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Tycho / on Mon, Mar 22 2004 at 11:55 pm

Every event today conspired against my writing this, except the one thing I wanted to do, which is play World of Warcraft.  My knowledge of the game world and its systems is not in any way encyclopedic - I was not in the Alpha, for example, so my character only has the experience and abilities I have been able to accrue since Friday’s beta announcement.  However, it stands to reason that I might know some things that would interest you.

For example, I know that the user interface is clean and sensible, everything in its place, nothing cluttered.  Somebody asked me about the usability of said interface, and I reminded them that the game was from Blizzard.  Don’t be quick to discard that as some sort of fanboy bullet point.  The layout is professional, the menus are precise and direct without being didactic.  If you click on some item in your inventory, the slot it is supposed to go into lights up on your character sheet, that kind of thing.  Crafting menus are a great example of interface clarity, very similar from discipline to discipline, and as I have tried to communicate this is a screen I see a lot of.  Brother Farwall is a Paladin, that’s true enough, but like Cadfael he can produce all manner of tinctures, unguents, and elixirs from common and uncommon herbs.  Please bring up the crafting interface in another window, I’m going to refer to it but I don’t want to put it in-line.  We have enough trouble keeping things moving around here when I don’t throw another fifty kilobytes into the page.

You can see at the top all the things I’m able to make - these are recipes that I purchased from an Alchemy trainer in one of the cities.  I should say “mostly purchased,” perhaps, because one of them - Minor Agility - is one I got from kicking this bear-man shaman motherfucker in his eldritch ass.  As soon as I could learn the recipe, I did.  Afterward, either because my skill increased or I’d learned something new, the gnarled Thornroot I collected began to also give me something called Swiftthistle.  So, here’s a potion that I’d never heard of before, that uses a reagent I wasn’t familiar with, and once I improved as an herbalist I began to recognize that it grew with another herb.  I’m made aware of these helpful plants by my Find Herbs skill - though such things exist there in the landscape for you to see with the naked eye, it can be helpful to have them highlighted within a certain radius.

You can also see what items I need to make the potions, and how many I currently have.  I’m almost out of the herbs I need to make the really cool stuff, but if you have what it takes to make something you see a number right there that indicates how many potions you have the ingredients for.  The color of each potion’s name represents the difficulty of producing it, though I need to be clear - it is impossible to fail when crafting an item.  You do not fail, ever.  You might not succeed when gathering materials in the wild, but you’re welcome to try again until you get it.  Difficulty simply determines the chance of your skill improving in a certain discipline, which itself determines what recipes are available at the shop, or what herbs you can gather from the gameworld.  Imagine if you were trying to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and in the process destroyed an entire loaf of bread and somehow the peanut butter got on your face.  That is how crafting works in other games.

I push and process so much herb it’s only a matter of time until the DEA brings the hammer down.  You don’t have to wonder whether or not the work of my hands is popular with the party - though I can invoke the power of the Light to raise them from the dead, I certainly prefer my potions to do the work of keeping them from that state to begin with.  Paladins are decent healers, they’ll do in a pinch, but the ability to crack out these one shot potions really expands my role in that regard.  I get them in trade for things other people in the crew make - Pork is handy with a hammer and anvil, and virtually everything I wear is made from the ore he finds with his mineral detection ability.  He’s also able to make “sharpening stones” or “weightstones,” single use items that impart a temporary damage bonus to any weapon.  Gabe skins virtually every animal we put down, creating one-time use kits that improve any piece of armor permanently.  Those same beasts also produce lean cuts of meat, which Kara is able to cook (using cooking) on a fire (which he made with her Survival skill).  As an added bonus, sitting around the fire she made to cook things cuts down our downtime between fights, as it increases our Spirit which improves regeneration rates.     

Food and drink plays an important role in minimizing downtime.  There really isn’t that much of it anyhow, but what there is can be shaved away by eating and drinking.  Just by sitting down and having a snack, player’s health and mana regeneration rates skyrocket.  If you have a healer on top of that, I mean, there won’t even be time to build the fire I was talking about.  You’re already fighting monsters and having fun again. 

Often when you are fighting said monsters, you will also have some larger purpose as well.  You might have heard that the game is Quest focused, which is true to an extent - there are often many quests in a given area that are easy to find, because a gigantic exclamation point appears over a person’s head.  Is the exclamation point silver?  That means they will have a quest for you when you are at a higher level.  Perhaps they have a question mark over their head - this means they’re either the object of your quest, or you need to report back to them.  In addition to any experience you get from killing the monsters on these sojourns, you will get a bundle of XP - sometimes, a very significant bundle - in addition to cash money money, and sometimes even your choice of item.  When you start out, there are many quests right there that will start to introduce you first to the local area and then to the larger world, ultimately leading you to your capital city.  Some of these quests feel valid and communicate things about the region and the people in it, expanding what we know about Warcraft.  Some of these quests, eh, maybe not so fun.  There is a series near the Night Elven city of Auberdine that deal with devices called “Buzzboxes” which are the worst sort of “kill these monsters, maybe they’ll drop what you need, and then bring a whole bunch of these things somewhere else” drudgery.  It’s a crime the entire genre commits.  At least in WoW you’re rewarded with a ton of experience and a truly awesome bag.     

This is part of what I meant by humane.  Yeah, we made you do sort of a boring quest, but Merry Christmas, here is the Experience Santa with a level for you.  You worked to get together all the stuff, you have enough skill to make it, so you can make it without failure.  Here’s lots of food and drinks everywhere so you can actually play the game and not sit there fucking off for ten minutes or more.  Dying in these games sucks already, you have to run back to all the friends you just let down and explain why, in addition to the XP hit or whatever else.  In World of Warcraft, you run back to your body as a ghost - invisible to monsters,  and running at a greater speed.  In addition, you don’t bind to a particular point - whatever lifestone equivalent is closest, that’s where you spawn in.  If you don’t want to run back to your corpse - or you haven’t been raised by a party member or some polite stranger - then you need to pay some XP.  After the kindness they’ve shown in other areas, that’s something I can make my peace with. 

I have to say, I really miss Final Fantasy XI’s auction system.  I also miss the chocobos, but that’s neither here nor there.  The ability to simply place an item up for sale at a given price and let the magic of that ethereal free market turn your garbage into money is even now giving an Econ major an erection.  Star Wars Galaxies, despite anything else people might say about it, has a pretty hot auction system as well.  Seeing people in World of Warcraft yapping in a public channel about their refuse seems archaic by comparison, because it is.  It’s like a sports car that uses bicycle pedals for locomotion.  I heard there might be a more advanced system coming to bear in the future, and I guess I’d just like to put in a vote for that. 


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