Warcraft: Shadowlands UI and add-ons

A new expansion means it’s time to reset the UI back to zero and start again. I’m largely writing this to remind myself what I did, and for anyone else interested in the basics of rebuilding a UI.

There are several sections, so skip to the one that you’re interested in:

  • UI nuke: resetting a UI back to the very basics
  • ElvUI: the (almost) no-work total UI overhaul
  • Custom ElvUI profiles: borrowing someone else’s setup to make ElvUI better
  • WeakAuras: adding some zing to the UI, also using other players’ setups
  • Bonus add-ons: useful extras

UI nuke

Only bother with this bit if you have an existing custom UI that you want to reset it completely. Otherwise skip to the ElvUI section.

I was surprised to find that the ‘reset’ was not as easy as expected. The official instructions are to delete (or rename if you’re worried) the \wtf, \cache, and \interface folders in the Warcraft _retail_ directory.

The next time you logon, all those folders are recreated with default settings – or so I thought. While all the addons were gone, a bunch of UI stuff is still saved, most noticeably your action bar and chat settings. They must be cached by Blizzard on the server as a backup, similar to the way macros are saved. You can just leave this as if of course, but I wanted to totally nuke everything.

There is an ingame /resetchat command to reset the chat but even that seemed to maintain some things like font size. In the end I had to delete the contents of the config-cache.wtf and chat-cache.txt files for each character subfolder in the /wtf directory. I also deleted the contents of the base config-cache.wtf file in my account directory. I couldn’t work out how to reset the action bars, so they’d have to be cleared manually.

Doing all that is total overkill, but once done the UI seemed to be really back to bare metal – including things like auto-loot and tutorial tips. The default UI is perfectly serviceable now, but there are plenty of things that need improving – mainly the nameplates, unit-frames, and bags.

Here’s a brand new character with the full default UI.

Still fond of the silver dragon bookends

Time to start adding things back!

ElvUI

ElvUI is kind of cheat-mode UI building. It replaces just about everything, and does an amazing job at setting up a new default that is definitely an improvement on the base. In fact you could just install ElvUI and be done, but I do find it still needs some additional tweaks and additions.

When you first logon after adding ElvUI it will ask a bunch of questions. Most are fairly obvious, and all can be changed after the fact, so don’t worry too much and just click what you think sounds good.

The other option is to skip the config entirely and instead load a custom profile that is already configured – see below for details on how to do that. I started with modifying the default ElvUI, but ended up loading a preconfigured setup as it saves a whole lot of manual tweaking if you can find one that suits.

Here’s what the base ElvUI looks like after the initial setup.

Nice and clean

Once it’s installed there are a billion things you can change and configure, which can be overwhelming.

The first thing to do is to move the UnitFrames. That’s the frame that shows your health, and your target’s health. I find they need to be front and centre to be effective, otherwise your eyes are too busy darting all over the screen to see vital information like “I’m about to die”. To my eyes the default setup puts them a bit too low for instant access.

In ElvUI, clicking the Toggle Anchors button will bring up a screen where you can move any of the available frames on the screen. It’s a little scary, but there’s a reset mode (ctrl-rightclick on a frame) to get out of trouble.

Once you move the basic unitframes you start to have to move others too – like castbars, XP bars, etc. Move them around until you have something you like.

I also like to make the UI clean by fading the unused frames when out of combat: UnitFrames -> Individual Units -> Players -> Fader -> Enable -> Min Alpha 0.

Similarly with Action Bars, I want them to appear when I target something – otherwise you need to actually start combat before they will appear. Which is bad for those of us who haven’t memorised which skills are on which action bars. Adding this code to each action bar will do exactly that: ActionBars -> Player Bars -> Bar x -> Visibility State

[@target, noexists][petbattle] hide; show

Customising ElvUI is a deep rabbit hole, but it’s fun once you learn how it all works. There is an easier way though…

Custom ElvUI profiles

Instead of setting up your own ElvUI, another option is to download a custom profile that someone has uploaded. If ElvUI is cheat-mode, nabbing someone else’s profile is cheat-mode cheat-mode. Perfect!

On the ElvUI site there are several custom modifications that are constantly being updated and which each take different approaches. BenikUI looks particularly nice, if you like a simple/spartan UI.

The site with the most custom user-created profiles is wago.io. I’d suggest sorting by Stars to find the most supported or up-to-date UI setups, as there are a lot of profiles uploaded just to help individuals keep track of their personal setups. Ideally you want one that is being updated and fixed based on changes to the game.

I found one that I really like by LostPet. They update it regularly, and it has a really useable and simple feel. Unfortunately they have closed off comments (no doubt due to the time it takes to keep on top of feedback), but if you follow the fairly simple documented steps it turns out nicely.

Very nice indeed

There are a bunch of extra add-ons required to make the UI look like the LostPet videos, but they’re all pretty simple to install, after which you copy and apply the LostPet profiles. The required ones are Details and Plater, plus the ElvUI mods AddonSkins, Skullflower Textures, and Shadow & Light. Everything else listed on the UI page is optional.

LostPet does have a penchant for hiding most action bars, which is ok if you’re right on top of your keybinds and abilities, but I tend to unhide them just for my own sanity and because different characters have different binds.

At first I tried just using LostPet’s UI as is, but I found I missed having flashes and animation on the abilities when they were off cool-down or proccing. To get that, WeakAuras was required!

WeakAuras

Setting up auras is kind of complicated, but there are a huge number of preconfigured auras you can use to avoid the complexity. There are some very nice WeakAuras that work across classes, which saves a lot of time if you have an army of alts (/wave).

One good example of this is the suite of auras created by Luxthos. He has a collection for each class (here’s the Paladin for example), and updates them regularly based on feedback from his large Twitch following. This is excellent as players can find bugs or suggest improvements, so everyone benefits from the hive-mind thanks to Luxthos’s receptive approach.

The Luxthos auras will create midscreen action bars that have all the critical abilities and cooldowns ready to go. It’s not intended to do things like telling you when to press what, but once you learn your rotation having everything in the middle of the screen with timers and highlight auras is a huge benefit.

Over time I’ll start hiding most of those lower and left (tiny) bars

The only difficult thing with a set of canned auras is if you want to make them mimic your keybind setup. Luxthos’s compilations set out abilities and cooldowns to match his preference, which is unlikely to be the same as your own. For example I have a row of mostly offensive skills on 1-6, and another or mostly defensive on F1-F6, where his only show a single row of mixed abilities.

The auras by default don’t match my rotation and key preferences, so I needed to customise the setup, which means slogging around in the config to move the abilities to where you expect them. This is mainly just moving the button order around by swapping X Offset values in the Position Settings for the abilities I wanted to change.

Because he only has 6 main buttons, I decided to keep my 12 button actionbar layout visible until I have memorised the rotation and keybinds better. I also added custom text to some abilities on the WA icons which display the key bind. This all makes the screen a bit messy but it’s worth it for more predictable ability use.

All of the things!

I should really learn how to make my own overlay for my 2×6 action bar of abilities. One day!

Bonus addons

Adibags is my favourite Bag manager. It does a great job of automatically sorting items into relevant categories (armour, weapons, tradeskills, etc), without needing too much thought. Just disable the ElvUI bags to make Adibags take over.

Pawn: Item comparison tool. I’m pretty sure Pawn is overkill for me, but I wanted something that updates the gear tooltip when you hover to tell you how good or bad an upgrade a newly acquired piece of gear is. Shift-hover works in the default UI, but Pawn adds a whole lot of extra info based on the Ask Mr. Robot stat weightings.

HandyNotes: Super handy (ahem) add-on that allows custom notes on the maps. Enabled by downloading overlays for the zone you’re exploring, such as Legion Treasures or Timeless Isle Chests. If I could find a good guide or forum as to how this add-on works, I’d make one to display rares in Vanilla zones.

SilverDragon: Speaking of rares, if you like tracking them SilverDragon is a nice fun option to help find them when you’re not looking. Especially in vanilla zones where they were actually rare as compared to Legion et al where rares were more like commons!

Warcraft: Finding Jenafur

Following our Hivemind success, this week we decided to go catch the new secret hotness, Jenafur.

She’s a battle pet that was hidden in the game in September 2019, and not found until the puzzle of her whereabouts was finally solved in September 2020. Interestingly the final solution was discovered by someone who doesn’t play Warcraft but just enjoys puzzle-solving. Their account of the solve is as mind-bending as the Hivemind, if not more so – involving printed sheet music, 2d grids, musical staves, prior theories, and logic.

It’s a much shorter secret than the Hivemind, taking only an hour or so once you know what you’re doing. A quick visit to Amara Lunastar, an NPC in Ashenvale named after a Make-A-Wish recipient, leads you to Legion Karazhan (not the raid) – a path discovered via some amazing deduction that aligned random cat kibble to the world map of Eastern Kingdoms.

Inside Karazhan are some food items that have to be collected and placed in a certain order inside the Opera Hall, all within 5 minutes. Using a smart suggestion from Dragonray at Azerothian Life, we first we marked the Opera Hall locations. Then we posted a player near each item of food, started the timer, and our rogue sprinted around collecting the food.

We failed on our first attempt as I didn’t realise you had to place the food in a certain order. Luckily the food respawned so we didn’t have to do a dungeon reset, and on the second attempt Jenafur appeared on cue, accompanied by the melody from the sheet music that had led to the solve.

I still don’t really understand how it was solved, but the result is a cute new companion.

Or maybe not so cute, once you put on your pair of Overly Sensitive Void Spectacles!

Warcraft: The Hivemind

Inspired by Telwyn’s post at GamingSF, our Horde group decided to try and acquire the mysterious Hivemind mount. This is the only five-person mount in the game, and was hidden for a long time before the savants in the Warcraft Secret Finding Discord discovered how to unlock it.

Reading through the Wowhead Guide, it’s incredible it was ever solved – some of the puzzles combine a deep knowledge of game lore, out of game meta info found in patch notes, and a crazy commitment to trial and error. Which makes the name of the mount entirely appropriate – it took a Hivemind to solve, and it takes five people working in a Hivemind to obtain.

Even with the extensive notes, steps, and add-ons, it’s a challenge. But we all agreed it was one of the most entertaining experiences we’d had in the game, and very different to most content.

The first step is to obtain four monocles, of different colours, from various sources in the game. To do that you need to don a usually worthless Talisman of True Treasure Tracking, which reveals various hidden items and NPCs in the world as you continue on the quests.

Spoiler alert

The Blue Monocle is gained by finding lore letters scattered around Azeroth. Most are simple travel quests, but one requires you to visit OG Karazhan which opened the memory floodgates for many in our group. We even had to solve Chess, which proved a challenge due to those same floodgates being pretty rusty.

As we set about collecting the Blue Monocle we realised just how complicated this must have been to solve. For example, the letter that leads to Karazhan has this cryptic message:

Of all of Gai’s cures for Nature, the most liberating is Death.

The secret-finders determined that if you took the words with capital letters (Of, Gai, Nature, Death), an anagram could be made which solves to:

Seat of the Guardian

The most well-known Guardian in WoW is Medivh, the Last Guardian. As such, the third letter is located in Karazhan, by Medivh’s Chambers, located after the Chess Event.

Multiply this by seven letters and the magnitude of solving the full puzzle starts to become clear. Thankfully we just need to follow the guides to collect the first reward.

Thankfully not hidden in The Oculus

Next we thought we’d do an easier one and collect the Red Monocle. How wrong we were.

The monocle is obtained from Sir Finley Mrrgglton. He makes what seems like a simple request for a few undersea goods, which must be obtained from various fish vendors that float around Vashj’ir. As we soon discovered, the trouble is a) the fish are spread far apart; b) they’re swimming so move about; and c) there is an rapidly decreasing time limit on the items once they’re sold to you.

This was by far the most stressful monocle to obtain, as the combination of undersea travel and time pressure meant we lost one player after another as the timers expired, until I was the only one still in play – and only just, having beat a timer by seconds.

This was where the five-person hivemind started to shine though, as we devised an on-the-fly strategy to send the out-of-the-race party members to hover over the vendors so that I just had to look at the map and head toward the relevant character. Even that proved tricky when I called out the wrong co-ords for a vendor, and almost messed up the entire thing on a fish that wouldn’t stop long enough for me to complete the trade. But by some miracle we got it done.

Stop hamming for the camera, Sir Finley

The Green Monocle was a doddle in comparison, merely requiring a visit to Skyreach to type in a simple pattern. So simple I forgot to take a screenshot.

I’d read the Yellow Monocle was the killer, and when first approached it seemed impossible. It’s a gem-solve puzzle, where you need to turn an entire room of gems to a single colour using three different rotational crystals.

Nope

I would never have been able to solve it, and had to use the non-obvious Hivemind HoO Puzzle Helper add-on to work it out (which took me 45 minutes to key in and pray it would work), but several of our party figured out how it worked once we got half way across the room. I was suitably impressed.

Yep

At this point we had all four monocles, and at least one on four different characters, so could move on.

The next stage took us to Suramar, where we needed to get past a barrier that was blocked by coloured beams that matched the monocle colours.

Those colours are familiar…

To do this, four players need to venture out and find named Withered, whose eyes glowed with a matching colour. This was another example of the complexity of the solution. To work this out, players had decipher codes inscribed on each monocle by using alphabet logic-tricks, which revealed the phrase ‘Wild Withered’. They then needed to pore over the Legion patch-notes to discover four named Withered that were added in patch 8.1, then find them scattered in Suramar.

Four of us ventured out to the Withered, while the fifth stood in front of the beams. We had to all attack and ‘kill’ our target at the same time, which forced them to cast a Draw Energy spell that drained the barrier allowing our fifth player to step through.

Fishy eyes

Once inside, the insanity of the solution went to the next level. He had to click on a lost cat toy that was inside the room, and when he did, he was teleported back out of the room and took a small amount of random damage. That damage total – 8140 for us – then become a five digit code (08140) that we needed to use to pat five named cats in the Court of Stars dungeon. How on earth anyone worked out that link – the damage taken mapping to pats on some kittens – is beyond our ken.

Nice kitties

We dutifully patted our kittens, and were rewarded with a transport to the penultimate stage: the dreaded jumping puzzle.

We had assumed this would be where we failed, as 91 co-ordinated jumps awaited a group not known for our mad mouse & keyboard skills. But we were thrilled to find out the ‘jumps’ were actually just clicks, like jumping on a mount. Hallelujah! So we just needed to follow the sequence laid out in the guide and we were through.

Once again our smarter party members had solved this by half way across, though the step where someone had to leap to their death was surely insoluble except by trial and error.

87 of 91

Which led us to the final challenge, which was a variation on the fox-chicken-farmer river crossing puzzle. It flummoxed us for a while, but our Professor eventually sorted it out and we made it across. I was the poison, whilst our newest recruit was the farmer, which was a happy confluence.

So close

And with that we were done. We entered the room with the Hivemind, which in a nice final touch required all five players to stand in summoning circles to unlock.

Naturally we all then returned to Orgrimmar to flounce around showing off our new mounts.

And best of all, we discovered a secret of our own! Once we all mounted a single Hivemind, our host worked out he could eject us…Special Air Horde!

Thanks to the Secrets Discord for making the solution available to all, and solving it in the first place. And kudos to Blizzard for creating five-person content of such a different flavour.

Consoling: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us

For the last few weeks I’ve been catching up on some relatively ancient and incomplete console games from the pile: Uncharted 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us. The latter two I’d got started in but never finished, while UC3 was a fresh start.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Uncharted 3 continues the tradition started in the first two games: high-adrenaline on-rails escapist entertainment, and likely the closest we’ll come to an Indiana Jones game.

Drake looks out over a desert city

This chapter takes things slightly deeper by putting you in the sandshoes of the young Nathan Drake, a boy starting out on the path of treasure hunting and adventure seeking. We find out how he meets and bonds with his long-time mentor Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan via early adventures in relic thievery and (predictably) shooting guns at people.

Drake and Sully look over a sand covered city

As with the other games in the series, the amount of people you kill on your journey seeking one of Francis Drake’s supernatural discoveries is ludicrous, but it’s also very cartoony and becomes background noise before too long. It rarely feels like a fight is simply there to extend the game, in contrast to Tomb Raider.

An abandoned shipyard with huge ghost ships

There are a lot of great set pieces, from a ridiculous parachute-free skydive off a crashing aeroplane to a high speed chase on horseback – this game’s version of the great train sequence from Chapter 2. The horse animation is very funny compared to the majesty of RDR – they kind of skate over the sand.

Drake stands in front of a crashed aircraft

There’s a moment in the game where I thought that the developers had made a brave character choice, before finding it quickly walked back, which was disappointing. But then I remembered what kind of game this is and forgave it: just have fun and don’t worry about the plot or emotional weight. Perhaps the fourth chapter will deliver on that front – it’s titled A Thief’s End which sound somewhat ominous, though it probably means he just chooses the straight and narrow, right?

Drake staggers through an empty desert

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Way back in 2013, I purchased an Xbox One at launch solely to be able to play Tomb Raider, having enjoyed the last edition and Rise being a platform exclusive for a while. Of course I then didn’t play it until the exclusive window was over!

Lara looks over a horizontal tomb

It starts well enough, with an epic climb through a brilliantly animated snowstorm where you feel Lara’s cold viscerally. And the early adventuring is just that: adventuring. Finding abandoned tombs, solving fun puzzles, and seeing some amazing sights.

Lara in a snowstorm

Slowly but surely the game starts to introduce enemies into the picture. And before long that becomes the main thrust of the game: shoot (or hack to pieces with your ice pick) a gazillion bad guys. It becomes pretty tiresome, not helped by the fact that the death animation when you die (which was often for me!) is particularly gruesome. The enemies attack your fallen body with enthusiastic gusto, which is very unpleasant to watch and doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than shock-value.

Lara looks up at a golden underground chapel

I eventually abandoned the game altogether when a battle scene became basically Call of Duty, with Lara and some allies defending a village against wave after wave of gun-toting foes backed up by a military helicopter. That fight exhausted me and seemed so far removed from what I imagine the Tomb Raider series to be about. Lara never questions her killing sprees, nor does the game try to justify them. Which is odd given the semi-serious tone the game takes.

Lara looks out at snow capped mountains

I came back to TR after finishing Uncharted, to try and finish it off (looking at the screenshots it was almost 2 years after my first failed attempt!). This time I knew what to expect, and having just played UC made the whole shooter side of the game seem more normal. The gun battles were still annoyingly frequent, but I upgraded enough skills to be able to sneak through most areas, and silently dispatch enemies if not. Unlocking new abilities also made the environments more fun to traverse, swinging huge distances and launching into mid-air to attach to an icy wall with a lunging pick.

A ship frozen vertically in an ice wall

TR is far more serious than UC but if you can settle into the rhythm of it there’s fun to be had. There are some bad and obvious artificial time-extenders (traversing from one side of the map and back, or rescuing a companion that disappeared and returned for no logical reason), and the story is nonsensical, but it’s slightly less on rails and the environments can be lovely to explore. I don’t think I’d play the next one though (Shadow of the Tomb Raider), which from reviews sounds like it’s even more violent and ‘fighty’.

It feels like TR needs yet another reboot, to rediscover the joy of exploration and movement instead of relying on the crutch of combat.

Lara climbing Mt Rushmore-like stone faces

The Last of Us

Talking about violence.

Very early on The Last of Us introduces you to the mechanics of killing (the main skill in the game), as the game teaches you how to sneak up on and throttle some ‘evil’ humans. The strangle and choke animation is long and drawn out, and made me feel bad about the whole event. Maybe that was the idea? But then the game proceeds to demand you kill pretty much everything that moves, human, zombie, or otherwise. With many, many drawn out throttling sequences if you play stealthily as I tried to.

I found myself despising playing this game for quite a while. I’m not a fan of survival horror, and would never normally play this kind of game. But TLoU has had so many stellar reviews, particularly based on the story. So I knuckled down and tried it.

Joel and Ellie in a church

Like TR, I stopped playing multiple times and for long stretches, largely due to being overwhelmed by the horror and graphic deaths I kept experiencing. Watching your character have his jaw ripped from his face, or his face ripped off, or any number of other horrendous deaths is not terribly entertaining. And I was genuinely scared of the zombies once they got close – I abandoned the controller many times with fear and loathing. The sounds the various zombie species make is super unsettling too – very well designed to make you uncomfortable pretty much constantly.

I found the game very hard, and was dying often to begin with, despite setting it to easy mode and having all the possible helpers on. I’m not sure why it was so difficult, some kind of mental block to the setting and viciousness. Lead character Joel is a very hardened soul, with only slivers of compassion occasionally peeking through. So too Ellie, his young ward, who is very old for her age, due to the brutality of the world in which they live. I found it hard to imagine wanting to survive in that world when it was so relentlessly depressing and without hope, which also made it hard to put myself in Joel’s shoes.

I also couldn’t help imagining the plight of the zombies, contemplating what it must be like to be a human consciousness trapped inside those mutated shells, and hating it. I was pleased that the game asked that question (are there people inside these creatures), albeit briefly and quickly dismissed. I’m not sure what canon zombie lore says about this, but just the thought that it might be possible was disturbing enough.

Joel on horseback riding through a forest

Along with the zombie hordes, you also have to deal with a lot of of unpleasant humanity. Some of the human villains verge on the absurd (let’s make them cannibals and paedophiles and religious nutters) and lacking believable motivation, which makes their deaths seem excusable at the cost of plausibility. Even then it felt slightly wrong to be so trigger happy with the few remaining humans – surely they weren’t all beyond redemption.

All of which makes it sound like this is a bad game – but it’s not. As everyone has said, the story is very strong and the atmosphere and world are brilliant. It’s not exactly open world, but the zones are so thoroughly imagined and varied that it almost feels like it is. I was constantly surprised at how much small detail was put into every room, sewer, and building. The character animation – particularly facial – is beautiful too. You feel like you know precisely what Joel and Ellie are going through just from their (often exhausted) expressions.

Joel and Ellie silhouetted in moonlight

The tone is deadly, deathly serious, with very little room for relief. Which makes the rare glimpses of hope or beauty all the more powerful and compelling. One moment in particular toward the conclusion is one of the great reveals in gaming – I won’t spoil it here other than to say that it is almost prophetic in the way it echoes the cautious emergence of wildlife during the Covid-19 event.

And the story is emotionally effective and often surprises. There are clunks and a few fake delays (I’m obviously not a fan of time wasters, which is funny given Warcraft is basically a series of time wasters!) but the slow development of the bond between Joel and Ellie is extremely well told. It’s basically a movie, in that you don’t get any choice in what’s happening, but there’s a reason movies are still a great storytelling medium.

Joel and Ellie in front of a dam

The conclusion of this game is pretty much perfect, and even though there is more story that could be told I’m pretty sure I’ll avoid the sequel. As with TR, reports that the new game ups the ante on the violence and relentless killing makes me think it’s not for me. I’m begrudgingly glad I played this original though.


During the play-throughs I found the emerging theme of these three games for me was how they depicted violence. Each one upped-the-ante, from the arcadey Uncharted, to the serious-face but fantastical Tomb Raider, to the ultra-violent ultra-realistic The Last of Us.

I found it harder and harder to keep up with the sheer volume of murder required. I think this was particularly true of UC and TR, where the heroes don’t ever stop and wonder if maybe 1000 deaths is too high a price for a piece of old treasure. In TLoU it’s slightly more acceptable – you’re killing monstrosities with no redeeming features – but because the game is so glum and real it becomes a psychological slog to keep your head above the claustrophobic horror. And you still have to kill plenty of humans, who are just as set on surviving as you are.

TLoU is perhaps showing the player just how horrible it is, rather than just shoving it into games ostensibly about adventure and discovery. Which doesn’t make it any more pleasant to play, but it does at least provide some context.

The debate about the place of violence in games will likely never end, and it was an interesting to experience different implementations of it in a sequence like this. Despite actively disliking playing TLoU for the first half, it was probably the most honest about the violence. The other two not so much, with TR in particular being guilty of misjudging the line between serious and silly.

I’m tempted to try Destiny 2 again next – getting back to the mindless and repetitive style of grind-gaming in a gorgeous sci-fi universe. Albeit with heavily fetished guns. There’s no escaping it!

Warcraft: Catching Up

Our Alliance crew finally finished off the BC dungeons recently. The general consensus was that they are fair-to-middling, a few good ones (The Hellfire Citadel sequence, Magister’s Terrace), a few bad (the entire Tempest Keep run), and a bunch in the middle.

Most suffered from having not a lot of story thread, certainly when compared to what is to come in WotLK. Even the Caverns of Times dungeons, which I remember enjoying at the time, seemed a bit nothing – not helped by our characters not having been ‘in’ the BC story for some time.

Formation flying on Horde Wind Riders

Standing over a downed dragon boss

Magister’s Terrace was a good capstone, with plenty of tricky pulls, a Sunwell Plateau raid teaser mid-way, and much hilarity with Kael’thas Sunstrider’s gravity games. He even dropped the awesome Phoenix Hatchling for everyone who didn’t have one. Blizzard have either made it a 100% drop, or we were crazy lucky – I ran this dungeon many-a-time to get the Hatchling to drop back in the day.

Five flaming hatchlings with characters
Everyone’s a winner

Like the rest of the alt-fans, I took advantage of the 100% Winds of Wisdom experience buff to level a new character. I’d rolled up several Highmountain Tauren with the aim of earning their heritage armour, and the buff finally got me to commit. I chose a Hunter to be in easy and quick mode, and went to work.

The levelling was fun – I plopped on heirlooms and just queued for dungeons. Because of the buff, the queues popped pretty instantly all the way until Legion where things slowed down for some reason. That was fine as I just swapped to getting my Artefact weapon and doing the Highmountain quests. That was enough to get me to level 110.

I was taken by surprise by getting the Heritage of the Highmountain feat at 110 – I had been expecting it at 120. And as soon as I got it I instantly stopped playing the character. Funny how motivation can disappear when a goal is reached, especially when there is no driver to start a new one. I should also have read up on the armour – turns out it’s only available for Highmountain characters to transmog. Whoops.

It took almost exactly 36 hours to get there, though I think I could have been more efficient (especially in the last 10 or so) and made it in close to 24 hours flat. This sounds in stark contrast to what’s coming in Shadowlands, where a player in the Alpha levelled from 10-50 (the equivalent of 10-110 currently) in under four hours!

Knowing that kind of speed is coming makes the idea of starting a new alt now seem a little crazy. I would like to get a Dark Iron Dwarf, and even started a Night Elf Demon Hunter for the purpose, but I’ve struggled to continue past the (long) starter sequence. I might just have to wait for my sole Alliance character (see above) to get the Dark Iron one day – though I think I read Shadowlands gets rid of the rep requirements for Allied Races so maybe it will be a freebie. Which will probably mean I won’t be interested after all – being given stuff just isn’t the same as earning it.


We put the Alliance crew on hold in order to spend some time finally seeing the BfA dungeons on our Horde characters.

We’ve cleared the Normals and have just started in on the couple of Heroic-only instances. Our Warlock is super-geared compared to the rest of us, so we cheesed every boss mechanic due to his enormous DPS – and that’s with his blueberry out instead of his imp. Rolf-stomping bosses is fun, but we’re all looking forward to having to work for our loot come Shadowlands.

Descending into a corrupted druidic landscape

A dead squid boss with a haunted pirate ship in the background

Ravenloft revisited

The first heroic, Atal’Dazar, was slightly more testing – including a wipe due to way too much poison – and probably the best looking dungeon we’d seen in BfA (with the high-gothic Waycrest Manor a close second, particularly with our current DnD campaign being Curse of Strahd!). Not being a Gnome fan I’m not really looking forward to the two Mechagon wings, but they should at least be more of a challenge, being late game additions.

Standing triumphant over the golden boss

After finishing the dungeons we’ll check out the raids via LFR, and then maybe back to the Alliance run through WotLK. It’s nice to have a small group committed to seeing all the content – we can listen to cut-scenes and admire the dungeon designs which is a relaxing change of pace compared to regular levelling and gearing runs.

A horribly deformed nightmare boss

A fallen robotic boss

Of course we all dream of somehow doing ‘proper’ raiding in Shadowlands, but also realise it’s very unlikely. Maybe we’ll magically find another small one-night-a-week Oceanic guild to join forces with – stranger things have happened.

World of Shadowcraft

While WoW hasn’t been top of my gaming time for a while, I do want to get through the final BfA raid — Ny’alotha, the Waking City — now it’s available on LFR.

The other thing I wanted to do was refresh my UI, for no good reason other than it’s fun to tinker sometimes. Also I stumbled on an ElvUI mod by Lostpet that looked nice so that was a good excuse to try something new.

Neat

Once I had it installed (slightly complex but overall pretty easy), I needed to test it somehow — where better than LFR!


I ran the first wing with some friends and died a lot, but slowly started to understand the fights with each death. One of the appeals of raiding is that slow learning curve until triumph, and even in LFR it feels good to contribute.

One strange thing happened to one of my co-raiders on the Wrathion fight (the first fight of the first wing). After we zoned in, he said he couldn’t see anything — just the floor and the shadows of the other players. He couldn’t even see his own character. This was quite amusing as we tried to talk him through it, which worked ok until the first flame explosion where he not unexpectedly died. After Wrathion went down, everything returned to normal.

After the reset, I ran the first wing again, solo this time. And entertainingly the same thing happened to me: nothing but the floor and a bunch of shadows.

A Shadowlands preview

I decided I’d try and stay alive by following the shadow pack around the floor, and luckily there was another Tauren Hunter in the group. The big model and easy-to-see bow action meant I could just stand next to them and move when they did. It was very funny and silly, but somehow worked! I managed to survive the entire fight by following my Tauren shadow friend around.

BFF

Even more ridiculously I also managed to finish up about 8th on the DPS charts — which is kind of a humblebrag, but it was LFR and is more an indication of just how nerfed LFR really is. If you can not die and come 8th on the first boss of the final raid of an expansion when you can’t see anything other than shadows, then you know LFR really is a mere…shadow…of actual raiding.

Makes perfect sense

I still love it though, as it gives those not able to raid in a regular group the opportunity to see the end game content, and the wrap up of the storylines. And it was nice to get a peek at the Shadowlands alpha, even if unintentionally.

Warcraft Classic: Muscle memory

Following on from my Alliance woes in ‘retail’ Warcraft, I was interested to find a similar (but different) problem in Classic.

In Classic my original characters were all Horde, one Undead Rogue and a cluster of Tauren. The Rogue is still parked in Brill, but the Tauren all finished Mulgore and moved on to Crossroads and the Barrens.

I had no trouble levelling a Hunter and Warrior, knowing Mulgore intimately even in this original incarnation. My retail muscle memory served me well despite the small variations in quests and locations compared to the post-Cataclysm zone. Plainstriders -> Cougars -> Quillboar -> Palemane -> Swoops -> Windfury -> Cougars -> Wolves -> Venture Co -> Thunder Bluff.

More care was required, but it was the same peaceful journey through rolling Mulgore plains. As a consequence it didn’t take too long to have multiple teen-level characters. I vacillated between two PVP servers and a PVE, which meant ending up with about 5 level 15ish Tauren. Clearly I like the low level levelling best.


Meanwhile my few friends that were interested in Classic dropped out pretty quickly. Only one has stuck it through, being determined to experience Molten Core having missed when playing during the original Warcraft launch fifteen years ago. And he’s made it all the way, getting to 60 and joining MC raids just this week.

I realised a while back that he was my only hope for playing with someone I know, but there was one problem: he’s Alliance.

So I gritted my teeth and rolled up a Dwarven Hunter and a Human Rogue, and set about the levelling journey. And it was so … much … slower. Not being familiar with how the zones work, where the mobs are, what to be careful about, and how to navigate gigantic places like Stormwind and Ironforge, made a huge difference.

You look familiar

I struggled to complete some of the early Human quests – killing Defias in a pumpkin patch was almost too much for my Rogue before a higher level player happened to run past and pull all the mobs. And while I was more comfortable with Dun Morogh, I still found it a trial to find quests and not die.

I can’t believe that the Alliance zones are actually harder than the Horde variations, it’s much more likely that simple familiarity makes all the difference. Even though you’re basically doing the exact same thing – a cave of fast-spawning Wendigo vs a cave of fast-spawning Venture Co – without the ingrained history it’s all that much harder. And in Classic, a small amount of hard adds up to a large amount of time.

So, like retail, I think my Alliance plans may have to be abandoned. If I struggled to get to level 10, I hate to think what the journey to 60 would be like. And given that’s a journey I’m only likely to make once, Horde seems to make more sense – in both my head and my heart. As usual!

Warcraft: Broken Alliance

The dual storylines and factional zones of BfA have made me want to run an Alliance character through the journey, something several friends have done and commented on favourably. Unlocking Dark Iron Dwarves was also a temptation. As a dedicated Horde player this was somewhat challenging, but the experience of levelling through dungeons with our Alliance group softened my resolve.

Not wanting to face a full levelling experience, I rolled up a Night Elf Demon Hunter and played through the intro quests. The Demon Hunter is good OP fun (basically a Rogue with wings) – so much so that I started to think I shouldn’t be playing this as Alliance (you can only have one Demon Hunter per realm, so it’s one or the other). But I pushed on to get to Dalaran.

At that point I thought the best plan would be to power level through to 110 using the 15th Anniversary Korrak’s Revenge Battleground. I used this to level my languishing level 100 Warrior – it’s even more efficient than the whirlwind levelling of BfA-with-flying. In Korrak’s I was gaining a level every 15-30 minutes, helped a lot by a 10-1 win ratio for Horde side.

The queue popped pretty quickly, and I followed the snake of characters riding to the first tower. Which is where it all went wrong.

As we approached the tower, a group of stalwart Tauren NPC defenders rushed out to meet us. I stopped in my tracks. Tauren are my people. I can’t kill these guys. Or those Orcs.

I had to immediately quit the BG. And promptly deleted the character (though not before sending the ~1000g she had somehow accumulated to my Dwarven tank – he will have to earn Dark Iron all on his own).

Lesson learnt I guess. Though the new that 8.3 (next week) will allow you to PVP your own faction makes it slightly more appealing – the dream of a Horde spy is alive!

Warcraft: Spirit Levelling

Happily my Rogue is now 120, barely a week after being 110. As with Legion, having flying in BfA is a total game changer and made levelling at least twice as fast.

It’s a very different experience: skimming the quest text just to find out the objective, flying directly to the spot, avoiding slow down trash and circuitous routes, etc. It’s just as fun, being more about working out an optimal play style than enjoying the story and lore.

There’s much less Rogue-i-ness in BfA when compared to Legion, which is a shame. Pickpocketing was hardly worth it, just earning a few silver and some grey vendor trash (albeit with occasionally fun flavour text). I was surprised not to at least get the odd special item or piece of gear. Legion really nailed celebrating what made each class what it was, where in BfA it’s back to pretty generic stuff.

The lock box mechanic these days (I’m not sure when this changed) is also quite dull – you just have to get to max level to be able to unlock a box. I got nostalgic for the olden days of having to level lockpicking through finding boxes out in the world – back to Classic for that experience I guess!


Thanks to being a Rogue, I managed to calculate that each level was taking almost exactly an hour by reapplying my poisons (which have a 60 minute duration) at the start of each new level. Sure enough just when they were running out I would ding. I’m sure that on ground it was taking more like 2-3 hours, though I’m very slow and read all the quest text and explore more during the first run though.

One reveal to come out of Blizzcon is the level squish, meaning we’ll be squashed from 120 down to 50 at the start of Shadowlands. And more interestingly was the new way levelling will work from Shadowlands onward. Instead of working your way through expansions, you will choose a single expansion in which to go from level 10 (effectively the new starter level after the mandatory intro island) to level 50.

That means getting 40 levels in a single expansion. While I can see that working pretty easily in some of the bigger expansions, I’m not sure how it could work in something like BfA where there are only three zones plus some end game areas. If my experience is typical (10 hours to level through 10 levels), it’s hard to see how they’ll be able to cram an extra 30 levels in there.

Leaving the levelling pace the same, that would mean gaining a level every ~12 minutes. That would be absurd (it would be like the rapid fire 1-10 levels) and would devalue the levelling experience greatly. I guess they’ll have to slow things down a lot, making each quest reward less XP, but then there are not really enough quests to enable them to stretch it out too much more.

I was earning Loremaster for each zone I went through, meaning I completed the majority of the quests in the zone. To get from 110-120 I completed Vol’dun and Zuldazar and about 1/4 of Nazmir (definitely my least favourite of the zones), and there were a handful of side quests I missed, but not many. That doesn’t level a lot over to pace the zone right for all those extra levels.

The reverse problem applies to the core/original game zones, where there is probably too much content to normalise the levelling speed when compared to all the expansions. Blizzard have also said levelling will be ~70% faster than current, which makes balancing all this even harder. I’m not sure I want to spend ~40 hours in BfA!

Of course Blizzard know all this and must have a solution, but it will be very interesting to see how they manage it – perhaps expanding Nazjatar and Mechagon to include levelling quests?


One of the more worrying aspects of this redesigned levelling experience is where it leaves those that want to experience the full depth and breadth of the World of Warcraft.

If you only have to do one expansion to get to max level, it will be hard to have that amazing journey through all the content from go to whoa. While it will be brilliant for alts, it would be a shame for new player (or a veteran for that matter) to not have a way to see it all in order.

Single expansion levelling does solve this conundrum

Again Blizzard must have thought of this, and hopefully there will be mechanism to take one character through everything somehow. Either a level reset, or a vast slow down (5-10 levels per expansion instead of 40?) that can be set, similar to suspending XP temporarily.

In any case, the current levelling game is going away next year, so if you’ve ever wanted to take that journey (and earn the presumably to-be-retired original Loremaster achievements), now’s a good time to get started.

Warcraft: Rogue one

Having finally finally earned flying in BfA1, I promptly abandoned doing anything current on my Hunter and sent her back to the Burning Crusade to potter about at the Argent Tournament.

I was wondering what to do next when I read Nogamara’s post about levelling Rogues (amongst an army of others) and got inspired to finally work on my original Rogue character, who had been idling at 100 since Legion launched.

Handsome

The first decision was which spec to use. I’d always run as Combat (aka Outlaw in the modern parlance), but didn’t really enjoy the pirate-style of the Outlaw in the brief time I tried it during the Legion invasion events. Outlaw seemed less a Rogue and more a swashbuckler, and I wanted to play a classic stealth killer with daggers, not swords. Nogamara also rated Outlaw pretty low on the enjoyment scale.

So I changed to Subtlety, recalling various people seemed to say it was fun to play, picked up the Legion artefact weapons from the excellent atmospheric Rogue class hall underneath Dalaran, and started adventuring in Stormheim.

And had a riot of a time. It’s fantastically entertaining being able to stealth around, pickpocketing everything you pass, sapping one mob while you take care of the other, and vanishing in times of trouble. Legion had a great Rogue pickpocket sub-game which allowed you to pick various items as you adventure which could be cashed in for Coins of Air. The Coins in turn could be used to buy Rogue specific items, like pets and a Barrel of Bandanas for you and your friends. A simple addition to the game but it makes every mob a fun experience.

Me and Jamie

I ended up changing to Assassination pretty quickly, finding Subtlety to be a bit too obscure (or should I say, subtle. Ahem). I used generic daggers for the first few levels and picked up the Assassination artefacts at level 102 (when you can swap to new artefact weapons). Assassination was much more fun, and exactly the class fantasy I imaged Rogues to be – daggers, stealth, poison, and garottes.

The biggest improvement to the levelling experience was having Legion flying. Each zone seemed to complete in incredibly quick time, largely because the traversal of terrain is trivialised by flight. I understand a bit better now why Bhagpuss defended flight so vigorously when I suggested a ground mount was in some ways superior. I think I still like the idea of being forced to the ground for the first run through (the awful ground design of Nazjatar notwithstanding), but once you’re levelling alts and paying no heed to the quest test and lore, flying is a godsend.

We used to be friends

I don’t have stats, but it feels like I raced from 100 to 110 in about 10 hours, and I enjoyed every moment. The freedom to jump around to anywhere, race through the quests overpowering or outstealthing everything, and revelling in an instinctive understanding of the game is incredibly satisfying.

At 110 I considered swapping to a Paladin alt, but the Rogue is so much fun I think I’ll push through to 120 – hopefully the dreaded BfA power drain as you get closer to max level isn’t too punishing.


  1. Eagle eyed readers will notice this post is only a day after the ‘I can fly!’ post. I reached the flying achievement about the same time as the Blizzard political censorship debate exploded, which took some of the sheen off playing and certainly off celebrating flight. Hence the ~1 month delay in posting.