Thursday, October 16, 2014

When You Start to Like the Villain

Screengrab: Blizzard
In the Warlords of Draenor cinematic when Grommash was struggling to launch the damaged iron star, were you silently cheering him on? When you saw Grommash hurtle through a wall of flame to plant Gorehowl in Mannoroth's forehead, did you whisper yesssssss? Did Grommash's declaration of "We will never be slaves!" strike a chord in you, too?

Strange, but I found myself cheering for the expansion's villain, the first time I've done so in Warcraft. I wasn't prepared for Illidan. The Lich King marked my first end boss kill, and though seeing his rise and fall elicited sympathy (partially through the game, and admittedly in much more detail later on when I read the novel), I can't say I hoped he'd pull through somehow. Deathwing was no more than a bull in a china shop, so that made him easy to loathe. And Garrosh was set up to be so antagonistic that only trolls (the personality type, not the race) profess undying allegiance to the disgraced now-former warchief of the Horde.

Scholars of Warcraft lore know what happened with the orcs in the original timeline, and how that contributed to the molding of present-day Azeroth. Grommash drinks the blood, the clans follow and Draenor descends further into madness. In the cinematic, we meet the orc clans at that crossroads moment: drink the Demon Blood and become slaves to the Burning Legion, or refuse it and risk annihilation at the hands of Mannoroth and his army. So did you, like me, cheer for Grommash and the Iron Horde when the demon blood was refused? Did you feel a bit of sympathy for them, perhaps even like them a bit?

On one hand, perhaps Blizzard wanted to demonstrate the ferocity and cunning of these orcs; hell, their leader slew Mannoroth. It lets the players know that this is indeed a badass force we'll soon meet. On the other hand, it shows the orc clans at their most vulnerable point, where the wrong choice would lead them down a path of death and destruction, and the forfeiture of their livelihood as free people. The ironic and perhaps sad part of this is that these orcs are still heading down a path of death and destruction, but unlike their historical counterparts, they won't ever gain a foothold on our Azeroth.

The motives of the Iron Horde are simple and clear. Grommash even puts it out there for us in declaring, "We will never be slaves!" Good on you, man! Standing up for your people, not allowing a larger, more-powerful force to call the shots. The Horde and Alliance have both faced similar threats to their existence in the past, and this is really no different. However, Grommash takes it one step further with the follow-up line of, "But we will be conquerors!"

And that's where Mr. Hellscream and I part ways. I'm not an all-or-nothing type person. In other words, I believe you don't have to be a conqueror if you're not a slave, and vice versa. And it's that last line and the motivation behind it that pulls us---the players---into the mix. While Grommash's base intention is pure and honorable---to not be slaves---the methods he will employ to see that out have little regard for the livelihood of anyone who might get in the way of the end goal. Which seems to be total domination, not just of Draenor, but of many worlds.

I'm reminded of a comment made by actor Ben Foster, who will play Medivh in the Warcraft movie, about director Duncan Jones' approach to the film:

"What's exciting about Duncan Jones' take on this video game is that it shows both sides of the war. It shows both sides of a conflict, which is exciting to me. It's not just a video game turned into a movie. It's asking, hopefully, an important question of, where do we limit our compassion for what we consider to be the bad guys? - IGN Interview

With the Warlords cinematic, our "villains" are humanized early on. I mean, come on: if you knew what Grommsh knew then and there, would you have chosen any differently? It's a pretty cool origin story for the Iron Horde as I see it. It puts a key element to this story right into focus: both sides have a lot to lose in this fight. And I believe the best conflict stories are those that humanize both sides. Look at the Governor's arc in The Walking Dead, or even the actions and motivations of some of the main characters. Look at the entirety of Game of Thrones, and how the line between right, wrong, good and bad is so blurry it's sometimes impossible to see.

If the villain of your story has little more substance than a concrete wall, a tricky obstacle for the protagonist(s) to overcome, you're losing an incredible amount of story possibilities, and avenues to explore that just might cause your audience to become that much more deeply invested.

Do I like the Iron Horde based on what I've seen and what I know? No, of course not. But I can sympathize with their cause. And that their cause is now threatening my character's existence, I'm compelled to action. In a way though, it will be bittersweet when I cut down the final warlord, very much for the same reasons I felt sadness when Arthas fell.

Sadness, if for nothing else but the potential for a powerful enemy to have been a force of good.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pre-Expac First Impressions

img: Blizzard
As I write this, it's not yet been 24 hours since the release of 6.0.2. Like many players, I've spent a couple of those hours tooling around with the new content, enough tooling around to have an opinion which---YAY---I get to share here!

The Event

A quest chain with vanity rewards seems to be the go-to method for Blizzard as of late. Which is fine by me. While I would definitely enjoy a more disruptive event ala the Wrath of the Lich King zombie invasion, I'm not upset about what we got. If you were left feeling like, "that's it?" Don't worry, that's not it. Word is there's a lot of new content coming soon.

Models

I main an orc shaman, and while his old face doesn't have an updated equivalent, I was able to find a new face that fit well enough. That said, some of the new models are going to take some getting used to. I'm most definitely biased, and feel that Horde are the overall winners here---some of what I've seen on the Alliance side has made me cringe. It's still early, and I can't honestly tell whether my negative reaction to certain models and faces is solely because it's new, or if there's something else going on here. 

All in all, I'd like to see more facial customization options added to the game. I can't help but feel that some of what I've seen isn't quite done. For some of the faces, that's my hope.

Stats

Wouldn't have even noticed the squish if I weren't paying attention. I operate with a pretty clean UI and thus do not have yellow numbers popping all around my screen when I fight stuff...not even dem godly critz, yo. So really, I didn't notice until I looked up at my character frame and saw 80k health. I took note of it and went about my business. Which consisted of running the new UBRS, where I felt just as powerful as I did prior to the patch.

Storage

Between the Toybox, Void Storage and the Reagants tab (the latter of which I haven't yet utilized), I freed up several dozen spaces in my bags and bank. I'm anticipating the arrival of the heirlooms tab, and would suggest Blizzard also consider a Tabard tab and perhaps a Shirt tab (thank you Brawler's Guild). The freed-up spaces soon became a necessity because...

Soloing

I've soloed much of Ulduar in the past and wanted to see if there were any noticeable differences. Soon as I stepped in and saw the legion of trash before Flame Leviathan, I decided I didn't want to be there anymore. Instead of leaving without trying a thing, I popped ghost wolf and sprinted straight towards the boss area, hundreds of mobs in tow.

I killed Flame Leviathan---sans vehicle---before all of the trash could even reach me. Well then. If I was persistent enough to go after the Ashes of Al'ar I may as well add Invincible and Mimiron's Head to the WoW Weekly list

How's the patch treating you thus far? 



Friday, October 3, 2014

What's Next for Blizzard? - Blizzcon Predictions

Predictions: if you're wrong, you look foolish, and if you're right, no one cares. So I've got nothing new to offer you here, just my own speculation. For something more tangible for those of you lucky enough to hear many of these anticipated announcements in-person at Blizzcon, check out my Blizzcon Guide for Noobs.

With Blizzard stating they've effectively cancelled the mystery-MMO we've come to know as Titan, it's left a lot of fans wondering what's next for the game giant. Let's keep in mind that cancelling long-in-development projects isn't uncommon when it comes to Blizzard. We have quite a bit of precedence for it, actually. Analysts are even seeing it as a strength. The action in itself mirrors the Blizzard philosophy of "make games they'd want to play themselves." And as CEO Mike Morhaime said in the Polygon interview, releasing a game that doesn't live up to their expectations isn't an option.

Many players were hoping for an update on Titan's progress at Blizzcon this coming November. Without that prospect, and the likelihood we won't hear much about "what's next" in Warcraft beyond what we already know of Warlords of Draenor, it leaves me wondering what we might see this year. 

Hearthstone

There's little doubt we'll hear something about the first expansion to their massively successful trading card game. If not at Blizzcon, then shortly after. The developers have even said as much. With a reported 20+ million players in the game, Hearthstone is slated to receive support for years to come, especially with the growing popularity of esports and its impending availability to the broader mobile market.

Blizzcon Prediction: Details on Hearthstone's first expansion which will introduce the Death Knight hero; firm release dates for availability in wider mobile market.

Starcraft: Legacy of the Void

We know there's one more chapter in the Starcraft II trilogy, and what that will look like is hinted at heavily at the ending of Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm. Full disclosure: Starcraft is probably the Blizzard game I play the least, so I know even less of what I'm talking about here than normal. Either way, expect to hear about Legacy of the Void at Blizzcon this year, but probably nothing about a release date.

Blizzcon Prediction: Trailer for SCII:LotV with a game release slated for 2016.

Heroes of the Storm

If MOBAs are your thing and you were lucky enough to get into the Alpha, you already know how much potential this game has. With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard continues its tradition of expanding into new genres and kicking ass at it. I've played Riot's League of Legends and have a summoner near max-level, but there's something about the game that doesn't grab me. I've always been a casual, for-fun LoL player. However, with LoL, it takes a certain time investment---if you really want to progress---even as a casual player. 

Heroes of the Storm aims at broad appeal, like with Hearthstone, where they've created a complex game with a low barrier to entry. I feel it's safe to assume we'll get a vague release target (i.e. Q2 2015) at Blizzcon. My hope is that the game will transition to Open Beta shortly after, if not by the time Blizzcon arrives.

Blizzcon Prediction: Open Beta announcement, new playable heroes including Vol'jin and Deckard Cain, target release date announced.

Diablo III

It's going to be quiet on the Diablo front this year. Reaper of Souls spent a good amount of time in the spotlight at last year's Blizzcon. Considering the title just released for console, I doubt we'll be talking about what's next in Diablo.

Blizzcon Prediction: Diablo does not play a major part at this year's Blizzcon.

World of Warcraft

I want to learn where we're heading after Draenor. And we will eventually, but it might not be at Blizzcon. If that's the case, it means we'll be talking about the expansion we've been talking about since last Blizzcon. Which seems like a rather drab prospect, given---on average---the type of player/fan you're addressing at an event like Blizzcon. Unless they've undersold the expansion to us this whole time (an admittedly difficult notion to swallow with just how much information we have) and are set to unleash new information that will send us into a frenzy. In a good way, of course.

I also think this is a great opportunity to show where the movie's at. Significant time was spent at last year's Blizzcon---Duncan Jones and some of his crew even had a panel, and I assume we'll hear more this year.

Blizzcon Prediction: They'll announce the next expansion; the one after Warlords, but details will be scarce so as not to spoil the ending of Warlords of Draenor. Why? I don't have a whole lot to back that up, but here's someone who took a stance and ran with it. The remainder of the time will focus on what we'll be seeing the week after Blizzcon when the expansion launches. As far as the movie goes, I don't believe we'll see the trailer, but feel confident we'll be shown a short scene.

Additional Titles

With the cancellation of Titan, might there be room for Blizzard to announce another project they're working on? On the other hand, given Titan's demise, perhaps Blizzard will be more cautious about how and when they announce their large-scale projects. I don't think we'll see a new title announced at Blizzcon beyond what's been discussed above. The timing of Titan's cancellation was more about tempering expectations: they didn't want anyone going into the convention thinking they'd hear about Titan. Conversely, announcing the cancellation of a title at such a major event simply wouldn't be wise.

That said, I bet we see Blizzard's updates to the Warcraft RTS games; perhaps not the whole lot, but I believe we'll see an updated Warcraft 3 engine including art assets, as well as the functionality that will tie it to our Battle.net launchers. 

It doesn't really pay to argue these points, as I've essentially pulled them from my bum. But are there any predictions you'd alter/add?

Leave 'em below. 




Monday, September 29, 2014

MoP Bucket List

We've had a rather drawn-out end to this expansion, haven't we? Siege of Orgrimmar recently celebrated the anniversary of its addition to the game, which means many of us exhausted progression content months ago. I might be in the minority here, but I don't mind these content lulls late in the expansion. It allows plenty of time for circling back to complete objectives I might've missed, level alts, even visit previous expansions for items and achievements of interest.

I have the Warbringer mounts, the mounts from the Primal Egg, my Challenge Mode armor and mount, I collected 9,999 bones, got the Siege of Orgrimmar achievement mount. I've maxed rep with all but two Pandaria factions (see below). I was there, man, I was there. And I have the cloak(s) to prove it.

Still, there's always a point during these lulls where I stop and ask myself, "What else could I do?" What follows are areas I'm working on and hope to complete before Warlords of Draenor releases.

Brawler's Guild

I knocked out as much of the Brawler's Guild challenges early on in the expansion, and just recently circled back to work on some of the additional challenges that were added in patch 5.3. I'm missing an item needed to complete Collect Your Deck, the one players have a chance to find when harvesting vegetables on their farm. Once that materializes, I'll focus on the final achievement, Deck Your Collection

Legendary Cloak

I'd gone back and forth as to whether I'd go for a fifth cloak with my warlock. After earning green fire, and thanks to the news that the Black Prince buff would be active til Warlords, I've decided to give it a go. I'm currently stuck on the PvP part of the chain; Silvershard Mines was rather painless, but Kotmogu won't be so easily won. It was amusing to see how many of the battleground participants were there just to progress on the chain.



Celestial Tournament

Tucking this confession here so I hope it will be missed: I beat the Celestial Tournament last week for the first time. And I call myself a pet battler. Truth is, I'm impatient. I had 40+ pets at max level when the Celestial Tournament dropped. Of course I'd be able to handle it, I thought incorrectly. I'd engage, lose horribly, start to level a suggested pet and then get bored. That said, it amazing how easy the tournament becomes once you follow a tried-and-true guide. There's not enough time left in MoP to earn the right to purchase all of the Celestial pets, but I'd like to acquire as many as possible before the Warlords release.

Level 90 Alliance

I have an Alliance shaman sitting out there on my main server, level 84 if I remember correctly. I've been slowly leveling her up throughout MoP solely because I've heard the Alliance story in Warlords is not one to be missed. The final installment of the Lords of War miniseries only strengthened this desire. I'm anticipating the stories on both sides of the aisle to be full of emotion and strife.

Emperor Shaohao

I'm barely into Revered, and that's because I have a slight aversion to world PvP. In all likelihood I'll chip away at this as much as I can stand, then circle back at level 100, which should trivialize much of the experience, and hopefully make it less painful as well.

Archaeology

I got into archaeology pretty heavily when it was released, and then lost interest in MoP for the most part. That I found myself scurrying from digsite to digsite last weekend signals to me that I'm ready for new content. Don't get me wrong, I'm a collector and a completionist, but archaeology is pretty low on that list, given I have most of the "cool" items. I'd like to ensure I have all of the rare items from Pandaria, but really this isn't a high priority, and one of the three items from the Bucket List that I won't push for too hard.

Nat Pagle

I find Nat Pagle's grind to be much, much worse than any we've seen in Pandaria. For a while, I was fishing to kill three birds: Nat's grind, the item you can fish up for the Brawler's guild, which I acquired last week, and the ever-elusive Sea Turtle. But I've been after the latter since Wrath of the Lich King, so I'm not holding my breath. I'm simply hoping to make a dent in Nat's reputation, because once I hit Draenor and he lands in my Garrison, it'll be quite some time before I make the trek back to Pandaria.

What's on your MoP Bucket List?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interface > Addons: The Convenience of Selljunk

Screengrab: Curse
We all have our favorite addons. Interface > Addons highlights those I've found helpful throughout my years of playing Warcraft. Because when the default interface doesn't work for us, we change it!

I can't remember how or when I first stumbled upon SellJunk. Its page on Curse lists a creation date of November 17th, 2007 and boasts over two million downloads to date. It was probably sometime in 2008 or 2009 when I found it; perhaps a guildie tipped me off or I went searching out of need. Either way, SellJunk provides a valuable quality-of-life feature, even with the changes to bags and inventory space we'll see in Warlords.

As you probably guessed, the out-of-the-box addon streamlines the process of ridding your already-taxed-for-space bags of that annoying grey vendor trash. Simply interact with a vendor and you'll notice a button on their Buy/Sell screen conveniently labeled SellJunk. Click the button and the addon sells up to 12 grey items at once. Depending on how full your bags are you may need to click the button two or three times. There is also an option to instruct the addon to automatically sell all grey items upon opening the vendor window---no extra button clicks needed.

In addition to the convenience of easily selling grey items, there's also an exception list. To it you can add grey items you do not want to sell, i.e. you like collecting rocks; or conversely, add non-soulbound white/green items that you'd rather sell to the vendor than keep for whatever reason, i.e. low-level consumables, etc.

I can't guess how much time this addon has saved me over the years, but judging by my /played time it can't be an insignificant amount. It's especially powerful when questing/leveling or farming old content. Speaking of which, there's an extra feature for folks stuck with full bags out in the wilds, but don't have access to a vendor mount or pet: typing the command /selljunk destroy will destroy all of your grey items---as well as any other items you may have told the addon to target.

Convenience at its finest.

Is there an addon you know about that does what this one does, but better? Perhaps there's an addon I should know about. Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.