Wednesday, June 25, 2008

World of Warcraft - Midsummer Fire Festival

Having repeatedly failed to work up the motivation to acquire the willowisp pet at previous Midsummer events, I was determined to hit the ground running this year – especially since I was looking forward to solo’ing some level 50-60 instances with my level 70 toons.

But I was in for a surprise when I went and checked the wowwiki event guide; the event designers were one step ahead of me and re-arranged this year’s event to both make the Spirit of Summer available to (potentially) everyone BUT with the condition that you still have to work for it – regardless of your level.

Which was kind of irksome (What? No free ride for bored level 70’s?), until I noticed they had added a new “pet” as an alternative – a stationary summonable brazier that emits a dancing female draenei, for all those who didn’t want to be seen going around with a glowing ball.

For myself, I determined to get both; the Spirit of Summer would be kind of neat for my night elf hunter, whose look and pets were intended to suggest a slightly ghostly nature, and the Brazier would be just the thing for my rude, crude orc hunter.

After completing some brief and forgettable intro quests that netted me maybe 20-30 of the 350 burning blossoms needed to purchase my Spirit of Summer aka Captured Flame, it boiled down to this –

1) The maypole now gives you a +exp buff, and has a pretty cool spinning weapon animation to try and make it user friendly to people who otherwise would not want to be seen dancing around a pole…

2) 3 dailies that net you 20 blossoms total, and

3) A heckuva lot of traveling around the game world, clicking on friendly bonfires for 5 blossoms and enemy ones for 10 (non-repeatable)

4) Sneaking into enemy capitals and shutting down their fires (non-repeatable)

5) A special boss called Ahune that can be summoned in the Underbog a la the Headless Horseman from the Halloween event (can be summoned once per day per player)

As far as the dailies go. The torch tossing is essentially a game of whackamole that is fairly easy once you hotkey your torch. Even if you fail, you can restart instantly, so it’s not too bad. This quest is worth 5 blossoms.

The torch catching event is quite a bit harder IMO; the trick is to turn up your spell detail setting to max so you can see the shadow under your torch, and then follow it around (actually you need to stay slightly ahead of it but that’s the gist) until you’ve racked up 10 catches. This also gets you 5 blossoms.

This one took a lot more time to get the hang of, and even once I got so that I could complete it reasonably reliably, it was still a pain and I decided ultimately to abandon it; maybe if they’d suppressed the torches of other players from your screen (the way they hide the fishing lines of other players) to reduce torch clutter, or given the maypole a heal effect to reduce downtime resulting from missed catches (a missed catch results in an explosion that eats a chunk of your hp), or even just raised the blossom reward, but as it stands this was just too much bother. Too bad, because it was one of the cooler looking events…

Then there is the “Striking Back” daily, which as far as I can see entails summoning and killing a very easy non-elite mob – being level 70 both of my hunters were tasked with killing a level 63 rock giant in Hellfire Peninsula, but lower level characters presumably are given correspondingly lower level targets somewhere else (?). This ridiculously easy task gets you 10 blossoms if you feel like schlepping it out to Hellfire Peninsula. I did it once and then decided to skip it – just too frickin’ boring to justify the trip.

Boredom was not wholly avoidable however – if you don’t plan on limiting yourself to the miniscule 20 blossoms a day from the above quests, you need to travel around the world “honoring” friendly bonfires and “desecrating” enemy ones, both in Outlands and back on Azeroth; honoring the friendly bonfires is essentially the same as visiting the elders during the Chinese New Year event, and each one gives you 5 blossoms if you can survive the monotony.

Desecrating enemy bonfires is a bit more interesting and goes a long way toward breaking up the tedium of doing the "honoring" quests (this is where the bulk of my blossoms came from); you shut down the enemy fire, located near an enemy town, receive 10 blossoms, and become pvp flagged. In short, if you are willing to deal with a pvp flag, you can triple your blossoms earnings.

Even for someone like myself, who only plays on pve servers and assiduously avoids all pvp, this was too much to pass up, and so I did it… on “wimpy” mode – I switched out most of my normal gear for a variety of non-combat pieces gleaned from previous world events, to avoid armor repairs should I get one shotted by an actual pvp player, stayed on aspect of the beast to give the slip to enemy hunters, and used my humanoid tracking to try and avoid unwanted company.

This all proved to be paranoid overkill; I suspect that either not many pvp’ers have noticed all the new targets running around their zones this early in the event, or else we just aren’t worth their time. Either way, I managed to shut off a ton of enemy bonfires without attracting barely any notice (it was surprisingly easy to do in Outlands with my night elf, who had a netherdrake)…

There was one humorous exception; when I was desecrating the Alliance bonfire outside Southshore, a pair of level 40s decided to take a shot at my naked orc; it was kind of funny to watch him quietly beating them to death with his bare hands, while their spells bounced off harmlessly… after that I left my weapons equipped in case any other low level morons decided to get friendly, but no such luck.

Just as well though – I don’t need to be getting a swelled head from joke encounters like that. Ganking pugnacious lowbies might be satisfying until you hang around a little too long and run into their level 70 alt…

Anyway, over the course of a few days I managed to earn enough blossoms to accomplish both objectives, and am now taking a breather. As usual when working my ass off for something with no actual combat relevance, achieving my end goal has resulted in conflicted feelings – on the one hand, I feel like “Hells YEAH! The grind is over and I got the blue whatsit! Woohoo!”, but on the other hand I’m like “Sooo… how many hours did I just spend on getting something that does nothing to improve my game beyond looking cool…?”. Well, so it goes I guess.

Bonus tips: two seemingly useless blossom rewards, the Handful of Summer Blossoms, and the Fiery Festival Brew, are actually nice little tools for sassing enemy players you run across while traveling between bonfires; feel like getting fresh with a passing gnome girl? Sprinkle a cloud of flowers over her and watch her stand there nonplused. Got /mooned and /spit on again by a dwarf with a name like "Ipwnulawlzorz"? Belch a cloud of stanky napalm all over him and see if he can top that. At just 2 blossoms for a stack of 5, these will go along way toward enlivening your bonfire trips and making it a more memorable experience.

I am planning on trying Ahune this coming weekend with my night elf, should be interesting. Otherwise I’ve thought about trying the capital bonfires quests, but I’m just not sure it’s worth it; even for me, I think the frivolity level may be too high – I’m willing to put up with a lot for the sake of getting a different looking mount or non-combat pet, but I tend to draw the line at stuff that occupies an actual weapon or armor slot, like the Midsummer crown. I know that no one actually wears these things into instances and such, but frankly I'm too lazy to go to that much effort for something that will spend 99% of its time in the bank, so the crown is probably out for me.

On the whole I felt this year's version of the Midsummer event was an improvement over last year but still not as good as events like Winterfest, Brewfest or the Halloween event - the bonfires while interesting are not fantastically imaginative and there is no real overarching backdrop to it (and no, the twilight cult events are just too forgettable/un-integrated to count as a backdrop); in short the Midsummer Fire Festival is reasonably entertaining but just got no soul, dig? Unlike the more successful events this one isn't really tied back to anything much in the real world. When you do Winterfest, it's overlaid by the pleasant sense that Christmas is approaching (if in a PC, gamer-friendly format); when you do the Halloween event, you're feeling some small nostalgia for childhood recollections of spooky stories and telephone poles strung with toilet paper; even the Chinese New Year event while not terribly familiar to most (Western) cultures, still is (overall) fairly interesting and has a coherent feel to it even if your only exposure to the Chinese culture is restricted to Kung Fu flicks... but with Midsummer Fire Festival, it just feels more generic.

Next year I'm hoping they'll re-evaluate this event and tie it into actual summertime activities people can relate to (no the maypole doesn't count - even for a Wicca practitioner, there should be a lot more than just that one thing); one idea would be to integrate beach events - you could have horde/alliance "commoners" appearing on beach areas near oceans and lakes, including quest givers and various other special events, where the idea is to give people incentives to hang around and participate in scheduled events.

For example:

1) Muscle beach. /flex or /flirt at admiring NPC beachgoers and receive small buffs, like the Winterfest mistletoe event

2) Surfing. Receive a daily timed surfboard and swim out to “turbulent water” spots; these pop you up on top of your board and let you move at high speed for a short distance before you sink back down – each time a turbulent water node is touched, it disappears and a new one appears nearby, allow you to zip from one to the next without sinking, if you’re fast enough (and which will look sort of like actual surfing). Hitting enough of these within the time frame completes the quest.

3) Meanies. Every hour or so, a designated gang of gate crashers shows up and tries to ruin everyone’s fun – it could be murlocs, pirates, naga etc all bent on putting out local bonfires. These bonfires are only targetable by npcs during the scheduled event (i.e. opposing faction cannot interfere, although they can score points the rest of the time by doing it). If players prevent them from extinguishing all of the bonfires, a mini-boss emerges from the water and wreaks havoc.

4) Bullies. You can go to an enemy faction beach spot, and click on scattered lumps of sand to kick it at NPC beachgoers or enemy players – hitting an enemy NPC beachgoer sends the target running away and performing the /cry emote – both will earn you some points, apply a small buff to yourself and a small debuff to the target, and flag you for /pvp; obviously you get more for hitting an enemy player.

5) Hungry crowd. Another daily event involves manning the grills and producing enough burgers and dogs to feed a large demanding crowd of NPCs . Kind of like the bandage quest; as nearby patrons get hungrier they start to grow and turn red, so as the food items finish cooking you throw them at the hungriest to make them go away; any that stay unfed for too long begin eating the other patrons.

6) Fishing. You fish for special catches, buy special bait with earned event points, which lets you get cooler catches etc all the way up to some kind of noncombat pet. You also may be able to reel in a giant murloc that attacks everyone in sight.

For now though I'm mostly just looking forward to the next Brewfest – looks like there may now be an easier way of getting a Kodo than doing pvp or hitting exalted with Thunderbluff…

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