Monday, 17 November 2014
It is two weeks since I last wrote, and so much has happened in the interim, like the small matter of Blizzcon and the launch of a new WoW expansion in the shape of Warlords of Draenor.
I like many was excluded from the Beta testing so the last four days have consisted of me and 7+ Million people all wanting to occupy the same small space. I am writing today about the expansion as I have so far found it and please forgive me if I ramble and meander on a myriad (not a Vindicator or an NPC on Draenor) of different topics. So without further ado here is my list of 9 normal days for Blizzard and a world of pain for the rest of us.
It might come as a shock to many, but I actually like Blizzard, but I am not a fan boy and I don't play every game that Blizzard wafts under our noses. I have admittedly played all of their current games but I only play one game and have done for the last decade.
This was a Blizzcon decidedly short on WoW news and with a new expansion so shortly after the Blizzcon. Who cared anyway, you can keep Overwatch and the Manga styled shoot 'em up, where you can leap around like a PvP rogue all you want, because I am old and have the reactions of an oil tanker which is heading in the wrong direction. Thanks Blizzard, but no thanks.
For the second expansion in a row I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having not been in the beta, I might know where I am going, but I have no idea how I am supposed to get there.
As usual I chose badly and opted for the portal from the mages tower. I then wasted precious time at the site of the pre-expansion instead of being in the thick of it outside the Portal. Needless to say I was far from alone. That mistake would cost me dear and by the time I arrived at the right spot it looked like a Mardi Gras (without the oversized dragon mounts and Tundra wide load vehicles).
The result of this chaos was that I took another player for a spin around the Timeless Isle on my own and did some dailies for XP and then went to bed
Launch Day Carnage
I managed to sneak home for a crafty play at lunch time, having been forced to go to work by my darling wife. The numbers playing was heavily reduced from the evening before and I was able to sail through Tanaan Jungle before grinding to a halt where garrisons should be.
Part of the problem for the player is knowing when something is a Realm issue or in this case is a game issue. We have endured logon queues, no instances, horrendous lag, random reboots, scheduled maintenance, unscheduled maintenance and in general a very poor release.
A holiday from work for the sole purpose of playing WoW. If I had known in advance I would have left the expansion for a week and sailed through without any issues. The game was actually relatively stable during the day, as long as you exclude Garrisons. What am I saying Garrisons is the expansion, everything else is the same fluff we have had for a decade only with nicer decoration.
Of course as soon as the European school kids came home, everything went South again and the evening was totally unplayable.
More of the same, everything was busy all day as people tried to put long stretches of play together between the disconnects and reboots.
At last we finally had a game worth playing. It is still not perfect but it would have been acceptable to have this level of performance on Launch day. It is obvious the Blizzard team have worked tirelessly to fix these problems, but it also true that this expansion was not ready and not tested to the required standard.
I have not kept up with many blog posts during the last few days but the following was a gem from Alternative Chat.
"The use of the area as an Instance is beginning to cause more than a few issues: add to that the obviously phased content that exists in the World and... well, this is the issue I never saw coming, because I assumed Blizzard would understand the interest in the feature, and have learnt the obvious and well-reported complaints from Beta. I find it rather dismaying therefore that no-one does seem to have grasped just how many people would want to play this on release, and that the same issues that crippled the Beta servers still exist on Live, but in greatly increased levels."
This is very interesting because I don't remember reading about big problems of phasing on Beta, and if this is correct (I have no reason to doubt Alternative Chat) then Blizzard have been exceptionally negligent. If it didn't work with a few thousand playing how the hell did you expect it to work with 7 Million people all wanting the same content at approximately the same time.
Smart arsed comments about Blizzard not being able to nip out to the nearest computer hardware shop and purchase a few more Blade servers does not cut it. They knew it was coming and chose to buy their collective heads in the sand and hope that the live servers would be more stable than the Beta realms.
Alternative Ways of Playing
Being able to only play for 30-45 minutes up to the establishment of Garrisons forced me to play with my entire cast of characters. Priority always goes to my Hunter main, but why keep trying to flog a dead horse when I can be in a position to have 12 Garrisons creating resources and sending the Followers out on extra missions. Right now I would be happy to be able to scroll through all the Garrisons assign the followers missions, then logout. Rinse and repeat every hour or so.
I know it is all shiny and new and in 6 months time I will not be doing Missions, but right now it is the game. Levelling, Dungeons and Raiding can all wait until I am in need of a change of pace. The Sunsong Ranch was exciting to start with but this takes the meta game to a new level. It reminds me of a very early version of Football Manager, in which you would setup your team taking hours to prepare for a match and then the computer would go off and generate a summary of the game. Somehow Real Madrid would manage to lose to Accrington Stanley 4 - 6, even when the real score is more likely to be 10-1 to Real Madrid.
It is ironic that non of my Alliance are Epic, but the second follower on my solitary Horde character is Purple. I am honestly surprised that it is not Legendary (I am guessing there is no such thing) just to rub more salt into the wound..
Blizzard Loves Horde
What I have seen of the game and to be honest it is not much is that the Horde Garrison is far nicer than the Alliance base. The snowy environment the undulating surface, the whole zone seems better. Is it not bad enough that Blizzard writes Horde centric storylines without giving them a better landscape, better quests and infinitely better heroes.
The Horde have Duratan for godsake, who is so much cooler than Maraad, who is a little sad and a little mad. Duratan wears a Wolf on his head and back, and if I am not mistaken has a zone named after him.
It is normal behaviour for Blizzard to restrict Flying, but in this case I can totally understand. On the other hand the landscape is mountainous with rocky cliff faces and caves and ridges with small pathways. The result is huge amounts of wasted time plotting the best route around an obstacle. I ended up in the sea for 10 minutes trying to find a way to get back on the shoreline and I have done huge detours when the only way across is to find the rock that acts like bridge. There is Fortress Anquish which is a nightmare to traverse. I appreciate the No fly zone, but I would appreciate less confusing maps.
Realms, Instances and Connected Realms
As a regular player it became obvious a long time ago that various continents and Instances are not on the same server as the Azeroth Realm that you provisionally sit on. During The Burning Crusade it was not uncommon for Outlands to be unavailable but if you had a character in Stormwind or Ironforge you could quite happily play. With Connected Realms I have that Anachronos can have World Server is down and Alonsus is working fine. My advice is to not have all your eggs in one basket and keep some of your characters on different servers for times like this.
I assume that the problem with Garrisons is connected to the message, "Unable to find Instance" I assume this to be like running an application in Citrix and when the Citrix server is full the performance becomes unstable for those in it, and non existent for those without a session. The only solution is to add more resources and extra servers to the Citrix farm. This is exactly what Bashiok was saying on Saturday.
What is most perplexing is that the problem occurred on Beta and the demand forecasting on Blizzards behalf appears to be very poor. They should know exactly how many copies of the expansion have been sold and of course they have regular feedback on subscription numbers.
As I understand it was only an attack on North America, and in some respects Blizzard should be well versed in dealing with these internet bandits, and especially should have expected an attack on a launch day, for the extra publicity.
Unfortunately with all the issues that have come with this launch, it makes you wonder what effect it had. I am guessing it was nothing more than an additional nuisance factor.