Being Useless

Via Tobold, I discovered a very insightful blog, the Greedy Goblin. I've wondered for some time now why I'm not particularly interested in playing WoW anymore. And now I have the answer.

Greedy Goblin describes the "theory of leisure", that one of the ways to attract mates is to show that you can afford to waste money, support useless people and do nothing useful. That you can afford wrecking Ferraris, buying bling-bling and having pompous parties all of the time. Or grind faction rep, complete achivements and get that last epic item. In TBC, I justified to myself that grinding mats for shadow resistance gear was required to reach Illidan, or respeccing to Deep Fire and Leatherworking just to kill Brutallus was reasonable.

But now.. in Wrath, leisure is all you have. Why get gear when blues are enough to kill almost every raid boss? Why grind rep when you don't need the enchant? Why complete achievements when you already have a mount? Or a title? Or a tabard? That just does not make sense according to my utilitarian mindset. And therefore I don't do it.

To think of it.. some of the animosity between "casual" and "hardcore" can spring from the theory of leisure. The strawman image of the hardcore is the "no-life" nerd, who seems to subconciously think that just showing that he can devote so much time to something as useless as MMORPGs, he can make people believe that he's successful enough to be able to afford to do that, even if he's neglecting other aspects of his life. In other words, he's relying on people to commit the fallacy of non sequitur. Conversely, the strawman image of the casual flaunts his real-life credentials, saying that he doesn't need the "vestments" of being successful.. and then wants them anyway. The hardcore will ridicule the casual saying that if the casual was really successful, he could afford the time and effort to get the vestments himself. The casual will retort that the vestments are meaningless anyway, and that the hardcore are overcompensating. My part in those arguments has been to show that the vestments require less time and effort than the hardcore says they do, which devalues them. And funnily enough, it's often the casual who I end up arguing against, because devaluing the vestments also deflates their argument that the hardcore are sacrificing too much.

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.


Occupational Hazards

I've seen quite gruesome sights on this journey, but this.. Fleshworks is something else. I've heard the stories and even fought some of the abdominations myself, but I've never seen them made. The floors are scattered with spare parts. Only.. every part once belonged to a living, breathing being. Now I understand why the captain forbade us from eating before battle.

"Private! Secure that cave!"
"Yes sir!"

There's two dead Geists on the entrance. I'm not taking any chances, so I crush their skulls just to make sure. Everything's covered by soot and ichor. Disgusting.

Eventually I arrive to one of the main chambers. The cave is illuminated by candles and torches, and I can barely see the edges. There's a toppled pile of metal bars on the floor. Someone's already been here. There's a figure standing next to a smooth slab of rock, with it's back turned against me. It's wearing a long, dark robe, the shoulderpads glow with unholy light and helm is made of bones. A necromancer! And the lump on the slab can only be his latest victim. The battle outside echoes in the caverns, so he must not have heard me. Yet. I have to take this chance.

"You monster!"
My hammer is deflected from the bone spires protecting his head. He turns, and looks at me with glowing yellow eyes.
"Ow! Dat does it! Is it doo much to ask for some peace and quiet?!"
The voice does not belong to a human, and now I see the fangs. It's a troll witch. I swing again, but my hammer hits only air.
"You can rest when you are dead, fiend!"
"Here? Hardly."


Stupid. I should have saved my blessings until after the witch has hexed me. My legs are stuck in the ice, and the felfire around the witch is condescing into a spell.
"Now before ya die.. I wanna know someting. Who do ya work for?"
"The Crusade will have your head for this!"
"Wat a coincidence. I was due to visit yer nice port after dis."
"Has your brain already rotten away? The only port nearby belongs to the Scarlets."
"So yer not a Scarlet? Oh. Oh!"
The felfire fades along with the spell.
"Sorry about de misunderstandin'.  It seems dat we're on de same side today."
"Lies. Lord Fordring would never hire someone like ya."
"Ya'd be surprised. Anyway.. Meet Crusader Olakin. As ya can see, he needs some medical attention."
"By the Light, he's in pieces!"
"Indeed. Now, hand me de thread."
"What happened to him?"
"Occupational hazard. It seems dat sabotagin' one of the most powerful armies on Azeroth can have some consequences."
"What are you doing?"
"Fixin' him. Cloth, leather, flesh.. it's all de same. Saw, please."


"Dere. Now we just apply some power and.."
"I can't watch."
"It's.. it's alive. It's alive!"
"By the Light!"
"Wh.. where am I?"
"I.. I died, didn't I?"
"Feelin' better?"
"Yes.. yes. Thank you, milady."
"So.. this troll does work for the the Argent Crusade?"
"Yes. Lady Shalkis has supported our cause since the Plaguelands. Lord Fordring can personally vouch for her."
"My apologies, miss. Miss?"
"Help me up. She's probably in the fray already."


Back on Track

With Storm Peaks done, it was time to move to the other endgame zone: Icecrown. I have only completed a few dozen of the 140+ quests in the zone, and it seems that Blizzard did spare the best for the last.

Icecrown is the first zone where phasing was built-in all the way. The main plotline starts with the Argent Crusade camp, which is being sieged by the Scourge. If you listen to Tirion Fordring's and the Ebon Watcher's dialogue, the Ebon Watcher correctly observes that the Lich King is using Tirion Fordring's morals against him by using captured Argent troops as meatshields. Fordring, being unwilling to kill his own troops, won't use artillery to break the siege. And that's where you come in. After you free the said meatshields (who, being paladins, buff and heal you), you get to the next phase, where the battlefield has been cleared of friendly troops and thus you're free to use the artillery. After  you've mopped up the rest of the Scourge, there is an another phase transition and the former battlefield quiets down. Soon afterwards you'll get a quest to start the next offensive to secure the next foothold. When you complete the quest, you gain access to a brand-new quest hub that wasn't on the map before. While seeing a full-size tower appear during the ten seconds it takes to return the quest is a bit funny, it's better than the alternative.

The Ebon Blade also gains a base with phasing. The deathknight on board the Horde airship , the Orgrim's Hammer, gives you a quest to contact an undercover death knight. The agent then instructs you to defeat and recruit a geist, a banshee and an abdomination from the Scourge outpost. Those three then help you fight an elite deathknight within the outpost. When you win, the Ebon Blade takes over the outpost, bringing along blacksmiths, vendors, an innkeeper, a mailbox, a flight master and all other usual amenities. And the three Scourge you recruited before stick around as questgivers. 

So far, so good.



After understanding that getting the questing achievement in Zul'Drak is impossible without group quests, I moved on to the Storm Peaks. The realm of powerful elementals, the dastardly iron dwarves andd the majestic giants..

..who ask me to participate in a snowball fight. Using a giant. Against mobs that I can kill faster myself.

But aside from the usual problems of low respawn and drop rates, running back-and-forth, the zone isn't that bad. It's the first one designed for flying mounts and it even uses phasing reasonably. For example, there is a big iron dwarf golem that's being constructed. It's a landmark for a series of quests, and eventually the iron dwarves manage to activate it. The mandatory faction grind with Sons of Hodir uses phasing as well.. and most of the time the reputation grinders are safely hidden away and won't tag any quest mobs. Of course, not every designer got the memo about this new, exciting feature, but it's not like Blizzard's famous for their consistent quality or anything.


A Little Push

Zul'Drak, the pride and joy of the Drakkari, who are brutal even by our standards. There is a sweet smell in the air, and it's not caused by the fortresses of death looming above, or my current prey. It's despair.

Their gatekeeper fortress, Drek'tharon has fallen. Their northwest border is being patrolled by the Scourge's trophies from the Storm Peaks, and the crusaders have enroached from the southwest. Their last bastion, Gul'drak, is teetering at the edge of oblivion. Their gods have turned against them, and in turn, they have turned against the gods. There is no place to run, no place to hide, and nobody to turn to. The Empire of Zul'Drak will die. Everyone knows it, even the Drakkari. All they need is a little push.

Well, more like a series of nudges. A new Scourge champion here, a crusader there.. All meticiously noted, cross-referenced and filed away by the Zandalar. The grand themes, the personal tragedies, the troop movements, and the minor details. Except.. a certain mercenary enjoying her work.

And there's so much to enjoy.  The righteous vengeance of emancipated slaves. The joy from a renewed offensive turning first into disbelief, hatred, fear and finally despair. The confusion of a soldier who's not sure whether he's looking at the face of his savior or his executioner. The glimmer of hope re-igniting in a washed-out god's eyes. Oh, and the killing. Oh yes. This is truly a blessed land. All of Azeroth is watching, and the audience is filled with luminaries. All I can say is..

Welcome to the great show.


Melee mages!

I dinged 80 and finally got the Mirror Image, the spell which is supposed to be at par with metamorphosis or exotic pets in coolness. I popped the spell, which summoned 3 copies of myself. They didn't seem to do anything until I hit a monster with a spell. They then fireblasted and ran into melee range with the mob, only to be summarily slaughtered. Oh well, perhaps I just don't know how to use the spell.

Try #2. This time I started with a Frost Nova, and the images fireblasted and started pelting the enemy with frostbolts. So far, so good. But why isn't the mob's health budging? I looked at the combat log, which showed that the mirror images only do about 100 damage per fireblast, and around 250 damage per frostbolt. Er.. what?

Try #3, PvP. An Alliance shadowpriest used Shadow Word: Death to kill one of my mirror images, which aggroed the other two. One of them casted Polymorph:  Penguin, and the other.. casted fireblast. Great, they're not only ineffectual, they're also morons.

Try #4, water elemental. Considering that the mirror images seem to use only frostbolts, polymorph and fireblasts, I wanted to see what they would do against a frost-immune mob. Sure enough, after the initial fireblast they didn't cast frostbolt.. instead, they started meleeing the elemental. And not only that, they were doing around 600 damage per glancing blow! They're actually more effective in melee than with spells. I feel bad complaining about my copies meleeing in various quests: the AI was obviously making the most of it's abilities.


Another derailment

With the Scholazar Basin done, I moved on to Zul'Drak. Zul'Drak is a zone which is a one big city, and thus I was hopeful. I liked the city of Kurast in Diablo 2, and hopefully the designers compared their notes.

However.. the very first quests are not promising. The very first quest involves killing a 100k hp mob which cannot be snared or slowed, and hits for 2.5k. Then there's a Wolvar rescue quest, where the supposedly friendly mobs were angry at me for being saved. And then there's a quest about Drakuru, the troll whose real agenda was supposed to be the big reveal of Grizzly Hills. Er.. what? Grizzly Hills has the same level range as Zul'Drak, yet the designers expect people to fully finish one before the other? They even share an instance, with build-up quests on both sides. It seems like the people assigning levels were not talking to the people making the quests and in the process ruined a perfectly good Nice Job Breaking It Hero moment the quest guys set up at Drek'tharon. In the Grizzly Hills, you first meet Drakuru, who has been captured by your local questgivers. Because the player fights the Drakkari elsewhere in the zone, doing some quests for Drakuru seems harmless enough. Of course, unlike the other questgivers, Drakuru only sends you against the pure Drakkari, not the plagued ones. But if you go to Zul'Drak first, Drakuru is already the local taskmaster for the Scourge, not some whiny little troll in a cage. It's obvious that the quest designers wanted Grizzly Hills and Drek'tharon to be completed first, but the overlapping level ranges undermined that. 

To think of it, it seems that the same issue is behind the design of Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord. The events of Borean Tundra happen before the events of Howling Fjord, which is why nobody in the Fjord sees the sudden contact with the Taun'ka odd. I think I'll opt for clearing the Storm Peaks before entering the Icecrown, just to make the storyline seem coherent.

Oh, and there's also one quest reward which was clearly unfinished. The Fire Extinguisher has staff graphics.. but is not a staff. It has DPS, it's a two-hander and it has weapon speed and flavor text. But that's it. There's no stats at all, leaving the item useless for both melee and casters. This would have been okay in the beta, but this is not even the release version. This is the patched version, and it still has a bug that's blatantly obvious to anyone who starts Zul'Drak.