Experienced Points #77:
Behind the Grind

By Shamus
on Jul 30, 2010
Filed under:
Column

splash_wow1.jpg

My article this week is a bit about grinding in RPG’s.

When I played World of WoWcraft two years ago, I got fed up and quit as the mid-30’s slump kicked in. The same thing happened again at about the same level in LOTRO. But now I’m back to WoW and right now Shadowless is about 2 dead spiders away from level 42.

Part of my success is attributable to the changes to the leveling that sped up things in the mid game. Part of it is that the game is a little more polished and fun. Part of it is that I knew the slump was coming, so I didn’t get discouraged when progress slowed. Part of it is that this time around I knew where to go for level-appropriate quests.

By nature, I WANT to stay in one area until I’ve exhausted all of the quests. But you usually can’t do that. The quests will go up in level faster than you do, and you’ll eventually be in over your head. This even applies in the early game. If you do all the quests around Goldshire in the human area, you’ll be two or three levels short of being able to enter Westfall. I don’t think you should have to travel to some other area of the world or level grind that early in the game. (Or ever, but especially then.)

It’s often better to do the 30-35 content in one zone, then hop to another zone and do the 30-35 content, then another, then head back to the first zone and take on the 35-40 content. I dislike this, as there are a few quest lines in these zones that tell a little story. They’re not Shakespeare or anything, but they’re sometimes amusing and often give a new look at the setting. But the zone-hopping breaks them all up. You’ll turn in step 2 of a quest chain and find that step 3 is suddenly five levels above you. (This problem is really bad in Stranglethorn Vale. I’ve been to that zone three times, and I still have a bunch of unfinished quests there.) Maybe next weekend you’ll be back, but by that time you’ll have forgotten what was doing which thing to what dudes because of huh? Ah, screw it. Just hit “accept quest” and let quest helper aim me at my goal. I don’t have time to look this up on the wiki and figure out what was going on.

Still, I have to keep reminding myself that WoW is six years old. I’m sure this system was viewed as very friendly and gentle compared to then-leader Everquest. I’ll bet a lot of this will be smoothed over in the upcoming Cataclysm global revamp. (Which is funny. Hey! The world is beset by disaster and now everything works better!)

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From the Archives:

  1. Does your anti-spider hatred even cross game boundaries?

    For shame.

    I had to move my level 30-something mage to another server, and to the other faction, in order to keep playing.

  2. thebigJ_A says:

    The grind is what keeps me from getting in to MMOs. I love rpg’s. I LOVE Tolkien, so I subbed LOTRO. It was wicked cool running around Middle-Earth, and some of the quest lines are quite interesting (though some suck. Sara Oakheart, amirite?). But then I discovered the Traits system. “Use power x 250 times”. “Kill 500 goblins (and here’s the terrible bit) IN THIS ONE PARTICULAR AREA”! It was terrible. Trying to kill several hundred wargs, near Weathertop, where there really ain’t all that many wargs, is just dull. Making sure to use a certain power in every fight, regardless of whether it’s helpful, just so you can get some virtue for your Warden or whatever, then switching to another when that’s done, forever ad nauseam, grr. And then they cap how many times you can do it in a day, so you can’t finish, but have to come back and grind tommorrow. So my orc killing trait is capped, and any more orcs I kill today don’t count? Really makes me want to not bother logging in.

    Sorry for the rant, but I payed for three months after the early game was so much fun during the free trial. I still have like a month and a half left that I doubt I’ll use. I so hoped this would be the game to get me into MMOs.

    • Ross says:

      Just a note…

      Yes, the class traits are capped for uses/day to make progress. Annoying. Hunters have one that says “strike with your melee skills 2500 times”. Seriously. 2500 times. Capped at 250/day. The good news is that it’s any of your melee skills.

      However…slayer deeds…killing orcs, goblins, wargs, etc: not capped. Crunch all you want, they’ll make more, and you’re only cap is when you’re finished.

      EDIT: Not trying to counter your general anti-grind stance, just wanting to make sure that the LOTRO-specific info is accurate. LOTRO is my drug of choice.

  3. Someone says:

    Oh yes, I recognize the slump you are talking about. It took me about five attempts to finally reach the endgame, precisely because of that. Part of it was my fault though, leveling a full on protection warrior solo is murderously slow and ineffective, or rather it used to be before the Lich King expansion reshuffled it, just when I was leaving the insanely boring and lame level 50 areas and getting on a leveling bullet train that is the expansion content.

    I had the opposite problem with quests, I would gather up 4-8 quests in an area, complete half of them, get several levels and abandon the rest of them because they became trivial. Though I did a lot of dungeons and therefore had some surplus xp.

    Many of the quests in the “vanilla” game are, indeed, awfully designed.
    Some of them have absolutely atrocious flow, like the Nessingwary diary page collection. Some of them get you in situation way over your head, like level 35 questlines suddenly culminating with a group quest for a level 40 instance, or that one you get around level 45 where you need to deliver an item to the Blasted Lands, a level 50+ area. Some of them are simply in the opposite corners of the world. There is a quest line that opens at around late 30s, where a guy in Southshore sends you to speak with a guy in Desolace, a gray and depressing desert, located in the middle of nowhere, on the opposite side of the world. Once you trek across the planet to speak with the guy, he gives you a typical quest to exterminate some skeletons, on the other side of the zone, for pocket change. At this point anybody can be forgiven for just saying “screw it!”, forgetting about this quest line and going back to questing in Stranglethorn Vale or Badlands. And missing the next step in the questline which gives you some very good “blue” rewards for the head of a Scarlet Monastery boss which you will probably end up killing anyway.

    • Steve C says:

      I had the opposite problem with quests, I would gather up 4-8 quests in an area, complete half of them, get several levels and abandon the rest of them because they became trivial. Though I did a lot of dungeons and therefore had some surplus xp.

      I had the same issue. I never grinded out xp by killing stuff, I just leveled by quests. My problem was I always had too many quests. I’d only do dungeons if I had a quest inside the dungeon. Moot point though for the 1-15 levels as the lowest alliance dungeon is 19 or so. I’m not sure what you are doing wrong Shamus. Perhaps you are missing a lot of quests and not realizing it?

      Also one thing that you should always do when you are near the edges of a zone is head into the next zone and get the Flight Path so you can return there later quickly. That makes questing much easier.

    • kmc says:

      This comment is now unhelpful AND redundant, but I think that’s probably true–as someone who has leveled more people through their teens than I care to think about, even in vanilla, I think there’s a good chance you’ve missed some. WoW, for all its faults, has typically not required a lot of grinding. It used to be, pre-BC, that in the 40s and above you did have to start visiting other areas if you couldn’t get a group for the dungeon ending to a quest chain, but in earlier areas, you can either abandon old quests or, if you are careful to do your lowest level quests first as a rule, you’ll be 2 or 3 levels ahead of where you need to be to go on to the next area. Northrend is particularly like that again–I recently skipped what’s generally considered a “mandatory” zone because I just felt like it and stuck around in a couple other places longer.
      Anyway, in Elwynn Forest (not that it helps you now), there’s a set of quests down the road at the lumber camp and there’s also a short chain south of Goldshire between the two feuding farms.

      • Shamus says:

        I did all the farms and the lumber camp. The only thing I missed was the Gnoll group quest.

        But!

        I suspect this is a result of differing play styles. I avoid all the fights I can, weaving around all over the place and dodging enemies. If the quest log doesn’t want it dead, I don’t kill it. If I just ploed through the world killing stuff as I went, I’d probably have another level.

        • Steve C says:

          Like you Shamus I also avoid all the fights I can. Still I have to abandon tons of quests that end up being too low level before I exit the zone. But then again I normally feel comfortable doing yellow and orange quests.

  4. Galen says:

    The biggest turn off for me was the learning curve. I was in the relatively low levels and accidentally grabbed a party members loot. Apparently it was bind on pickup. Naturally they flamed me and kicked me out. Fun times. After that I tried some new characters but nothing was as fun as that first one, and I eventually ran out of my time and didn’t bother to renew. Fun game though.

  5. Pickly says:

    My personal definition of grind:

    Unfun things that a player must do to access fun things.

    It is somewhat subjective, but this does reflect the idea that different players, or the same player at different times, will find different things fun or unfun. it also works for games other than MMOs (so the Team Fortress 2 achievements could also well be a form of grind for some people, certain stages of civilization type games for others, etc.)

    So, for instance, one person might be fine with lweveling, but another will hate it. Another might enjoy the rewards enough that longer periods of killing things are worth it, while a further person gets bored really fast.

    As for leveling, equipment, and other such things, the fact that items that improve a characters power are given out as rewards will contribute heavily to grind. The most fun for players is when enemy power (or other obstacle power) is about at the same level as character power, but since characters are constantly improving in power, the power levels of different areas must be kept different to keep up. This means that, at each power level, a character has less options available for appropriate level content, and as a result will get bored more easily.

    For games that give out new skills are particular levels, it also means a player will have to play for a long time to access certain skills, leading to strong grind potential.

  6. TSED says:

    I find it funny that EverQuest has become ridiculously easy since the MMO boom. Back in the olden days, all your gear stayed on your corpse, you had 3 hours to get a rez or you lost that non-negligible chunk of xp forever, and you may have had to run across continents.

    Nowadays you show up on your bind spot clad in full gear. For a few hunded platinum, you can summon your corpse. With just a few more coins, you can pop your cleric merc out and get a 96% rez.

    Tasks actually telling you what to do instead of old quests just having dialogue with NPCs and hoping you put it together. And let’s not get into the mudflation of a game that’s been out for 12 years and has what, 16 expansions?

    UNRELATED: Hey, Shamus? What are your thoughts on mudflation? I’m sure you’ve got some good ideas on what to do with that.

  7. Moriarty says:

    why would you be too low for westfall after elwyn?

    If you do elwyn right, you’ll be lv 12 after killing hogger, exactly the right level to enter westfall.

    edith: I shouldn’t have looked at your armory. Now all I can think of are the unoptimal items and spec. It’s really hard to try not to optimise your character.

    • Greg says:

      Shamus mentioned the quests around Goldshire, but if you do those, you’ll end up around level 9, you have to go over the Eastvale Logging Camp and do the quests there, then head back to Goldshire, then head over and kill Hogger to be about level 12 and go to Westfall.

      Of course, Eastvale is on the other side of Elywnn from Goldshire, so the quest flow doesn’t feel entirely natural to go all the way over there, then suddenly go right back past where you were to carry on. It would have felt more natural to go into Redridge. It’s always really annoying running back and forth across Elywnn without a mount.

    • Shamus says:

      I’m barely level 11 with my mage, and there are a couple of quests right in the door that are 12. But most quests are 14+, and the monsters ramp up to 15 very quickly.

      Maybe I need to jog past the tough stuff and get to Sentential Hill? Maybe there are level 13-ish quests available there?

      • Greg says:

        Hmm, thats probably it. I think there’s a farm on the way to Sentinel Hill that might have a couple of lower level quests, but I think the start of the Defias storyline in Westfall is about 13.

        Also, I think when you get to Sentinel Hill you get a simple series of quests sending you to Stormwind and Redridge asking for help. It’s basically free exp for running back and forth and talking to a few guys. That could be an easy way to help you catch up if you’re a little low.

        Annoyingly, I did these a month of so ago, so I should know this, but I was wearing heirlooms, which kinda throws off any comparison.

        • Hitch says:

          The “learning to take a taxi” quests are only available to characters in their “native” zones. The Sentinel Hill ones can only be done by humans. Night Elves get basically the same quests in Auberdine, Dwarves and Gnomes in Loch Modan, and Draenei on Bloodmyst Isle. Shamus likes to quest in the “wrong” areas, so would tend to miss those.

          • Greg says:

            These aren’t the learning to taxi quests, you get sent out of multiple towns to ask them to send help to Westfall. I did it on my Draenei warrior, so I know it’s not race limited. There’s a similar series that you get in Redridge that involves even more shuttling back and forth around the various towns.

      • Alastair says:

        My theory is Westfall is horrible to quest in. I abandoned it as soon as humanly possible.

        • kmc says:

          Westfall is dusty and brown and I get tired of it (and the murlocs are annoying, and the gnolls are a death trap, and the dust elementals will mess you up) but now that it’s been a long time since I’ve been there, I find myself feeling a little (dare I say) wistful when I pass through or run someone through Deadmines.

  8. Greg says:

    The levelling progression in Cataclysm should be much smoother. Once you’re at about level 20 each zone should last about 5 levels and then give you a lead-in to the next zone. This should last you all the way to 60 when you head to Outland. Quest rewards will also be much better, as will the quests. They’re also adding more flight points, which will make getting around much easier.

    Overall, they’re taking all they’ve learned about quest design over the past 6 years (which you can really see just by levelling through vanilla WoW, TBC and Wrath) and applying it to the 1-60 levelling experience.

    As an example of the changes, you mentioned Stranglethorn Vale. In WoW right now, it has quests from about 30 to 45. In Cataclysm STV is split into 2 zones, Northern Stranglethorn and the Cape of Stranglethorn. Northern Stranglethorn is level 25-30 and Cape of Stranglethorn is 30-35.

    • Shamus says:

      I will say that I think Stranglethorn vale is my most hated zone so far. As you said, it’s 30-45, which is a really huge range. Then there’s the “I hope you have a spare Netherweave bag to hold this crap” page collection quest that you can take in the early 30’s, fill up half your inventory, but not actually finish until your mid to late 30’s. Ugh. I took my spare pages and auctioned them for cheap in the hopes of saving someone else the aggravation.

      It’s also a long zone from north to south, which means it can often be a major hike to get back to town for a repair & vendor dump. And the way mobs will hound you even on the road.

      Ugh. If I level another character (I’ve got a 11 Mage right now) I’ll see if I can skip SV next time through.

      • LinkageAX says:

        You can skip STV if you like, take a train to Ironforge and follow the roads north until you hit Southshore, or some place like that. The quests might be a little bit lower, but if you head east from there you should be in a comfortable level 30 grinding zone. Then from there head over to Gadgetzan. Also, do random dungeons as often as possible and when you’re high enough to access Alterac Valley, do that in combination with randoms. The randoms will gear you and the AV will level you. It’s also tonnes more time-efficient, theres level 50’s in my guild going up 2-3 levels in a day.

      • Will says:

        I suspect you could probably skip STV by just doing Hillsbrad>AV/AB then grind the 40s through Tanaris/Hinterlands. Then again, I’m yet to level an Alliance character, so take the advice with all the salt it warrants.

        For the 50s though… Ungoro is fine. Personally, I would avoid Felwood at all cost. The repeated trips into Jaedenar are ridiculous.

      • Greg says:

        I’d forgotten about the Green Hills quests, total pain in the ass. Although, if you manage to pre-collect all the pages on another character, then turn them all in on an alt as soon as you can, it can be a decent chunk of exp.

        If you want to avoid STV for you mage, I’d recommend going to Dustwallow Marsh and Arathi Highlands. Arathi is fairly light on quests, but I think between it and the Marsh it should take you to 40.

        Hillsbrad is another choice for the early 30s (I think) and it gives you some quests for Alterc Mountains, which is mid to late 30s. You’d still need to get most of your exp from Dustwallow, but it could help you if you find yourself a level or 2 short.

        Desolace is another 30s zone, but I’ve only ever done it on my very first character and I hated the zone with a passion, so I’d recommend avoiding it. It’s also really, really out of the way.

        It’s been 2 years since I’ve leveled through these areas without heirlooms though, so I can’t be sure how much exp they’ll give. It might be worth dropping into STV for some of the less annoying quests.

        Edit: Completely forgot about dungeons, they should solve any exp issues.

        • Shamus says:

          I’d like to do a dungeon, but I don’t want to play with strangers. I’ve hooked up with a couple of people in-game now. A few more and we might be able to start doing them.

          I remember from doing deadmines a couple of years ago that dungeons give insane loot.

          • Hal says:

            Don’t be so quick to dismiss dungeons with strangers. A year ago, I might have agreed with you. However, since the introduction of the dungeon finder tool, random dungeons have gotten much better in terms of player manners and competence.

            It’s still hit-or-miss, of course, but the odds are now more like 70:30 rather than 50:50. This is largely because it is now very easy to get into dungeon groups, so you’re much less likely to be playing with people who have never done a dungeon before (or visited a trainer, or moved abilities onto their action bar, or . . .). Also, because of where the game is in its development cycle, you’re much more likely to get grouped with people leveling alts rather than leveling their first character.

            Just saying.

            • Shamus says:

              Remember: I am one of the dunces though. A hunter isn’t exactly a highly sought class for dungeons, and a Hunter that doesn’t have much experience teaming is going to be even less so.

              But maybe I’ll fire up the dungeon finder and ruin somebody’s night.

              • Shiro_ax says:

                Since when? Hunters are awesome. Hide that off hand and you might fake it at least. If you at least know not to roll on +str and proc weapons people will still like you better than guys who don’t.

                There’s plenty of cool mail in lv 40 instances, it might help you put off the slump for another ten or so levels.

                Another thing, have you tried the other specs? MM has high damage and crits that can down a mob before it reaches you, and BM get a TYRANNOSAUR!!!111, Surv always seemed most boring to me.

              • Ian says:

                I think I can safely say that you’re not a dunce and I’ve never even played with you in the mystical World of WoWcraft.

                Nonono, a dunce is the holy paladin that queues as a tank. A dunce is the shadow priest who feebly tries to heal heroic Culling of Stratholme. A dunce is the idiot DPS who rushes into the exact group that the tank is not targeting. A dunce is the tank who rushes in when the healer does a “/y OOM” and is in the middle of drinking after his last boneheaded pull.

                Sadly, the only one of those incidents that was done by a non-80 was the first one, and I got to experience all of them first-hand. It’s enough to make a guy cry.

              • timmins says:

                Actually, hunters are so brokenly overpowered that you are a huge asset for dungeons. Just don’t waste time on serpent sting, or for that matter, pretty much everything. Cast mend pet liberally, and spam arcane shot and autoshot. Bonus points if you use your pet to pull stuff off the healer or other ranged dps.

                But generally, random dungeons are all about front loaded damage, ability to maintain dps over a long series of continual fights, and the survivability to stay alive while everyone else is being an idiot. A hunter is great at all of these.

                Not only does it make it easier to keep your quests level appropriate (not that a hunter really cares, they are so overpowered), but the gear makes questing a lot faster, and I find it also makes you take more of an interest in your character, to have a choice of several different options for gear, instead of just having the same quest weapon everyone else does.

                As for the general topic of the thread, I agree that good gameplay would massively help an MMO, and make it far more desirable to play. But the massive latency issues limit your options heavily. A more strategic system of planning and maneuver seems to be the best option, and Star trek online’s space combat seemed a lot of fun, but unfortunately the rest of the game was terrible, from the crafting system to the overly complex levelup system, to the lack of interesting gear to buy, to lots and lots of microtransactons, and the staring at what was really not a very interesting sector space map instead of running through pretty goldshire.

                Mainly though, I don’t think most gamers WANT a game with deep thought and strategy involved. And until the latency is dealt with, action is right out of the question.

                Puzzle Pirates was also an mmo with very neat gameplay. It’s also free.

                But I really just play mmo’s to go cool places and look at cool things. Puzzle pirates is a far cry from Zangarmarsh.

                • Tesh says:

                  I’ll second this, especially noting Puzzle Pirates and WoW. When I want good, brain-exercising gaming, I’ll play PP. When I want pretty screenshots, I’ll play WoW (or Allods or LOTRO or even DDO, whatever). I’d be happy with more intelligent/challenging gameplay in WoW, but I suspect I’m an outlier.

                • srwilly says:

                  If you do queue for a dungeon make sure you turn your pet’s taunt and growl off. You don’t want to pull threat from the tank.

          • I’d put it at closer to 90/10 for people who can play the dungeon over those who can’t, even better at higher levels.

      • pinchy says:

        STV also gets bonus annoyance points on a pvp server when some level 40+ douche from the other faction decides to kill your poor level 30 repeatedly, which seems to be far more common in STV simply due to the large level range of the zone.

        Pretty much every time I’ve tried to go through STV again I’ve ended up logging onto my priest and “persuading” them as to the error of their ways until I’ve gotten bored.

      • Conlaen says:

        I loved STV. It was one of my favorite area’s. On my first character, a paladin, I came to the zone a bit later then the recommended level. It was sometimes a bit hard to find all the named tigers, panthers and raptors you needed, but I still had loads of fun. My second character was a hunter, and he ate that place up even more. I even loved coming back there at later levels.

        The page collection quest is really geared for trading them like it’s a card trading game. I usually found them pretty fast by just asking around if people had some of the pages I was missing on hand. But yes, if you play only solo then some bits can definitely be annoying I guess. But just teaming up with 1 other person can often help a lot. When you see someone else in the area, doing the same quest, you could always ask them if they want to team up. Sure there are some asshats out there, but most people were really nice (but I’ve heard people on RP servers tend to be a little nicer in general so maybe that’s it?)

      • http://www.wow-pro.com/node/775 is what I did. I was on a pvp server, 75% the other faction.

      • Steve C says:

        Stranglethorn Vale is a poorly designed zone. Even the developers have said that for years. The Nessingway Green Hills page collection quest is of note. It was an experiment quest concept that the developers tried out. They did not intend for people to collect the pages themselves. They wanted a sub-economy to grow around the pages and people to trade them back and forth. It was to force more player interactions outside of dungeons and pvp.

        It kind of used to work that way. I always liked that quest. But I’m the type of person who uses zone wide chat as a kind of help request IM. I’m sure I asked when I got my 2nd page “/1 What are these pages for?” I remember years ago that people would constantly post in general chat of the zone “Want to trade pages X, Y, Z for A, B. C.” That kind of discussion in general chat doesn’t happen much anymore.

        The developers acknowledged that their plans did not work out and that kind of quest has more problems than it’s worth. They promised never to do something like it again. I still like it. I’d go to AH and just buy a full set of pages. A full set of pages is worth a level and a half of xp and pages are cheap.

        • Hitch says:

          I always do that quest, but don’t bother picking it up until late. I just bank pages as I find them until I have about 60 to 70% of them. Then I go to the AH and buy the ones I’m missing and sell off all my duplicates. I generally pay less than I make off the deal. Turn them in all at once and get about half a level just from those.

          I like Stranglethorn Vale and do a lot of questing there, so I end up with lots of pages without trying for them.

      • kmc says:

        OH GOD I hated STV. It just lasts so damn long… I think I spent 12 levels there back in vanilla. Plus, back then I was on a PvP server, so it was like [kill a tiger] [get ganked] [run back] [get ganked] [run back] [fight a tiger] [die]… It’s a gorgeous area but I’ve quested there once since my very first toon and that was while doing refer-a-friend, so we spend a few very fast levels there and then left. And you don’t have to go across the world to Dustwallow, either; you can go up to Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands, quest there, and then you can either head straight into Arathi Highlands or you can cross through Arathi and go to Southshore in Hillsbrad first. I think if you do all of Arathi and all of Hillsbrad you should be able to go up into the Hinterlands, which I’ve always really enjoyed for some reason. For leveling on Kalimdor, Stonetalon is a high-20s area iirc. From there you head into Desolace, although I’ve never found a whole lot of quests there. My main leveled through Mara (a dungeon I can’t recommend; it’s huge). I’d say, do what you can in Desolace, make up the rest of the way to the upper 30s in Dustwallow Marsh, and then you can quest in Feralas which is very pretty and wet. From there, it goes Tanaris-Un’Goro-Silithus.

  9. Mark says:

    Shamus, on the subject of grind and RPGs, have you ever played anything in the Dragon Quest series?

      • Mark says:

        That’s fair. I suppose they’re mostly for systems you don’t have (or at least don’t have set up). I only ask because every time you bring up RPGs it seems like an example one can point to of something done right. To an extent, they seem to be as if Ultima were designed so that your grandmother could understand it.

        I’m certain you’ve got recommendations out the wazoo, so if there were some way to recommend it without recommending it I’d do that. But there’s not, so I’m just going to have to do the rude thing and say U SHOLD TRY.

        • susie day says:

          I’ll second that recommendation. I was delighted with DQ 8 for about 80% of the game. It only fell apart at the end with the repetitive plot device and I was getting to too high of a level which made it less fun for me, but perhaps more fun for others.

  10. OEP says:

    When mobs are designed to fall over in a few shots so as to allow newbies to kill them easily, the gameplay can’t be complex. The complexity comes when facing a challenge. Playing a hunter well can be incredibly rewarding and difficult. As a hunter you can solo almost all group quests if you know how to play. Kiting, use of traps and jump shots are all part and parcel of real hunter skills. You can easily do quests that are red in your logs.

    Ultimately everyone has different tastes, I find shooters to be incredibly boring. The changing landscape of people (mouthy teen jerk changes to another mouthy teen jerk), maps (yay, one of the 10 maps!), and class mixtures ( I shoot people, what do you do? shoot people, ooh I heal, I shoot from stealth!) aren’t really engaging at all to me.

    • Shamus says:

      Jump shots? I’m curious about that one.

      I’ve noticed that I can do red quests. A good tenacity pet is almost as good as having another player to tank for you. Actually, it might be better because you can repeatedly sacrifice your pet to escape and he’ll never ragequit on you. :)Although, I don’t usually enjoy playing like this. Fights are long and a wandering monster at a bad moment can kill. Long fights make the game more dull and grind-y for me, even if the total return on XP over time is better.

      (Also, in a crowded area the idiotic “sliding combat” that pets will do with mobs when they’re trying to get in front of each other can round up a lot of unwanted dudes before you can even click the button to call him back.)

      • Jon says:

        I believe “jump shots” are performed by jumping while running away from an enemy, doing a 360 in mid-air, and firing off a shot mid jump (when you’re facing the enemy). It’s useful because you continue to move at full speed (as opposed to walking backwards & shooting), and can therefore keep your distance while still dealing damage.

        And yeah, sliding pets have gotten me killed many times (though usually after he aggros too many mobs I run away and leave him for dead) :).

      • OEP says:

        Hunters have several instant shots that can be used while moving.

        1) shoot something (melee mob only)
        2) Run away
        3) Aspect of the Cheetah (don’t get hit or you will get dazed)
        4) Jump, and use your mouse to turn 180 degrees, use an instant shot (Arcane shot, Serpent Sting, Aimed Shot, Explosive Shot), turn 180 degrees back before you land.

        It takes a bit of practice, but you can basically drag an elite mob all over the place while your serpent sting (a dot), your pet (basically another dot) and your shots kill him.

        • Ian says:

          With most mobs, I prefer to stay in Aspect of the Hawk/Dragonhawk while kiting for the attack power bonus and to remove the possibility of an unwanted daze if you were to make a boo-boo.

          Basically, instead of speeding myself up, I prefer to slow the enemy down. I hit them with concussive shot and, if they get too close, wing clip. If things get really hairy, I face them, hit deterrence so that I can survive a few GCDs, hit wing clip, disengage, and then a concussive shot when wing clip wears off.

          If you throw yourself in Aspect of the Cheetah/Pack and wind up making an accidental pull, the dazed effect is probably going to either kill you or viciously maim you. It’ll essentially negate the use of wing clip, too, since unless you specced into Improved Wing Clip, they will be able to move at about the same speed as you are. You could disengage, but if they were to hit you on your way back you could wind up dazed again, effective killing your movement speed for a few precious seconds.

  11. John says:

    I wonder when someone will be able to bring the more innovative combat systems from MUDS (such as in http://www.achaea.com and its siblings) over to MMORPGs? Years and years ago (before my firstborn, when I time for such) I had loads of fun with the complexities there. Despite the ability to have more complex graphical interface they can’t beat that?

    Ah well, the problem probably is that the mass audience couldn’t keep up, I know.

  12. Chakan says:

    I’ll admit, that’s the reason I eventually decided to go with EVE. In it, players never have to grind, and the only thing to grind for is money; what’s more, if you do as I did, working towards the next size up once you understand how to fly the ship you currently have, you’ll learn a lot about the game, but it’ll be spread out over a month or two. For instance, I didn’t really understand the resists for ships till I was in a Battle cruiser (between a cruiser and a battle ship,) and I couldn’t tell you what the different size ships were on day two, but now I know that command ships are nastier than even the best fit assault ship.
    EVE is a lot to take it, but it feeds it to you as fast as you want it.

  13. X2-Eliah says:

    Hmm, If Shamus is starting a mage (level 11, right?), that means the slump for Shadowless has settled in again, only a bit later, right?

    • Shamus says:

      Well, I started about half a dozen characters and sort of pitted them against each other, seeing which ones were most fun. The hunter and the Mage won and the other ones languished.

      I enjoyed the rogue at first, but the endless “stab dude, run behind, backstab, repeat” started getting old.

      • OEP says:

        I’ve always found mage to be terrible. Fight, sit, fight, sit, fight, sit.

        I think a mage spell should be to summon a chair, since you spend so much time on your butt.

        • Shamus says:

          I agree. I complained about this in an article way back in the day, and it was argued that without the constant sitting, Mages would be overpowered because they kill stuff so fast. But this seems like a terrible solution.

          “Hey, this character is killing too fast.”

          “Maybe we should… make them stop playing every 30 seconds?”

          “Brilliant!”

          Yeah. I understand that the Mage needs to be able to kill stuff before it reaches him, but I can’t help but thin there HAS to be a better solution than this.

          • X2-Eliah says:

            Out of interest, is it really that different to the common D&D mechanic of resting (that people for some reason seem to love), where your mage has to rest after every 4 or so spells casted?

            A better solution, imo, would be a small hp penalty added to spell costs – so you have to balance killing mobs against slowly killing yourself. Or, perhaps, a fatigue system that reduces efficiency of spells as you increase the killing speed.. Stop for a bit, fatigue decreases.

            • Shamus says:

              You’re right, it’s not different in concept, other than happening much more often. In D&D you generally rest once a day. Here you’ll rest perhaps twice in a minute and a half. It’s just not very fun.

              In D&D you say “I rest.” and the DM says “Ok.”. You don’t actually have to quit playing the game and go read a book for two hours.

              • X2-Eliah says:

                Fair point. I had the computer rpgs based off of D&D more in mind though, like NWN1, there the ‘resting’ is quite a horrible thing.

                Wow was first conceived what, 8 years ago? at that time, afaik, D&D was still the main focus of computer rpgs, and the ‘mages must rest’ probably seemed to be the one reasonable thing to do for balancing.

              • Joshua says:

                And even D&D is trying to get away from this original idea. 4.0 introduced at-wills and a few other minor rules(like Action Points) to encourage players to keep on going rather than have the “I rest”.

                Unfortunately, I think they’ve only been marginally successful, and you still have players who want to stop in the middle of a dramatic sequence and rest just because they’ve used one Daily.

                They still need to work out an effective system to balance resource management versus plot momentum and challenge.

            • Ian says:

              Given some of the raid mechanics that are in place, an HP penalty on every offensive spell would be a very bad idea.

              Many raid fights (Blood-Queen Lana’thel in ICC’s blood wing comes to mind) — and even some trash pulls (Stinky and Precious from ICC’s plague wing) — involve heavy raid damage. Having an HP penalty would effective kill mages. Either you’d have to have druids on-hand to blow a battle res if it’s off cooldown and the mage kills him/herself, you’d have to give mages the ability to heal themselves (which would effectively negate the “benefits” of an HP penalty), or the mage would have to stop DPS, effectively making him/her worthless in the parts of the aforementioned fights for the sake of self-preservation.

              All in all, given the way WoW works, that simply wouldn’t work. Neither would increasing the mana regen rates, or the effectiveness of drinks on mages, or reducing the mana cost of spells, because that would unbalance PvP like crazy. One option would be a warlock-like life tap, which trades HP for mana (which is far different than an HP penalty on spells, since the player does not depend on it in order to do their basic attacks and can use it at his/her whim), except that’s an ability that would make far more sense for a warlock than a mage.

              I think it would essentially take a class reboot to resolve this issue. We’ll see what happens with Cataclysm comes around.

              • Shamus says:

                I think you’re exactly right: It would take a class reboot to fiix this. And given the (reportedly) complex mechanics of the high-end raids and how much they depend on mages, a reboot just isn’t in the cards.

                It’s just a shame that the raid mechanics at level 80 are screwing up PvE play at level 12.

                And of course you could just hand-wave it and give mages more juice / faster recharge during the early game, but then it would make them killing machines on PvP servers.

                It might even be more than a class reboot. To fix this you’d have to go re-think how magic works in your game and design the game from there.

                Still, the drinking was an ugly solution to the balance problem.

                • Ian says:

                  Indeed. I do have some faith in Cataclysm to sort some of the cruft out, though. Blizzard has clearly learned a lot in the last six years (just wait until you get into Outland and especially Northrend — it’s almost like playing a different game) and I’m definitely interested in seeing what they have in mind to make leveling through 1-60 a bit more streamlined.

                  Speaking of leveling, in my experience, high downtime in the current game isn’t limited to just mages. I’ve found myself running into that issue every time I attempt to level a warrior, except with food rather than drinks. After you hit a certain level it tapers off, as always, but when you get to the mid-teens it starts to feel like you’re eating after every other fight.

                  In a way, getting through the lower levels with those painful classes demonstrates a definite change in the way that the old world was designed. When I got my cousin to start playing, he rolled a warrior and I rerolled my priest (which I had difficulties soloing with due to high downtime, but unlike a mage I had to actually buy or loot mana drinks). With that class combination there was virtually no downtime. I’d make sure he never had to eat, and his strong attacks would ensure that I’d never have to drink. It almost seems to me that the old world — mechanics and all — were designed around pairs of players rather than soloing.

                • Nathon says:

                  It’s worth pointing out that in a recent patch, they made mana and hit point regeneration rates go WAY up from levels 1-15. I recently leveled a warlock (who can trade hit points for mana, by the way) to level 20 or so and it was much, much easier than leveling a caster used to be.

                • Ian says:

                  @Nathon: Yep, it does make it a lot easier to start out.

                  However, I’ve found that when you get past level 15 as a mage, you still wind up getting into the “pew pew, glug glug, pew pew, glug glug” cycle that always existed.

                  My second mage is going better than my first mage did, but I think that’s more because I’m very experienced at playing the game now. Even so, despite doing everything I can to curb mana usage, I still have to drink after every three or four fights.

          • Steve C says:

            With Evocation higher levels mages rarely have to stop. I speed run dungeons at 80 and I don’t remember the last mage that had to stop and drink. But I think you still have to suffer at the low levels to be rewarded with near limitless mana later.

        • timmins says:

          The mage isn’t like that at all at higher levels. It’s just really badly designed. You get spells at the wrong levels. Specifically, arcane missiles is useless till you get arcane blast….. at level 64, when it becomes a great spell. Arcane blast should be before level 20, because it’s arcane’s bread and butter spell. Invisibility is endgame, when it should be level 10, because it gives you one of the single most important utility abilities of a mage: a way to drop combat, so you can drink to recover mana.

          Generally, they have all they need to be a cool class, but they get it at all the wrong levels, and are terrible until you get to level 64, when they become awesome.

          the mana mechanic isn’t really built around drinking. It’s built around needing to be carefully managed and conserved. If you are a frost mage, by northrend you basically have unlimited mana. If you are an arcane mage, you are even better. It’s just the game is balanced for pvp and endgame, it’s not balanced for leveling. It’s just not a design priority. And it shows.

          • trix says:

            Most of this is caused by the way the game was developed. With expansions having a habit of introducing new spells, most of which ended up being key to class playstyles, you get problems like you described.

            Arcane blast, for example, was introduced with Burning Crusade as one of the touted new abilities mages would get, taking the role of a spammable arcane nuke (which allowed arcane specs to come into their own in time). Since arcane was balanced with the spell in mind, it made the spec not very useful until BC content.

            Probably the one that really got me personally was the warlock spell incinerate, which was another post-60 BC spell. Although a good portion of the destruction talent tree is now centered around using incinerate, warlocks pre-level 62 will find destruction to be a little lacking (mostly shadowbolt-spam).

            It seems part of the goal of cataclysm is to completely change the levels when abilities are learned for all classes, making for a better progression 1-60 and hopefully removing issues such as these.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Ah, that explains it. Having never played Wow, I don’t see why people use n-alts.. I would use one main character to play with and that’s it..

        Oh well. In most other RPGs, the mage (and at times, ranger) classes provide the best balance of fragility, ranged-ness, fun of play compared to the other archetypes (weak crit melee, tank melee) -probably it’s the same case here.

        By the way, Shamus should work in advertising – this is the n-th game that I’ve began to think less critically of that Shamus has portrayed here. Still don’t like Wow, but now at least I see it’s possible appeals. (especially the Blizzad support :) )

        • acronix says:

          The use of alts is a way to combat repetition and stagnation. In other types of game, you ussually can stand using one character all the way long because the game doesn´t last more than 10-50 hours plus replay value (which is less and less common this days). Comparing it with the hundreds or thousands of hours you can lose in a MMORPG, even long games that could take 80 hours (do they still exist?) look puny. Being shorter also means that the rewards come close with each other and in quick sucession, which makes the player enjoy a single character more.
          In games like WoW, rewards take even longer to come by. This means a player may not see any advancement in a given character after certain level. After that, they may consider going with an alt because they´ll get the rewards quicker again (until that point in which they grow bored again, and the cycle repeats (or they go with their main again).

          Of course, this is highly dependant on the player´s mentality and perception on the games advancement.

        • Simon says:

          Ah yes, Shamus you do seem to have an odd effect of making me play the games you are talking about.

          I started playing Wow last week so I could see what you have been talking about, and I have got to say I am enjoying myself.

          Though I am avoiding a vital part of gameplay, guilds and social aspects, as to not become to addicted like I did when I played Guild Wars. I understand I might be missing out on a lot, but my productivity will fall into nothing if that happens.

      • Hitch says:

        Another aspect of alts in WoW is “rested XP.” When you log out of one character and don’t play it for a while you build up a certain amount of rest. It’ll take about a week or so of being logged out in an Inn to become completely rested. Then when you play for the next level and a half or so, every monster you kill yields double XP. So swapping between several alts and only playing the ones that are rested earns you bonus XP and you level those with less play time and don’t get as bogged down in the grind. Also different play styles between classes provide some interest. You can’t do things the same on a Rogue as a Mage, so you have to constantly consider, “how do I do this with ‘this’ character?” Some things which are quite challenging for one class are trivial for another.

        • Pickly says:

          I’m always surprised how few people think of the big reason to play multiple characters: trying out the different mechanics is quite fun.

          It seems like another result of the long leveling times is to make playing multiple characters in this way becomes impractical enough that people stick to just one. (Compare to, say, strategy games where trying out multiple civilizations is nothing unusual, or Team Fortress 2, where switching classes is nothing unusual.)

  14. Vekni says:

    Try a warlock if you do another alt. You seem to enjoy the ranged classes, and locks are viciously fun. I advocate the Affliction spec.

  15. Silfir says:

    I’ve tried my fair share of MMORPGs, and the first one that had combat interesting enough to keep me hooked was Atlantica Online.

    It’s free to play and contrary to DDO there don’t seem to be any quests or areas locked off behind a paywall (this is what pissed me off in DDO; the quests were fun but once you got to level 4 the real quest started to be “look for the stuff you don’t have to pay for”). Anyway, the gimmick behind the combat is that you don’t have one character, you have a party consisting of you and your three to eight mercenaries. Instead of 50 skills on your main character you’ve got 1 to 3 per party member. You have to choose formations, geared towards protecting you (mercenaries can be knocked out, but if you get knocked out combat is instantly over) and your squishy mage/archer types by placing them behind meat shields (in the case of the viking, who is just ridicously huge and bulky like that, meat shield is likely a literal description). Combat is tactically interesting and fast-paced since you have to choose actions for your dudes each round, but there is always a set time frame in which you have to assign all actions. Necessary of course since you can’t have a real turn-based strategy game in an MMO. The game feels very different depending on the mercenaries you choose to hire; each party lineup plays different. Going up in level eventually gets you access to quests for additional super-special-awesome mercenaries. Either way, the quests do often amount to looking for items dropped by monsters (“squirrel tusks”), but monsters of your own level (and especially those slightly higher level) are actually exciting to fight, so it works out.

    There’s lots of other things to keep it interesting. I was pretty astonished to find out that you can’t just pawn off your stuff at a merchant of some sort and receive appropriate monetary rewards. There is one guy in the starting area who buys items from you at 10 gold apiece, which is really about nothing even then. The only way to get real profit from your stuff is trying to sell it to other players at the market (WoW auction house equivalent, I believe), which works. Very few things amount to “real” junk, thanks to the game’s crafting system (of course, some items are sold at fixed price by the game itself, trying to sell these for more than that is a fool’s errand then); most of the time you’ll be throwing items away is because your market slots are filled with items that give much greater profit. Playing the merchant minigame is fun.

    The early game here is a nice experience since the game actively encourages players at all stages to help. Some quests later on are simply to donate a significant amount of money to be randomly given as a gift to a new player. I received some of these myself – suddenly there’s a christmas gift type icon flashing in the lower right corner, you open it, find sweet amounts of gold in it (since the early game player’s fortune is the higher level player’s pocket change, unsurprisingly), and continue playing with a smile on your face. There is a menu option that lets you ask a question, which will then be answered by some other dude to the best of his knowledge. You get your answer, the other dude gets a reward for answering.

    I’ve blathered on a lot, but it boils down to this: To me, Atlantica Online got it right, and I would like to hear your take on it.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Sounds like a nice thing, if you enjoy guiding parties. If, on the other hand, you enjoy guiding your own hero and nobody else, this system might not be that good for you.

      This sounds very much like DA:O, where you technically are one character, you control a party of four and you spend 90% of non-conversation time playing as somebody else, leaving your own char on auto.

      Of course, that donation quest seems to be a cool thing indeed.. Though being the selfish person that I am, I’m thinking it could easily be abused by alts/friendships/friend alts…

      • Silfir says:

        Basically the party IS your hero. Each guy has a couple of skills at most, so if you only controlled your main character you would die of boredom. It adds a lot of strategic and tactical depth compared to the lone wolf approach. There are no in-party conversations. Outside of combat you explore the world alone. Of course, if you want all your skills rolled up into one guy, this is not the game for you.

        The donation quests are part of the main quest line and the gift is always randomly distributed to one of the current new players on the server. Of course, it’s a sort of “forced” kindness – on the other hands the amounts I have received as a newbie sometimes were nowhere near the minimum dictated amount. I myself went ahead and gave out a lot more than I was strictly forced to. Once you receive the gift, you can send a thank you message and usually you get an “np” or “you’re welcome” or something in return… I think it’s friendlier than most MMORPGs.

      • Robyrt says:

        This is the best part of Dragon Age. With a couple mods, I was able to put all 4 characters on auto, allowing me to basically sit back and watch the many unimportant battles, instead of having to hit the 1-5 keys over and over.

  16. Henebry says:

    Looking at your character’s name, “Shadowless,” I’m struck by an oddity of language: your name literally means “without a shadow” but somehow unless I concentrate on the meaning I wind up picturing your character as fully cloaked in shadow.

    “Neverwinter Nights” had a similar effect as a name: I always picture that game as set in deep winter, as if the name were “Alwayswinter.” I never played the game, mind you, just heard about it from friends. Maybe that’s what makes the connotation especially strong: in both cases I don’t have any objective content to concentrate on, making unconscious associations predominate.

  17. Samopsa says:

    Here Shamus, an article you should read. It’s a devblog about the upcoming Guild Wars 2, and how they have a flat leveling curve:

    http://www.arena.net/blog/progression-and-leveling-in-guild-wars-2#more-2828

    • Shamus says:

      Thank you.

      Although, you need not worry that I will ever miss any Guild Wars news. Josh forwards me all GW2 news, interviews, previews, pictures he took of the developers while he was hiding in the bushes outside their house, and pictures of the proposed GW2 box art with his head photoshopped onto all the characters.

      I don’t know how GW2 will do, but I know it will sell at least one copy.

  18. Drexer says:

    I have to ask though Shamus; no love/expectation for DC Universe Online? Its combat seems to be trying to do something at least a bit different, and hopefully they’ll be able to avoid some grinding through their use of comic book plot. Even if only with two starting major focal points.

    That and seeing as it is an MMO that I will not be able to avoid playing, it opens to me the opportunity to bombard you with random gifts once you do a Let’s Play of it. :P

  19. Jeysie says:

    I have to say that grinding is a big part of what puts me off MMORPGs. I don’t even like grinding in single-player RPGs. To me, a hallmark of a well-made RPG is that simply defeating any enemy you naturally come across while pursuing the plot will keep you on the right level and money curve to continue smoothly, with little to no having to pause following the plot to spend time grinding.

  20. Will says:

    Just a note Shamus; with a bit of practice and some decent gear you should be able to tackle quests 2 – 3 (or more if you’re really good) higher than you are. Especially at low levels where the difference between a level 10 monster and a level 12 monster is pretty negligable.

    Hunters and Warlocks actually have it the easiest for that, as their tank pets allow them to destroy monsters many levels higher than them with relative ease. With proper heal management you should be able to tackle red monsters and orange elites without too much fuss (it will take awhile though).

    As for Mages, it’s been awhile, but iirc they pick up Blizzard at some point and there’s a talent tree item for Blizzard that makes it slow enemies it hits, and another one that gives it a % chance to freeze them. When used properly, this allows Mages to kill groups of 12+ enemies at once, gaining rediculous amounts of XP in the process. I still remember when i was in EP with my Warrior, slowly hacking my way through 2 – 3 zombies at once, and this Mage turned up and soloed about 20 of the bloody things in half the time it took me (a pretty well equipped and well specced Fury Warrior) to kill 3 of them. Then he hopped away leaving me feeling impotent.

    tl;dr – Blizzard is awesome, quests that are your level are actually rather easy, you should be able to do orange quests or even red quests with a Hunter with no problem.

    • Hunters tend to readily do quests in the orange and red zones. I found that my mage tended to do yellow and green quests well. The ‘lock yellow, the DK seemed to thrive on the same as Hunters. Paladins seem just slow, no matter what the level ;)

      But, if you are currently running a mage, you should be able to use looking for group and just get cued up and run instances without any problem, just shoot at whatever the tank attacks. You can even, if you want, have the game target the tank’s target for you. You and the healer are likely to go oom at the same time.

  21. eri says:

    I imagine the reason the quest lines are split up as they are is because they want to encourage players to explore all areas of the game, as well as to avoid there being one set progression through everything. Of course, smaller quest lines could alleviate this, or maybe having mini-resolutions in the plots, but… honestly, I don’t think that story takes priority in World of Warcraft.

    I think that the problem of “why can’t I do this next quest?” could be avoided if Blizzard added in some sort of advisor, like a pop-up message that tells you “hey, there’s fresh quests over in that other zone”, or even an in-game character. One of the biggest problems of an MMO, or even any old RPG for that matter, is getting to grips with the massive amounts of content and making sense of it, and some sort of help system would really alleviate that, cutting out the boring parts. Of course, I don’t play World of Warcraft, so maybe they already have something like that in the game!

  22. Joshua says:

    As far as your article goes, I originally tried MMOs with Dark Ages of Camelot, one of the first after EQ. I only played it the trial month. Although you got to fulfill the role of a team member in a party, the game was pretty boring, and subpar compared to normal single-player games. I remember one mechanic was something like running around to every random NPC, even merchants, and typing “/quest” or something like that to actually get some kind of quest. Basically, if you took the multi-player out of the equation, the game was not nearly interesting enough to draw me away from Baldur’s Gate or similar games.

    Although I don’t play WoW, I think they’ve made strides in recent years to make it the type of game you would enjoy even if it were single-player with more action, better scenery and more plot. Perhaps in the future, things will improve even more.

    • Will says:

      World of Warcraft has advanced tremendously since it’s original inception, you can see this in Outland and Northrend; they’re just plain better than the original chunks of Azeroth.

      I think that is the reason for Cateclysm; give Blizzard a chance to take all they’ve learned in these past six(?) years and feed it back into the low-game.

  23. Nathon says:

    Shamus, I know I’m hopping in to this discussion way late, but have you tried battlegrounds? Wait until your level ends in 8 or 9, and skip the 50s bracket, but they’re very similar in concept to first person shooters. At your level (40s) you’ll have access to a capture-the-flag game and a defend-the-hill game. I spent a long time thinking I had zero interest in WoW pvp because I don’t enjoy killing other players. But then a friend queued me for a battleground and now I have 2 characters who are pretty much pure pvp. One is even a (survival) hunter. Try it a couple times. You don’t have to be sociable; you can just click the pvp button then click the queue for battleground button. In a few minutes, a window will pop up and offer to let you enter. There’s no commitment like with PvE raiding or even dungeons. If you leave, someone will fill your slot instantly. While you’re waiting, you can run around the world and look at all the different breeds of pretty flowers.

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