys. Occasionally you will find a player who claims to be learning how to tank or is returning to it after a long absence who spends the run wringing their hands about being a Fail Tank when in fact they are a solid Mediocre and often just need to pay attention to a few details or in some cases need to do some additional research to learn the little tricks to some of the bosses (like turning Quagmirran toward the wall at the end of The Slave Pens).
- True Tanks
These are the gems you get every so often who know the dungeon inside and out, expertly hold aggro on even the largest of pulls regardless of how much damage output the DPS is doing and even manage their own health to the extent that the healer is free to make sure DPS who stand too close to the fire don’t have to stop melting faces even for a moment to heal up. I know that this is entirely possible for tanks because I’ve run into several of them across the battlegroup and in a variety of dungeons. Running instances with this type of tank is exhilarating because everyone almost always has a great time, a quick run and there is scarcely ever any group friction. Obviously these are the elite tank players and I presume by definition they are going to be less common than middle-of-the-road tanks, but I’ve started to form the opinion that it doesn’t take some crazy inborn natural talent to elevate Mediocre Tanks to True Tanks, it simply requires practice, knowledge and the ability to assess what the rest of the group is capable of. My example of this is I ran through Hellfire Ramparts with a group who had a healer that was either very young or stoned or both but he was pretty miserable at maintaining his mana stores (which is a pretty key skill for heals) which meant that in any fight lasting longer than a few minutes the healer would go OOM and leave the rest of us to our own devices. The tank, a True Tank, quickly realized this and told the healer to try a bit harder to watch his mana count and then adjusted his own strategy to make smaller pulls so the healer could have more frequent breaks to recover some mana. The point is he made this determination within the first three fights and while he didn’t advertise what he was doing it was pretty clear we were going from fighting seven or eight mobs at once to three or four, which we were able to burn down while the healer still had a bit of mana to spare. The healer continued to jaw in party chat about what everyone else was doing to cause his mana loss, but it never became an issue that seriously threatened the group once the tank made the adjustment. That, to me, is a mark of a great tank.
The one downside of True Tanks is, perhaps as an occupational hazard, they tend to be cowboys who rush into large pulls with cursory checks of healer and DPS mana, expecting everyone to be as adept as they are. For the most part this doesn’t cause problems (if the tank couldn’t handle it they wouldn’t be in this category) but occasionally it can result in partial wipes or healers going out of mana, which, even if the party survives is never a good thing.
Obviously at this point I could be considered nothing but a Fail Tank but the question becomes one of how to transition (as quickly as possible) from bad to better. Obviously practice is the key but the more I think about it the more I wonder if the wisdom of a thought I had a couple of weeks ago wasn’t somewhat overlooked at the time. In Miner Whiner Edition I talked briefly about leveling a new Warrior from the beginning, doing exclusively (or nearly so) LFD dungeons for XP and going Protection the whole way. I dismissed it at the time because the notion of leveling another Warrior wasn’t (and in many ways isn’t) terribly appealing.
But the more I think about it the more I wonder if, even if the process were a bit onerous, such an endeavor would be a really smart thing to do. Because as I analyze what it would take to be a decent tank I notice that part of the difference between me in Fury Warrior spec and me in Protection spec is simple familiarity with the core abilities. I can improve my DPS output as Fury by managing the Rage resource better, finding slight improvements to the situational rotations, learning the nuances of cooldown management and so forth. But these are the things a more advanced Fury Warrior thinks about, not “If Ability A and Ability B are both up, which do I use?” Because I already know the answer to that question from a Fury perspective in most situations. This is definitely not the case as a Protection spec and I think the game does a pretty good job of teaching you how to make those core decisions as you progress through a single spec. Trying to switch once you’ve rounded out your spellbook as much as it will go results in exactly the scenario I’m in now: Total options overload.
I had an idea that might make such a task more palatable, and there are some secondary notions that I’ve been mulling over as well. For example, once I finish leveling up my Mage I’m going to definitely cool it on the focused level grinding. I do have a few alts I’d like to work on, but I figure I can take a casual, easy approach to it, going through 150% rested XP at a time which means playing for about an hour or two once every week and a half. Practically for me that means spending two or three sessions a month on each alt which sounds about perfect to keep the novelty factor alive without getting bogged down in either end-game stuff on my dual mains (which is how I’ve begun to think of the Mage and the Warrior) or in the drudging sections of the level grind. I think both taking a more relaxed attitude (as opposed to the “I’ve got to hit 85 yesterday” approach I’ve taken with the Mage) and spreading the alt play across several toons will really help keep things fresh.
Of course that doesn’t really address the key issue which is that I don’t necessarily want to go through as a Warrior again. So my thought to deal with that was to make this training Warrior an Alliance character. Ideally what this would do would be to create a sense of freshness even within the familiarity of the class because all the quests, NPCs, capitol cities and player bases would be completely new. I’ve heard plenty of people say that you haven’t really experienced WoW until you’ve leveled through both factions but so far I haven’t had much luck in finding my groove on the Alliance side. I hope that between the new Cataclysm quest progressions and the dungeon training I won’t get hung up the way I have with previous Alliance alts.
There are some downfalls to this idea: Primarily there is the lack of the sugar daddy factor that I am certain has been a big facet to the ease of leveling on the Mage since you can’t mail large cash infusions to cross-faction alts. I’m also not positive if the heirloom items can be sent to alts on other factions although I’m less concerned in this case with rapid leveling since it’s a matter of practice and not advancement once I get to the point where I can use the LFD tool. Another minor bummer in this case would be that, as opposed to if I leveled a Horde Warrior, I’d lack access to an established Blacksmith/Miner. Granted, it probably wouldn’t make a ton of difference; it’s only a rare instance that I’ve regretted not having my Mage be a tailor who can make cloth armor, especially since so much of my gear has come from instance drops. Seeing as how I’d be spending most of my time on such a Warrior in dungeons, I ought to not have much concern for having decent equipment nor a ton of opportunity to mine for ore. When you consider the lack of extra cash for AH mining that makes blacksmithing kind of a non-starter anyway.
Regardless of faction I guess the other benefit of the training Warrior tactic is that I don’t have to feel any obligation to level it further than necessary to learn what I need to know. There wouldn’t be any pressure to carry on past a point where the returns begin to diminish since at that point I can switch over to my main orc Warrior.
One thing is for sure, I need to find some way to get some practice because I don’t want to subject my guildmates to more of my “tanking” until I can be at least fairly sure they won’t have to use phrases like “Well… it could have been worse. Maybe.”
I mentioned above that I had to put in more time than I expected on my main also because I wanted to do the Love Is In The Air world event and you realistically can’t expect to do them all without being at least level 80 if not 85. Plus I think of the Warrior as my Achievement toon, so that’s where that comes from. Anyhow I thought the Love Is In The Air event as a whole was pretty enjoyable with a minimum of grinding or aggravation. I admit the Lovely Charm Bracelet creation process is a little less than obvious via the information available in-game and the I Pitied The Fool achievement seemed to cause a lot of frustration especially since the Love Fool object is fairly expensive.
Basically there are a handful of daily quests which reward you with Love Tokens at a rate of five per quest. One of the quests is really easy, it requires you to find ten players or NPCs nearby and use a benign quest item on them. Another is a fairly standard “kill 5 so-and-sos” type of quest requiring you to travel to Uldum. Assuming you accept the quest in Orgrimmar, the portal takes you a short flight away from the quest zone. Finally there is a daily quest per faction capitol city that asks you to give a Lovely Charm Bracelet to the race leader (Garrosh, Sylvanas, etc.) which is straightforward enough. However, in order to make a Lovely Charm Bracelet you have to collect 10 Lovely Charms which are randomly generated from defeated mobs that grant experience or honor provided you have a Lovely Charm Collector’s Kit in your inventory. Practically speaking that means you have to just go around and grind at-level mobs while you possess the Collector’s Kit until you get multiples of 10. I think there are four faction bosses you can exchange a Bracelet for 5 Tokens with but naturally that requires a bit of travel for those without ready access to portals or teleportation. All told you can earn 30 Tokens per day by doing the six dailies which brings me back to the Love Fool portion because you need four Fools at a cost of 10 Tokens each in order to earn the achievement which means it takes at least two days of daily grinding to buy what you absolutely need. The real issue is that the specifics for where exactly to place the item in order to fulfill the achievement requirements aren’t very clear so it’s pretty easy to accidentally waste a 10-Token Fool (by not being on the Blacksmith island in the Arathi Basin, for example) and I can see why that’s potentially frustrating. In my case I always play with a browser window open to Wowhead so I just used their handy event guide and didn’t run into any issues, but if guild and trade chat were any indication, that’s not a universal thing.
I will say that one thing I like about doing these world events is that they often have me doing things I might otherwise avoid, such as the Arathi Basin. It wasn’t the most exciting PvP event I’ve tried but it was interesting to have seen it and I’m not sure I ever would have gotten around to it had it not been for the world event achievement. They are a little stressful at times because I would hate to miss one lousy achievement or something and have to wait a whole year to try for the Violet Proto-Drake.
I mentioned above that I have several alts I’m interested in working on once I finish with the Mage (and aside from any possible Warrior training alts). My main objective is to get some high level professions established and though I originally intended to use the professions as an opportunity to level a number of different classes I think that I may not ultimately have all that much interest in learning all the classes. For example, Druids just don’t interest me all that much, possibly because they’re so incredibly numerous (at least on my server—although I was surprised to see that according to this census site druids seem to be less popular than I would have guessed, based on the number of them I encounter in PUGs). I get that they’re one of the only classes that can serve in each possible role (more or less) making them incredibly versatile but to me they’re just sort of meh. It probably has a lot to do with the idea of morphing away from the the normal character model and into something generic which doesn’t reflect my gear all the time. I’m also very uninterested in Rogues although if you believe that WarcraftRealms site they would be the player’s choice for anyone who wanted to buck any trends: They appear to be the least played class of them all. Still, melee DPS is a been-there-done-that proposition for me.
Since I’m not necessarily trying to play all the classes or all the races or what have you, I figured I could pick a couple to be the core that I wanted to explore and then create Death Knights to cover the remaining professions since they don’t have to worry as much about hitting level caps before they can train further in their primaries.
- Troll Shaman
I already had the Shaman from my first foray into the game but he’d languished along with most of the other alts from that era around level 6. Somewhere along the line I got the idea to make him a tailor because my Mage was accumulating vast quantities of low-level cloth that was no longer beneficial for leveling First Aid. Initially the Shaman was an Herbalist/Alchemist but by then the Mage was very far ahead of him in those professions so I switched to Tailoring and sent over all that cloth. I thought at first that the Shaman would just be the Tailor and nothing more until I realized that I didn’t really have a viable healer class in mind if I ever wanted to try that aspect of the game. My understanding is that Shamans aren’t the best choice for healing though they can certainly play that role but I figured if I was going to focus on having this Shaman character be a healer he’d need to avoid the same pitfall as my “tank” Warrior and practice as he leveled up. That meant making heavy use of the LFD tool which eliminated any gathering professions as serious second primary options. The more I thought about it the more I realized the obvious instance-farming professions were Tailoring and Enchanting. So the Shaman is/will be my Tailoring, Enchanting Healer.
- Blood Elf Paladin
Talk about common: Combine the most popular Horde race with the most popular class in the game and you have this alt. Still, I’m interested in the Blood Elf lore so I’d like to level through the Silvermoon area at least once and having another plate-wearer will be a nice way to make use of all that Blacksmith leveling I did on the Warrior. This character is also my only female toon which is a bit atypical for me because I tend to play female characters a lot in games that allow for that sort of thing but I found the social aspect of WoW to be sort of awkward to navigate as a guy playing a female character in the past. I figure I can tolerate it on this one character especially since there’s no reason why I’d ever need to worry about a second tank/DPS class being a go-to character in any circumstance. As for professions I’m going to stick with Jewelcrafting since I’ll end up sending stuff over from the Warrior a lot anyway and the compliment to that would have to be Engineering.
- Tauren Hunter
I’ve mentioned my Hunter previously, he’s a Skinner/Leatherworker and while I’m happy with my Mage as my choice for ranged DPS it’s been enjoyable enough that I don’t think doing another character with a similar role (but very different mechanics) would be too terrible. He’s already fairly well established in my stable of alts, being close to ready for LFD (I think he’s sitting at level 14) but I’ve specifically avoided putting to much time into him since at the moment it just feels like it would be time better spent on the Mage.
Conspicuously missing from the profession list there is Inscription which looks interesting but the thing is the more I thought about it the more I realized that there isn’t much reason to have an in-house Inscriptionist, especially since with the new glyph system you don’t ever need to acquire any one glyph more than once, even if you swap out an existing glyph from your profile. That means having one on hand would really only matter for those infrequent occasions where a specific glyph you want to use is very over-priced on the auction house and I figure if that isn’t what guild members are good for I don’t know what is. When I thought about this earlier I assumed I’d be skipping over Engineering but I’m pretty sure I’d be happier having an Engineer on my alts list than an Inscriptionist, especially since I’d probably have to level the Paladin ahead of the others in order to stay on top of the demand and I don’t really want to have that kind of mandate hanging over these alts: They’re supposed to be breezy to level anyway. If I did decide to make a fourth alt to handle Inscription I’d simply make a Death Knight which I’ll probably do at some point anyway so it’s not a big deal either way.
I spent a ton of time in dungeons over the past two weeks because I had some time off of work and my parents were in town which meant there were more opportunities than usual to be reasonably sure that I could play uninterrupted for a bit (though surprisingly perhaps not all that much extra time to play; I’d say I averaged even slightly less play time over the last week than I normally do). Really when it comes to queuing for dungeons that’s what it comes down to, because I can play the game if my daughter is asleep but my wife is indisposed somewhere, I just have to be willing to drop what I’m doing and attend to my child if the need arises. I don’t usually feel all that comfortable bailing out in the midst of a PUG to go change a diaper or whatever so if I’m on point with my daughter I avoid dungeons. Having grandparents around makes that less of an issue.
Anyway I had two main objectives in running lots of dungeons: One was to save some of the drudgery of the 60-70 progression on my Mage since as much as I thought doing Blade’s Edge and Netherstorm would make Outland feel fresh and new, the truth is the questing in Burning Crusade just isn’t up to the level of Cataclysm or even Wrath of the Lich King. As such I queued a lot to avoid questing through a lot of very familiar zones like Zangarmarsh. Interestingly, I realized that while I love the Nagrand zone from an aesthetic and lore standpoint, the reason I skipped through it on my first visit to Outland was the same reason I glossed it over on this second pass: The questing in there is just not what I would hope for. The potential of the zone, in my opinion, is wasted. Having read Rise of the Horde I’d really have loved to see more use of Oshu’gun and some better backstory on the orc clans but instead we get Halaa which is kind of a mechanically flappy PvP area, lots and lot of ogres and ol’ Hemit Nesingwary and his endlessly grindy kill-fest quests. Yawn.
Unfortunately, with frequent queuing comes what amounts to XP farming runs on familiar dungeons. I think I ended up doing Hellfire Ramparts at least half a dozen times between levels 63 and 64 and I know I did Escape From Durnholde eight times while I was levels 67 and 68. Now, Hellfire Ramparts is an easily farmable dungeon so it wasn’t that bad: It goes quick, it’s straightforward and it has decent drops. Durnholde on the other hand is awesome from a lore perspective which means it’s teriffic… once. After that it’s got a lot to dislike between the two long travel sections (one auto-flight on a drake to begin the quest and one after you rescue Thrall on land mounts which, inexplicably, Thrall’s mount is not swift so you have to constantly stop and wait for him) and the bland human bosses (up until the end which is actually a pretty fun fight but doesn’t in itself make up for the tedium of the rest of the instance). Plus worst of all the drops in there are really pants such that after eight runs I don’t think I came away with a single blue item to show for all that time. Theoretically the final boss can drop Pauldrons of Sufferance, but I never saw them. Not that it matters, because I got something better.
The thing is, it isn’t that Outland is bad, but I can understand why in light of later expansion content Burning Crusade has gotten kind of a bum rap. Essentially Burning Crusade is an incremental step off of vanilla WoW which means that now especially that we’ve seen so many of the changes Blizzard has come up with through the years applied back to Azeroth through Cataclysm, Burning Crusade is now the last bastion of the old-style WoW with all the disjointed, unwelcoming quest progressions and semi-drab tank-and-spank boss encounters. Plus, the talent tree redesign implemented in 4.0.1 made the 60-70 path a big dead spot in character development. Somewhere in there I had the first level advancement that didn’t net me a single thing: No ability unlock, no new trainable skill, no talent point, nada. And many of the levels had nothing but a new teleport or portal unlock which isn’t exactly thrilling. Now, level 69 does unlock the final talent point in your primary tree (which in my case means access to Living Bomb, the final piece of the super combo I talked about last time) but that starts the push into the 70s which appear to have much more excitement in terms of new abilities and fun stuff.
The net result is that hitting level 60 now marks a period where I found myself not wanting to slow down and experience the content with wizened eyes (having more exposure now to the game lore and the significance of both the Burning Legion and Draenor/Outland as a whole) but rather to speed up and get through it as fast as possible. To this end I started bouncing between my Mage and my Warrior so I could take advantage of the daily random dungeon Justice Point bonus for doing Cataclysm randoms. The sole purpose for this was to earn enough JP to get my hands on this little number: Tattered Dreadmist Mantle. I suppose you could say this is the first heirloom item I actually earned, as the cloak I’ve been wearing on my Mage since early on was a gift of sorts from the guild advancement system (and a paltry sum of 1,200 gold) but between that item and these new shoulder pieces I have a +15% XP boost to all quest and mob kill experience, not to mention the additional 10% I get from Fast Track due to my guild affiliation which means at the moment all told I’m running at +25% XP.
The weird thing about the LFD tool is how I know it’s supposed to be random but luck of the draw being what it is I seem to do nothing but run the same dungeons over and over. Not only did I get stuck on HFR and Escape From Durnholde on the Mage but I can’t seem to get a Cataclysm random that isn’t either The Lost City of Tol’Vir or Halls of Origination. Now HoO is fine with me because there are seven bosses in there and with the 4.0.6 patch that means I get a minimum of 210 JP just for the bosses alone and 350 if that’s the one that pops up as my daily random. Tol’Vir is an okay dungeon and everything but after finishing it a dozen times or so without ever even seeing the Vortex Pinnacle or Blackrock Caverns, I have to wonder what the deal is.
- One minor feature request that I think would be nice to add to the LFD tool—in addition to the level range indicators—is an estimated time rating. This could simply be an aggregate or average of all the runs done in that battle group in each instance which will obviously mean a pretty rough guess because I’ve had some dungeons that ought to take maybe twenty minutes last for over an hour due to wipes and queue times but I’m sure there are some elegant solutions (throwing out any data points where a mid-instance queue took place for example) and the idea would be to get a sense for what you’re in for especially if you’re using the LFD to collect dungeon completion achievements. The example I ran into was that the Magister’s Terrace is a sprawling instance but there was really no way for me to know this going in and I only had about 45 minutes to get it done when I started. Usually this would be plenty of time but between the sheer length and the fact that we had to queue for a tank after two or three bosses and tried to make do with a hunter’s tanking pet… well, I had to drop early which means I’ll have to try to do it again at a later time.
- I’ve been having an odd issue ever since patch 4.0.6 where my ESC key doesn’t always bring up the game menu. Usually it does, but randomly it will become non-responsive even if I’ve successfully accessed the menu that way earlier in the same session. This is sort of a bummer because I had gotten to where I knew the main keyboard shortcuts well enough that I had turned off the micro-bar in the UI but I have had to re-enable it because it’s pretty tough to log out if you can’t get to the main menu. I’ve looked around some on the support forums but haven’t seen anyone else reporting the same issue. I’m hesitant to file a ticket about it too because I know the first thing they’re going to say is “disable all your add-ons and try again.” I sometimes think the worst thing about add-ons is that they become tech support’s default skapegoat even if they’re unlikely to be causing the issue at hand.
- I’ve been reading through the Chronicles of War anthology which combines the Warcraft novels Rise of the Horde, The Last Guardian, Tides of Darkness and Beyond the Dark Portal. I’m enjoying it very much and am just beginning the final novel in the collection which has caused me to start looking ahead at what my next Warcraft novel should be. It surprises me that while The Last Guardian does a fairly decent job of chronicling the First War (covered by Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans in the games) and Tides of Darkness/Beyond the Dark Portal are essentially direct novelizations of Warcraft II (including the expansion), thus recount the Second War; but as far as I can tell there are no analogues for Warcraft III/the Third War. It’s possible the Christie Golden novel Arthas details the events of The Frozen Throne which was the Warcraft III expansion and perhaps this is intentional since Warcraft III the PC game is still readily available at retailers and playable even now. Still, at this point I’m very interested in the game lore and backstory but I don’t have much desire to force my way through an RTS which is far from my genre of choice. I’ve toyed with the idea of picking up the game and burning through it in god mode (which is how I saw the story unfold in Starcraft… have I mentioned I’m really bad at RTS games and don’t particularly care for them?) just to witness the cutscenes and so forth. But I dunno, it feels a bit like that crosses a particular obsessive threshold (which I’m certain I’ve already cleared by a country mile): I’m not sure I want to be the guy who bought a game he didn’t like and didn’t really want to play just so he could experience the plot of it first hand.
Blood Bowling For Dollars
Since this Edition covers a two week period it’s maybe less surprising that I have other games to talk briefly about but still noteworthy. I had a chance a couple weekends back to play Blood Bowl again with Dr. Mac and I had a great time even if the game was awful. And when I say awful I mean well and truly the worst game of Blood Bowl I’ve ever played and possibly the worst game that has ever been played.
Blood Bowl is a game where you have to roll dice to be successful but in many ways the paradox is that you are most likely to be triumphant if you can find a way to avoid rolling as many dice as possible. I suppose then that probability being what it is, there are just going to be times when luck favors no one in a particular match and it’s just next to impossible to accomplish any key task. Then there are times like this game when on no less than four separate occasions (at least two each) there were clear opportunities for points to be scored and due to the abyssal failure of dice rolls that were well within the acceptable risk thresholds no points were ever scored. That’s right, we ended in an 0-0 tie.
I’m talking here about multiple end zone drops. Pushes with Sure Feet that failed and caused casualties. Strength 5 Break Tackle dodges that failed. Balls were thrown in from the sidelines a half dozen times it seemed. It was ugly, frustrating, painful, silly and a surprising amount of fun. Dr. Mac and I have known each other since grade school which is something over two decades so we have a lot of history, but playing Blood Bowl over Xbox Live was reminiscent of all those childhood sleepovers where we would get to giggling and being goofy until finally one parent or another would come in and admonish us for being up too late and keeping the whole house awake at the same time. Halfway through the match I heard what sounded like Dr. Mac’s wife whispering to him to try to keep it down lest he wake up his sleeping children. Half a country away I snickered through clenched teeth at how hilariously familiar it felt and tried not to wake up my own slumbering family.
Ultimately the match may have been a bust but it was as clear to me then as it has ever been why I love games and how fortunate I am to be living in a time where two grown men can spend a late night recapturing a small piece of their youth, 750 miles away.
The Brink Of…
Another game I had the opportunity to play was Pandemic using the On The Brink expansion I received as a gift during the holidays. The expansion to me is a pivotal part of the game because Pandemic itself became such a staple in my gaming circles that I got to where I almost didn’t want to play it anymore. One thing I like very much about what they did with the expansion is rather than make the game generally more complex and altering the overall feel of an individual session (which a lot of expansions seem to do; for an example of this see the Race For the Galaxy expansion The Gathering Storm) the designers instead focused on compartmentalized modifications to the core game that could be used individually or in tandem as desired. Some expansions fiddle with the core game mechanics, notably the victory conditions often get adjusted which is where I think a lot of the sea change comes from, but Pandemic with On The Brink is still Pandemic, it just has a bit more variety and some additional unpredictability.
I played with my parents and since I had shown them the original game quite some time ago I didn’t get all crazy with bio-terrorists and virulent strains but focused instead on using the new role cards which I think are the best new additions in the whole of the set. I concede that having all the extra roles means a greater chance of getting a combination that works against the group ( our configuration was Archivist, Troubleshooter and Operations Expert which made mobility and research challenging) but at least with more options it makes it less likely the game will be won or lost based on whether or not you pulled the Dispatcher and Researcher together.
I went with an easier 4-Epidemic setup because I know from experience that having newer players start with more challenging levels results in either the veterans pretty much dictating the entire game (“Okay, now on your turn you should fly to Jakarta via shuttle, treat one disease, discard your Jakarta card to fly anywhere and end up in Paris where you need to build a research station and bam, you’re done.” “Uh, okay.”) although I concede that part of that phenomenon could be very readily attributed to the fact that historically in all my games we’ve played with our hands face up. Anyway, we ended up taking the victory though it was getting kind of ugly toward the end which typically means we won just in time.