New World: Singularity

An interesting thing about New World after a few weeks of play is how suddenly empty the low level towns are. At first I wondered if this was due to the increased server capacity – perhaps they have implemented layer phasing – but I don’t think that’s right. My second thought was the game was shedding players, but that seems unlikely too – the active players per server seem to be holding pretty steady.

Eventually I came to the conclusion it’s due to the single-character-per-server rule. The impact of that rule is everyone levels out of earlier zones more-or-less as a bunch, and there are no alts backfilling the starter zones.

Even storage, normally a scrum of people, is empty

I assume the hordes that were in the starter towns are all now gathered in the 40+ zones, with no reason to return to lowbie-land other than PVP – which the lagging levellers can’t participate in so it does nothing to change the day-to-day emptiness.

Most MMOs that hook people are given extra longevity by alt-levelling, filling out rosters and creating specialist characters. Allowing one character to ‘do-it-all’ is great, but many would prefer to have different characters for different roles – especially those that invest more RPG into their game. I like having a Rogue, a Hunter, a Paladin, all with different personalities, trades, and looks. One character doing everything is less appealing, despite the obvious time and utility advantages.

It makes me wonder if the restriction is a strategic error by Amazon. The flow of new players will dry up which will really stymie the shared experience of the starter zones. It will be interesting to see if they have any plans to somehow bring those earlier zones back into play.

New World: Hot & Cold

New World confuses me greatly. And others too obviously. Bhagpuss is enjoying it, UltrViolet definitely isn’t, Kaylriene is surprised to be leaning toward yes, and Nogamara has resisted the temptation altogether.

There are things about it that are great (gathering/crafting), and things which are terrible (are there any enemies other than Withered??). After three days I was ready to call it quits, then decided that was unfair after conversations with the Warcraft team who were playing and enjoying it. A weekish later and I’m still on the fence, not fully committed but not fully against it either.

In honour of my confusion, and in lieu of coherent thoughts, here’s a listicle.

Hot

  • Gathering is a stupendous triumph. Seriously. The way you can see a node from miles away, be it an outcrop of iron or a shuddering sparking herb. So much more satisfying than a dot on a minimap. Then when you harvest there is a stub left which eventually respawns (which is a little strange for ores but we’ll put it down to ‘magic’).

  • The sound design is excellent. The cracking echoing ping as you strike an iron node makes me want to spend all day hefting a pickaxe. You can hear enemies before you see them, snuffling up from behind. And each herb has a different sound that reflects their visuals, from spewing poison to crackling light.

  • Crafting appears to be acres deep. The UI is easy to understand – with a few gotchas like cooking auto selecting too high components – and there are millions of recipes. Which require millions of things to be gathered in return: a perfect feedback loop.

  • Storage is immediately generous, though there is waaay too much stuff to collect. I instantly filled one town’s storage, having to use another as backup. Which encourages you to smelt and hammer and craft your resources to reduce the storage requirement – another good feedback loop.

  • I was pleased to stumble on a ‘rare’ boar early on, though I’ve only seen one other rare since.

And

  • Levelling is achingly slow. Which is good, but bad, but good. Feels bad being left behind, and there is no way to participate in the flagship PVP at low levels. But an honest-to-goodness grind to level is a new experience after Warcraft, SWtOR, GW2, etc. It feels even slower that Warcraft Classic.

  • Not quite convinced by the action combat. It’s quite fun creating a hatchet storm, but the dodging and parrying feels quite hit-or-miss and a little random. Though this is probably due to my woeful framerate (see below).

  • It’s weird seeing someone with a nice shield and not being able to source it or identify it. I suppose we’re meant to ask, but the chat is also quite badly handled.

  • It looks like PVP is delivering for those that enjoy it, but I’m not sure I have the stamina to get all the way to 60 in order to participate.

  • Going way against trend, I don’t love the look of the game. Most seem the opposite. Some of the vistas are nice, and the lighting can be quite atomspheric, but I don’t get the same sense of wonder I do from something like GW2 or Warcraft. It’s a bit too much like, well, our world, rather than a New World. The strange unexplained structures are the most interesting graphical flourish, but I fear there’s no rhyme or reason to them.

Cold

  • OMG I am so sick of Withered.

  • For the first 20 levels it’s been zombie Withered. Or ghostly Withered. Or half-buried Withered. And that’s it. The lack of imagination is a little perplexing – you have total freedom to create a world and you come up with one NPC? The hot theory of PVE shunted into a PVP engine rings most true here.

  • I watched some Level 60 streams and they still seemed to be attacking @#$@#$ Withered. Albeit much harder hitting, but still just slightly less-hunched crown-wearing ghost-humans.

  • Speaking of – everyone is human. No fantasy here. No variations. It gets a little boring seeing the same body type with the same armour on hundreds of people.

  • The quests are woeful. Go kill Withered. Go open crates (seven crates to be precise – always seven) guarded by Withered. Then do it all again. I’ve seen feedback that at level 40 it’s the same.

  • The story is barely there, or if it is it’s hidden in scraps of paper. Which is fine I guess, but it’s not very satisfying when the quests in each town are paper-thin excuses to kill more w*******. There seems to only be one ‘main story’ quest, and it’s pretty dire too.

  • The storage is great, but it’s very annoying transferring goods from one town to another if your faction doesn’t own both towns. A unified bank may not be realistic, but nor is fast travel.

  • Character movement is…odd. It feels very floaty, and given the huge amount of time spent jogging that’s a shame.

  • Loading the game at anything other than native resolution is a muddy mess – the scaling is terrible. For me that means having to run it at 4K, which also means 30fps. A little frustrating, especially when an ancient game like Warcraft can seamlessly handle scaling a 1080p resolution up to crisp 4k.


Writing all this, and reading back, maybe I’m not so confused after all.

It seems the one thing keeping me interested is the gathering. Which may one day lead to interest in crafting, but at the moment it’s just the gathering. That’s a surprise, though double-gathering in Warcraft is always my default. Perhaps I’m just a hoarder at heart.

Warcraft: Castle Nathria

A journey started with little more than goodwill and crossed fingers in April was concluded mid-September with the demise of Sire Denathrius. We weren’t sure we’d even be able to raid, and after it took 31 attempts to down Shriekwing the thought of progressing to – and beating – Denathrius seemed almost impossible. But we did it! From special extra nights to get bosses when we were that close, to #ActiBlizzWalkout solidarity sit-outs, to two-bosses-in-one-night triumphs, it was a fantastic experience.

Many congratulations and thanks to the team, ranging from grizzled veterans to bright-eyed rookies and everything in between. As our inimitable Rogue Deadbeard observed, it was the most fun he’d had in game since Vanilla (Kara notwithstanding for some!), and so say all of us.

Shriekwing

As documented, the big bat caused us a lot of trouble, but no-one will forget the moment he finally dropped.

Huntsman Altimor

Huntsman was a great lesson in movement and awareness, and learning phase-by-phase by wiping a lot – eventually the first two puppies were rote, and when the third one was we finished Altimor off.

Hungering Destroyer

A fight where suddenly everything clicked after a lot of attempts got us nowhere.

Lady Inerva Darkvein

Like Huntsman, at first this seemed impossible – there was so much going on. Like many fights, total chaos until it wasn’t.

Sun King’s Salvation

Chaos! Another where it felt out of control quickly, but we got it together and before we knew it it was over.

Artificer Xy’Mox

This was a fun one to learn, with portal-like bampfing and zones of mass destruction. I think we ended up with only two alive at the end when Xy’Mox fell.

Council of Blood

Ah, the Council. A real test – we struggled long and hard here. We followed the various guides to determine the order of bosses, but it just wasn’t working. So we swapped the order around, but still kept wiping. Eventually we went against all the advice and re-ordered things to suit our particular group, and they fell only two runs later. A great moment and great realisation that we could design our own strategies.

Sludgefist

We were of course overgeared, but knocking Sludgefist off on our second attempt, having finally finished the Council, was a special moment.

Stone Legion Generals

Now it was getting serious. The penultimate bosses, which only needed a few runs to learn the mechanics before they were finished.

Sire Denathrius

And finally, Denathrius. Three very different phases, plenty of concentration required, and a complex fight. The excitement and tension as he was getting lower and lower (and we were losing one player after another) was brilliant.

Bonus Fishing Boss

Thanks all!

Warcraft: Shrieks of Terror

In recent weeks our small guild ventured into a few Mythic dungeons for the first time. We’d been rolling through Heroics without too much difficulty (other than the deadly platform bosses in Theatre of Pain), so decided we should try a Mythic or two to see where we stood ability-wise.

Somewhat to our surprise (or mine at least) we succeeded! We tried Sanguine Depths, and after triumphantly not dying to the first trash pack we cleaned up all the bosses. We even somehow fudged our way through the nightmare gauntlet corridor boss, despite me not realising I could pop the magic-shield to save us – even though our healer was continually saying ‘there’s something we’re missing here’. Oops.

After that victory we completed Tirna Scithe and Theatre of Pain, raising our confidence and the dawning possibility that we might be ready for raiding?!

We ran the numbers and worked out we had 7 confirmed raiders. At first we intended to pug the final three, but after some thinking managed to recruit three more friends and family to the team. The magic number was reached, and we ran our first ever raid.

Castle Nathria

Tauren paladin in front of the Raid Entrance
So excite

I figured we should prepare for the first two bosses, Shriekwing and Huntsman, and researched them on Icy-Veins and Tanknotes. Our group is very much a learn-as-you-play team, but having some basic idea of what might happen is always a good idea.

Based on the guides, Shriekwing seemed doable once the mechanics were understood, whilst Huntsman looked super chaotic – three phases, many gotchas, and a lot going on. Fun! I felt vaguely confident we would get through Shriekwing, and have a few tries on Huntsman.

Spoiler: not even close.

Raid group facing Sire Denathrius
A warm welcome

We headed into Castle Nathria, nervous, and were pleased to find there was basically no trash before Shriekwing. One great thing was that because we were in a guild group, we all watched the mini cinematics rather than rushing past. It was fantastic seeing and hearing Sire Denathrius welcome us to his playhouse, and introduce us to his first pet.

Shriekwing is basically a movement and cooldown test. In Phase 1, Tanks have to keep the boss fairly immobile, DPS have to avoid his line-of-sight casts, Healers have to keep the tanks alive through a 100% heal debuff, and everyone has to drop blood pools away from the raid. In Phase 2 everyone has to run around dodging bad stuff whilst still avoiding the LOS casts. And Heals have to keep everyone alive whilst still doing all that.

Shriekwing, a massive vampire bat, awaits the raid group who are eating
Never raid on an empty stomach

It sounds and looks simple enough when you read and watch the guides, but holy cow is it more complicated when you’re trying to actually do it. There are so many things to keep track of, and it’s easy to lose sight of what is happening next. Especially because we were all instantly panicking for the first few pulls.

We slowly started to settle down and focus, but we were somewhat under-geared, and under-ripe. I made a lot of tanking mistakes, not least watching the wrong timers for the tank taunt swap, which meant we kept dying too easily and too early.

Our best pull got the big bat down to 60%. We only made it to Phase 2 once with everyone alive, and it kept falling apart after that because one tank or the other would go down.

After twelve pulls we called it a night. Huntsman would have to wait.

The raid almost all dead, pools of blood covering the floor
A familiar sight

Despite not getting past the first boss, it was great. Even improving by 2% per pull made us realise we were (very slowly) progressing. We had four members who had never raided, and five more that hadn’t raided beyond LFR for many years. And half of us had gear well lower than recommended.

For next week everyone will be more prepared, and better geared. And if we get to 50% we’ll be happy.

One of our first-timers even reported he woke three times overnight in WoW raiding dreams. Perfect.

Postscript

I wrote this a week ago and forgot to post it. Last night we went in for our second try, and it was much more successful, though we still didn’t get past Shriekwing. But we did indeed pass 50% (47%!), and we consistently got through Phase 1 with everyone alive and healthy. Unfortunately the bouncing rings of blood kept overwhelming us in Phase 2.

It was encouraging and fascinating how we did end up learning Phase 1 well enough that it became semi-automatic, which means Phase 2 should follow next week. It was a good demonstration how there is nothing better than doing to learn – week one gave us the information we needed to succeed in week two.

And given we improved, I think we can now say we’re progression raiders 😉

Warcraft: On the Cutting Edge

Well, maybe not ‘cutting’. But for the first time since WotLK, I am pretty much current with an expansion.

My Protection Paladin main is Covenant maxed, has a nice legendary helmet from Torghast, and our dungeon group has completed all the (normal!) Dungeons. We’re training up a second tank, so theoretically we could start a tentative push into Castle Nathria. We’re well behind most, but for our motley crew of five-to-seven regulars this is quite an achievement, and we’re happily puttering along.

Dungeon group standing in front of Troll-god Bwonsamdi
Bwonsamdi has our back

The Covenant system has been a fun way to have a loyalty to something other than Horde/Alliance or race – our dungeon runs are full of faux-outrage at each other’s picks and how wrong they are. Uptight Kyrian (my choice!) vs Chaos Necrolords, with the Venthyr watching on from the sidelines whilst sipping their tea. The Night Fae miss out, but I’m sure someone will level one just to be able to poke fun at the rest of us.

The Revendreth story was easily the best for me, with Maldraxxus a close second (the arena opening was superb). Ardenweald lacked personality and was only saved right at the end by a good lore-heavy story, and Bastion was just plain dull – as everyone has said, a real misstep as the first zone after the strong Maw opening (as was the sudden slow down in Oribos).

Dungeon group standing in a gothic Revendreth Cathedral
Castle Revendrethloft

I chose Revendreth as my faction at first, but couldn’t stick with it as a Prot Pally. It felt wrong for RP reasons, so I switched to team shiny, which I haven’t regretted. They are ridiculously po-faced, but the armour looks nice and the zone is a peaceful oasis compared to the rest – it feels like a balm returning home there.

Angelic figures flying through blue skies
The character models don’t quite work when being airlifted – especially Tauren

Given the Covenant quests are now done, and Renown is stoppered at Level 40, a content pause is inevitable. I’m only now starting to ponder an Alt. But my Hunter needs one last very rare fish drop (some Wowhead comments have 30,000+ casts to catch it?! I’m only on 1000 – eek) to finish all the pre-Shadowlands fishing, so I’m loath to move her on. And my Rogue is busy catching pets from lower level zones, so she’s also busy.

Patch 9.1 sounds good, I’m looking forward to the story progressing. Sylvanas is super-interesting again – the questions raised by her tiny eye movements in the Chains of Domination trailer was excellent.

Sylvanas side-eyes possessed Anduin
Hmmmmm

Hopefully 9.1 comes sooner rather than later, but in the meantime I’m managing to sneak in some Overwatch (I’m very rusty), and restarting Horizon Zero Dawn (and wondering why I stopped the first time ’round – it’s excellent). Game alting – one benefit of being up-to-date in an MMO!

Warcraft: Tanking Tips

A friend is about to try tanking for the first time, and as I was writing an email trying to provide some tips it occured to me that that’s what this blog is for! So here is a first attempt at a Warcraft Tanking Tips guide.

UI

UI is a very personal thing, but there are some basics that every tank should consider.

First, have your core rotation abilities on an action bar nice and central to your view. Add your self-heals and mitigation skills to the same bars, and try to gather them into logical groups. DPS on 1-3 and F1-F3, heals on 4 and F4, migitation on F5-F6, etc.

Second, bind your interrupt and taunt abilities to easily accessible keys – I use my mouse thumb keys, which makes interrupts super quick.

Third, have your name plates configured to show threat. There are many add-ons that do that – it’s built in to ElvUI, or there are stand-alone add-ons like Tidy Plates Threat Plates etc.

Fourth, put uour unit frames front and centre, probably on either side of your action bars. You need to always be able to see your health and debuffs, and the enemies – especially their cast-bars for interrupts and incoming migitable abilities. Sometimes a boss will take up so much of the screen that you will need to rely on the unit frame cast-bar to know what’s about to happen.

Fifth and finally, have your healer unit frames highlighted somehow. Maybe make them your focus (/focus in chat) so you can keep track of their health and mana. Their job is to keep you alive, so doing your best to return the favour is the least you can do, and knowing their status is key to that.

Rotation

Tanking rotations tend to be pretty simple – almost always priority based and generally about spreading your damage around equally between the enemy combatants.

Rotations tend to vary slightly depending on how many mobs are attacking you, but that’s usually just an easy swap of a single target attack for a multi.

Follow one of the Icy Veins guides for best results. Start with the Easy Mode options, and graduate to the more complex rotations as you gain confidence and knowledge. Or just stay on easy mode – it will work for everything up to Mythic.

Threat & Taunting

The main job of a tank is to keep all of the enemy mobs focussed on you, so your DPS and (most importantly) healers don’t die. The mechanism for that is Threat.

Tank classes have a boost to threat generation, so they will naturally pickup mobs when fights start. The trick is holding that threat when the DPS starts to ramp up.

One of the members of our regular group is vastly more powerful than the rest (and me as a tank), so they will quickly start to draw the attention of the mobs. To mitigate that, it’s important to spread my attacks around the mobs, and keep whatever AOE threat I have ticking over.

For a Paladin, that means plenty of shield-throwing, and keeping the ground around me constantly Consecrated. Other classes have similar abilities – for example Spinning Crane Kick and Keg Smash for a Brewmaster Monk.

With your single target attacks, don’t always focus on a single mob, watch your threat levels and throw out an attack on someone who is losing interest in you to keep them on task. The mob you’ve marked to die first (see ‘Pulling’ below) should be well in hand after a few rounds, so you can start to give the other adds some love to keep everyone on you.

Mobs will inevitably wander off mid-fight, so the other key thing to learn is how to Taunt. All tanks get a way to target a specific mob and force it to attack you. So be ready to taunt it back whenever something makes a beeline for your healer.

The other important use for taunt is to do a tank-swap on a raid boss, which allows you to take over tanking the boss from your co-tank during a phase change or other mechanic.

Interrupts

Many classes have interrupts, but tanks often have more than one. Unless you’ve got excellent voice comms or add-on coordination, taking responsibility for calling interrupts generally falls to the tank, though when starting out probably just let everyone interrupt whenever possible – with the exception of boss fights where some casts really need to be shut down.

You want to be confident you have an interrupt in hand for the important abilities, rather than relying on the DPS to do so or burning them on inconsequential casts. Keep one in reserve unless you know there’s nothing particularly bad incoming. And bind that ability to an easy to use key, as the window for a critical interrupt can be pretty short.

Mitigation & Defence

Mitigation means what is says on the box: being ready to use your abilities to mitigate incoming bursts of damage or special attacks. This should help smooth the damage curve, making it easier for healers to keep you alive. The bosses (and add-ons) tend to telegraph these moments, and every tank has several abilities that block damage or self-heal – use them for mitigation.

Warcraft tanking oscillates between being threat and mitigation focused, and currently sits somewhere in the middle. Threat tends to come naturally through your rotation, allowing you to concentrate on being ready to mitigate when needed.

The other key thing tanks have is a few ‘oh sh*t’ buttons. Things like burst heals or massive shield blocks, including some which make you invulnerable (which can have the associated problem of also dropping threat dramatically, so use with care). Some of these have long cool-downs, so plan how and when you would use them.

Line-of-sight

The curse of tanking can be ranged mobs, which stand at 1000 yards and bombard you with endless spells. One mechanism for stopping that is interrupts (they will run to you and attack with their puny daggers if they can’t cast anything), and the other is using Line-of-sight.

This basically involves gathering your team behind a corner or pillar or other landmark that is out of line-of-sight of the mobs. You can then pop around the corner, throw something at the mobs, and retreat. Because they can’t see you, the casters will all come jogging around the corner into your DPS death zone. Neat.

It’s not always possible – those designers are onto us! – but always worth looking around to see if you can use the infrastructure to your advantage.

Know-it-all

For one reason or another, tanks tend to end up leading dungeon runs and raids. Which means you have to know in advance the layouts, tricky trash pulls, and most of all the boss mechanics.

You need to be situationally aware during a fight, even if it’s just trash. Watch for incoming patrols or adds so you can grab them before they wail into your healer.

I try to explain the key boss mechanics as simply as possible before each pull, but there is a lot of on-the-fly learning and making it up as you go along too.

There are many many good YouTubers and websites out there to help with all this, so find one you like and watch the basics of each dungeon before entering. Someone even made a browser based Castle Nathria recreation to help learn the fights!

Also take advantage of party members who know the zones – our Warlock has run them all on Heroic or better, so leaning on their knowledge of short-cuts and scary trash is very helpful.

And finally – get either BigWigs/Littlewigs or Deadly Boss Mobs. They’re invaluable for giving you warnings of what is about to happen. They take over a lot of the screen, so be prepared for more confusion at first, but before long they become indispensable.

Your healer

Aka your best friend, soul-mate, and saviour. Always be kind, always check their mana (or equivalent), and thank them for keeping you (and everyone else) alive. If you have shareable protective abilities, reserve them for your Healer first, and you second. The longer they’re alive, the longer you will be too.

Pause when they need mana, heal them when you can, throw out shields on them as required. This can be hard at first, as you’re too busy trying to stay on top of the chaos, but over time you’ll start to be able to also watch your healer and help them out like they do you.

Your DPS

Your other best friends, without whom nothing would ever die. Or, if you’re a Paladin, nothing would ever die within an hour. The only thing you need to manage with DPS is holding back their unbridled enthusiasm: the tank always, always, pulls first.

Pulling & Marking

Speaking of. Whether it be mobs or bosses, you should always be the one initiating the fight. Use a readycheck (/readycheck in chat) when you need to (mainly bosses), and gently scold those that wander ahead and body or intentionally pull before you’re ready.

Before each pull, mark the mob that needs to die first with a skull – inevitably it’s the healer. If needed, mark the second most important target too with an X. The DPS’s job is then to get those two down fast, before finishing off the scraps.

You can also mark zones in the battle arena for your team to gather in or retreat to during the fight, to avoid boss mechanics etc. Add-ons make this much easier – a good one I found is Marking Bar Lives, which adds a small UI element with clickable mob and floor markers, readychecks, etc.

When you pull, get to the boss or in amongst the mobs, lay down some covering fire and AOE, try to face them away from the team (so you bear the brunt of frontal cone attacks), and go crazy.

Fun!

Tanking is very fun. You’re often covered in hundreds of angry mobs, or facing down a gigantic boss that covers the entire screen. It can become overwhelming, and button-mashing and panic sometimes seems the best option (and just might be!). But there’s nothing quite like holding together a massive fight through sheer stubborn tankery.

Have fun, stay calm, and tanking will become second nature. Enjoy!

Warcraft: Shadowlands UI and add-ons

A new expansion means it’s time to reset the UI back to zero and start again. I’m largely writing this to remind myself what I did, and for anyone else interested in the basics of rebuilding a UI.

There are several sections, so skip to the one that you’re interested in:

  • UI nuke: resetting a UI back to the very basics
  • ElvUI: the (almost) no-work total UI overhaul
  • Custom ElvUI profiles: borrowing someone else’s setup to make ElvUI better
  • WeakAuras: adding some zing to the UI, also using other players’ setups
  • Bonus add-ons: useful extras

UI nuke

Only bother with this bit if you have an existing custom UI that you want to reset it completely. Otherwise skip to the ElvUI section.

I was surprised to find that the ‘reset’ was not as easy as expected. The official instructions are to delete (or rename if you’re worried) the \wtf, \cache, and \interface folders in the Warcraft _retail_ directory.

The next time you logon, all those folders are recreated with default settings – or so I thought. While all the addons were gone, a bunch of UI stuff is still saved, most noticeably your action bar and chat settings. They must be cached by Blizzard on the server as a backup, similar to the way macros are saved. You can just leave this as if of course, but I wanted to totally nuke everything.

There is an ingame /resetchat command to reset the chat but even that seemed to maintain some things like font size. In the end I had to delete the contents of the config-cache.wtf and chat-cache.txt files for each character subfolder in the /wtf directory. I also deleted the contents of the base config-cache.wtf file in my account directory. I couldn’t work out how to reset the action bars, so they’d have to be cleared manually.

Doing all that is total overkill, but once done the UI seemed to be really back to bare metal – including things like auto-loot and tutorial tips. The default UI is perfectly serviceable now, but there are plenty of things that need improving – mainly the nameplates, unit-frames, and bags.

Here’s a brand new character with the full default UI.

Still fond of the silver dragon bookends

Time to start adding things back!

ElvUI

ElvUI is kind of cheat-mode UI building. It replaces just about everything, and does an amazing job at setting up a new default that is definitely an improvement on the base. In fact you could just install ElvUI and be done, but I do find it still needs some additional tweaks and additions.

When you first logon after adding ElvUI it will ask a bunch of questions. Most are fairly obvious, and all can be changed after the fact, so don’t worry too much and just click what you think sounds good.

The other option is to skip the config entirely and instead load a custom profile that is already configured – see below for details on how to do that. I started with modifying the default ElvUI, but ended up loading a preconfigured setup as it saves a whole lot of manual tweaking if you can find one that suits.

Here’s what the base ElvUI looks like after the initial setup.

Nice and clean

Once it’s installed there are a billion things you can change and configure, which can be overwhelming.

The first thing to do is to move the UnitFrames. That’s the frame that shows your health, and your target’s health. I find they need to be front and centre to be effective, otherwise your eyes are too busy darting all over the screen to see vital information like “I’m about to die”. To my eyes the default setup puts them a bit too low for instant access.

In ElvUI, clicking the Toggle Anchors button will bring up a screen where you can move any of the available frames on the screen. It’s a little scary, but there’s a reset mode (ctrl-rightclick on a frame) to get out of trouble.

Once you move the basic unitframes you start to have to move others too – like castbars, XP bars, etc. Move them around until you have something you like.

I also like to make the UI clean by fading the unused frames when out of combat: UnitFrames -> Individual Units -> Players -> Fader -> Enable -> Min Alpha 0.

Similarly with Action Bars, I want them to appear when I target something – otherwise you need to actually start combat before they will appear. Which is bad for those of us who haven’t memorised which skills are on which action bars. Adding this code to each action bar will do exactly that: ActionBars -> Player Bars -> Bar x -> Visibility State

[@target, noexists][petbattle] hide; show

Customising ElvUI is a deep rabbit hole, but it’s fun once you learn how it all works. There is an easier way though…

Custom ElvUI profiles

Instead of setting up your own ElvUI, another option is to download a custom profile that someone has uploaded. If ElvUI is cheat-mode, nabbing someone else’s profile is cheat-mode cheat-mode. Perfect!

On the ElvUI site there are several custom modifications that are constantly being updated and which each take different approaches. BenikUI looks particularly nice, if you like a simple/spartan UI.

The site with the most custom user-created profiles is wago.io. I’d suggest sorting by Stars to find the most supported or up-to-date UI setups, as there are a lot of profiles uploaded just to help individuals keep track of their personal setups. Ideally you want one that is being updated and fixed based on changes to the game.

I found one that I really like by LostPet. They update it regularly, and it has a really useable and simple feel. Unfortunately they have closed off comments (no doubt due to the time it takes to keep on top of feedback), but if you follow the fairly simple documented steps it turns out nicely.

Very nice indeed

There are a bunch of extra add-ons required to make the UI look like the LostPet videos, but they’re all pretty simple to install, after which you copy and apply the LostPet profiles. The required ones are Details and Plater, plus the ElvUI mods AddonSkins, Skullflower Textures, and Shadow & Light. Everything else listed on the UI page is optional.

LostPet does have a penchant for hiding most action bars, which is ok if you’re right on top of your keybinds and abilities, but I tend to unhide them just for my own sanity and because different characters have different binds.

At first I tried just using LostPet’s UI as is, but I found I missed having flashes and animation on the abilities when they were off cool-down or proccing. To get that, WeakAuras was required!

WeakAuras

Setting up auras is kind of complicated, but there are a huge number of preconfigured auras you can use to avoid the complexity. There are some very nice WeakAuras that work across classes, which saves a lot of time if you have an army of alts (/wave).

One good example of this is the suite of auras created by Luxthos. He has a collection for each class (here’s the Paladin for example), and updates them regularly based on feedback from his large Twitch following. This is excellent as players can find bugs or suggest improvements, so everyone benefits from the hive-mind thanks to Luxthos’s receptive approach.

The Luxthos auras will create midscreen action bars that have all the critical abilities and cooldowns ready to go. It’s not intended to do things like telling you when to press what, but once you learn your rotation having everything in the middle of the screen with timers and highlight auras is a huge benefit.

Over time I’ll start hiding most of those lower and left (tiny) bars

The only difficult thing with a set of canned auras is if you want to make them mimic your keybind setup. Luxthos’s compilations set out abilities and cooldowns to match his preference, which is unlikely to be the same as your own. For example I have a row of mostly offensive skills on 1-6, and another or mostly defensive on F1-F6, where his only show a single row of mixed abilities.

The auras by default don’t match my rotation and key preferences, so I needed to customise the setup, which means slogging around in the config to move the abilities to where you expect them. This is mainly just moving the button order around by swapping X Offset values in the Position Settings for the abilities I wanted to change.

Because he only has 6 main buttons, I decided to keep my 12 button actionbar layout visible until I have memorised the rotation and keybinds better. I also added custom text to some abilities on the WA icons which display the key bind. This all makes the screen a bit messy but it’s worth it for more predictable ability use.

All of the things!

I should really learn how to make my own overlay for my 2×6 action bar of abilities. One day!

Bonus addons

Adibags is my favourite Bag manager. It does a great job of automatically sorting items into relevant categories (armour, weapons, tradeskills, etc), without needing too much thought. Just disable the ElvUI bags to make Adibags take over.

Pawn: Item comparison tool. I’m pretty sure Pawn is overkill for me, but I wanted something that updates the gear tooltip when you hover to tell you how good or bad an upgrade a newly acquired piece of gear is. Shift-hover works in the default UI, but Pawn adds a whole lot of extra info based on the Ask Mr. Robot stat weightings.

HandyNotes: Super handy (ahem) add-on that allows custom notes on the maps. Enabled by downloading overlays for the zone you’re exploring, such as Legion Treasures or Timeless Isle Chests. If I could find a good guide or forum as to how this add-on works, I’d make one to display rares in Vanilla zones.

SilverDragon: Speaking of rares, if you like tracking them SilverDragon is a nice fun option to help find them when you’re not looking. Especially in vanilla zones where they were actually rare as compared to Legion et al where rares were more like commons!

Warcraft: Finding Jenafur

Following our Hivemind success, this week we decided to go catch the new secret hotness, Jenafur.

She’s a battle pet that was hidden in the game in September 2019, and not found until the puzzle of her whereabouts was finally solved in September 2020. Interestingly the final solution was discovered by someone who doesn’t play Warcraft but just enjoys puzzle-solving. Their account of the solve is as mind-bending as the Hivemind, if not more so – involving printed sheet music, 2d grids, musical staves, prior theories, and logic.

It’s a much shorter secret than the Hivemind, taking only an hour or so once you know what you’re doing. A quick visit to Amara Lunastar, an NPC in Ashenvale named after a Make-A-Wish recipient, leads you to Legion Karazhan (not the raid) – a path discovered via some amazing deduction that aligned random cat kibble to the world map of Eastern Kingdoms.

Inside Karazhan are some food items that have to be collected and placed in a certain order inside the Opera Hall, all within 5 minutes. Using a smart suggestion from Dragonray at Azerothian Life, we first we marked the Opera Hall locations. Then we posted a player near each item of food, started the timer, and our rogue sprinted around collecting the food.

We failed on our first attempt as I didn’t realise you had to place the food in a certain order. Luckily the food respawned so we didn’t have to do a dungeon reset, and on the second attempt Jenafur appeared on cue, accompanied by the melody from the sheet music that had led to the solve.

I still don’t really understand how it was solved, but the result is a cute new companion.

Or maybe not so cute, once you put on your pair of Overly Sensitive Void Spectacles!

Warcraft: The Hivemind

Inspired by Telwyn’s post at GamingSF, our Horde group decided to try and acquire the mysterious Hivemind mount. This is the only five-person mount in the game, and was hidden for a long time before the savants in the Warcraft Secret Finding Discord discovered how to unlock it.

Reading through the Wowhead Guide, it’s incredible it was ever solved – some of the puzzles combine a deep knowledge of game lore, out of game meta info found in patch notes, and a crazy commitment to trial and error. Which makes the name of the mount entirely appropriate – it took a Hivemind to solve, and it takes five people working in a Hivemind to obtain.

Even with the extensive notes, steps, and add-ons, it’s a challenge. But we all agreed it was one of the most entertaining experiences we’d had in the game, and very different to most content.

The first step is to obtain four monocles, of different colours, from various sources in the game. To do that you need to don a usually worthless Talisman of True Treasure Tracking, which reveals various hidden items and NPCs in the world as you continue on the quests.

Spoiler alert

The Blue Monocle is gained by finding lore letters scattered around Azeroth. Most are simple travel quests, but one requires you to visit OG Karazhan which opened the memory floodgates for many in our group. We even had to solve Chess, which proved a challenge due to those same floodgates being pretty rusty.

As we set about collecting the Blue Monocle we realised just how complicated this must have been to solve. For example, the letter that leads to Karazhan has this cryptic message:

Of all of Gai’s cures for Nature, the most liberating is Death.

The secret-finders determined that if you took the words with capital letters (Of, Gai, Nature, Death), an anagram could be made which solves to:

Seat of the Guardian

The most well-known Guardian in WoW is Medivh, the Last Guardian. As such, the third letter is located in Karazhan, by Medivh’s Chambers, located after the Chess Event.

Multiply this by seven letters and the magnitude of solving the full puzzle starts to become clear. Thankfully we just need to follow the guides to collect the first reward.

Thankfully not hidden in The Oculus

Next we thought we’d do an easier one and collect the Red Monocle. How wrong we were.

The monocle is obtained from Sir Finley Mrrgglton. He makes what seems like a simple request for a few undersea goods, which must be obtained from various fish vendors that float around Vashj’ir. As we soon discovered, the trouble is a) the fish are spread far apart; b) they’re swimming so move about; and c) there is an rapidly decreasing time limit on the items once they’re sold to you.

This was by far the most stressful monocle to obtain, as the combination of undersea travel and time pressure meant we lost one player after another as the timers expired, until I was the only one still in play – and only just, having beat a timer by seconds.

This was where the five-person hivemind started to shine though, as we devised an on-the-fly strategy to send the out-of-the-race party members to hover over the vendors so that I just had to look at the map and head toward the relevant character. Even that proved tricky when I called out the wrong co-ords for a vendor, and almost messed up the entire thing on a fish that wouldn’t stop long enough for me to complete the trade. But by some miracle we got it done.

Stop hamming for the camera, Sir Finley

The Green Monocle was a doddle in comparison, merely requiring a visit to Skyreach to type in a simple pattern. So simple I forgot to take a screenshot.

I’d read the Yellow Monocle was the killer, and when first approached it seemed impossible. It’s a gem-solve puzzle, where you need to turn an entire room of gems to a single colour using three different rotational crystals.

Nope

I would never have been able to solve it, and had to use the non-obvious Hivemind HoO Puzzle Helper add-on to work it out (which took me 45 minutes to key in and pray it would work), but several of our party figured out how it worked once we got half way across the room. I was suitably impressed.

Yep

At this point we had all four monocles, and at least one on four different characters, so could move on.

The next stage took us to Suramar, where we needed to get past a barrier that was blocked by coloured beams that matched the monocle colours.

Those colours are familiar…

To do this, four players need to venture out and find named Withered, whose eyes glowed with a matching colour. This was another example of the complexity of the solution. To work this out, players had decipher codes inscribed on each monocle by using alphabet logic-tricks, which revealed the phrase ‘Wild Withered’. They then needed to pore over the Legion patch-notes to discover four named Withered that were added in patch 8.1, then find them scattered in Suramar.

Four of us ventured out to the Withered, while the fifth stood in front of the beams. We had to all attack and ‘kill’ our target at the same time, which forced them to cast a Draw Energy spell that drained the barrier allowing our fifth player to step through.

Fishy eyes

Once inside, the insanity of the solution went to the next level. He had to click on a lost cat toy that was inside the room, and when he did, he was teleported back out of the room and took a small amount of random damage. That damage total – 8140 for us – then become a five digit code (08140) that we needed to use to pat five named cats in the Court of Stars dungeon. How on earth anyone worked out that link – the damage taken mapping to pats on some kittens – is beyond our ken.

Nice kitties

We dutifully patted our kittens, and were rewarded with a transport to the penultimate stage: the dreaded jumping puzzle.

We had assumed this would be where we failed, as 91 co-ordinated jumps awaited a group not known for our mad mouse & keyboard skills. But we were thrilled to find out the ‘jumps’ were actually just clicks, like jumping on a mount. Hallelujah! So we just needed to follow the sequence laid out in the guide and we were through.

Once again our smarter party members had solved this by half way across, though the step where someone had to leap to their death was surely insoluble except by trial and error.

87 of 91

Which led us to the final challenge, which was a variation on the fox-chicken-farmer river crossing puzzle. It flummoxed us for a while, but our Professor eventually sorted it out and we made it across. I was the poison, whilst our newest recruit was the farmer, which was a happy confluence.

So close

And with that we were done. We entered the room with the Hivemind, which in a nice final touch required all five players to stand in summoning circles to unlock.

Naturally we all then returned to Orgrimmar to flounce around showing off our new mounts.

And best of all, we discovered a secret of our own! Once we all mounted a single Hivemind, our host worked out he could eject us…Special Air Horde!

Thanks to the Secrets Discord for making the solution available to all, and solving it in the first place. And kudos to Blizzard for creating five-person content of such a different flavour.