When the Midsummer Fire Festival originally rolled out in 2006, I had no time to try it. At the time, I was actually attempting to raid on my mage, which meant 2-3 mandatory 40-man raids a week, and 1-2 optional 20-man raids (which I needed to attend in order to gear up, as I could not make my guild's scheduled weekend 40-man farm content nights). I looked at the patch notes, determined that I didn't NEED any of the rewards for raiding, and didn't bother to try it out. Last year's festival fell during the six months when I was playing LOTRO instead of WoW after my old raiding guild fell apart. As a result, the revamped 2008 edition was my first experience with the holiday.
In my view, the Festival is the best holiday Blizzard has designed yet, and should be the model for holiday content going forward.
Something For Everyone
One thing that makes this holiday stand out is the quality of rewards. Most holidays reward some temporary buffs or purely cosmetic items. The Fire Festival has these too. In addition, however, the Festival boasts:
- An event boss, Lord Ahune, who has meaningful level 70 drops, including an exclusive enchant and alternate versions of the 25-badge epic heroic cloaks.
- Several daily quests that reward a fair amount of gold at level 70, and about 5% of your next level at lower levels. My Warrior (who started the Festival at 45 and ends it at 51) is parked in town while I wait for his rest exp bar to refill, and I've been able to collect his daily quest exp in about 5-10 minutes of /played time per day.
- Yet more free experience from the fire pole dance (+10% mob kill exp) and from the various bonfire quests (a big part of my warrior's rapid exp gain). Characters who have exploring or questing to do can collect this exp while questing and unlocking flight paths they're going to need anyway, and get free cosmetic rewards for the blossoms.
- Characters who are actually leveling in more remote zones (where their flames will remain lit) also stand to benefit from the substantial combat buffs acquired from the bonfires; my level 14 priest was doing 30 damage with a smite, but a whopping 140 damage from the bonfire proc.
- The [Mantle of the Fire Festival], an otherwise cosmetic reward item that has the distinction of being, as far as I'm aware, the only wearable shoulder armor for characters below level 14.
Caution: Wearing a pair of open flames on your shoulders is not recommended unless your head is somehow immune to fire.
So is the Fire Festival good just because of the loot? I would say its value goes beyond that, though the game can certainly use additional opportunities for non-raid/arena players to get access to gear that breaks the ilvl 115 rare barrier, and Blizzard benefits from anything that encourages players to level alts. The reason why all this loot is there in the first place is to encourage players to participate in - and thus notice - the seasonal content. This makes the seasonal content more valuable to the developers than more conventional content in two ways:
- First off, they can afford to include better rewards and not worry about the possibility of players gaining five levels in four days, because it's only a temporary event.
- Second, and perhaps more importantly, having the holiday have bigger effects (including a real, live in-game plot) on the world makes it feel like an event. Quests in WoW are figuratively a dime a dozen; WoWHead currently lists over 6000 of them in its databases. Adding a couple more on a permanent basis really wouldn't be noticed much. We'd all play the new quests (or not, if the rewards suck), and that would be that. The Fire Festival really feels like something different in the middle of a potentially very long stretch (the late March launch of patch 2.4 through late October or beyond for the launch of Wrath) with not much different. All this, and it does so in a way that isn't entirely useless to players who are working on the high end raid/arena game, but still includes alt-a-holics and solo players who don't always get a shot at new content.
In short, the revised Fire Festival is a relatively rare case where everyone playing wins, and an unusually time-efficient use of the developers' limited development time. I'm not saying there's no place for purely cosmetic holidays (though some folks in my old raiding guild took entirely too much pleasure in inflicting Peedlefeet upon their guildmates ;)), but I hope there are more events like this one in WoW's future.