Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Legion Guide: Stage Two. Level 106-109. Story Questing

While Stage One was mostly preparation and establishing the class order halls, this second stage shifts the focus into following the major story lines of the expansion.  There are actually four stories being told, each with its own narrative progression.

1.  The first one is the story told through the class Order Halls.  This is the story that begins with the acquisition of your first artifact weapon and continues through introducing your order hall, and recruiting champions to fill it.

2.  The second is the main story line of the expansion, told to you primarily by Khadgar and later by the Light's Heart naaru that you discover.

3.  The third is told through the questing zones of the Broken Isles.  It follows how you aid the inhabitants of the Broken Isles as they deal with the effects of the Legion on their homeland.

4.  The fourth story is actually told by our profession trainers.  Rather than simply vending recipes, the crafter trainers offer an extended series of quests that tell a story all their own.

We have to begin with a little questing philosophy.  When I brought my first character through this expansion, I found it very easy to get overwhelmed with quests.  I would have my quest log filled to bursting with dozens of unrelated quests from as many different sources, and the world map was awash with questing opportunities as well.  I would plunge from one task to the next, not even knowing why I was doing something.  The result was not very enjoyable.

First, it help we to be clear about which of the four stories a particular quest belongs to.  Whether this is a core Legion quest from Khadgar, or a peripheral crafting quest makes a difference to how I experience it. 

With so many different story threads going on at once, I find it easier to focus on a single thread at a time.  If I’m working on an Order hall quest, I push through until it’s complete and turned in before I take on another assignment.  If I have profession quests, I like to finish them and turn them in before doing general quests.  I know that this goes against the grain of efficiency in questing, but I don’t really think efficiency is the highest good this time around.  Trying to do too much at once just makes each piece less meaningful.   If you enjoy the questing and crafting long game, (vs the short game to get into raiding ) I found that it brings the world alive to focus on individual tasks.

Step 1.

At this stage we want to nail down our Order Hall management so we can spend less time there and more out in the Broken Isles. Adopting a priority based system  means we can be more efficient and spend less mental overhead on daily decisions. 

Every day when you log on, you want to complete the following steps in order.
  1. Mission Board:
    • Collect the reward from any completed missions.
    • Assign any experience or weapon rewards to your followers
  2. Visit your lower and upper level recruiters and replace any depleted ranks
  3. Return to the mission board to initiate new missions.
  4. Check to see that your Order Hall researcher is continuing to work on mission upgrades
  5. Check the rest of your order hall, including the Naaru Light’s Heart, to see if there are any available quests
  6. Travel to Dalaran looking for newly available quests:
    • check Khadgar
    • check profession trainers
       7. Return to your designated questing zone and complete at least the named quest lines
At each of these steps, if you find something to do, go ahead and complete it right away, and then return and turn it in for credit and reward.  Following our questing philosophy, don’t try to mix your missions into a single trip.  Just keep them separate and that will keep it very clear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Step1 is all about getting this routine down so that it becomes second nature.

Step 2.
Step two begins at level 105.  Before you go any further, you should complete all Order Hall quests, all profession quests, and all Khadgar quests as much as you are able.  Continue following up the quest lines until no more are offered.  Step 2 ends when the only quests you have available are in the individual zones.

This was unexpected to me, but with all the order hall, core, and profession quests, along with a few dungeons, we have easily leveled halfway through this expansion while staying within a single zone. 

Step 3.
With the housekeeping  finished, the rest of our time can be spend completing the story quests found in the starting zones.  From level 105 to 110, there is nothing of interest happening in either Dalaran or the Order Hall.  This is the time to go all out and immerse yourself in the narrative of each Pillar of Creation.

Open your Achievement window and go to the Quests -> Legion tab.  Among the first 7 items should be the zone you started in.  Click on that zone to find the story lines that you have completed.  Any that are gray are still to be done. Travel now to that zone and finish those questing areas.   If all of them have green checks, then it’s time to start a new zone.

Take time now to locate any treasure chests and defeat any rare silver spawns near to you as you travel through the zones.  At these early levels, the artifact power and order resources from treasures and Rare spawns are the most useful.  Small amounts of artifact power at these early tiers can still move the bar significantly.  At higher levels the tokens found in chests reward so little AP that they almost aren’t worth gathering, so don't wait until later to go around gathering treasure chests.  Rare spawns loot seems to reach a max level at 785+ and world quest reward will easily be better than that, immediately upon reaching level 110.

The bottom line is, get those rare spawns and treasure chests now.

Because I take a Story First approach, when I complete a zone, I also try to complete the related dungeon, as part of the narrative.  If you queue for LFD with the zone capstone quest in your log, your que time for the dungeon will be extremely short.  Upon completion, go ahead and return the Pillar of Creation to the Dalaran Tower where the ceremony there will reward an armor piece as well.

  Follow the checklist in order, and make sure to check each option carefully.  When you are questing in your chosen zone, try to strive for 5 points in each profession (fishing, cooking, gathering, etc.).

By the time I had reached level 110, I was just completing the third zone, with one named storyline remaining.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Legion Guide: Stage One Level 100 - 105

One of the great things about the Legion expansion is that at any given moment there are dozens of different things to do.  And not just "dozens of different dailies."  Legion has expanded PVE gameplay on many fronts.

The downside, however, is that so many different options can be a little overwhelming when you've only got 90 minutes to sit down with a character at the end of a long work day and you just want to get something meaningful done so you can sleep with a feeling of peace and satisfaction.  It was precisely because of that feeling that I began to write out for myself what was most important at any given point in the game.

I am leveling several alts through this expansion and each is at a different point on the journey.  The reason I posted this was to make my own leveling path easier; so that I could know where each of my characters were at any given time, and what tasks were important for them at that moment. 

More than in the past, this expansion has a number of key components that, if you aren't aware of them early on, you might set yourself back a number of weeks or months by missing out.  That's not to say that you can't always recover when you realize that something is missing.  But so far there are no easy catch-up mechanics if early on you didn't understand the value of Artifact Research, for example.  And I find crafting quests are much more enjoyable when they are part of the leveling experience, rather than blowing through them later in the game when they are trivial and more likely to be annoying than entertaining.

This is a guide for the baseline progression of a new character through the first several weeks of the game.  and it is written from a perspective of someone who likes Story First, who values crafting, and who wants to take the time to work on reputation and other Pathfinder requirements  This isn't a guide to be "Raid ready in 5 days."  I want to explore most of what the game has to offer.

STAGE ONE.  Level 100 – 105:  Establishing the Power Base

Step 1. 

The very first quest that opens the expansion should be automatically given to you, or it appears in the adventure guide on your taskbar:  This is the quest to find the recruiter in Stormwind Harbor.

This is the quest that starts it all, and once you climb on this train the quest series should guide you step by step through the Broken Shores event. However, if you've already played through this on other characters, the recruiter gives you the option to "<Skip the Legion introductory quests and begin your journey in Dalaran>"

Either pathway will drop you in New Dalaran, in front of Emissary Auldbridge, who will complete your quest and unceremoniously walk away, leaving you all alone for a few moments.  After a bit, though, something begins to happen, so just stay right there.  Usually, a herald of some kind will show up and start you on your way, although other classes (Shaman, for example) might have to pay attention to the NPCs around them for clues as to what to do next.  This herald will start you on the next story line.

Almost immediately, you will be sent on a mission to recover your first artifact weapon.  Again, this will be very tightly directed, even to the point of npc's telling you what portal to take.  Don't fight the path.  Just complete the indicated quests until you have your Artifact Weapon in your own hands.

Part of the initial set up at the class hall will be to select a starting zone. You then are sent into the Broken Isles to start questing.  Before leaving Dalaran, however, you should also take a minute to check in with your profession trainers, primary and secondary, and take time during your initial adventuring to do some gathering, because quest starter items will drop when you gather for the first time and you need them to get the ball rolling.

Then, go down to Krasus Landing and begin your questing in your selected zone.  You should be able to finish two named areas within that zone about the time you reach level 101.  Again, take time to gather, fish, even do some archaeology on this first trip, and if you have any profession quests, be sure to complete them now, before you return to Dalaran.

Step 2.  

Once you level to 101, you should return to Dalaran. You will receive a summons to report to your order hall.  This will be about recruiting your champions and sending them on their first missions. There is likely to be other quests at the order hall as well, so look through all the rooms before leaving.

You should have one or more profession quests to turn in, so complete them and pick up the follow ups. Make it a priority to complete these profession quest series.  These have been integrated into the game very carefully and reward your attention at this point.  First, they are designed to send you to the same locations as your major quest lines, and you can use the xp at this point. Even more importantly, you need to hit professions early to get the most good out of them.  You don’t want to reach level 110, still making level 715 gear.

This will become a standing priority for Legion activities:
  1. Complete Order Hall quests, 
  2. Profession quests
  3. Zone quests through the main storylines
  4. Earn a few skill points in gathering and secondary professions on each trip.
Find a few fishing pools for a few skill points, look for gathering opportunities, and pick up all the treasure chests you come across; you should find at least 3 treasure chests.  In a little while, you will need order hall resources and we need to begin gathering them.By the time I had finished the next major quest hub and named location, I had leveled to 102.  At that point, return to Dalaran.

Step 3.  

Step 3 starts when you level to 102.  This stage focuses on housekeeping and getting to know your class order.   At level 102, your class hall will allow you to complete the quest series to claim your two other artifact weapons.  Go ahead and take these on now, even if you don’t ever want to play the other specs.  Do it for the story content, and for the xp.  These are well designed, story-filled and instanced quests, that can be a little challenging.

At this point, you are probably also waiting for your Order Hall mission “Troops in the field” to be complete.  This is a 4 hour mission, so you may have to return to your chosen Zone for story quests, or wait overnight.  When it completes, you want to return to your order hall as well.

Completing this quest will allow you to begin selecting Order Hall Advancements.   My choice, at this stage, is for the bonus upgrades, rather than the increased success chance, mostly because I have always found my missions to have at least a 100% chance.  The increase affects the chance for bonus rewards.  In my experience, quest loot upgrades happen fairly frequently.
Following this choice, you may have another mandatory mission to send your minions on.  We need to wait for that quest to complete.  When it does, turn it in to your advisor.  He will have a white exclamation point, promising a quest in the future.  Meanwhile, roam through your order hall one more time, looking for any quests.  Make note of the location of :
1.    The Quartermaster
2.    Recruiter of lesser minions
3.    Order Hall Upgrader

There will be more staff to come in the future, but these are who you need for now.  At this point, I am usually about halfway through level 102.

Step 4.  

There are 2 things left for this level. 
•    Khadgar has a quest for you in Dalaran; “A Falling Star.” 
•    You  may have quests from one or both professions to complete.
Travel to Dalaran and talk to Khadgar.  Pick up his quest and travel to the Broken Isles to complete it now.  When you have the object, return to Khadgar to turn it in.  Don’t get distracted with other questing at this point.  Meet him in the central tower and complete his following quests as well.  When you return from the Exodar, travel to your Order hall with the Heart.  The quest line ends here, for today.

The Class Hall upgrade should be complete by now.  Make sure you have a mission going on the mission board.   Also make sure that you are adding your Artifact power to your weapon and upgrading it at the weapon forge whenever possible.

Now turn to your profession quests.  Again, we can blend these in with side quests to the same area, but don’t fill up your log with every quest you come across.  You are always free to gather any treasure chests or Silver spawns.  Focus on your Profession quests and complete the next round.  These should easily take you to level 103.

Step 5.  

Back in Dalaran, turn in your profession quests.  There should be follow up quests available, so take them as well.  Continue to complete profession quests until your trainer have no more to offer.  Now, you need to set up a quest for yourself.  You have just learned a batch of recipes; some are ilvl 715 and some are 735.   Take the time now to make yourself at least one of those items.  At this level, your drops have been 695 – 715, so this is the one moment in the game when these patterns will be useful to you. This means you will have to gather resources, so begin to identify where in your current questing zone your resources will drop.  You’ll probably have a few of these already.

In your Order Hall, your advisor should have another quest for you.  Complete his series of assignments, including missions from the mission table, and quests that will involve extensive travel.  Continue to pursue the Order Hall missions until none remain.  Be ready, however, for a number of quests that will need to be completed at this point, all related to order halls.

This round of Order Hall quests will lead to the completion of the first chapter of the Order Story.  The culmination of this will probably be a dungeon quest as well.  It’s time to complete this dungeon now in order to finish this chapter.

At the same time, the questing zone that you started in is probably near to completing the major story line there, as well.  All the zones but Valsharah require you to complete a dungeon to finish the story and reclaim one of the Pillars of Creation.  Do whatever is necessary to finish that first Pillar of Creation and to complete the first chapter of your order hall. By the time I had finished all of this, I was just into level 104.   This will end Stage 1 of Legion.

This first stage has been focused on preparation and set up.  In fact, we have done very little of the classic quest hub adventuring that has been typical in the past.  The storyline of the individual zones will become more prominent in the next stage.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Portal Hubs

This is a quick map I put together to help me with traveling throughout Azeroth, and particularly the Old World.  The excellent Order Hall quests often ask me to travel to various places in Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms, so I put together this quick guide to help me to get as close as possible before I have to begin my overland journey.  

To use the map, you must know where you want to go.  Then, find the portal destination closest to it.  Consult the legend (in the upper left corner) to see where that portal originates.  

For example, a Death Knight order hall quest sends me to Scarlet Monastery.  I look at the approximate location in northern Eastern Kingdoms and find that the Dalaran Crater is the closest portal (Bring a glider...).  Consulting the legend, I see that this portal originates in the New Dalaran Tower
Link to Larger Version
Click the image for a page with a larger version

My jewelcrafting trainer has another quest, Socket to Me, that sends me to various locations throughout the extended Warcraft world, and this map is perfect for making each leg of the journey as efficient as possible.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Warcraft movie: a first look

Now that the Warcraft movie has been out for its opening weekend in the U.S.  It's time to give it first impression.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who has ever played and enjoyed WoW.  All the familiar elements, all the rich artistry, all the deep lore is present here and better than ever.  And you owe it to yourself to watch it on the biggest screen you can find, and in 3D.  The art and cinematography are well worth the commitment.  Watching this next year on DVD is not going to be the same, because it's the overall immersive experience you're going for, here.

I loved the development of Khadgar from his early, uncertain theories to his more confident schemes at the end.  I liked the interaction between Khadgar and Lothar, a bond that seemed destined to develop into a lasting friendship.  The kind of friendship that Lothar and Llane were supposed to have.   I like the way that Khadgar has become a major heroic figure within Warcraft overall and our constant companion in Warlords of Draenor.

I also liked the re-structuring of Garona's character as a character awakening to the nobility of humans and striving to maintain her honor.  I like the way the story of her "betrayal" of King Llane was presented and it gave me a better understanding of the things that happened to her subsequently.  I wish that I had seen the movie before those scenes with Garona and Khadgar at his tower in Zangarra in Warlords. The emotional payoff when when we freed her from the influence of Gul'dan would have been exponentially greater.

Watching this movie gave me a much more concrete understanding of each of these characters than I ever had from playing the games alone.  This kind of portrayal makes these characters much more real to me, and whenever I run across references to Lothar or Llane, I will immediately reference these iconic figures.  If I had seen this movie a year ago, my Warlords expansion experience would have been much better.

I think that Blizzard should make more of these films.  A trilogy, at least, through the Second War.

Note that there are heavy spoilers in the following section where I discuss the limitations of the movie.

Many Characters:
There are a huge number of main characters in this movie, and in the short 2 hours we've been given, it's hard to learn them all and begin to sympathize with them.  This is particularly true for someone who has never played anything in Blizzard's Azeroth, but even for people who have a passing familiarity with the game, it's good to have a list of players.  The movie just doesn't have a lot of time to spend on establishing motivations and allegiances, so by the time you've got Durotan and Orgrim sorted out, the movie is well under way and you've got to wonder what else you've missed.  The problem is compounded by the fact that all of these characters are spread across many different groups

For the Humans:
  • Llane Wrynn, King of Stormwind
  • Anduin Lothar (no, not that Anduin), close friend of the king and General of Stormwind's armies.
  • Taria, Llane's wife and Lothar's sister
  • Callun Lothar, son of Lothar
  • Dwarves in Ironforge
  • Visiting Elves
For the Wizards:
  • Medivh, the Guardian
  • Khadgar, a lapsed incipient Guardian
  • the Kirin Tor mages in Dalaran (Antonidas, et al)
For the Good Orcs
  • Durotan, chief of the Frostwolf Clan
  • Ogrim Doomhammer, apparently now Durotan's buddy
  • Draka, wife of Durotan who is great with child
  • Go'el, the newborn son of Draka, later to become Thrall
For the Bad Orcs
  • Gul'dan, warlock and wielder of fel magic.  Leader of the Fel Horde
  • Blackhand, leader of the Blackrock Clan and nominal Warchief of the Horde
  • Garona, a half-orc prisoner of the Orcs, and later their spymaster.

So with 13 characters and additional factions, groups, and organizations, this is simply too many characters to keep track of over a 2 hour film, much less grow close to.  In addition, following so many characters dilutes the impact of events on any single one.

Too much happening in the plot
In reality we were watching two films, with the first being about the Humans vs the corrupt Guardian, and the second about the struggle between the Good and Fel orcs.  Each of these would have been a significant movie on its own, but trying to tell both stories simultaneously in a 120 minute format was simply overwhelming.

In the end, we couldn't develop emotional attachments for any of them.  Nor could we easily follow the twisting machinations of each of these sub-plots. For example, Khadgar went to Dalaran to visit the Kirin Tor and convince them that Medivh was corrupted.  What actually came out of that meeting was never clear, nor was the relevance of what the secret spirit in the cube, Alodi, told Khadgar.  We just didn't have enough time to explain.

Embrace Tragedy
As is usually the problem for Warcraft, there were no clear winners or losers.  No clear resolution of the story, simply a retelling of a series of events.  Looking at this more closely, there were really three storylines being followed here, all of them ending tragically.

The first is with King Llane and Lothar, who want to drive the invading orcs out of Azeroth and keep them from pillaging the humans. Ultimately, they fail to do this during the events of the film, with the dark portal temporarily re-opened allowing countless more orcs to stream through, Gul'dan still very much in power, and the orcs still a major presence.

The second story is with Durotan, the chief of the Frostwolf clan.  He wants to keep his clan safe, keep his family together, and oppose the destructive influence of Gul'dan.  Ultimately, he fails to do this with his clan destroyed, and himself defeated in Mok'gora with Gul'dan.  In addition, his wife Draka also appeared to be killed.  By the end of the movie, Durotan was definitely a tragic figure.

The third story was the betrayal by the guardian Medivh of the humans to the demons of the Burning Legion.  Khadgar managed to discover Medivh's fel taint and destroy him before he was entirely able to transform into a manifestation of Sargeras, preventing the ultimate consumption of Azeroth.  Nevertheless, Khadgar could not prevent the betrayal itself, which allowed Medivh to open the dark portal that gave Guldan and the orcs entry into Azeroth in the first place.

None of these stories are heroic successes, nor are they presented that way in the film.  In fact, the climax of the film is when Lothar returns to the Orc camp to retrieve the body of King Llane and it provides a moment of triumph only when Lothar is able to defeat Blackhand.  Sadly, this is merely a hollow victory, since it means nothing in the overall progress of events.

And finally, we have the story of Garona interwoven among all of them.  Her story is of one who was looking for a place to call home, a place where she could live.  The majority of the orcs rejected her for her half breed status, and when she appealed to Durotan, he could only reply that she would be safer among the humans.  The humans did reach out to her, first through Queen Taria who gifted her with the dagger that Garona would later use to kill Llane, and later through the romantic overtures of Lothar, who would later despise her as a traitor.  In the end, Garona found a place with Gul'dan, the one person she hated the most.

Hers is a wonderful story of tragedy, but it loses its impact among so many other personal tragedies.  More importantly, it does not provide the emotional uplift that a viewer associates with a herioc adventure movie.

In the end, the failing of the movie for Western audiences is one of basic storytelling.  A story places a character in a setting, from which arises a conflict that develops and is resolved.  The problem with the Warcraft film was that in every story the central conflict was unable to be resolved by anything except failure.  Each of the main characters has an ultimate objective that they singularly fail to achieve, except for Khadgar.  By rights, the main character in the story should be the mage, but that certainly isn't the way the director framed the conflict.

Director Duncan Jones was aware of these limitations, himself.
I kinda feel like we’d bitten so much off with what we were trying to achieve. We had to introduce all of these characters, introduce all of this world to people who may not know anything about it. I think the fact that they got the portal closed was enough. You know, whatever happens next will happen next. But that kind of felt like a pretty good chunk size. In two hours, we can get that done. Anything more, you’re kind of running into a convolution of epilogues and of story."  Gizmodo Duncan Jones interview
And this is the reason that it was so badly received by movie critics. They were looking for traditional storytelling with bold conflicts, developing characters, and clear resolutions. Jones was just trying to get the portal closed.

As a long-time player of Warcraft games, I am accustomed to Blizzard's style of storytelling.  Tales must be told in such a way that neither the Horde nor the Alliance are seen to be the clear winners. Clear and decisive resolutions are avoided in favor of open-ended and ambiguous narratives that create the maximum potential for future plotlines.   But that isn't the stuff of heroic fantasy novels and movies.  In fantasy such as the Lord of the Rings, it's important that the good guys win, that honor and heroism are rewarded.  That isn't what you found here.

More prosaically, if audiences were looking for a feel-good, triumphant tale of good overcoming evil, with the heroes coming out all right in the end, they simply weren't going to find it in this film.  Call it complex, subtle, nuanced if you wish, just don't call it a summer blockbuster.

In short, the Warcraft movie was a narrative that delivered the rich collection of lore surrounding the events of the first war, but didn't adequately create a formal Story to frame the events.  Movie critics were looking for a framework that didn't exist.

Watching this convinced me that this was made for WoW fans, and that this was the right choice.  I welcomed these major figures brought to life, and the visualizations of Ironforge and Stormwind and Goldshire and Karazhan.  While it did not have everything, what it did include was done well.