Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Hour of Twilight, New Challenges, and Just Having Fun

How Patch 4.3 Sparked My Love of the End-Game Once Again

Been rather distracted and busy these past few months, working on real life stuff and preparing for the holidays. I got an internship I really wanted starting in January, so I’ll be busy doing that~ So excited! I also hope to get some art and writing done soon.

In between real life events, I’ve been really buckling down to playing WoW more, especially with the hype leading up to and the subsequent release of patch 4.3. Though I was initially underwhelmed, I’ve since found I really am having a lot of fun.

Having been around for when Icecrown Citadel opened during Wrath of the Lich King, I initially expected more excitement out of the patch where Deathwing’s demise would be realized. Now, I’m no raider, but even I felt like I was anxiously keeping up with progress on how ICC was conquered, bit by bit, until at last the Lich King himself was available. When he finally was downed, I felt a thrill of awe and amazement, as well as jealousy of the people so lucky to see his death. It wouldn’t be until this past August that I would finally be able to see the fall of the Lich King myself, PuGing Icecrown Citadel with my dear Cerylia. It was fun, still enough of a challenge to get my blood pumping, and very satisfying.

Cerylia and my boyfriend's warlock, Esuegleteb,
reflect on their slaying of the Lich King.

With 4.3, such tense excitement was not exactly… there. I don’t typically keep up THAT closely with patch notes and the PTR content, not wanting to spoil myself, so at first I was under the impression that there would be a bit of a lead-in to Deathwing’s demise. First the three new heroics, before finally unveiling the raid. However, I had barely finished transmogrifying my outfits and cleaning out my banks for void storage before someone downed Deathwing. I was… perplexed. Really? That’s it? Deathwing dead so fast? It didn’t help that the announcement of such in the city was comparable to the announcement of yet another Nefarian head being hung up in the city. Ho hum.

Lord Itharius of the Green Dragonflight stands in Orgrimmar
beside the jaw(?) of Deathwing.

I was a little dubious about it at first, but then I decided to go watch the end cinematic. Why not? I certainly won’t be killing Deathwing anytime soon. (I’ve a snail’s pace when it comes to WoW and progression; I get excited about accomplishments months, years after they were new and exciting. xD)

But when I saw that cinematic… it gave me a strange sort of realization. Something… profound and lovely. Perhaps this was made all the more significant because I read Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, by Christie Golden. (Wonderful book, by the way.)

“There is more to a life than the great moments, the ones the world sssees,” Nozdormu continued. “You must sssee those for yourself.”

This lesson was not just for Thrall, I realized. It was for me too.

Let me first explain a little about what I’ve done in Cataclysm so far. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on my alts this expansion, not just because of the new revamped 1-60 zones (which are awesome), but also because end-game was kind of… dull. I easily geared up through normals, only to be intimidated by the heroics. They were so long, and so… frustrating. I had to depend on other people (who may or may not know what they are doing) to make it through. There was too much name-calling and people quick to blame others for wipes, even if they were clearly the source of the problem. And it just wasn’t any fun. If a group went smoothly, it was pretty fun, but the amount of aggravating groups compared to fun ones was too disproportionate to really make me want to try. I have spent the entire expansion up till now avoiding heroics as a result.

Enter patch 4.3, with the new Hour of Twilight dungeons.

…Wow. Just… wow.

My friend Jilixx from Twitter invited me one evening to join her and her friend to these new heroics. I was a little nervous, but it was comforting to know I wouldn’t have to do it all by myself, and that I’d have a friend to teach me the encounters. So we tried it out.

And by the Light, it was FUN.

Wipes were stress-free. People would laugh if off or point out what to do differently next time. Even when we had a quitter, we would quickly get a new person who was ready to do their part. The fights were really fun, and I figured them out quickly thanks to Jilixx’s explanations. (I’m still not perfect, I’m sure, but I can do the fights on my own with confidence now.) And getting a few upgrades certainly made it worthwhile!

After getting my feet wet in all the new heroics, I was motivated to try them again with my boyfriend. We have done the heroics a couple times since then, getting more and more upgrades (and Justice/Valor points to spend) as we did so. It even seemed to spark confidence for the older heroics, as my boyfriend attempted tanking a couple of them. You can definitely tell the difference—whereas the new heroics are fun, the older ones are still pretty frustrating. We got a few nice groups where we could breeze through, but there are still many where people are extremely impatient or make stupid mistakes. The troll dungeons are among the worst, still; I’ve never seen so many people rotate in and out of a dungeon before as when I’ve run Zul’Aman. xD

In only the course of a few days, Cerylia has upgraded most of her gear, and I’m looking forward to running the new heroics more in the hopes that I’ll get more upgrades. I’m actually having fun at end-game again. I haven’t felt like this since Wrath.

While it doesn't hold a candle to her lovely sin'dorei form,
Cerylia doesn't make a half-bad night elf.

Sneer and complain all you like about “Wrath babies”—there’s a point where challenge fails to meet fun, and for a while I felt that Cataclysm was not meeting the two properly. Wrath heroics were easy, sure, but at least I wasn’t hesitating in terror every time I clicked on the “Join Queue” button. In Cataclysm pre-patch 4.3, the challenge of heroics was such that it wasn’t fun trying to work alongside other people to overcome it. I don’t need a dungeon that I can faceroll in—that’s just boring—but I need something where I don’t lose faith in the competence of other people, and my frustration doesn’t override any satisfaction or fun I can take from it. I play a game to enjoy myself, not get upset because stupid people are always getting me killed and being rude.

Enter the new heroics. I really feel like all of a sudden, here is the perfect balance between challenge and fun. It’s a challenge because you have to pay attention. You have to do your best, but at the same time, I think it’s forgiving enough that if someone messes up once or twice it’s not a guaranteed failure. I personally have been delighted when what looks like a wipe situation is suddenly turned around thanks to the quick reflexes and thinking of us remaining party members, and we manage to squeak out a last-ditch victory against a boss. And it seems like people are a little more patient in these dungeons, since many people are still new and trying these instances for the first time. People actually ask if the group is ready, are willing to explain fights to new players, and take time to mark mobs and assign roles in a fight. When groups communicate like this, it feels like a team effort, not five random people wordlessly put to a task together.

…Note that not every new heroic group is like this, of course. There are plenty of nasty, rude, and horrible people out there still, and the new heroics are not immune to this. Certainly not. But I have had better luck in these heroics with successful groups than in the older heroics so far, and that luck of mine really has made a positive impact on me. I hope that many other people have had (or will have) such positive experiences as well. :)

So… what does this have to do with the ending of Deathwing?

Ok, so maybe the Destroyer’s end has been overshadowed a little by transmogrification, carnival games, and players whining/arguing about LFR’s merits… but I think I can be at peace with this ending, just like the Aspects are. In death, in loss, there is new life, new hope. And sometimes, we just have to live in the present instead of worrying about the future, about whether this, that, and the other thing will make people leave for the Star Wars MMO or whatever.

"But the only true reality was now."

Instead of worrying about what others are doing in-game, or how it will impact you, you should take a moment to just enjoy what you are doing now. You may have a goal you wish to meet; don’t worry about how you might not have much left to do after you’ve accomplished it. Just enjoy how you’re having fun now. Quit lamenting about how much “better” the game was back in (insert year here). Stop crying that they’ve “ruined your game” with various changes. Don’t fill your head with worst-case scenarios about the next expansion. (Pandas aren’t the end of the world, ya big babies. :P)

Life is all about change. We as humans are comfortable with familiar routines and instinctively hate change, but it’s essential to development—both in real life, and in our beloved fantasy worlds. We can’t become better people if we don’t face and overcome new challenges, and we can’t be better players, better storytellers, better online friends in Azeroth if WoW doesn’t change. That’s the nature of an MMO… a good one, anyway. It evolves. It adapts to the times. It changes to keep us on our toes.

We are meant to laugh and cry about these changes, meant to tackle them together with friends, and meant to discuss them with others in the community. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that games are meant to bring us joy. Take joy from the game you play. And if you can’t, then perhaps it’s time to take a break, or to move on.

For me, WoW now has its real spark back because of these new dungeons. It also added a fun other dimension to the game in transmogrification, and revamping the Darkmoon Faire. What a fun way to divert my attention from heroics when it gets too repetitive. Perhaps in time, I’ll get to try out the LFR finder and even be able to kill Deathwing before expansion’s end. Who knows? I just know that when I finally do, I’ll be proud and happy. Doesn’t matter when I finally see his demise, or that others have already seen it before me. I was happy when I beat the Lich King, long after the fact, so I think I’ll be happy about this too. ;)

I’m looking forward to seeing my beloved Cerylia becoming the hero I know she deserves to be. I hope all of you can take just as much hope and enjoyment from this patch as well, in your own way.

Thanks Blizzard, for making Patch 4.3 a fun one.

“His mind was calm and open, holding something that it should not be able to hold for more than a moment—but he knew a moment was all that was needed. All that was ever needed.”

Works Cited:
Golden, Christie. Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects. New York: Gallery Books. 2011.
(Quotes from pages 144, 141, and 143, respectively.)