Monday, 22 January 2007

Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society.

And so I rolled a Draenei shaman in the World of Warcraft; I've always loved the shaman class, but most of my friends play Alliance characters - I like hybrids in general, I have a night elf druid and dwarf paladin currently poking their noses into the Outlands - therefore my experience of the class was limited to a level twenty Tauren shaman that I solo'd for fun one day when I was bored.

My shaman is coming along quite nicely. I would consider myself a softcore player: I like to make a bit of progress when I'm playing my characters, but I'm not fanatical and have no need to play ten hours a day, seven days a week. Recently then, my shaman has reached the level where he needs to make his way into the wider world outside of the Azuremyst Isles. This is hinted at by various NPCs around the land: 'You have grown strong my child, there are few challenges here for one such as you any more', and one not so subtle one 'Take this letter down to the docks, get on the boat to Auberdine, and GET THE HELL OFF MY ISLAND!'.

So, tail between his legs, and vowing never to do any quests for that NPC again, my shaman headed off to the wider world. And this is where the game got a little weird for me. As I mentioned, I have a level sixty night elf druid and a level sixty dwarf paladin and so I'm not exactly unfamiliar with questing in Alliance lands, but when I left the boat and walked into Auberdine everything felt really weird. I was a stranger. The places were familiar, the NPCs I'd seen many a time before, but coming here as a Draenei, especially after having reached level twenty in 'my own lands', I felt completely out of place. The feeling only grew stronger as I made the run to Ironforge.

The Auberdine to Ironforge run (or The Grass is Greener Gauntlet, named so by me, because it's usually run by low level characters that want to quest in foreign lands, because it’s ‘better’) is a well known trip: from Auberdine you take the boat to Menethil Harbour, grab the gryphon point there, and then run through the Wetlands trying to avoid being eaten by a train of the many angry high level reptiles, as you wave at people doing the run in the opposite direction with a bask of crocolisks hanging from their bum. Having been spat out by numerous venomous beasts (which you vow on your bank alt's cash reserve you'll be back to slaughter and turn into a variety of saleable items, just as soon as you work out which profession you're going to take), you make your way in to the Loch Modan area. Grab the gryphon point at Thelsamar and then run through Dun Morogh until you reach, and go line-dead, at the mighty gates of Lagforge. Ironforge, sorry.

Thankfully my shaman was of a high enough level that, should any of the local wildlife try to instigate an ambush and chase (always listen for when the non-aggressive mobs start humming the Benny Hill theme tune, it’s such a giveaway) he could dispatch them in short order, and then whip-up a nice crocolisk pouch and matching belt - all the rage in Stormwind's Mage Quarter, apparently. The feeling of being a stranger in familiar lands continued, though, and in fact grew stronger. I knew all the places, I'd been here before; I'd been here as a Night Elf and yet it didn't feel strange then; but the culture of the draenei, the starter area, the lore that is expounded when you do quests there, and the lack of very many other races for much of your time there, really makes you feel... alien. Which is exactly what Blizzard were aiming for, I suppose. I was, however, quite surprised by how much it affected me, and having reached Ironforge I hearthstoned back to the familiar surroundings of the inn at Blood Watch on Azuremyst and felt immediately at home again.

Eventually my shaman will have to venture out to the foreign lands (that angry NPC is still on the lookout for any PCs on his island, and he seems to have a pitchfork and a west country accent now) and deal with all the strange creatures that dwell there: the drunken ones with the big beards, the aloof ones with the pointy ears, and the diminutive ones with the very disconcerting dance moves.

Until then, I think I'll take a trip to the Seat of the Naaru, and wallow in the comforting delights of the prettiest city in all of Azeroth.

Friday, 19 January 2007

The nine circles of questing: The second circle.

We continue our plunge into the depths of the questing conflagration; beware adventurer for we leave the first circle and move into areas where such horrors that torment the soul abound!

Second Circle.

The second circle of questing is the one where many adventurers find themselves when starting a new character, especially if it is one that resides in an area of the game that has yet to be explored. Everything is new. Everything is easily achievable. Everything is new, achievable and progress is swift and satisfying.

The quests are still abundant, and the objectives for the quests are close by and can be carried out solo with relative ease. The item rewards are not epic, as one would expect, but the experience rewards are. At no other time does your character grow so quickly and painlessly (unless you're in the first circle, when each quest provides enough XP for you to hit the level cap three times over, with enough left over to get each of your alternative characters to mid-level).

Not only are the experience rewards good, but the death penalties are minimal; it is therefore possible in the second circle to fling your un-armoured, naked-as-the-day-you-were-born self into the midst of a whole host of foes, swing your starter weapon - usually a bit of string with a knot tied in the end - and slaughter them all, but if not, never fret, it's only a few seconds to get back to your corpse.

Life isn't all golden in the second circle, otherwise it would be the first circle and then life wouldn't have much meaning, because you'd already be an immortal deity who has merged with the game world and become one with it. Anyway, I digress. In the second circle the fresh-faced adventurer faces a new enemy: other fresh-faced adventurers. All those lovely, squeaky clean, easily achievable quests are now being undertaken by others. The nerve of some people! So even though the local wolf population is each entirely covered in ears (and yet somehow can't manage to hear a bumbling adventurer's approach, as he charges in swinging his mighty frayed-string flail of wolf filleting), finding an actual wolf to smite with extreme prejudice is somewhat of a challenge. Quite simply, new adventurers are like locusts; they're like a plague of locusts on methamphetamine and they've had a dodgy stomach for a couple of days and they've been starving themselves; so they're a little bit peckish.

'Ravenous' is to new adventurers as 'a bit ambitious' is to Ghengis Khan.

And so you leave the small hamlet that you started life in, and make your way out towards the Moderately Dank Forest of Not Much Challenge to start your quest for wolf ears. 'An easy quest!', you think. 'Everyone knows that the wolves around here have hundreds of ears each, and although they are fierce fighters when confronted, they have a strange and yet convenient weakness to string with knots tied in it! I shall do well on this quest!'. On rounding the first corner out of your home village, you see... a wasteland. As you wander further on, you can identify where the Moderately Dank Forest used to be, but now there's just nothing. No wolves; no conveniently placed aggressive mobs that always jump you when you think the area is clear to begin your attack on the wolves; no NPC's with bottomless bags and infinite gold that you can sell all your leftover wolf parts to; no trees, in fact. Nothing.

Eventually, after an hour or so of wandering, you do stumble across an NPC, stripped naked and huddled behind a boulder against the cold. As you approach the NPC to ask what has happened, a fellow adventurer - we shall call him Norom the Confounding - appears as if by magic, grabs the boulder out from underneath the NPC, shoves it into his Backpack of Convenient Size and Depth, and dashes off. Just as you recover from your utter astonishment at such behaviour, Norom darts back into view, pulls out a pair of scissors and lops the NPC's beard off in one fell 'snip!'. And then, just as quickly, vanishes into the distance.

In the end, the Moderately Dank Forest of Not Much Challenge is renamed by the local populace to The Barren Wasteland of Not Much At All, and your quest for wolf ears continues for many hours more than it should have, were it not for Norom and company. You still get your fine reward at the end, and lots of experience, sure, but as Magistrate Von Lotsakasch sings your praises and explains the wonderful and myriad uses he has for a third of a ton of wolf ears, you can’t help but notice that he has a very fine beard; a very fine beard indeed. And there’s an NPC in the next village who will reward any adventurer who can bring her enough beards to thatch the roof of her house.


Thursday, 18 January 2007

The nine circles of questing: The first circle.

On considering the varying success that players tend to have with questing, and the inevitable switch to instance or mob grinding by those who can't stand to do quests, it became apparent that there must be a different experience of questing for different players (and indeed, a different questing experience from day to day for any one player). And lo! I have pondered on what those experiences must be in order to give such vastly differing opinions on whether questing is a Good Thing or not. And so I present to you my theory of the questing underworld: the nine circles of questing.

We begin our journey with the legendary first circle.

First Circle.

If you're in the first circle of questing, consider yourself extremely lucky. Here in the first circle, the quests are plentiful, the objectives are close together and easy to attain, and Magistrate Von Lotsakasch is going to give you a pretty generous reward, even if you are only bringing him wolf ears. Again.

Your quest will have no pre-requisites at all, and the objectives are illuminated by continent-spanning rainbows; the local wild life actually fights any aggressive mobs in your way, and when they've finished clearing a path for you, some of them pick you up and carry you on their backs towards your goal. All the while, a choir of cherubs follows you along, singing songs of encouragement and praise which give you a few minor competency bonuses, but generally just make you feel good about yourself and the world around you.

When you reach the villainous bandits that you've been tasked with killing, there are no other adventurers nearby. They're not even on the same continent, in fact. The bandits form a nice orderly queue (there are no unexpected respawns in the first circle, Adventurer!) and take turns in being stabbed to death, each one giving a complementary commentary on your deftness with a blade as they die.

Incidentally, in the first circle of questing, if you're having to collect wolf ears, every wolf has enough ears to fill your entire quota in one go, they are literally roving mounds of ears on legs, and when killed, they fold-up into a handy wipe-clean carrying bag.

With the quest objective quickly completed, your escort of cherubs compose a new song in your honour, and the local wildlife sweeps you off your feet and carries you swiftly back to the NPC who gave you the quest; the NPC is so pleased to see you that he decides to double your reward, and invites you in for a nice cup of tea and bit of cake, and have you met his daughter... ?


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the fiery little corner of the Internet that I call home.

I am your profligate host, Melmoth; I would like to take those of you who are willing, those who are brave and those who are perhaps a little deranged, into the deepest, darkest corners of the blogging world. To a place that is insidious, where its denizens are in eternal torment and suffer the greatest punishments for their sins.

Yes. I will take you to the infernal plane of Massively Multiplayer Online games.

Mu ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa!

Come with me, on a journey through fire and pain.

To the world of Melmoth's Inferno!