Rulkan is the Orcish Jaina Proudmoore

Focus on a young couple. They go through a fairly traditional courtship, filled with the promise of a great future for their people. Suddenly, however, a dark threat appears over the horizon. She advises caution, but he chooses to rush in headlong, and each choice he makes draws him further and further down a path of darkness. At last she realizes that she no longer knows the man he’s become, but a timeless and fervent love still survives.

You look at that story and it’s easy to assign it to Arthas and Jaina and what they’ve been through together, but with the new narrative we’ve got in Warlords of Draenor, it’s actually something that plays perfectly well with Ner’zhul and Rulkan.

For Arthas and Jaina, the threat was the Cult of the Damned. For Ner’zhul and Rulkan, it was the Iron Horde. Both Arthas and Ner’zhul made a fateful choice that broke their relationships: for Arthas it was choosing to cull Stratholme in order to save Lordaeron, and for Ner’zhul it was reviving the Dark Star to keep the Iron Horde from slaughtering the Shadowmoon Clan. After that break occurs, both Jaina and Rulkan take the survivors into exile, while Arthas and Ner’zhul continue down a path of destruction. And ultimately, both Jaina and Rulkan are willing to put past hatreds aside in order to combat the greater threat; Jaina works with Thrall and the Horde against the Legion invasion at Mount Hyjal, and Rulkan enabled Prophet Velen and Yrel to assault Ner’zhul in his place of power at Anguish Fortress.

The idea that Rulkan joins the Alliance Commander as a follower is pretty much where her story stops at this point, but the commonalities with Jaina’s story up until the Battle of Mount Hyjal is something that really sticks out to me. Combine that with all the Cult of the Damned-like qualities that have been impressed upon the new Shadowmoon Clan in WoD-SMV, down to Ner’zhul summoning an Army of the Dead during his boss battle, and it really feels like Blizzard made an active attempt to align Ner’zhul’s narrative with Arthas’ as strongly as they could. I think it’s a pretty interesting turn, since it amps up the connection with the Lich King story (and Ner’zhul of all people going down in a launch 5-man really feels like a plant for future content), but it does so without really altering the existing Ner’zhul story.

Moreover, it infuses what I feel is a lot of additional character into Rulkan, who was essentially killed off introduced in Rise of the Horde as a way for Ner’zhul to get duped by Kil’jaeden. Having her alive completely shifts his state at the start of the Iron Horde narrative (one of Kairozdormu’s “blades of grass”) while also putting a strong female orc character squarely in the Alliance narrative.

I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll see more of Rulkan going forward, because I feel like her addition to the narrative was for a greater purpose than even what we’ve seen so far. Callbacks to WC3 are great and all, but I’m really interested in seeing some new story as well, and Warlords has delivered on that while setting the stage for even more. We’ll see.

A DIRGE FOR HELLSCREAM (Part 1: Fatherhood)

Even though I know that there aren’t really a lot of folks out there reading this, I feel it’s important to point out that there will be spoilers for the Nagrand questing experience in Warlords of Draenor and you should proceed with caution if you haven’t experienced that in context yet.


What’s interesting about the Nagrand finale is that it provides a single conclusion to what are ultimately two different narratives: there’s the story presented in-game of Garrosh and his rise and fall, from his introduction in Burning Crusade up until now, and there’s the whole story of Garrosh presented throughout the entire franchise, across short stories and novels in addition to the game itself. I’m going to focus on the former story first, since that’s the one most players are going to be familiar with (though if you’re reading this, you’ll probably be interested in the latter story as well.)

The first story is really all about Thrall as a surrogate father for Garrosh: when Garrosh is introduced in BC, he’s characterized as a young, depressed orc who grew up in the shadow of his father Grom’s damnation of the whole race. Thrall returns, not only telling but showing everyone on Draenor that Grom died a hero, a redeemer of his people. And Garrosh swells up with pride that his father’s legacy has been restored. Thrall, as the bearer of Grom’s legacy (and Orgrim’s, and Durotan’s, and maybe even Saurfang at this point…) becomes the replacement father for the Mag’har, all of whom grew up without their fathers’ guidance.

As we see Garrosh later in Wrath of the Lich King, he’s become Thrall’s right-hand, even if his intolerance for the Alliance races doesn’t bode well. The beginning of the echoed admonition (“You disappoint me, Garrosh”) reinforces the idea that denying Garrosh approval is intended to punish him for his bad behavior. Garrosh’ earlier exchange with Saurfang at Warsong Hold has airs of this, since Saurfang is (rightly) advising caution, but the undertone of Garrosh’ abrasive response is “Thrall put me in charge here, not you, so stop trying to be my dad by telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.” And all of this following Garrosh’ leadership challenge before the Scourge Invasion (in which Garrosh’ lines all sound like “dad, you’re doing it wrong, I can do it” and Thrall’s responses being “son you’re not ready”) sets up the Northrend campaign as being Garrosh’ coming-of-age, prove-to-me-you’re-a-man event.

There’s a constant sense of Garrosh trying to impress Thrall by being forthright, and every time Thrall is disappointed with him, Thrall’s never specific about why he’s disappointed, so Garrosh gets the wrong idea and screws up worse the next time. Because Thrall’s never had a son and Garrosh has never had a father, so neither of them quite know how to understand one another.

Cataclysm has Thrall leave Garrosh in charge of the Horde to go off and be the World Shaman, and this is where you see Garrosh slipping into a new phase of trying to impress an absentee father: by outdoing him. Thrall united the clans to bring them out of bondage? Garrosh reaches out to the Dragonmaw to bring them into the fold, and even takes Blackrock defectors like Malkorok under his wing. Thrall took a harsh land like Durotar for the Horde? Garrosh savagely grabs territory to secure new footholds for the Horde. The event in Stonetalon, taken in context (and not as Afrasiabi’s mistake, wrought by internal miscommunication) is Garrosh questioning whether or not he’s doing the right thing, but he nonetheless chooses the path of violence. The choice doesn’t matter, though: Thrall isn’t there to admonish him, or to guide him. The bottom line is that despite all the work Garrosh is doing, Thrall is nowhere to be seen. (Players seec him plenty, but Garrosh isn’t in on any of that.)

Mists is where we really see Garrosh finally come into his own. He blows up Theramore because he wants to take Kalimdor for the Horde and Theramore is a prominent target to demonstrate on. He invades Pandaria because he wants it for the Horde. He pursues the Divine Bell because the Horde needs the best weapons in order to survive. He starts cutting weak links like Vol’jin out of the Horde because the Horde needs to be strong. When he gets the Heart of Y’shaarj, he realizes that he now has the ultimate arsenal, which turns all the emotional energy of the Horde’s warriors into weapons. The Horde will never be tools in the hands of others again, but they will instead be the hands that wield weapons and display their strength in glorious resplendence over Azeroth. He doesn’t need to prove himself to Thrall anymore, not if he can prove that he’s made a stronger Horde than Thrall ever could. So even when Thrall himself comes to him and says to give it all up, Garrosh says “no, daddy. I’ve done good, you’re just too weak to see it.”

So at last, when we come to this final showdown between Garrosh and Thrall, there’s an overwhelming sense that Garrosh is finally fed up with Thrall acting like his dad. Especially when he’s been hanging out with his actual dad for an extended period of time.

“YOU FAILED ME.”

To an extent, I can really see where in-game Garrosh is coming from here. The Warchief title was never something that was meant to be bestowed, but instead something that was taken by the strongest orc on the field. Blackhand got it by virtue of being that strongest orc, at least in terms of public acknowledgement. Orgrim took it by killing Blackhand, and Thrall only got it from Orgrim because the Doomhammer was about to die. Grommash has it right now because no can stand up to him.

So for Thrall to say to Garrosh “here, you can have this job” instead of making Garrosh earn it through combat, it was a failure on Thrall’s part. Give Garrosh more time for dialogue and you’d probably hear: “You didn’t give me the experience I needed to earn my title. You gave me a horde that didn’t make any sense to me, and told me to protect it against a world that wants to snuff it out. I did the best I could, I pulled every trick I could come up with and it was never enough for you. So how dare you say that I failed the Horde when you set me up to fail from the start?”

“YOU MADE ME WHAT I AM.”

Thrall never praises Garrosh in-game. Thrall’s only comments to him that the players ever hear after his introduction have to do with disappointment. So Garrosh having this internal narrative where Thrall is this disappointed surrogate dad actually makes a bit of sense at the end. You might pity Garrosh for being so wrong. And when Thrall responds to Garrosh by saying that he chose his own path, the player is basically assumed to believe that Garrosh just made all the wrong decisions… but there’s another edge to it: ultimately, Thrall busied himself so much with saving the orcish people (or the world they have to survive on) that he ended up doing a sorry job of saving Garrosh from himself.

The in-game narrative for Garrosh ends without him ever seriously considering the possibility that he was wrong, convinced that he was doing what he thought was right for the Horde. Thrall, meanwhile, ends up winning because he can call the elements, and he’s convinced that HE’S doing what’s right for the Horde. And players are generally going to be go along with Thrall on this, since he’s always been a hero.

In the end, history moves in a circle. Thrall gave birth to Garrosh Hellscream, wanting him to become a hero, and when Garrosh became a villain instead, Thrall brought an end to the monster he’d created. But it’s important that Thrall starts the final fight using the Doomhammer and then has to end it using the elements; he can’t match Garrosh’ raw strength and combat prowess, but his powers as a shaman are what lets him win the day.

Thus, the in-game narrative carries forward the big Thrall story that’s been at the core since Thrall took over the orc narrative in Warcraft 3: it’s not enough to simply be strong. You also need wisdom, and you need to respect the forces that are greater than yourself. Thrall respects the elements, and they aid him in his time of need. Through his example, the orcs need to remember to respect the world around them, which Garrosh refused to do and which the Iron Horde has discarded under Garrosh’ tutelage.

The bottom line that underscores the end of Garrosh’ story, however, is this: can the orcs ever truly return to the idyllic shamanistic lifestyle they had before they were introduced to the concept of war on a grand scale? Is it even possible to abandon the Horde, regardless of the forces that created it or sustain it? Garrosh didn’t think so, and he wanted to move forward instead of backward, no apologies. Thrall is bent double to an eternal struggle of trying to get the orcish race back into a box that they can’t fit into anymore. However, because Blizzard doesn’t seem interested in letting players choose between those two paths, Garrosh has to die.


 

There’s a lot more to say on the subject, but it requires us to look at Garrosh and how he’s moved in the non-game products, especially Christie Golden’s novels and the faction leader short stories.

THE NEW FOCUS

Personally, I don’t find a lot of value in stocking up on a full log of Mists of Pandaria daily quests to turn in when the servers switch over to Warlords. Nothing against those colleagues and friends of mine who swear by it or their reasons for doing it, but it doesn’t work for me, and here’s why:

  • I don’t feel an overwhelming need to give a kiss goodnight to the daily content. It was good content and I enjoyed it well enough to accumulate thousands of Lesser Charms on my main, but I can’t say that I’m super-attached to it. Moreover, it’s not going anywhere.
  • I’ve got limited play-time. Trying to stack up a full log of dailies is time-consuming, and when the XP and gold rewards simply don’t compare to the XP/gold per hour of doing the Tanaan experience (especially given how practiced I am with that content from doing it repeatedly on the beta) it makes a lot more sense from an XP/gold gain perspective to just get started with Tanaan Jungle from minute one instead of flitting about Pandaria turning in quests.
  • I’ve got seven level 90 characters, which is by far the most I’ve ever had at max-level EVER. Even if I could somehow justify stuffing the quest log on my main to get a negligible headstart on XP gains, I know I couldn’t do it for the other six. (And I just remembered that I plan to use my boost on my gnome mage once I get the expansion, so that’ll be EIGHT. Sweet sisters of mercy.) I’m not really what you’d call an altoholic (I just like covering my bases with professions, really) but the bottom line is that it’s just not a positive ROI for the time needed.
  • I fly out tomorrow Wednesday to Los Angeles for BlizzCon and a bit of a holiday and won’t be back at my gaming rig until next Tuesday. My wife works next Wednesday, so it’s back to the grind of taking care of my son. The expansion comes out Thursday. If I was going to attempt to do a project like this instead of what I’ve been doing (farming old raids for incremental progress on old legendaries because I can actually do it now as a priest also GOLD) I’d have had to start on it weeks ago.

Again, this isn’t meant to slight folks who a) have time on their hands, b) feel an attachment to the content and want to give a send-off, c) REALLY LIKE DAILIES, d) maximize their gold gains at every turn, e) aren’t disappearing to SoCal for a week-long drinking binge, or f) do what they want b/c it’s a fuckin’ game and they’ll play however they like. The game has latitude to support a lot of play styles, and it’s not my job to tell people what they should do with their play time, since I certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if someone said “you need to do this with the slivers of time you set aside to game.”

I just wanted to throw out why I won’t be doing this, and affirming that my focus on November 13th will be collecting heads in Warlords of Draenor. So long, Pandaria. I’ll likely visit for brews and mounts and other stuff when I run out of stuff to do on Draenor. /wave

A Case Against the Naga

Normally, I’m advocating for stuff to get added to the game: I’d love High Elves as a playable race for the Alliance, and for Ogres to get added on for the Horde. I’m all for expanding the free-to-play options in the game to make it accessible to a wider audience.

But I’m telling you, I really don’t ever want the Naga added as a playable race.

When I originally wrote this post, it was back when “The Dark Below” hadn’t been debunked as a WoW expansion yet. Now with the new filing about “Eye of Azshara” all of this discussion is getting dredged up again, and since I never really got around to pubbing this post before, I figured it was worth getting up since the arguments are all still valid.

But let’s get this out of the way first: if there are playable naga, it doesn’t mean I break up with the game. It just means I probably don’t do their starting experience.

SNAKE ASSES UP IN DIS

Exhibits A and B. SNAKE DUDES. WITH SNAKE ASSES.

Here’s why Naga should never be playable:

  • They’re a race of snake-dudes all beholden to their Queen Azshara, and have pretty much been characterized as evil, bloodthirsty bastards in every appearance they’ve made in the franchise. Yeah, Lady Vashj was playing bass for Illidan and Kael’thas in their emo cover band back in WC3, but it was clear from word one that she had ulterior motives then and afterwards. **
  • Because they’re snake-dudes, they don’t have legs or feet. So if you look at the equipment slots, there’s no logical place for legs, belts, or boots to go. Yes, a bunch of races (trolls, tauren, worgen, draenei) already ignore the feet slot, since their specific feet/hoof constructs don’t really fit into boots. But because the boot texture is displayable at least partially on the lower leg, this is an acceptable compromise and doesn’t really break suspension of disbelief. Naga would need to ignore three slots instead of one, and there’s just no place for those textures to go. ** Suspension of disbelief is out the window.
  • Another note of the equipment slots: aside from the visual distortion of having belt/leg/feet slots, there’s the consideration on the player’s part. “My character doesn’t have legs, so why do I have a legs slot? Why should I have to put something there?” Experienced players are going to say “you put something there for stats” but I can see new players tripping over the concept. It breaks the immersion that a piece of gear that you should be able to equip doesn’t make sense to wear because your character is incapable of wearing it.
  • Female Naga have four arms. I know the minute there’s a four-armed playable character, you’re going to get people saying “wait, so I should have two bracer slots, right?” “I can totally dual-wield two-handers, right?” “DUDE FOUR DAGGERS GUYS”
  • If you look at every other playable race in the game, you can take off the head, feet, hands, and tail (if there’s a tail) and end up with something that could be human. You can’t do that with the naga. The reason this detail is important is that if a character is meant to be something that the player relates to, a body that’s too far from the human shape isn’t going to accomplish this. Not everyone goes in for treating their characters as a personal avatar, but players who do that are the ones who potentially connect with the game in the deepest way, and making that bond as strong as possible from an art end is clearly a part of Blizzard’s psychological strategy in setting up long-term player retention. Now, admittedly, that inability to relate to the character just means some people don’t pick naga (I don’t play Forsaken characters because I don’t feel like relating to an angry corpse) but I feel like Blizzard’s done a good job of introducing races that are readily relatable for players, in order to make that avatar bond as surefire as possible.
  • There aren’t not enough methods to customize how a naga would look; they don’t have hair for styles, they don’t have ears for piercings, and you can’t really alter their faces very dramatically. You’ve got scale color, a secondary color for the fins, eye color (though that’s really small on the male), and maybe different fin “styles” — which goes back to how having their fins poke out of all their armor would continue the whole immersion break.

Can you come up with non-evil naga? Sure. Blizzard did non-evil orcs, did semi-evil elves, did totally chill minotaurs… the part where the naga are all inherently evil is something they can work around if they want to. But I don’t think coming up with that narrative is worth it when the naga themselves are as monstrous and inhuman in countenance as they are.  Can you art a way out of all of these issues, including how monstrous the naga look? Yeah, I think that’s doable, but if you do that, are they still the naga?

When I’ve had this discussion with friends and colleagues in the past, the response I get from people who are jazzed about the naga is that all the equipment slot shenanigans aren’t an immersion break for them. I understand that for some folks, stuff like that doesn’t kick you out of the game. For me, though, coming out of playing tabletop D&D, the paperdoll on your character sheet being a map of your equipped gear is a big part of the character fantasy, and half that equipment being superfluous on a naga just doesn’t compute for me. I’m willing to buy “this chestpiece will magically vary in dimension based on the race and gender of your character, and it’ll even look tattered if you’re undead because reasons” but when you say “this pair of pants is now a big mail sock because snakes can’t wear pants” I’m just NOPE.

When it comes down to it, I think introducing the naga as a playable race would also setting a bad precedent, since it opens the door for other non-bipedal races to become playable races. People have talked about the centaur, dryads, keepers of the grove, dragonkin, tol’vir, nerubians… basically any race that’s ever expressed sentience has been floated as a possibility. Largely speaking, aside from all the same problems I listed above about paperdoll dissonance and avatar potential, I don’t think a ton of value gets added to the game when a race gets shuffled in and then has zero relevance after the starting experience is completed.  That’s an argument to not add any new races ever, and I get why Blizzard will likely continue to add races as expansion features, but I also feel like it makes it much easier on Blizzard to focus on races that don’t require a ton of handwaving to make functional as playable entities and have greater avatar potential.

I get it. Some people want to play snake dudes. I am not one of those people. I think adding snake dudes to the playable roster would be a misstep. However, I would likely still buy the game if I’m still interested in playing it, and I don’t see my interest going away.

I can probably talk a great deal more about the potential behind this “Eye of Azshara” expansion, but I’m loath to spend my limited resources on it when we’ll have proof of its (non-)existence in a few days. Stay tuned.

**: Granted, those motives basically never got revealed and came to nothing when Vashj’s plot in Burning Crusade boiled down “hoard all the water on this shattered world” and she got shanked in the neck by a 25s team.
**: Yes, I know, the engine is built to allow leg textures to work on some naga mobs so they have more costume options. I still feel like this places an illogical constraint on the artists to come up with armor that looks believable on player characters.

Here’s how I’m trying to do Kanrethad:

First off, let’s have a link to the warlock I’m using for this fight:

Talent/Glyph choices:

  • Soul Leech for the absorb, Sacrifical Pact to soak Chaos Bolts if I’m not in a position to LoS them.
  • Mortal Coil for the bonus heal.
  • Unbound Will as a last resort to clear magic debuffs if I’m not positioned for Fel Flame and Singe Magic is on CD.
  • GrimSac because DUH.
  • Kil’jaeden’s Cunning for Incinerate spam on the move, but I’m awful at casting while moving.
  • Siphon Life so that imp phases let me get topped off. Unending Resolve because stacking it with SacPact is excessive and I haven’t got enough keybinds. Fear so that I can get the Pit Lord to just stand there instead of having to watch for the fear to break and wait for him to get in range for Enslave.

Buffs: Using a Flask of the Warm Sun, stocked up with Potions of the Jade Serpent. Dark Intent is up, and also using a Drums of Forgotten Kings for 4% stats. Was using Mastery food just for the sake of having a food buff, but am switching to an Intellect food.

Macros:

  • Burst Macro: Applies Curse of the Elements, buffs me with Dark Soul and uses Drums of Rage. Used on the pull.
  • Enslave Macro: Targets/Enslaves the Pit Lord and re-targets Kanrethad. (Have a Fear macro that does the same thing.)
  • Banish Macro: Targets/Banishes the Doom Lord and re-targets Kanrethad.
  • OHSHIT Macro: Uses Sacrificial Pact and Twilight Ward.
  • Purge Macro: Uses Unbound Will and Singe Magic.
  • Heal Macro: Uses Ember Tab, Pit Lord’s Demonic Siphon, and Healthstone.
  • Havoc Macro: Sets a skull on my target, pops Dark Soul and Havoc.
  • Fel Breath: Uses Pit Lord’s Fel Flame Breath (targeted @player so it should aim at me if I’m in range) and Demonic Siphon.

Positioning: Using this set-up, even though the bulk of my attempts have been done without using an LoS strategy.

Procedure:

At 1s before the pull, I pop a potion. As soon as he’s targetable, I use the Burst Macro and pull out the Doomguard. Immolate is the first spell I cast, followed by Rain of Fire, Conflagrate, 3x Incinerate, and just doing the standard rotation from there, stocking up on embers. I keep casting right up until the Pit Lord spawns, then he gets feared and I keep DPSing Kanrethad. After a couple more rotations I GrimSac the Imp and Enslave the Pit Lord, then CTRL-1 him to start smacking Kanrethad.

Charge the first Curse of Doom cast. Purge debuffs as necessary. At this point he is typically down to around 75-80% life, depending on whether or not I had a Doomguard on the attempt.

First Imps: Refresh Immo on Kanrethad, drop a RoF on the portal, target an Imp, Fnb+Immolate, Conflagrate, Incinerate spam. Typically takes 3-5 casts to kill them all, since I tend to start casting before all of them have spawn, hence some don’t have Immolate and last a bit longer. If I’m lucky enough to pull off a Shadowburn to get some embers back, great. First Cataclysm cast typically happens around here: I charge up a CB, Charge him with the Pit Lord, and then try and get another CB in there while he’s stunned.

First Felhunters: Move the Pit Lord to safety, start up RoFs on the portal, use the Havoc macro on the first Felhunter to come out and then cast a CB on the second. Sometimes I’m able to knock off those first two in a lucky crit, but it’s not often. If I’ve got an imp on my shoulder, very good chance my cast gets interrupted, meaning the Felhunters stay up long and nom through my health such that when Kanrethad throws his Chaos Bolt at me, SacPact/TwiWard aren’t enough for me to soak it. LoSing it is a possibility, but that just interrupts my DPS on the Felhunter(s) and increases the likelihood that their Devour clears the Pit Lord’s Enslave early. It’s been very inconsistent, which is why I’m constantly tripping over the Felhunter phases.

Doom Lord: Refresh Immo. Dismiss the Pit Lord during Kan’s cast and re-up the Enslave. Banish the Doom Lord once he spawns. Free DPS until the next imp phase. If I get to this phase, he’s typically around 40%.

Second Imps plays the same as the first, but the additional management of keeping the Doom Lord banished can cause a panic.

Second Felhunters never goes as smoothly as the first, if I even get past the first. I’ve never gotten past this second phase, and the lowest I’ve got him healthwise is 25%.

So, any suggestions?

Timewalker Rewards: Conclusion

So let’s run down that original list again to wrap this up. Note that each entry links back to the article where I go into more in-depth analysis about each subject, so if you want to see my work, that’s where to go.

  • GoldRisky as a reward because of the threat of inflation, but a little is unavoidable.
  • Experience: For the scaled character it’s not a reward, but for the player it could be a reward if tailored properly. It’s all you want until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Endgame Gear: Too risky given power-creep at the time it’s introduced; making Timewalkers mandatory for progression supercedes current content too strongly.
  • Gear Tokens a la Timeless Isle: Viable as a catch-up mechanism, especially if a content drought is coming.
  • Cosmetic GearRisky because of the asset cost in creating new cosmetic gear.
  • Loot Rolls: Dubious because it’s just a chance for gear, but also awesome because it’s a chance for gear.
  • Justice/Valor Points: Good night, sweet prince.
  • Unique Currency: As good as whatever the currency buys.
  • Reputation: As good as whatever it gates access to. Only good until you don’t need it.
  • Achievements: Foregone conclusion; everything has achievements.
  • Pets, Toys, and Mounts: Useful for collectors or for people who like the aesthetics, but otherwise useless.

All things considered, I think that the best solution is one that offers a unique gameplay experience, provides players a great deal of choice, but focuses principally on rewarding players by giving them a greater chance at getting rare drops from doing Timewalker dungeons. I think it would be simple to extend a gear strategy to this as well, but let’s cut to the chase and introduce the solution.

Introducing the Timewalkers Faction

Faction Background: Mortals of all races who’ve taken on the duty of aiding the Bronze Dragonflight in protecting the timeways. 

The Timewalkers offer a daily Timewalker dungeon quest to max-level players, directing them to complete a Timewalker dungeon. Completing the quest rewards a [Satchel of Time-Lost Artifacts], which contains the chance to acquire rare drops like mounts, pets, and unique equipment that normally drop in that specific dungeon, but at a higher percentage. For example, completing a Timewalker daily for dead-side Stratholme would give you a satchel that has an increased chance of dropping Rivendare’s Deathcharger.

Completing a Timewalker dungeon always rewards a [Mote of Time] as currency, which are used as a currency with the Timewalkers reputation vendor. Bonus motes are also a consolation prize if you fail to get any rare drops from the satchel.

At Friendly, the Timewalkers reputation vendor Llore offers a [Time-Lost Bag of Treasures] in exchange for motes. Opening this bag grants a chance to acquire a dungeon-dropped mount or pet that you don’t have, similar to the satchel, but drawing from all dungeons. At each successive reputation level, a higher-level version of the Time-Lost Bag is offered at the same price, with an increased chance for you to acquire the most rare mounts. In the event that the Time-Lost bag doesn’t reward a mount or pet, or if you’ve somehow acquired ALL of those mounts/pets available, the Time-Lost bag might reward a Seal of Tempered Fate or a lump of gold.

Hence, motes can be used the following ways:

  • Used to purchase Time-Lost Bags,
  • Used to gain reputation with the Timewalkers,
  • Used to buy unique mounts/pets,
  • Used to buy a Timeless Knowledge token, which when used grants leveling alts across the Battle.net account a 10% increase to XP gain. The mote cost of the token decreases with reputation gains,
  • Used to buy a Grand Commendation that increases reputation gains by 100% for all characters on the account.

This creates a number of interesting choices: you can either choose to gamble your motes on the possibility of getting stuff out of the Friendly-level bag, or use them to gain reputation so that your bag has a greater chance of getting rewards. Unique mounts and pets are there to provide a clear grinding objective (just like the Cloud Serpent mount did with Emperor Shaohao) while the account-wide tokens are there to help mitigate the grind for the reputation itself and for experience for the characters who need it.

Ultimately, at Exalted, characters will still have a use for the motes in the form of spending them exclusively on bags for rare drops. And since the list of rare drops is long enough that it’ll take an excessive string of luck for players to acquire everything, there’s a good incentive to keep running Timewalker dungeons to get motes even once all of the other rewards are exhausted.

I think that it would be easy to add gear into this reward structure by just making it cost motes (in the form of Timeless Isle-like armor tokens), or by making profession recipes that require mote-purchased crafting materials. However, I also think that gear as a reward (in any form aside from cosmetic gear or loot rolls) has the greatest chance of turning Timewalker dungeons from a fun side activity into part of the gear progression curve, which is not where it belongs.

The Wrap

Thanks for hanging out with me while I try to both make a suggestion and show my work while doing it. At the end of the day, this is really something of a hard thing to tackle on my own… it smacks of something that really requires multiple perspectives and a discussion between people to really nail down the best solution. And I have to imagine that boiling things down to a “rep faction with a unique currency that lets you get the mounts/pets from old content” doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but I’d like to think that after reading through all of this, my reasoning for that solution should be more evident.

Tell me what you think. ^_^

Timewalker Rewards: The Rest of the List

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. Let’s look at achievements and vanity items like mounts, pets, and toys, as well as mechanisms like reputation and unique currencies as possible options.

Achievements

All things considered, it’s hard to consider achievements as a reward unto themselves, but it’s important to note the psychological impact of having the achievement toast pop up when you’ve accomplished a thing. You see it, your guildmates see it, players around you see it, and in a lot of cases it should trigger some congratulations getting sent your way. Achievements don’t really get you anything in the game in and of themselves, but they’re designed to give you a good feeling as a reward for accomplishing something, regardless of what that something is.

Since achievements offer nothing, though, there’s no reason not to offer them. They don’t take up space (except in the Achievements UI), they don’t cause player power creep, and it’s generally expected that you’ll get achievements for accomplishing certain things, like hitting Exalted with a faction. When it comes down to it, I suspect that achievements will be an element of whatever rewards you get from Timewalking, but they certainly won’t be the only reward.

Vanity Items

There’s a double-edged sword to vanity items: essentially, if players don’t like the visual aesthetic of the mount, they don’t want the mount, but unlike cosmetic gear, if they need the mount in order to get ANOTHER mount (via the constantly-increasing threshold of mount collection achievements that rewards you with a mount for getting a lot of mounts) then they’ll begrudgingly pursue it.

The same thing goes for pets; even with the Pet Battles system, if you’re not someone who does pet battles but has to fill the achievement requirements of “Collect X pets” because it’s a bar you have to fill, then offering a pet as a reward has at least a certain degree of appeal.

Toys are generally speaking all about doing cosmetic things, but prior to the Toybox weren’t something that had the same broad “must fill this bar” compulsion as mounts and pets had, because toys ate up storage space. Now that toys are joining mounts and pets in that category, though, it’s just a matter of offering relevant toys that players want to put forth effort for.

Still, since vanity items are all effectively about cosmetics, then the cosmetic element has to have a certain level of appeal in order to be worth the investment of effort. And as we know from cosmetic gear, that’s something that’s going to vary wildly from player to player. So offering vanity items is less of a surefire reward on its own, but as an accompaniment to other rewards, especially since they don’t contribute to bank bloat, it’s a solid option if the art assets are there to make them unique.

Reputation

Reputation is actually rather similar to experience as a reward that you want until you don’t need it anymore. The difference is this: experience gates your access to the endgame, while reputation gates your access to one very specific slice of the endgame, which usually takes the form of a vendor who’ll sell you other types of rewards.

There are two ways that Timewalking could theoretically engage reputation: either it can give you rep bonuses with specific factions (much like the bonus reputation/faction championing mechanic works currently), or it can give you reputation with a Timewalkers faction.

  • The problem with the former option is that it misses the point of reputation: the fantasy of reputation as a concept is that you’re representing a particular faction and doing their works in order to grow in their esteem and prove yourself worthy of their secrets. Going through time and space to fix issues somewhere else shouldn’t make the Frostwolf Orcs love you more, especially if those efforts don’t have an impact on them at all. The same holds true for all of the Draenor factions. This was also the inherent problem with tabard championing in Wrath and Cataclysm: it just made the rep bar another XP bar to grind instead of having any meaning behind it.
  • The major concern with a specific faction tied to the system is that how you tune the rep gains and what rewards are available impacts the lifespan of the system itself; for example, if you have an old-school grind like Emperor Shaohao, where the rewards are universally cosmetic and the grind is exceptionally long, it only stretches the content for a certain subset of players.

I think there’s a solid proposal to be made in having a Timewalkers faction with some interesting rewards at each reputation level, but I’ll cover that later. The bottom line is that reputation as a reward only works if the rewards for the reputation itself are worthwhile. And with how rep-gating played out in Mists of Pandaria, I feel like that’s a system people aren’t really going to be excited about.

Unique Currency

I use the term “unique” here to differentiate from generic currencies like Justice/Valor/Honor/Conquest points, which are all acquired from doing various kinds of content. Unique currencies would include Timeless Coins or Marks of the World Tree, which really only work in one specific area of the game: they’re acquired doing content related to that area, and they can only be spent in that area.

To a great extent, the value of a unique currency is going to be measured based off what you can get for that currency. Using Timeless Coins as an example, you could buy vanity items, Burdens of Eternity, iLvl 489 weapons, Timeless Armor caches, juicy trinkets, and even Valor Points. While most of those items become less useful once you’ve outgeared the gear and can’t upgrade via Burdens or Valor, it’s still a sizable but achievable grind if you’re not doing other content.

The Home Stretch

That covers all of the current relevant rewards; we don’t need to cover Justice/Valor Points since they are going the way of the dodo. Tomorrow we review our findings and then talk about a proposal for what rewards could actually look like.

Timewalker Rewards: Gear as a Reward

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to get into gear, which is really a big thing on its own.

Before we start off though: let’s be more specific with gear as it pertains to a reward for Timewalker dungeons. I don’t think I need to go into a lot of detail for why players want to get gear; it’s the primary method of character progression once you get to max-level.Yes, some players choose to progress through xmog or pet battles or mount collections or RP, but I don’t think those players inform a majority of the playerbase.

Gear Drops

The general issue with gear drops as a reward is the contribution that gear makes to player power. More specifically, consider the following:

  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s commensurate with current content dungeons, players will likely take the path of least resistance and run Timewalker dungeons, since they will likely be more familiar or mechanically less challenging than current content.
    • Moreover, if Timewalker dungeons aren’t limited in terms of how frequently they can be run/provide rewards, this contributes to player power creep that has to be factored into overall encounter difficulty. Put another way, if players get too geared too quickly, the encounter designers need to make the encounters harder to prevent raids from blowing past them too quickly.
  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s less powerful than what’s available in current content (for example, the 496 Timeless gear tokens that were lower iLvl than Raid Finder drops in Siege of Orgrimmar) then Timewalker dungeons work as a catch-up mechanism for lapsed players, but this has a limited shelf-life when players no longer want/need the gear.
  • If Timewalker dungeons don’t reward gear that translates into player power at all, it’s a situation similar to Challenge Modes, where only certain groups of players are interested in using their time in a way that doesn’t help them advance their characters.

On the other hand, you have cosmetic drops, whether that’s in the form of boss-specific drops that have a unique appearance or transmog-specific gear like the Challenge Mode Gold reward armor sets.

  • Boss-specific drops can be interesting if there’s no other way to acquire them, but if they’re more easily acquired just by farming the normal instance at max-level, players again will likely take the path of least resistance.
    • If, on the other hand, you had a greater chance of getting the item in Timewalker mode, that would encourage more players to join that queue, but again has a limited shelf-life as players get what they want and stop queuing.
  • Transmog-specific gear is an interesting reward, but if it’s taking away art assets that would otherwise be used for current content, then that’s a potential issue. Also, it puts the inherent value of the reward up to whether individuals like the appearance of the set, since it doesn’t offer player power. Because appreciating art is a subjective thing, that’s a difficult sell to compel players to take on a challenge.

The other issue with gear drops, especially when it’s cosmetic items, is bank bloat. More than any other reward, cosmetic gear is that thing that sits in your bags/bank/void storage and eats space just so you’ve got the privilege of putting together an outfit. I think that invites a greater discussion about inventory improvements, but for now I think it has to be understood that gear has got an additional cost to it as a reward that most everything else on the list doesn’t have.

When it comes down to it, the biggest issue with offering gear as a reward for Timewalking is how it contributes to power creep. That’s ultimately something that can be tuned, as well as something that can be mitigated depending on when/how Timewalking is made accessible.

Loot Rolls

This is probably the best time to bring up loot rolls, since the chief thing loot rolls are for is getting gear (and not for getting fail bags).

To a certain extent, even with the promise that loot rolls will have more protection for failure, and protection from giving you the same piece of gear multiple times, at the end of the day a loot roll is just a bonus chance to get gear from a boss kill. Meaning you have to be able to kill the boss AND you have to have committed whatever effort was necessary to get the loot roll token. We know from the beta that the list basically boils down to a currency exchange; you can buy your Seals of Tempered Fate through a set of weekly quests that each ask for one of the following currencies:

  • 300 Garrison Resources
  • 100 Apexis Crystals
  • 500 gold
  • 500 Honor Points
  • You can also get a seal each week for free by having a War Mill (Horde) or Dwarven Bunker (Alliance).

Note that Justice/Valor Points are not on that list; we’ll deal with that later.

So the trick of offering Seals of Tempered Fate (or whatever loot roll token we use in later tiers) as a Timewalker reward is that scaled content would be in direct competition with current content for letting you get that roll opportunity. That feels like something that we really shouldn’t do.

There’s a temptation to say “yeah, but what if you needed to run a LOT of Timewalkers to get a seal?” then it starts to feel like the the Justice Trade Goods vendor from Cataclysm: it’s not intended to be a fair exchange, but it’s something you can do if you’ve got a glut of Justice Points. The difference is that Timewalker dungeons are asking you to turn your time into seals, instead of dumping Justice into crafting materials that you could gather on your own.

But the constant counter you can come back to is that loot rolls are only a chance at gear. There’s so many requirements on your ability to actually spend them just for the chance of getting gear that it doesn’t feel like a loot roll should really be weighed so heavily as a reward.

When it comes down to it, the only problem with offering loot rolls is whether or not it’s okay for Timewalker content to compete with current content.

Going Forward

We’ve talked about gold and experience, and with gear out of the way we’re halfway through the list. Am I missing anything?

Timewalker Rewards: Gold and Experience

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to start with a couple ubiquitous rewards and get more specific from there.

Experience

I think it’s important to start off with experience as a reward case because it is the chief thing we’re rewarded with while leveling through the game. It’s a great reward, because it gets you closer and closer to the point where you don’t need it anymore, which is max level. However, when it’s relevant to you, you can’t get enough of it.

So with that in mind, let me throw this example out there: say that leveling players receive a 10% increase in XP gains while in a matchmade group with a scaled-down player.

  • Pros: this gives a noticeable benefit to leveling players that helps them get through the XP grind faster.
  • Cons: this doesn’t benefit the scaled player in a noticeable way, unless the sole reason they’re scaling down is so they can assist other players in leveling up. Moreover, this might also be double-dipping for the leveling players; they’re getting a max-level player with more abilities who can probably still mitigate much of the threat of the instance, AND getting an XP buff out of it so that they need fewer runs. It’s a little too good to be true.
  • This also has the potential to generate some odd player behavior, if a max-level player is selling his services to a party of low-level players to grant the buff. Granted, there are already players who offer their services similarly to leveling players, but it feels a little dirty to contribute another method they can use for that purpose.

How could we iterate on that? Instead of a scaled player granting this percentage XP increase to other matchmade players, what if the scaled player gave that buff to his/her own alternate characters on the same Battle.net after clearing a daily Timewalker dungeon? That means there’s an incentive for players to at least step into a Timewalker mode so that they can then boost their own characters. To an extent, it feels like the Valor of the Ancients buff that lets your other characters benefit for one character’s diligence.

The bottom line with experience is that it’s something you can’t get enough of until you don’t need it anymore. Experience doesn’t fly as a reward for max-level characters to scale, because they don’t need it. But it could be tweaked into something that players want to do at least occasionally if they’re trying to boost low-level alts.

Gold

Overall, gold isn’t a very exciting reward because it’s so easy to come by. Also, it has very little direct application in improving player power. Because gear comes from drops and currencies more than it does from gold, the primary use for gold tends to be covering repair costs, buying crafting materials, or buying vanity items like mounts, pets, or xmog gear. The consequence of rewarding players too much gold is economic inflation, where all the stuff that people spend gold on (crafting materials, flasks and item enhancements in a pinch, and vanity items) balloons in price because the average player has so much gold at their disposal.

It’s probably important to note that Blizzard has repeatedly put large gold sinks into the game in order to mitigate gold inflation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but gold inflation has the real-world consequence of driving up the business for gold-sellers; if gold prices get so high that players feel like their only option is to buy gold from the illicit grey market, they’re putting their accounts at risk while also contributing to groups who actively compromise other accounts in order to get their in-game funds. So it is in Blizzard’s best interest to try and keep gold inflation under control in order to keep that from happening (while also, of course, working behind the scenes to locate and shut down these grey marketeers).

It’s also valuable to point out that the bag players get when a loot roll doesn’t deliver gear (a.k.a. “the fail bag”) typically ends up containing gold. This is great for mitigating repairs costs, but most players seem to be developing a negative connotation with gold as a reward because of the sense that “you could have been that BiS piece I needed, and instead you’re a drop in the bucket of gold I already have.”

Gold alone, as such, doesn’t really fly as a reward. Trickling players a little gold to cover incidental repair costs in the individual dungeon is probably enough. Dumping much more into players, especially in a repeatable manner, will probably do more harm than good.

As a counterpoint to experience, though, it’s interesting that there’s not really an upper threshold to a player having gold. Okay, yes, there’s a gold cap, but it’s high enough that players aren’t going to hit it accidentally. Ignoring the inflation problem, gold is a reward that players can usually always find a use for, especially at max-level.

Going Forward

I wanted to start to these two reward avenues because I think they inform the discussion on many of the other possible rewards; gold, for example, is a counterpoint for JP/VP currencies because of the flexibility of expenditure. Experience is a good counterpoint for rewards that have a cap after which the reward is meaningless, like reputation.

We’ll cover those in future installments. For now, is there anything I missed about gold and experience? Is there really a viable way to offer them as rewards for Timewalker dungeons? Let me know.

Timewalker Rewards: The Setup

So awhile back, the concept of Timewalker dungeons got datamined out of the PTR from Patch 5.4, and Game Director Tom Chilton commented at the time (at gamescom 2013) that what held them back from implementation was how to do rewards. I talked a bit back then about what those rewards could look like.

With a new interview at this year’s gamescom, Chilton has got essentially the same reason for why Timewalker dungeons aren’t being included in Warlords of Draenor at launch. So I thought it might be useful to revisit the concept of rewards, especially now that we have more hints about what rewards may look like in the expansion.

Let’s review how players get rewarded for doing PVE content currently:

  • Gold (from using matchmaking tools, directly/indirectly from cash drops, quest rewards, fail bags…)
  • Experience (before the level cap, which gets turned into gold at cap)
  • Gear in the form of drops from bosses and trash mobs
  • Gear in the form of gear tokens (whether it’s tier tokens in raids or Timeless tokens)
  • Gear in the form of transmogrification sources
  • Loot rolls
  • Justice/Valor Points
  • Area-specific currency (like Marks of the World Tree, Timeless Coins, etc.)
  • Reputation
  • Achievements
  • Pets and mounts
  • Toys

When it comes down to it, though, we can’t really consider each of these rewards in a vacuum. They all have impacts on players in different ways, and that’s important in terms of coming up with a reward worthy of the effort. Each of these rewards has different interactions and side-effects that have to be considered.

Moreover, you also have to consider the specific challenges of Timewalker dungeons as content. Timewalker content will be competing with current content for players’ attention, meaning it needs to be rewarding, but it’s also old content, which means it shouldn’t crowd current content out of the spotlight; if it did, it would turn Blizzard’s efforts in making new content into a fruitless exercise. And it can’t be forgotten that there’s been a vocal minority of players who actively disdain any of Blizzard’s historical re-uses of past content, like the dungeon remixes that started in Cataclysm.

At the end of the day, the objective of Timewalker dungeons is to provide max-level players with the ability to run older content at its intended level of difficulty. Whether that’s being done to help low-level guild members get into the endgame with their colleagues, or for the sake of nostalgia, or just to face a wider variety of challenges, Timewalker dungeons should not offer rewards that trivialize or marginalize current content.

Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to write on each of these rewards at length, analyzing how players use them currently and whether or not they would serve as worthwhile rewards for Timewalker dungeons. I welcome your feedback. ^_^