This post started out as a simple ramble about playing a new level 80 alt and has grown, mutated and evolved into some kind of Lovecraftian monstrosity, gurgling gently as its coiling tendrils of thought grope outwards into unexplored grottos of damp and squishy randomness — much like this sentence.
So anyway, the theme of this ramble-post is sort of meant to be “relaxation”. My week has been very busy and interesting (partly as I’ve started going back to classes part-time at last, which is a pretty big step forward for me) but also very tiring, and I’m hugely aware of just how overwhelmingly much there is to do this coming week. So relaxation is a theme on my mind. Unusually, this weekend I actually played World of Warcraft to relax.
Down time and prime time
There are games I play when I just want to relax, which are usually games where the thought-put required is so different from anything normal that it’s refreshing – even working on the spreadsheet sometimes falls into this category. These are things I’ll do during… uh, well let’s create two labels: “down time” and “prime time”; prime time is basically any time I could be working or doing something “productive”, and down time is any time set aside for pure randomness.
I am writing this post during “prime time”, because for me it constitutes “getting something done” and I need to be able to think and process at a certain level to be successful. I raid during “prime time” because raiding and the raid group social life is what I see as the main point of most of my WoW involvement. Anything that supports raiding is generally a “prime time” activity: though I used to be able to enjoy fishing and farming for materials as a “down time” thing, nowadays I’ve not got much patience for it – due, I suppose, to the increased pressures on my “prime time” making me want increased reward for any “down time” activity.
“Down time” is, say, the time between finishing a raid and going to sleep, or between getting home and having dinner, or between finishing a section of an essay and starting the next one, when one just needs a bit of a break and a bit of refreshment.
Nearly at the end of the endgame
These days WoW is almost exclusively a “prime time” activity because most of what I do is related to preparing for or going on raids. I generally don’t log in to WoW looking for a way to relax. WoW is really based around being productive, isn’t it? – most of the time spent in game you’re constantly earning something, whether XP or gold or items or currency to buy items or achievements or even just chat-time. This earning extends to unlocking content. For example, in raids we plan to defeat one encounter to unlock the next and use the rewards to unlock the next and so on, and while levelling we pursue XP to enable us to equip better gear and spend more talent points to get XP better and so it goes.
The raid-game is sort of the most extreme version of this because once you start approaching the game’s final content, your avenues for earning actually narrow considerably. Sure you are capable of doing more than ever, but very little is actually rewarding anymore. Chances are that your only source of gear upgrades are from progression raids which you can only do on raid nights, or are derived from some mechanic thereof (e.g. emblems, crafting materials that only drop from raid bosses, etc.). If you’re like me you’ll have more gold and emblems of triumph than you know what to do with and so much that whatever you would earn from daily quests and dungeons is paltry in comparison. There’s no point farming anything because you can just purchase it using your gold/emblem reserves, and there’s no point farming gold or emblems because you get enough from daily randoms, weeklies and raiding. Things that might be worth farming – like reputation – are designed to be far more rewarding to get incidentally and in measured steps rather than farmed to completion.
So Chayah logs in to do her daily random, to raid, sometimes to fish, and sometimes just to chat. I also spend some time out-of-game planning upgrade routes, theorycrafting or thinking about boss strategies for her. She’s an end-game shaman and the game has very little to offer her. In case you think I’m criticising Blizzard here, I should say that what it does offer – progression raiding – is still, to me, the most enjoyable and worthwhile part of the game so I don’t resent the lack of other options. Actually I’m glad there’s nothing much to do, because if they implemented any more incidental stuff that affected your effectiveness in a raid then we’d all have to do it to stay competitive, which would require more “prime time” time and energy that I’m quite happy not wasting thank you very much!
But of course, WoW can still fit the down time profile and there are lots of ancillary things you can do even on your main character if you want to – like PvP or earning obscure achievements or farming odd mounts or pets, for example. For me WoW fits the downtime pattern best when I’ve got a new alt to play. Every so often I’ll take enough interest in an alt that I can just spend a few mindless hours here and there questing, or running levelling dungeons, or working on their professions (I really enjoy levelling professions for some reason), or whatever.
This enjoyment is unfortunately interspersed with periods when I’m not having fun but am just trying to earn my next level or rep cap or whatever to enable me to reach the fun contained on the other side.
My mage alt, ostensibly a jewelcrafting bot tasked with keeping Chayah supplied with on-demand epic gem cuts, rediscovered her joie de vivre thanks to the Looking for Dungeon interface.
Let me say that for casual levellers, this is a truly wonderful tool. The first random WotLK dungeon you do each day while levelling will reward your character two Emblems of Triumph as well as a smidgen of experience and gold. I randomly started queueing my mage for LFD when doing my JC daily and chatting one day, and just as I was about to log out the queue popped. I got into… uh, violet hold maybe? and I got my frosty groove on and smote upon many dragonkin, and got my two emblems.
I did the same the next day, and the next.
Suddenly I found myself enjoying my mage again. Before I knew it the LFD thing was a regular ritual. After a while I started actually wanting to do more than one a day. After a while more I started to want to quest again!
Questing was horribly, horribly boring and I gave that up pretty fast.
Anyway, I got to the stage where I realised I was going to make a push for level 80. Let me tell you, level 79 random dungeons are horrible. You get thrown into places like Utgarde Pinnacle and Halls of Lightning with people who are underlevelled, undergeared and often as not have no idea how to play even if they happen to know the instance. My first UP group at level 79 was with 3 people who’d never even seen the place. There were two level 78s and the bosses are level 82. Thankfully we had a very capable tank and healer, but I had to stop and explain strategies at every boss, we had to use CC and very careful pulling on the trash, and we only barely managed Ymiron after I swapped to my arcane spec to get enough spell hit to successfully steal Bane. Crazy stuff, and that was with a pretty good group.
So while that was fun and all, underlevelling painfully difficult one hour dungeons with a 50/50 chance of success are sort of not what I signed up for in this new age of casualness and accessibility. So I bit the bullet and did some quests in Storm Peaks and Icecrown to grind to 80. The 11 level 80 BoE epics (and one blue) sitting in my bag, slowly accumulated via auction house bargain hunts and shored up by a mountain of enchant scrolls, gems and heirloom enhancements, spurred me on. I even had my requisite 30 emblems necessary to purchase the tier 9 shoulders.
So very late on Saturday I finally reached level 80 after spending most of the afternoon and some of the later evening questing and doing random painful level 79 dungeons. I immediately equipped my 12 new pieces of gear, which were naturally fully enchanted and gemmed, and subsequently looked a good deal more fashionable than Chayah. I undertook my first heroic instance in which I topped the damage meters (yay arcane) and went to bed.
Then all Sunday afternoon and evening I just LFD’ed. LFD, LFD, LFD. Looking for More, Looking for Many, Tehila the Patient. Three pieces of tier 9, eight cups of tea, half a slice of cake and a bit of a tiredness headache. Just like that. A total dungeon binge. Even as a freshly minted level 80 DPS, spending probably more time on tea breaks and alt-tab blogreading breaks than actual dungeon queues. Amazing.
And a very curious mix of “yay i am having fun playing my mage =))” and “boo i am grinding emblems for gear =((“, actually.
I also did the weekly raid organised by Sylvaine where I came in refreshingly close to the bottom of the damage meters, and enjoyed doing so very much.
I also had the unpleasant experience of finding exactly what the limit of my alt’s DPS capacity is. You see, Chayah (my shaman) can waltz into a heroic and do enough damage to make it work pretty much no matter what. The less damage her fellow party members do, the more she has time to put out and mobs and bosses still die very quickly. This is to be expected from an experienced main-spec DPS player in tier 10, and she even has the advantage of wearing high-stamina mail with a shield and being able to heal, root, interrupt and generally survive pretty much any situation a heroic dungeon can deliver. Unfortunately, newbie mages with mishmash ilevel 200 epics and a smidgen of wellfare tier 9 who are still learning the ropes are not quite so capable. Sure, Tehila can do a healthy 5-6k DPS on a single heroic boss thanks to her cooldowns. She can even do a respectable 3-4k on most trash packs, which is more than Chayah could do at level 80 before patch 3.0.8. But if the other DPS are outputting a drooling, knuckle-dragging 800 damage per second on AoE trash and the healer is taking several pensive seconds to decide between Lesser Healing Wave or Chain Heal, the group is doomed and there’s simply nothing I can do about it. A tonic for the ego if ever there was one.
Anyway, I’m not sure how long the honeymoon of having an alt I’m enjoying playing, who stands to benefit from infinite random dungeons and raids as well as needing the play-experience, will last. But it’s really great to be able to use the random dungeon tool to just run a bunch of instances without even having to think about it, and to be able to enjoy each heroic as an opportunity to play the character as well as to earn rewards, and then at the end of the day not having to step into a raid knowing that the work you’ve put into your gear and spell choice could be the difference between success and failure for the other 9 guys as well as yourself.
That’s something I still love to do, but it’s equally enjoyable being able to take a break from it.