Much has been made of the experimental design of the Timeless Isle, with more zones in this style promised in Warlords of Draenor at BlizzCon. On the surface, it’s a crowd-pleaser. Players hate daily quests and the Timeless Isle has none. Players of all types love vanity loot and quirky rare spawns and the Timeless Isle has many. Players miss the magic of pre-flying Azeroth and the Timeless Isle bans flying and rewards players for exploration. But is it too much of a good thing? And why do people AFK so much in a zone designed to foster exploration?
The Timeless Isle keeps the illusion of looking full even when many players aren’t around because of the design. You can’t see much of the island at once between the mountains, bridges, and caves. By putting players into naturally small areas, the areas always look kind of full. And there’s so many scripted things going on that the island never looks dead or abandoned. This leads to some initial excitement when discovering the Timeless Isle, but it also prevents players that are goal-oriented or simply short on time from feeling accomplished.
The island’s geography makes it very difficult for players to reach other parts of the island quickly. While this initially forced players to encounter every area of the island and hopefully stumble across some hidden events, users who have gotten some of the easier achievements or objectives out of the way are blocked by the long travel-times required to get around the island. This encourages users idling by a rare NPC’s spawn location, instead of traveling around the island and participating in multiple content types available. If someone calls out that a rare spawn has just popped in General chat, a player will most likely not make it there in time since the NPC gets obliterated with a small health pool.
The geography on its own isn’t necessarily an issue–a complicated small zone requiring players to invest effort in exploration isn’t bad–but when paired with the rare spawn mechanics and low droprates on many cool vanity items, the geography begins to feel like a hindrance if players are encouraged to kill the same rares many times.The Pandaria rares, in contrast, didn’t have this same issue–while there were numerous rares introduced in Mists of Pandaria, flying mounts let players take a quick spin around a zone, higher droprates on vanity items meant players collected their coveted items faster, and no achievements tied to vanity items didn’t trigger OCD the same way Going to Need a Bigger Bag does.
It’s a familiar situation: you’re idling around on the Timeless Isle when an alert in General chat pops up that a rare has spawned–already at 90% health. It’s a cool rare in spite of being a little far away, so you abandon the NPCs you were killing and head over to the rare, only to see it die before you get the tag. You head back to your initial farming spot, only to discover that someone has taken over your spot and all the NPCs are dead. Next time, you think, you’ll just pick the NPC with the coolest loot and afk at that spawn point.
While rare spawns have gotten a positive reception in previous patches, the Timeless Isle rares have a negative impact because it encourages players to wait around for rares to spawn, effectively discouraging active exploration and playing.
The rare spawns on the Timeless Isle take some good ideas from past patches and dial things up a bit too high. It was refreshing to see so many rare spawns at MoP’s launch–they were spaced out well across zones, had quick respawns compared to rares from previous expansions, and had interesting two-tier loot tables with some twink gear/DE fodder and a rarer chance at a cool vanity item. Patch 5.2 brought along further improvements to rare spawns by making the Isle of Thunder’s rare spawns faction-tag, encouraging participation between players not in the same party. When I attended a Blizzard fansite summit this past June, it was brought up that players calling out rare spawns and traveling across the zone together to farm VP and ritual stones was really positive.
The Timeless Isle would appear to build upon the rares on the Isle of Thunder, but there are a few crucial differences. While both zones are no-fly zones, the Isle of Thunder is relatively flat and the one area with rocky cliffs, Ihgaluk Crag, has a powerful buff that increases run speed and jump distance, neutralizes players to hostile mobs, and reduces fall damage. It also has some key pathways that are relatively free of hostile mobs, including a ring road in Diremoor and a central staircase leading to Nalak. Meanwhile, the Timeless Isle has numerous cliffs and bridges, as well as densely-packed mobs that can aggro from the one winding road. Even if a player ran into trouble getting across the Isle of Thunder, the rare spawn would most likely still be alive, as rare NPC health pools scaled up based on the number of players attacking. The Timeless Isle rares have their health pools scale up, but they have lower base health pools than the Isle of Thunder rares which means that some low-health rares that are in high demand immediately fall over as soon as they spawn. Some prime examples include Zesqua, Leafmender, and Guchi. Players can’t travel around the island hunting for rare spawns–even killing Leafmender before traveling to Huolon is a risky choice.
The nature of the rare spawns encourage some unintended behavior among users. The low-health rares also encourage users who are in the area to immediately nuke it, instead of politely waiting a few additional seconds for other players to arrive after it’s been called out in General chat. Another form of bad behavior encouraged by the stampede to kill rare spawns is to trick players into getting PvP flagged so they can be easy targets for Bloody Coins on PvE servers. (This seems to be a lesson already learned based on the descriptions of the World PvP zone in Warlords of Draenor.) And while heavily relying on addons like RareCoordiator to track exact spawn times on rares isn’t hurting other players, having that be the only practical way to handle this segment of content detracts from the free-form exploration model that was intended.
Non-rare elites also occupy a position of increased prominence on the Timeless Isle. They can drop items that are just as coveted as those from rare spawns, instead of being challenging but generic outdoor mobs as they were in previous patches. The downside to this is that they don’t have shared tags like the rare spawns and only a handful of a certain type spawn, so players often fight for tags. Players that take the initiative to group up are rewarded, similar to how grinding Shaohao reputation on the island goes faster in a group, but slow respawn timers make this less appealing than the constantly-spawning Shaohao yaungol. If your party tries to kill a different subset of rares while the first type respawns, they’ll lose their foothold on that spawn location. And encouraging players to afk for 5+ minutes after killing a few weak mobs quickly just encourages longer afks where party members don’t return. Some of the worst offenders are the Jademist Dancers who only spawn right next to the group-up point for the Dread Ship Vazuvius which is always highly populated, and Foreboding Flames in the Cavern of Lost Spirits which has a slow respawn rate and very few spawns.
Farming non-rare elites also means that players are most likely giving up farming other rare spawns. Just like it’s difficult to travel between rare spawn locations quickly, it’s also challenging to abandon a farming area, however slow it is, to travel across the island and risk both missing the rare spawn and giving up your initial farming territory. So essentially, it’s a choice between waiting awhile at a rare spawn’s established location, or killing a handful of rares repeatedly (and possibly being a jerk about sniping tags from nearby players) in an inconvenient location. It’s nice after a long day to brainlessly kill some non elites as part of an in-game project, but that’s lost here.
Most players are farming rare spawns for the Timeless Champion and Going to Need a Bigger Bag achievements, which do not have account-wide completion criteria. While geography and rare spawn behavior encourage players to passively hover by rare spawns instead of actively exploring the zone, the achievement criteria encourages players to afk instead of playing alts, which is even more baffling considering the plethora of BoA alt-friendly gear that can be acquired from the Timeless Isle. Acquiring several rare items on one character only to log over and get a different rare item on an alt is maddening, because it doesn’t count towards a feeling of progress. Going to Need a Bigger Bag not being account-wide feels like a bit of an oversight since the mounts and pets acquired on the Timeless Isle are account-bound.
The Timeless Isle is also the first area to have an achievement for not only killing rare spawns, but looting all their 1% drops. Based on what we’ve heard at Warlords of Draenor, it looks like Blizzard is pushing vanity items to be the new big collecting obsession, with a special collections UI in addition to mounts and battle pets. Certainly putting in an achievement for vanity item collecting is one step to generate interest. Going to Need a Bigger Bag is such an overwhelmingly big achievement though, with the sheer number of required items that span many different vanity categories. The obstacles described above make players feel like they can’t come up with a plan for tackling the achievement, or when they try to, they’ve made little to no measurable progress. As a player that’s exalted with Shaohao, it’s discouraging to still be missing some vanity items from the mobs I repeatedly killed from Neutral to Exalted.
In addition to vanity items, the Timeless Isle offers a creative way for scribes to acquire new recipes. Farming various rares or elites for recipes is an interesting contrast to the repetitive nature of discovering Blacksmithing, Leatherworking, or Tailoring recipes, but some recipes stand out–notably, Glyph of the Skeleton from Rattleskew. While this glyph isn’t part of an achievement at least, tying a glyph to an underwater event with a long respawn time and a 1% droprate is a bit extreme, especially in contrast to the straightforward nature of acquiring other profession recipes.
Time is Money
Luck and time have always been factors with farming vanity items, but this achievement emphasizes it more which is discouraging to players that don’t have limitless time. Projects like The Insane or collecting numerous battle pets from every zone certainly go faster with unlimited time, but players feel accomplished and rewarded when they can research in advance and have the project sped up thanks to organization. It’s really hard to be organized on the Timeless Isle though–having more time to patiently wait by rare spawns wins. This also discourages more casual players, who have perhaps picked up several cool items from exploration, from taking their newfound interest in the zone to the next level. The result is that farming for vanity items feels closer to the spirit of archaeology, with long travel times and bad luck, instead of completing difficult achievements that are viewed as accomplishments.
The sensation of feeling disorganized and powerless extends to players outside the achievement-collecting niche. Waiting around for rare spawns negatively impacts people with limited time–a good example are players who view Lesser Charms as a mandatory part of their weekly activities and simply want to get the Charms over with as soon as possible. On paper, hitting up the Timeless Isle is very efficient for Lesser Charms and an appealing alternative to dailies–simply kill Evermaw, the ship, and the weekly chests. It’s really simple if everything lines up. However, many things can go wrong on the Timeless Isle. Players with limited time that want to grab charms before raid are stuck waiting for the big rare spawns to come up, which isn’t a great feeling if they’re also short on time. Wait around for the rare spawns, realize that they appeared 40 minutes ago, and you’ve spent all that time sitting in place gathering 0 charms. Opening chests only to hear that a useful rare spawn has appeared far away is also a frustrating feeling, as players can’t get to rare spawns quickly. Forcing players to get creative about raid preparation doesn’t work out well.
The Timeless Isle is the first zone in this style, and while there are inevitable growing pains and things to be learned, it does get a lot of things right. The BoA gear has encouraged me to start playing my alts more–ironically, everywhere except the Timeless Isle. The Shaohao reputation grind encouraged players to group up for tangible benefits, and I had a lot of fun meeting more people on the server in these groups. And for players that are completely uninterested in outdoor zones or simply make a beeline for completing objectives as quickly as possible, the layout and flying ban on the Timeless Isle forced players to view the world around them in a new way. But if the Timeless Isle is going to serve as a prototype for some WoD zones and vanity items are going to be emphasized as a status symbol for collectors, it is worth pointing out that the same Timeless Isle mechanisms initially drawing players in later serve as roadblocks for players wanting to devote more to the game. Choosing to afk by a rare spawn for an hour instead of actively playing your character goes against the goals of an exploration-based zone.