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

Warcraft: Classic Dungeonmasters

Last night our Alliance guild finished off the final Dungeon in the original ‘Vanilla’ (aka Classic!) set, Lower Blackrock Spire, a dungeon crawl par excellence.

When I used to tank pug, I was always glad when LBRS popped – though often I had to queue for it specifically as once you hit 58 the game decides it’s BC dungeons or bust. It’s a far more linear run than Blackrock Depths which makes it much easier with a PUG, but more importantly it’s full of interesting bosses, bonus quests, pet drops, and stunning multi-level design that absolutely nails the underground fortress feel.

Much like BRD, there are many spots in the dungeon where you can see where you will be going later, or where you’ve been previously, and plenty of tricks for backtracking and short-cutting if you want to. The bonus boss Urok Doomhowl is a great example, requiring you to have looted the head of a prior boss but also to have collected an unmarked pike to stick that head on. The designers obviously realised people might miss the pike, and cleverly allow you to jump down to a lower level path that leads you directly back to the pile of pikes… followed by a long jog back to your party. At least one way was fast!

LBRS is basically a dark Horde stronghold, which makes it strange to run as actual Horde, even if the minions and bosses are Horde traitors. Killing Orcs and Trolls doesn’t sit quite right. On the other hand, doing it as Alliance feels exactly right.


One thing that became a problem late in this sequence of runs was Blizzard’s 8.2 change to group XP, where having a level-locked person in the group meant no-one earned XP for the events during the Dungeon nor the quest hand-ins at the end. Apparently the change was made to foil people charging for level 110-120 boosting, but surely Blizzard could have made that only apply to the high level boosting.

Several of our members were using each run to level up, which worked perfectly with keeping pace on the dungeon level requirements, and that stopped abruptly with the policy change. We did work out you could disband the group, wait for a 5 minute cooldown, and hand in the quests for full credit, but that is a pretty dull thing to have to do and doesn’t help with the missing XP from all the dungeon mob and boss killing. It’s a pretty punishing change for groups like us who are working systematically through content.


The level nerf didn’t spoil our fun however. We finished the journey that started way back in Deadmines over a year ago, and earned our Classic Dungeonmaster achievement. The Blackrock dungeon duo are a fabulous end to an epic 60 levels of dungeoneering – our newest player commenting on how he was exhausted but exhilarated by the end of LBRS, with the achievement being all the sweeter for the tribulations Blackrock Mountain had put us through.

Now it’s time to unlock XP again and venture into the wilds of Outland and the many good Dungeons – and colourful outfits – to be found there.

Warcraft Classic: Death defining

Today in Warcraft Classic I died. Quite a few times. This was tremendous!

Abandon all hope ye who exit here

My new-to-Warcraft-although-no-longer-that-new friend has started playing Classic too (unfortunately as Alliance), and has been commenting on how he keeps dying. Mainly to murlocs, which made the old hands in our group have PTSD flashbacks.

In a typical “I remember when” fashion I laughed and assumed it was due to his rookie skills, and that I would never die – or only very rarely – during lowly levelling quests.

How wrong I was.

My first death was to the Palemane Gnoll leader Snagglespear. Like a typical boss, he stands in the middle of a campsite surrounded by fast spawning minions. Another player and I grouped up to take him on, having seen several others try solo and fail. Surely a Druid and Warrior would make short work of him even at level 7, we thought, before he instead made short work of us.

A Classic lament

We did get him eventually, with great caution and judicious pulling, but even then it was close. Unlike Live where he’s guaranteed to drop a 6 slot bag, his Classic loot table drops absolutely nothing of use, but succeeding with the challenge of defeating him was reward enough.

Snagglespear however seemed to open the death floodgates for me, and I proceeded to be killed by Prairie Stalkers and Flatland Cougars working together, Wiry Swoop talons, Venture Co. troublemakers, and Windfury Sorceresses (twice!). Mulgore is huge so the death runs were long, but I kind of enjoyed every one of them.

I eventually learned that running around in white and grey gear and no way of healing meant extreme patience was required. Plus a lot of 360 camera panning during a fight to check for patrolling extras. Mulgore’s spread out nature is somewhat deceiving – you think there’s plenty of space so you won’t get hemmed in, but the mobs have long patrol paths so you can suddenly find yourself in a perfect storm of fang and claw.

The triumph of the day was downing Supervisor Fizsprocket and plenty of his Venture Co. cronies. It would have been impossible – or near impossible – to solo, but organic grouping meant we (still cautiously!) cleared his mine and recovered his… clipboard. Almost sounds like FFXIV!


This post also marks the final day of Blaugust. I’m pleased to have posted every day again (like last year), and most of them felt ‘postable’. I do agree with Endgame Viable that deciding not to post is a valuable skill, but Blaugust makes it hard to shelve things – I think the Money on the Table post is probably one that I would have dropped (which makes it ironic I’m now linking to it again), but it was getting late and I didn’t have the energy to start something fresh. And I did like that press box!

Many thanks to all who have read and commented during the month, I’ve really enjoyed reading a lot of new and established bloggers who’ve participated too – though I’ve struggled to keep up with all the reading.

And of course huge thanks to Belghast for pulling this together – a monumental effort each year. It’s great to read how much enjoyment he’s getting from Classic, which appropriately enough mirrors what he’s created with Blaugust: a community.

I think more than anything I am enthralled by World of Warcraft Classic because it represents something that I never really dared dream would happen. Sure I had high hopes about getting the band back together and tromping around in Azeroth. However what I really missed was the return to the sense of broader community that existed during that time. Apparently lots of people also missed this because it has done my jaded heart good to see players helping players constantly.

A nice Blaugusty reward!

#Blaugust31

Warcraft Classic: Mellow Mulgore

Compared to Tirisfal Glades which was teeming with Undead, the Red Cloud Mesa in Mulgore was a relaxed and mellow gathering of Tauren, as befits their nature. It may also have to do with being on a PVE server instead of PVP… but I like the other theory better.

The two zones are quite different to begin with. Tirisfal funnels players down a road and hems you in quite tight, where Mulgore is wide open spaces with freedom to roam. It’s more clever design from Blizzard, establishing the dispositions of the races through the environment in which they’re introduced.

The sound design of each zone also reflects the personality of their occupants. The Tauren are greeted with wonderful birdlife, the crackling of warming bonfires, and the creak of windmills providing sustenance to the villages. The Undead on the other hard are haunted by swirling wind and distant cries, and the incessant heartbeat of a life they can never live. I’ve really noticed the sound in Classic, with music down and ambience all the way up it’s spectacularly good. I wonder if in Live I’m too busy doing jobs – and too efficient at doing them – to just stop and listen.

I also thing it’s vastly better how it doesn’t take long for Classic to introduce mobs that will agro. The starter zones on Live are all sanctuaries of passive mobs, and I think it’s an improvement to have a bit of danger even while you’re learning the ropes – it adds excitement and risk to the experience.

Levelling a Warrior is pretty simple stuff, with only a few abilities. I made sure to get to level four so I could train Charge, which establishes the core Warrior characteristic early on – furiously running into battle and not stopping until either you or the enemy has fallen. In Classic even a Warrior has to be a little cautious though – chain killing cougars was enough to get my health whittled down to the point where I had to pause and recover.

I was amused to see a fellow Warrior charging toward a Plainstalker without a weapon equipped and punching it until it dropped. That reminded me that there is an Unarmed skill in Classic, so I took my weapon off too and ran around punching things. Very silly but very entertaining too.

Classic continues to enchant, I really love the feeling of starting from nothing, not being able to lean on alts and cash reserves and banks full of help. Over the years I’ve sometimes decided I’ll start a whole new stable of characters on a fresh server, but it’s never had quite the same feel – I think because I’ve always been able to switch back to my established roster of equipped and enriched regulars. On Classic that’s not possible, and planning out a set of characters to support and compliment each other with professions and experience is a fun project in itself.

A next step is looking around for a guild. I wish there were more Australian bloggers around so there could be a guild with a strong community of people who also write about their experience – something like Belghast’s terrific House Kraken. Once I’m through the level 10 specialisation choice (and once I’ve chosen which character to concentrate on first) I’ll start testing the waters of some of the broadcast guild invites. Another approach might be to run some Dungeons and observe which guilds seem to have good attitudes – and a good name! – and trial a few that way.

#Blaugust30

Warcraft: Midnights Children

As the Classic fever was building, I enjoyed reading Belghast’s excellent post on communication and admiring the great screenshots from his early Warcraft days.

It made me want to dig out my old screenshots from Burning Crusade, but unfortunately they were locked away in Picasa somewhere. I had assumed that they were lost forever due to Google sunsetting Picasa some time ago, but a small amount of research revealed that you could still get them if you could logon to the Google account associated with your Picasa account. Luckily enough I still had that logon and before long I had recovered all the pictures.

Approaching Moroes: There was so much excitement, mounting these stairs for the first time

Now that I had the images, it seemed like a good time to reconstruct the old guild blog, which was a two year history of my first Warcraft guild and our adventures in Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and, in particular, Karazhan. The blog was also on a Google property – Blogspot. But the broken images made it no longer useful, plus Google’s propensity to shut services down meant it could disappear at any time. It was the same account as Picasa, so I could easily logon and download the post history as an XML file.

I decided the best plan would be to try and migrate the blog to a static Hugo blog and host it on a Galumphing subdomain, which would mean merging the Blogspot text with the Picasa images.

Nightbane: We had a lot of trouble with this guy

Thanks to the internet magic of 2019, there are plenty of tools for doing the Blogspot to Hugo migration. The most promising looked to be this Blogger to Markdown tool written by palaniraja on Github. I installed it on a Mac and it worked flawlessly, miraculously producing a directory full of Hugo formatted markdown files. It even had a very nice feature that merged the blog comments into the single markdown post file, making it much easier to publish as a static archive of the original blog (comments being the bugbear of static site generators).

Next I followed the very simple Hugo Quick Start steps, and was very surprised to find it worked first time. I chose a theme – Solar – that was similar to the original blog, and before long had the site up and running locally and started configuring it in real-time with the Hugo server.

Maiden: Another road block, but joy once we got past her

I did a pass of comment formatting (some of the dates were a bit mangled), and tweaked some of the settings – publishing the full test of each post instead of a summary, and putting it in chronological order so you could read it from start to finish (which is the reverse of a standard blog setup). I also added Wowhead tooltips for good measure, which slows things down marginally on load but with a static site it seems a fair trade-off. Otherwise I left it as it was.

Prince: the end game

The final step was merging the local images back into the blog. That was unfortunately a more manual process, as I had to remove a lot of Picasa HTML cruft, but it didn’t take too long with some judicious Notepad++ mass replacements.

I published the site again, and there it was: Midnights Children, in all it’s non-apostrophed glory. Just seeing it again hit me with a huge nostalgia wave, and reading the posts complete with images of glory and despair was even better. There’s probably only 5 people who are still interested, but for them it’s a reminder of a special time and a special friend.

Epilogue

Coincidentally after doing all this, I read that UltrViolet at Endgame Viable was embarking on a very similar project, albeit more about consolidating multiple online identities and blogs.

I totally agree about the WordPress dilemma – it’s a great platform in a lot of ways, but it’s very slow and kind of stodgy, especially when compared to static sites. It is however very easy to setup, has a strong support ecosystem, and importantly has integrated comments and associated spam protection (assuming you want comments, that is).

I was tempted to move this blog to something simpler, but stumbled trying to find something that elegantly incorporated comments. Disqus seems to be the most common choice, but it seems to have pretty major privacy problems, and all the open source commenting engines seem pretty flakey and hard to configure and maintain.

Like UltrViolet, I’ve stuck with WordPress, self hosting and using Markdown for writing the posts (so it can easily be migrated if need be), and disabling the frustrating new block editor. I even did a test migration of this blog to Hugo using the same tool as above and it worked just as well. Which gives me confidence that I’m not super locked-in should a nice simple option present itself.

I wish Endgame Viable well! It was certainly worth the time for me, though this was more an archival project than a living blog.

#Blaugust28