"Help! I level too fast. Much too fast!"

That is the title of a thread on the official European forums that's currently sitting at seventeen pages of replies. I'm grateful to Nils for casually referring to it in his last post, because otherwise I never would have looked for it. I didn't read the whole thing, as it basically devolves into a lot of uninteresting back and forth after a while, but the fact that so many people felt the need to comment on the subject at all really surprised me.

I have to admit, I'm an old-school leveller. I levelled my first character back in Vanilla and I didn't think that it was terribly grindy. In fact, WoW was praised for having the fastest and smoothest levelling of all MMOs back then. However, as Blizzard started to tack on more levels and players repeated the same content over and over while levelling alts, people started to feel that reaching the level cap took too long, so the experience needed to advance was reduced. And again. And again. I didn't really like it. I didn't ruin my own levelling experience or anything, but I didn't consider it a good development either. However, I was sure that my opinion was part of a minority that would only ever grow smaller as time went on. Apparently I was wrong.

I'm not claiming that the people who say that levelling goes too fast now are a majority because I honestly don't know that, but I think the fact that this subject is brought up on the forums at all and gets such a huge response says a lot. I believe that WoW's ever-increasing levelling speed has reached a breaking point where it's starting to bother more people than ever before. Everyone already knew that a game not having enough content to last you through the levels was a bad thing, but not having enough levels for all the content is a new experience.

I had to laugh when one of the people defending the current levelling speed as "fine" argued that if anyone thinks that they are levelling too fast they should just play less. Talk about missing the point. Levelling and consuming content should be in synergy with each other, and I'm clearly not the only one who thinks that things are somewhat out of whack right now.

I don't think anybody is pining for the days when you had to be half a Loremaster and run every instance at least once to reach the level cap at all, but this new system doesn't flow very well either. Blizzard used to encourage people to dabble in different aspects of the game, but right now doing so almost feels like a punishment. When you're halfway through a zone-wide story arc, you don't want to see that all the quests have turned grey after you "dared" to run an instance and a battleground. Doing grey quests isn't nearly as satisfying, and abandoning every other zone halfway through is completely at odds with the developers' new approach of telling overarching stories. People used to write guides for efficient levelling, do we now need guides on how to level as slowly as possible so you can do more quests on the way without them becoming completely trivial?

You do have the option to repeatedly turn XP gains off and then turn them on again to keep the content interesting, but that's a rather clunky way of gaining sixty levels. I liked a lot of the different suggestions on the forums, such as an option to simply reduce your own XP gains (by twenty, fifty percent, whatever) instead of constantly stopping and restarting them, or slashing overall experience across the board while buffing heirlooms so that those who want to level their alts quickly can still do so.

I do hope that Blizzard considers the issue, as this speed-levelling has really affected my own enjoyment of the new content already. I'm no longer looking forward to new levels, instead I feel as if they are chasing me. "Can I at least do a couple of quests without outlevelling yet another batch of content? Nope, I dinged again. Crap!" Since I started dungeoneering at level fifteen, I haven't been able to get any more of the new quests done, and my druid is nearly thirty now. I always think that I'll do just one more instance before getting started on a new zone, just to find that I've already outlevelled the area I wanted to go to. Then I find something else that's level-appropriate, do two quests, ding again and notice that a dungeon that I wanted to do will drop off my available dungeons list in another level, so I have to do it now or else.

I suppose that these feelings are at least partly based on the newness of the shattered world, because I want to see all of it and the thought of missing out on any of the content probably seems more awful right now than it really is. Given enough time and enough alts, I will be able to see all of it one way or another. But as much as I like rolling new alts, I don't like the thought of having to roll a new one for every single aspect of the game because the current levelling curve doesn't support anyone wanting to do more than a couple of quests each level.


More dungeon reports: Wailing Caverns and Shadowfang Keep

Last night I specifically queued for Wailing Caverns and Shadowfang Keep, to make sure that I'd get a chance to run them before they fell out of my level range. I feel like I have to throttle my gameplay very carefully right now to not miss out on content I want to do, which is really rather bizarre.

Wailing Caverns was a bit of a disappointment because it didn't appear to have changed at all. Now, WC is one of the old instances that I'm slightly less familiar with, so I can't completely exclude the possibility that they removed a side passage or two, but it looked exactly the same to me. The changes that the developers were talking about at Blizzcon, where they mentioned making the instance less confusing and putting all the bosses into separate rooms definitely haven't been made. I can only guess that they ran out of time before the Shattering and that this is something that they'll patch in later - or at least I hope they do, because otherwise WC is going to feel horribly outdated compared to other instances.

The only positive change that I noticed, other than the quest givers sitting inside the instance now, was that the Disciple of Naralex actually runs once you start the escort event now - instead of walking at a snail's pace, as quest NPCs that claim to be in a hurry are so often wont to do. Thanks for that.

Still, for what it's worth I enjoyed that run, because I had a group that was both nice and competent. The trip to Shadowfang Keep that followed afterwards was exactly the opposite.

SFK itself has been changed drastically, just like the Deadmines, but I couldn't really warm to those changes yet. In the Deadmines, even before I had played through Westfall to learn about the story behind it, it was at least somewhat apparent that we were breaking up a rather shifty operation in those caverns. I mean, mining monkeys? That can't be legal.

SFK on the other hand just confused the hell out of me. Gone are Arugal and his werewolves, and instead there are... evil Forsaken? The quest giver at the entrance greeted me like an old friend and went on about avenging some insult against Sylvanas, but I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. The fact that three of the bosses looked like they were identical triplets or something didn't help either.

This basically strikes me as story gone wrong: instead of the background enhancing your experience by giving you additional motivation to clear out the evil guys' hideout, the story is your only motivation to take action... otherwise it's just random. I mean, this stuff was clearly designed to be a sort of follow-up to whatever happens in Silverpine - about which I've only heard good things - but without that background it's just weird. I guess I'll have to roll an undead hunter soon and maybe I'll change my mind once I understand what it's all about.

Like in the Deadmines, the new bosses are considerably more complex than what you'd usually meet in this level range, and pretty much all of them have some kind of big flashy move that you're supposed to avoid. Oh, and the first boss seems to have no other purpose than to scare the crap out of your healer. You're dead! No, you're not! You're dead! No, you're not! Arrrgh.

Most of my unhappiness with my SFK pug came from the fact that my entire party absolutely loved standing in the bad stuff, even though several of them wore heirlooms and really should have known better. I didn't have the mana to save them all the time and there were multiple deaths. On the last boss we even wiped twice, though our warlock managed to finish him off on our second attempt as the last man standing.

The tank also aggravated me because he kept pulling whole rooms at once, which led to loads of unnecessary damage on him as people were killing things off one by one, so I was constantly oom and left with no time to regain mana as he kept charging off into yet more mobs over and over. This sealed my decision to not queue as a healer anymore until I can get dual spec at thirty. At least then I won't have to constantly feel guilty and question the validity of my off-spec healing whenever someone dies to playing stupidly; I'll know that it's their fault.


Reporting from Ragefire Chasm and the Deadmines

Even without heirlooms or restedness, levelling still feels too fast to me. I want to see the new quests, but I also can't stay away from instances entirely and that's already enough to throw my questing completely out of whack. By the time I finished the Northern Barrens, most of the quests and mobs there were already grey to me, and all because I had done a couple of RFC and DM runs... I guess it's good for people who like to level using only one part of the game or who really like to pick and choose their content, but for me... not so much.

I chose to make my new troll druid feral but didn't feel like tanking, so I queued as dps... and as healer, since I healed low-level instances as an off-spec very successfully in the past. I do have to say though, I'm now not sure anymore whether that's such a good idea, at least not with random groups. It's far from impossible, but I still found it a lot harder than I expected, even though I had collected a full set of int gear for healing.

Mana was the biggest issue - healers all get meditation at level ten now if they choose to go resto or holy, and I reckon that not having that as an off-spec healer was what made the biggest difference. Spell scaling was another problem: in the past I used to compensate for off-spec healing by only queueing for instances for which I was on the higher end of the level range, using the fact that the extra levels had increased my mana pool to my advantage. However, nowadays the cost of my spells increases with each level as well, meaning that being a few levels higher doesn't help at all - my mana pool will still only be good for x number of spells. If anything I found it more difficult to heal once I hit twenty or so, since it was around that time that I seemed to lose the massive regeneration bonus that all the low levels get these days.

Some of it might also be a class-specific problem however. For example I had a run in which I was a kitty and our healer was a shaman in pretty crappy gear, but his mana bar hardly ever seemed to move at all. After observing him for a little while I noticed that he was making a point of using his super mana-efficient heal, healing wave, most of the time. Paladins and priests get their version at low levels as well, but druids still don't get nourish until level seventy-eight. Ouch! This left me with only rejuvenation, regrowth and healing touch in my toolbox. (Compare the 26-35% of base mana cost to nourish's 10%!) Rejuvenation worked reasonably well, but I needed a direct heal to cover damage spikes as well, and neither regrowth nor healing touch worked really well for that. The former is fast and heals for a good amount but too expensive to use all the time, and healing touch is so fricking big that it's hard to use it effectively as you'll overheal a lot of the time, and that while it's still quite expensive. (In my runs it healed for a little less than 400, with the tanks having between 400 and 600 hitpoints. I could hardly wait with casting until they were near-dead every time!)

Still, I don't want to make it sound as if healing was completely horrible or anything, but the instances as a whole are definitely not as facerollable as before. It's hard to make a judgement on how much more difficult they've become, because it still depends a lot on your group. If you've got a tank in full heirlooms you'll probably be fine. However, I've also had non-heirloomed tanks that were at the lowest level for the dungeon and went splat so quickly that I could barely even get a healing touch off in the time in which they went from full to nil. I actually started pre-casting and cancelling my heals in some cases, the humanity! Talk about something that gave me vanilla flashbacks. Actually, that's probably the best way to describe the state of these revamped low-level instances: they have a certain vanilla WoW feel about them. They'll still go a bit faster, but overly crazy pulls are definitely not recommended. Crowd control is not strictly necessary but can be helpful.

I already mentioned in my last post that Ragefire Chasm hasn't changed much. Mobs have been thinned out and moved around a bit (for example Oggleflint is right up ahead now instead of up in that cave up on the side), they have more health and hit harder now, but otherwise it's more or less the same. I expect that this is the way Blizzard handled most of the old five-mans.

Both the achievement system and the dungeon finder also still claim that the instance has been completed once you kill Targaman the Hungerer, which is just as silly as it was before, seeing how he's only the second boss. However, due to the new dungeon maps which show more skulls further ahead and the fact that there's now a quest at the start to kill Jergosh the Invoker and Bazzalan as well, you should have better luck with convincing your party to do a full clear than you might have had in the past.

The quests at the start are noteworthy as well I suppose. Blizzard did mention that all dungeon quests would be available inside the instance from now on, and they weren't kidding: a full contingent of quest NPCs awaits you, offering about three to four quests for the instance at once. As if the dungeon finder wasn't efficient enough already... still, I'm not complaining. Having everyone on the same quests has its advantages (see above) and it saves you all the running around you used to have to do to pick up all the dungeon quests. Just remember to go back to the instance entrance at the end to hand in instead of leaving the group and teleporting out right away.

My only complaint with this system so far is the rather awkward way in which it works with one quest in the Deadmines. One quest giver there has a whole chain to kill all the bosses in the dungeon, except that you don't know that right away. So you get the quest to kill the first boss, clear the instance - then at the end all the quest NPCs conveniently show up so you don't have to run back, and when you hand in, this quest giver tells you to go and kill another boss. But, but... I just killed everyone in here, you're standing right on top of their corpses, lady! I ended up having to do three runs in a row or so just to complete this one quest chain, which felt a tad silly. Why can't she show up after I killed the boss she wanted me to kill and give me the follow-up then?

The Deadmines as a whole have been changed a lot, presumably so that the level eighty-five heroic version would be on par with other heroics. This means that the boss fights are fairly involved for such a low-level instance, though still not too difficult. Almost all the bosses have some sort of ability that requires you to move away, but you shouldn't die immediately if you don't - you'll just make your healer cry. Still, compared to the usual tank-and-spank in other dungeons of that level that's a huge difference.

Also, all the bosses (with one exception) are different from the classic Deadmines. If you're Horde, you'll probably just go "What's going on? Who are these people?" and then kill them anyway. If you're Alliance you can level an alt through Westfall (which I did afterwards) and learn all about the story behind the changes there, with little nods to pretty much all of the new characters. If you're at all into lore, it might be worth levelling an Alliance alt just for that, even if you're usually Horde.


Did we or didn't we do these things?

One thing I've started to notice during my questing and during my first couple of dungeon runs since the Shattering is that Blizzard has moved the old world forward through the Cataclysm in a very inconsistent manner.

Let me explain what I mean:

Before the Cataclysm, the quest Lost But Not Forgotten by Misha Tor'kren in Durotar was about her son having gone missing. You end up finding his remains in the belly of a crocolisk, and while she is obviously very sad, she thanks you for providing her with a definite answer in regards to his fate.

In the new world she gives you a quest with the same name, but in it she acknowledges that her son has been dead for a long time and asks you for help with crafting an item in his memory. This basically acknowledges that the previous quest already happened: her son disappeared and she was informed about his death.

On the other hand however, we have quests like Fizzled, which asks you to fetch something from a character that you supposedly already killed for some guy in Razor Hill years ago. Apparently that quest did not really happen.

In the Barrens I saw the same pattern: On the one hand Mankrik is full of hatred for the quillboar because they killed his wife, alluding to the adventurers that he asked to look for her back in the day already having confirmed her fate.

Yet another character asks me to kill Kreenig Snarlsnout, another named guy that I already killed years ago. Likewise all those centaur leaders whose heads I chopped off back then are also miraculously back from the dead, pretending that the story of those quests never happened either.

Ragefire Chasm still has Oggleflint and Targaman the Hungerer, perpetually frozen in time, but the Deadmines are full of new bosses and no more Defias because we killed those and obviously things are different now.

I don't know, it doesn't make the quests any less fun to play through, but if you're trying to think even the slighest bit in-character, it's just odd. The way everything that you kill respawns after a few minutes has always required a certain suspension of disbelief, but at least I was never being asked to kill the exact same NPC twice while being told that this was actually happening five years later. Either the quests we completed in original WoW really happened and have had an impact on the world or they haven't, but acknowledging that some happened while pretending that others didn't just feels strange to me.

It's almost as if the developers couldn't quite make up their minds whether they wanted the Cataclysm to truly move the story forward or whether they just wanted to overhaul the existing quests and streamline them. I'm surprised that nobody pointed out to them how weird and inconsistent it would look if they redid some quests with the former principle in mind and some according to the latter.


A troll druid's first fifteen levels

I've decided to tackle the huge amount of new low-level content with (new) alts. I know that some people prefer to just do it all on their level eighty main instead, but to me that would feel cheap. All game content is much more fun at the right level, so I'll make sure that I experience it that way first, and maybe I'll go through it again on my main later on for the sake of being a completionist. Right now I just hate it when I try to do a low-level quest - and there's plenty of competition from other alts anyway - and some eighty decides to come breezing through and one-shots every mob in the area. Gee, thanks.

Anyway, the first alt that I rolled was a troll druid, native to Argent Dawn since I have no empty character slots on Earthen Ring anymore. And oh my god, troll druids are popular. I swear there were hundreds of them in Durotar last night, turning the place into the new Barrens chat. On the whole it was kind of fun to see all these different-coloured kitties bounding across the landscape, but there were certain "choke points" in the quest lines where the sheer number of players caused problems. For example the third quest or so that you get as a new troll requires you to fight a captured naga in a miniature arena, and this can only be done by one person at a time. When I finally managed to spam-click the NPC that starts the event before anyone else, someone else ninjaed the actual mob from me. RAGE! Even worse was a bit where you were supposed to kill a named guy on a hill and he had a respawn timer of five minutes or something. When I last left the place, there were no less than a dozen new troll druids camping the spot in hopes of getting there first with a well-timed moonfire. Not exactly much fun.

Still, on the whole I rather enjoyed the first five levels of new troll life, and I pretty much got exactly the opposite impression as Tobold, who thinks that the new troll starting zone is too complex and will confuse new players. I doubt many people who quit WoW before reaching level ten did so because they thought that the game was too complicated; more likely they just didn't find it very engaging or their kind of game at all. Personally I think it's great that Blizzard tries to teach new players important abilities (such as different ways in which a quest item can be used) from the start now. They might not get it right immediately, but the zone is very forgiving. You don't encounter actively hostile mobs until a few levels in (and unlike the sudden neutering of the old starting zones, having more neutral mobs actually fits the story here). When you do meet hostile mobs at last, a friendly NPC accompanies you and he's quite good at killing things, so an accidental overpull or mobs spawning on top of you isn't going to get you into any trouble.

At the end of the zone, you get into a big boss battle (yes, at level five). Tobold criticises that the strategy to defeat the boss isn't detailed in the quest text, but fails to mention that instructions flash across your screen in giant letters during the fight, raid-warning style. How often have people pointed out that WoW's single player content doesn't prepare people in any way for what they'll encounter in dungeons and raids later on? Well, here we finally have an attempt at a solution to this, by giving people a taste of what a boss fight will look like as early as level five. And it's still very forgiving as far as I could tell, as the friendly NPCs that fight with you seem to be quite good at keeping the boss busy on their own, so it's no biggie if you can't figure out what you're supposed to do right away. I didn't check my combat log, but I got the impression that I was receiving heals as well.

As I moved on to mainland Durotar, I noticed that other random mobs had also been upgraded to be more interesting: human soldiers would heroic leap at me, others dropped bombs or traps at their feet, scorpids spat poison circles on the ground... they still weren't difficult fights, but again giving the mobs abilities that players also encounter in dungeons and raids later on strikes me as a good move on Blizzard's part, as it teaches people early on to watch out for bad stuff on the floor and to engage their brains to figure out whether they have any spells that can counter a particular mob's signature move. Dare I hope that this might make the next generation of players a little smarter a little sooner?

But enough of gameplay. Let's talk about the landscape, lore and quests. I'm actually a bit undecided about the new troll starter area in terms of looks, as I felt that too much of it was taken up by the training area - surely the Darkspear don't spend all their time preparing for war? Do they always have to swim to Sen'jin Village if they want to do as much as have a beer?

Lore-wise the conversation between Vol'jin and Garrosh was a bit of a shocker. I mean, I cheer for Vol'jin saying it as it is, but at the end of the day he pretty much makes a death threat against Garrosh there! I'm surprised that trolls are allowed back into Orgrimmar at all.

Durotar as a whole hasn't changed a lot, except for the western half of the zone having been partly flooded. It was actually kind of funny - up until I got to that part of the zone I was progressing very quickly, because things mostly looked the same, but the moment my kitty felt the (new!) long grass tickling her belly, I almost forgot all about what I was doing and just started randomly bounding up and down and wasting time in this wonderful new world that I had discovered.

The quests are pretty similar to the zone's looks in terms of changes, meaning that I was initially surprised by how little certain things had changed. The centaurs are gone and humans from Northwatch took their place, but the quest to destroy their attack plans is still exactly the same. Where you used to kill Kul Tiras marines you now get exactly the same quest, only with the mobs being called "Northwatch" something-or-other. Fizzle Darkclaw has drowned in the flood, but you're still supposed to get him.

But just like with the look of the zone, you might find yourself moving on quickly because you think that you've already seen it all... and then you suddenly run into something completely new and different that blows you away.

I have since moved on to the Northern Barrens, where I've encountered a similar pattern so far. Yes, there is still a Plainstrider Menace quest, but at least the quest giver doesn't pretend that they really are dangerous this time around, and you get to ride on a caravan kodo afterwards, which is quite fun.

Having reached level fifteen, I'm keen to try out some dungeons now to see how they have changed.


First impressions of The Shattering

I have to admit, I didn't prepare for the big changing of the world at all. All my level eighties are still sitting in Dalaran - I still have some ICC runs to do before the actual expansion after all - and won't change their hearthstones until I get around to it. I didn't log out in a special place. The thought of getting half the expansion in advance just didn't really compute for me. As long as it's not expansion day, no patch can be all that exciting, can it?

I logged onto my bank alt today as I do on most days. Somewhat unusually, I had left him next to the Orgrimmar flight master, as I'd been making the rounds around the Pilgrim's Bounty tables to level his cooking. When I logged in however, I wasn't greeted by good old Doras - instead there was water, some greenery and birds chirping in the background? WTF? We're not in Kansas Orgrimmar anymore, dear banker... except apparently we are.

Chat was filled with a strange mix of praise and complaints. There were comments about Orgrimmar's new look being awesome ("take that, Stormwind") but also unhappy voices that didn't like being unable to find the forge anymore or having to discover dungeon entrances before being allowed to use the dungeon finder. However, overall the mood didn't seem too dire - the latter complaint was eventually met with "LFM to discover Northrend dungeons" for example.

Orgrimmar has certainly changed a lot. Garrosh has not only fortified its structures, but NPCs, facilities and whole buildings have been moved around. It took me ages to find my beloved Kaja, and she doesn't seem to be as conveniently placed as before. The zeppelins dock inside the city as well now, instead of in front of it. I was proud of myself for finding my way up the central rise and to the zeppelin tower for Thunder Bluff without too much difficulty.

The goblin lady that welcomed me looked slightly odd at first glance. Playable female goblins have been looking slightly different from the NPCs for a while, but I never gave it much thought. Suddenly seeing all the NPCs change to the new model is a little strange however.

Eventually the zeppelin arrived, I settled down at the prow and observed the landscape passing by under my feet. When was the last time I enjoyed flying this much and actually paid attention to my surroundings? I've never felt so close to being a newbie all over again. There is a whole new world out there that I don't know! Okay yes, I have an idea of the basic geography, but the details will be very different. I actually find myself wanting to take it slowly just to savour that feeling. Mmm.

Flying over the northern Barrens, I was surprised by how little things seemed to have changed, though everything looked crisper and clearer somehow. I don't know whether that's just my imagination, whether the patch actually changed my graphics settings without me noticing or if things really do look better. Then the zeppelin came to the edge of the zone and I saw this big crack in the ground with lava flowing through it. I actually winced. Deathwing, what have you done!

Arriving in Thunder Bluff, I found that very little had changed there, though that was fine by me. It's nice to know your way around at least one city. When I ran into a tauren paladin, I cheered at him.

I returned to Orgrimmar by wyvern afterwards and carefully peeked off the top of the central rise. Elevators are for wusses! I hurled myself down into the nearest bit of tarpaulin, where I almost got stuck - what a start to my day that would have been! To my surprise I survived the following fall to the ground... and ended up landing next to the new level 85 elite Gamon, who was being kited around by a couple of hunters and mages. I burst out laughing at the sight of it - some things never change!

As if to confirm that thought, I then ran into a couple of people duelling in front of the gates as usual and some crafty mages that were selling their portal services to the public for some gold. The world is alive and I don't know what awaits me... I couldn't imagine a more wonderful feeling.


Heirlooms - yay or nay?

So, the old world is going to be revamped in only a few days it seems. No additional character slots in sight, so I won't be making any new alts on my home servers, but I guess nothing stops me from making a troll druid, a tauren paladin or whatever on another server. They won't have access to heirlooms of course... but I'm starting to think that this is probably be a good thing.

Of the alts that I've been levelling recently, two have both heirloom shoulders and the chest to boost experience gains, one has shoulders only and two went entirely without any heirlooms. I think it's great that these items exist to give people the option of shortening their time spent levelling, but as someone who actually enjoys levelling I'm becoming more and more convinced that I'm actually better off without them.

How fast is too fast?

Faster levelling doesn't have to be a bad thing even if you do like the levelling process - after all everyone has zones and levelling ranges that they don't like as much and where they'd rather move on to something else sooner than later. In fact, at first I enjoyed the freedom of picking and choosing my favourite quests and zones on my heirloomed alts, but it soon became apparent that I advanced so quickly that I unintentionally ended up leaving content that I really liked behind as well. For example it felt rather awkward on my rogue when I realised that all the mobs in the Arathi Highlands had gone grey before I had even had an opportunity to get started on the zone, and I nearly missed my chance at gainful questing in Tanaris as well, even though I love doing the wastewanderer and pirate quests there.

It was even funnier when I quested in Silverpine Forest with my fully heirloomed mage. Silverpine used to be the worst of the 10-20 zones for the Horde because quests were so scarce that you couldn't really make it through the zone's level range without doing something else on the side as well... but on my mage I gained a full ten levels in Silverpine alone, with the last quests having gone grey by the time I got around to them. Overkill, thy name is restedness plus heirlooms.

In comparison the pace at which my Alliance hunter advanced through Redridge and Darkshire, with no heirlooms and not always rested, felt much more natural and "right". Considering that the revamped low-level questing is supposed to be so awesome that I'll want to see all of it and multiple times, I really see no reason to make my next bunch of alts rush to eighty(-five).

She who has everything misses out on a lot of upgrades

Another supposed advantage of heirlooms is that they scale with your character's progress, meaning that you'll always have the equivalent of a blue quality item of your level equipped in your heirloom slot and will never have to worry about upgrades. This is particularly nice for melee classes, who are heavily dependent on their weapons for good damage output. If you've ever outlevelled your gear by ten levels or more without noticing it immediately, you'll know what that's like.

On the flip side however, half the dungeon drops and quest rewards that you'll see on your way to max level will be completely useless to you. This didn't seem like that much of a problem to me in theory, after all I still had plenty of other gear slots... but as it turned out, the vast majority of instance drops seem to be things like weapons and chest pieces. I actually found this quite depressing on my rogue after a while, seeing yet another dagger or sword drop and going: "Oh, rogue weapon! Oh wait, I got the heirlooms..." There's something very fun about receiving gear upgrades, and being "stuck" with the same chest, shoulders, weapons and whatever other heirlooms you may have is actually kind of sad and a bit of a fun-sucker. Which leads us to the third point:

Looks do matter

I don't know about you, but the first time I got heirloom shoulders for one of my low-level alts they felt extremely cool. Usually you wouldn't get any shoulders at all until around level twenty, but the heirlooms can be worn from level one. Likewise all the other heirlooms borrow their looks from old level sixty gear and thus look a lot shinier than anything else a low-level character would usually wear.

The problem is, this gets old really fast. Again my mage was the most striking example. When I bought him the heirloom cloth shoulders, robe and caster staff in his teens, he went from looking like a ragged farmboy to a truly mighty mage. This was cool for about five minutes, until I started running into other people in the zone I was questing in and every other mage, warlock or priest looked exactly like me. That's beyond a fashion faux-pas, that's a disaster. And I mean, it's not as if you just happen to look the same for a few levels like people often do in Hellfire Peninsula, you'll look exactly the same for the entirety of your levelling process. How sucky is that? I'm not expecting to be a unique snowflake all the time, but levelling the 147th clone trooper is no fun either.

In summary, I don't think I'll be interested in buying any of the new heirlooms in Cataclysm, but I'll keep using the ones that I already have on the characters that have been using them for a while, because once you start using them it's kind of annoying to go back to normal gear, as you might not happen to have an appropriate chest, shoulders and weapon lying around to replace them...


Now that's what I call an invasion!

I've said before that I wasn't too impressed with the early phases of the elemental invasion event (or at least that it didn't feel like much of an invasion to me at that point). However, things have really picked up in the last couple of days and I'm having a blast.

Firstly, the ongoing quests have been updated with Thrall moving to Nagrand to consult the elementalists there, breaking the introductory Mag'har quest line in the process. At least Blizzard seems to have had the foresight to change some things around so that you don't actually need to be friendly with the Mag'har anymore to start questing in Nagrand, otherwise the whole zone would have been broken as a result of that small change.

I remember when I first heard about Thrall handing the Warchief mantle over to Garrosh, I couldn't believe it because... well, why the hell would he do that? His conversation with the elementalists in Nagrand provides a hint at least, as they are urging him to abandon his warchief position and to devote himself completely to shamanism. Considering that he's worried about Azeroth getting torn apart and really wants to soothe the elementals, I can buy that. Garrosh as Warchief or the destruction of an entire planet? Kind of a lose-lose situation there, but one's got to pick something.

Poor guy also gets criticised for his "martial" outfit conflicting with his shaman identity. Have these guys seen any of the shaman tier gear?

Meanwhile, Azeroth really is being invaded this time, with elementals taking over Ironforge, Orgrimmar, Stormwind and Thunder Bluff every two hours or so. Why they are not interested in the other capitals, I don't know. I guess it makes sense from a game-technical point of view, because players would get spread too thin if they were to defend a total of eight cities, not to mention that Silvermoon and the Exodar would be under siege non-stop because nobody would bother to defend them. Still, story-wise it makes me wonder.

I was vaguely aware that this phase was coming, but I didn't know any of the details of how it would work. I just saw someone announcing the elemental invasion in chat while I was checking the auction house on my banker and immediately decided to throw myself into the fray on my main.

Initially nothing seemed to be happening, some guards just shouted warnings about an incoming attack, and NPC citizens appeared to flee the city. At the start of the actual attack only a couple of non-elite elementals spawn, but don't let them fool you - they are not what it's all about. During my first city defence I had no idea what was going on and just kept smiting these random elementals, but what's really happening is that players have to erect barricades around the city, by picking up boxes and dropping them in marked locations.

Once all barricades have been placed, the event starts properly and elemental rifts spawn inside the city, just like they have been doing throughout the world for the past couple of weeks, except that these have more charges and spawn elite mobs. People are quick to form impromptu raids as being grouped up makes it easier to see where others are going, share buffs and dish out heals. Still, if you can't or don't want to join a raid for some reason or another, that doesn't actually stop you from participating. In fact, I had a blast on my druid healing people late at night just by turning friendly health bars on and targetting those who were getting low. It wasn't very efficient, but it was challenging and different, and those whom I saved from certain death more than once certainly appreciated it, shouting cheers for me and emoting love and hugs. Cairne Bloodhoof thought that I was awesome too. (I wouldn't recommend this method when it's very busy however, your screen just fills up with a gazillion friendly name plates and you won't be able to tell what's going on at all.)

There's also something about NPC citizens getting trapped in elemental prisons and people having to free them with totems from the Earthen Ring NPCs, which took me a while to suss out. Either things were so manic that I couldn't see a thing or other people were simply considerably faster at freeing them, so I never even saw any for my first couple of city invasions. It wasn't until I rode to Thunder Bluff's hunter rise early during an attack, which for some reason always seems to be the last place people go to, that I spotted tauren citizens all around that appeared to be stuck in cyclones. I assume the animations for different kinds of elementals look different though.

Famous friendly NPCs also make a an appearance and help you fight - in Orgrimmar for example Garrosh himself joins the fray in the Valley of Strength, Vol'jin helps to defend the Valley of Spirits, and Rexxar returns from Outland to help out in the Valley of Honor. Unlike during the Battle for Undercity and the Zalazane's Fall event they don't give you any buffs though - so people can and will die! I have to say, this is how I like my WoW NPCs best - not acting as buff-bots or holding lengthy speeches, but fighting! I might even grow to like hate Garrosh a little less for actually fighting for Ogrimmar with axe in hand instead of just spouting pompous lines all the time. Oh, and there's also an amusing bug going on with some NPCs where they will clone themselves for some reason. At one point I was fighting side by side with no less than three Cairne Bloodhoofs. Can't at least one of them survive the Cataclysm? Pretty please?

A lot of WoW's recent developments have worked to erode the server community and bring all players of a geographical area together instead, but this event is finally throwing the fans of server identity a bone again. Maybe it's because I play on a roleplaying server - even if actual roleplaying has kind of died out by now, at least on Horde side - but this kind of thing really gets people excited and involved. I guess if you even have a little bit of roleplaying left in you, it's hard to not feel compelled to defend your home city. I really enjoyed seeing people from different guilds work together and spotting a lot of familiar names that I hadn't seen in a while. Really made me feel at home in more than one way.

Incidentally, the rifts in the cities count for Tripping the Rifts, so the guildie of mine who said that he wasn't going to hunt down rifts because eventually the rifts would hunt us down was right. It's really easy to get the achievement now just by participating in a city defence.

For each type of elemental that you repel for good, you'll get access to a special dungeon boss for about half an hour: Crown Princess Theradras for earth, Grand Ambassador Flamelash for fire, Kai'ju Gahz'rilla for water, and Prince Sarsarun for air. On the one hand it's fun to fight "classic" bosses like the princess in a levelled-up state again, but on the other hand I have to admit it annoyed me a little that these all just show up again with no explanation. When we had to face Zalazane again it was at least explained that his previous "kills" had been trickery, but why are all these guys back?

I have to admit I was quite shocked when I found out that they all drop ICC-10 quality loot for a variety of slots as well as sixteen justice points a pop every time you kill them (which you can do over and over and over... for the thirty minutes or so while they are accessible at least). Whenever I think that Blizzard can't top their latest seasonal loot pinata any further, they go ahead and manage it anyway. Still, it's not as if it really matters at this point, it's just some more levelling gear for alts. Plus these guys are actually at least a little bit challenging, I've seen people die during these fights and even came close to a wipe once.

The NPCs also get involved again, with Garrosh helping you against Flamelash and the Princess, and Cairne accompanying you to Zul'Farrak and Ahn'Qiraj. I realised that I never actually saw Cairne fight in-game before; it was fun to see him break out the giant totem poles. And Garrosh doing fighting instead of talking again... I approve, and have to admit I'm already warming up to him a little.

They also give you a quest which rewards you with a bit of extra gold when you kill each of the bosses for the first time, but you better be quick with picking it up, because as soon as the tank starts the fight the two faction leaders will be too busy to talk to you, and unfortunately some people feel the urge to rush in as soon as they zone in so they can finish the fight quickly and immediately requeue some more until the timer runs out. I still don't like "gogogo"-ing, but I have to admit that in this case I can at least understand it somewhat. Even during my own first time fighting the bosses I just made sure to grab the quest quickly, helped with killing the boss, and then paused afterwards to read what the quest text actually said and check my chat log for what the NPCs had been talking about before the fight.

I can really see myself enjoying this phase of the invasion for a while - too bad that it's distracting me from any other pre-Cataclysm goals that I might still have had in mind, but what the hell! There comes a point where you really just want to move on and figure that if you really wanted to achieve all those things in the old world you'd already have done them earlier. Bring on Deathwing! Until then I'll be tripping rifts and picking up a few more pieces of levelling gear for all my alts.


How WoW helped me get a job

I don't like to talk too much about my real life on here, but this is a story that I've just got to share.

For those of you who haven't looked at my about page in a long time, I'm an Austrian who moved to England nearly a year ago now, to live with my boyfriend - whom I met through WoW, incidentally.

Since then I've been unemployed. The economy here is in a bad state, I'm a foreigner without any particularly fancy qualifications... you get the picture. With every unsuccessful interview I came to loathe those generic interview questions that Syl posted about the other day even more. I don't think they are completely pointless, but all too often they strike me as clearly conjured up by some higher-ups who have no idea what the actual job looks like or what kind of people will be interviewed. One of my most hated examples is "Name a situation where you worked successfully in a team." I used to work in retail, and we had to work together like a well-oiled machine all the time, what do you mean I have to name a "situation"?!

Anyway, to get to the point of this particular story, I had another interview for a retail job on Friday. I didn't think that there'd be anything special about it, even though I immediately took a liking to the manager when he appeared to express a dislike for generic interview questions as well. We chatted away quite nicely, and then came the dreaded team question once again. /groan

I gave my "well, I've always worked in a team" answer but he still looked expectant for more. I had received some interview coaching in the last couple of months and remembered that I'd been told that it was also acceptable to mention hobby-related examples in reply to questions like these if they were applicable to what's being asked.

Well, I thought, when the guild nearly fell apart this summer and we pulled together to save it, that was definitely a "situation" that required team effort...

"Okay, I play this cooperative game..."

Lamest and most awkward description ever, but I know that not everyone is into games so it would be presumptuous to assume that they know what I'm talking about. And of those that do know their games, not everyone might associate WoW with good things.

"Which game?"

Okay, he's one of those that really want to know. No way around it then...

"World of Warcraft. So I was..."

"Oh? How many eighties do you have?"

Huh, a real expert! Wait, how many eighties do I have? Hekatie only just dinged, so that makes... was it seven or eight now...?

"Eh, too many..."

No! Bad answer! That must sound like I'm playing so much that I can't even remember...

"Well, I have five myself."

Oh, he plays himself and has five eighties? That's... unexpected.

"Anyway, so my guild was falling apart..."

"Ah yes, mine's been pretty dead as well, what with everyone waiting for the expansion..."

And then we basically spent the next five minutes or so talking about WoW instead of actual job-related stuff. I have to admit, I struggled a little not to burst out laughing because the whole thing just seemed so absurd. Here I am, trying to be in super-serious job interview mode, and the manager is telling me about how his main is a paladin and he wants to roll a goblin in Cataclysm.

Eventually we got back on track and when I saw him hesitate over what to put down as my answer to the team question, I couldn't help myself...

"Hah, now you have to figure out how to explain that to someone who doesn't know the game!"

Oh god, could I be any cheekier? Yegads...

"Hm yeah... oh well, I'll just complete this later!"

Then he asked me the last couple of questions and sent me on my way. I did eventually burst into giggles once I was out the door.

During my many months of unsuccessful job-searching some people have told me that job interviews aren't so much about assessing your skills as they are about seeing whether the interviewer likes you as a person and thinks that you'd fit in.

This morning I got a call. I'm starting on Thursday.

I guess they were right!


Pugging Pains

Every cloud has a silver lining, and what goes up, must come down - or in other words, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my recent string of happy pugging experiences was quickly followed by a lot of awfulness.

My rogue finally hit Outland today, but before that I did some more pugging with him... and it was painful. I haven't actually had much fun since he outgrew Sunken Temple, except for one perfectly smooth Dire Maul East run and one BRD Emperor run where I ended up completing most of the instance with just a protection warrior and a disc priest, after we had booted some troublesome elements and it didn't seem worth replacing them.

It's not so much that anyone in particular acted more horrible than usual, but the overall standard of behaviour was just shockingly low. To give you an example, I think I had more runs with people ninjaing loot than runs where everyone used the need/greed system as intended. One or two ninjas actually stopped once I called them out on it, but most just completely ignored my comments and continued their random need rolls on everything. Only in one Dire Maul East run the tank and healer decided to kick the ninja after he didn't respond to my comments about it twice. More often than not the tank and/or healer were the ninjas.

A lot of people also just came across as incredibly impatient. Maybe we simply have very different ideas of fun, but I don't particularly enjoy abandoning every other instance halfway through just to start a new run. In one BRD group someone kept spamming us with attempts to requeue for a different dungeon halfway through the run (even though we were progressing fast and smoothly) and when he didn't get his wish he went AFK until we kicked him.

During my only attempt at Lower Blackrock Spire, our tank, who seemed to be the only one who knew the way, eventually dropped group and left us somewhat stranded. When we got a new tank and couldn't immediately find our way around, again the group wanted to start over with another random instance instead. I declined, telling them that I had queued for LBRS in specific, and got the boot before I could even blink. Not that I think that they didn't have the right to enforce the majority vote, but I would have liked to at least try to convince them or else leave on my own... but no, they had to requeue now now now. What is it with all these players having the attention span of a gnat? Surely actually completing an instance run is not considered too hardcore these days?

And then of course there were the ones doing plain dense and stupid things. Like the tank who pulled mobs until he died while the healer hadn't even zoned in yet and then complained about lack of heals. Or the tank/healer duo from the same guild that had zero communication, with the tank again pulling everything in sight repeatedly and then wondering why he died. One particularly stubborn death knight tank managed to wipe the party in exactly the same way three times in a row (by aggroing the Grim Guzzler patrons with blood boil spam) before the group disbanded. Generally a lot of players seemed to be completely unable to deal with anything that made "just AoE everything in sight" a bad strategy, and I saw healers catching a lot of crap when they got silenced or things got out of control otherwise, as if it was all their fault.

I'm not sure why I've suddenly had such a streak of terrible pugs, but I have some theories.

For one thing, I noticed that Blizzard has started to merge the EU battlegroups as well now (edit: found the official announcement), though I don't know whether they are entirely done yet. You'd think that one battlegroup is already large and anonymous enough, so that adding some more wouldn't make a difference, but to be honest I was actually starting to get a decent feel for Cyclone after a year. With all those different server names popping up in my pugs all of a sudden I feel like I'm completely lost at sea again. Maybe it's just xenophobia, but I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of these new servers really did have a higher than average percentage of annoying players. Maybe it's time to start taking notes again.

Part of my chagrin definitely came from being a pure damage dealer and feeling awfully powerless in the dungeon finder group dynamics. I mean, even when I pug with my death knight as dps, I don't have to take any crap from tanks because if it comes down to it I can take over the tanking role. But as a rogue... I'm nothing. I definitely can't tank, I can't even off-heal, I'm totally dependent on the mercy of the tank and healer and can only hope that they don't act like complete douches. As it was I'm surprised that I didn't get kicked more often for calling tanks out when they behaved badly.

Still, I'm hoping that things will get a bit better in Outland, because at least the instances there are closer to Blizzard's more "modern" instance approach than all the old level sixty dungeons. I mean, I can appreciate BRD's good sides, but I do agree that the corpse run back to the instance is tedious as hell, so I can at least somewhat understand why people are more prone to dropping group there if we wipe. Plus, Outland is where the loot roll rules get a bit stricter I believe, which might curb the ninjaing tendencies at least a little. We'll see.


Voices of Wrath

Back when I reviewed the Cataclysm cinematic, one of the negative points I mentioned was the fact that I didn't really care for Deathwing's voice. This then made me think about what I thought about WOTLK's voice acting in general, what I thought was good and what was... less good.

The latter doesn't take that long to sum up, as it only consists of two points really. The first one is simply Arthas himself. I didn't have a problem with his voice acting per se, but I swear that the pitch of his voice changed every single time he made an appearance. People joked about how sitting on the Frozen Throne all this time had given the guy a cold, but what it came down to in the end was that the voice of the major villain of the expansion changing all the time hurt immersion and generally gave the impression of Blizzard doing unusually shoddy work with him, as if the sound editor randomly came up with a new mix of settings every time they had to record more voice work for Arthas.

The second thing that I didn't like was that all the NPCs just talked too damn much. I know that certain upcoming MMOs are really priding themselves in the fact that they include a lot of voice work, but personally I don't think that this is a good thing. An MMO is not an audio book, is not a film, is not a single player game... it's not a medium where you should have to spend extended amounts of time just sitting back to listen. If a boss wants my attention they have to be snappy; otherwise I'm just going to tune their yapping out eventually, in order to focus on, you know, actually playing. (Gruul's "Come... and die" is one of my favourite lines to this day, simply for being short and to the point.)

For all the time that I've spent in ICC in the past year, I'd have trouble quoting most of the bosses from there, with the exception of Sindy's terribad "BETRAAAY you" line. I mean, I know that they talk a lot and I have a vague idea of what it's about, but what I really hear in my head is something like "Arthas blah blah Tirion blah blah Bolvar blah blah". Not really memorable to me at least.

That said, when they don't go into endless monologues, a lot of WOTLK's NPCs had some pretty good lines coupled with solid voice acting. My personal favourites from Wrath's five-man instances are:

1. Keristrasza: Finish it! Finish it! Kill me, or I swear by the Dragonqueen you'll never see daylight again!

I have a suspicion that her voice work was done by the same woman that did Sindragosa, only without the annoying screechiness, and she does a pretty good job at conveying emotion with her voice (maybe overacting just a little bit, but that's okay). Whatever you thought of Keristrasza's story in general, her last lines in the Nexus are a heart-wrenching mix of aggressive insanity (threatening to kill the players) and what's left of her original personality (swearing by the Dragonqueen and wanting her torment to end). I like all of her lines really, including the "Preserve? Why?" upon pulling her and her last words asking for the Life-Binder to preserve her after all.

2. Scourgelord Tyrannus: Rimefang! Trap them within the tunnel! Bury them alive!

Scourgelord Tyrannus is actually one of those characters that talk way too much, even if he has a very nice voice, but the above line shows that he can get to the point when he thinks it's urgent. I've been known to randomly call this one out whenever we're fighting Rimefang in ICC.

3. Skarvald the Constructor: Pagh! What sort of necromancer lets death stop him? I knew you were worthless!

I love this line for the simple reason that I've always felt that the Scourge's necromancers have a tendency to look a bit sissy, and Skarvald not only shares these feelings, he expresses them better than I ever could.

4. Ionar: Master... you have guests.

Ionar must be British or something, because that's quite the understatement when talking about people storming your castle and slaughtering everything in sight. Even in death he retains the elemental equivalent of a stiff upper lip, and I can dig that.

5. The Black Knight: No! I must not fail... again...

I always thought that the Black Knight was a bit of a weird character, because on the one hand he's supposed to be this really powerful Scourge lieutenant, but on the other hand he's very obviously a Monty Python joke. How do you reconcile these two images? Well, I thought his last words do a decent job at it, by showing that his constant getting up again is not a sign of overconfidence, but rather the last desperate attempt of someone who knows that he messed up before and can't afford to do so again. The way that last line is delivered is enough to actually make me feel sorry for him a little every time.

The "So bad it's good" award: Devourer of Souls: You dare look upon the host of souls?! I SHALL DEVOUR YOU WHOLE!

If you've ever done Forge of Souls, this needs no explanation. You just want to tell this guy to chill the hell out.

And my five favourite voices from WOTLK raids...

1. Sara/Yogg-Saron: I am the lucid dream. The monster in your nightmares. The fiend of a thousand faces. Cower before my true form. BOW DOWN BEFORE THE GOD OF DEATH!

This phase-transitioning line is probably the single most amazing piece of voice acting I've ever heard in WoW. Even just playing it back in my head gives me the shivers. The transition from Sara's almost sensual voice to Yogg's fury is just so incredibly well done; it completely blew me away the first time I heard it.

2. Thorim: I remember you... In the mountains...

I never actually got what the fuss was about with this line. I remember our main tank and raid leader repeating it ad nauseam and I just didn't see the appeal, but the longer they went on, the more ingrained it became into my own brain. Then I found out that it had even become an internet meme and... well, now I can't help it anymore either. (Seriously, search YouTube for this phrase and you'll find loads more.)

3. XT-002 Deconstructor: New toys? For me? I promise I won't break them this time!

While having to hear XT's voice over and over again whenever I run past someone with the mini pet has demoted his voice from amusing to annoying for me, I still have to give credit where credit is due: I still remember pulling him for the first time and vent erupting into laughter upon hearing his squeaky voice - and I know we weren't the only guild that had this kind of reaction.

4. Lord Jaraxxus: You face Jaraxxus, eredar lord of the Burning Legion!

I suppose I have a bit of a thing for eredar lords, considering how many times I abused Malchezaar's lines to announce to people at large that they weren't facing our raid alone, but the legions we command! Jaraxxus has a similar kind of thing going on, and like Thorim he's made it to YouTube as well. Hard to get that out of your head again after a while.

5. Anub'Rekhan: I hear little hearts beating. Yesss... beating faster now. Soon the beating will stop.

Being a product recycled from Vanilla, Naxxramas wasn't exactly innovative and new in terms of voice acting, but bloody hell, Anub'Rekhan's voice is still amazing. Especially the line quoted above is just so creepy, delivered in a way that makes it very clear that the big bug won't just eat you, he's also perv enough to enjoy it in a very naughty way. /shudder

The "So bad it's good" award: Sindragosa: Suffer, mortals, as your pathetic magic betrays you!

There couldn't really have been any other choice for this. There's just something about Sindy's voice that makes it grate so very, very badly, and you'll hate her for that alone - not to mention the many wipes that most of us will have gone through on this fight at some point. However, making a boss hated by the players is not entirely a bad thing, and if nothing else that BETRAAAY is very memorable. Though personally I almost prefer her intro line of: "You are fools to have come to this place! The icy winds of Northrend will consume your souls!" I now find myself wanting to continue any sentence that starts with "You are fools" with this line.


Is Master Riding worth it?

I'd really like to know how many people have bothered to purchase the Master Riding skill since it became available from the trainer - or rather, how many of those that could afford to buy it have bothered, because most likely there is still a fair chunk of the player base that doesn't have enough spare cash lying around to get it either way.

I'm a bit torn about it myself. I have enough money to buy it for all of my level eighties if I wanted to, but I'm not sure whether it's actually worth it. I've just never seen another riding skill that does so little while costing so much.

I still remember buying my first ever land mount back in Vanilla, at level forty. I had to borrow a couple of gold from a friend because I didn't have enough money, but boy, was it ever worth it. Up until then I had trudged up and down the whole length of Stranglethorn Vale on foot so many times; it was awful. Being able to speed up my progress by sixty percent all of a sudden felt amazing. These days basic riding is much cheaper and you can get it at level twenty, but if you've ever levelled in the Barrens you'll still appreciate the difference it makes.

Then came epic riding on land. Again, I first got this in Vanilla back when it was still expensive and required you to save up for quite a while. But again, it was so worth it. The first time I rode my Swift Stormsaber around Darnassus, I kept running into pillars and walls everywhere because OMG it was going so fast that I couldn't steer properly (or at least that's how it felt at first). Again this experience has been downgraded somewhat since then, since the ultimate goal is now to be able to fly, but it's still noticeable that your mount goes considerably faster after you upgrade.

When I first bought the basic flying skill in Outland, I actually ended up having second thoughts about it shortly afterwards. This was back when basic fliers only went at the same speed as normal ground mounts, so I got onto my gryphon in Blade's Edge (where I had hit seventy for the first time), flew around a bit... and then went back to my land mount to continue my questing, because the flier was so much slower. Still, at least it meant that I could get to certain places that were only accessible by flying if I wanted to. Plus, Blizzard has fixed the speed issue since then so even normal flight goes faster than your ground mount at least.

Epic flying... oh yeah. I couldn't afford this for quite a while either, but after I watched a friend who had it zoom around Terokkar Forest I was so amazed by the sheer speed of it that I decided that I had to have it too and started saving up. Best flying skill ever - I always make sure that my alts can get it as soon as they hit seventy these days.

But this new flying skill... it costs as much as epic flying but only increases your flight speed by ten percent or something, relatively speaking. My priest got it automatically from her rusted protodrake, but I can't say that it feels like she's flying any faster than my alts. I suppose it would be noticeable if I was in a straight race with someone who has the upgraded skill, but when does that ever happen?

I guess I'll wait until Cataclysm to see whether there's anything else that's new and expensive that I'd rather spend my gold on, but I'm curious how other people have approached this.


On being called by your class instead of your name

This was loosely inspired by this post by Chas, which was in turn inspired by something else... so by now the thing I want to talk about is only very tangentially related to the original source, but that's how these things go sometimes. Isn't it great? Basically, the question that popped into my mind as I left a comment on Chas' post was: how offensive is it really to be called by your class or role instead of your name in a pug? You know what I mean... "healer, res me", "pala, buff might" etc.

I know from reading other people's posts and comments that a lot of bloggers dislike being addressed like that and I used to be one of them, but when I paused to actually think about it today I realised that while I still don't particularly like it, I've actually become a lot more tolerant of it. I kind of had to, as it's become very rare in my pugs these days that anyone will call me by my character's name, so rare in fact that it's likely to make me do a double-take, and if I were to quit every pug where someone referred to me exclusively by my class or role, I wouldn't get a whole lot done.

Maybe I've just been desensitised, but I've grown really accustomed to being called "tank", "priest" or whatever. I still address others by their name when I'm talking to them directly, but in third person I'm actually also more likely to just use their class or role. As in "let the tank get aggro first" or "the hunter has gone the wrong way". It just seems clearer, considering that everyone will immediately know who "the tank" is, as opposed to "Mooman".

I think that largely this is a side effect of the way pugs have become a lot more impersonal. I mean, character names in WoW are very different from our names in real life - after all we don't run around with name tags floating above our heads in everday life - but people still feel very strongly connected to them: they hate having a name change forced on them, having their name misspelled or mispronounced, seeing other people with stupid or offensive names - names are still something dear to our heart.

With that in mind I think it makes perfect sense to not use names when in pugs anymore - why be personal when we don't treat the other players like actual people? I mean, I like being sociable in pugs when I get the chance, but when you only spend about fifteen minutes with your party, they never talk and you never see them again it's really quite hard to get attached.

I struggle to think of a good real life analogy because it's hard to find anything comparable in real life. Maybe riding a bus with other people? That can take about as long as a pug these days and the amount of interactivity is quite similar as well. Now imagine that everyone on the bus was wearing name tags. Would that cause you to say, "Excuse me, Jane, is the seat next to you free?" Or would you still rather stick to an impersonal "Miss" or something of the like? I know that I'd prefer the latter, because being so close and personal with someone I don't know and have no particular intent of getting to know closer would be awkward.

There's also the matter of time. This might seem ridiculous, because how long does it take to look at someone's name and spell it out? A few seconds I suppose, but in today's heroic running culture where people calculate emblems or justice points per minute, that can already be enough for the rest of the group to zoom ahead of you and start the next pull. Also, you want to take your time and be careful not to misspell it, as that can cause offense in its own right. And shortening it to a nickname kind of implies a level of intimacy that's certainly not there with someone you only just met five minutes ago and with whom you haven't exchanged a single word so far. How much faster is it to just refer to the guy in the back with the bow as "hunter"?

As if to prove my point, I ended up in a Halls of Stone run only yesterday with a retribution paladin who had Righteous Fury on. I paused for a moment to politely point out that this wasn't a good idea and would just give her aggro. Her name had five syllables, consisting of ten letters, and I had to double-check that I spelled it correctly. By the time I hit enter, the rest of the party was already halfway to the next boss (and I'm not a slow typer), and I realised that I actually felt slightly awkward being so "overly friendly" to a complete stranger.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is, people have already agreed that the dungeon finder has changed the feel of the community and the way people act. Where once a server was a bit like a village where people knew each other, the dungeon finder now throws you out into a giant pool full of strange players. As far as names are concerned, it's okay to use a very personal form of address when dealing with a small group of people you're familiar with, but you wouldn't really call everyone in a big city by their first name, nor would you want them to speak like that to you. Maybe calling people by their class or role is simply starting to serve a similar purpose as a title or last name in real life. After all, many real life family names were originally descriptive terms as well. (Mr Smith, anyone?) Just like we don't perceive it as rude in real life to be addressed as Ms Doe instead of Jane, maybe we'll get used to our class or role being used as a neutral but more distanced form of address instead of feeling that the person calling us such is being annoying and offensive.


Death Knight Dungeoneering

Something strange and unexpected happened about a week ago: my death knight hit level eighty. I never thought I'd actually get there, considering my what I thought was a very deep-seated dislike for the class, but I really managed to warm up to my little undead lady over the past couple of months. Giving her a tanking dual spec halfway through Outland helped a lot, and from then on I slowly but surely progressed through the levels, mostly by tanking one instance at a time, but also doing the occasional quest or battleground. I also didn't feel that the patch changed blood tanking all that much, which made my death knight at least one character where I didn't feel like the patch put a huge dent in things for me.

When I hit eighty I found myself at a bit of a crossroads, as I wanted to keep gearing her up as a tank but had no particular desire to be that tank in blues that helplessly bumbles after the ICC-geared damage dealers that burn everything down within seconds, whether they have aggro or not. In the end I opted for the "gearing up through dps" path, even though all my attempts at playing melee dps had been rather unsuccessful and unfun so far.

That's when another strange and unexpected thing happened, because I actually ended up enjoying myself as two-handed frost dps. I'm still not entirely sure why, but I think there's a combination of factors that are simply coming together just right for me with this class and spec. For example the increased movement speed from unholy presence and the fact that some of my attacks have range have been incredibly helpful when it came to avoiding the problems with positioning that I've had in the past, finding myself perpetually out of range of my targets. If I pull aggro I can also survive a few hits, what with being clad in plate and all, but generally I've seen enough really bad death knights over the past two years to have a good idea of what not to do.

Also, the playstyle is just strangely fun. I've never played anything that fought with a two-hander at such a high attack speed, and it's simply a joy to watch my little death knight lady spin and whirl around like a spiky wrecking ball. The actual dps "rotation" seems to be pretty forgiving to me - or at least I seem to be doing quite well without having much of a clue of what I'm doing - and while this may sound silly, it has a certain whack-a-mole quality about it that kind of reminds me of healing: just that instead of hitting whichever bar is lowest, I hit whichever ability lights up first as available due to rune cooldowns. It's not complicated but still engaging.

So I've been running heroic after heroic after heroic, the justice points keep streaming in and I just want to run more... it's almost addictive. I was surprised by how many other people who were still gearing up ended up in my groups, though I don't know whether that was due to the dungeon finder's gear matching capabilities or if this is simply a reflection of the type of people who queue up these days - mostly alts. Either way I was quite pleased to note that even though some tanks still seemed very keen on getting through the instance as quickly as possible, there was a lot less overall negativity and considerably fewer "I hate this, I just want to get my emblems from the end boss" vibes than I've seen in the past year. Since it's all justice points now, people are a lot more willing to do full clears again, and I got all the optional bosses in heroic Old Kingdom, Gundrak and Halls of Stone done without even having to ask.

Also, while I did observe the occasional case of douchebaggery, I met a lot more really nice people and found myself regretting more than once that I could not add them to my friends list. To give some examples...

I had just tanked a normal Forge of Souls run and wanted to continue to Pit of Saron, but the druid healer was the only one who followed me through the portal; all the dps dropped group. We queued for new ones but couldn't even see one little sword pop up on the progress screen. After a few minutes we started tackling the trash with just the two of us. Just before we got to Garfrost I noted that we had two damage dealers queued up and wished that we could pull them in already just to speed things up. Then the last trash mob fell over and both sword icons were greyed out again. Woe.

"I don't think we can take the boss with just the two of us," I said cautiously, but when the druid suggested that we should at least give it a try, I was up for it. Surprisingly, we downed him without too much trouble. We then continued that way until the ramp after Ick and Krick, where the druid accidentally pulled a second group of trash mobs by popping Starfall (he had switched to balance spec since I didn't need that much healing according to him) and we wiped. At this point I coaxed a guildie into helping us finish since I wasn't sure whether we'd be able to two-man the bottom two caster pulls that we had tried to skip before, though the druid insisted afterwards that he was convinced that we could have done it on our own as well. I really would have loved to add that guy to my friends list, such a fun experience!

In heroic Culling of Stratholme I had a fun run with another death knight who was tanking in frost presence initially, which then led to a friendly and amusing exchange about how the purposes of blood and frost presence have been changed and how the developers love changing things around just to confuse us. People laughed when I joked at the town hall that Arthas had rerolled mage since he has a habit of suddenly "blinking" inside the room without actually walking since the patch. In short, we were having a blast, but about three pulls later I suddenly got disconnected. I quickly logged back in just to find myself back at the instance entrance, along with everyone else. Our group had been disbanded, we were unable to reinvite each other and were getting threatened with a popup saying that we were in the wrong instance and would be booted out soon. We wailed a little at each other in /say and said brief goodbyes, disappointed that our fun had so cruelly been cut short by an instance server crash.

I was slightly anxious when I found myself thrust into heroic Halls of Reflection, considering how many blues I was still wearing, and that feeling intensified when I saw that one other dps, an enhancement shaman, was similarly geared. Still, much to my own surprise, we ended up burning through the place without any problems, popping cooldowns at the appropriate times, and even got the quick escape achievement. Our healer got very bouncy and excited at the end, praising us for a job well done and saying that Arthas "had nothing on us". It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

On the bad side I only had an extremely lazy healer in heroic Pit of Saron who let people die all the time and then had the nerve to bitch at the tank for all kinds of stupid things (like daring to actually kill trash instead of trying to skip it), which eventually led to the group falling apart; an annoying druid who really wanted to get Intense Cold in the Nexus but seemed to be unable to understand how it works no matter how many times we patiently explained it to him; and a 55k-hitpoint tank in heroic Utgarde Pinnacle who rolled need on everything he could, snatching potential upgrades away from me with the argument that he needed them for his off-spec. Dude, I'm not stupid, your tanking gear has more dps stats than those blues. You're just being a greedy jerk.

It's strange to find myself with a renewed urge to run the same old heroics again so shortly before the expansion, but the overall feeling I got from those runs was just so positive! Really gives me hope for Cataclysm pugs, even if the dungeons will be harder then.


Unannounced elemental visit

So apparently the pre-Cataclysm event entered a new phase a couple of days ago. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't even have noticed if my boyfriend hadn't started rambling about running into elemental invaders on his low-level alt all of a sudden.

First off, there are some new quests to do in the capitals, in my case Orgrimmar. The first just tells you to talk to another Earthen Ring representative in Thrall's throne room and then ends there, presumably to give players a reason to go there and observe the conversation between Thrall and his advisors that was added a bit earlier already. I'm trying not to hate on Garrosh too much, but honestly, the way he talks to Vol'jin just makes me want to slap him.

The other quest leads to a pretty amusing chain that has you investigating what's going on with some cultists that recently started getting active in the area. I do have to admit that running around Durotar with a board strapped to my chest and yelling "The end is nigh!" cracked me up. I also liked the quest where you place warning signs around town and various grunts walk up to them and comment.

Still, where were all the elementals? I had to read up on the event on multiple websites to actually find out what was going on with them, because I don't think I ever would have run into any on my own. That's also where I found out about the Tripping the Rifts achievement and decided that I'd give it a go.

Over an hour of flying around Northrend to check various confirmed rift spawn locations later... I had encountered one rift. One. Weakest invasion ever. Of course none of the sources I consulted seemed to be able to agree on much about the way the event actually works, so for all I know the elementals might have always spawned just after I flew away and then wrecked the landscape, but eh...

Eventually I decided to have a look around Outland instead, just in case the scarcity of elementals in Northrend was due to everyone repelling them with a bit too much enthusiasm, and fortunately for me, I found three more rifts there within only ten minutes. It helped that I knew of at least one spawn point right inside a Horde base, so I just sat there, semi-AFK, and waited for the sounds of fighting to start.

I did like that all NPCs in the area felt the urge to fight the elementals, whether they were usually friendly to you or not. I always thought that it was a bit weird when creatures that very clearly shouldn't get along completely ignored each other because they were only trained to attack players, so it's nice to see NPCs react in a more "natural" manner for once.

Still, on the whole this part of the event didn't feel hugely engaging to me. The quest chain is alright but not as exciting as freeing the Echo Isles was, and the elemental spawns currently appear to be so uncommon that you can continue playing quite easily without ever running into any, if you don't just happen to be questing in the right area. Hopefully the next part will be more exciting; I believe it will actually affect the main cities and require teamwork?


Roguish ramblings

Recently I decided to revive one of my lesser-played alts, a male blood elf rogue. He was originally created because I wanted to see the blood elf starter zone in early BC but hated female belves at the time. As it turned out, I wasn't actually that fond of the male ones either, so I stopped playing him the instant I finished the Ghostlands... or actually - a bit before that, even. I didn't like the Ghostlands either.

Then one day I decided to give him another try and was scarred for life by this badly thought-out rogue quest. Needless to say that he went back on the shelf for another year after that.

But this time... this time I think he and I might actually get somewhere.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing the little guy again nearly two months ago was the positive effect of stealth normalisation. Now, this change actually happened quite a long time ago, but as I said I hadn't actually played him in that long. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, stealth used to have different ranks: the lower the rank, the higher the movement speed penalty while in it. This meant that as a low-level rogue you either moved from mob to mob really, really slowly if you always wanted to start with an opener from stealth, or you just charged into mobs like any old warrior and then had to spend a lot of time running away or running back to your body, as any add could quickly spell your death. Unsurprisingly, I didn't think that this made the class particularly fun to play. The suddenly increased movement speed in stealth improved this drastically for me.

I also decided to finally tackle lockpicking for reals. I had done the quest to learn it in the Ghostlands and picked a couple of extra locks there for fun, but then I had quickly fallen behind as nowhere else seemed to have random locks for me to pick. I decided to consult a guide on WoWWiki and then spent about half an hour sitting in a pirate ship near Ratchet, unlocking the same couple of rapidly respawning boxes over and over again... which wasn't hugely entertaining either, but at least it brought me back on track.

And then... I discovered the wonders of pickpocketing! Pickpocketing was one of those things that I always thought sounded really cool in theory, but in practice I felt that it was rather dull. A couple of extra copper and a pretty rock, woo-frikkin-hoo. However, once I started to move around Durnholde to work on the lockboxes there, I was delighted to discover that pickpocketing the local Syndicate mobs could provide me with junkboxes that helped with levelling my lockpicking as well!

From then on things pretty much snowballed, as I found more and more fun uses for all of my different abilities. Rogues are probably one of the classes that start off with the most utility early on (or at least they used to, I don't know how this has changed since the patch), and I guess it's not always immediately obvious how all these moves can be useful while soloing. However, unlike a healer's many healing spells for example, a rogue's skills can all be used while soloing, which I found quite amazing really. I came to the conclusion that you can tell a good rogue from a bad one because the former remembers at the right time that he has Blind. I always forget about it myself.

I also decided to try running some instances. Being a damage dealer, I figured that I would have to sit in the queue for half an hour while questing, but in reality most of my queues were less than five minutes long, sometimes even instant. In the end I had to just stop using the dungeon finder altogether for a while if I ever wanted to get any questing done.

The overall quality of my instance runs varied and some of them were fun simply because of the people I was with, but I have to admit that the entertainment value derived from actual gameplay was fairly low for me. I remember running instances with other rogues before WOTLK, and I remember them always darting ahead in stealth, distracting patrols, pickpocketing and sapping mobs, or in other words, being extremely useful even when not dealing damage. Unfortunately the WOTLK world has no room for rogues like that, and all that was left for me to do was to helplessly run after the tank, who was responsible for sixty percent of all damage done by spamming his AoE, to occasionally use Sinister Strike on a single mob. In one instance I even had someone yell at me to AoE already, until they remembered that rogues don't get any until level eighty. Yeah. Maybe that's why the dps queue is so short. While soloing I feel powerful; while grouping I feel utterly redundant. Which would you choose?

Then patch 4.0.1 came. I lost some skills that I had already learned before because they got moved to higher levels, but on the whole things didn't immediately feel too different. It took me a bit to realise that lockpicking had been completely removed as a skill, and is now a passive ability that automatically increases as you level up. I'm a bit disappointed by that, seeing how I had only just got into the mini-game of levelling it, but I suppose it will be nice to never have to deal with rogues who go "lol, what is lockpicking" when you ask them to open the door before the first boss in Shattered Halls or something similar ever again. Blade Flurry being on a thirty second cooldown now also helped a little with the AoE issue, if not much - but if nothing else it gives me one more button to press instead of just sinister-striking my way throughout the entirety of the instance.

I also finally got into the right level range for Zul'Farrak and Maraudon, two instances that I was looking forward to running through the dungeon finder since I hadn't done them in a while and was curious how the whole Maraudon split thing worked. Klepsacovic had a couple of posts on this subject lately that also received some interesting comments, and after experiencing these instances myself I can only echo their sentiments.

The Maraudon split is just plain awkward. Purple Crystals feels like a joke with only one boss in the zone, and Celebras the Cursed seems to have been completely left out in the cold, as both the orange and purple section officially end just before you reach him, and Pristine Waters starts behind him. It's a shame because he's one of the key lore figures of the instance and there's a quest to kill him, but most attempts to convince parties to go and kill him too get brushed off with a "nah, I just want my loot bag" (if people respond at all and don't just drop group).

In Zul'Farrak the loot bag caused issues as well - it's a circular instance, so saying that the instance is complete when you've circled halfway round to the chieftain will always result in people dropping out. Fortunately I got lucky because in the two runs that I was in, one tank looped around the right and one around the left, which means that I got both halves of the dungeon cleared for my quests over the course of those runs, but still... I consider myself lucky on that one.

I wonder if the next couple of instances that are coming up for my rogue (Sunken Temple, Blackrock Depths) will yield any interesting pug stories.