Feeling a bit Spiteful

The Spiteful affix has officially reappeared to grace our Mythic+ keys this week, returning after a four week hiatus. The week the affix debuted, I formed some very strong opinions on its quality. However, I waited to finalize my stance. After all, four weeks ago, my knowledge of the dungeons, comfortability in my Shadowlands-era spec, and gear and character optimization was a lot weaker. The next time Spiteful appears, I would be prepared. This affix won’t get the best of me!

Spoiler alert, it did.

For those not as familiar with the Mythic+ system, every week features a rotation of affixes. There are a maximum of four affixes applied per week, with successive ones being added for each level of difficulty. The first affix is applied to any dungeon +2 and above; the second to any dungeon +4 and above; the third to any dungeon +7 and above; the final affix, which is the seasonal affix that is the same every week, is applied at +10. Affixes are meant to increase the difficulty of dungeons outside of simple damage scaling – they add a bonus challenge that change the way dungeons progress. Three new affixes were added in Shadowlands, Spiteful chief among them.

Most affixes require a quick but constant mindset shift in order to tackle. I generally categorize them in my mind in four main groups (this is by no means scientific, this is just my own thinking). There are mob death affixes that create challenges when trash mobs die (think Bursting or Bolstering). Then there are affixes that add environmental challenges which must be maneuvered around (think Sanguine and Storming). Next, there are the “challenge role” affix which add specific stresses to the healing or tanking position (think Necrotic or Grievous). Lastly, there are the additional spawn affixes that create new mobs to deal with (think Explosive and the recently removed Teeming). One affix can fit within multiple categories at once, but typically it does not fit into more than two.

Now let’s introduce Spiteful. According to the Blizzard tool tip, the Spiteful affixes causes “fiends [to] rise from the corpses of non-boss enemies and pursue random players.” These Spiteful Shades have about 100k baseline health (which scales with key level, of course). As soon as they spawn, they will bee-line to their fixated target and proceed to melee the player. Hard. It’s not unusual for a single melee from a Spiteful add to take off half a player’s health. Combine that with the general damage going out during mythic+s and we suddenly find ourselves with a highly deadly affix. Oh, and did I mention, their melee range is ENORMOUS?

Despite all these downsides, there are a few glimmers of good news. For one, Spiteful won’t ever fixate your tank (unless something is going horribly wrong with your pull). The shades also slowly die, losing 8% of their health every second they are alive. Lastly, they can be slowed, rooted, stunned, and crowd controlled in nearly every manner possible (but watch out, if you try something like a Paralyze or an Ice Trap, the spell will break immediately because the shade is technically always taking damage).

So how do you deal with the Spiteful affix? Well, if you’re ranged, you’re in luck! The Spiteful spawn right on top of the mob just killed, which means they will always be fairly far away from you. It’s a simple thing to throw a bit of CC and continue DPSing away without a care in the world. Nine times out of ten, the mob dies long before it ever gets to you. Pretty simple affix, huh?

What about if you’re melee? Well, as the Brokers always say, “death is the ultimate transaction.”

Grim humor aside, if you’re a melee, you immediately run. If you’re lucky, the mob is fixated on a different target and you can go back and DPS. However, if you’re not, you gotta keep kiting that add away until it gets CCed or it dies. And don’t forget, the melee range on that thing is huge, so you really gotta hoof it. If you’re lucky, depending on the size of the trash pack, there could even be two Spiteful Shades following you around, which means you don’t get to DPS for the rest of that pull! It’s wonderful.

This is bad enough but now I’d love to introduce you to my world this past week. You see, I play a Holy Paladin and, for a couple of expansions now, we’ve had a wonderful toolkit that incentivizes us to stand in the melee in order to heal. This expansion in particular, the meta for Holy Paladin really requires us to be in melee range using our Crusader’s Strikes on cool down in order to generate the Holy Power we need to then dump into our two big healing spells, Word of Glory and Light of Dawn. We rarely use our two casted heals on account of their long cast time and low throughput.

So this week, rather than healing, I’ve been running. The damage in a typical trash pull tends to start off bad with the tank needing a couple GCDs to establish their defensives, and then dips into the dangerous territory right at the end again as interrupts begin to run out and spells start getting off. I’m able to generate the holy power at the beginning of pulls but, by the end, I’m too busy running for my life to get off the heals I need. And this happens every single pull. Bubble can save me, but only once.

I try to refrain from making sweeping statements like this but, in this case, I feel this is justified. Spiteful sucks. It’s the worst affix by far, for a couple of huge reasons. First of all, as I have hinted at heavily, the affix is horribly skewed against melee. Melee spend much of the end of each fight running while ranged players chill out at max range. Sure, the mobs can be CCed, but the amount of attention and maneuvering that melee players are forced to do even when the Spiteful is well-handled is completely out of sync with what ranged players are having to do. I’ve been running keys on my Marksman Hunter this week that are nearly as high as the ones on my paladin (a difference of 1-3 key levels for the most part) and the difference is night and day.

Having affixes aimed only at the ranged or at the melee isn’t inherently a bad thing. After all, the other affix for this week is Volcanic, which take the form of small plumes of fire that must be dodged or the player takes damage and gets thrown a bit up into the air. This ability only spawns underneath players further away from the mobs, meaning it’s largely a ranged affix. However, the damage profiles between a Volcanic hit and a Spiteful hit are apples and oranges. Volcanoes tickle. Spiteful Shades truck. And what’s more, the Volcanic affix is mitigated by a simple side-step. The difference in difficulty between the ranged responsibilities and the melee ones has been pretty massive in Shadowlands thus far (Sludgefist says hi) and Spiteful is one of the most egregious examples.

Spiteful also sucks as an affix because it does too many things. Jumping back to those four categories for affixes I listed earlier, Spiteful can easily be said to fit into three of the categories. It both spawns on every mob death, requires environmental positional, and creates new mobs which must be dealt with. The affix is simply overwhelming. There isn’t another affix that adds that much management to the dungeon.

I’m not advocating for mythic+ dungeons to be stripped of their difficulties. If anything, running successively higher keys is one of my favorite challenges in the game currently! I enjoy the creativity, attention, and care that go into a successfully timed key. What I want to see, however, is a challenge that is balanced. When I have to work twice as hard as a ranged healer in order to keep my group alive because of one affix, that’s simply not fun. When most groups opt to run full ranged comps because of how bad the melee affixes are, that’s simply not fun. I understand when certain classes or specs are better able to handle some challenges but it starts to feel rotten when the disparity is this bad.

Despite this doom and gloom, I don’t think the situation is unsalvageable. I don’t like to give critique without workable solutions and, in this case, I think there are a number of potential fixes to make Spiteful fun for all without scrapping the affix entirely. Spiteful shades could only spawn off of some of the mobs, rather than every single of of them. The shade’s melee range could be reduced. The amount they melee for could be reduced. Their movement speed could be decreased. Their health could be reduced, or the amount they lose over time increased. Any one of these fixes, or even a combination of them would go a long way towards making the affix more manageable for melee players.

As I said earlier, I’ve been really enjoying keys this expansion. I generally love all the dungeons (even Plaguefall) and I can’t way to see how keys change and progress throughout the expansion. However, as it currently exists, the Spiteful affix needs some tuning before it is in line with the rest of the affixes and the key experience in general. The best affixes are ones which add interesting wrinkles depending on the dungeon but, so far, Spiteful has just added melee panic indiscriminately to every dungeon. Spiteful has left me a bit… spiteful!

Gender and Sex in the Lands Beyond Death

When I first arrived in Bastion after braving the horrors of the Maw, the detail that most surprised me about the beautiful, golden new zone in front of me didn’t have anything to do with the landscape or the quests or even the music. Instead, I was delighted to find that the NPCs I interacted with looked remarkably similar regardless of their sex. At first glance, I could not easily tell if Blizzard had intended a certain model to be male or female. Everyone just looked Kyrian.

As someone who has spent years wishing my female paladin looked a bit more bulky, this design change was absolutely fantastic to see. I really got the sense that the Kyrian were warrior philosophers first and foremost, which was totally in line with the task-oriented afterlife they’d constructed. Xandria, the Paragon of Courage, truly looked built enough to charge into battle at a moment’s notice and hold the front line, unhampered by the somewhat scrawny female character models most other women in WoW have. It was great!

Sexual dimorphism, a term which describes when male and female individuals of a species have drastically different features, is rampant in Warcraft. Compare the models for the male draenei with that for the female draenei and you can pretty clearly see just how differently the two appear. Male draenei are taller, wider, immensely muscled, and tend to have dramatic head crests. Female draenei, by comparison, are shorter, skinnier, far less muscled, and have elongated horns. Sexual dimorphism isn’t necessarily bad, but it can lead to stereotyped depictions of sex. I won’t dig into that discussion much as it is extensive and multifaceted, but you can read some pretty fascinating work here. The short version of this is that World of Warcraft tends to make character models with pretty stark differences between male and female individuals. In general, the men are beefier and bigger whereas the women are skinnier and smaller.

Not so in Shadowlands. Zone after zone, NPC after NPC, I was struck by the ambiguity and design equality between male and female characters. The silhouettes of NPCs of the same type were incredibly close, if not indistinguishable. What was more, the typical breakdown of muscles equaling men and slenderness equaling women also faded away. In Maldraxxus, there were big hulking warrior men and women, as well as narrow bony skeletons with no discernible sexes. Ardenweald even took the female draenei base model and built up a male and female race from it to represent the Sylvari. Revendreth’s NPCs might have been more distinguishable but this was based purely on the clothing worn (which matched the vampiric source material) rather than any huge difference in silhouette.

Thematically, this design decision makes a lot of sense. As the saying goes, death is the great equalizer so it makes sense for sex and gender to be included as one of those facets of the living that ceases to be as important once one passes beyond the veil. The connection between sex and gender is far less intractable. There’s also explicit discussion of this concept through Pelagos’s existence as Warcraft’s first canon trans character. Gender is far less codified, regimented, and important in the Shadowlands, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

As someone who grew up looking for the scant few major female characters in movies, TV shows, and video games, Shadowlands is a huge blessing. Not only are there a wealth of prominent female characters but they also come in huge diversity. For so long, I have felt that Blizzard has pigeon-holed major female lore characters into one of two design molds. Either they’re the slender spell-caster (think Jaina Proudmoore) or they’re the slender rogue-type (think Sylvanas Windrunner). I have absolutely nothing against either of these characters or these design tropes but I’ve always wanted to play games where there were more depicted. Show me my barbarian women crashing through the front lines like tanks! Show me the wise old sage women attuning to the spirits. Heck, show me the cowardly traitor women who betray the cause purely out of fear!

World of Warcraft might be a work of fantasy, but it’s a work of fantasy grounded in the stories that we want to experience. And in that sense, I would love to see a wider, more realistic depiction of the types of women (and for that matter, expressions of gender) that actually exist. This comes both from story characterization for the major lore characters, but it also comes from something as simple as model design for your basic NPC. Shadowlands has achieved that better than any expansion in my mind. Sure, all the Kyrian may look the same, but Kyrian women look far different then Venthyr women, who look far different than Volkai women, and so on and so forth.

For a lot of reasons, Shadowlands is one of the strongest expansions to date. However, one of the most positive changes in my mind is the way Blizzard is handling diversity. I firmly believe that the game can only get better the more is added. Whether that comes in the form of increased character customization or greater heterogeneity of female characters, I am 100% down for the ride. The greater the diversity, the deeper the world!

Maldraxxus: A Masterpiece of Mischief and Monstrosities

I will be the first to admit – I judged a book by its cover. When the new leveling zones for Shadowlands were announced, I was already deciding which ones I liked and which ones I thought were not my taste. Chief among those that I decided I Did Not Like was Maldraxxus. With an emphasis on all things gross and a storyline featuring a Horde character I was only so-so on, I decided before ever stepping foot in Maldraxxus that it just wasn’t the zone for me. I would quest through there because I had to, but Bastion was certainly the zone for me.

I have never been more wrong. After leveling through the storyline on three separate characters, I will openly admit that maybe Maldraxxus is the zone for me. In fact, it might even be one of my favorite leveling zones to date. (Bastion still holds a special place in my heart and I did join the Kyrian Covenant, but the choice was a lot harder than I thought!) Despite the icky exterior, Maldraxxus has a perfect balance of whimsical comedy, genuine tragedy, and sheer badassery to make every single play-through enjoyable.

Off to a Running Start

After questing through Bastion, an experience which could be summed up by the word “stoicism”, I found myself being unceremoniously dumped into a massive arena and told to fight for my life. The juxtaposition between the two zones – one where I spent half of the quests trying to win an audience with the Archon to another where I’m immediately enlisted in the skeleton army – was a perfect introduction to everything that Maldraxxus would come to be. As frantic as the first quests were, I found myself having loose, unrestrained fun. And who doesn’t love being a gladiator champion for a bit?

Immediately after this, the major story beats are laid out – a civil war between the Houses has just kicked off and the good guys are hopelessly outnumbered. I like a good exposition as much as the next person but, given the immediacy of the threat, throwing the players into the conflict right away felt right. The quest design itself conveyed the Maldraxxian notion of “shoot first, ask questions later”.

Personally, I also really appreciated how I could tell exactly how long the storyline was going to be. There were three major breadcrumbs corresponding to the three major sections of the story, which made it really easy to measure my pacing in the zone. I know myself as a gamer, and I tend to get impatient with questing where I don’t really see an end in sight (cough cough Ardenweald). Maldraxxus wasted no time letting me know exactly what we had to do to give the House of the Chosen a fighting chance.

Always Look on the Bright Side

Conceptually, Maldraxxus had the chance to be an incredibly grim zone. We’re talking about a zone where the souls of the dead are forced to fight in a brutal, endless war. With decaying bodies stitched together into unspeakable abominations, chemical warfare, and necromatic magics, Maldraxxus is a horrifying place. And yet, the zone managed to adopt a tone bordering on… positive. Absolutely, war is hell and the quest line and environment don’t hesitate to make that clear, but there’s enough zany interruptions to prevent the darkness from becoming pervasive.

The section of the zone that best illustrates this phenomenon are the quests discovering what happened to the House of Plagues. Right off the bat, you meet Plague Deviser Marileth and his pet slimes (shout out to my man Kevin!). Everything is clearly not all there with Marileth, but that doesn’t stop him from cheerfully requesting your help concocting more slimes and plagues. Throughout the quests you do for the Plague Deviser, you uncover the tragedy of the House of Plagues, including the fate of Margrave Stradama. The bleakness of the story is tempered, however, by Marileth’s zany nature. Even when things are at their worst, life (or unlife) finds a way to continue and even thrive.

Despite being a zone of death, Maldraxxus continually nurtures a storyline of rebirth and reinvention. People are remade, perhaps not as they had envisioned, but they find a way to make the best of it. Once one puts aside the visceral horror, there’s a lot of humor to be found in the state of unlife. So go ahead, give yourself a hand (perhaps not your own), pet a slime cat or two, and enjoy the ride.

The Horrors of War

Not everything is Monty Python songs and whistling in Maldraxxus however – when the zone does dive into the darker aspects of its nature, it pulls no punches. I’ve quested through a lot of tragedies in World of Warcraft but few have hit me as hard as when we find out what happened to the kidnapped Kyrian in the House of Constructs. It was one thing to see the attack on the Temple of Courage within the context of Bastion as a whole – an unsightly blemish yet still one which could be made right. However, seeing the hundreds of blue and gold and silver bodies of Kyrian and stewards in the grimy setting of Maldraxxus really hit home how wrong the attack had been.

My character has seen a lot of stomach-churning things throughout the years. However never have I ever had to claw my way out of a pile of dead bodies. Upon doing so, I was met with another unfortunate survivor who had only his eyes deemed to be valuable before being cast off to die. While exploring through the area, I found another Kyrian who had crawled off somewhere quiet to die, still clutching the letter to someone she loved. These are small details in the grand scheme of the zone but they were powerful. Suddenly, I had an incredibly personal stake in the narrative of the zone, more so than any other point in the campaign storyline. When I was sent to destroy members of the House of Constructs, I did so with zeal.

Maldraxxus beautifully walked the fine line between gloomy and irreverent. The zone hit notes of comedy and tragedy at the perfect moments, giving it a compelling arc that carried me through in one riveting play-through. As someone who approached the zone already decided that I would not like it, Maldraxxus not only convinced me to give the story a chance but also got me to fall in love with the characters introduced. Baroness Draka and Bonesmith Heirmir are an absolute badasses. I would defend Aspirant Thales with my life. Kevin! Maldraxxus is the gold standard of Warcraft questing in my eyes, and I cannot wait to follow the rest of the storyline in the Covenant campaign.

Beginning Anew

*tap tap* Does this thing still work?

Joking aside, hello to the intrepid few that may still be hanging out on my corner of the Internet! It’s been an enormously long period of time since I last posted here and I have to say, I’ve missed writing a great deal. I won’t bore you with the lengthy explanation for my absence — it pretty much boils down to college, work, and other real life responsibilities. However, even in this interim, both my father and I have continued to share our love of the game together. Warcraft remains important in my life, as does writing, and I wanted to take a moment to sit down and type up a post today.

While years may have passed since I regularly posted on this blog, this place still remains an important part of my Warcraft identity. Part of this is absolutely due to the fact that there was never any closure — as my life got busier, posts became more and more infrequent before they eventually ceased. Without a definitive end or hiatus, I’ve always viewed the blog as a project I will or should pick up again once I have the free time. Sort of like the last item on my To Do list, it has lingered in the back of my mind for years.

More fundamentally than this, I’ve come to realize that the blog likely will always be a part of my WoW identity. For one, many of my earliest experiences and friendships in the Warcraft community are cemented within the archives. Even though we may not blog much any more, I still keep in contact with friends that I made half a decade ago because of this site. However, it was actually the words of someone I met at Blizzcon that fully clarified my own feelings for the blog. Upon meeting up with an artist friend I had been mutuals with for years on Twitter, they exclaimed, “oh, you’re the one who writes that blog! Growing Up in Azeroth!”. Keep in mind, even by the time I was meeting this person, I had not been regularly posting for some time. Those words really stuck with me, and even got me to try and get back on the blogging bandwagon for a little while.

I’ve given those words a great deal of thought over the years and realized something — I don’t think I will ever fully turn out the lights here. I’m still enjoying Warcraft and still playing with my father, which means I potentially may always have something to write about. I’ve also realized that setting myself strict goals for posting or content (see some previous year’s Blog Resolutions, haha) aren’t actually the way that I interact with this space. This is my happy place, not my job. I want to reinvent and treat it as such.

This brings me lastly for my reason for posting today. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself buried more and more in work and relationships and productivity. Spaces that I enjoyed for the sheer sake of fun shrink. Of the three things I claimed to love when I started this blog, writing, art, and video games, I only actively participate in one of them. Growing up means a lot of change, responsibility, and maturity for sure, but it doesn’t have to mean putting aside all the things that I love.

My New Year resolution – my personal one, not one associated specifically with the blog as I’ve done in the past – is to embrace my creative outlets more. Write a little more. Paint a little more. Sing a little more. And do these things because I want to, productivity be damned.

So yes, long story short, Growing Up in Azeroth is back! I can’t promise that I’m going to post on any predictable schedule or with any predictable content, but what I can say is I do plan on using this space once again to discuss all things World of Warcraft that I care about. I know the heyday of Warcraft blogging has likely passed (and I’m honestly not sure anyone will read this other than myself!) but I want to get this out there to the world as a promise to myself. It’s time to write for fun once again!