Category Archives: I like shinies

Favorite MMO things: Mounts

I was never a big mount collector in MMOs, the way I am/was for gear or companion pets in the past. There was a time in WoW when I belonged to the top pet collectors on my realm, long before Pokémon became a thing in WoW. I remember when Blizzard started adding more and more of everything, halfway through TBC everyone was farming Stratholme, Zul’Gurub and Kharazan for mounts and then the whole protodrake-this and that trend kicked off, the rest is history. Today, players own literally hundreds of mounts and pets in WoW.

Me and my bud in LOTRO

Me and my bud in LOTRO

Very early into the mount mania, I was put off by the sheer amount of often sameish or else ludicrous mount design that bugged me for its silliness. Giant chicken and fetish polar bears are funny for a split second before they become eyesores. I realize, I am a conservative when it comes to picking my own transport companions though; I like horses, adored my horse in LOTRO for its realistic riding feel and sound effects. When it’s not a horse, I’ll most likely choose something that feels either natural to theme and setting or at least part of an established race (or else device) from fantasy fiction. So my favourite mounts are generally –

  • Horses
  • Dragons
  • Wildcats / Lions
  • Gryphons / Eagles
  • Magic/Mechanical devices

Oh and I don’t enjoy switching mounts frequently, either. You know those randomization macros for mounts and pets in MMOs? Yeah, don’t like them! Makes me feel as if I was a zoo-keeper rather than adventurer. Where am I keeping all those animals, Hermione’s bottomless handbag?

That’s not to say I don’t understand the collector’s drive, I do! I’ll check out whatever mounts come my way, sometimes I’ll even get a goofy one (usually for seasonal events) as long as it’s either free/cheap or easy to acquire. I won’t spend any cash on all the mounts however and I certainly wouldn’t grind any, unless the game forced me to. Still, no matter how many I own, I end up using the same one or two most of the time. I like thinking of my mount as companion, the way they are named in FFXIV. When MMOs give you a naming option for your mounts or pets, that’s a big plus in my book. Oh and taming your own mount, what ever happened to that feature?

Speaking of which, I currently own about 15 mounts in FFXIV, most of which were given to me as quest rewards or else as subscription deals. FFXIV doesn’t come with an awful lot of serious horse options, so I actually acquired Odin’s steed via the cash shop, which was money well spent. I also like my Chocobo because it belongs to Final Fantasy the same way mogs do. They are treated respectably in FFXIV with tons of cosmetic options similar to LOTRO’s horses. And the dragon mounts from the current expansion are just fantastic, I’d happily trade 20 different WoW protodrakes for my Midgardsormr and Twintania!

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My favorite FFXIV companions

There are plenty of ludicrous, huge and nasty looking mounts in FFXIV too, in case you were wondering. Some of them are mind-bogglingly large and one or two, like the Bomb Palanquin, make me laugh whenever I see them. Yet somehow they still feel more natural within the Final Fantasy setting, maybe because this franchise has always had its frivolous, bizarre moments. Either way, I’m sticking to my horses and dragons – I am boring that way.

2015 Q3: A Busy time for Geeks and Gamers!

2015 has been a great year for MMOs, for me anyway, and I find myself struggling to keep track of all the goodness ahead this Q3 and beyond! Fall tends to be the time for gamers and geeks and some of us may soon find themselves in dire need for holidays to catch up with games, movies and other shenanigans.

Awaiting in Games

FFXIV is about to drop the 3.1 content patch soon which in good old SE fashion means a lot more of everything. Wildstar is transitioning to free-to-play tomorrow and I will be swimming in the new shop currency due to my past CREDD purchases. And anyone burning for raiding and healing in GW2 just got to hear the latest news about druids coming to Tyria.

That’s only as far as MMOs go for me. I am also looking forward to Jotun releasing tomorrow (check out the beautiful trailer!) and The Witcher 3’s first expansion pack coming out October 13th! Fallout 4 is due in November of course and also, ARK is still on my list of things to check out (currently on discount via Humble Bundle). Good times.

Awaiting in Movies

I’ve not been to the movies in a while, mostly because summer is for BBQ and river baths, but am definitely going to see the following new features as soon as they hit cinemas in Switzerland (which tends to be either sooner or much later than elsewhere, it’s odd):

Awaiting in Books

I used to read so much. In recent years, blogging, social media, podcasting and what else have left a mark on my reading schedule. I am still not an e-book person however and now that winter is slowly creeping up on us and it’s time for snuggling up in front of the fireplace again, I got around ordering a few books I’ve been meaning to read:

The other day, the postman also delivered my Chris Riddell illustrated book set of Neil Gaiman tales, so that’s what I’ll be doing over the weekend when I’m not playing Jotun or Wildstar. Which new games, movies or books are you looking forward to this Q3-Q4?

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Lamenting Cover Art [#Blaugust 27]

Coming across an amazing Castlevania cover the other day on twitter, it hit me how much I miss the old game covers for videogames. I remember how we revered those boxes of nes and snes titles in the early days – how bold and colorful and over-the-top epic many of them were!

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What happened? Okay, for one we entered the digital age of gaming. I admit I don’t miss the dust settling on rows of physical game copies. Still, I appreciate great concept art for games, posters, teasers, thumbnails in my Steam gallery. There’s no reason why digital gaming should go coverless, is there? Elaborate covers are a chance to tell a story within mere seconds. Like a main theme, they can sell a promise and herald things to come. They are someone’s vision of what the game should be, could be. They are distilled like poetry.

UOcover

Do not even attempt to compare this to WoW cover art.

But who has time for poetry these days?

[FFXIV] In Heavensward, everyone is dressed for the Occasion

I hit level 58 tonight in A Realm Reborn and between catching my breath because of what’s happening in the main storyline and looking for aether currents everywhere, I need to give this expansion some serious props in terms of gear design – omigosh, it’s all so pretty!

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Aurin race set (leftmost) and some caster sets between lvls 50-57.

Gear details have always been stunning in FFXIV (they’re all in 3D which helps a lot…) but adventurers starting out in early Eorzea had to put up with many a yellow burlap sack and baggy clothes in the past. Not so in the expansion: Heavensward is packed with armor sets from the get-go and they are all new and shiny and easy enough to acquire through questing or dungeons. I especially love the baroque and gothic vibes of some of my black mage’s gear and feel the class is properly treated for a change!

It’s rather remarkable how SE aren’t stingy on providing all this gear without demanding blood sacrifice. While good-looking and matching gear (weapons included) is hard to come by in many MMOs, it is impossible to underdress in Eorzea. And for my part, I find this very motivating.

[FFXIV] Happy Heavensward Launch and the Evolution of Me

This fine Tuesday June 23rd, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn got its very own, first expansion, an event which begs for a moment of recollection. For such a long way this title has come: this ship that had almost sunk into the morass of disastrous MMO launches, somehow managed to do the nigh impossible and turn its course around, establish ARR as a brand new title with over 2mio subscribers to date, and release an expansion packed with new content. It may have been a rocky road, yet across the finish line shines a title rivaling all other fantasy-themed MMOs currently on the market. Chapeau really, to all the folks at SE who made this happen!

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Despite their ever fussy account-management, a thing that will surely never change, I somehow managed to get my early access for Heavensward running this past weekend and ding lvl 53 before official launch day. From what I’ve seen so far of the new zones and quests, I’m more than satisfied. The story picks up the pace from the Seventh Astral Era where it left off, the zones are beautiful if not slightly annoying in terms of navigation (apparently SE’s idea of making their audience desperate to fly), the new professions look interesting and the Au Ra aren’t nearly as dull as anticipated. In fact, I found myself surrendering to story pressure and swallow yet another bottle of Fantasia to transform myself, but more on that later. I also managed to get my chocobo off the ground for the first zone so far – a feat that doesn’t come free or easily in Heavensward for flight must be earned, again and again for each new zone. I should’ve known.

Isghard is as impressive a city as it’s cold and uninviting, which goes with the social, political context and icy weather. Naturally, I was delighted to hear the city music come in four different variations with some lovely day and night themes, just the way the other capitals got them. It will be a while before we see any Heavensward soundtrack release, I fear (but in the meantime, some of us will find ways to listen to it anyway).

Heavensward at a first glance, fulfills all the promises of novelty. What I am somewhat disappointed in is how SE never seem much interested in improving the existing. Gripes like the quest tracker not allowing you to uncheck old quests, or the fact that for some reason you may not use a companion pet together with a mount, persist and have not been addressed. I realize that there are technical restrictions sometimes; I still expect some effort towards improving the mediocre, whether the player base (grudgingly) goes along with it or not.

Me, Myself and I

I’ve never changed a main character as often or as drastically as I have in FFXIV, an MMO which is very liberal in its re-customization options. I started this journey few months ago as Sylberry Goldwink, a delightfully sunny Lalafel with odd eyes and a cheeky face –

I still love that character to bits, in fact I believe SE have done a fantastic job on the race design of their smallest citizens. I usually don’t gravitate towards shorties in MMOs but next to the Asura and Gibberlings, Lalafel are truly my favorite people.

Unfotunately for them, armor design on higher levels doesn’t agree so much with Lalafel proportions (maybe less so on females than males) which is why I decided to give a more mature and darker type of character a go after reaching lvl 50. Yes, yet another tall human female called Syl, with raven black hair and a sardonic smile –

Human black mage Syl feels like the most accurate ‘real me’-condensation in an MMO since ever, so I was really happy with the outcome. Furthermore, I gave the character some distinct Lulu-attributes (I don’t have purple eyes for one thing), that aloof sorceress from FFX that has been resting on my desk for over 10 years in figurine-form, hugging her Mog companion. I may also have a T-shirt.

Needless to say I adore this character, yet I’m not perfectly happy with the way SE have treated Hyur females. Their movement seems graceless, as if not enough time had been invested in studying the anatomic female form and how that would affect motion. Maybe it’s the same for male Hyur, I don’t know. Few armor sets aside such as the above one, I often found myself standing around in baggy garments, which gave my character an almost buffoonish look. Bleh.

Granted, these are smaller details; for the most part SE character design and animations are top notch and beat most of their competition, armor detail certainly does too. Still, the launch of a new expansion was a great opportunity to check out the Au Ra, with their strange horns which are more or less obtrusive depending on the face you go for. It is a tragedy that SE decided to bundle face and horn types together – a most curious decision that greatly reduces your choice in different looks. You might really dig one of those four faces on display but if it comes with the huge lobster-shaped horns, tough luck! Seriously, this needs fixing.

In the end, I managed to create a character that I really enjoy and that probably feels the most Japanese/manga of the lot, while also reminding me of my old Rift Kelari mage. I went with a painted face look in honor of Harle, beloved jester figure from Chrono Cross. I could do without the tail thing honestly, but I absolutely love the idea of my character being partly dragonkin now, given that Sylvara, my online name of many years, has been taken from a special character in the Dragonlance novels who is also a dragon. This meant a name change was long overdue too since Sylberry Goldwink has by now expired its date of appropriateness.

A smart business model

It seems weird to switch character race as often as I have in FFXIV and yet, it’s always fun creating new looks for yourself. Be it Sylberry the sunny and funloving Lalafel, the dark human femme fatale with the stern face or the mischevious Au Ra jester – all these characters are a facet of my own personality. Many MMO players probably roll alts for this exact reason, which isn’t something particularly beneficial in FFXIV. Relying heavily on their main character, players are more likely to pay for character re-customizations whenever new features are introduced. At the same time, there’s already a lot of customization and job freedom in the game by default, as well as the odd Fantasia freebie once or twice a year. That’s more than fair in my book, even if I already spent some extra cash on my looks in the Mog Station. What can I say, I do like me my MMO character creation!

Catching Fireflies

So whaddaya know. Between speculations of ArenaNet launching a first GW2 expansion, Heart of Thorns (an event that would certainly bring me back to Tyria) and ESO going buy-to-play (an event that most certainly will not bring me back), I managed, with a little help from my friends, to re-instate my decrepit Square-Enix account and jump back into FFXIV:ARR on Cactuar, where bloggers roam.

For now I am happy to smell the roses and enjoy watching my Lalafell Arcanist study her book as she hurls mighty spells at the enemy. I have trusty Carbuncle to keep me company and a world of brooks and windmills to explore. SE got as many things right with this MMO as they got wrong – it’s up to the individual to make it work or not. Leaps and bounds from its predecessor, there is still a cleanness and arrangement to this world that bothers me sometimes, the way the same texture is stamped all over big areas and never alters or how there’s ten paths cutting through green plains when two would do just as well. I miss secrets too, little things to find off the beaten path instead of invisible barriers. Alas, Final Fantasy attracts us by familiarity: the well-known names and places, the quirkiness of its characters, the style of clothing, beautiful animations and of course music.

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And fireflies. In the middle of the night, illuminating the sky. The promise of high adventure is like a lighthouse in the distance, always calling and spurring me on to discover what may lie beyond the next bend of the road. Eorzea or Tamriel, Azeroth or Tyria – Magic is only ever a glance away.

Tunes of Magic VIII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2014

It’s that time of the year again and like in 2013, I am publishing my personal VGM winners of the year under the official #listmas banner of the “United We Game” initiative.

2014 was a year of ups and downs as far as new releases were concerned, with some down times in Q1 especially but definitely not a bad year for gaming and music overall. As MMO players, we got at least four new high-quality OSTs to enjoy and like in previous years, the world of small gems and indies has contributed to an overall great year of videogame music. What also remains unchanged is my general rule of thumb: the best games tend to also have the best soundtrack (exceptions verify this rule!).

Without much further ado, I present this year’s “Top VGMs of 2014”-teaser compilation for all of you who would like to reminisce a year of VGMs the easy and most effective way: by listening!

To remove all doubt which were my favorite OSTs and SOTY (soundtrack of the year) in ascending order, here’s the tracklist of all the games included in this year’s round-up:

10. Dragon Quest X 3DS (Koichi Sugiyama)
DQ X was in fact only released for 3DS in September 2014 which is why I hadn’t heard of it earlier. This soundtrack is packed with classic theatrical and fun music and I highly recommend checking it out!

9. Cinders (Rob Westwood)
Cinders caught my eye on Steam one day and while I’m not big into romance novel click-adventures, the spooky fairytale vibe of the soundtrack is right down my alley.

8. Transistor (Darren Korb)
A must-have for Bastion fans, Transistor comes with an equally brilliant sound fusion of western, folk, electric and experimental. Also: for Buckethead fans!

7. Ethan Carter (Mikolai Stroinski)
The saddest game by far that I have played through in recent months, the beautiful music by Mikolai Stroinski is a perfect match to the overall sombre mood of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

6. Destiny (O’Donnell, Salvatori, Johnson, Mc Cartney)
Some games never deliver on their big promises, but the Destiny soundtrack at least is definitely one of the big must-haves in 2014!

5. Bravely Default (Revo)
Much to their fans’ delight, SE re-discovered their classic fantasy JRPG roots with Bravely Default. The entire soundtrack by Revo is a joy to listen through, producing gem after gem!

4. Child of Light (Cœur de Pirate)
A visually stunning, poetic journey deserves a special soundtrack and Cœur de Pirate, aka Béatrice Martin, has managed to elevate Child Of Light to an unforgettable experience that instantly reminded me of the very french movie Amélie.

3. Blade & Soul (Taro Iwashiro)
Released in Japan and Taiwan this year, Blade&Soul has yet to honor us with a western release. Until that time, it’s well worth checking out this very flavorful and diverse MMO soundtrack.

2. Warlords of Draenor
Listing all the composer involved in WoW soundtracks has become a real chore (Hayes, Stafford, Brower, Bajakian, Cardon, Guidotti…) but I’m glad the outcomes still seem to work out! WoD is one of my favorite OSTs of the year and has brought back countless memories of our early vanilla days. If I had to name a single favorite track overall, that would be “Wolf at the Gates” no question.

1. SOTY: Wildstar (Jeff Kurtenacker)
My soundtrack of the year easily, Wildstar has brought us all kinds of awesome music in 2014. This soundtrack is vast and vastly diverse, ethereal, creepy, whimsical and fun! We don’t often get to see fusion work off so well but Jeff Kurtenacker has done one remarkable job at composing for the Nexus! Must-have, folks!

My top 10 aside, this year’s honorable soundtrack mentions go to Valdis Story, Castlevania Lords of Shadow and Beatbuddy which came out in previous years and much later to my attention.

Annual disclaimer: videogame music does still not receive the attention it deserves from many publishers and developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase official soundtracks and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) on board as possible. Thanks for sharing this post and here’s to another great year of VGM!

[WoW] How to Unlock your Pet Menagerie the Quickest Way (for Noobs)

So, you are late to pet battles but would still like to activate that pet menagerie in your garrison? Then like me, you will require a little help!

I used to be a pet collector in WoW up until WotLK and only now that I am back for Draenor, did I start looking into the pet battle feature. I’ll be honest, I might have disregarded this entirely had it not been for that empty spot in my garrison, where 5 of my collected pets could be running around the menagerie. Well, it so happens that where there’s a will, there’s a way! I am in no rush to get to any endgame in WoW these days, so I might as well start working on that achievement. The following quick guide is based on my own research on how to  –

  1. get you started with pet battles in WoD
  2. get your first lvl 25 pet(s) quickly
  3. beat the pet menagerie quest “Pets versus Pests

I am on the second stage myself still and have managed to get several lvl23 pets now within over an hour (give or take, depending on your luck in Kharazan). For step three I have spent the evening reading up on wowhead in order to find pet options for players who don’t have any “fancy beat-all” pets like Pandaren Water Spirit or Chrominius. I’m sure you could look into those but I’m generally quest-lazy and would rather just work with what I have got or can capture!

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How to unlock your Pet Menagerie the Quick & Dirty Way

Step #1:
Talk to the first pet trainer in your capital city (for alliance that means Stormwind next to the Cata portals, for horde Orgrimmar) to get you started with pet battles in WoW. After this, the pet menagerie quest will appear in your garrison and you will also start seeing lots of green pet battle markers wherever you go. Choose mechanical pets for your first team because they tend to take less damage and are more beginner-friendly (some of them are dirty cheap on the AH).

The intro quests are fast after which the trainer will send you off to beat several other trainers in Elwynn and Westfall, as well as Redridge and Duskwood (as alliance). Around the Duskwood stage, your pet party should be roughly around lvl 5-6 which is enough to continue to step #2!

Step #2:
Continue using this excellent guide on how to obtain your three Arcane Eyes in Deadwind Pass and two Dragonbone Hatchlings in Dragonblight. The pets in Karazhan are found around the entrance as well as on all the upper balconies and terraces of the fort. They are not rare spawns but if more players are looking for the same thing, you might need to check back several times. Also, note the Hatchlings will come with two additional allies per fight(!) but you can still definitely do it, even if it means some of your Eyes will die and will require a rez after the fight.

A few tips: if you struggle beating the Hatchlings, aim for lvl 22 ones rather than lvl 23. Heal up after every fight (cooldown ability and stable master if you have no more bandages). Once you got a victory, start using your new pet right away!

After obtaining two Hatchlings, head straight to Pandaria for the Eternal Striders in VoEB. Continue to level up your lvl 20/21 Hatchlings (when you capture them, they lose two levels!) as well as the Arcane Eye and don’t trust the time frame in the guide – it will definitely take longer than 10mins to level 25 (maybe more like 2 hours)! Try not to let your pets die or they won’t get any EXP and keep in mind only the ones actually active in battle will gain experience. The stable master in VoEB is Jaul Hsu (I alternate between visiting him and using my own pet healing cooldown).

Step #3 (in progress):
After you got at least two pets to level 25, you can start boosting a third. There are several boost guides around the official forums but so far, I haven’t found one that doesn’t require you to already own very specific other battle pets as boosters or to be on certain parts of a questchain (if you have any other info, let me know!). This means I am likely to boost my next pets the normal way, by battling for EXP in Pandaria. Since I can battle almost all high-level pets at this point, this means I will try capture lvl20+ pets of the pet families I need instead of boosting any low-level pets.

The three encounters in “Pets versus Pests” require specific lvl 25 pet abilities to beat them. You can spend some time on that wowhead link like me to check if there’s any comment that includes pets you already have. For my own mundane setup, my picks against each boss will likely look as follows:

  • Carrotus: A frog and any water striders (capture some of those you are fighting as part of the first lvl25 pet).
  • Gorefu: 2 moths and any other pet.
  • Gnawface: 3 spiderlings of any kind

It appears that for some fights you’ll only require two appropriate pets and maybe any third to finish off. As for the rotations to make this a success (each pet has 6 abilities of which you can only choose 3), check the comments in the links I included.

I obviously haven’t tested this stage of the guide myself yet but it’s been verified by other players and should lead you to success in a few hours. Most importantly, it will let you skip all the other pet battling business and trainer questlines in order to unlock that lvl1 pet menagerie the quickest way! Good luck!

Treasures of Draenor

It’s about the little things. It always has been. Whether it was finding Sheddle Glossgleam in Dalaran for shiny shoes or so many other secrets in World of Warcraft safely hidden away. Draenor is a beautiful world with its long leaves of grass moving in the wind and snowflakes swirling across the plains of Frostfire Ridge. There is more treasure to find these days than ever, with a map for achievers or without for the more exploratively inclined who’d like to think the world an endless place of mystery.

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And then there’s the secrets. The things only found by chance that someone had to come across, maybe on an errand or erring with nothing in particular on their mind. I love early expansions; between exclamation marks I’ll make time to follow the footprints in the snow, climb a mountain, swim out to the sea. Or levitate, rather. That’s how I came across and island to the southernmost edge of Nagrand and on that island there was a path leading up to something –

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It’s the little things – an odd scenery where you least expect it, mementos thrown away, curious and without explanation. Finding a magic lamp hidden in the grass right next to them, letting you activate whatever is stored inside. Maybe a cloud of dust, a string of words long forgotten or a dark spell? Or a wink from far away, a well-known phrase by a genie called Robin.

Maybe a wish that some things could be preserved forever when memories are all that remain. Life is a treasure. Happy weekend everybody.

Returning to WoW: Everything is the same, everything is different

It is a mixed bag of feelings going back to an MMO you convinced yourself never to return to for lack of better judgement. An MMO you once called home and then were absent from for three years, maybe looking for closure. When I played WoW between 2004 and 2010, I did like so many of us in our mid-twenties, with passion and zeal and an exclusive all-or-nothing attitude. All or nothing, that also means quitting when you feel things ain’t going your way any longer.

Warlords of Draenor is nothing I had planned on; that too was a mixed bag of spontaneous curiosity, lack of content in new MMOs like Wildstar and winter is coming. And I made it very clear to myself: This time around, it will be about me taking my time re-discovering Azeroth in peace. I will sub for one month and find out if I still like this, no pressure. I will enjoy running around incognito after all this time, minding my own business.

Or something.

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Where do I go from here?

Everything is the same
WoD was off to a rocky start with DDoS attacks and massive server queues (how very vanilla!) making it impossible for many players to log in during the first week. After I spent launch day re-installing the game, it took another day before I managed briefly to log in for the first time in three years, finding my character standing in front of the Dark Portal, lagging horribly. After ten seconds of being unable to move like this, I got my first whisper from a very old guild mate from vanilla WoW: “SYL!”.

I disconnected right away. My game wasn’t stable and I really didn’t expect to be discovered so early into my return. But this is how it’s always been on my server – those who have been on Stormrage since 2004, the early guilds and raiders, they remember each other. And so many have come back for Draenor, it is bewildering. My friendlist shows names online I had never expected to read again. Already I find myself guilded once more in the very same raidguild I helped build in vanilla WoW, with almost its entire core and founding team back. A decade later it’s as if no time had passed at all. Sure, everyone’s gotten a bit older, some are married now and some have kids or better jobs. Everyone definitely agrees they won’t be raiding ever again but there’s much else to be enjoyed nowadays.

The player base has aged and so have Blizzard with them. Yet, on the surface everything about WoW feels and looks exactly as before. I spent my first week in Draenor getting used to and then charmed by the beauty of its dated graphics (especially in the old world) and cringing over its messy, gargantuan UI that has been so aptly compared to the old “Weasley’s house” in a conversation between Rowanblaze and Belghast. After I discovered void storage in combination with transmogging, I wasted another day on costumes until I finally felt prepared to see the world, which is why I ran straight into Elwynn Forest, love of my life. To my delight, it was not deserted and not any of the old zones I went to visit from there were either – Duskwood, Redridge, Burning Steppes, everywhere I went I saw players. After 10 years, there is still life in these old zones, I have no idea how that works.

As is tradition, I went to pay Ragnaros and Illidan my respects and announced my coming. They still dropped hunter loot mostly, so nothing has changed in that respect either. Even on the auction house, the same items that used to be expensive in vanilla are still on top of the list today (who would buy a Burning Brightwood Staff today is beyond me but I still want that blasted Greenwing Macaw!). So far, so familiar.

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Draenor is beautiful.

Everything is different
In their mushy Looking for Group documentary from this Blizzcon 2014, which has played no small part in bringing more WoW veterans back to Draenor, Chris Metzen talks about how WoW really has always been about two entities – the world and the player, and he couldn’t be more correct. The successes of this MMO are as much thanks to developers trusting their instincts as to a very passionate and creative player base that has an undying love for Azeroth. This huge and rich canvas of a world with its plethora of maps and music has been such a welcoming and ever more accessible home to players of every color and creed for years.

All the while, Blizzard have continued to re-invent themselves and I believe this is the secret of WoW’s long lasting success. With every expansion, they pushed further to offer something new to more people without dismissing the hard core entirely. Comparing WoD today to when I left three years ago, I can confirm that WoW is a changed game in so many ways, trying to keep up with increased standards, never daring to rest on its laurels. This is apparent in today’s casual and solo-friendly approach to grouping, dungeons and raids for one thing, with flexraids and bronze, silver and gold heroics. It’s the democratic spread of loot and gear models, combined with all the tier look-alikes available. It’s adding small stuff like treasure hunting similar (but more involved) to Rift, jumping puzzles like in GW2, pet battles à la Pokémon and a pseudo-housing system with private nodes, the way Wildstar has them (only in WoW, the Garrison is actually a lot more useful). The talent system has been simplified to match modern MMOs with more minimal action bars and while quests and loot aren’t FFA, important quest mobs are shared nowadays.

All of these changes and additions make WoW not just one of the most approachable MMOs today but the richest in terms of content diversity. Draenor is the pinnacle of that philosophy: jump in right away as a level 90 character, learn basic skills and talents from scratch by playing through the intro scenario (which for once ain’t in a cave!). Get some money and bags to start with and oh, we also boosted your professions so you can join for all these new quests! As for the Garrison, it might be the first example of useful ‘player housing’ with meaningful choices in over a decade.

The genius of Blizzard
In a competitive industry as this, Blizzard’s achievements are really twofold:

  1. Making a niche genre more accessible and creating their own faithful player base in the process.
  2. Continuously re-inventing themselves rather than resting on the laurels of vanilla WoW.

Some will say this is the mark of smart decision making and market observation over at Blizzard. However and without denying the aforementioned, another more simple answer also lies in the Looking for Group documentary where an aging core of lead designers and developers is still creating for a game “they themselves would like to play”, more casually now than in their late twenties. More mature too, giving more thoughts to their diverse target audience than before. It’s not just the players in WoW that have grown older.

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And so it’s the greatest irony of all that, while so many MMO developers raced to emulate what was essentially vanilla WoW’s successes, Blizzard themselves moved on and branched out, leaving their past to others. According to the latest news WoW is back to 10 million subscribers, something that is difficult to swallow when new and shiny titles like Wildstar are struggling to maintain an audience. But who is to compete with a ten-year old AAA-fantasy themed MMO this rich and loaded on diverse content? Comparing other titles to WoW is never fair.

To be continued
As for me and Draenor, two weeks in I admit that I am charmed once more by the world of Warcraft – more patiently this time, more laidback and happy to smell the roses on the way. There is so much to do and learn for me after three years and I am not rushed to get anywhere with anyone. Most of all, this explorer is enjoying the vistas of Draenor (and there are so many beautiful ones nowadays) and a soundtrack so reminiscent of our vanilla days. Yes, for now I believe I do like this again and that is all that matters.