Monday, August 31, 2020

The Problems With the Battle for Azeroth Story, Part II

In the last post, we discussed the Burning of Teldrassil and Sylvanas Windrunner. In this post, I'm going to look at two more philosophical problems that the writers are having.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You

There is an old aphorism, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

In a nutshell, that sums up the problems with the Alliance side of the BfA story. This is the second time the Horde has attacked the Alliance out of the blue. And yet the Alliance cannot seem to learn any lessons. Thus they come across as foolish when they try to make peace, especially a peace without terms.

The story tries to portray (early) Jaina and Tyrande as wrong with their uncompromising stance against the Horde. But Jaina and Tyrande are right and sensible! Jaina's reversion in 8.3.5 to her previous stance is a huge mistake and erases all development for her character.

As for Tyrande, it feels like she's going to learn a "valuable lesson" about the dangers of vengeance in Shadowlands, completely ignoring that sometimes anger is justified.

 Battle for Azeroth turned out to be Garrosh 2.0, only this time the Alliance comes across as foolish. Not even a nod to Varian's declaration that "if your Horde fails to uphold honor as Garrosh did, we will end you." Nothing but paper tigers.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Perhaps the biggest problem with Battle for Azeroth, which ties into the previous point, is that characters' actions don't seem to matter. What matters is the words they say.

Take Sylvanas. The entire resolution of the story hinges on her saying, "The Horde is nothing". If she simply doesn't say that, the ending falls apart. All the actions she took, good or bad, none of them matter in the end.

As for Saurfang, he happily invades Ashenvale and Darkshore. Then he's sad and sorry, so obviously he's in the right.

There is a great disconnect between the actions taken and the words spoken. And the story comes down on the side that the words spoken are true and correct, and the actions are not. This is a major source of dissonance.

Maybe the WoW writers feel these aphorisms are old and outdated. But they're common wisdom for a reason, ingrained in how most people view the world. In my opinion, a writer ignores these and similar proverbs at their peril. It usually turns out badly, as Battle of Azeroth shows.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Problems With the Battle for Azeroth Story, Part I

Unlike a lot of forum posters, I actually think WoW's writers are pretty good. There are a lot really well done small stories and small moments in BfA. For example, I loved the work they did with Jaina, at least until the aftermath of attack on Ogrimmar. However, the writers also have a tendency to make really big, bone-headed mistakes. These mistakes are so huge, that they wipe out all the good that has been done, has been built up. This series of posts is a discussion of what I see as the major mistakes in Battle for Azeroth.

The Burning of Teldrassil

I actually liked the Burning of Teldrassil as the initial move in the story. I thought to myself, "Well, the writers promised that this wouldn't be Garrosh 2.0, and now they certainly can't do a Garrosh 2.0 story." The joke was on me, I guess, as BfA soon became Garrosh 2.0.

The Burning of Teldrassil would have been an excellent opener for a story where the war between Horde and Alliance becomes hot, and stays hot for several expansions.

For the type of story BfA wanted to be, it actually would have worked much better without burning Teldrassil. The Horde pre-emptively sweeps through and conquers Ashenvale and Darkshore. The Alliance retaliates by attacking Undercity. After Undercity gets destroyed, both sides pull back and look for allies. Then the Horde attacks Brennadan. Next the Alliance escalates with the raid on Daz'alor and killing Rastakhan. Sylvanas then starts looking to weaponize Derek Proudmoore, and Baine intervenes.

In that story, you actually have an escalating cycle of violence, where breaking it makes sense. However, by starting with Teldrassil, there is no escalation. Everything the Alliance does pales in comparison. The story starts too big, and there's no place for it to go.

Sylvanas Windrunner

The writers clearly want to have Sylvanas to have a plan. To be a mastermind working towards some hidden goal. Unfortunately none of this is coming across. Instead, Sylvanas seems to whiplashing between good and evil, and it is really hurting both her character and the story.

Back when I played D&D, it was really common for me as a DM to construct this intricate plot and world in my head. It took me a long while to truly understand that the players couldn't see that plot. The channel between the DM and player is "lossy". If you're lucky, maybe 25% of what you want to convey will actually make it to the players. In this situation, you're better off being blunt and explicit, and repeating yourself several times. Especially when your story takes place over a long period of time, as players will forget the fine details of events which happened several months ago.

FFXIV is really good at this. If they want the players to know something about a villain or a villain's plans, they'll start hinting at it a couple patches in advance. Then they'll end up explicitly saying it in a few different ways. Maybe they'll show you the villain discussing things with a subordinate. And maybe you and your allies will discuss the villain. Sometimes it can feel like they're being overly blunt, but better too blunt than too subtle.

To Be Continued...

Friday, August 28, 2020

Gaming Log - August 28

World of Warcraft

We're continuing to try and get old raid achievements. We got the meta for Hellfire Citadel. Gorefiend was a huge pain because it requires at least one person to die during Feast of Souls. At max level it is very hard to die! We ended up removing all gear, and even then only one person died in the phase. Luckily she was able to do her part and spawned the achievement mob just as the phase ended.

We then returned to our nemesis, Thok. This time around we knew how to do the achievement so things went somewhat smoothly. Except two of our druids forgot they had the Resto affinity talent which automatically heals them. But we got past that, thanks to the stacking damage buff, and unlocked the snail and killed Thok. Sadly, someone was wearing a trinket which procced and killed the snail!

I guess we'll try again next week.

World of Warcraft Classic

I've been playing my Human Paladin and Warrior. I tried playing with the Horde Priest, but there was a lot of Alliance running around and I wasn't able to get anything done. I did manage to run away before being killed, though, so I'll count it as a moral victory.

Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

I set the difficulty down to Peasant (Easy). At this point, I really just want to finish the main story of the game.

I then finished sacking the Imperium Romana's port. The final boss fight was neat. Instead of a boss, it was a gauntlet where you had to run around and set ships on fire.

Now back to the underworld to steal a crystal from the dark elves so my blacksmith can make better weapons and armor.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Gaming Log - August 24

Been a while since my last post. Haven't really been up to a lot.

World of Warcraft

We did some more raid and dungeon achievements. We've been trying to get all the achievements in Siege of Ogrimmar, but we keep accidentally killing things we shouldn't. Garrosh and Thok were our banes, especially as it was so hard to wipe. We did get Garrosh, but Thok eluded us. We almost had it, but our paladin's Avenger's Shield killed Thok and bounced and killed the snail. So we'll have to do it again some time.

I also finished the Horde story with my Blood Elf paladin. My regular Blood Elf Warrior is a Sylvanas loyalist, so I made this one to see the story from the Saurfang side. There wasn't a lot of difference, mostly you defend Saurfang from assassins, and then you don't keep talking to Nathanos who directs you to pretend to be a traitor.

World of Warcraft Classic

I'm still playing the Horde priest. Up to level 32 now. I find that one of the problems with Classic is that whenever I get "blocked" on a quest, I tend to lose the desire to continue with that character. For example, I have an elite quest, The Den, in Stonetalon Mountains, and I just cannot get a group for it. Soloing it is pretty painful, as it is one of those twisty night elf barrows, but all the mobs are elites.

Retired Games and Services

I uninstalled and unsubscribed from Final Fantasy XIV and The Old Republic. I'm not really enthusiastic about the non-story gameplay and activities in both of them. Maybe I'll check in on them in a year or so.

I also deleted my Reddit account, and removed all bookmarks from my browser. I think I've spent an excessive amount of time on that site over the last few years, for little gain. Though I do wonder how hard it will be to keep up to date with the various fandoms.

I am leaning to the view that any social site where you accumulate "internet points" in some manner leads to undesirable outcomes. That perhaps the best sites are just old-fashioned forums and blogs.

Monday, August 17, 2020

FFXIV: Patch 5.3

This post contains spoilers for Patch 5.3 for Final Fantasy XIV.

FFXIV's latest patch came out last week. The MSQ was the finale of the Shadowbringers story.

Truthfully, I am not the biggest fan of Shadowbringers. It was quite good, but I didn't love it. And honestly, this patch was for the people who loved it. There were long goodbyes, as you go around to all the new zones and say farewells, having many of the story NPCs show up again.

The final fight was quite good, though, with a superb unexpected cameo. The only issue I have with the fight is that there is one of those active time events where you have to rapidly press a button. The problem is that all eight members of the party have to pass the event. I think it should have been 6 of 8 or so, to allow a little carrying of people who might have trouble with that.

The Nier 24-man raid story also continued. There were so many deaths during that raid. I think we had one healer healing and the other constantly ressing. Several times our group got wiped out and the other groups had to come save us. Heh, one time, our healer managed to use Limit Break 3, ressing everyone in the group, right into a mechanic which killed most of us. He was very upset.

However, it is one of those raids where it will be much better when people get used to the new mechanics.

The final bit of the patch is the Sapphire Weapon story. Here the game went full Gundam with piloting a giant robot and everything. I think the entire thing, including a lot of the dialogue, was a Gundam reference, but I'm not very familar with the franchise.

 There was also a season summer event which was pretty weird. There was a FATE where you had to dance to encourage a bomb to blow up and defeat a giant shark with arms and legs.

The problem I'm having with FFXIV is that there doesn't seem to be much to work on. Too much story, not enough grind, if that makes sense. This expansion is really missing something like Eureka, where you can just log in and work on something at a light pace. Admittedly, though, it's been very crafter-centric, and I haven't really leveled any crafting jobs. And unfortunately, I'm really not fond of max-level dungeon gameplay, wall-to-wall AOE, which is the main gearing grind.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Ganking on an RP-PvP Server

Grobbulus is an Role-Playing Player-vs-Player server. That means it's a little bit weird.

On a normal PvP server, a Horde lowbie gets ganked while trying to quest in Hillsbrad Farms by max-level Alliance players.

On a Role-Playing PvP server, a Horde lowbie gets ganked while trying to quest in Hillsbrad Farms by max-level Alliance players pretending to be farmers.

Seriously, there were four of them, dressed up in overalls and plaid shirts and carrying shovels.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Gaming Log - August 10

 World of Warcraft Classic

I did a couple of quests in Stonetalon Mountains and Ashenvale with the Horde Priest. Then I foolishly went to Hillsbrad Foothills and got ganked twice by a 34 gnome rogue. 

The priest is up to level 27. I took Tailoring as a profession, and surprisingly it's turned out to be very useful. I think I'm wearing four crafted pieces at the moment. Retail WoW is much better about giving you a complete set of gear as basic quest rewards, so the crafting professions are much less useful while gearing up.

Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

I did the next map in Vikings. This time I was attempting to make an alliance with Simul, but she refused and forced me to fight Guarm, guardian of the portal to Hel, so that she could enter Hel. Not sure what Simul is after, but I have been side-tracked to sack the home port of the Imperium Romana's northern navy.


Here's a list of goals or games that I want to play in the next few weeks:

  • Vikings: Wolves of Midgard - I haven't played much in the last week or so, but I really should focus on finishing this game.
  • Final Fantasy XIV - Patch 5.3 comes out today. I want to play through the story, and try the next Nier raid.
  • World of Warcraft Classic - Try to get the Horde Priest to 60.
  • Control - There's an DLC coming out at the end of August.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn - One of my friends loved this game and enthusiastically recommended it when it came out on console. It's just been released on PC, but there seem to be a lot of people complaining about crashes. Maybe I'll wait for the first patch, or clear up some of the other goals before getting it.
  • Crowfall - Beta is starting. I backed it so long ago. I tried to look at some things in early Alpha, but I couldn't really figure anything out. I really should take a look at what they've built.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Gaming Log - August 8

World of Warcraft

We went after the raid achievements for Emerald Nightmare and Nighthold. We did some of them in Mythic, but then dropped back to Heroic when it turned out that the Botanist achievement requires 10 people in Heroic, but 20 in Mythic.

The only difficult one was Xavius, and that was because it requires a Demon Hunter or a Warlock, two classes that we don't normally have in raids, to find creatures hidden in the darkness. A bit annoying because we have a lot of Hunters, but Flare doesn't show you the hidden creatures. The guildmate who switched to Warlock was very excited to use Eye of Kilrogg, though.

World of Warcraft Classic

I found out that a guildmate plays on Grobbulus, an RP-PvP realm. So I made an Undead Priest on that server and have been focusing solely on it. It's actually kind of surprising how fast one can level without distractions. I'm currently level 27.

It's kind of interesting playing on an PvP realm again. I'll probably regret it though. So far, my PvP experience has been:

  • Chased into Tarren Mill by a skull gnome warrior
  • One-shot by a skull night elf hunter after landing at Tarren Mill
  • Killed twice by a skull human rogue while questing near Tarren Mill
  • Killed by a 31 gnome warrior while questing near Tarren Mill
  • Killed a 31 human rogue while in a group of 4 (28 druid, 27 priest, 23 warlock, 23 priest) in Stonetalon Mountains 

Not really sure if the last was fair or not. The rogue didn't Vanish though, so maybe he thought he had a chance at taking out the warlock.

In any case, there's mostly been a common theme in PvP, and that's being ganked at Tarren Mill.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

When did the Forsaken Change?

I'm leveling a Forsaken priest in WoW Class at the moment. It's been a long time since I played Horde or did the early Forsaken quests. But there's a really big difference in how the Forsaken are treated in Classic versus Battle For Azeroth.

Classic makes it really clear that the Forsaken are different after being raised from the dead. They're the same person, but warmer, positive emotions are greatly muted, and the more negative emotions dominate. For example, Clarice Feldman was the wife of a paladin who went off to fight the Scourge. In life she both loved him and resented him for leaving her. In death, the love is muted, and the resentment magnified. There's another quest about a husband who's wife was killed by his best friend. He sends you to kill that friend, and keeps his hands to remind him of his revenge, but gives you his only momento of his wife, her ring.

Classic is pretty clear that this is normal for Forsaken, that it's just how they are. 

In D&D terms, it's like their alignment takes one step towards Evil after being raised. Someone who was Lawful Good in life is Lawful Neutral in death. Neutral in life becomes Neutral Evil in death.

In Battle For Azeroth, on the other hand, this doesn't happen in most cases. There are 3 new Forsaken raised during the story: Amelia Stone, Thomas Zelling, and Derek Proudmoore. All three of them seem like the same person after being raised, and don't exhibit the change in emotions. Zelling in particular is deeply concerned about his family, and hurt when they reject him. A Classic-style Zelling would care about his family in an intellectual sense, and insist that the Horde carry out their agreement to take care of them. But he wouldn't seek to see them or bond with them.

There is one case where the newly-raised Forsaken behaves in the Classic-style: the Night Elf Wardens. They come back angry at the world and Elune. Ironically, I've seen more player complaints about the change in personality for the Wardens than for Zelling or Proudmoore.

It makes me wonder if I missed something in the story. A plot point where Forsaken resurrection was "fixed", and newly-made Forsaken started coming back with an unchanged personality.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

AQ Drama in WoW Classic

The Ahn'Quiraj phase started in WoW Classic recently. This phase starts with the War Effort to unlock the gates in Silithus. It also has the race to be the person who unlocks the gates and gets the title of Scarab Lord.

And so we have drama. So much drama.

Check out the WoW Classic forums and reddit. Horde and Ally guilds colluding. Guilds interfering with each other. People being forced to farm so their GM gets Scarab Lord. People mass-reporting each other. Guilds acting like a mafia and controlling the pace of the opening. Half the guilds want to delay the opening so they can have more Scarab Lords, and the other half insists the gates open early so that there are more chances to get loot from AQ40.

You can see why Blizzard took steps to reduce all this drama. 

And yet, the drama is what makes it fun and entertaining, even for those of us not participating. You have actual server communities with guilds who know each other and are fighting and cooperating with each other. There are known personalities on each sides. Check out this video from Grobbulus:

In some ways, there is more "life" in this one event in a replica of a 15-year-old game than there has been in the last five years of Retail WoW.

Perhaps drama is the most attractive point of the MMO genre, what makes it special. And in removing anything which can cause drama, MMOs become just another game.