Friday, 15 July 2016

Hearthstone and HotS

The pre-patch is loaded and it can't come soon enough. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 9 months since we first killed heroic archimonde. We've been finding things to do to pass the time but I think we'd all rather have moved on at this point.

It's also been 2 months since my last post, roughly around which time I burnt out on doing battlegrounds. I rejoined the alt raids just for some variety, so I now have the legendary ring on 2 alts. Otherwise I've been playing other games, including Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, both of which I was drawn into because of WoW rewards - the Hearthsteed mount and the Graves pet - but will probably keep playing to some extent. A success for cross promotion - at least for free to play games. More on those later.

I've now got 9 characters at max level, another handful 80+, and a preorder boost to spare. But that is barely even noteworthy nowadays. In fact, observing other people that have stuck it out, it seems a full complement of alts is closer to the norm now. Even my GM who has an alt allergy has now got a max level alt and another on the way.

After recently getting the Grey Riding Camel from Uldum, I turned my attention to the seahorse mount from Vash'jir. There I found, among others, a resident multiboxer was camping every spawn point, and subsequently listing the mount on the AH for near gold cap. So I resigned that hunt pretty much immediately - I'm unlikely to "out-camp" them, and I'm not going to drop that much gold on a mount that I can't even use due to its zone limitation. But I looked the multiboxer up and found he has (at least) 50 level 100 characters!

Obviously not everyone is at this level, and hopefully Legion will bring an injection of new and returning players, but it does seem the bar has been raised amongst the players who have remained through this content lull. This is demonstrated through major gold inflation, which in turn is necessitating massive new gold sinks (ahem spider mount) and a raising of the gold cap. As an example, I'd seen TCG mounts under 100k a year ago that are now averaging well above 600k listing price. Hopefully the expansion reset and the removal of the garrison gold factories will see a shift back towards the norm.

Onto Hearthstone, it really presents well; it looks good and feels fun, but it doesn't take long to feel like you've hit a massive grind wall. The expectation for a new player appears to be that you either spend money to catch up, or spend a couple of months losing a lot before you can build the decks that will help you progress. Rewards come slowly when you aren't winning much, and cards received are randomly spread when you may want to focus on one class. Enchanting is glacially slow when you aren't receiving duplicates so that isn't much of an option either. Anddd dailies are often targeted at a particular class, which doesn't help if you haven't levelled them and unlocked the basics.

You can easily google a basic deck but they will generally only beat other basic decks. My experience seems to be, whether I play a standard deck or a C'thun deck (the free legendary card from the latest set, The Old Gods) I can keep up until the opponent plays a strong rare or legendary - and they usually do. For example, I had a chance to go up to rank 18 today on a win streak, and I appeared to be winning soundly against a paladin, until he played deathwing, and I lost from 30hp in 3 turns. I've been instantly spending all my earned gold on card packs in the hope of attaining one to complement my primary class decks, but so far I have had nothing at all. But I'm not going to buy into it, because I am generally averse to dropping money on free to play games, as I'm not a fan of the model, especially when they are not cosmetic purchases.

When they play a weak C'thun against a Gurubashi Berserker

It's not so much pay to win, as it is pay to start winning more often, much sooner. I understand that is how trading card games work - as do things like sports cards and pogs (I never got into them either) - the more you buy, you more complete your set is and the more extras you have to trade (or disenchant) to complete it. It feels different when it is attached to a free to play game, with digital representations of cards that will only depreciate in value as they are retired or when you stop playing. Physical collections at least have some chance of retaining or growing in value. Then again, digital cards can't get damaged...

It comes down to what value I would get out of the purchase. And the big problem is, I don't know. The only guarantee that you are going to get things of value to you are to keep spending. There are rare guarantees, bad luck rolls, and the enchanting system so you can't go indefinitely without a good quality card, but the whole system is just prompting you to buy more. It is easier to make one small purchase than one big one (the bait), but it is also easy to make many small purchases summing more than one big one. There is obviously a ceiling where it would no longer be beneficial to continue purchasing, as each additional pack has less value the more cards you collect. You could also 'get by' at a certain price point by making up the difference through earned in-game currency. But what are these price points? Is it approximately the same as any other retail game? Or is it $6-700? You find out by committing.

What would buying $30 worth of cards get me? Would it save me 2 weeks worth of effort and time grinding losses to reach my natural level of competitiveness? Would I enjoy the game more as a result, or simply bore of it quicker, rendering that money spent inert? Is it purely about winning - am I buying wins? If I look at it that way, it is not something I value and therefore loses worth.

All of this is really hard to quantify and basically gambling in my eyes - I don't know what I'm buying, and I can't determine the relative worth, so I choose not to participate.

Apart from that, I recognise the positives in free to play, in that it lets people try before they buy, and people who otherwise wouldn't play it, may. I also recognise that the developers need to make money. I just think the game might feel less predatory if there was something like a cap on the amount of card packs you could buy (eg set at a full retail price). The Hero DLC - now that's the type of DLC I can support, purely cosmetic. I personally think it is terrible value for money ($13 au), they should be priced a lot lower relative to the effort required to make those assets versus the base game, but as it is cosmetic I don't care at all, I simply won't buy them. It does no harm to me that they exist or if other people purchase them. Moar!

After talking to some people and reading advice it appears the way forward is to pick one relatively cheap (in dust cost) but competitive deck from google that doesn't use legendaries, craft those cards and stick with it. This usually involves disenchanting cards from classes you aren't playing to pay for it - but I like collecting them, dust is a 4:1 proposition, and I have relatively few cards as it is, so I'm not sure I'll take that option.

I have also considered buying the solo adventures. Those have a fixed price, but much like most DLC, I don't think they are good value for money, and cards from these adventures will likely get retired from standard mode at some point. We'll see.

Moving on to Heroes of the Storm. I have only briefly played other MOBAs (LoL and DotA) and they aren't really my thing. I think I enjoy HotS more just because of familiarity with the universe and many of the characters. Trying to get into LoL is completely overwhelming, HotS... not so much. I appreciate that there is a bit more variety in maps, and most of the characters I have tried have been enjoyable. One thing I have noted is that the result of the match is usually evident by the time you are half way through it, at least in random unranked matches. The lanes seem to matter far less than what I recall from other games, everyone seems to largely ignore creep and focus on hero kills as that allows you to better control the map objective (eg doubloons, seeds, tributes) to win that way. Here's the difference from Hearthstone, the payment model is great, with the rotating free character pool, and the in game currency earning rate seems balanced. All up it is "good", it's just not very exciting, and the premise is kinda dorky, kinda like those discussions kids have about whose favourite superhero is stronger. Looks like something for the odd casual game with friends, but I'm not eager to play competitively or level all the heroes by myself.

Finally, back to WoW. Finished 100 arena wins on my hunter for the season reward, then did a handful on my shaman, as LSD, immediately surpassing the best arena rating I'd ever achieved on my hunter, which was satisfying. I also got the Pureblood Fire Hawk off of Ragnaros, and reached 250 mounts.

There's still things to finish off in WoD:
  • Heirloom trinkets from mythic dungeons - 3 down, 2 to go. These are high priority as they are being removed, might have to pull out the alts over the next 2 weeks.
  • 1 more garrison boss to kill - groups for these are uber-rare as it is. I'm using an addon to alert whenever they come up but only had 1 bite in over a month.
  • 2 elusive pets and 1 mount from Tanaan.
  • Another 150-200 pet battles in Draenor for the monument.
  • Collect the music rolls for the garrison jukebox.
We're also hoping to attempt mythic blackhand and herald of the titans before the patch - but we may not be able to get the groups for that in time. It would be nice if mythic Hellfire Citadel becomes easier to go back and clear that if we have the people, even with the removal of the Cutting Edge feat of strength. The mount drop will still be 100% until Legion lands, so it would be good to have a 1/20 chance of getting it, before it becomes a 1% drop item.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Neglected content

It was encouraging to see Blizzard in their Legion Dev Update admitting to their neglect of old world levelling. They have previously brushed off any questions relating to improving it by saying 'we have new stories to tell', focusing on end-game and expansion content. But when what gets delivered there is not up to the standards set in the past, or takes an exorbitant amount of time to deliver, the excuse doesn't hold water and the whole game looks lacklustre.

I haven't had any desire to play vanilla servers, so the whole episode regarding Nostalrius and pristine servers didn't really pique my interest. But it looks like that has helped put the spotlight on what is now a terrible levelling experience, so I'm glad people are fighting for it, and hopefully some good can come from it on the live servers.

Whether you like levelling now or not, it was where so many of us first fell in love with the game. When introducing a new player to the game now, you have to make so many excuses for it, with the promise of it getting better once you reach the current expansion. Blizzard appeared to focus on the boosted experience, but WoD did not deliver enough to justify it. The same player base won't keep playing the game forever, it has to get new blood to persist, and it is hard to see a new generation of players coming through and falling in love with what exists post boost, or the mess that exists before it.

Watcher summed it up well when he said that the pacing is off, that you spend more time running around than anything else. The XP nerfs and bonuses are both a blessing and a curse; if you want to get to end game asap, levelling is an obstacle and the reduced XP makes it quick, but it is also a large part of what makes levelling so bad. Most people that want to level quickly will spam queue dungeons, where (particularly before Cataclysm) they are so easy they can just be rushed through, requiring no coordination or communication - it's just a power grind. If you don't take this path, you'll find a disjointed mess of zones that are outlevelled after a handful of quests, story arcs that never get finished as you are moved on quickly, time travelling back and forth as you traverse expansions, the rewards are mediocre to non-existent, and the whole experience is lonely and unchallenging. On one character I levelled from 85 to 90 in the first half of The Jade Forest, after which I discovered I was still wearing vanilla gear in a number of slots, including white ilvl ~30 boots.

There is so much once-great content in the old world that could continue to be enjoyed by players, with a little love. This extends to old dungeons and raids. I have long held the opinion that allowing old instances to become completely trivial is not a positive thing. I am not flatly against the idea of dungeons and raids becoming soloable, but bosses should not fall over before they can even complete their pull emote. All the effort that went into making a cool boss fight, the mechanics, animations and effects, voice acting, everything goes to waste. You cannot experience them again, just like you cannot experience the levelling zones like you did in the past.  It is no wonder people want vanilla servers.

Timewalking dungeons have provided a glimpse of what could be possible, to experience at least some semblance of the original encounters, and the zone scaling in Legion also shows promise. If these could be expanded game-wide in some fashion, it would go a long way to improving the dormant parts of the game. I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

I personally wonder whether there could be a tradeoff for using XP boosts. For example, heirloom pieces could either have strong stats, OR have XP bonuses. Perhaps if the amount of XP required was returned to old levels, you could make a deal with a goblin to sacrifice all of your non-XP quest rewards for an XP multiplier. Not really a punishment for the first 60-70 levels, but again, rewards could be tweaked. In the days of 10 million gold cap, a handful of silver for low level quest completion could probably be bumped up a bit.

I also think that if you want to power level through dungeons that's fine, dungeons could even have increased XP over questing... if they were challenging. That would go hand in hand with a foundation concept of MMOs, grouping up with others to defeat difficult objectives for better rewards. Perhaps as a start, heirlooms should not scale beyond an instance's base level. For example, if you can queue for RFD at 40, heirlooms should function as if you were level 40 in that instance, regardless of your actual level.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Uphill battle(grounds)

Another three weeks of mostly battlegrounds. A quick update on my status: up to 40+ wins in each of the 5 battlegrounds, with the following win ratio:

Full games Part games Overall
Win 122 8 130
Loss 85 29 114

40% of the way in, and I am losing enthusiasm. I'm still really enjoying doing battlegrounds when queueing with other people, but not so much when solo queueing, so my progress has definitely slowed down. I even did a raid on my alt just to break the monotony. But I am happy with the win/loss ratio even if - as per my last post - it is definitely influenced by winning/losing streak bias.

I'm considering trying enhancement again to see if that reinvigorates the motivation. I calculated that I'd need 10250 conquest to swap my weapons and intellect pieces for agility gear, and I've got just over that much banked. But I'm not confident it will change anything.

As elemental, I constantly need to remind myself that the people I'm beating soundly are most likely ungeared. In many situations, ele can be useful - for example, if you are lucky to get instant empowered earthquakes around large flag fights, they can turn the battle - but geared, skilled players of other classes can make you look silly at current damage levels. I think the most frustrating comparison is lack of escapes, even temporary ones. If you get set upon by a number of people, your defenses are inadequate, compared to the effectiveness of immunities or stealths that other classes can utilise to escape death, receive heals and reset the fight. The primary defensive you have is kiting, which just doesn't work with the abundance of slows, or when trying to defend a flag out in the open.

From what I've read elemental continues to be fragile in Legion, but may get some more damage potential, numbers pass pending. If it is bottom of the heap again, I'd be really disappointed, but would definitely prioritise changing spec over changing class, as I did in WoD.

Between queues I have been camping the Timeless Isle, hoping to collect the remaining pets and finish off the bigger bag achievement. I'm happy to say I've finally got the Gu'chi Swarmling, Ashleaf Spriteling, and Death Adder Hatchling, and I am down to one item left for the achievement: the Rain Stone from Zesqua. Hopefully I will get that very shortly, because I'm tired of camping that too.

With those pet gets, I'm sitting at 676 unique pets, 25th on the server on Warcraft Pets. I still have a few to obtain or level, but even with those I won't be able to get much higher on the ranking without dropping a lot of money, which I am not willing to do, unlike some as Dark Legacy illustrated well this week.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Battleground progress

I started keeping track of wins and losses after my last post to see how I was faring. It has been two weeks. I'm now up to ~23 wins in all 5 battlegrounds. Doesn't sound like a lot but I've added about 50 wins, or an average of at least 3 wins a day - which is probably more than what I can sustain if that takes 6 battlegrounds to achieve.

I've been separately recording win/loss for full games, and for games that I enter part way through - and I have only been recording games where I queue by myself. This will highlight the benefit of queueing with at least one person, because you effectively always get fresh games.

Full games Part games Overall
Win 37 3 40
Loss 31 17 48

So it looks like 1 in 5 games I might get put into an in progress loss. That's not too bad - it was worse early on, with an overall win rate of roughly 25%, but it's balanced up since. There is definitely a trend where Horde and Alliance do better at different times. It isn't clear what drives that, but for example I won 7 from 9 before shutdown on Tuesday, couldn't win anything the same time the next night, but won most the night after. Generally though, if I play during the day (Oceanic time) it is pretty bad for Horde. Fortunately my usual play time is nights, due to work.

The stats might be biased by these trends, in that if I lose 4 or 5 in a row I might say to myself 'today is not a good day' and quit, whereas if I win 4 or 5 games I'll keep going if possible.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Battleground binge

I only played WoW for a short time at the start of Cataclysm, and returned half way through the last patch of Mists of Pandaria, so I had a big hole in my progression, almost the size of two expansions. Catching up PvE content like dungeons, quests and raids is pretty easy, because they don't scale. I've done most of that, short of some difficult achievements like Getting Hot in Here and Show Me Your Moves! Catching up archaeology, fishing, and pet battles was a massive grind, but I have done 95% on those fronts as well. The area where I am still largely lacking progress, is in battlegrounds, but specifically those from Cata/MoP as I had completed Battlemaster back in Wrath.

I don't know why, perhaps just boredom, but over the past couple of weeks, my desire to do battlegrounds has come back with a vengeance.

I've previously gone back and finished off Tol Barad, but for the 5 battlegrounds since Cata (Battle for Gilneas, Twin Peaks, Silvershard Mines, Temple of Kotmogu, and Deepwind Gorge) my tally of wins was effectively zero. I've got up to a dozen wins for each on my hunter, as I've been PvPing on it this expansion, but I'm now back on my shaman, committed to earning achievements on my main.

I first did Ashran and the Gladiator Sanctum nemesis quests on my hunter, which I still believe was the right decision at the time, but I've since gone and done them again on my shaman, so perhaps it was not the best decision. I feel these battleground achievements are an even bigger task so it's not one I'd want to repeat later - 550 battleground wins = 1100 battlegrounds at 50% win rate. Doing 3 battlegrounds a day, it would take a year to complete.

I quickly realised that queueing for random battlegrounds just wasn't going to cut it. When you don't need half of them, but can only blacklist two - inevitably AV and IoC - then any benefit of faster queues or bonus rewards goes out the window. Queueing specific battlegrounds is better, but sometimes the queues for particular bgs just won't pop, and it is harder to convince people to come with you if you are cutting the rewards. Not that there's anyone in my guild at the moment with a tenth of the fervour I currently have for battlegrounds. My GM can't say no, but I'm not at the top of a long queue of people she can't say no to. And it is hard for me to find other like-minded people, so I'm just solo queueing it. The problem with that is, every 2nd queue pop is putting you into an in-progress game, replacing someone who quit because it's going to be a loss. After a few of those, my patience starts dissipating.

I was expecting a pretty bad time, from personal experiences to community perception, of Alliance dominance and shaman (elemental in particular) weakness. I toyed with switching to enhancement for PvP, as that is the generally better rounded dps spec, but decided against it for various reasons. The reality is... it all seems true, but it's somewhat muted.

Faction wise, Alliance do still seem stronger, but it ebbs and flows. If I ignore the games I enter that are already losses, my WL record improves significantly. There absolutely are times when you will be lucky to win one at all, but tonight for example, I entered 6-7 fresh battlegrounds in a row, and won most of them, before things started to turn sour.

Same goes for playing elemental, there absolutely are players who make the spec feel completely broken. Feral druids are the worst; but they aren't the only class I've seen competent players negate or passively heal my damage, and/or out-damage my healing surge spam. On the other hand, the strength of the team, and present numbers, matters more, and sometimes I get to be quite tanky, and sometimes I put out lots of damage. I recognise this is likely down to gear, but the point is, I usually only do terribly when the team does, and that is fine. I don't feel like a hindrance, which is more than I can say for elemental at the start of WoD, and why I can get enjoyment out of it.

So after a couple of weeks, my progress is 12-13 wins in each of the 5 battlegrounds. My shaman has caught up to where my hunter is, and I think I will be able to keep up this kinda pace until the Legion pre-patch hits - from there who knows. But if you are Oceanic/US and happen to see this and want a reliable evening bg partner, hit me up in the comments.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tracer's butt

Yeah I'm going there. I haven't been following Overwatch's development closely. It seems to me like a modern TF2, which I never felt compelled to play even after it went free to play. The player characters, however, were strong, one of the key factors to its success, and as a result have found their way into all sorts of other games and media.

One thing they weren't, as has been highlighted on numerous occasions since its release, was significantly diverse; despite a range of backgrounds and accents, they were all male, and mostly white. This is not a problem for me, it is not what I look for in a game, in the same way it wouldn't concern me if they were all female, and/or all non-white. Equally, a diverse cast is fine by me. Irrelevant, even. The only issue I see for developers is falling into the 'characters you can identify with' trap, where in trying to deliver identifiable characters for a broader range of people, you simply highlight the minorities that you don't cater for. Taking this approach, you cannot please everyone.

But I digress; for Blizzard, in [current year], I don't think there was any option but commitment to diversity for Overwatch.

And so we come to Tracer, the unofficial poster girl of Overwatch's diversity, and specifically, her tooshie. A number of people have found they identify with Tracer, and one such person came across a pose accentuating her rear end, that conflicts with their found identity. Rather than accept it as an insignificant point of difference, choosing to use a different victory pose, or dis-identifying with that character, they call for it to change. Blizzard, having been burnt by these type of people and their demands in the past, appear to capitulate by ignoring all the negative comments, approving the OP's request, and closing the discussion.

The community erupts, naturally, and we go from a situation where almost nobody was thinking about Tracer's butt, or considering her in a hyper-sexualised context, and now everybody is, examining it to the nth degree. She is now a sexual character - you have put her in the box that you didn't want her in. People are now actively debating whether, as a 26 year old, this fictional female would ever flaunt her sexuality. Congratulations.

I admit it is almost entirely down to how Blizzard handled it, and not the OP. If they had decided internally that the pose didn't suit her and replaced it with something else, rather than bringing attention to the request, there would have been no issue. Or at least nothing for the community to grasp onto.

Instead, the response, an unreserved apology and change of position, left the impression that they were at fault, that issues hold more weight if they are PC, and as a result, that the community holds sway over Blizzard on such matters. Unlike far more substantial controversies such as RealID, Diablo's RMAH, and removal of flying in WoW, where they stood fast. Kaplan's follow up explanation, and reopening of the discussion, helped - but it was forced by the community reaction. They had to own the decision to prevent future repercussions, but it was largely seen as PR and the damage was far from undone. Oops.

And so, the debate rages on. Is it a sexual pose? I don't know, is it when another character does it?

Probably not. Is it because of what she's wearing? Should figure hugging clothing be replaced? For all characters, or just females? Can large tattoed biceps and pectorals not be sexualised?

Compare the following: on the left the normal stance from behind, in the centre, the 'problematic' pose, and on the right, the same pose but from a slightly different angle.

Splitting hairs here. Why is only the centre inappropriate? This argument could, and inevitably will, go on for days. That's as far as I'm going to participate, as someone with no emotional investment in the character, or even the game. It certainly isn't going to influence my decision to purchase, and I think anyone who states they won't purchase on the back of this alone, are either overreacting or pulling their own leg. Either way, it's an idle threat, one that would not concern Blizzard one bit.

It's unfortunate that increasingly, in all walks of life, threats from the PC crowd are not treated in the same manner.

I'll leave with the following relevant video from Maddox, recalled when I read a comment or two that stated Tracer was 'presenting' /lol

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Off season

Obviously not finding much to write about at the moment. My WoW time has been decreasing and not particularly interesting; completing nemesis in Ashran again, this time on my shaman, and a lot of pet collecting and levelling. I've finally caught all the old world pets, and there's now less than 100 pets I don't have, but most of those are store bought, promotional, recruit-a-friend rewards, and collector's edition pets that I simply won't be getting. So I'm waiting for the next pet bonus week to get back to pet levelling, and in the meantime I've run into a progression brick wall. Most of what I need to do is in battlegrounds, and trying to accomplish anything there solo is not enjoyable (especially as Horde), so I'm sticking to our one PvP night a week.

In the meantime I've been playing a fair bit of Pinball FX2 - I simply love this game. I'm not brilliant at it, but with persistence and time, can get respectable scores. I've also played a bit of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for the first time in a couple of years. By the time I'd ranked up in freeplay (as I found out, now required to play competitive games) and played ~15 matches, I'd started losing interest. You need to play a lot to improve and rank up, and playing the same few maps with (at my skill level) a fair share of unpleasant people, it gets boring.