Review: World of WarCraft: Illidan

Illidan: World of WarcraftIllidan: World of Warcraft by William King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was but a stripling, I used to dive into fantasy books and read them (devour them, really) in a single sitting. It was the best feeling in the world, to be so absorbed into a book that you only pull yourself away to change position on your bed or to take a bathroom back before diving right back into it. It’s a sort of reading I don’t get to do as often these days, whether because reading over one’s lunch break necessitates keeping one eye on the clock so you’re not late or because prolonged exposure to the Internet has shortened my attention span to the point where I can only dive in the shallowest of intellectual waters.

Regardless, “Illidan” was a return to those early days. I read it cover to cover and had a great time while I did.

Let me get a few things out of the way, however. Yes, this is a video game fiction tie-in novel. No, it doesn’t actually pass my personal litmus test for tie-in fiction (that the story be accessible enough that you can read it and enjoy it without being a fan of the game). Yes, that makes me horrifically inconsistent. No, I don’t care, because I’m not getting paid to do this and if you want foolish consistency, go find a hobgoblin. This book is for fans of the game. If you haven’t played World of WarCraft, particularly if you haven’t played the first expansion “the Burning Crusade,” you can skip this one. It’s an amazing WarCraft novel, but it’s a middling fantasy novel. There are plenty of other middling fantasy novels out there; I’ve even read and reviewed some of them. Feel free to keep scrolling.

For those that are still here, as I said, I loved this book. It’s the best damn WarCraft novel yet to be published; let me explain why.

Let’s rewind to 2007. It was a different era, to be certain. Bush II was still destroying the country and we were all blissfully unaware that the Great Recession was just around the corner. World of WarCraft had begun to measure its success as a video game not in how many units had been sold or how many subscribers were playing, but by its body count of how many players were so enthralled that they died playing it because they forgot to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. When the Burning Crusade expansion was launched, we, the brave heroes of Azeroth, fought off a demonic invasion and plunged through the Dark Portal into the strange realm of Outland. After fighting through the demonic invasion, we . . . then proceeded to wage war against the minions of a guy whose in-game class was entirely devoted to hunting and killing demons, a guy who’d always been, in the previous WarCraft game, a misunderstood anti-hero who, while often seeming a villain, usually was TRYING to do the right thing. Wait, what?

In the years since, the developers at Blizzard have acknowledged that the story in the Burning Crusade expansion was thin. And it was, indeed, paper thin. Characters that were playable heroes and well liked in the previous game (WarCraft III) are suddenly villains and raid bosses, for seemingly no reason better than “just ’cause.” What could have been a tragic and compelling story (having to fight those characters despite identifying with them) instead becomes a joke when the answer to the question “why are we killing these guys” is “because we want their stuff.” A thin story, indeed, and you can tell the lesson was taken to heart because the next expansion went out of its way to give you reasons to want to take down its final boss, the Lich King.

So, “Illidan” the book creates a storyline about what’s happening with the pseudo-final boss of the Burning Crusade to explain what he was doing while waiting around for us to kill him. It also takes several of the more strange elements that went unresolved in the game storyline and creates compelling justifications for them, in particular explaining why, despite the fact that we saw Illidan training new demon hunters, we only ever encounter one of those demon hunters as a raid boss.

The fact that the book manages to take that old game experience and create a new, interesting context feels, well, rather magical. Rationally, I know that this is all retcon; a complicated bit of storytelling judo to try and make a narrative out of the tangled, inconsistent disjointed experience of the original game narrative. However, even though I know it’s all retcon and I know that the game designers weren’t planning any of this when they made that storyline, “Illidan” manages to create explanations that feel amazingly seamless. It fits together like a puzzle piece and the revelations have actually improved my memories of that ancient expansion. It felt rather magical, honestly.

There are still plenty of flaws in the book. Although the book spends most of its time on its own narrative, the beginning and ending are set to the events of WarCraft III and the Black Temple raid, and you can absolutely feel the shift when the game narrative takes the driver seat, and not for the better. The dialogue for WarCraft III in particular has aged horrifically and feels stilted and unnatural. Unfortunately, no amount of word judo can make those pieces fit into the puzzle, but thankfully they’re rather rare.

So while Illidan doesn’t begin or end on a strong footing, it still manages to satisfy when allowed to tell its own story. It does an amazing job of building excitement for the upcoming Legion expansion and in particular makes me eager to play the new demon hunter class. And so, while it has plenty of flaws and is by no means a perfect book on its own, I can’t help but feel that this is the best WarCraft book I’ve read. As for the rating and how I justify this one, we’ll just say that we’re grading on a curve.

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Review: World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King

World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher KingWorld of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King by Luke Cuddy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up after a friend recommended it to me in the wake of my review of “Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved.” While I think this concludes my foray into pop culture philosophy for a while, I did enjoy this book considerably more than “Halo Philosophy.” The nature of MMOs as shared simulated spaces (alliteration intentional!) invites several intriguing discussions, especially with regards to the metaphysical. Furthermore, so much of what makes MMOs interesting is the people that play them, and even though a first person game like Halo is also multiplayer, it’s really in the MMO space that one can seriously consider questions of character, identity, and self.

As you might expect, not every essay in this book is going to impress, but there are some true gems. In particular, the essays on the relationship between the character and the self really intrigued me. I’ve played a wide variety of characters over the year, including characters of an opposite gender. Thus, I paid particularly close attention to the essay written by a male player who, rather unintentionally, “toured” as a perceived female gamer for several months.

Is this a book I’d recommend to a non-WoW player? Eh, probably not. The authors generally do a good job of not relying “too” heavily on the game terms, but the largest appeal of these pop culture/philosophy books is how the content of your favorite game (or show, or movie, or whatever) can become the fuel for a philosophical discussion. If you’re not already a WoW player, I’m not sure why you’d be interested in picking up a book about it. That said, this is a very solid philosophy primer and if you’re an MMO player (of any game, really), you’ll find something to mentally gnaw on.

Quick aside: it was a little silly, but I really enjoyed the chapters presented in WoW’s “0/1” quest tracker style, as well as the “+3 to intellect” for completing the chapter. It was a fun bit of attention to detail.

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Azeroth Choppers Review

You might have noticed that I spend a lot of posts talking about motorcycles. I also spend a lot of posts talking about video games. Thus, it seems natural that I’d have an opinion on Azeroth Choppers, the web series that follows (some of) the Orange County Choppers crew as they make two bikes themed for World of WarCraft.

You’re right, I do have an opinion. Buckle up (or put your helmet on, since motorcycles don’t have seatbelts) and get ready, because I’m going full-bore nerd here.

So here’s the basic idea for the uninitiated who don’t play WarCraft. The (former) Orange County Chopper guys build a bike matching the theme for the two different player factions, the Alliance and the Horde.

If you ever watched Orange County Choppers when it was on the air, this was their whole schtick. A client would request a custom chopper to promote .  . . whatever and the crew would spend the entire episode designing it and building it and then finally showing it off to the client.

The early seasons were very much in the same vein as all the other “look at this cool job” reality shows. And to be honest, it really was cool seeing how custom motorcycle design works.

But along the way, the Reality Show Curse took hold, possibly because aside from the different designs, once you’ve seen how their build a bike a few times, the formula stays pretty much the same. So they decided to focus on the drama of bike building, which meant lots of arguing, lots of squabbling, etc. You can probably guess what point I stopped watching.

So now the makers of WarCraft decide they want custom bikes. And they want their players to vote for one of the bikes to be turned into an in-game item and given to players of that faction for free.

So when it’s all said and done, one half of the player base will get a free motorcycle in the video game that’s based on the real motorcycle that was built.

This is an incredibly terrible idea.

More specifically, it’s an incredibly terrible idea because of Blizzard’s own decisions about the value of digital content.

Collecting “mounts” is a big aspect of World of WarCraft. Mounts are exactly what the name implies: they are things that you can ride so you move through the game world. In the early days of the game, mounts were limited to things like horses, wolves, tigers, and other things that could increase your travel speed on the ground. Eventually, more fantastic mounts like dragons and phoenices were added so that players could fly through the skies.

They even added a motorcycle at one point.

The reason why mounts are a big deal is that they’re some of the game’s biggest status items. They’re the most coveted. Armor and weapons are cool and improve your character’s power, but those things don’t persist in value. You replace them constantly. Today’s legendary sword is tomorrow’s useless trash.

But mounts are pure vanity. Technically, your first ground mount and your first flying mount are the only two mounts you’ll ever need. There’s no real difference between flying around on a winged eagle-lion or a dragon, except that a dragon is amazingly cool looking. So everyone wants one.

Mounts are usually hard to get, rare items that require extraordinary luck, time, or both. And then Blizzard decided to starting selling them.

The ability to buy a mount debuted relatively late in WoW’s lifespan, during the Wrath expansion. Prior to that, the only way to get a mount was to play the game and earn it.

The first “for sale” mount was the celestial steed, often denigrated as “the sparkle pony.” For $25, you could equip your characters with a sort of glowing translucent blue version of an astral horse. The horse could also fly.

Keep in mind that this horse doesn’t fly faster or anything. It’s just like every other flying mount, including the other flying horses already in the game. You’re not getting a material advantage by buying the sparkle pony. It’s purely a vanity item, just like every other mount.

They’ve added more mounts since then, including a vampire bat, a dragon that changes colors (which I did buy, to my shame, because I’m a sucker for dragons) and most recently a two-headed dragon-ish thing (that I didn’t buy because of the incredible buyer’s remorse I had over the first dragon). All of these mounts are functionally just new models. New things to look at.

On their own, they don’t cause any harm, except for the buyer’s remorse factor that I felt. They don’t hurt the game. Ignore them if you don’t want one. They’re optional.

Here’s why this Azeroth Choppers thing is a stupid idea.

Throughout the entire course of the game, the developers have created the idea that mounts have value. Mounts have value. Initially, that value was represented by playing time and dedication. You had to run the toughest encounters, kill the toughest monsters, or get incredibly lucky to even have a chance at one of these.

Or you had to invest lots of time getting in-game money to buy one. It all worked to create the perception of value. More rare mounts were perceived as more valuable, simply because of that rarity.

The ability to spend actual money to buy a mount further reinforced this perception that mounts have value, especially because now they literally have value. $25 dollars per mount. If you’re an OCD mount collector, get ready to spend over a hundred bucks . . . you know, in addition to playing the subscription fee and all.

Mounts have value. They have value in terms of time, luck and/or actual money. This is the system that has been in place since the game first launched in 2004 (although I think mounts weren’t actually added to the game until 2005, it’s hard to remember. Doesn’t matter, they’ve been around for a long time).

And now we get to the heart of why Azeroth Choppers fails at its objective.

The idea was that although two motorcycles would be created, only one would be added to the game. That motorcycle would only be available to characters of that particular faction.

For the players of the other faction, they’ll get zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Sure, they could create a character on the other faction if they really want a free motorcycle so badly, but let’s be realistic. Most players have a group of players that they’re invested in. Playing both sides isn’t very common. You have your favorite character, you “main” character. And that character may not be on the side that gets a free motorcycle.

So half the players get something and the other half get nothing.

What does that accomplish, exactly? The players on the losing side feel shafted. They feel shafted specifically because the entire concept of the mount is built around the socially engineered concept that mounts are valuable. Mounts are $25 dollars.

So you, winning player, here’s a free $25 dollar thing. Enjoy. But you, losing player? You get nothing. Have fun.

This is a terrible fucking strategy. It would have been less shitty if mounts weren’t constructed around this idea of value, but they are. If the winning motorcycle had been made available to both sides, it would be less shitty, because then everyone gets something equally. Sure, the losing faction doesn’t get “their” motorcycle but they’re still getting $25 worth of value.

Most reactions seem to be that there’s no way Blizzard will enforce the competition aspect of this whole stunt. I’ve read a lot of opinions that suggest the winning motorcycle will be free to that faction and the losing one will be available in the real-money store, presumably for $25.

If anything, that idea is even stupider, a tax on the players who aren’t on the winning side. Not to mention; how many people really want to spend $25 on something that says, hey, remember that your side lost. This whole competition idea completely damages the perception of value for the item that they themselves spent money to build!

This entire thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt, which it was. Presumably, it was supposed to generate good publicity . . . which it didn’t. The concept was flawed from inception. If they really intend not to give everyone a bike, their own model of perceived value bites them in the ass.

If they change their minds and say, sure, bikes for everyone now, why the hell didn’t they just do the entire promotion like that from the beginning? The entire spectacle is based around the idea that “one bike goes into the game” and “the losers get nothing.”

Yes, the game is built around conflict. But now that you’ve taken that perception and turned it into something tangible, it’s no longer fun. Now it just feels mean-spirited. It doesn’t matter that Blizzard didn’t choose the winner, the players did. For players of the losing faction, they get to be exactly that. You guys are the losers. Enjoy playing your game, losers. Have fun being losers.

That’s . . .  not really a great feeling to instill in half your customer base.

On one final note: it really annoys me to hear everyone referring to the three-wheeled motorcycle as a “bike.” A three-wheeled motorcycle is not a bike. It’s a trike.

This annoys me both as a rider and as a fan of the English language.

The Psychology Of WoW Classes

I’ve been promising to write about this for a while, but I needed time to let the idea percolate in my head and even more time to write out this monster of a post (over 2,000 words). I’ve learned quite a bit reading the comments from my MBTI/RPG class post that caused me to revise my opinion quite a bit.

It was a mistake to try and correlate MBTI type and class preference with such specificity. While it was a fun exercise, it had no actual application to reality. Players are too diverse and tastes vary widely. It’s impossible to separate the reasons people play a particular class into purely aesthetic or mechanical considerations, not to mention the number of players for whom novelty and trying something different are the standards rather than the exceptions.

With that said, I’d like to take another look at MBTI and RPG correlation, but from a different perspective: that of the various kinds of classes in an MMO setting. The other major difference is I’m not going to try and pigeonhole one type or even one Keirsey temperament. Instead, I’m going to look at how the three primary roles of the different World of WarCraft classes and how each appeals to each temperament in different ways.

A Brief Overview of the Four Temperaments

SJ Guardians: ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ESTJ

Keirsey defines Guardians as having the following characteristics:

  • Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
  • Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
  • Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
  • Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.

SP Artisans: ISFP, ESFP, ISTP, ESTP

Keirsey defines Artisans as having the following characteristics:

  • Artisans tend to be fun-loving, optimistic, realistic, and focused on the here and now.
  • Artisans pride themselves on being unconventional, bold, and spontaneous.
  • Artisans make playful mates, creative parents, and troubleshooting leaders.
  • Artisans are excitable, trust their impulses, want to make a splash, seek stimulation, prize freedom, and dream of mastering action skills.

NF Idealists: INFJ, ENFJ, INFP, ENFP

Keirsey defines Idealists as having the following characteristics:

  • Idealists are enthusiastic, they trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, prize meaningful relationships, and dream of attaining wisdom.
  • Idealists pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic.
  • Idealists tend to be giving, trusting, spiritual, and they are focused on personal journeys and human potentials.
  • Idealists make intense mates, nurturing parents, and inspirational leaders.

NT Rationals: INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ENTP

Keirsey defines Rationals as having the following characteristics:

  • Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
  • Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
  • Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
  • Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

Now that we’ve identified the main characteristics that are core to each temperament, let’s see how these translate into the different class roles in WoW.

Tanking

Classes: Blood Death Knight, Guardian Druid, Protection Paladin, Protection Warrior, Brewmaster Monk

It’s easy to see why the tanking role appeals to Guardians; it’s even in their temperament name! In WoW, the Tank is responsible for guiding his or her teammates safely through the dungeon. The Tank stands on the front line and takes the hits from the monsters that would drop a more fragile character. The well-being of the group depends on the Tank to perform his or her job well. Without a strong Tank, the group will fall apart. The Guardian thrives in a social environment where their natural dependability is a strong asset and the Tank role demands exactly that.

For an Artisan, I believe that tanking will appeal for a very different reason. Artisans will focus on the fact that tanking is one of the most exciting and dynamic roles. A Tank is right in the monster’s face and often has to react quickly to changing situations, lending itself to a high-adrenaline and exciting playing style. A good Tank needs to be quick on his or her feet and troubleshoot problems, which fits well with an Artisan’s preference for an intense, high-energy playing style.

Idealists are Tanks for reasons similar, at first glance, to those that motivate Guardians. Idealists are naturally cooperative and value the well-being of those they hold in their regard. The Guardian, however, will approach the Tanking role with the mindset of, well, a guardian. “The safety of the group is my responsibility.” An Idealist, on the other hand, will be more concerned with the well being of the group in an abstract sense. “If I do my job well, everybody is having more fun” is what guides an Idealist who has chosen to Tank.

Rationals, like their name suggests, are drawn to complexity and anything that stimulates their problem solving abilities. Although it might seem like the role of Tank requires nothing more than standing in front of a monster while it hits you over and over, in truth, Tanks often have the most complex job of any role. They must understand a particular encounter better than any other class and need to be able to know when to move, when to use special abilities, when to react, and many other intricacies. Although all roles are expected to know the details of an encounter in order to succeed, for tanks, understanding the encounter is essential. This natural complexity and the required understanding to succeed make tanking very appealing for the Rational.

Healing

Classes: Holy Priest, Holy Paladin, Restoration Shaman, Restoration Druid, Mistweaver Monk

Guardians who prefer a less intense, less in-your-face playing style (particularly those who are Introverts rather than Extroverts) may favor Healing instead of Tanking. Guardians prize gratitude and playing a Healer is often a rewarding experience for exactly that reason. Healers are always in demand and a good Healer will be valued and appreciated by the group. Healers provide stability and cohesion to a group, which are also valued traits to a Guardian. Again, the primary difference between the Guardian’s motivation and the Idealist’s is that for the Guardian, the task takes on the aspect of duty and responsibility. “I am the Healer. I’m responsible for keeping everybody alive.”

Although Healing is usually a more reactive than proactive role, there are moments of heart-stopping intensity that provide the thrill Artisans crave. Certain encounter will tax the Healer’s abilities or the Tank will take a beating and come within an inch of dropping and these scenarios provide adrenaline rushes as the Healer reacts quickly to resolve. There’s a visceral thrill in snapping off a large healing spell at just the right moment and Artisans can certainly appreciate that.

For Idealists, the Healing role is a natural fit (one of the Idealist types, INFP, is even called the Healer). The act of restoring and supporting one’s party fits well with the Idealist’s motivating desire for harmony. Healers watch over their parties much like Tanks do, but they don’t take the center stage or have all the focus directly on them, which is appealing to the Introverted side of the Idealist Temperament. More than any other role, however, Healers represent the ability to increase the enjoyment of other party members. Finally, from an aesthetic perspective, Healing fits well with the Idealist’s tendency towards kindness more so than hitting something in the face with a hammer (like the Tank) or setting it on fire (like the DPS).

The Rational again finds complexity in the Healer role that stimulates his or her intellect. Healers cannot be measured by raw statistics the way a DPS can, but there are other considerations a Healer must juggle that creature interesting scenarios for the Rational. Triage is an important skill of a healer; knowing when and how to use one’s best resources can often be the difference between success and failure. Healers must also be wary of overhealing, which represents a loss of strategic resources and so must employ their abilities carefully.

The DPS (Damage Per Second)

Class: Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Warlock, Arms Warrior, Fury Warrior, Retribution Paladin, Feral Druid, Balance Druid, Frost Death Knight, Unholy Death Knight, Elemental Shaman, Enhancement Shaman, Shadow Priest, Windwalker Monk

A dead monster is one that can’t hurt anyone. The Guardian might favor DPS as an extension of the maxim, “the best defense is a good offense.” Whether it’s dropping monsters with a fireball or stopping them dead with an arrow shot, the Guardian DPS player can maintain his or her party by unleashing the greatest firepower possible. Alternatively, the Guardian might play DPS because of all the roles, as evidenced by the list of potential classes, it’s the largest. The Guardian DPS might enjoy staying out of the spotlight that Tanks and Healers experience and instead be able to focus on doing his or her job dutifully and reliably. Good DPS is the backbone of the team and the Guardian, who enjoys being exactly that, can find his or her niche in this role.

Artisans approach the DPS role with a completely different attitude. For an Artisan, the DPS represents the chance to engage in intense, exciting, action packed gameplay. Instead of getting bashed on by a monster or watching health bars, the DPS Artisan is flinging huge fireballs or spinning blades at foes. DPS Artisans appreciate the big numbers; there’s nothing more thrilling than a huge critical strike or seeing one’s performance at the top of the DPS meter. Even though the group is working together, among DPS there is often competition to do the most damage. A DPS who tops the charts with his or her performance is going to feel like a rock star. It’s easy to imagine the Artisan’s attraction.

The Idealist’s reason for choosing DPS may be more nebulous than other temperaments. An Idealist DPS player might choose the role because of the different class archetypes spark the Idealist’s imagination and allows him or her to step into the fantasy of being a powerful wizard or knight. Alternatively, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS role for reasons shared by the Guardian and dropping foes efficiently helps the party have more fun. Finally, the Idealist might enjoy the DPS because it represents a change of pace from how the Idealist might normally be in a group context.

The Rational’s desire for mastery can be satisfied by the DPS role, especially in a class that requires a high level of skill to play effectively. DPS classes are dependent on using skills and resources effectively to produce more damage; this is often referred to as the “rotation” and mastery of it is critical to be successful. A Rational will enjoy figuring out the optimal rotation and mastering its execution. Alternatively, a Rational might enjoy the optimization aspect of a DPS role and balance different stats and equipment to create a superior character build.

This brings us to the end of the psychology of MMO classes. Some of my comments have been based on my own experiences, although most are derived more from observation of other players. There are likely many things that I missed for each class, but I hope that this broader approach to the subject of type and class will succeed where the previous attempt failed.

Finally, in writing this post, while my thesis is that any type can enjoy and do well at any role, I found that some types were much easier to place than others. It is my assertion that some types lend themselves better to some roles than others; call it a better fit, if you will, though it is not a pigeon-holing. Some players will always defy the norm and choose something explicitly because it’s strange or unique.

Here are my suggestions for the “best fit” for each role:

Tank: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational

DPS: Artisan and Rational

Healer: Guardian, Idealist

You’ll notice that this distribution is not necessarily balanced; all four temperaments are “best fit” with the Tank, for example. There’s also an inverse in the number of temperaments vs. the number of classes. Although DPS is the largest percentage of any group and has the largest number of classes dedicated to it, it has fewer temperaments than the more rare Tanking role.

I based this arrangement purely on my own opinion based on how easy or difficult it was to determine why a particular type might favor one role over another. It was easy for me to articulate why each temperament would have a best fit with the Tank role, but I had a difficult time determining the motivation for an Idealist to choose DPS.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this completely non-scientific look at this topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments and let me know where you believe I got it right . . . or wrong. Thanks for reading.