[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.


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] 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] Winter and Holiday Music in Video Games

Winter is my favorite season of the year. While I might prefer spring and autumn in terms of temperatures, in temperament, it’s all about winter. Despite the poor traffic conditions, people complaining about the cold, and having to put my ride in the garage the few times every winter that it actually snows or ices up enough to warrant it, I find more peace in the winter months than any other time of the year. Ironically, I tend to be more depressed around the winter holidays because I can never spend time with family or friends for various reasons, mostly due to work and all of them living so far away. Still, winter is when my favorite constellation Orion the hunter marches high in the night sky, so all is well.

When it comes to the video games I play, winter-themed zones and holiday events tend to resonate with me in some fashion. Aside from the blue-tinged snow and ice covering the landscape, I find there is an overall tone to much of the music that game composers use for their winter areas. Whether you’re roaming Hoth in Star Wars the Old Republic, flying through Dun Morogh or Dragonblight in World of Warcraft, or trying not to fall into the deadly abyss outside Snowhead Temple in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, there seems to be an aural commonality to the themes used in these areas. Some of my favorites are pieces that play in Belusran Winter Field from the game Aion. To me, there is a kind of serenity to these places and it’s mostly due to the music.

Now I’m not a musician, so my impressions are from someone who merely knows what she likes and only occasionally why that might be. Certainly, you won’t find any music theory coming out of me beyond the basic layman’s appreciation for the art form. Most of the wintry music I notice focuses on a single stately melody featuring piano, harp, or a flute. The melodies tend to be slow and elegant. With the addition of hollow wind sounds in the background, like in the Ice Cavern of Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, it often completes the imagery of a bleak and desolate area.

While not entirely meant to be a winter seasonal theme, the primary zone theme in Frostfire Ridge in WoW‘s Warlords of Draenor xpac hits on this as well. That theme is called ‘Magnificent Desolation’, and its composer Russell Brower once said during a performance at Gamescom that he named the song after Buzz Aldrin’s remarks upon setting foot on the Moon, calling the lunar landscape a magnificent desolation. Frostfire Ridge certainly warrants the homage. Brower also hit that particular nail on the head almost a decade ago with the opening and closing riffs in the theme to Wrath of the Lich King, since of course most of the action is set on the continent of Northrend, a most inhospitable land on Azeroth.

While other holidays get their own music, I keep finding myself gravitating to the ones around winter holidays in-game as well. One of my utterly favorite composers, WildStar‘s Jeff Kurtenacker, did winter arrangements of both faction’s capitals’ themes, making them these grand traditional holiday themes with jingle bells in the background, sweeping French horns, churchbell chimes, the whole nine yards. Of course, WildStar‘s winter holiday event is all about consumerism rather than a more sentimental form of holiday, so his department store commercial music with a pulp sci-fi twist was utterly perfect for it. EverQuest II also went with altering their theme music in Frostfell, mixing it in with some traditional RL Christmas tunes like ‘Jingle Bells’.

For the first time, even World of Warcraft got into the new holiday music thing this year. In their two main holiday hubs, Ironforge and Orgrimmar, and also the Greench’s cave where people go to save Metzen the Reindeer (*sniffle*), players who hang around can hear one of several variants of the same tune. It’s a soft melody that invokes the spirit of the season, whether the lead in each variant is a chorus, cello, piano, or woodwind. I find each variant to be rather peaceful and reflective, and in a holiday season where my mother spent much of the week before Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia, somehow it was the thing I needed the most.

Without realizing it, all of these wonderful composers who write music for the snow-covered landscapes in their games, they all get me. I look forward to hearing these pieces of winter and holiday music, and any new ones in future games, with quiet anticipation.

Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges!

WARNING:  This blog is over 6,000 words long and has a ton of images in it.  If you’re on mobile and with limited data, please wait until you get home on a full uncapped internet connection, cos I ain’t responsible for your overage charges. 😀  I’d considered breaking things up into separate blogs for each badge and lanyard, but the narrative wove between the lot, so it was easier to do it this way.  That said, do enjoy and then go out there and make something yourself!  The world could always use more art, to paraphrase a heroine featured on one of the badges I made.

That being said…

The Great BlizzCon 2016 Badge Project

Continue reading “Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges!”

[Gaming] Vol’jin

WoW has a leadership problem. I’m not talking about the executive team at Blizzard Entertainment, but rather how Blizzard writes the leaders of their MMO. The history of the Warcraft universe has never been one of much peace because peace is boring and hello, it’s not called Peacecraft. However, as players who focus on one of the two primary factions to the exclusion of all else, we can see how each faction is treated by Blizzard, how their leaders are written, and we tend to get riled up when we see our faction losing out to the other. Myself, I’m primarily Alliance-leaning, although I play Horde almost as much. I can see both sides of the argument as a proper moderate should.  The rest of this article will contain massive spoilers for the upcoming expansion Legion, including the Broken Shores instances currently live in-game.

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