[Gaming] When War Mode Goes Awry

So, World of Warcraft abolished PVP servers in Battle for Azeroth. It was a smart move in one respect, because the legions of players who felt trapped on PVP servers where all their friends were could now level in peace. In its place, Blizzard created War Mode, a more formalized method to join open-world PVP than simply telling people to flag for it. New PVP skills that can be used in the open world are tied into it, and it can only be enabled from Stormwind or Orgrimmar. Initially, it could only be disabled from those places, but as of Patch 8.1.0, players can disable it from any rest point such as a tavern. The five-minute cooldown for unflagging still applies.

To encourage players to voluntarily enable War Mode, Blizzard has incentivized it beyond adding these new PVP skills. Both factions get a flat 10% increase in XP or Azerite rewards as well as various buffs for successfully killing a certain number of players of the opposite faction. There are also air drops that appear that players can fight over and the winning faction can then loot a piece of gear for a short period of time afterwards.

Here’s where it breaks down a little bit. Horde players have frequently enabled War Mode in far greater numbers than Alliance, causing Blizzard to add special incentives that are currently Alliance-only, although technically they would be available for Horde if the balance was the other way around. First, there is a 120 quest that rewards gear for killing a certain number of opposing players, and secondly and far more interestingly is an additional 20% XP/Azerite bonus for a total of 30% for players of the underpopulated faction in War Mode. We don’t know what the criteria are for activating these additional incentives, but it’s caused consternation on social media.

Now, the thing to understand is the fact that most people know when you flag for PVP, you get what you’re asking for, and there’s a decades-long culture of ganking lowbies. It happens. Blizzard doesn’t really consider that griefing, even if one faction camps the other’s graveyards for hours at a stretch. There are stories of some people being banned for that behavior, citing the ToS about being too disruptive to others’ gameplay, but considering the much larger numbers of individuals and groups that have done these things for years with zero consequences, such stories of bans are the exception and not the rule. It’s also likely the bans happened for reasons other than what the player or their friends claim they were banned for.

So, many folks who would opt into War Mode for the XP gains are likely people who are leveling alts for racial heritage armor, because those quests are not available to boosted characters – a bit rude to players who paid for boosts with real money by the way. There might be some first-timers, but I would guess that most of the folks doing lowbie leveling are veteran players, so they know what PVP culture is and what the expectations are. And sure, it’s not hard to expect that some bored high-level characters would camp lowbies in leveling zones just like the old days with PVP servers. However, things are different now.

For years, there have always been accusations of Blizzard being biased toward either of the factions, with folks in the argument citing every nitpicky detail they could, and I even included a segment about how the Alliance got treated unfairly with regards to their first Allied Races in my review of Legion and look-ahead to BfA. Since War Mode became a thing, these accusations increased in frequency because of Corner Crossing. This is a max-level Horde quest that has players tracking down news of the escaped Varok Saurfang by disguising themselves as a little human girl, their Dark Ranger companion as an adult human female, and questioning the locals in Redridge Mountains between the Inn and the tower at Three Corners. Great story, quite interesting if you’re Horde. In theory, players would go through the quest objectives, complete it and continue on, and Redridge goes back to its usual behavior.

Nope!

What I have observed over the past few months is that Horde players will hang onto that specific quest, camp the corridor between the inn and tower, and repeatedly gank the level 20ish Alliance characters trying to level. I’ve personally been ganked multiple times as multiple lowbies over the space of a week by the same exact Horde player, so it’s definitely not personal, and it’s not just yet another random Horde player passing through while doing their quest – although there are still lots of those too. A single Horde player can tie up leveling for every Alliance player in the zone for hours if they were that bored like that first guy.

I must be perfectly clear here. I do not object to the basic understanding that turning on War Mode means I’m agreeing to be ganked, nor am I angry because some bored 120 can see me riding away as fast as I can as a level 25 and will hop on their flying mount, race over to me, and kill my character before my slow mount can help me escape. That’s open world PVP in any other zone. And Alliance will gank Horde just the same if the situations were reversed, and have done so in the past. No argument, no discussion. I understand the philosophy of PVPing, but that’s not the point of any of this.

My point is that Blizzard plopped a max-level Horde quest in an Alliance-primary lowbie leveling zone and didn’t create a similar quest for the Alliance in a Horde leveling zone. Simple as that.

Alliance players wouldn’t be complaining and opting out of War Mode quite as much regardless of how large the XP incentive is if Blizzard had given them something equivalent in return. Blizzard has been around the block enough to have known as soon as they came up with the idea for the Horde quest that this would happen (and would happen if it was an Alliance quest as well, let’s be brutally honest here, you’d do it too). They could have easily made it so that Horde couldn’t attack Alliance while they were disguised as Alliance during this quest, because they use this kind of flagging tech in so many other quests in the game. The only real conclusion here is that it’s working as intended and thus it adds ammunition to arguments that Blizzard has Horde bias. Not that there really needed to be any thoughts otherwise, considering their iconic tourist photo-op location on-campus is the orc statue.

So, right now, if you’re Alliance trying to level a lowbie but want to at least mitigate some of the risks of being ganked in Redridge, these are your alternatives:

  • Turn War Mode off and deal with the slog to get your heritage armor with regular XP
  • Try to level in other zones regardless of whether addons like Azeroth Auto Pilot recommends Redridge
  • Try leveling when it’s super early or super late for your region’s players to be around (remember: sharding means it’s not based on your specific server anymore)
  • Ignore PVPers who use abusive/bullying speech

Ultimately, opting into PVP right now in WoW is opening yourself to ganking by anyone from the opposite faction regardless of level. A player isn’t weak for simply not wanting to deal with the hassle and level up in peace and save PVP for battlegrounds, capital raids/defense, or for those occasional quests that require PVP (Children’s Week, anyone?). Thankfully, those players who were trapped on the former PVP servers can escape by turning War Mode off. At the end of the day, it’s up to you as the player to decide how you want to level.

Good luck!

[Gaming] A Legion Retrospective and Battle for Azeroth Conjecture

In just two weeks from today, the latest expansion of World of Warcraft will be unleashed upon the world… assuming the servers don’t catch on fire or angry gamers don’t DDoS Blizzard. Battle for Azeroth returns the game back to the main story of the Warcraft franchise, the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.

Legion is by many accounts the most successful WoW expansion, although there is still much strong nostalgia for both vanilla and Wrath of the Lich King. However, when I comb through my social media to see how players rate Legion, on the whole it seems more positive than negative when compared to expansions other than Wrath. Unlike previous expansions, Blizzard spaced out its content and added new facets to the story along the way, so players didn’t have to spend half of its two-year life cycle complaining about content drought as happened with Warlords of Draenor.

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[Gaming] Why LotRO Hits the Spot

Before I get into the actual story, I should provide full disclosure of bias here. I’m on the official LotRO stream team and am privileged to be friends with a couple of the devs at Standing Stone Games. That being said…

I’ve been a Lord of the Rings fan since I was in single digits *mumblemumble* years ago. I was ‘forced’ to read The Hobbit when I was in school, and the teacher of course mentioned LotR, saying it was a bit more mature reading (not as happy/playful as The Hobbit). I remember the school library having two versions of the trilogy on hand: a large hardcover edition featuring nifty fold-out maps and the paperbacks featuring the amazing realistic art by the sadly late Darrell K. Sweet. Fun fact: Darrell K. Sweet’s art was also on the cover of the edition of Elfstones of Shannara where I originally derived my nom de plume of Druidsfire. I also went back years later and found used copies of that original paperback edition of LotR but never found reasonably-priced versions of the hardcover edition.

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[Opinion] Women and Mothers in Star Wars

I have a problem with the depiction of women in Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars, and I love what it’s done for the advancement of women’s roles as lead heroines and character roles in media of all kinds, but I still have a problem with how women and motherhood are portrayed in it. For 40 years now, women and girls have been taught about the awesomeness that is Princess Leia, how she kicked ass, took names, and is a rolemodel to all of us about the power of women, rawr. However, for those same 40 years, women and the notion of motherhood have gotten some treatment that I’m not even going to call ‘problematical’, because that’s far too polite for what’s happened. I’m gonna just outright call it some serious bullshit. Let’s run down the list of the various women in Star Wars and how they’ve been treated, how moms in the stories have been written or portrayed, and we’ll go from there. I’m going to go in RL chronological publication/release, because that’s easiest for me to wrap my brain around.

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[Gaming] Balance of Power

In World of Warcraft: Legion, players can unlock special cosmetic skins of their artifact weapons by completing certain tasks. The way the system works is on a progression basis. Each artifact currently has 5 rows of appearances going left to right with four slots per row (except Guardian Druid). You can’t unlock any slot in the row if you don’t unlock the first one. The rows are roughly analogous to:

  • Row 1: Legion/class story
  • Row 2: Unlocking your artifact’s traits
  • Row 3: Group content
  • Row 4: PVP
  • Row 5: Various content whilst wearing a hidden skin

Each row’s slots generally show a clear progression left to right either in terms of difficulty or time needed to invest to unlock an option. Each unlock is on a per-character (not spec) basis with the exception of the Glory of the Legion Hero option in row 3, fourth slot. That unlocks account-wide due to the nature of the achievement.

The cosmetic skins are obviously just that. There are no power or gameplay advantages to unlocking any of them, and players aren’t required to use them. Hell, some class’s players who don’t like their unlocked artifact skins can mog to other weapons entirely. For example, I have cheerfully mogged my troll shaman’s Doomhammer into the Tankard o’ Terror just because I can.

So, all of this is optional. No one is forced to do any of this content. It’s just a side thing to encourage players to consider doing content outside of their usual stuff if they want a cosmetic they like. For example, I’m not a PVPer, but my utterly favorite Holy Priest artifact skin is the one that requires 1000 Honorable Kills in PVP while using the hidden skin. Acquiring a hidden skin varies from class to class, and in this case, I have to get a drop from Hyrja and be exalted with the Valarjar. Not too rough, and again, it’s my choice if I want to jump into PVP afterwards and grind out the skin I want.

The third row is the problem here. To unlock the entire row, a player has to complete the Balance of Power questline, which resembles the laundry list players from Mists and Warlords remember when acquiring the legendary cloak and ring respectively. Even if you complete the second, third, and/or fourth items in that row, you can’t use them unless you finish BoP on each character you want any of them on. BoP is in effect holding that entire row hostage. In a recent livestream, Game Director Ion Hazzikostas answered a question about making BoP account-wide, and I actually agree with him on the notion that it doesn’t have to be. However, he missed the overall point of why people were asking for it to be made account-wide. BoP isn’t a problem in and of itself, it’s the fact that it’s the unlock for the entire row. If the notion of third row is to celebrate organized group content, BoP in slot one and Unleashed Monstrosities in slot two make no sense.  On Wowhead’s guide to unlocking appearances, UM is the lowest ranked in difficulty of all four slots in the row, listed as Medium.

In terms of time spent, the second slot unlocked by completing the UM world boss achievement is hardly anything. One world boss a week, eight total needed for the achievement, easy.  In fact, I got it accidentally on my main the other day. To call it ‘organized group content’ is misleading at best. Group content, yes. Organized? It’s about as organized as a birthday party of 6-year-olds hopped up on sugar and cake, armed with cans of silly string. It takes hardly any effort at all to accomplish even by my filthy casual standards.

  • Go to the WB location and queue in group finder
  • Wait a few minutes for people to show up, take 5 minutes tops to beat the boss
  • ???
  • Profit

When I’ve done WBs on my main, no one was organizing anything. No discussion of strategy, no planning for where the tanks were going to position the boss, no worries about if we had enough healers, no one cared if the hunter or warlock pets were on aggro. It really is a ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ sort of situation.

The best solution for this problem of front-loading a legendary-style questline is to flip the UM achievement into the slot one/unlock row option and put BoP in as slot two. Flip-flopping the skins to stay with the original achievements is still something to consider, but in terms of basic time to complete and effort to expend, this makes more sense.

Will it happen? I don’t foresee it being so. Hazzikostas was quite firm on a recent livestream when he said that they had no plans to change things beyond perhaps increasing the drop rate of the Corrupted Essences needed during one segment of the BoP quest chain. He added that this questline was for an unlock for a cosmetic so it’s different from alt-catchup mechanics for things like Artifact Knowledge or other things that actually affected a character’s power. Granted, but I stand firm on my point is that it’s an unlock for up to four cosmetics, and it doesn’t match the progression-style methods of the other rows’ unlocks.

The fact that this is for a cosmetic, which means it doesn’t actually matter in the grand scale of things, makes the issue even puzzling. It doesn’t matter in terms of power, so why stick to keeping four unlocks gated behind a legendary-style questline?

Watcher, pls.

 

[Gaming] WoW’s Class Buffs as a Social Tool

One of the more passively social aspects of World of Warcraft is class buffs. Before the Legion pre-patch (7.0.3), players could add limited-time buffs to other players, either via single-targeting or self-targeting in a party or raid. These class buffs used to be five or thirty minutes and not raid-wide in Burning Crusade, but were turned into 1-hour buffs until the pre-patch in July. With all the class changes in 7.0.3, this one has caused some consternation. With the default UI, many of us got used to seeing the buff icons in the upper right near the minimap, so it now looks a bit weird when they’re not there, and more than one person has caught themselves hunting for their now-missing buff key to restore the buff.

Blizzard baked much of these effects into various specs with the overhauling of the classes, so most classes and specs don’t have any buffs to offer, other than retribution paladin. While it’s easy to understand the gameplay aspect of things, to be more tactical about what kinds of characters to bring to a raid, we now lose out to some extent. Who hasn’t been out minding their own business whilst questing and then seeing the spell effect of a random priest casting Power Word: Fortitude on you as they ran past in the middle of their own business?

It took little more than a target click and hotkey press, but players buffed others even though it did themselves no real good outside of group content. When I’ve been out and about and hitting random players with Kings or Might or Wisdom (yep, ret pally here), I’d even get an occasional thank you and the other player would reciprocate with their own class’s buff it they had one. In group content, some pugs or guild groups made a game out of who’d get the last buff in before the boss pull.

I’m fairly sure Blizz wasn’t thinking of the social side of things when they redesigned ret pally buffs, for example. Before, any paladin could buff themselves and anyone in their group, and the game didn’t care how many people you hit with Kings. It’s readily evident how the new system, with only ret pallies having access to the buffs, plus with the new mechanic of one person total per buff, makes it a gameplay choice. A paladin has to decide whether to buff themselves OR a tank with Might, themselves OR any DPS class with Kings, or themselves OR a caster with Wisdom. While the selflessness of a paladin is a lore and story fantasy for the class, I can see paladins being selfish about the buffs even in group content unless threatened with a kick. Even with the DPS from a buff is reflected in the paladin’s DPS meter, it’s still a social issue.

Yeah, the social aspect of the class buffs while out in the open world is almost akin to a person who tweets support for victims of a crisis without actually volunteering or donating to help out, but it did instill a small bit of random goodness into the game that is now gone. I don’t expect Blizzard to go back to the way things were, that’s not really their style, but I will miss those open-world encounters that were about doing a good deed, not getting ganked.

Opinion: The Game Industry’s Workforce Problem

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I figured it was time to write something new.  This is an opinion post based on what I’ve observed with the game industry, mostly relating to video games versus board games or tabletop, so your mileage may vary.  In it, I will cover two main issues involving the industry’s workforce:  Crunch and Layoffs.  At the end, I will point out what I believe needs to happen for a healthier workforce.   Unfortunately, I am well aware that it would require massive change on the part of the industry to enact any of these ideas, but if no one is willing to point out the elephant in the room and name it for what it is, then no one can begin to look into alternatives.

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[Spoilers] Star Wars: the Force Awakens Belated Post-Mortem

Note: This article contains SPOILERS for the movie. If you haven’t seen it and miraculously haven’t seen spoilers on your social media, you might want to give this a miss until you’ve had a chance to see it or just don’t care anymore if you’re spoiled as to most/all the major plot points.

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