Friday, September 28, 2012

Out Here In the Fields :: Jade Forest Overview

Oh you mean click THIS shrine!

I'd intended to do a more straightforward review of the first zone of Pandaria but when I sat down to write... well, you'll see. Needless to say, if the game is capable of illiciting this kind of reaction from my subconscious, they're doing it right. So what if my questing is on rails, when they're this well made and the ride is so smooth and seemless, I really don't mind at all....

[WARNING: If you have not completed The Jade Forest questline in Pandaria, there be HUGE HONKING SPOILERS within, you have been warned.]

Some days, I am really very upset that I have to be allied under anyone's banner.

I know, you have to pick a side. I went with the Blue guys because, as a whole, I considered their actions to be acceptable in the face of the large number of different threats we've had to battle throughout the years. Onyxia, for instance, was personal. Ragnaros Mark 1 (and even Mark 2) was justified. Arthas was our fault (and frankly it should have been seen coming well before it became a problem) and I feel that anyone carrying the blue colours was justifiably made to suffer because of the mistakes that were made. Our King was, to put it lightly, a tool for quite some time. He's getting better at leadership, but his parenting skills need some work.

The Burning Legion is everyone's problem, but I digress.

When I heard of the destruction of Theramore, I can't say I was really that surprised. Its proximity to Orgrimmar has always been a problem, a perennial thorn in the side of expansion and conquest, which is what large sections of those who haul the red banner consider is their primary task. I mean, you just have to look at Sylvanas' creative use of Vykrul and her adaptation of (the late) Putress' experiments in chemical warfare to understand that solving internal  problems is not something the Horde consider a priority. Everyone appears to have their own agenda,  Garrosh being very much at the top of that particular chain of command and frankly, he's not acting in either a particularly fit or sane manner of late. Whatever the excuses (and no I'm still not going to read a book to explain it) Theramore has made the Alliance mad, and when humans get angry nothing ever good will ever come of it.

Hence I find myself dragged to a new land on a mission to find Varian's son, lost on the shores of a vast continent that has suddenly appeared from nowhere... except actually, I know this land. I've heard stories, whispers of a Panda called Stormstout who came to the Orcs aid long ago at (guess where?) Theramore, but refused to take sides. I've learnt since that he's not actually from this place but another faction of the same race, from a Giant Green Dragon (no that wasn't the beer talking, before you ask.) The key point here is that Stormstout wouldn't give allegiance to either of our banners, instead choosing to wander the world in search of adventure. When I think about it, he and I have a lot in common in many respects (love of beer notwithstanding) but I think even he's going to be pissed when he sees what my guys and the Horde managed to bring from the Earth in the Jade Forest. I know all about the Old Gods: I saw what C'Thun could do, still shudder at the monstrosity unearthed in Uldum. There's some evil and terrifying stuff buried beneath the ground. In Pandaria, their evil has most definitely been Supersized.

The worst thing about all of this is that really, had I given the matter sufficient thought, I could have seen this coming the moment I got on the Sky Carrier. I felt ill having to bomb the Horde in such a flagrant fashion, and when told to fire on unarmed orcs as they approached the jetty... I suppose it could have been an illusion created by the Sha but you know, it still didn't feel right. It should never be the done thing the moment you set foot on a new and unexplored land to arm the first set of hapless natives you come across and then get them involved in your fight, but that's exactly what happened ON BOTH SIDES. You couldn't have written that final confrontation any better at the Jade Serpent if you'd tried, and it appears that at least one thread of Pandaren History had already prophesied this was EXACTLY the kind of thing that could happen under the right circumstances. There is this occasional tingle of inevitability about certain moments: call it spider sense, if you like, but the first time I walked into the Jade Temple I just knew something bad was going to happen, and I was going to end up responsible.

That's something of an understatement, considering the utter chaos we've managed to unleash.

The Jade Forest is a beautiful place: helping the natives was a pleasure and even the threats I found myself facing didn't seem as terrible as those that have preceded this but now... Everything has a distinctive Sha taint. I am reminded of the Legion, of the Scourge, even of the Twilight's Hammer... those who see the darkness just beyond my peripheral vision and are irresistibly drawn to it. Those people whisper in the ears of the Admirals and the Warchiefs and make them do stupid things that ultimately only end in me having to turn up with some friends and clean up after. I suppose, on reflection, there is no way to avoid the trauma and destruction I've helped unearth in Pandaria. I'll be spending the next couple of years making things right again, just like I have all the times before.

However, there's a key difference this time around, and it is significant. This is especially personal, and the continent feels deserving of rescue than even Azeroth the planet has done before. I sense inside the stirrings of devotion and pride the likes of which I can remember from Molten Core, from Alganon, the moments when it stopped being just about beating the bad guys because that was the thing to do. Pandaria didn't ask for this to be wrought upon it, even if the disaster was foretold in prophesy. We came and made it happen. Two banners, completely out of place on a land filled with beauty and serenity, bound by simplicity and care. We drop from the sky and ruin it for everyone, and now there is a real compulsion to make right the mistakes people higher up the chain of command have dictated. Anduin, Varian's son, is suddenly not just the awkward teenager with no place in the scheme of things. He saw an opportunity and stepped up, could have left but chose to stay and now he forms the vanguard of a new way forward. If there's one member of my own faction I genuinely feel proud of right now it's him. Maybe youth has much to teach us in how to deal with the problems we perennially place ourselves within.

As I leave the Jade Forest I know I have to put right what the Alliance has destroyed. The question then becomes, who will aid me in this task? Is Chen Stormstout really the legendary figure who can help me with these answers? More importantly, what will become of those who survived the disaster at the Jade Serpent?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Farming Today : One Elf Went To Mow...

We had a haircut :D

Many of you are well-aquainted with my Mogging Hunter. She logged in for the first time last night with one task in mind: to get to Halfhill Market and start a Tillers Farm. There appears to be a fair bit of misinformation on exactly how the Tillers work, so lets try and use this first (of what is likely to be many) 'I Own a Farm' Reports in clearing up some key details:

  • YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE L90 to start a farm. 85 is perfectly fine, but once you have completed the sequence I'm about to detail you won't be able to quest or gain rep with the Tillers until you're at 90.
  • You can get to Halfhill without massive difficulty on the day you start levelling, which will give a vital 22 hour/2 week start on your farming career depending on your L90 ETA.
  • You WILL WANT A FARM if you want to a) save money b) make money and c) level cookery. You don't NEED a farm to do any of these, but the potential is there for the canny amongst you.

Right, now that's cleared up... you're 85, and for the purposes of this guide you are Alliance (but the Horde amongst you can work this out I am sure) You need to complete the opening quest sequence that gets you onto your flying warship of choice and then onto Pandaria. Next up, travel to Halfhill:

I didn't even bother completing the quest. TOO MUCH TO DO!

The trip from the Alliance starting area takes you north, the Horde come down from the south, but you use main roads and most, if not all combat can be avoided if you are squishy. I however am a miner/herbalist and (as you can see) I may have taken advantage of the plentiful spawn rates on the way to the Jade Forest/VTFW Border. I also snagged a rare spawn on the way through the Nectarbreeze Orchard: be warned, these guys are hard kills so if you're not packing a lot of dps you may wish to avoid them until you do.

When you get to the Jade Forest border, its pretty much plain sailing on the way to Halfhill:

Again, no exploring, just GET TO THE FARM!

Once you get there, try not to squee and/or panic too much at the Cookery stuff. That's a post for another day. We're here to meet our new best friend:

Me and the Farmer ^^

The key here is the fact that the basic mechanic of this 'game' (growing things!) can happen from the moment you arrive: all the fancy stuff (reputation, rewards, respect of the farming community) comes later. The starting point are crops: four 'slots' which you place a selection of vegetable seeds (and later other stuff) which grow into plants, all of which are used in Cookery recipes. This isn't the sole supply of these veggies: you can buy them, or they have a chance to drop from various creatures around Pandaria. The key factor here is these thing grow WITHOUT YOU. Set them off in the morning and by the time you return the following day you'll have stuff worth more than the seeds you planted. Over time you may not need to buy seeds at all, as those can also be harvested from your crops

Currently, carrots on my server are selling at 75g EACH. Although this price will never be sustainable, it does indicate that there is a good chance that excess crops will have some value. It's time to get our hands dirty and start questing!


Time to get your hands dirty...

Yoon's a city boy, who freely admits he's clueless in the ways of Halfhill's thriving growing community. He'll ask you to remove 8 stubborn rocks from his property when you first meet him, and after you do his 'neighbours' arrive to give him a hard time: the state of his farm, his inability to actually grow anything, nothing is sacred. Imagine this is an episode of 'The Simpsons' and Fat Tony's turned up to give Homer a hard time and you'll get the general gist.

They can talk, they don't even LOOK like Farmers... ^^

With the gloves off, Yoon's determined to make a go of the farm and enlists your help. You'll be sent to buy some cabbage seeds, and then asked to till and plant two plots of land. This is how things go whenever you want to place any new crops:

  • Till your soil. Seeds cannot be planted until you do.
  • Buy your seeds. After time you will begin to harvest your own. Expect a Farmer's Seed Bag in an upcoming content patch ^^
  • Plant your seeds.
  • Deal with whatever 'unexpected consequence' occurs when you do.

The tilling and planting are explained to you via quest, and you'll find as soon as your cabbages are planted that they are Parched, and you will need to locate the Watering Can found on the farm to remedy this. There is also a Bug Spray (which you'll need once you plant your own crops) and a Spade, which can be used to dig up a misplanted seed. There are 8 'unexpected consequences' that can randomly befall your crops:

  • Alluring: Attracts a bird which needs to be killed.
  • Bursting: As soon as it is planted, it can be immediately harvested. RESULT!
  • Infested: Bug Spray time!
  • Parched: Watering Can time!
  • Runty: Use the green arrow to interact and press 'Space'
  • Smothered: Use the green arrow to interact and press Button 1 until the infesting weed is removed.
  • Tangled: Use the green arrow to interact and then move away from the crop to 'break' the weeds.
  • Wiggling: Attracts virmen, possibly 2 maximum. No time for traps... ^^
  • Wild: This one resulted in a six minute fight with a carrot yesterday until I worked out how to do it. Use the green arrow to interact and use the 'Flex' ability to build 50 stacks. Use button 2 'Gnaw' to interrupt the weed's slam.

Left is Ripe, Right is Plump . That's an ENORMOUS Turnip!

Once fully grown, you are likely to get one of two types of harvestable crops: Ripe should yield five of your choice of vegetable or berry, Plump will give you something extra: it may be more of your planted item, it could be seeds and (I have had confirmed this morning) it is possible to harvest items that can be handed over for the next part of the rep grind once you hit 90.

It is also possible once you have harvested your crops you will find weeds that remain (pull them out) or more virmen in your piles of untilled soil, which will need exterminating... ^^  Thank you to guildies and Yoco for this additional information.

We should mention the L90 part of this grind, and will come back to the story of your farm once P is 90 herself.

P makes Yoon a Happy panda. BOO to Silver ! though :D

Yoon asks you to take a gift to Gina Mudclaw, the Tillers Quartermaster (and therefore someone you want to know) and introduces the concept of Character Reputation. Instead of factions there are 10 individuals scattered around the Halfhill area of the Valley of the Four Winds, all of whom can be given items to increase your standing with them. However, none of this is important until you hit 90. For now, all we want is Gina on our side, and once we have you'll have to stare at that silver ! as I am until we're at max level. While you level, make sure you plant crops and harvest the spoils because all of them will be useful for Cookery or to sell on the AH.

Oh, and one last thing before I send you off with this autographed picture of Percy Thrower (Target Audience Reference #161) to start your own smallholding: seek out Jogu the Drunk. He's by the cookery trainers and for 25g a day he'll tell you which vegetables will give an extra yield the following day. While one carrot is selling at 75g, you could do a lot worse than take his advice (and once you get to 90 you can be his friend via quests and get the info for free)

So, what are you waiting for! TO THE FARM!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Out Here In The Fields...

I like my legumes LARGE :D

Yesterday was probably one of the most significant days of my life so far.

That's a big statement, but I feel I can qualify it in context where it matters. Needless to say, its taken this long for my brain to get to a state where I'm able to distil stuff to the screen, so I should apologise to you good people for the radio silence yesterday, on what was also a fairly significant day for the Game. As is often the case, time does not give you the luxury of waiting. Stuff just happens. The full story of WHY yesterday was so significant will become clear in time, but until then let us focus on the actual matter in hand: Mists has been out 1.5 days. I am not level 90. I do not possess a Realm First (huge kudos to the many of you out there reading who do, you should feel justifiably proud of your achievement) What I do have however is an XP bar, a bag full of cookery ingredients, and no real idea of what I want to do next.

Everything is a possible Achievement. HOW COOL IS THAT!

Once the chaos of Launch Nite had subsided, I woke up with pretty much only one thought in my head: GO EXPLORE. The overriding desire to just steam through the content as quickly as possible to get 90 against my name was never a priority to begin with anyway, but as I took the time to explore (and clean up skins, thanks frantic questers!) I could almost feel the Zen calm washing over me. Everything was a possibility: go start a farm (CHECK) do some Pet Battles (needs work) Seek out a Rare Spawn (CHECK) and just generally make my fellow members of #TEAMFAFF proud. I found myself deliberately skipping quest givers after a while, happy to tag along with my Husband when he's home and do that side of business as he does. Instead I'll go wander, pick up Archaeology (Rare in Progress), do some fishing (love the crates I keep fishing up with Darkmoon Stuffs in them) and when 90 turns up, we'll worry about that then.

Me and Dubya the Bug. 10 points if you get the reference.

There really is just too much to take in for my brain at present: SIX branches of Cookery (all being trained) with a way to shovel all my spare stuff into Tokens. Many, many Battle Pets not going on the AH AT all currently, (new plan formulated there) and everything else in-between has demanded I rationalise myself a bit. As a result, this is probably what I'll do every day for the next week or so:

  • Log in P
  • Update new armour items in SW, mog them at the same time
  • Send various stuffs to other alts for useage/destruction
  • Portal To Pandaria
  • Fly to MY FARM (suckered as charged) to harvest previous days crop.
  • Plant new crops
  • Check Cookery Quest Status
  • FAFF

What else happens... well, who can tell?

I did manage to run both the Stormstout Brewery and the Temple of the Jade Serpent last night: once as a healer and once as dps and on first impression both are going cause some issues for the unwary, while at the same time be entertaining for at least the first six months. As to whether the gimmicks will get old? DONKEY KONG. Nuff said :D

I'll do a Day 2 update later, but even with the stuff ups in the first 2.5 hours of launch yesterday was pretty impressive. If things continue like this, I'd say Blizzard is onto a winner.

Monday, September 24, 2012

This Week, I will be Mostly...

My New Wallpaper :D

Any questions?


Carry on...!

Always Off...?

Some people just want to play their own way... ^^

Some people don't like PvP.

I'm not one of them, as it happens. I enjoy wading in and having a good biff, I suspect because I began my career in Warcraft doing just that (I moved from PvP to PvE to play with my husband). Early experiences tend to lead to such enthusiasm, of a desire to take part in all the aspects that a game has to offer. However, I realise that one of the overriding reasons why Warcraft has maintained its popularity for so many years boils down to the vast number of ways it can be played. That inevitably includes those (including my husband and a fair number of people in my Warcraft gaming sphere) who don't give a rat's ass about PvP at all. They are here to play a game, albeit steeped in combat, but one that does not include a conscious decision to engage other real players in battle.

With the upcoming expansion, we are placed in a situation where the game is pitting us against each other at every turn: questing becomes an Us v Them scenario. I see with the introduction of Cross Realm Zones that many people, regardless of their realm status, want to escalate the tension and the fights regardless of what others might consider acceptable behaviour. There's a problem with this however: some people, mostly found playing their games on PvE realms, aren't interested in anything other than the pre-arranged battles in the upcoming expansion. They don't want to engage in World PvP, they're not bothered with Battlegrounds, they simply want to play the game in a style that is roughly akin (ironically) to those who Twink, turning their XP off to enjoy a certain level of BG action.

They want to turn PvP off altogether.

There is a fundamental problem with such a stance, the way things currently stand. Look at the title of the game we play. It's a World of WARcraft, guys! You can't ask to turn off a part of that just because you don't like being ganked when you accidentally click on the stupid flagged mage who appeared in your pile of aoe-d mobs. You need to be more careful, you need to embrace the conflict and the thrill of the graveyard camping... actually, you know the problem with seeing both sides of an argument? Its the fact that you always end up unconsciously deciding your position is more morally upstanding. Its inevitable, because even when both differing stances have merits you'll always fall on the side with the greater emotional attachment. Yes, non PvP-ers should suck it in, they should fight and heal and rez regardless. No, actually, they should get respect for what they want, just as much as everyone else who plays a niche in this game (and I know there are many, many of those. I don't get RP, but that's a post for another time.)

The problem then becomes how to implement a TRUE PvE environment.

With CRZ introduced, the LAST thing Blizzard are looking to do is introduce any new kind of server designation, but I reckon if we could create a couple of True PvE Realms they might get a fair few takers. It would be a place with no World PvP AT ALL: in fact, all PvP zones would be turned off. No Outland targets in Hellfire or Zangermarsh, World Arenas disabled, no Captain's Chest in Stranglethorn or Darkmoon Faire Pit Fighting... I know just how much World PvP is placed around the environment even in PvE. There are people conversely who just don't care, they simply want to quest and do dailies and raid and five man without ever having to touch any of these 'challenges', and they do. The advent of CRZ has heightened the irritation of many who are now forced to adapt their play style to avoid opportunism from many of those ON THEIR OWN SERVERS in taking HK's and forcing a change in other's statuses. I think PvP really needs to be consensual on both sides, don't you?

The True PvE server therefore is never going to happen, because design is defaulted to PvP (for good reason, see game title ^^ ) The other viable alternative therefore becomes an 'Always Off' setting for PvP. I reckon for it to actually work you'd need a 30 day CD on it, so once it's on there's no going back. I'd bet if the option was offered most people wouldn't care about a cooldown anyway because they'd simply turn it off and move on. These people would not be bothered if the Stormwind King got attacked and people begged them to help. They'd simply avoid the quests with a PvP element and do something else (yes, I'm looking at World Events too, I genuinely believe that some people would be happy not to be involved in the School of Hard Knocks at any point :P) This is what they do anyway, so why cater to them to begin with?

That's also a good question, and I go back to Twinkers as justification for suggesting such an ability should even be considered. For starters it's niche, but it is popular. It doesn't bother anyone else and it does not hugely impact on the rest of the game world. In fact, the only people who know they've turned their XP off are the people who have, everyone else just carries on as normal. The only way a CRZ griefer would know they'd encountered an Always Off player is when they try to kill them 'accidentally' and can't: the problem then comes with how people would react when this happened. The key difference I'd make with this is not to have it as an in-game function, but available like Parental Controls are now, at the account level. This would allow those people who wanted to remove PvP across a single account, rather than having to do it on a character by character level in game.

I really don't think such a change would have a massive impact on the game world, if off really meant OFF: no rezzes, no entry to BG's, no World PvP participation. Turn your PvP to 'Always Off 'and then even if you did try to do summat you'd be presented with in-game message 'This character is unable to participate in any PvP activity. Visit Battle.Net in order to change your status.'

You know, if Blizz were smart they could even charge 5 Euros for it. I'm betting people would pay.

For many of you reading this, such a change would be a completely pointless exercise. However, I'd genuinely be interested to know how many people would consider such a change not only welcome but something they'd be keen to adopt.It would make one of the biggest concerns amongst the people I know who play on PvE vanish almost overnight. PvP would become part of the game that other people take part in, and not something you can get dragged into without your consent to begin with.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

From the Delta to the CRZ...

Yeah, I know... ^^

Cross Realm Zones are generating a healthy amount of discussion.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit on (apart from the two of you enjoying the challenge of balancing) CRZ is like Marmite: you either love it or hate it. Part of me wished they'd tested it considerably more than they have before rolling it out to live (text in triplicate is really beginning to annoy) but on the whole, I'd say I am an advocate. The increase in population to both Ironforge and Dalaran, for instance, makes my eyes fill with nostalgia for the days when every city bustled as Stormwind does. However, there are some distinct disadvantages, especially if PvP is your thing... or rather, as was the case this morning with my husband's Pally, it most definitely isn't.

He ended up in a fight with a flagged Mage doing the Firelands Dailies. He didn't want to flag himself but the Mage kindly came and stood in the pile of mobs he was fighting, and an unintentional click was all it needed. Cue much annoyance from him (and the mage reduced to 1% before he blinked and vanished) and what I think can be considered a lively debate on how this is possible on 'our' server, which we joined because PvP should be our choice, not foisted on us by opportunism. The problem is that we are no longer on a PvE Server, we are in a zone with no clear set of rules. There's nothing to stop anyone on flagging themselves and starting a fight, of course, but choosing PvE will (in most cases) allow you the luxury of not looking over your shoulder every 20 seconds... except that's no longer the case.

Some fundamental rules have quietly changed with the introduction of CRZ, and Blizzard will need to address them.

Quite apart from the rather significant issue with Fishing Contests (which I am staggered no-one worked out would be exploited) the conflict element of CRZ's may, over time, create more problems than it solves for those who enjoy a nice bit of World PvP now and then. There are numerous possible solutions to the problem: make PvP a very physical toggle (and if someone marks themselves as non-fightable they remain that way, even with an accidental click on someone who is) change the way mobs are marked (red is the colour of an enemy mob, purple of an enemy player) are two that have immediately surfaced via conversations on Twitter. The overriding feeling I am getting from the comments I've read is simple: people want a choice they are not being given by default. In principle CRZ's are good idea, the problems come when people are forced into conflicts they have not asked for or are not used to encountering in their normal daily 'lives.'

The killer here is there is no way to change this situation, without a massive increase in player population. This will happen next week (I suspect) but after that... if CRZ's have been instigated to avoid the PR-disaster that would be server closures, then there needs to be some significant rethinks. Place only PvE servers together, so people who consistently grief by flagging can be reported. Make sure that when you enter a zone a warning appears on your screen, so there is no issue what you are letting yourself in for. Education is the key: my husband won't be going back to the Firelands now, knowing what could potentially happen if he did.

Most important of all, the next time you roll out something as potentially-life changing as this Blizzard, make sure people know EXACTLY what they are getting by entering a CRZ.