The Mighty Boost

With the announcement of BfA came the inevitable news that we would all be receiving a free level 110 boost along with the release. This is now expected with every increase of level cap, theoretically to allow a new player to jump in and start playing the new content immediately. Or maybe it’s for luring lapsed players, tempting them back with the offer of immediately playing with their still subbed friends.

Neither of which makes a lot of sense. If you’re a new player, than you would be much, much better off starting from the very start. MMOs have an overwhelming number of systems and mechanics to learn, and the idea that a brand new player could – or should – start close to level cap seems counter productive. The most likely result is feeling lost, confused, and unlikely to continue. Compare that to levelling from scratch, discovering the world and your class as you quest, and experiencing the wonder of the MMO genre. I can’t imagine playing GW2 or LotR or SWtoR, games I’m far less familiar with, and starting anywhere but at the beginning.

Similarly for lapsed players, the rust takes a while to shed, and chances are you would be better served rolling a fresh character and feeling your way back into the game. With levelling pathways so streamlined and rapid, even without heirlooms, there’s no reason not to. And if you are playing with friends, the recruit-a-friend mechanic should be tempting enough to get them to help you speed your way to the top.


Which leaves us with existing players. Perhaps that’s who these boosts are targeted at? A bonus auction mule, or crafting specialist, or gathering bot. That’s the only reason I can think they might be tempting. If you’re already playing, you’ll have favourite characters and are unlikely to want to roll something brand new.

I’ve had boosts for the last few expansions, and used them eventually, but found that as soon as I boost a character I never play it again. During Warlords I developed a plan to level a couple of alts in order to have a full complement of crafters. The boost mechanic meant that if you were level 60, and had any level of profession, your profession level would be boosted to max along with your character. So I dutifully levelled a Herbalist/Alchemist Druid and a Mining/Blacksmithing Paladin, and boosted them to 90.

The problem was that once I logged on to them I didn’t recognise who they were. Weird armour, strange abilities, meaningless action bars.

I have a feeling we’ll meet again

I think the problem is I tend to invest in the story and mythology of each character I level, so skipping 30-40 levels of those experiences means the characters become strangers. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. Compare that to all the many alts and several max level characters, who are all someone in my head, and who I can’t face deleting even though many are long parked. A level 10 Rogue who server transferred several times just to snatch some twink trinkets. Two stalled level 60 Paladins (hello, Hellfire Pennisula!), a Tauren and a Blood Elf, each seeking their own interpretation of using the Paladin’s light.

You could argue that these are pointless characters given they’re not playing endgame, nor ever likely to, but I agree with Bhagpuss: “Sometimes the sheer fun of doing something is all it takes to make something worth doing”.

Preparing for a cataclysm

Like Syp, I would often level tanks through dungeons, enjoying the low level leadership and fast pace of levelling. And it does give you some sense of story, even if it’s contained to instanced events. But I recently decided to take a Bear Druid via the same less travelled path, eschewing heirloom armour, choosing levelling zones to play and finish, and avoiding dungeons.

It’s slower, but not terribly much, and far more interesting. You meet characters of great lore and history (note Sylvanas and Deathwing above, both encountered through levelling), and many of the quests are extremely well designed – Garrosh Hellscream’s story in Stonetalon manages the nigh-impossible feat of making him seem like a reasonable fellow. Most of the zones are beautifully crafted, especially Northrend where I’m up to now. Bonus things like capturing unique battle pets as you travel and levelling gathering skills through each zone makes the whole exercise relaxing and entertaining. And I understand my character perfectly: the rotation, which gear to use, which skills to add to the hot bars and which to ignore.

One of these things is not like the others

Maybe the best use of a boost character is to park them near some old world rare spawns, or outside Karazhan to try for the horse each week, and treat them like the strangers they are.

Warcraft: Legion Highmountaineering

With a new expansion being announced, I decided it was finally time to play Legion. This appears to be my traditional approach now – not playing until it’s almost too late. I’ve realised that some of this is down to wanting to avoid the expansion level rush, and the pressure to ‘keep up’, but waiting 14 months was probably overdoing it. On the plus side, it has meant a very relaxed and meandering approach to getting to 110.

As a Tauren I headed straight to Highmountain, which turned out to be one of my favourite zones in the game. An entire region dedicated to moose horned Tauren was as good as it sounds (if you’re that way inclined). The Taunka zones in WotLK came close, but Highmountain was something special.

You’re tasked with reuniting the scattered tribes of Highmountain, with each having their own story and theme. The quests are wide and varied and there’s plenty of exploring to be done. The mountainous design of the zone led to some terrific viewpoints once you’d circuitously scaled your way to the top of a distant peak. Perfect for the snow loving brigade out there.

There are also many named mobs – aka Silver Dragons – scattered throughout the zones, and they’re all worth seeking out for both the loot and (minor) fight challenges. There are plenty of nooks and crannies that you stumble upon, with either small stories to tell or sometimes just flavour. And of course the Murlocs are plentiful.

I, murloc.

Draenor introduced the concept of treasures into Warcraft, and they are used in Legion to great effect as a tool to lead you to far and varied locales. Some are easy, some are tricky and may require add-on help to find, and it’s a fun addition and nice levelling boost to boot.

I would quite happily have spent the entire levelling process in Highmountain if it were possible, but as it was I had run out of content by level 105. So I grumblingly bid farewell to my home away from home and headed off to Stormheim, picked mainly due to the name sounding good.

And it was quite good, with the grappling mechanic in particular being fun. Early on you’re equipped with a grapple, and throughout the zone there are vertiginous points to attach to. These allow you to scale crazy cliffs and scoot overhead through enemy Vrykul villages, which is all good fun. The story was less compelling, but I am biased, and the zone overall had a bit of a dreary tone to it – it seemed to be raining 75% of the time I was there. I’d love to see it in sunlight as some of the vistas and golden leaves look nice. It’s a pity the Vrykul aren’t one of the new BfA playable races, but I suspect their size would be a problem (they tower over Tauren), but the models for the Highmountain are all excellent which more than makes up for it.

Just as I was done with the main Stormheim storyline I dinged 110. So it only took two zones out of four, covering most treasure finding and mini bosses, which seems much quicker than other expansions. It was nice how each zone story culminated in a dungeon, though being so far behind the curve meant the dungeons were being cleared faster than I could loot, let alone fire off a few shots on a boss.

As usual once hitting cap, the game suddenly changes tack. Instead of venturing around helping shore up our forces, you’re suddenly invited to help save some ghostly Night Elves in Suramar (and spend the rest of your days there I assume). Can’t say that was very tempting, especially after the, er, highs of Highmountain, so I think it’s back to the other two zones for me. Or maybe some alts.

Having finally played the 10 levels, I tend to agree with those that find the Beastmaster Hunter class less satisfying to play now. You are now mainly about controlling your menagerie of pets more than anything else, which leads to the animation spending a fair amount of time showing you doing anything but firing your bow. That’s kind of disappointing, as is losing Kill Shot which allowed you to land those satisfying final blows on low health mobs. Time to try Marksmanship on another character, though running without a pet may be a step too far.

The other major Legion mechanic is of course the Artifact weapon. I enjoyed slowly powering up Titanstrike, though around level 109 it suddenly ground to a halt with thousands of points being required. Which made it even stranger hitting 110, when suddenly the meager 25 point boost items in by bags morphed into 25 million point boosts. Obviously a catch up mechanic, it did make the slow progress I had made to that point kind of redundant. May have well have waited to 110 and powered up the lot on one go.

110 levels to go, little one

Overall Legion feels like an excellent expansion, I feel kind of silly having missed most of it. Though with BfA probably a year off, there’s plenty of time to see more.

Warcraft: Back to Basics

After a fairly long break, the Warcraft itch returned recently. I haven’t played at all for months, having been dabbling around in Uncharted I (fun, quick, entertaining), play-by-email Civ VI (thanks to the genius behind Play Your Damn Turn), and Overwatch (still, though a lot less). It become obvious the MMO urge was back when I started patching GW2, SWtoR, and even LotRO recently (without really playing any of them). I eventually admitted to myself that Warcraft was what I was really hankering for.

In some ways this seemed kind of regressive, as Jeromai at Why I Game recently pondered – why do we continually return to the comfort of what we know when there is so much new to play out there? But then I think that comfort is part of the point – having invested enough time to really deeply understand a game, especially an MMO, makes playing it that much more satisfying. The best answer is to balance your ‘main’ game with others, though sometimes an MMO makes that difficult, particularly if you’re raiding.

If it was going to be Warcraft, I figured I wanted to start again (yet again). That seems to be a common pattern – come back and level 3 or 4 Tauren through Mulgore. I must have done that zone 100s of times. I love the feeling of openness, the rolling plains, Tallstriders, and wandering Kodo (never to be killed). I also love low level levelling, it’s so satisfying seeing new skills arrive that radically change your play style, as your character takes shape. Bhagpuss wrote it best in a lovely treatise on the joy of low level play:

There really is nothing to match the satisfaction, the involvement, yes, the immersion. Stepping out in rags with a rusty sword or a knobbled stick, making your way in a hard, harsh world, being useful, helpful and always, of course, violent. Learning a craft, finding a path, seeing your rags turn to riches or at least to leathers.

Taming pets, earning mounts, flourishing your first cloak. Seeing your reputation rise. Watching the world open up around you. Making space to stash the treasures you find. Paying the rent on your first home and laying down the pelt of that great bear you slew, in front of a roaring fire you made all on your own.

As has been extensively discussed, one problem with low level play is that you quickly outzone the content, especially when decked out in heirloom gear. The ‘vanilla’ discussion is as lively as ever, but still seems unlikely to ever really happen (though the advent of Starcraft Remastered might be a glimmer of hope for the olde skool WoW fans).

So I decided to create my own vanilla, by creating a new account and playing the free level 1-20 Starter Edition. No heirlooms, no money, no bags, no speed running.

And it was fun! The level progression is slower, though surprisingly not by much. Blizzard did to a revamp of low level quest pacing back in mid 2016, and it seems to work if you’re not over geared. I was right around the correct level for everything I was doing in Mulgore, even having to go and pick a few random herbs at one point to get high enough level to tame Mazzranache (though gosh the guilt at leaving little Hazzranache, Razzranache, Jazzranache, and Spazzranache orphaned is pretty bad).

The Mazzranache family

There was still no challenge, everything dropping like flies (albeit with a few more hits than normal), but it was more fun having to watch every copper and celebrate every 6 slot bag drop (tip: kill the rares – except the sacred Kodo Arra’chea of course). Having no resources also made professions more interesting, and starting fishing from scratch was entertaining in a sadistic kind of way.

As usual I got to Thunder Bluff, and promptly found the idea of going any further kind of overwhelming. It’s a long path ahead, and some of the levelling zones have worn out their welcome. At this point I usually abandon my best intentions of zone and quest levelling and just dive into dungeons as a Tank, getting to Outland in no time by chain dungeoning. But this time that seemed wrong, these toons are not speed levellers1, they should stay the course, or just make a home in the Tauren capital and go no further.

So I’ve settled my well rounded level 15s in Thunder Bluff, and stopped again. The next decision is whether to resubscribe and get some toons to level 110 – mainly my Hunter and Rogue (the Rogue being my very first WoW character, still going). I’m sorely tempted, but then The Secret World Legends is intriguing, Dishonored 2 sits in the queue, and finishing Geralt’s journey in Witcher 3 is also a possibility.

But I think getting at least someone at 110 is a good plan, and after all, more than one game at a time should be possible – or twelve, if you’re Syp!

  1. Plus I’d have to make a financial commitment to get these characters past 20. 

Wherefore Warcraft

Back in September 2016 I posted about being stalled in Warcraft. Five months later nothing has changed. I’ve maintained my subscription, but have only logged on to idle about, stare at my character stable, get momentarily enthusiastic about one, then logout shortly after.

As I covered in that earlier post, this is something that happens after every new expansion and I’ve been trying to work out why.

This time it was particularly galling as I’d found a great guild (after the gradual disintegration of my own during the appropriately-named Cataclysm). Reading the adventures of Frostwolves through each patch makes it clear how welcoming and encouraging they are, even through some very hard personal times recently. And I’ve missed out on being a part of that, through my own bizarre reluctance to play.

After some thought I think it comes down to a few different things.

One is the feeling of pressure to level and equip that occurs with each expansion drop. Logging on after a few days and seeing people already at max level and working on gear and rep leaves me feeling like I’m underperforming and lagging behind almost immediately. I like the idea of being on an even keel with other raiders, which is what an expansion should allow, but due to my slowness getting started I’ve always ended up behind before even getting going. I know the guild wouldn’t judge or mind or even notice at all, but it’s a mental block for me.

So I drop behind quickly, and then start feeling like it’s impossible to catch up. Which leads to not logging on, or creating low level alts and getting that quick hit of levels and skills – and getting even further behind.

Another is that an expansion makes the gear/rep timesink somehow more transparent. Rushing through the levelling to get to end game, then having to slowly gear up via daily quests and rep becomes less appealing when you’re starting from scratch instead of working on incremental upgrades. I’m not even sure that makes sense, given loot and gear acquisition is one of the rewards of an MMO, but perhaps being able to see the mountain ahead is more obvious during the first weeks of an expansion, compared to the subsequent patches where you are already comfortably geared and just looking for bits and pieces. The rapid accumulation of new gear should be exciting and fun, but it also puts a barrier up that needs to be overcome.

During WotLK, when I was main tanking for my guild, I was called out for not gearing quickly enough by two guild troublemakers (who disappeared from the guild shortly thereafter). There was probably some truth to it – I was unwilling to put in endless hours of gear grinding being happy with ‘good enough’ (and preferring to fish or find pets with that time) – but that pressure and expectation ended up destroying the guild. Some hangover from that drama no doubt contributes to the wariness I feel now about ‘keeping up’.

There’s some appeal to playing the way Bhagpuss does, levelling and gearing enough to be comfortable with solo content, while avoiding the end game treadmill:

I’m about finished up on the last EQ2 expansion at least as far as my Berserker goes. The main story’s all done and he’s nicely geared for solo. Next comes the gear grind to upgrade everything, the spell grind, the faction grind, all that good stuff that keeps people subbed ’til next time. I can skip that.

But when I play like that I always feel like I’m missing out on the main substance of endgame, i.e. raiding. I end up in LFR, and almost immediately wish I was doing it with a gang.

So why not play at my own pace, enjoying the guild community, and join the Sunday night ‘casual’ raids when I’m eventually ready? That would seem ideal. I think the problem with that approach is that I end up joining raids when they already know all the strategies and tactics, meaning there’s far less of that epic feeling of a team learning and progressing through a new fight, which is so rewarding. Much as I loved and appreciated being able to run through the tail end of the Warlords raids with Frostwolves, I never got to that point of a deep and intuitive understanding of the raid and my class, because I came in so late. I felt I was just barely keeping up, and learning fights on the fly (and with copious Wowhead boss fight revision).

It’s a catch-22. I want to be in a team of raiders learning and progressing, but I don’t level and gear quickly enough, so I end up behind, which means I don’t raid, which leaves me further behind, etc.

So there it is. A brain dump and wall of text about why I’m doing nothing in Warcraft, yet again. I’m not sure I feel any closer to a resolution or way around this, but I suspect one answer is that ‘proper’ end-game raiding is probably just something that is out of my reach. If I can come to terms with that, maybe one of my toons will leave Dalaran and start journeying to 110. Just in time for the next expansion!

Gear equalised dungeons

The always thoughtful Rohan at Blessing of Kings has a great proposal: equalising gear in levelling dungeons the same way it is (as of 7.03) in PVP:

The problem is that leveling dungeons need to be balanced such that a group of new players in quest gear can complete them. But if one or more heirloom characters are present, that balance goes out the window.

I think stat templates for leveling dungeons would be a great idea. Everyone would be reduced down to an even playing field. Dungeons would be a proper group experience once more. I rather doubt anyone will sheep anything, but maybe it could happen.

Despite the fun of tanking in heirlooms, this is a very worthy idea. I especially like the idea of cc returning! I remember using Distract to sneak past mobs in dungeons once upon a time, and trying not to hit the sheep with AoE.

Another idea for the mooted ‘Pristine’ servers, perhaps, though given they’ve done it in PVP why not implement it into PvE too – the tech is there with the Timewalking gear scaling. This would just be scaling as you level, rather than scaling down from max.

Boost Planning

Yesterday I finished levelling my Druid tank to 60, all through LFD runs. It’s a fun way to level, with not many repeat dungeons until the 50-60 Stratholme/Blackrock Depths/Blackrock Spire zone.

Spire is a great run – it’s long, complicated, some interesting pulls, bonus bosses, pet drops, the works. It’s a marvel of 3D mapping too, with lots of bridges and fissures where you can see the lower levels you’ve already traversed (and fall if you’re not careful). And it’s the first Dungeon where the bosses might actually kill you even in these days of OP Heirlooms – namely Vosh’gajin who likes turning everyone into frogs.

So I now have two level 60 tanks (the other being a Paladin), and two boosts to spend. I’ve still got the level 90 Boost from Warlords, and a level 100 from Legion. Beyond the enjoyment I get from low level dungeon tanking, the logic behind getting the toons to 60 was to take advantage of the ‘free’ profession levelling that comes with the boost.

I have Engineering, Tailoring, Leatherworking, and Skinning already maxed, and I want to add Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Mining and Herbing to the mix. I dropped Mining during Warlords as there was no point in having a dedicated gatherer with the Garrison Mine, but it sounds like we’ll need gatherers again in Legion.

The main decision to make is whether to go dual crafting/dual gathering, or mix and match the appropriate skills. Because crafting is so much slower, I’m tempted to go Alchemy/Blacksmithing on the Paladin and boost him to 100, which will give full 700 profession skills. Then put the gathering skills on the Druid, boost her to 90, and easily grind the professions from 600 while she’s out levelling herself.

Having said that it’s nice to have self sufficient crafter/gatherers, so maybe I’ll just have to knuckle down and level Alchemy the slow way.

There’s also the matter of the BoP Blood of Sargeas crafting mat to consider. Similar to the MoP Spirit of Harmony, the Blood being BoP makes a dual gatherer less attractive.

Decisions, decisions! I might wait for the next Legion Q&A, which will focus on Professions and may make the choice more obvious.

It’s Good to be the King – The Dire Maul Tribute Run

I’ve been levelling a(nother) Tauren Paladin, exclusively via Dungeon Finder. The levels fly by which is nice, and tanking the old dungeons is loads of fun. And sometimes a bit of a surprise when the layout has changed (looking at you Blackfathom Deeps) meaning you lead your party totally the wrong way. Whoops.

Eventually I reached the 40s and Dire Maul became available. Which reminded me of the awesome ‘hidden’ mode in Dire Maul North – The Tribute Run.

The Tribute Run reverses the usual dungeon objective and tasks you with keeping all the bosses alive, instead of steamrolling over them. It’s a lot of fun and involves more than just running past each boss.

I wanted to remind myself how to do it, and was surprised to find there was no Wowhead guide – only a few scattered (and slightly dated) posts out there on the webs.

So I wrote one, It’s Good to be the King – The Dire Maul Tribute Run.

The Ogre’s are right, it is good to be the king, and it also feels good to contribute something back to the community – enjoy!


My hunter has made the leap over to the Frostwolves of Saurfang, thanks to the kind invitation of Navimie. They’re a very welcoming bunch and it seems like a great place to be come Legion, and during the tail end of Warlords.

Unfortunately the name Knive was taken, but I’m pretty happy with Orbit as the alternative. This toon started as Space, so there’s a nice symmetry there.

I’m also charging through the levels on Threat1, a Prot Pally. I’ve always found Paladin tanking entertaining and intuitive so it’s a fun project. The only problem with tanking is the expectation that you’ll know the dungeons backwards, but I guess that just comes with the territory. I make sure to have at least a quick skim of the Dungeon Journals for any instances I don’t know. The new layout for Blackfathom Deeps caught me a little off guard, but so far it’s working out pretty well.

  1. Name get win! 

Three hundreds

Three characters to 100 now, the Rogue & Warrior both benefitting from the bonus objective strategy. I used Gorgrond and Talador for the Warrior which shot me from 94 to 98, then treasure hunting in Nagrand finished it off. Zero quests!

I kind of missed questing though, given how good the Draenor zones were. My next project is to level a Prot Paladin, so maybe they’ll take the traditional path.

Also seriously pondering looking for a raiding guild for Legion. I can only really do one night a week though, and that makes the choices very restricted. I’d love to be back in a guild that are progressing and working together though, and don’t mind being months behind current raids1.

Being in Australia further limits the choices. I found a few one-night candidates but they mostly seem to have gone quiet in the pre-Legion lull.

I did stumble upon the Frostwolves of Saurfang, and really enjoy reading Navimie’s excellent blog. It sounds like they may have a couple of raid tiers, including some that aren’t 2-3 nights, so maybe that’s a possibility.

  1. I remember Lore (now of Blizzard and once of Tankspot) used to be in a guild called ‘Months Behind’. Always loved that name. 

Ding ding ding – power levelling an alt in Draenor

Just as I started levelling my Rogue, I stumbled upon an article on Blizzard Watch that asked how best to power level an alt. Now I had no plan to power level her, but there was an intriguing strategy outlined that involved using the 300% XP boost granted by an Elixir of the Rapid Mind in combination with having all Gorgrond bonus objectives one step short of complete.

Having found two Elixir’s as part of Winter’s Veil, I decided may as well give it a go. The article comments1 also tipped to polish off an Excess Potion of Accelerated Learning for an additional 20% boost – making it 320% total. Gorgrond is particularly great for this plan as it has nine bonus quests and they’re all relatively close to each other.

And the whole endeavour is only possible if you can fly in Draenor, so this only really works for your alts.

I was already level 93 heading to Gorgrond thanks to treasure hunting in Frostfire, and in the process of getting all the bonuses to tipping point I levelled to 94. One tip is that some bonus areas only unlock after opening your Gorgrond Outpost, so get that done first.

The Elixir lasts 15 minutes, so you need to make the most of it. I decided to also prep the three Frostfire bonus areas, in case I had time to spare. This turned out to be a bit of a waste, as there are only three bonuses, they are spread out, and because they are lower level it wasn’t worth as much XP. If you have the level or skill, maybe try the Talador bonus quests instead.

With everything ready, I checked the most efficient flight route, rehearsed the finishing move for each objective, took a few deep breaths, and went for it.

When I started I was level 94.
11 minutes later I was 97!

It was great. Approx 300k XP per bonus area, and the levels flew by. Very entertaining, the only frustration was finishing everything with four minutes to spare and nowhere to spend the XP. A small price to pay.

In summary, if you want to try this:

  1. Acquire an Elixir from the AH & Potion from your Garrison Quarter Master;
  2. Get your Outpost built in Gorgrond to unlock all nine possible bonus objectives;
  3. Complete all but one item for each bonus – I’d suggest leaving the easiest possible thing waiting (normally a ‘click once to do something’ chore instead of a kill);
  4. If you get over level 94 doing this, go and grab some bonus objectives in Talador (instead of Frostfire/SMV).
  5. Drink down your potions and fly like the wind!

Good luck and good levelling.

  1. Amazingly the comments at Blizzard Watch appear to mostly be safe to read. Good job BW moderators!