Oceanic Soap Box: First Hour in WoW

It’s T-Minus 5 days until Mists of Pandaria drops, and whether you’re a WoW player or not, there’s no doubt this release will shape the MMO industry just like previous ones have. Beyond that though, there’s some great fun over the coming week for those who do play.

Hence the topic of this week’s soap box: what will you do for your first hour in WoW after the servers go live – and you can successfully log in? (Click here for all the details of local launch times)

Will you be jumping straight to Pandaria or will you be going for a realm-first in some other area? As I’ve bored my fellow WoW players to death with, I’m attempted a realm first in… fishing.

Jump in: what’s in store for you those first 60 minutes?

Through The Mist: Looking Back at Cataclysm

Through the Mist is a regular column from Luke Le Page covering everything World of Warcraft. If you’d like something covered in a future column, drop us a line!

With Mists of Pandaria only a week away I felt like it was a good time for a review of its predecessor: Cataclysm.

The anticipation I felt towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King was immense. Icecrown Citadel and Ulduar had been a return to the epic raids of the past such as Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Karazhan and Black Temple to name a few. The reintroduction of Naxxramas as a level 80 raid also had me extremely excited having been stuck on the Four Horsemen in classic WoW before taking a break in preparation for the Burning Crusade. I was finally going to be able to defeat Kel’Thuzad and close that chapter of Warcraft lore – not only that but I would be throwing down against Arthas himself in the not too distant future.

This is where I think Cataclysm faced its greatest challenge – how were Blizzard going to come back after having defeated Arthas, the antagonist of the unbelievably popular Warcraft 3? We had spent years working up to this culminating fight. The pre-expansion event had me fairly excited (The Cataclysm). Having also read the Shattering, the expansion’s companion novel, I felt truly immersed in the events that were taking place. My beloved zones were utterly destroyed as Deathwing emerged from Deepholme.

I hated him for that as I am an altoholic. I loved many of the original zones, hated others. I played through them more times than I care to admit and came to love the environment of the game and this former aspect had come along and completely destroyed many of them and it was time for payback.

The event really set the tone for me as I ventured into this new expansion – there was no way I was going to let Deathwing off the hook. So I logged into my account page and race-changed my Rogue to a Goblin and set about on my journey for vengeance.

We also saw the introduction of two new races. After many years of petitions from players we finally saw the emergence of Goblins as a player race as well as the ever mysterious Worgen. I have played through both of these starting areas and must admit that I was quite impressed by the work done by Blizzard. During the Worgen scenario I truly felt that I was being hunted. The Goblin experience was less exciting for me but it left me with an even stronger desire to rid the world of Deathwing.

That was about as excited as I got during the Cataclysm expansion. My levelling experience went fairly well, I was among the first level 85’s on my server. I thoroughly enjoyed Mount Hyjal, the ever elusive Mount Hyjal that we had ran through as ghosts or by cliff jumping very early on in the original form of the game. It was finally open and it did not disappoint. The zone itself made fantastic use of Blizzards phasing technology.

My first foray into Cataclysm dungeons occurred on the first day as I headed into Blackrock Cavern with a guild group. This was a relatively positive experience and reinforced my hopes for the expansion.

Mount Hyjal was followed by Deepholme. The cutscene entry to this zone was excellent and really set the scene as we ventured deep into Deathwing’s home. This was another impressive zone, I enjoyed the turmoil within the elemental plane and our efforts to assist Therazane.

After completing Deepholme, and a few runs of the Stonecore (a thoroughly enjoyable dungeon that continued the storyline of the zone), I ventured into Uldum. I have to say this is where my experience went sour.

The zone itself was fine, though a little spread out and at times it felt a little slow. My major gripe was that the zone felt like filler. There was no real point to it even existing. Granted they tied the zone to Deathwing lore but it felt forced. I can’t say that I enjoyed Vortex pinnacle, though it was fun on heroic and had some interesting mechanics.

This lead me to the Twilight Highlands. Again the zone relied heavily on lore and led us to investigate the Twilight’s Hammer and Deathwing’s relationship with the other dragon flights. It was an interesting zone and tied into the Bastion of Twilight raid extremely well. The introduction quests to the zone, both Alliance and Horde, were interesting and I enjoyed doing them.

Overall, I had a mixed levelling experience, so much so that I still have not levelled a handful of alts that I would like to and many that I have were levelled through dungeons alone. The zones after a single completion felt tedious and I did not wish to do them again on alts. This is the first time I have ever felt that way during my time playing WoW and it was a somewhat foreign experience. If I was forced to give it a score out of 10 I would probably lean towards a 6.5 or 7. It wasn’t terrible and many zones were enjoyable while others were frustratingly spread out.

This brings me to heroic dungeons.

I don’t really have anything bad to say in regards to heroics – we began running them almost immediately as a guild in an effort to gear up for raids. I can’t say that I ever found any of them overly difficult; some were tough at lower gear levels as you would expect but I have no memories of repetitive wipes in any of them. Some of the achievements were a lot of fun to attempt and whilst I did not complete the heroic meta-achievement, due largely to a break that I will mention below and some laziness.  I still occasionally run the early tier of heroics so that is definitely a positive for Blizzard. The remakes of Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep were also fun. The addition of the Zandalari heroics later in the expansion is also a positive – I was not playing at the time these were released so I can’t speak for how difficult they were at the appropriate gear level but I quite enjoyed them at a higher gear level.  I give heroics an 8/10.

The New Azeroth

I have to say that I really enjoy the new zones. Blizzard has done an amazing job revamping the levelling experience and has made it relevant to the current content of the game. Lore-wise it is a little disconcerting that we do Azeroth and then move to Outlands and Northrend (that are effectively in the past) before returning to Cataclysm content. The other drawback comes from the levelling speed of the game. Even without Bind on Account items and Guild perks, that increased experience gain means it is possible to out-level a zone from a single quest hub. I found this a little annoying despite my enjoyment of the zones themselves. I give 9/10 for the new levelling areas.


I will not spend too much time on my raiding experience. My guild went into Blackwing Descent first and downed Magmaw with minimal fuss. Omnitron took a handful of attempts but also went down on the first night. Chimaeron was a sterner challenge and went down on the following night after a fairly high number of attempts. In the second week we moved on to Maloriak and Atramades and successfully killed them. I was not present for the Nefarian and Onyxia kill but was there for a number of early attempts. The only fight I truly enjoyed in this raid was Atramedes. I was immediately disappointed with the difficulty level of the raid. Granted my guild wiped, but it was nothing major and we overcame much of the raid with minimal fuss. I rate the first tier of raids extremely poorly: 2/10

Bastion of Twilight was a similar story with the exception of Cho’ Gall. This fight for a variety of reasons took us some time to master and to be honest I really enjoyed it despite the wipes. I can’t say much for the rest of the raid zone. I found most of it boring and simple. Ascendant Council took some time to adapt to the mechanics and coordination required, but was overcome relatively quickly.

I give this early raiding tier a pretty low score, a mere 3/10 overall. I was severely disappointed by it. After my guild defeated Nefarian and Cho’ Gall I immediately took a break from the game. This is an opinion piece and I think that a launch player who had played through every previous tier of raiding stepping back so early says more than my review ever can about that tier.  I also note that I never did Throne of the Four Winds.

Due to this, I missed all of Firelands. As a huge fan of Molten Core and Ragnaros I would love to have been a part of my guild’s progress through this raid but it was not to be. I still have not completed this raid having only returned to the game in mid Dragon Soul.

This brings me to Dragon Soul. Due to the break mentioned above I was no longer a part of a core raiding team for Dragon Soul and had to settle with sub-ins and pugs. My experience overall was fairly positive and I enjoyed the zone overall and give it a 7/10.

The introduction of the Raid finder. Well this is a debate in itself. It has polarised much of the WoW community and I personally like it. It gives casual and new players a chance to participate in later tiers of the game. The difficulty could probably use a little bit of tweaking – being able to ignore the mechanics of fights should not be allowed to happen but in general I feel it is a good way to make raiding accessible to all players. Hopefully in Mists of Pandaria we see a balance in the raid finder that is challenging and rewarding for new and casual players.

This is where people will gripe that if I found the raids so easy why didn’t I do hard modes? The simple answer is I didn’t care enough about the raids to bother with them. Very few of the encounters even piqued my interest enough to go through them a second time. My break ended up being an extremely long one and from all reports I missed an excellent raid in the Firelands and if I have one regret from this expansion it is not completing that raid or even experiencing it. The reason I returned from my break was the WoW annual pass. I was always going to play Diablo 3 and the deal was too good to pass up, it also gave me a chance to experience MoP without having to purchase it. I am sad to say that it was nothing Blizzard added to the current game that brought me back .

Overall, I think it is clear that I did not enjoy Cataclysm as much as I have the previous expansions of the game. This is not entirely Blizzard’s fault as I went through a number of issues in life that also affected my enjoyment of this expansion. Putting those aside however, I have to rate Cataclysm as the worst of WoW’s expansions so far.

My ranking structure would be

World of Warcraft 9/10
Wrath of the Lich King 8.5/10
The Burning Crusade 8.5/10
Cataclysm 6/10

Note that I rate BC and WotLK the same – I put in an inordinate amount of work during Karazhan progression which affected my experience of the raid so I rank it lower than WotLK.

Now your turn: what’s your feelings or thoughts about Cataclysm now that you look back?

Oceanic Soap Box: Weekend Game Time

Ahhh, weekends. Most of us love them, and aside from some very unlucky souls who may have to work every weekend, t’s usually a time we can allocate a slot of time for gaming.

Which leads to our soapbox topic of the week: do you get more playtime on weekends and if so how do you schedule it? I’m looking at you mothers and fathers out there as well: how do you get some game-related fun time in amongst everything else?


Oceanic Soap Box: Remembering The Fallen

I thought that this week, we’d get a little sentimental. It never hurts to take some time to remember lost comrades – and it applies in the MMO sphere as well. What prompted me was the announcement over the past week that City of Heroes will be closing.

It’s an MMO that’s been around since 2004 and like any game of that longevity, it has a devoted following. All too soon it’ll become one of those games that we remember we ‘used to play’.

So on that note, let’s talk about games that have closed / become no longer playable. For me a standout is Raid on Bungeling Bay on the Commodore 64. I got to play at once for around 20 minutes at my parent’s friend’s house and spent the weeks (and months) afterwards obsessing about it. I’d still love to give it a try although I’m pretty sure I’d find it disappointing now.

Which games do you miss most? It doesn’t matter whether it’s PC/Mac/Console/Handheld/Online – let us know what used to float your boat!

Funcom to TSW Players: We’re Here For The Long Haul

In case you hadn’t realised, the creators of The Secret Word, Funcom, have been through some hard times lately, including some pretty significant company restructuring.

That’s understandably got a lot of TSW players twitchy, particularly given that the next content update has been delayed to the 11th September.

One of Funcom’s community reps on the TSW forums, has jumped in to put a positive spin on things:


But seriously, I am sorry that there haven’t been as many dev and CM posts as usual. There’s some heavy restructuring going on right now, and we’re all just working to get settled.

I wanted to come in here and assure you that Funcom and it’s teams are incredibly committed to making sure that TSW keeps it’s steady content flow. While I do know that there has been a delay with the implementation of Issue 2 – Digging Deeper, this delay should not affect other Issues with new content or updates/bug fixes from continuing as planned. We hope to continually improve the game by listening to the community’s feedback!

In the words of the Illuminati (which is not to say that Funcom is Lumie-run):

You either do or get done, and we’re not done.

We’re in this fully, and we have no intentions of stopping any time soon.

Like any posts like these, you’re not going to get a lot of insight into the true state of the nation, but at face value it seems there’s a real commitment to keeping things happening. No-one wants that more than me. As I said in my review of the game, there’s a hell of a lot to like about this game – enough for me to fork out for a lifetime subscription.

At the very least it’s worth buying the game with its 30 days of game time and working out for yourself whether it’s a keeper. I know that if this game does go under, it proves that innovation in the MMO sphere isn’t being rewarded like it should. SOme would say the MMO model has been dead for a few years now, but I’m a little more optimistic than that.

What about you?

Oceanic Soap Box: Gander At The Pandas?

It’s an embarrassment of riches at the moment with MMOs. Guild Wars is only a few days old, SWTOR is close to going Free to Play, and World of Warcraft just had Patch 5.04 drop, the last one before the Mists of Pandaria expansion hits in late September.

So let’s focus on Pandas for a few minutes. For ex-players of WoW, is the latest expansion enough to draw you back? For people who’ve never played: is the game too old to consider? For current players like me: what are you liking or hating from your first 24 hours with 5.04?

Let the debate begin!

The Secret World: Oceanic Gamer’s Review

Funcom’s The Secret World has been live for more than a month now. In the lead up to launch and immediately afterwards, I was hearing very polarised opinions about the latest MMO out in the marketplace. All MMOs are polarised, but this one seemed expecially so, with people saying it was terrible whilst others loving every second. My curiosity got the better of me so I paid for the digital download version and for the past two weeks have put in quite a number of hours each evening exploring.

Overall gameplay

Fun. That really does sum it up. I’ve never had an MMO like this where I’ve spent a lot of hours running around a fairly small geographic area (Kingsmouth) and enjoying at least 90% of it. I like the atmospherics, the pacing, the music / sound effects (quite minimalist overall) – in fact pretty much everything.

The reality is that you don’t ‘level-up’ in the same way as other MMOs, and is a big plus. Sure, you still get obsessed about achievement points (for more abilities) and skill points (for buffs to your abilities), but it’s a much more fluid process to gain those points and deciding what to do with them. Believe it or not, a lot of the skill side of things is actually fun to think about, which is something new for me in an MMO. With weapons, you get the chance to try them all out before choosing a skill / ability path to start down, and even then you can easily divert to other weapons if you want to.

Oh and Mac users: this is a Windows only game but it runs a treat on my three year old iMac in Boot Camp.


Like any MMO there are your usual ‘kill 12 of X things’ but I have to say that these were nowhere as frequent as any other MMOs I’ve played. Most of the quests are pretty interesting, particularly the invesitigation and surveillance missions, which require your thinkign skills, not your button mashing skills. There are of course daily quests and the like if you’re on a real XP grind. Oh – and there’s a web browser in-game to make it easier to do online research for some of the quests – a great feature.


Like any MMO there’s the expected social features of group chat, private messages and general chat in each area. Having only got to the end of Kingsmouth I don’t feel qualified to discuss how social people are getting later in the game, but at this stage there’s not reams of toons hanging out in particular locations. One very subjective comment I’d make on general chat is that it’s a bit more civilised than other MMOs I’ve played although that could just be a result of the lower numbers on the server comparatively. That said, a warning: if you are thinking of jumping on general chat to have the brains trust answer the mystery you’re currently trying to solve, then make damn sure you’ve at least tried to research the answer for yourself.

Graphics and Music

This is where I became totally sold on TSW as a game I want to play longer term. I’m going to come out and say this is the best quality MMO I’ve played graphics-wise. Add to that the art style and the minimalist music, and it has me hooked. This is the only MMO I’ve ever played where I’ve always kept the sound on. Of course, graphics are a very individual thing so some may totally hate the style but I’m certainly not one of them. The rich colours (particularly in London as I rolled a Templar), are worth noting as well.

For those really interested in the graphics, I’ve created a slideshow of a dozen or so scenes from the game:


I partly covered this in the quest section above, but I wanted to give some more emphasis to how engaging story can be in this game. Star Wars The Old Republic made much of the fact that it’s obsession is story, and they succeeded to a very large extent. I’m here to tell you though, that TSW kicks SWTOR’s butt in relation to story. Mainly because of how well the cut scenes are done, the natural language the NPCs use and the thought that’s gone into developing a story line that keeps you hooked. Both games appear to have done a good job in making people want to have multiple characters in the game.

The other key point to be made here are the stark differences between the Dragon, Illuminati and Templar. Sure, every MMO has its factions, but Funcom have done a great job in emphasising their differences, even though they’re all human. I’m hanging out to get more in-depth with the two other factions besides my Templar.


Aside from the items you can pick up in the game, Funcom also have an item store where you can outfit your character to the style it deserves. You’ll need to buy Funcom points for the privelege – they start at US$5.00 for 600 points, and the gear you can buy ranges from 80 points up to more than 2000 points for the high end stuff.

The Downsides

I actually found it difficult to find significant negatives, but like any MMO they’re certainly there. The main frustrations / concerns for me were:

1. There’s definitely a lag issue at times. Not being interested in PVP, it never toally impacted my experience but there were times I cold see my cast bar lagging behind what I was pressing significantly – sometime to the point my cast bar was a whole action behind.

2. Some quests don’t work well if done out of order. There were a couple of times I’d realise I’d missed a quest involving a character I’d already dealt with and it didn’t complete for me properly. Some of that will be early teething problems too, and I know there’s been some fixes already with some quests.

3. I hate crafting – I just can’t get my head around the need to manually drag things into certain patterns. The approach does fit the wider design of the game but it just annoys the hell out of me. I may be in a minority there though and would appreciate your comments on crafting in the comments.

The Verdict

If you’re a lover of MMO that’s a little burnt out on the usual fare and looking for something different, then you should take a serious look at TSW. Even if you hate the whole monster / zombie schtick, this game is done well enough that you may still find it more than rewarding. If you want a simple hack and slash MMO then TSW may not be for you as you will need to think beyond key mashing and getting out of the fire.

Given the relatively small price of buying the game, which comes with 30 days free playtime, it’s not a big gamble. If you hate it or are indifferent to what it offers, then you’ve had a $60 experiment fail. If you love it, or can see it’s full potential developing in the medium term, then you keep subscribing.

The strongest point I can make on what I think about the game is what I did with my wallet: I bought a lifetime subscription.

Our score: 4.5/5 Greeblies

Now over to you: we’d love our thoughts on the game. Feel free to pick apart any claims we’ve made, point out any gaps or give us the low-down on later content in the game if you’ve got that far.

Oceanic Soap Box: A Month Of Launches

Anyone remotely following the MMO market at the moment knows that the coming month is a huge one. With Guild Wars 2 launching, the pre-Mists of Pandaria patch hitting World of Warcraft and both SWTOR and The Secret World getting content updates, there’s more on offer than hours in the day for most of us.

This is where you come in: are you getting involved in GW2? Are you pumped for new WoW content? Knee deep in the new SWTOR world event? Or are you playing something totally different that you want to tell people about?

Jump on the soapbox and let us know!

WoW Subscriber Numbers – The Rollercoaster

Given all the MMO News over the past month, one piece of news slipped under the radar for me.

Thanks to my colleague Simon I’m now aware that World of Warcraft subscriber numbers dropped to 9.1 million, down from 10.2 million at the end of the first quarter of the year.

That’s a big drop, even for a behemoth like Blizzard, but I see it as part of the rollercoaster ride that WoW still has to complete over the coming years. There’s obviously Mists of Pandaria coming up in a matter of weeks, and my money is on a lift in subscribers. That said, it’s a case of diminishing returns in that it won’t boost the subscriber numbers up to their peak, instead providing a needed climb on the rollercoaster before the next drop.

Aside from the realities of an ageing MMO, WoW faces the broader challenge as a subscription-driven game in a challenging economic environment world-wide. Still, I still can’t see WoW going F2P for quite a while, unless its numbers drop a few more million. Even then it’ll probably come down to what the break-even point is as far as subscriber numbers, as well as whether Titan has any firmer timelines as you’d expect a big migration to that from WoW players, depending on the genre it ends up being.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Titan itself becomes a subscription service, with a ‘free’ WoW subscription bundled in. Sounds a bit old-school for an MMO still a long way off being released, but you never know.

Overall, it’s hard to see the drop to 9.1 million subscribers as being too catastrophic (yes, I thought about using the word cataclysmic) at the end of a content cycle. If I were a betting person I’d predict numbers will break 10 million again once the expansion drops.As a WoW subscriber that isn’t at all excited about the Monk class or Pandarians, I’m still damn pumped to be playing the new content when it’s released.

Most importantly of all: what do you think? Are you pumped or indifferent about MoP? What do you see subscriber numbers for the game doing in coming months? Do you want to sign up for a Titan / WoW subscription bundle now or do you think I’m certifiably mad?

Oceanic Soap Box: Balancing MMOs

Welcome to the very first edition of Oceanic Soapbox, replacing our regular Friday SWTOR Suggestion Box. We’ll be putting forward topics that apply to any MMO gamer, so we hope you enjoy the new format.

This week I thought we’d start with the evergreen topic of playing more than one MMO. Do you do it, and if so which MMOs so you play in combination and how do you pull it off? Is it possible to be a hardcore player in more than one MMO?

Looking forward to hearing your comments!