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!

Frostwolvian

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!