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: 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. ^_^

I’ll Bet Cash Money We Get Ogres Next Expansion

In terms of evidence, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Ogres are the only humanoid race that worked for the Horde in WC2 that hasn’t become playable.
  • Metzen wants playable ogres (or at least did once upon a time).
  • Warlords of Draenor has a ton of situations predicated on the existence of a vast ogre civilization that’s so old it’s in decline.
  • Chilton’s recent comments indicated that new races would be a thing in “some other expansion that is coming up.” Combine with the following:
    • Blizzard has stated that Expansion 6 is already in development.
    • They also identified a second continent on Draenor as the ogre homeland.
    • Much lip service has been paid to the idea that the timejump to Draenor was not meant only to set up WoD but to set up future expansions as well.
      • Expansion 6 takes us to the Gorian Empire for blood and glory. QED.
  • The Horde started off with a bunch of brutal monstrous races, and the races they’ve gotten since have either been a stark contrast (blood elves) or only semi-monstrous (goblins) or the pandaren. Adding the ogres to the Horde at long last gives them another bruiser race that fits the savage sentiments of the faction.

Maybe there are some counterarguments out there (“what do you do about two-headed ogres,” “wtf do ogre women look like,” “dammit ogres are stupid,” etc.) but I feel like all of that can be countered by solid design. The bottom line is that the evidence for keeps cropping up and the evidence against is the same as it was ten years ago.

The big issue that comes up for me is what to do for the Alliance.

  • High elves are the only humanoid race that worked for the Alliance in WC2 that hasn’t become playable FOR THE ALLIANCE. They’re playable on the Horde, and quite frankly there’s not enough reason to have identical elf races on both factions; the pandaren are an exception.
  • Assuming that a playable ogre faction would actually be Gorian ogres, arguments could be made that you could have a separate faction of ogres join the Alliance. This also invokes the Pandaren Exception.
  • The expansion races for the Alliance have all been homeless, lost races, with the main difference being whether they had a choice in it. The draenei are exiles hundreds of times removed from their homes, the worgen homeland got blighted by the Forsaken, and the Tushui pandaren chose to leave the Wandering Isle. Another race of exiles (as in a high elf faction, or any other race for that matter) doesn’t compliment the concept of the Alliance as a league of nations in a mutual defense pact.
  • No other race jumps out at me as a playable contender that could meet the following criteria:
    • Is a sovereign kingdom that mostly controls its own borders,
    • Is made up of bipedal humanoids,
    • Has not already been implemented in game using another playable races’ skeleton (which knocks off the jinyu, mogu, saurok, mantid, and various others).

Now, that’s a personal limitation: just because I can’t think of a solution doesn’t mean no solution exists. I just don’t feel like there’s anything for the Alliance that’s as much of a shoe-in as ogres for the Horde.

Before I leave you, one last thing:

The Pandaren Exception

When it comes down to it, the two factions need to have distinct silhouettes. That means having distinct races that, in turn, have distinct silhouettes. It’s not just a matter of being able to identify a player as an enemy or an ally in PVP (people throw out same-faction arena as a typical counter, for example) but also a matter of that silhouette immediately letting you identify a race, and having that race be associated with a faction helps to build the faction identity. So when you break down silhouette as a pillar by putting identical races on both factions, you’re breaking down faction identity.

In a franchise like Warcraft where “orcs vs. humans” is a core aspect of the narrative, breaking down faction identity and uniqueness is bad.

So why do pandaren get a pass? The best answer that’s ever come out of the devs has been that the pandaren were too cool to limit to one faction. Players on both factions would have rioted if they didn’t get the chance to play a pandaren, and all things considered there was nothing about the race that locked them into being one side or the other. There’s also the statement that just doing one playable race and one starting experience let them focus on their efforts and ensure that the starting experience was as awesome as it could possibly be.

Doing another neutral race would chip away at faction identity. The more races who join both factions, the less reason there is for the factions to be distinct, and there’s less defensible reason to keep tauren from joining the Alliance or have dwarves join the Horde.

And yeah, I can hear people saying “but that’s what I want” and my only response is this: you’ll have to convince Blizzard’s devs that this is good for the game as a whole, which is a lot more work than it takes for them to maintain the status quo.

So the pandaren were a special case. I don’t think we’ll see another neutral race again.

Remixing the Mongrel Horde

During the original WoW Source interview for Warlords of Draenor, it was mentioned that one of the concepts for Garrosh’ story after Mists of Pandaria was for him to take the technology he’d developed and create a Mongrel Horde, employing a bunch of the mook races like kobolds, troggs, and gnolls. Obviously this was thrown out in favor of resurrecting the old Blackhand Horde, but I felt like the concept warranted a bit of additional thought.

The short version of why this concept dies on the table for me is because most of these mook races end up being low-ranking threats that players take out during very low-level play, and for the most part they don’t show up in higher-level zones. They get supplanted by threats like the Scourge, or the silithid, or trolls, and obviously all of the expansion threats that show up (which, admittedly, include upgraded versions of some, like snobolds and stone troggs). At its core, though, if you armor up a trogg or have a bunch of gnoll fusiliers or kobold sappers, they’re all still inherently less threatening than a horde of orcs and goblins in the same kit.

The stupidity that’s commonly associated with all of these mongrel races is really the thing that deflates their menace.

Now, one way you could work around this problem is if you introduced a change that made all of these races suddenly much more dangerous. And I think I might have a way to do that.

Brann Bronzebeard theorized that many of the sentient races on Azeroth are descended from or highly associated with particular Ancients: the quillboar are associated with Agamaggan, the gnolls with a hyena Ancient, the kobolds with a rat Ancient. We know that some Ancients, again like Agamaggan, didn’t survive the War of the Ancients against the Burning Legion.

We also know from Mount Hyjal that an Ancient can be brought back into the living world under certain circumstances. (The furbolgs did it earlier than that when they brought back Ursoc using the power of Vordrassil in Northrend.)

So let’s go out on a limb here: let’s say that Brann is right, and that all of these Ancients were responsible for these races. But like Agamaggan, these races all lost their Ancient progenitor in the War of the Ancients, and their civilizations failed to thrive as a result. So the reason the quillboar, gnolls, kobolds and other mongrel races lack anything better than a low cunning is because they lack the guidance of their Ancients.

Now, let’s say that someone approaches Garrosh with the idea of taking the gnolls, the quillboar, and the kobolds and making a fighting force out of them. Garrosh dismisses the idea out of hand for the same reason I did (i.e. “they’re all morons”) but this someone suggests resurrecting those Ancients in order to empower the mongrel races and giving them a reason to unify.

This dude. With an army of angry boar-dudes.

This has got a variety of effects to it.

  • First, you’ve got a bunch of troops who have got a renewed reason to unify and fight, because now they’re fighting for their gods. This is what quillboar society has always been centered around (they just haven’t really had the right numbers, and there was that problem with the Scourge messing up their base), and is exactly what the gnolls would need to actually become dangerous.
  • Second, you’d have the Ancients themselves as potential weapons to throw on the battlefield; Agamaggan was a hero in the War of the Ancients, so if he was motivated to fight for Garrosh, he’d be a devastating opponent. The gnolls’ hyena Ancient is basically what happens if you cross Hogger’s menace with Goldrinn’s power, and if played right could be authentically scary. A rat Ancient doesn’t sound scary at face value, but then his minions tunnel through your walls and poison your water supply.
  • Third, you can still play with Garrosh taking Blackfuse’s technology and deploying it with the mongrel troops. Maybe an orc with a machine gun is more physically imposing than a kobold with a machine gun, but it’s still a machine gun and it’ll still kill you.

So instead of Garrosh and his time-travel shenanigans, you’d have the Mongrel Horde be an authentic threat, because not only have you got the legions of suddenly-superpowered mooks running around with new focus and direction, but you’ve got their gods as enemies too. Maybe it’s not an expansion-headlining threat, but it could certainly be on par with many of the other mutually-aggressive enemy factions in the game.


 

Since I’m trying to do this #Blaugust thing (which you can follow more closely here), expect something new tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw out a new expansion concept or remix every day, but my hope is that I’ll be able to throw something every day. Keep it locked. ^_^

Zul’jin: An Overview, Part 2

Picking up from where we left off, Zul’jin joined Doomhammer’s Horde for glory and vengeance but came out of it short an arm, short an eye, and without the favor of the loa or the God-king. What’s next for the Warlord of the Amani?

*******************

When the Scourge stormed into Eversong and began to break through the elves’ defenses, he was tempted to offer his services, but refused. He never trusted the death knights Gul’dan had created, and he had no reason to think that these new death knights were any different. Besides, they paid no attention to any trolls. Why interfere?

By the end of it, when the army of the dead had left Quel’thalas in ruins, Zul’jin’s scouts told him that hardly any elves were left, save mewling children and frail women. The warriors were all dead. There was no one worth fighting.

On the one hand, Zul’jin was relieved, but on the other annoyed. He would never have his vengeance in a meaningful way, but his people had no need to destroy the elves any longer. He took little comfort in having outlasted his enemy, and sat in Zul’Aman to brood on his “victory.”

Years passed. The Scourge rose and fell without ever troubling the Amani. Well, they may have troubled Zul’Mashar, but Zul’jin didn’t care, and the shadow hunters who had abandoned him never asked for help anyway. Satellite settlements in what became called the Ghostlands eventually started reporting that the elves were beginning to build some strength again, bolstered by dead soldiers. The irony that the elves would be saved by the same kind of power that had destroyed them in the first place gave Zul’jin no end of amusement. But even with their new (old?) allies, Zul’jin felt the elves were no longer worth his attention. He let the months and years flit past, bored but complacent.

Malacrass, it turned out, had ingratiated himself to Zul’jin by always speaking simply. He never talked about the chief’s arm, or the war, or promises of glory, or anything in the future or the past. Malacrass was focused on the moment, as it were. So when Malacrass came, telling Zul’jin about something he’d meticulously tortured out of some elven whelp, Zul’jin found he was interested simply because it was so outlandish.

The elves had captured some kind of divine being from the shattered homeworld of the orcs, and had learned how to siphon its power to strengthen their newest crop of warriors, granting them abilities they never had before. At first Zul’jin was willing to ignore this, because the elves were just trying to survive, and now they might actually be worth fighting again. But then Zul’jin thought of divine beings, and thought of all the times that the loa had been invoked as though they had some great power over the lives of trolls, and how the loa had never done anything.

Now he saw a way to put the strength of the loa to work. Something tangible. Something he could SEE.

Maybe he had been too ambitious before. Bringing truth to the world? Maybe that was too much. Could he use this power Malacrass had discovered to crush the elves at last? Now that they might actually be a threat once again, he’d get some grim satisfaction from it. He heard the elves weren’t alone, that they had allies, but since when had that ever stopped the trolls from fighting them?

There were allies aside from the dead, though. They are orcs, his scouts told him, and Sen’jin’s whelp of a son from the Darkspear. Zul’jin spat at the mention of the orcs. Maybe he couldn’t put the blame for his losses entirely at their feet, but they’d proven to be less than reliable friends, and they deserved to die just as much as anyone else who’d stepped on the Amani before. And Sen’jin’s leavings? Jungle trolls were nothing more than blood-guzzling nihilists who’d sacrificed their best to an abomination, and anyone who could be cast out of what remained of the Gurubashi couldn’t be much of a threat.

Malacrass made all the preparations. On the northernmost ziggurat, they started the ceremony with Akil’zon, summoning the loa into the material world and then siphoning his essence into a mortal champion, who arose bristling with power. Zul’jin looked into the distance, and saw among the trees an Eye of Rastakhan looking balefully on as the Amani cheered the rise of their new weapon.

Zul’jin laughed again, for the first time in a long while.

“Tell de God-king, if ya like,” he said to the wind, wondering if the Eye could hear him, “tell ‘im ev’ryt’ing ya see. I don’ care. Ya can tell de whole world what ya be seein’, and it won’ change a t’ing.”

“No one gonna threaten da Amani. Come and try. We’ll put ya in da ground, where ya belong.”

*****************

Probably the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish with this was to juxtapose Zul’jin against Vol’jin. Where the former was revered by virtually all the forest troll tribes for being the baddest, meanest, most accomplished Forest Troll of all time, Vol’jin was mostly spat upon (by most trolls aside from the Zandalari) because the Darkspear got their asses kicked by murlocs. The Amani and the Darkspear had something in common when it came to allying with the Horde, but when Zul’jin did it the reason was destruction and vengeance, while the Darkspear did it for survival.

And where the Amani lacked any love or value for Doomhammer’s orcs aside from their value as cannon fodder in a bid for conquest, the Darkspear came to love Thrall’s Horde as brothers.

Maybe the biggest difference is that Zul’jin is never painted as being anything other than a warlord, while Vol’jin is a shadow hunter. Shadow hunters are as much shaman as they are warriors, when it comes to their role in the tribe; they guide the tribe, they protect it, sometimes by doing stuff the tribe itself might not really dig. Zul’jin doesn’t really seem to have anything going on aside from sheer strength and greater-than-average tenacity, but Vol’jin demonstrates not only his combat ability but his devotion to shepherding his people.

I think it’s actually fairly easy to draw a line comparing Zul’jin and Vol’jin with Garrosh Hellscream and Thrall. The former is only interested in leading through strength, while the latter is interested in guiding through a blend of battle competence and spiritual conviction. While this strengthens the rationale for why Vol’jin is a great warchief in potentia, it also reinforces why Garrosh was a bad idea: if the orcs (or in Zul’jin’s case, the trolls) focus only on strength as a tactic, with weapons escalation as their trump cards and domination as the only victory condition, they’re doomed to failure.

One of the other major elements I was aiming at, though, was this: Zul’jin and Vol’jin are both confronted by crippling physical injury, and experience a crisis of faith in the loa. While Vol’jin is able to converse directly with Bwonsamdi and is clever enough to figure out the death loa’s game, Zul’jin evidently doesn’t have that connection. The idea that he’d be willing to weaponize the loa shows a level of disregard that I think can only be born out of bitterness, and losing an arm and an eye permanently (when trolls are used to coming back from that kind of damage) would certainly engender that bitterness. So the idea that Zul’jin bulls forward, ignorant of the huge affront he’s committing against the loa because he’s just deaf to them is a good contrast against Vol’jin, who even in the eyes of the Zandalari is begrudgingly respected as someone who has an exceptional insight to the loa.

Therein lies what I feel is the critical difference between Vol’jin and Zul’jin: because Vol’jin is able to come to the realization that Bwonsamdi revoked his regeneration because he’d “forgotten what it meant to be a troll” he’s able to correct himself, become a troll again, and regain his regeneration. Zul’jin can’t come to that realization, not only because he’s not getting told that by the loa but also because he’s too proud to admit it, even after all the trauma he’s suffered.

This ties into a bigger discussion about the Zandalari, though: Vol’jin eventually gets more personal assistance from the loa than the Zandalari themselves, when the Zandalari’s entire role in troll society is being the center of culture, the high priests, the servitors of the God-king, who himself is supposed to be the MOST favored of the loa. One shadow hunter from a disgraced tribe that couldn’t survive without relying on aliens for aid shouldn’t have been such a challenge to them, and yet at the end of the Pandaria Campaign, the Zandalari are still adrift, their offensive crippled, with Vol’jin being a non-trivial part of the reason why.

So where does this leave Zul’jin? Dead and buried. Maybe he’s even vilified or just plain forgotten by whatever remains of the Amani, because he dared to abuse the loa and wasn’t clever enough to win even with those weapons. His downfall is a great contrast against the rise of Vol’jin’s star, not only as an exceptional shadow hunter, but as Warchief of the Horde. But if Zul’jin represents the stubbornness of the Amani, and the inability for the Amani to adapt to a world that hurtles inexorably towards the future, it serves as a prologue to the similar stagnation of the Zandalari; they dare not abuse the loa as the Amani and the Drakkari did, and they dare not offend them as the Gurubashi did, or ignore them as the Farraki did, but neither can they simply carry on assuming that they are still the favored servitors of the loa.

The Zandalari must adapt or die. Zul’jin failed to do that. Vol’jin has demonstrated that he is exceedingly adaptable. So the question is whether the Zandalari will figure out how to do the math.

Garrisons: Analysis Part One of Many

I really can’t talk enough about how much I love the concept of Garrisons for Warlords of Draenor. A lot of other sites have given the basic overview of how they work, so I’ll let Blizzard cover that while I get into some nitty gritty about it — insofar as gritty examination is possible when it’s clearly still in an early design phase.

Allow me to get that Disclaimer out of the way: EVERYTHING about Warlords of Draenor is in design flux at this point, and the information Blizzard has released, in addition to all of my analysis and speculation below, might end up changing dramatically before the beta AND before the release of the expansion. So take everything with a grain of salt.

All that said, there’s a lot that we don’t know about Garrisons as it stands right now:

  • What do all of the buildings do? For the primary profession buildings, it seems pretty straightforward: park followers who have the appropriate skill there, and they’ll research recipes and craft them. For some of the other buildings, we know what they’ll do either because something showed up in one of the mockup slides or Cory Stockton answered a direct question about them. For some of the buildings though, it’s not clear what they’ll do.
  • How many followers can you assign to each building? What kind of effect is there in having multiple followers at the same task?
  • How many followers are we talking about total? The Barracks adds room for discrete numbers of followers per rank, but that’s specifically for the number of followers you can send on missions simultaneously. This means that having a maxed out Barracks would allow you to dispatch a single raid, but then you’d have two followers left that can quest (because you need more than 2 followers to do anything other than quest, if it’s a mission).
  • There’s also a lot of questions about what mechanisms govern followers. Infirmaries reduce downtime for followers, which implies that followers will need recovery time after going on missions. Upgrading the Garrison from tier to tier improves Travel Speed for Followers, implying that there’s a method to reduce mission time, which the Stables might play into.

There are certainly more questions, but I’ll get into them later. For now, let’s talk specifically about plots and choices.

Building Dynamics

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CLICK MEH SEYMOUR

By the time you get to the last tier (Tier 3, pictured above) your garrison appears to have 14 plots (4 small, 6 medium, and 4 large), but all told there are 24 buildings (neither count including the Town Hall).

  • 11 small buildings (1 each for the primary non-gathering professions, and Archaeology, and the Salvage Yard which doesn’t appear to have a stated purpose.)
  • 7 medium buildings (the rest of the professions show up here, with the Pet Stables, Trading Post, and the Lumber Mill, which also doesn’t have a stated or implied purpose.)
  • 6 large buildings (all of the major follower-affecting buildings are here.)

What this means is that the stated intent of “you’ll be able to cover professions you don’t have, but not enough plots to cover all of them” is definitely in play, since there are 10 small profession buildings (since the Salvage Yard doesn’t appear to be linked to a profession) but you only have 4 small plots to work with. Thus, with small buildings, there are a couple of interesting discrepancies to note:

  • Assuming the Storehouse is for Archaeology, that makes it the only secondary profession (aside from Fishing) to get a small building. Assuming that most players are going to use their four small plots to supplement the professions they don’t have, that puts Archaeology at a disadvantage, since it doesn’t generate gear or consumables, but instead only generates lore objects and vanity items.
  • Not knowing what the Salvage Yard is potentially restricts that choice even further; if it’s something that a player deems mission-critical, then that leaves only three small plots for supplementary professions. (More speculation on the Salvage Yard below.)
  • The Fishing Shack is mentioned as a starting building, but doesn’t appear in any of the mockups. Since Fishing only generates Cooking mats (and the occasional crate), that also puts it at a disadvantage compared to other primary profession buildings.

With medium buildings, there’s less constraint on choices, since you’ll have 6 medium plots but have 7 buildings to choose from. The interesting choice that comes into play is whether to aim for getting complete coverage in gathering professions and hiring followers while also reaping the benefits of the Trading Post and… whatever the Lumber Mill is supposed to do. (More speculation on the Lumber Mill below.)

With large buildings, there’s a greater constraint than with medium, but not as bad as small, since it’s 4 large plots and 6 buildings.

  • Without knowing how many characters you can dispatch on missions without a Barracks, there’s no way to judge how vital the Barracks itself will be.
  • The Academy is valuable in the leveling game while you work on building a team, but once you’ve got a diverse team it has less value. Assuming that we never permanently lose followers and that getting certain skills on followers won’t take an excessive grind, of course.
  • Assuming the Mage Tower provides a caster buff similar to what the Armory offers to melee followers, the Armory still has an advantage since it can also be used to train followers to a higher quality. However, the interesting choice between Mage Tower and Armory will be based on whether you can field a dungeon/raid team that meets the skill requirements of the mission AND hits the role requirements as well. The big question is whether the Mage Tower has a second purpose aside from the caster buff.
  • The Infirmary feels like it’s more valuable in an early game because reducing downtime means more income, but depending on what kind of follower population you can have, you might be able to mitigate the downtime penalty simply by cycling through followers, since you’ve got a max amount you can dispatch even with Barracks.
  • And not knowing what the Stable does makes it impossible to judge its choice value. It could improve travel speeds to reduce overall mission times, or it could just be a display point for our favorite mounts. Could be both.

So overall, even without knowing exactly what the limitations and abilities of certain buildings will be, there’s a decent amount of Interesting Choice to be had about all of the buildings, as well as a lot of replayability (or just making different choices with your alts’ garrisons). I feel, however, like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speculation:

Lumber Mill: Historically (as in the RTS games), the Lumber Mill strengthened building durability and was the delivery point for lumber. Since there’s no indication that the Garrisons will be attacked by external forces, and because lumber isn’t a player resource in this game, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Lumber Mill will get used for. It could play into the Garrison Supplies statistic, or it could enhance ranged DPS damage (which the Armory’s melee buff doesn’t explicitly cover). If so, it would be the only medium building to directly affect followers, which plays into the choice dynamics of large buildings.

Salvage Yard: The Salvage Yard uses an Engineering icon, and “Salvage” is the term that’s been used in the past for Engineering players to draw materials or vendor trash out of Mechanical corpses. However, in every slide where we see the Salvage Yard mentioned, there’s another small building (Tinker’s Garage/Engineering Works) that more directly connotes the Engineering profession. So what’s the Salvage Yard for?

  • Salvage Yard might be where you’d take items to be Disenchanted, since the Enchanter’s Tent will probably only research new enchants and apply them to your gear.
  • Building on that, I can imagine missions rewarding non-gear items that could be Salvaged in order to generate garrison supplies or new follower-specific gear.

More To Come:

There’s a lot to talk about with Garrisons, and I’m aiming to do this not only as an analysis of what was delivered at BlizzCon, but also an opportunity to make suggestions about the system and create a dialogue with Blizzard about how it works. All told, if this system is only half as dynamic as what was presented, it’s still going to be a huge selling point for Warlords of Draenor and likely the reason a good number of players come back. ^_^

BlizzCon Quick Reactions

First off, let me state unequivocally that I am extremely excited for Warlords of Draenor.

I had seen some leaked information beforehand, from reliable sources, that gave a bulletpoint list of stuff that was going to happen, but without the pitch from Metzen, and without the announcement trailer, it all fell flat. Nothing about it seemed appealing and I felt like the game was headed for a fall.

But now? After that pitch? THAT TRAILER? And everything else that’s been revealed? I’m so hyped, friends. SO hyped.

Sadly, I can’t go into big detail here, as I’ve got to pass out and get some sleep after an exhausting day, and tomorrow is going to be filled with the long-form wedding & reception that prevented me from being in-person at BlizzCon to begin with. Basically it’s going to be a couple days before I can get my proper reactions up here, but let’s just do a couple quick lists:

PROS:

  • Old Draenor looks amazing.
  • Reminding everyone that the orcs were always a badass male power fantasy is actually pretty awesome.
  • Huge new potential with Draenor as a location (a whole ogre empire continent off the map? perfect.)
  • Buckets of new lore on the Draenei, the arakkoa, in addition to other new races on the planet.
  • Garrisons and all the connected subsystems (this is easily my favorite system addition, so expect a big post about it).
  • The raid paradigm changes.
  • Inventory improvements.
  • The “instant 90” token.
  • The gronn are siege weapons. THE GRONN ARE SIEGE WEAPONS.

CONS:

  • The story isn’t bad at face-value (not enough is known about it yet to judge) but the premise takes a non-trivial amount of effort to explain: Garrosh gets sent back into time to stop the orc leaders from drinking the demon blood and instead forges them into the Iron Horde, which then builds the Dark Portal to invade Azeroth… but the Dark Portal is connected to present-day Azeroth. So essentially there’s an alternate-timeline, paradox-free set-up, but for a lot of people, it’s going to make them cross-eyed pretty fast.
  • I appreciate that it’s Warcraft and it’s Orcs vs. Humans, but man, we just got done killing a LOT of orcs in SoO and Battlefield: Barrens.
  • And while I don’t want to shortchange the story before I get the chance to experience it fully, the sense that MoP was sold as “the calm before the storm” and now WoD is being set-up as “rolling into the following expansion” is giving me the sense that Blizzard is just breadcrumbing the story forward. If the expansions are coming out more quickly, then maybe that’s okay, but the bottom line here is that I’m interested in getting a sense of resolution out of this expansion, and that’s not really being explicitly offered at this point.

So yeah: definitely a lot more to come tomorrow and in the following weeks, but if you had any doubt about Warlords of Draenor, doubt no more; the Alliance is going through the Dark Portal to whoop some ass, just like the good old days. ^_^