Epic Adventures: Buried Under Ulduar
"Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!" -- Michael Corleone, "The Godfather" Part III" (1990)
You'd think Michael played World of Warcraft, the digital crack that has more than 11 million players worldwide. Just as you start to get bored with the game and are ready to step away, a new expansion or content patch comes along to suck you back into Azeroth.
I've been playing the game for just over four years. I started late -- five months after the original game was released in November 2004, because I didn't want to get hooked on a massively multiplayer online game. There were too many other games to play. But, in a weak moment, I played. Except for short hiatuses for Civilization IV, Mass Effect and Fallout 3, I haven't stopped.
I was ready to walk away this time. Wrath of the Lich King had been fun since its release in November, but after getting my third character to 80, raiding Naxxramas and other 25-man instances weekly, and farming daily quests for gold, it was getting old. I liked PvP, but I never enjoyed the arenas that much, so the allure of a new season of gear didn't have me excited. I was going to quit this time, and even the looming "Secrets of Ulduar" 3.1 content patch wasn't going to draw me back in.
Then I saw the 3.1 trailer. I had read about all the changes from players on the Public Test Realm (PTR), but nothing prepared me for the story-driven video that Blizzard released just a few days before the patch. I'm a sucker for story, and it's that Warcraft lore that has kept the previous new content interesting for me.
So when the patch hit April 14, I installed it and played. And in a surprising revelation, I haven't enjoyed it ? yet. I'm not sure why. Yes, Ulduar has lots of new content to see and experience. Yes, there are new achievements to gain, dual specializations to try and new gear to covet. But this time in WoW, there was no wow for me.
Blizzard didn't help itself with almost three days of problems after the patch hit. Lag, server crashes and game hiccups were the norm, and even hot fixes seemed to cause more problems than they fixed.
Maybe it was also the fact that the new heroic Ulduar instance is tough. Blizzard made Wrath of the Lich King incredibly accessible to casual raiders with the relative ease of instances such as the 25-man Naxxramas and the varying difficulty levels of the Obsidian Sanctum. Even the Eye of Eternity became rote once you mastered the drake phase against Malygos. Maybe I was lulled into complacency with the easy content.
Now, raiding normal or heroic Ulduar has been -- for me, at least -- an exercise in tedium, with wipe after wipe. My guild understands the learning curve, and a brave group of souls has regularly attempted the 10-man version of the instance to test strategies and modify them. It has made solid progress, having killed the first four bosses. I've attended a couple of the 10-mans and learned the strategies, but I have usually walked away frustrated. This past Tuesday, when we downed five bosses in one run, was the first time I actually felt like we accomplished something. And let's not talk about the two attempts we've had at the 25-man version. Disheartening, to say the least.
I know I'm expecting a lot. I do understand that there is a learning curve, but I'm an impatient sort. Even with progress being made, the fun factor in Ulduar has been in short supply. The sad part is that even the progress my guild and I have made in 10-man so far has been mitigated by the fact that the gear dropped by the 10-man bosses is, at best, a sidegrade from gear we may have gotten from any of the heroic raid dungeons pre-3.1.
So I took a short break from raiding to try some of the other aspects of the patch. Blizzard understands that not everyone likes to raid, so it has implemented new activities to grind that allow non-raiders to get quality gear. In this patch, it's the Argent Tournament. Players can joust and do daily quests to gain reputation with various factions. I tried it for a few days and, again, it got boring.
I'll keep being a good guildie, and attend raids to learn the fights and help the guild progress. To be honest, the one thing that keeps World of Warcraft from getting old is the people. A good guild helps smooth over a lot of the anxiety about the game, and I've been with this group for more than three years.
So the 3.1 experience for me has been a letdown. I'll chalk it up to impatience and give it more time, and I'll keep you posted on the progress.
Priest, heal thyself ... only
The dual specialization addition in 3.1 has me playing with different options for my characters. My survival hunter has also specced Marksman, and my PvP combat rogue has also specced Mutilate. But nothing surprised me more than when I dual-specced my shadow priest. My priest is used mainly for raiding, and I have never been a good healer, so it was probably out of the boredom and frustration mentioned above that my second priest spec has become Discipline.
In my priestly travels, I have picked up some PvP gear, mainly through Wintergrasp and a few battlegrounds. But I found that my survivability in BGs as shadow was poor. Chalk it up to being an average player or a lack of resilience gear, but it was enough to get me to try a new spec. Guild feedback was generally that "discipline priests don't die in PvP," so the experiment began. Initial results are favorable. I'll let you know how quickly I get blackballed if I ever have to heal.
When you play, do your homework
I don't consider myself a hardcore player. Between a full-time job, a wife and two teenage kids, I have plenty to keep me busy. But I do take the game seriously. Before I make any changes to my character, or bid on any gear, or get involved in arenas, I do research. I have sites bookmarked for my shadow priest, my hunter and my rogue that allow me to make informed decisions on spec, raiding and PvP. Do yourself and your guild a favor by taking advantage of the information that is out there. There is nothing worse than grouping with people who think they are god's gift to WoW and haven't researched their class.
That said, don't confuse research and informed choices with execution. Even with the right add-ons, I'm still an average player, but I'm always trying to get better. Bottom line: Stow the ego and do your homework. The rest will come with time and practice.
Good resources I have found:
Shadowpriest.com for gear and DPS breakdown
Max DPS is also good for basic gear research, but is usually slow to update.
Keefer plays three level 80s on the U.S. realm of Aerie Peak. His characters are Notbigmoo (shadow priest), Artdarkist (survival hunter) and Darkartiste (combat rogue). His guild is Mail Enhancement and not sponsored by Viagra. Feel free to Armory him and ridicule his talent choices, comment on his impatience, or brand him as a noob by emailing him. Emails could be used in future columns.