Rediscovering Dungeons

Here in Oklahoma it has been insanely hot and by Thursday it is supposed to be in temperatures over 107F.  As a result, I have been actively trying to avoid leaving the comfort of air conditioning.  This meant that this last weekend, I spent the vast majority of it logged into Argent Dawn in World of Warcraft.  The game still has a pretty firm resurgent hold on me.

Am I Really Back?

WoWScrnShot_062512_060314Honestly at this point I am still not 100% sure if I am really back, but I have moved from seven days of free time to actually paying for the first month.  I had planned on doing this anyway, just to make sure my friend got his mount, but I have to say I am already finding myself making plans for the future.  Right now I have a stable of sub 85s, and I admit I am looking forward to leveling them.

I spent the largest portion of the weekend working on Exeter, my Paladin.  This was actually my very first character in World of Warcraft, and I had grand ideals about playing it as a main.  Due to not being able to keep up with my friends, and the failings of protection paladins early on in vanilla, this never quite panned out.  But nonetheless the character has always had a special place for me.

When I last played the character over a year and a half ago, I had just started on Vashj’ir and decided to swap from Retribution as I played in Wrath, to full on protection.  With some minimal ability swapping, I was able to pick up the character pretty quickly and continue on questing.  I have to say the Cataclysm Tankadin is a blast to play.  I have given paladins crap over the years, even on this blog, but the gameplay is extremely infectious.

WoWScrnShot_062512_064918Over the course of the weekend I finished Vashji’r, quested through Hyjal, mined my way across Deepholme and finally reached 85 while doing the first few quest chains of Uldum.  I have no clue how many actual hours of play it took me, but with all the perks granted by a level 25 guild, it seemed like it just flew by.  Instead of watching my xp bar I found myself just following along the quests, and before I knew it I had hit the cap.

While I have complained about “kill ten” quests before, I have come to realize that at the end of the day I really do prefer them.  Having a traditional questing structure gives me a sense of purpose as I check things off my list.  When I have played more open ended games, like Guild Wars 2, I have felt like everything I did lacked that same sense of purpose.  As much as I had complained about the disconnected feeling of Cataclysm, the quest flow is pretty nice and has enough other kinds of quests to break the monotony of the kill tasks.

Grouping Should Be Fun

Screenshot_2012-02-22_22_19_17_638583When I left WoW originally it changed my game play deeply.  I went from being the center of each group as the main tank, to actively avoiding grouping all together.  I had developed a phobia of being needed at all, since I had spent the previous seven years responsible for the happiness of so many others.  I grouped when I absolutely had to, but the rest of the time I was off by myself and seemingly happy.

With the release of SWTOR, I gave grouping another try.  However choosing to level as a dedicated duo, left me feeling chained to having to play whenever someone else was online.  When it came time to run flashpoints, I just found them not as much fun as I remembered dungeons being.  I think in part, I just didn’t like the design of the Star Wars hard modes.  I don’t mind hard encounters, but I have always felt that they should be an endurance game, not twitch reflexes.

Many of the SWTOR hard mode flashpoints, just felt cheap and irrationally punishing.  Colonel Daksh in Maelstrom Prison for example, goes into this phase where you have to avoid getting in line of sight of him.  Essentially 2 or 3 times per fight, everyone in the group has to do an intricate dance avoiding being seen.  If you are seen at all, it is essentially a one shot death.  If you aren’t dpsing him fast enough, you also die from the incredibly short enrage timer.  As we wiped over and over to one thing or another, the attempts just ceased to be enjoyable, and given time flashpoints were just something I completely avoided.

Remembering It Can Be

image00211Thanks to the coaxing of my friend, coming back to WoW I have been grouping again.  I eased into it by duoing some old raids, until I built back up my tanking ability to some extent.  Once I got back into the swing of a heroic, including the “new to me” hour of twilight five mans, it felt like coming home.  Unfortunately it seems like we can only muster full guild groups on Friday or Saturday nights.  But those last few nights, have been some of the most enjoyable gameplay I have experienced in years.

Friday night we gathered up to work on various achievements, that each of us had outstanding.  We knocked out a couple still remaining from the Icecrown five mans, and then moved on to the redesigned Zul’Gurub.  ZG has always been one of my favorite places in Azeroth, and in vanilla I spent hour after hour there both tanking and healing it.  When I heard they were removing the raid and making it a heroic, I was extremely disappointed.  However, considering they went from a raid to a five man, they’ve done the zone justice.  While none of the fights are exactly the same, they each feel very similar in nature and still have a very epic feeling to them.

In an hours time, we had knocked out every available Zul’Gurub achievement.  While there really wasn’t much in the way of gear upgrades for anyone involved, we had a complete blast doing it.  I am remembering the side of gaming I used to love so much, but the circumstance of having to be both guild and raid leader robbed me of.  Running around with my friends taking down baddies, has re-awoken a piece of my inner child I thought was too jaded to ever feel this way again.

Well Rested Return

One of friends, mused that I just needed some time away from the game to get my perspective.  I think that honestly might be the case.  Too much frustration had built up, over too many things not directly related to gameplay.  Coming back now, I have a new pair of rose colored lenses and my buffer of bullshit has been emptied out.  I never thought it would be WoW I was returning to however.  I really thought with my recent return to Rift, that it would be the one that held my attention.  As much crap as we have all said about “pandas and pokemon”, I think the upcoming expansion will breathe some life back into the game.  I just hope that my return, others will be willing to give it a fresh start as well.

Nostalgia Wins

Of all the topics I thought I would be blogging about, it is pretty safe to assume this is the last one I ever expected to be writing.  However over the last couple of weeks I have been giving in to my nostalgia, and I feel like I need to come clean about it.  About a week before my birthday, I found my way onto the guild mumble, in the guise of helping a long time friend test their mumble connection.  It was not long before a few others showed up, and we had a lively little discussion going.

When you get a bunch of old friends together, sooner or later they are going to start talking about the “good ole days”.  While none of us were actively playing it, those cherished times were all raids in World of Warcraft.  Over the last year and a half, since leaving the game, it has pretty much been my regular whipping boy.  I’ve said so much, and blamed so many things on the game and its players, but at the end of the day we really did have some amazing times there.  It wasn’t long before I found myself accepting a Scroll of Resurrection, and reactivating my account.

Sealing the Rift

2011-03-15_062142 (1)I expected that much like reactivating Rift, this was going to be one of my short lived whims.  I had a good deal of fun wandering around Telara for about a week, before the same feeling from before had set in.  Rift is without a doubt technically superior to every game on the market.  It has every feature I could ever possibly want in an MMO.  The problem is that once again I find myself not really caring about the world of Telara and its two warring factions. 

What hooked me on MMOs all those years ago, was this always on and deeply intricate fantasy world to explore.  Norrath will always be my first love, with its interesting races, brooding gods, and vast landscapes.  I can remember spending hours, reading quests, trying to gather up every little tidbit of this rich world.  Years later I developed the same connection to the land of Azeroth.  The setting was already familiar to me, and knowing a little bit about it already, made World of Warcraft and its lore all the more addictive.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, I just can’t seem to develop the same connection with the races and world of Telara.  The game does everything right, and has every bells and whistles I could ever want in an MMO, especially now that they are adding mentoring.  At the end of the day however, I just don’t really care about my characters the same way I normally do in these games. 

Home is never the same

WoWScrnShot_061412_232732So in a fit of nostalgia I have been playing WoW once more, and I have to say I am enjoying myself quite a bit.  I think it is a testament to just how good a game it is, that I can return after almost 2 years, and a ton of frustration and bad feelings towards Blizzard, and be able to have fun.  I honestly had the intention of never playing the game again.  I had mixed emotions about trying to “return home”, and the ramifications that it might mean.

So much has changed, the guild I spent seven years building up is very similar, but it is definitely not the same guild I left.  Little things have changed, gone are a good number of the people I cherished the most, and with them some of the easy banter that used to go on in guild chat each night.  However, there are moments, especially on raid nights when some of the veterans show up, that things return back to “normal” for a bit, or at least the normal I remember.

In addition to folks that have moved on like I did, there are tons of new names and faces that I don’t know.  I used to pride myself on trying to know everyone in “my” guild, but truth is from the moment I passed on the hat that guild stopped existing anywhere other than my mind.  I think this is all the more noticeable by the fact that Argent Dawn once again is going through the pre-expansion doldrums.  The guild is still a great group of people, just not as outwardly friendly as it once was.

Normal is a moving target

WoWScrnShot_061712_000107I’ve hit on this multiple times, but the truth is while it feels like the guild has changed, it might simply be because I myself have changed.  When I was last wearing the green and black of House Stalwart, I was a burnt out Guild and Raid leader, unable to stand the thought of playing the game anymore.  I have realized that a good bit of that frustration that built up was because my reality was changing around me. 

When I built up House Stalwart into what it was, I was a relatively unhappy code monkey, working under a boss with a penchant for passive aggressive micro-management.  Nothing I did was ever good enough, and I felt like I had no control over my work world.  At the same time there was a good deal of turmoil in my personal life.  During a five year stretch, we lost something like 15 family members.  The first and worst of these was the suicide of my nephew.

Everything simply felt wrong, and out of control.   I think in a way I built up House Stalwart to be this stable, safe environment to hide out in.  Over time my life started to shift back into normality, I didn’t need my support structure as much as I once did.  I changed jobs leaving the constant stress, feelings of inadequacy and that horrible boss behind.  The problem is, I had built a guild full of great people who had come to need me that I did not want to let down.

The more responsibility I had thrust upon me in the real world, the less I wanted to deal with it in the game world.  So when I moved jobs, to one I had more of a direct role contributing to, I pushed back against being the main tank.  When I had a coworker leave, and have to pick up the slack and essentially do two jobs at the same time, I pushed back against raid leadership.  As I picked up some management responsibilities, I pushed back against guild leadership eventually left the game.  So it seems impossible to separate the frustrations I had with the game, from the changes I was going through outside of it.

Am I really back?

WoWScrnShot_061612_233953So over the last week I have been getting adjusted to the game again.  I find myself actually looking forward to going home and playing at night.  More than anything that is something that has been missing for awhile.  While I have found enjoyment in whatever I was playing, the actual drive to log in and play has been gone.  Now I think ahead about what I might accomplish each evening, and it is refreshing.

There is a question my friends keep asking that I don’t have an honest answer for yet.  I am not sure if I am really back, or honestly what being back even means.  I figure if I am actually playing a month from now, then chances are I will be playing for awhile.  I am enjoying this present trip down memory lane in the meantime.  Last night I soloed most of AQ40 and AQ20, then later duoed a good chunk of the Black Temple.  I am enjoying the experience of rediscovering this game I used to love so much, with no expectations.

I am having a blast playing my Deathknight, probably more than I have since originally leaving the game.  I am not really sure how to quantify it, but World of Warcraft does melee right.  I’ve played melee characters in roughly a dozen games since leaving wow, and in every case they didn’t quite feel right.  They either were too simplistic, too slow paced, or somehow didn’t truly capture the fun nature of swinging a weapon at a monster.  I have to think that it is all the attention to detail and smooth animations that make playing a melee just feel correct.

Future uncertain

Right now I am not sure what my gaming future will bring.  There are so many big games on the horizon, and I am sure I will play several of them. I am not sure if WoW will stick, or if I will just float along to the next big thing.  Currently I have access to WoW, Pandaria Beta, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Diablo 3, Rift and Everquest II.  So far however, the only two I am actually logging into are WoW and EQ2.  In each case, those are the two universes I am most nostalgic about.  I guess that no matter what I say or do, I will always love Norrath and Azeroth.  It has been just as shocking to myself, as it has been to my friends that I am back in WoW.