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. 

From the other side

I tried, BfA, I really tried.

My Hunter main is sitting at 112, bogged down in the swamps of Nazmir. The storyline is mostly enjoyable, but like Syp, I tired of the brown and grey environment very quickly, and it seems to go on forever. I’m sure I’ll get to 120 eventually, but the swamp and the fact that Trolls have unfortunately never appealed to me means the expansion has really failed to get its claws in.

Poor Torga

Luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, I’ve been having great fun with my levelling Dwarf Tank. Trying the ‘other side’ has always been a long term goal, and I’m very pleased to be finally doing it. The Alliance really does have quite a different feel, despite fulfilling the same collect x of y quests, where there is far more emphasis on being right, and being the ‘good guys’ when compared to the barbaric Horde.

All of which is rubbish of course, but I’m embracing my Alliance righteousness: wearing ‘the Hordebreaker’ as my title and laying waste to any Horde that crosses my path. With the exception of Tauren of course – on one escort quest I kept the NPC alive rather than killing the Tauren warriors, though I’m not sure how sustainable this policy will be.

It’s been refreshing playing zones I’ve never seen too, all the Eastern Kingdom Alliance only areas, and now Darkshore (post-Cataclysm but pre-Sylvanas horrorshow). Some of the questing and storytelling is excellent, with the ridiculous Bravo Company of Redridge Mountains being a particular highlight. So too Duskwood (end of the zone to the other and back quests excepted), which included some lovely personal stories and a fun crypt section which was a brand new layout for the normally predictable underground territory.

Hey, wait a minute…

Dungeon runs have continued apace, and we’re now up to Scarlet Cathedral. It’s been great revisiting the dungeons in sequence and with a group of friends, meaning we can take our time to scheme and laugh our way through. Shadowfang Keep has probably been the pinnacle of the early dungeons – it’s terrific being on the battlements seeing out into Silverpine Forest – though the hilarity of pet-pulling half of Gnomeregan and the ‘rope trick’ in Blackfathom Deeps also rate highly.

All of which is making me fear it’s more likely I’ll end up experiencing BfA from the Alliance side before the Horde. Then again – our dungeon group has a pact to play all the dungeons together before advancing, so at one a week it will be years before we catch up to current content. Phew. For the Horde!

Scalability

One of the more interesting – and controversial – changes with the 8.0 BfA Warcraft patch has been the further introduction of level scaling. It was already around before the patch, but it now seems to be universal. Which has had a huge impact on the speed of levelling.

For the longest time people have complained about out-levelling content so that they feel they can’t effectively finish storylines because the XP reward is basically zero. Not that that meant you couldn’t do the content, just that it felt like you were wasting time – it’s a strange mental trick.

So Blizzard have introduced scaling across all continents and content, effectively splitting it into Vanilla / Burning Crusade + WotLK / Pandaria + Cataclysm / Warlords / Legion / BfA. You can now level in any zone within those brackets, and the mobs and rewards will scale accordingly.

This is pretty great in many ways, as those that enjoy the storylines can experience the entire thing. You can jump to a zone you haven’t played and everything will be a gentle challenge and you’ll get gear upgrades as you travel. It’s a boon for the Alliance levelling we’re doing, making each zone relevant and interesting.

The main disadvantage is all the old speed levelling techniques have dried up. I’m interested in levelling an Allied race – Highmountain Tauren, naturally – so started investigating how best to do it. The received wisdom seems to be that there are basically no shortcuts any more.

The old favourite of chain running dungeons appears to be off the cards, as the time invested in the run is often better served just doing simple questing.

When we started running the low level Alliance dungeons, I assumed everyone would be gaining two or three levels per run, meaning we’d have trouble completing them all. But the scaling has meant that people are lucky to level even once, and all the dungeons are available until level 60. Pretty great, and very clever.

Some claim that carrying through dungeons with a high level friend (or second account) is still an option, running Stormwind Stockades from 1-60(!), but that is terminally dull. Some redditors seem to think that there’s a pet battle loophole, but that too sounds super dull. I want to level fastish, but I don’t want to just do the same thing over, and over, and over.

So in the end, it seems that the simple act of gearing your character up with heirlooms, taking mining and herbing, and setting out into the world is the best method. Which is probably as it should be, and I’m merrily making my way through the Barrens once again as a result, and enjoying every moment.

Battle for…Deadmines

Tonight our troop of Alliance debutantes headed into our first dungeon, the deadly Deadmines.

Deep beneath the mines of Moonbrook in southwestern Westfall lie the Deadmines. Despite the demise of the Defias Brotherhood’s leader Edwin VanCleef at the hands of Alliance militiamen, the Deadmines is still the Brotherhood’s most secure hideout since Cataclysm. Here the survivors of Edwin’s crew toil alongside new recruits, so that the Defias juggernaut ship can be complete and the kingdom of Stormwind can be brought to its knees. All this is happening under the vigilant eyes of “Captain” Cookie… and Vanessa VanCleef.

Going back to Deadmines raised some old memories. Way back in the day I was escorting a Guildie through Deadmines in search of a Rogue twinking chest (is twinking still a thing?), and as he was busy looting while I one shot everything in sight, my young Rogue friend coined a nice term for what I was doing: PVE Ganking. The Defias mobs had zero chance, like an 80 whacking on a freshly minted level 1 in a PVP zone. That quickly joined our other favourites – Bag Rage (need more slots!), Drop Logic (“Maybe you have to kill the tar monsters in the tar for the teeth to drop?”), and Threading (for when you move through a group of mobs without pulling a single one).

It’s a great dungeon, and a great first dungeon if you’ve never seen one. Plenty of mobs and bosses, fun mechanics, and the lovely moment when you bust through the mines and emerge into a huge cavern with a fully fledged pirate ship ahead.

It’s also pretty funny for a dungeon – most are pretty standard heroic fare, but this one has ogres wielding kobolds as weapons, goblin bosses riding ogres in turn, and a murloc boss who tosses slowly rotting food whilst sitting in a cooking pot.

Cookie crumbled

Plus that murloc boss drops a weapon that is so ridiculous that Blizzard had to make a special rule to forbid it from being used for transmog.

The full Paladin fantasy

It was a great reunion for our group of players who used to play together regularly, with plenty of laughs and ridiculous situations, especially the revelation that our new player hadn’t realised he could change his characters appearance when he was created, so he has whatever the randomiser came up with – we had wondered about the haircut choice. But he’s a real character now, a budding hero of the Alliance, so he can’t possibly be changed.

One for all

We also had a friend join from Chicago where he’d moved many years ago, which was a great reminder of the power of gaming and MMOs to bring a dispersed group together. As the freshman noted, Warcraft is almost “a weaponised banter and nostalgia machine….really if you were all spread out it would almost be mandatory to play something like this.” We are, and it almost is.

Rarified

One of the goals I’ve always had in Warcraft was to hunt down every rare – or ‘silver dragon’ – in the game. It’s a fun goal, and a great way to tour some of the more out of the way caves and bogs and mountain tops.

Edan the Howler. No relation to Eden the commenter, I hope.

Plenty of people of done it of course, and I’ve started various blogs in an attempt to screenshot each find before inevitably running out of steam. Cymre at Bubbles of Mischief has the best presented list that I’ve seen – a labour of love with screenshots and many pages of adventuring.

Hammerspine and cowering captive

With the new Alliance Guild, it’s been fun tootling around Dun Morogh searching for the four rares that patrol the zone. I’ve found and, uh, murdered three of them, but the fourth – Great Father Arctikus – seems to have some kind of pathing bug that means he’s inside the mountain stone rather than the caves below. Oh well. His time will come!

Bjarn. Note friend approaching from the right…
… seeking revenge!

One of the other reasons for this project has been it’s away of paying tribute to the friend who tempted me into WoW way back in the Burning Crusade days. We discovered rares together in the game, and I remember taking a hardcopy of a Prima Guide to photocopying shop to make an A3 print of the list of rares it contained. We took a sheet each, and planned our assault on each rare with great care. My friend is no longer with us, but hunting rares sometimes brings him back.

Rolling Alliance

Our Alliance Guild is planning to take on Deadmines soon, our first dungeon and the first dungeon ever for our new recruit. I’m used to running Ragefire Chasm as the the launch dungeon, so this will be a fun change. We’re planning to travel to each dungeon in order to understand the lay of the land better – it will be interesting to see how long that lasts.

It’s somewhat strange to be starting from scratch like this just when a new expac launches. It’s also somewhat typical for me – with each release I always seem to find a reason to not join the levelling rush and so end up way behind. But given we’re planning to run each dungeon at level, and only one a week, there should be plenty of time to adventure into BfA too.

I still find it very odd playing Alliance. The only race I feel comfortable with is the Dwarves, probably because they were the first race I ever played – before discovering my true home in the Horde. The Worgen are interesting though their animations seem like a missed opportunity – they’re somehow not bestial enough. I can’t tolerate a Human for more than a few levels before blanching at the…regularity of them. Maybe the Kul Tiras variant will be more interesting? The Dranei voices kill them for me (as well as their space story), and Elves, well they’re Elves. I enjoyed the Gnome animations, but along with the Goblins, their machines and environmental terrorism are too off-putting to play long term.

Who *are* these guys?

And Stormwind, ugh, I was lost in the streets for an age when I first arrived. Ironforge on the other hand is quite magnificent, the scale and majesty is amazing. I stumbled upon a place called ‘Old Ironforge’ beneath the throne room by following a cobwebbed corridor down and down and down and suddenly emerging in an ancient place, with some kind of lorekeeper tending massive tomes. I love finding this kind of stuff, just by random exploration.

Having said all that, there’s one definite plus for the Alliance – they have many cows!

Serious faces: on

The shock of the new

For a few years, my group of roleplaying friends fell hard into Warcraft, peaking in WotLK before real life got in the way. Since then some have played continuously, others dip in and out, and some have retired for good.

Waiting for Grimsong

But one DnD veteran never played, for one reason or another. He’s something of a completionist, and lover of RPGs, which meant it was hard to see how a basically bottomless MMO could fit into his schedule. A small chink in that armour appeared recently when we almost played Secret World Legends together, but it was barely an MMO – which is why he 99% completed it and I bailed.

Every so often – normally around expacs – someone has tried to cajole, peer pressure, or sweet talk him into playing WoW, but never with any success.

Until now.

I’m not sure if it’s because of swirling storyline controversy (which means Sylvanas is trending in his non-MMO news feed!), or the when-it’s-ready no-show for the Vanilla servers, or just the relentless ‘first taste is free’ tempting from the rest of the group. Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled he’s going to give it a try.

Of course the first thing we veterans did was start imposing ideas and rules for how to level, when to stop, what you could and couldn’t do, etc. No heirlooms, only levelling in dungeons, maybe even ironman? Oh and I’ll send him some bags and gold, and and and…

We quickly realised though that all those rules were to make it more fun for us, the long term players looking for that spark, chasing the dragon again, somehow rediscovering the shock of the new.

Bhagpuss discussed this phenomenon very nicely in a recent piece:

Some people like to know how magic tricks are done. For them, understanding the mechanics make the whole thing more fascinating, not less. For most, though, once a trick’s explained, it’s dead. Explain enough tricks and all of magic dies.

Which is why you need to be careful and cautious when showing someone around the back of the set. If you reveal all the trapdoors and uncover all the mirrors there’s nothing much left but dusty boards and flat canvas. At least let the newbie see the trick done properly, once.

So the new plan is: relax. Take it slowly. Look around rather than relentlessly ahead. We’ll venture into 5-mans when the time is right, and take them at a leisurely pace. And soon enough BfA will provide plenty to be going on with too.

Our friend will get to have his moments of wide eyed exploration and discovery, and we’ll be there to enjoy some of the reflected glory.

Plus: his condition for playing is that we should roll Alliance, which for a dedicated Horde group is very likely to provide the shock we are seeking!

The simple things

One of the keys to playing an MMO effectively as a raider or mythic dungeon runner has always been getting your rotation right. Making sure that you fire off key skills at the right time, don’t waste cool downs, and combo your best abilities correctly.

After every major patch there is always a new rotation to learn and action bars to configure to ensure optimum key pressery. BfA is no different, so I’ve set about researching the new best-in-class rotations for my Hunter. I’ve never professed to be anything beyond a ‘Normal’ level player, but I still like to try and make sure I’m not doing anything obviously stupid, and preferably doing most things right.

There are a lot of great guides out there, from Icy Veins to Wowhead to individual class masters like Bendak at Eyes of the Beast. I usually try and cobble together talents and rotations that combine passive skills along with the more fun active talents, and then hotkey them in some semblance of the correct order.

This time however I stumbled across a really interesting post on the AskMrRobot blog, which examines Simple vs Complex rotations, and the effect on DPS as the rotation gets increasingly involved.

Using a Marksmanship Hunter as an example, they discovered that the difference between a simple rotation and a very complex one can be as little as 1-3%. Even the difference between the simplest possible rotation and the most complex was only ~10%.

I found that amazing to read, and somewhat liberating as a casual player. Obviously if you’re a progression raider that 10% difference is immense, but for the Normal and even Heroic players, if you can pare it down to a 3% difference then it seems very safe to choose.

As AMR points out, the major benefit of simpler rotations is that you can focus better on the boss mechanics, and you’re more likely to be able to maintain your rotation in the face of the chaos of a boss fight:

Simpler rotations aren’t just easier to do, they are also more robust. They can stand up to the interruptions from a real boss fight, like movement, knockbacks, and switching to adds that need to be nuked down. A lot of complex rules lose all of their benefit when these types of interruptions happen and either offer zero DPS gain, or in some cases, cause a DPS loss.

Again, great news for the casual player who still wants to be effective! Which makes me happy to turn to Icy Vein’s ‘Easy Mode’ guide (despite the slight but ridiculous shame that comes with associating with ‘ezy’ play), or Wowhead’s Levelling Build when designing my BfA setup.

Looks like another case where the old saying might be true: the simple things in life…

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.

Recruit-a-friend

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.