Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Title at What Cost?

Years ago when I was young and in shape, I was an avid player of Deck Hockey (a form of floor hockey played on a special rink with boards, regulation-size goals, referees). I played for many years with a tightly-knit group of friends. We had some great seasons and some forgettable seasons, but I always had a lot of fun playing, and I miss the competitiveness, the activity, and the camaraderie of playing on a team.

One magical season everything came together for us and we won our League Championship. Unfortunately for me I took a (very deliberate) knee to the side while diving to keep a ball in the offensive zone during the second round of the playoffs. The blow ended up cracking 3 of my ribs and ended my season. In WoW, it’s akin eating a Shadowcleave from a nasty Igor-type in the first wave of adds on the Deathwhisper fight without a Soulstone, and Battle Rez on cooldown. Still, I came down to every game of the playoffs and contributed how I could: I sat on the end of the bench, opened the door for line changes, shouted encouragement, offered my observations, handed sticks over the boards if someone broke one, I even tied a couple of shoe laces. When the final horn sounded during our championship-winning game, I ran out on the deck with everyone, jumped up and down (painful), gave and received hugs (even more painful). I had beer poured over my head, hoisted the trophy like it was the Stanley Cup itself, and partied into the wee hours of the morning. Despite my lack of playing, this championship was as much mine as it was anyone’s on the team, and while there was a touch of regret over not being able to play, it was tiny compared to the joy I had for me and my team.

Something happened last night that made me think on this a bit today. A guild member mentioned that the top guild on our server was selling Lich King 25 kills for 25,000 gold a pop (seems like they could do better; I recall guilds selling Amani War Bears for 25K in the not-as-long-ago-as-my-hockey-story). According to my guild member, their instructions to the buyers were to be as follows (and I’m not sure how he knew this):
‘When the encounter starts, jump off the ledge.’
Knowing the kind of people that are in this guild (a number of first-class assholes, which was further confirmed in an incident in a ToC-25 pug later that night), I quipped ‘And for an extra 25K, they WON’T shout all over trade and the official forums how you got your title’.

In terms of my hockey championship, I could be happy despite not playing in the Finals, because these were my teammates and friends. I had contributed to our drive to the playoffs; I had played a key role in our first-round victory and, even though I was sitting on the bench for 4 games, I contributed something to the team during our eventual victory. It sucks to be dead on the floor for ¾ of a fight, but you can still be happy when that boss goes down for the first time, and you can take pride in your group, even if your own contribution was small.

How much pride can you take in a title that you buy? At least Gevlon, who bought himself into a top-raiding guild, was a competent player who was able to contribute to his guild’s success. Maybe he only got into the guild in the first place because of his cash supply and business acumen, but they wouldn’t have tolerated his presence if he was a complete and utter failure (or would they?). The Kingslayer-selling guild is assuming that their ‘customer’ would be a hindrance alive, incapable of making a positive contribution (and maybe they're right); it’s a pretty good bet that they’ll treat that person with the contempt and disdain that I witnessed last night, wherein one of their members joined the group, zoned in, and immediately asked ‘Who’s dick did [undergeared player] suck to get in this raid?’ In my view, any title or ‘achievement’ that is ‘earned’ by deliberately killing yourself so that you don’t fuck up is not worth having. I personally don’t even feel comfortable wearing the ‘Of the Nightfall’ since we zerged it a month ago. Having people congratulate me on my ‘Kingslayer’ title, or my ‘Glory of the …’ mount if I had to get it this way would be worse than hollow, it’s downright humiliating, and I will not debase myself like that for a mere title or mount.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Crowd Control Cure

This weekend, I healed a partial Heroic Halls of Reflection with some guildies.

I say ‘partial’, because we flamed out after multiple wipes on Falric/Marwyn. We’d made it past Falric with one wipe on trash, but then got repeatedly slaughtered on the second set of spirit waves. Given that we were running with three solid dps, it’s safe to place the blame on me or the tank, who is a bit undergeared (we had to enter the dungeon the Old Fashioned Way – by flying to it and walking through the door, as we were not allowed to queue for it due to her gear). I was disappointed at our failure, but had a realization:

I worked harder healing this heroic five man than I had healing an Icecrown 25 the previous night.

This realization, along with some other things I’ve been reading, overhearing in vent, seeing in guildchat, etc., made me wonder: What are we looking for in this game, and will we be happy when we get it?

I had read something on recently in which everybody’s favorite former marine biologist stated that Crowd Control would be making a bit of a comeback in Cataclysm (and for the life of me, I can’t find that thread now). This was met with a ‘yay’ from a responder, and in general a lot of positives from the community. In searching (unsuccessfully) for that, I also came across this O-boards plea for more CC. Seems like there’s definitely some support for it.

So what do we want? Do we want to continue playing a game where you can clear a heroic in under 10 minutes? Or do we want to have to take our time, plan out pulls, single-target mobs down, and use Polymorph, Sap, and Banish?

Personally, I feel that more Crowd Control, and more need for strategic pulls can only improve the game, even if it requires a little more time. ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’, they say. In WoW, idle hands lead to trade chat heroes and LFD terrors. I honestly believe that if dps were more engaged in heroics (i.e,, had to do something besides spam their biggest, bestest, AoE ability) then maybe groups would actually function like, well, a group. Of course there would be some inevitable conflicts when someone breaks CC early, or if someone forgets to re-sheep, etc., but I think in the long run, we might actually have more interesting experiences, and it would not be as much of a snore-fest as they can be now.

Sadly I’m not sure how well it would go over in practice. WoW heroics have evolved (or maybe DE-volved) into a race to the finish. This is both good and bad. I can recall turning down the opportunity to heal BC heroics because ‘we’ve got a raid in an hour’. It was a legitimate possibility that an hour would not be enough, especially if they were asking for something like Shadow Labrynth (heh, you could easily spend 2+ hours in there and not succeed). I think our top speed for things like Hellfire Ramparts and Underbog in T5 and Badge of Justice level gear was around 40 minutes. Nowadays we’re looking at six and a half minute clears of Drak’Tharon Keep. Raid in one hour? Sure, I’ve got time for three or four heroics! Our current WoW culture may not really accept spending more time in a measly heroic, and if there’s one thing that Crowd Control requires, it’s time.

It also requires communication. Even if it’s a simple ‘Mage sheep moon, Rogue sap star’ in party chat before a pull or at the start of the dungeon, you have to communicate with your party members (and boy, do I hate it when people say things like that. ‘lock, summon’, ‘mage make table’. Even when they insert a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ it strikes me as rude, and I hate rude). As far as I’m concerned, any form of communication that doesn’t involve variations of ‘nub’ or ‘lrn2p’ (or some of these) are positives compared the silent runs we’re currently experiencing.

Balance is the issue. I don’t think anyone wants to see a return to the days where you can’t complete something if you don’t have 3 mages. Then again, most dps classes ended up getting fairly reliable forms of Crowd Control heading into Wrath, but they never gave us a chance to use them. Let’s see it come back, at least a little bit. I feel that the increased engagement of all players, and the need for more effective communication in the party, will combine to make the world of the World of Warcraft a bit of a better place to be, even as the Cataclysm tears it apart. Sheep the Moon in 3…2…

Monday, April 5, 2010

'Good' Loot, 'Bad' Loot

Last week something happened which has made me look at how irrational I can be about loot, and reopened feelings I haven't really had for two years.

One of my guildies asked me if I needed Marrowgar's Frigid Eye. He'd found it in his frosty sack of treasures the previous week when we had rescued Darnavan (who somehow found himself, like Kul and Corki, in hot water again this week). I guess he didn't need it, and didn't want to vendor it or put it on the AH. He needed bag space for the expected haul and thought I might like it. Best of all, it was free.

This is a dream ring for a Holy Paladin. Nice Stam/Int, good spellpower, and HASTE, which I am currently pushing as much as I can. Oh, and a yellow socket. Nice. So I took it, and after the raid I went to my bank, took out one of several Brilliant King's Amber that I keep stashed away, and socketed and equipped the ring. It replaced the very nice Signet of Putrefaction.

Yet as I equipped the ring, I felt a moment of hesitation -- I didn't really want to replace the putrid ring from Festergut (no way am I replacing the Ashen Band of Exaltedy Goodness -- I wouldn't want to make Tirion angry). There was something about picking up this ring that I really didn't deserve, even though my healing made it possible for my guild member to win the ring in the first place.

It's made me think a bit of my first gear purchases from the Auction House. We had been thoroughly, completely humiliated in Karazhan, and it was clear that we weren't ready. After a bit of searching I had found an excellent pre-raid gear guide for Holy Paladins over on Allakhazam, which did a great job of laying out what I should get and from where. I ran all the heroics I could to get some of the great drops, boosted my Lower City Reputation so I could get not one but two copies of the Lower City Prayerbook, and even went and did the painful Nesingwary Nagrand quests for the best available libram. But I still needed a weapon and a shield, and the guild directed me to the auction house, for the Essence Focuser and the Crystal Pulse Shield.

I was happy to have these items, to be sure, and they served me well. Yet I didn't take the same satisfaction in toting them around as I did from my Breastplate of Many Graces or my Justice Bearer's Pauldrons (I loved that so-called purple judgment set, though the Mask of Penance was pretty creepy). For me, buying those items diminished them in a way. It was good that I had bought them; it sent a message that I was willing to do whatever it took to raid, yet I felt like it really said 'Ha, you can't get decent gear the right way.' In the same way, wearing Festergut's ring was like a badge of honor. Using a ring that was given to me, even though I played a role in it's acquisition, felt almost like a cheat.

The funny thing is that I'm not really a gear snob. I don't look down my nose at crafted gear or emblem gear, or the people who use it (I have plenty of emblem gear, I have no right to look down on anyone!). I had no problem shelling out big bucks for Je'tze's Bell or for the Darkmoon Card: Greatness, or the battered hilt, so it's funny that this little ring would make me feel so uncomfortable. I think it's likely because Festergut caused us so many problems (I believe it was > 40 attempts total before we bested the bumble) that his ring was like some sort of trophy, like a way to thumb my nose at him.

So I've equipped the ring, and I've used the ring and it's been another little buff to my stats. I suppose I can forget about how I got it and tell myself that it's payment for all the bone spikes, coldflames and Saber Lashes I've taken since Icecrown was released and be satisfied. But I'm already checking Atlas Loot for something to really earn.