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. 

Warcraft: Vulpera!

In completely unexpected news, Blizzard broke the internet today with the news that the wonderful Vulpera race is coming with patch 8.3.

The foxes revitalised my interest in BfA when I first encountered them, and while were an obvious choice for the next Allied race, it seemed like if it did happen it would be with the new expansion. Happily not!

I’ve never liked Goblins (too mercenary, and environmental criminals), and Gnomes too seem pretty wanton about destroying any land they settle on (see: Mechagon). Thinking back, the Vulpera also seemed pretty interested in treasure (why is it that Blizzard’s diminutive races all being greed-motivated?), but at least they were living in harmony with their homeland. It will be fun to be playing a gigantic Tauren one moment, and a tiny Fox the next.

The other obvious conclusion with 8.3 being announced today (and the final boss revealed) is that Blizzcon will definitely be the announcement for the next expansion – they’ve cleared the BfA decks now. So that’s exciting too – if the rumoured PVE Overwatch 2 is also revealed (and Diablo IV?) it will be a great year to be attending.

Almost enough to drag people away from Classic?

Classic: Hunting

So far I’ve dithered about on Classic by creating far too many characters and not really committing to any. Doing a quick tally, on three servers (two PVP, one PVE) I have Hunters at 12/11/10/7, Warriors at 12/10/5, and a Rogue at 6. Plus bank alts on each. So theoretically I would have an (impossible) level 73 character if I had stuck to one. Obviously that’s not true given the slow down in levelling, but none-the-less I am well behind the curve as a result.

As usual it’s probably because the first levels are the most fun, with quick progress, rewards, and levelling routes burned into subconscious effectiveness. But now I’m trying to knuckle down and just play a single Hunter and Warrior, and actually move beyond the starter zones.

On the Hunters I was finding that even once they got their pets, mobs would still come at me rather than the pet. I put this down to Classic being different, until finally realising recently that I had neglected to train Growl on any of them. I happened to notice text something like ‘You have learned a new skill: Growl’ when I handed in a Hunter class quest, and as soon as I trained it on my Wolf the Hunting game became a lot easier.

Something else that made things easier was tracking down the rare wolf Ghost Howl in Mulgore. I searched around Thunder Bluff for an hour or more until finally finding him amongst the Windfury Harpies west of TB, and it was quick work with my tamed Prairie Wolf Alpha (I’d seen him earlier at level 7 but was no match for him then). Killing him led to a quest which rewarded an amazing gun upgrade.

Upgrades in Classic are so satisfying. Green!

I love finding Rares in Warcraft, particularly when you find them just by noticing something different in the scene in front of you. It’s not only that they look slightly different – maybe bigger, maybe an odd colour – they also move differently to the normal creatures. It’s almost like they have a swagger about them – slight slower, nonchalant, and much less predictable.

Next up is to venture into the Barrens, where I hope to eventually find and tame Humar the Pridelord with his unique black coat. A friend once camped out his spawn point for days during Burning Crusade – might be a nice tribute to do the same. Petopia has a nice unique looks gallery for those wanting to track down a standout companion.


Hunter tools

For reference, this is how I’m running my Hunter at level 10.

I’ve developed a default key mapping with some macros behind each button to make the Hunter attack sequence easier and more effective:

So the opening sequence is to press F1 to send in my pet, wait briefly for it to engage, F2 to start firing, then 1 to weave an Arcane Shot in between Autos. If there is more than one mob (please, no!), then F1 again will redirect the pet to the next tabbed target. I can refresh Serpent Sting with F2 (rarely required as regular mobs die before the 15 sec. debuff drops off). F3 is reserved for Concussive Shot to slow down runners (and pets I might want to tame).

For F1, I use the following macro:

#showtooltip Hunter's Mark
/cast Hunter's Mark
/petattack

And for F2:

#showtooltip Serpent Sting
/cast !Auto Shot
/cast Serpent Sting

(The ! before Auto Shot ensures that spamming F2 won’t turn it on and off accidentally.)

I borrowed these from Icy-Vein’s Hunter macro guide. Their pet guide was also very useful for jogging my memory on pet feeding, classes, training, etc. And to complete the trifecta, their excellent Beast Master levelling guide includes a very handy level slider that shows you the recommended build and rotation at each level. Playing around with your own style rather than going by the book is definitely recommended, especially when levelling, but it’s good to have some kind of starting point reference.

Keeping track of my pet happiness was also difficult for some reason – maybe some add-on was hiding the status. I got around that by installing TitanPanel and this Pet Happiness broker. Now I can easily see when my pet needs feeding, and TP itself is useful in other ways (like making it obvious when I’m low on ammo).

Warcraft: Taming Hellfire Ramparts

Having polished off all the Vanilla dungeons (I want to say Classic but that now means something entirely different), our motley Alliance crew ventured into the first Outland instance, Hellfire Ramparts.

I was super pleased to see our Hunter had already managed to piece together a classic Outland outfit, with some truly ridiculous ‘pants’, clashing gloves, topped off by a fantastically wrong helmet. His gormless face was icing on the cake.

I have strong memories of this dungeon being somewhat difficult, especially the tricky early trash pulls which can easily go horribly wrong, and the final boss, the netherdrake Nazan. Those memories were confirmed when I looked up the Ramps blog entry from our old guild, Midnight’s Children – it sounds like a nightmare, even bringing a rare rallying cry from our Guild Leader:

Midnight Children do not believe in rank or status. As such their guild leader has never issued an order. But I do now.

This Dragon must die. All the forces of this Mighty Guild will be bent to this end. No sacrifice is too much, no labour too strenuous. One Horde. One Guild. One Victory.

So it was with some trepidation that we entered, especially as we were reduced to four players. How could we get through this alive, let alone short handed?

Incredibly easily, as it turned out.

No boss, because someone *cough*Hunter*cough* skinned the body first

Blizzard either nerfed the living daylights out of Ramps at some point, or else our years of playing meant that it was a walk in the park. Somehow I suspect the former. We had no trouble with any trash or bosses, with Nazan falling with barely a whimper.

He also dropped a super nice looking weapon called Hellreaver for our DK.

Not quite as convincing on those short of stature

Our biggest challenge ended up being trying to tame one of the excellent Shattered Hand Warhounds for our Hunter. We accidentally killed just about every single one via my Consecration Aura, our Death Knight’s Death and Decay, an accidental auto attack, etc., before our veteran Priest designed a strategy that allowed our Hunter to pull a solo wolf while we distracted its companions. It was silly but also great fun, a reminder of how the best gaming moments tend to be unscripted and spontaneous.

Good puppy