Dungeon Dynamics

A week after my big binge to 67, my hunter is still only level 69. As I've cut back on play time to preserve my sanity, I've watched more and more people overtake me in terms of character progression, and it's been oddly disheartening. As much as I've been trying to tell myself that it's not a race and that the FOMO is irrational, I've also come to realise that while Outland isn't suddenly going to go away, people's availability to run dungeons very much is a temporary thing. Initially I was just about managing to ride the crest of the wave of early dungeon levellers, but now I've fallen off and it feels like everybody's already done with the bits I need and wants to do something else instead. People are even running heroics and going to Karazhan already.

Dungeons are a big part of the Burning Crusade's progression and the expansion's appeal to me, and I'm not even talking about the current meta to level through dungeons to optimise reputation gains. (I'm very much against blindly following any perceived meta, but in this case it actually overlaps with something that I already enjoy for its own sake, so... yay me I guess?) Dungeons are required for a lot of BC's infamous web of attunements, and back in the day the introduction of heroic dungeons offered an alternative endgame gearing path to raiding for the first time.

It's been interesting to observe people's different approaches to dungeon running. There are those, like me, who've been focusing on forming and joining guild groups, but others have preferred to hit up the LFG channel instead. Even without an automated LFG tool, the current glut of people needing or wanting to run dungeons at the moment means that it can be faster to just dip your toes into the wider server pool, especially if you're a tank or healer. I don't think there's a right or wrong to this, but I can't deny that the more people jump into LFG the moment they log in, the harder it becomes to build groups within the guild.

Some people who play damage dealers have also come across as a bit lost. They're used to just showing up for raids, and not automatically getting an invite to something the moment they log in can feel daunting, especially with the high number of dps players competing for every dungeon spot. It takes me back to my original BC days, when I recall some of my guildies back then perpetually complaining that they just couldn't get groups for the dungeons they needed, especially heroics. I even wrote a post to "educate" them on the guild forums back then, and the other week I actually realised that I'd at some point had the sense to back up this and other forum posts of mine for future reference. Here's what past me had to say about getting dungeon groups in BC circa. 2007/2008, reproduced in full:

Shintar's guide to getting dungeon groups in four easy steps

1. Be active, not reactive.

"I never get invited to heroics!"
"This dungeon quest has been in my quest log for ages, I just can't get a group for it!"

Let me tell you a secret: Instance groups don't magically appear out of thin air, someone has to take the first step and start inviting others. The good news is: Anyone can be that person, even you! So stop moaning about how others don't do things for you and take matters into your own hands.

2. Knowledge is power. In more than one way.

First off, it helps a lot to know where exactly you want to go and why. "Anyone for a heroic?" is a very lackluster invitation and unlikely to draw the attention of anyone who isn't bored out of their skull. Try something like: "Anyone for heroic SL? It's the daily, badges all around!" People like leaders who know what they want.

Secondly, make sure that you know what kind of group composition you're looking for and what you're missing. A tank? A healer? Some crowd control? Once you know what you need you can seek out the right people directly.

This ties in with knowing your guildies: who plays a healer, who has a tanking alt and so on. For example there is no point in spamming guild chat with requests for a tank if none of the people online actually play one; you'll just end up making yourself look daft.

In fact, avoid using guild chat as your private LFG channel altogether and just whisper people once you've decided that they would be a good addition to your group and have checked that they aren't already in an instance. Personal requests make people feel special. "Gosh, she doesn't just want any mage, she wants me to come along!" (Never mind that you're the only mage online right now...) It's also harder to reject a personal invitation than to ignore a generic request for help in guild chat.

The final kind of knowledge that's useful in this regard is knowing about things like who said something embarrassing in guild chat yesterday or who sent you that epic mistell the other night... you can use the threat of screenshots as blackmail to make people do what you want!

3. Be nice. Play well. Have fun.

This one is equally important whether you started the group or whether you were invited by someone else. It's particularly important for dpsers, since there are so many of us... tanks and healers can get away with being a bit jerky since they are in demand.

You'd think that something like this would be a no-brainer, but for many people it clearly isn't. Spending the whole instance whining about how everything sucks is not going to make you popular. Don't expect to be invited again any time soon after ninja-afking for half an hour just before the second boss. Sorry, but if you're a rogue who does less dps than my left toe, I won't ask you to come along to a heroic again.

People will generally give guildies priority for runs, but not blindly. A good reputation and the perks that come with it have to be earned.

4. Keep an open mind.

If you really want to get that dungeon quest done, don't give up just because your favourite tank isn't online right now. Okay, so you don't know this other guy that well, but you'll never know unless you give him a chance, will you? Even pugging people can turn out to be a pleasant surprise - there are a lot of great players out there who aren't in Onslaught.


Alternatively, you could always just make friends with someone who's good at organising dungeon runs and then bully them into setting up groups for you whenever you need one. :P

I've been thinking about this a lot as I've been making my own dungeon groups with mixed success. I've been trying to follow my own advice, but the issue I'm having is that everything is going so much faster in Classic Burning Crusade than it did in the original, which makes some things feel kind of bad and exhausting (to me anyway). I have no problem whispering every tank and healer in the guild to ask them whether they are interested in coming to the dungeon I need... but to keep up with the speed at which people are advancing, I'd need to do so at least three times a day, at which point I'm starting to feel like a nuisance.

Same with the whole "knowledge" thing... it would be nice to be able to team up with other people who need the same things as me, and there's even an addon that keeps track of everyone's progress across the whole guild, but a person who's on the same step of an attunement as me one day is suddenly three steps ahead the next and totally done with the dungeons that I still need.

As for knowing people... I thought I had pretty good knowledge of everyone on the raid team, but the past few weeks have played complete mayhem with the roster, with lots of old-timers returning, new recruits that haven't been documented anywhere that I'm aware of, and former raiders disappearing seemingly without a trace. I guess that's not unusual for a new expansion launch, but again, it does make things harder. I don't mind getting to know new people, but it's all happening a bit too fast for me to keep up.

As a result I've spent the last level or so just grinding clefthooves in Nagrand. I promised our bear tank that I'd make him the heavy clefthoof set, and it requires ridiculous amounts of leather, but I kind of like my leatherworking actually being able to make useful things, and at least it's a goal that I can pursue by myself and at my own pace. It also feels oddly appropriate from an RP point of view and like a return to the character's roots to just go out and do my own thing - just me and my pet.

I still yearn to do all those dungeons, get attuned for Karazhan and so on and so forth... and I'm sure I will, in good time. But at the moment I just have to accept that I can't keep up with those whom I consider my friends, and eventually, I too may have to simply brave the LFG channel and start pugging things. I'm sure it'll be fine; I've never had any issues with pugs in Classic. I just thought that with all of us going into this expansion together it would be more of an opportunity to play with friends, but as it turns out I'm too much of a slowpoke nowadays to keep up with the Joneses Forks, which I can't help but feel a bit sad about.


Dazed in Outland

It's back to work for me today - not physically, as I'm still working from home, but after five days of time off to binge on Burning Crusade Classic. My hunter is currently sitting at level 67, and what a ride it's been so far.

As I mentioned in my post about Classic BC plans, this launch has been very different for me from original Classic in that it's much less about exploration and more about solving the puzzle that is Outland. There's been the occasional moment of surprise, depending on how familiar I am with the content, which has led to some amusement - I mean, who ever does Auchenai Crypts for example? But a lot of it I still remember all too well - I just quested through all of Hellfire on an alt in retail a few months ago for example (and meant to write about it at the time but kept putting it off until I forgot), so the gist of those quests at least has been very familiar.

What has surprised me though has been how compelling it still is. I mean, if you boil it down to the basics it's all just grinding: mobs, reputations, dungeons... but add a colourful setting, good company and an effort-reward ratio that hits the spot just right and you simply want to keep going, and going, and going... After all, there are so many quests to do, reputations to raise and professions to skill up! Wanting to do all of that - and all at the same time - can actually be somewhat overwhelming.

So I binged pretty hard, especially during the first three days of my holiday, staying up until the early hours of the morning almost every day. (Often that was actually the best time to get things done by the way... the rest of the time, many of the early quest locations were camped pretty badly despite of layering.) And yet, all of that still wasn't enough to keep up with some of my guildies. We had our first level 70 after less than three days, and a draenei shaman no less. I have no idea how that guy did it... does he not need to eat or sleep? And others weren't far behind. One paladin confessed that he'd had a nightmare that everyone else had hit level 70 without him while he was asleep.

It's easy to say that you just want to level and do things at your own pace, but it's hard to not have any feelings of FOMO at all when you see people already getting their attunements done and what not. Sure, official 25-man raiding won't start for a while for my guild, so there's no rush on that front, but it's simple things like seeing someone that you've been levelling with pull ahead by a level and starting on a new dungeon for which you're not ready yet. It shouldn't really matter, and in a few weeks we'll all be 70 and will have forgotten all about this anyway, but at the moment there's a certain competitive pressure that I at least find hard to ignore.

So there's been some discomfort from that, but also on a more personal level. There's nothing wrong with binging on a game for a few hours or even days, but I have to admit that after the third day I nonetheless felt the urge to step back a bit, because the sheer strength of the urge to play more was an uncomfortable reminder of a time when I had a not-so-healthy relationship with WoW as a student - which was back during the original Burning Crusade, incidentally. Coincidence? I don't like feeling compelled to play quite so much, and also, there are simply other games I'm still interested in as well. It's Total Galactic War in SWTOR next week for example (a rare event that I want to capitalise on) and Neverwinter is about to drop a huge update that I'm also curious about.

So it's been a bit of an awkward mix of emotions. I've focused more on the negative in this post so far, but especially running dungeons with guildies has also been genuinely lovely. It's nice to be able to chat and laugh with them in an environment other than a huge raid (where there's limited scope for that to be honest if you actually want to get things done), and the Outland dungeons are all well-designed and fun. Meeting stones having become summoning stones has made it much faster to get a dungeon group together and get going. Different approaches to each dungeon and particularly memorable runs have already spawned a thousand memes. That is great. I just need to find my balance.


Burning Crusade Classic Launch Night on Hydraxian Waterlords - EU

After all the hype, how did it go?

I'd actually already parked my hunter near the Dark Portal the day before and spent the hours leading up to the actual portal opening event (11pm in my time zone) messing around on alts instead. Old Azeroth was starting to look eerily deserted by that time - it's not that I saw no other players at all, but such sightings were rare compared to the usual population density, and in Ironforge and Stormwind in particular I half expected to see tumbleweeds roll by, based on how empty they felt.

Ten minutes before launch time I logged over on my hunter and immediately got a group invite. I mentioned that I'd made plans for a dungeon levelling group with some guildies, but most of them weren't actually going to be on for the launch event due to the late hour, so I'd just thrown my hat into the ring with a bunch of others that were going to be online on the night and an officer had sorted a number of us into a dungeon group together. Aside from me, the group consisted of one of our raid tanks, a casual mage, and two holy paladins from the raid team, one of whom was going to pretend to dps for the rest of the evening.

The area around the portal was crowded, but not as much as I'd expected, especially when thinking back to the AQ gate opening event. However, according to the chatter on Discord, lower-level players were being ported out of the zone similar to what I'd experienced on Pyrewood Village before, and some sort of layering appeared to have been applied already, as other guildies reported that "their" Dark Portal approach was almost empty.

With Hydraxian Waterlords being an RP-PvE server, there was peace between Horde and Alliance, except for that one guy who always ends up flagging himself in situations like this and then gets ganked by an undead rogue while everyone else just watches. We were still chatting away on voice when the crowd suddenly started moving and disappearing into the portal, even though there were still three minutes to go according to the server clock. I followed almost instinctively and a brief loading screen later found myself amidst a flood of players happily surging down the Stair of Destiny. You could tell where things like the first quest giver and flight master were as they inevitably had a giant ball of players around them, which then quickly drained away towards Honor Hold.

At the Alliance base in Hellfire, I couldn't help but continue comparing the crowd to a body of water in my head as players "splashed" away into all directions on arrival. All I know is that it felt very purposeful for the most part, with little meandering about and staring in awe. In the keep, Commander Danath Trollbane had a hard time making sure to greet everyone by name as per his usual habit.

My group soon moved on to the entrance to Hellfire Ramparts, and that place was very busy as well, as clearly a lot of people had decided to follow the commonly given advice to avoid the worst crowds and maximise reputation gains by focusing on instance running at the beginning. Being massively overgeared for the content, we had no troubles at all, though it was fun to talk about our odd mix of memories related to the dungeons. My favourite was when we moved on to Blood Furnace and one of the pallies asked if this was the one "with the giant eyeball" and I confirmed that it had a beholder-style boss but wasn't sure whether that was what she meant. When we got to Broggok, she then exclaimed "Yes, it's the Willy boss!" with such delight that it made me laugh. There was also a great moment when the mage died to a mine, was resed, and then immediately got blown up again.

In total we did five dungeons that night: Ramparts twice, Blood Furnace twice, and we also undertook a trip to Slave Pens for fun and to see how we would hold up there as level 60s, considering that the last boss, Quagmirran, is level 65. As it turns out, our Naxx gear allowed us to kick arse with relative ease even while underlevelled. This was all good fun, but didn't even get any of us to level 61. I'd previously wondered whether I'd be able to power-level myself all the way to 70 during the few days that I've taken off work for the occasion, but after the first night the answer to that was a clear no.

Admittedly running dungeons and doing nothing else is not the best way to level quickly in this iteration of WoW, but that wasn't our main goal anyway. Quests are much better for that it seems, and I did hear from a few people that did opt for questing that while it was busy, it wasn't as overcrowded as most people had feared, probably because so many of us were running dungeons instead.

In terms of performance I'm also happy to say that our server at least had no issues with lag or anything - I'm not even sure if there was a queue. Some guildies initially reported that their layer was supposedly "broken" as they were unable to go through the portal even when players on other layers were already doing so, but that was easily circumvented by grouping up with guildies and shuttling to a different layer. The only technical hitch I experienced up close was that at one point when some of my group mates hit their hearthstone to return to Honor Hold, they got an error message that the transport had to be aborted because the instance was full (?!) but they tried again right afterwards and then it worked.

Now, I have a few more days off work that I'm planning to put to good use by binging on more BC dungeoneering, even if I'm not going to make it to 70. There is a lot to do! I already must have run Ramparts a dozen times or so, including at least once on all of my level 60 alts. More than anything else I guess I'll have to be careful not to burn myself out though, because as exciting as this launch has been, in terms of activities it's been a lot more limited and repetitive than starting at level 1 in orginal Classic was two years ago.


Things I Learned in Classic

Wilhelm posted some reflections about his Classic experience two days ago, and that finally nudged me into writing this post as well (something I'd already been thinking about for a while).

I suppose I'm slightly unusual in that Classic wasn't this big nostalgia trip for me, or a revelation that the game still holds up surprisingly well two decades later, simply because I already went through all of those things during my time on private servers a few years ago. Sure, they were a less accurate representation of Vanilla than Classic is, but it was close enough.

I did learn oodles about the endgame in Classic though. Having originally started WoW in October 2006, I never touched on the original endgame very much. I remember getting lost in BRD a few times, but never actually making it to the Emperor until we came back in TBC with our characters having significantly grown in power. I wiped in Strat and Scholo a few times, plus there was that one time I got invited to AQ20, but that was pretty much it.

You can tell we had done at least the first few zones in Outland when this was taken due to both me and my warlock friend wearing the full set of TBC starter clown gear.

While I didn't have plans to raid, getting to know the vanilla dungeons a bit better was definitely a goal of mine in Classic, and one at which I ultimately succeeded. I still get lost in Blackrock Spire sometimes because I don't deal with the verticality well, but I can find my way around BRD with some confidence for example.

The main thing I learned was that the old vanilla dungeons had a lot going on. I remember back in my first Classic guild Group Therapy, being on voice chat with them once when a druid was talking about "going fishing for Jed". I wasn't confident enough to simply ask what that meant, but I kept mulling it over and over in my head trying to make sense of it. It was obvious that she wasn't talking about literal fishing since she was in Blackrock Mountain at the time, but I didn't know of any boss called Jed, and I still wasn't sure how you would "fish" for a mob anyway. Maybe stealth up to him and try to tag him before someone else?

I didn't get my answer until  much later, once I'd joined the Forks. The Jed in question is Jed Runewatcher, a rare mob in UBRS that drops an amazing healing trinket and a shadow resistance wand (relevant for warlocks wanting to tank Twin Emps in AQ40). And "fishing" for him means trying to find an instance ID in which he is up. You do this by stealthing far enough into the instance to be able to target him if he's there, and going out again and resetting it if he's not.

That's just one example and basically the vanilla instances are full of stuff like that. And while it's much better documented nowadays than it was fifteen years ago, the way everything fits together is still hard to wrap your head around. At least as far as I'm aware, nobody's written or recorded a guide to "all the weird things you can do in Blackrock Spire" for example, if you get what I mean. A lot of it you still learn by doing or through word of mouth.

I also got to experience both the opening of the Gates of Ahn'qiraj (twice!) and the Naxxramas Scourge invasion, both of which were really cool. Here's the short video I made of the gate opening event on Hydraxian Waterlords - it was just an all-around amazing day for me that I'll remember forever, ridiculous server lag and all:

And well, I got to raid, saw two Thunderfuries made and even killed Kel'Thuzad, none of which was part of my original plan for Classic. I got to experience the wonders of what it means to be in a 40-man raid, and after having done so I'm actually a bit sad about the downscaling that will come with TBC, even knowing that it'll be a big relief for the officers having to organise it all (and I wouldn't want to be in their shoes).

Seeing the endgame was also interesting on an intellectual level though, as it placed a lot of what I experienced back in the day in a new context. For example I remember at original TBC launch, thinking how cool that new armour was that many of the quest NPCs in Hellfire were wearing, or that Blizzard added those new spider models in places like Bloodmyst Isle. Now I know of course that they weren't new at all, they were tier three armour and recolours of spider wing mobs respectively, but at the time a lot of stuff from Naxx just wasn't commonly known or seen!

It was also interesting to me how Blizzard changed the acquisition of tier gear over time. In Molten Core and Blackwing Lair it just drops off bosses like other pieces of loot, but in AQ40 they first introduced shared class tokens, probably because raid leads were frustrated with constantly having to shard drops for certain classes that weren't highly represented in the raid. They also added requirements for extra items to turn in with the tokens though (idols and scarabs) and I still wonder what that was supposed to be about. My best guess is that it was supposed to encourage guild loyalty, since you couldn't just grab a drop and run, but had to request those extra items from the guild coffers, and depending on your loot luck might even find yourself going on a waiting list for a bit.

The Naxx tier requirements for rare crafting materials such as Arcanite bars, cured hides and Mooncloth at least made a bit more sense to me as an attempt to throw crafting professions a bone at a time when demand for those rare materials was stagnating (or in the case of the hides, had never really been there - signed, a leatherworker).

I will say though, that the whole thing did give me an appreciation for how certain things have been streamlined over time. We may poke fun at Blizzard for constantly filling the game with new and convoluted systems nowadays (and rightly so!), but frankly, having everything be items that go into your bags and then having to use those items for "quests" that aren't really quests was not a good way of doing things either. The amount of space that Zul'Gurub coins and bijous can take up on their own is already ridiculous! More importantly though, I remember finding it very frustrating as a casual player back in the day to get to a place like Cenarion Hold or Light's Hope Chapel, get excited by all the exclamation marks, and then be let down by the fact that most of them weren't actually real quests at all, just raid or reputation trade-ins, and with no easy way of telling what's what.

I've already talked about the weirdness of all raids continuing to have value, even as the next tier was released and dropped better loot. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about that now, but if it was Blizzard's design goal back then to keep everyone doing all the content, they definitely achieved it.

I'm curious to see how Classic BC will change my views on that expansion. I did play pretty hardcore back in those days and did do most of the content, but I was also clueless and not very good at the game to start with, so we'll see how that colours my perceptions of the Classic experience.


Legion, Years Later

Meanwhile, in retail... the husband and I have been running out of things (we both want) to do in Shadowlands even with our ultra casual play style. Our main staple used to be to do the callings every three days at least, but we're at the point now where we've maxed out all the reputations and got all possible conduits out of the reward bags, so we were basically just doing dailies for vendor trash at this point. While gold still has some value in retail, this was obviously not the most satisfying of setups. I suppose we could always have continued to grind anima until kingdom come, but seriously, who does that?

After some discussion about what to do next, we agreed to roll up a pair of alts, specifically a set of demon hunters, as it's a class I'd never played and I also had zero first-hand experience with the Legion expansion in general.

The demon hunter starting experience was a great story with neat cinematics and some very interesting moments. Five stars, would play again. (Even if the once-famous Blizzard polish is definitely not a thing anymore. I got very confused by the game repeatedly throwing level-up messages at me that claimed I had gained this or that ability, but the cited spells were nowhere to be found. Only later on did I learn that skill acquisition for demon hunters in the early levels is actually tied to completing certain quests, not levelling up, so who knows why they did that...)

I knew from a post by Wilhelm that the demon hunter experience segues straight into the regular Legion expansion content, so that wasn't unexpected. As with our previous characters, we absolutely flew through the levels. After about two of the zones, we were already level 45 and mobs stopped scaling with us. (I keep having to refer back to Wilhelm's chart about this because the way levels work in different expansions now is just confusing to me.)

We jumped into the Chromie time version of Legion and also used this opportunity to do a few dungeons. With that and about another half a zone worth of quests, we both hit level 50. I know I'm not the first one to say this, but boy, does Blizzard not want you to hang around in old content. The moment each of us dinged, we got a shout-out from Chromie about being needed in the future and a one-minute timer started counting down before we were ejected from Chromie time. You better hope you're not in the middle of a quest chain that takes longer than a minute to complete, or else you'll have to manually make your way back to the unscaled version of the same zone. Who cares about silly things like seeing the end of a storyline anyway? Just go to Shadowlands already!

The husband and I refused the call and just returned to the unscaled version of the Legion zones, where everything was now grey to us and died within one or two hits. We've continued questing there for little to no reward, even if it's a bit disheartening to not receive significant gear or XP rewards anymore. But why would we want to immediately go back to the expansion we just left behind, and intentionally at that?

As of now we've more or less finished the base expansion zones and are currently working our way through the Suramar campaign. I can only imagine how incredibly epic (though potentially also annoying) all this content must have felt at the time when it was current. Even with the city guards posing no threat to us anymore, hearing phrases like "something's not quite right" whenever your disguise is about to be blown still makes me want to scream sometimes.

Then there's also patch content left to tackle, such as the Broken Shore (?) and Argus, but playing through this stuff now as a latecomer it's a bit hard to know what's what to be honest, as the quest NPCs throw everything at you at once, without any indication of what order these storylines are supposed to happen in or sometimes even that you're dealing with a major storyline at all (until you're further along already), which can result in chaos like conflicting phases for the same area of Dalaran and things like that.

The other thing that's stood out to me so far is that professions were super weird in Legion. All this play time and I'm nowhere near maxing out my mining skill for example, something that is usually extremely easy to do, and further jewelcrafting progress seems to be tied to me completing some dungeon quests first. It's as if Blizzard looked at professions in Legion and concluded that they needed spicing up, but for some reason decided that the best way to spice up these non-combat activities was to add more combat (the mobs that keep popping up whenever I do any archaeology on the Broken Isles are another prime example).

We'll see how long we'll keep working on this particular project. Achieving the old pathfinder, even if it doesn't serve any purpose anymore, seems like a reasonable goalpost that should result in us seeing most of what Legion has to offer (or what's left of it at least). At some point we can also move on to Shadowlands to see a different covenant campaign or something I guess, but I don't think we're ready for that just yet...


Happy Pre-Patch Day

Today marked the split of WoW Classic into the permanent "Classic era" and Burning Crusade Classic. I was rather bemused watching some of my guildies go nuts on Discord as Blizzard kept extending the maintenance window for the EU servers one hour at a time - personally I was busy with work anyway, so not too fussed about the exact go-live time.

Once I was done for the day however, I was excited to log in. I moved all my characters on to Burning Crusade Classic and then spent quite some time simply sorting out their inventories and re-assigning talent points. I'd actually forgotten that we got an additional row of bank slots in BC; that was very welcome! I also enjoyed vendoring some of my main's old gear with abandon to free up bag space... if I ever feel nostalgic about seeing her in tier two again, I can simply log into her clone after all. Before the Dark Portal opens, even more things will have to go though... need that bag space for all things Outland!

Comparatively, assigning talent points was a fairly quick affair. While I know that some people put a lot of thought into this, I've never been a fan of re-speccing so I just worked myself along the tree rather spontaneously, going "yeah, that looks good" or "eh, not so much" while plopping points into whatever seemed reasonable at the time. At level 70 I'll probably want to change things around again anyway. And it's not like I can't make adjustments even sooner if anything turns out to have been a really bad choice.

Once that was done I paid up to clone my hunter main to the Classic era. I almost cloned the wrong character by accident since for some reason, the order of my characters on the character selection screen was different on the Classic era server than it used to be. While I already have more MMOs on my plate than is reasonable, I do kind of like the idea of being able to go back and play a bit in OG Classic if the mood strikes me.

I will say though that seeing Ironforge - and the whole server - as empty as it was made me kind of sad. I knew it was going to be very quiet, with most of the population choosing to move on to BC for sure, but I didn't expect to find only 32 people online on the entire server when doing a /who. Blizzard already connected a lot of OG Classic servers in anticipation of this, but old Hydraxian Waterlords hasn't been connected to anything because it's the EU's only English-speaking RP-PvE server, so who do you connect it to? RP-PvP is an obvious no-go. Connecting to RP-PvE servers in other languages would also cause issues. And connecting to regular PvE is of course an option, but then what happens to the RP aspect... I wonder how that's going to pan out in the long run.

Finally, I went back to the Burning Crusade server and rolled up a draenei shaman - I almost said "because everybody's doing it" but the truth is I've always loved the draenei and their starting zone. I don't know how much I'll play this one, but I figured I might as well join in for the launch day fun. I expected Azuremyst Isle to be absolute crazy town, but it honestly wasn't too bad. I mean, yes, it was very busy, and there were some bottlenecks in terms of questing, but nothing that was a major roadblock if you were willing to wait a little bit and/or group up with people. I completed the basic starter zone and then moved on to the Exodar to learn jewelcrafting before logging out.

I'm actually not sure how I'm going to spend the next two weeks in Classic. The original plan from the guild's side was to still do some raiding to see how things work with the new talents, but there doesn't seem to be enough enthusiasm for that based on the sign-up sheets so far. At the same time I'm not too fussed about pushing more alts up in levels just now, when I already have three to four characters ready to go through the Dark Portal anyway. We shall see.


The Power of Friendship

With mere days left to go until "snapshot day" (when our characters' state will be locked in for any future cloning to a different game mode) and the Burning Crusade pre-patch, I actually managed to get a third Alliance character to level 60. Somewhat to my surprise, it didn't end up being my druid, who had been my favoured candidate for this for a long time. (Though she's currently level 55, mind you, so not too far behind.)

No, the dubious honour of becoming my second max-level alt on Hydraxian Waterlords went to my human mage Jehna. When I last mentioned her in my year-in-review post at the end of December, I noted that I found mage quite enjoyable to play in group content and was thinking about replacing her in a guild levelling group that was still kinda-sorta meant to be going on at the time. That... didn't actually happen. The group was already floundering at the time of me writing that post, and was more or less officially dissolved shortly afterwards.

However, late one evening - I think it must have been after a raid - I noticed the rogue class leader (who was also the tank leader and one of our raid leaders... aka the guy who rage-quit the raid on Sapphiron on Monday - he's worn a lot of different hats over time) on his druid alt in Desolace. As that was my mage's next destination as well, I whispered him to ask if he fancied doing some quests together. His response was something along the lines of sure, why not.

And we had a very good time that evening! Our approaches to questing seemed compatible enough (we both agreed to stay well away from the centaur reputation quests for example), and feral druid and frost mage had good synergy, as he could go bear to ensure mobs stayed away from me, while my frostbolts helped to make things die much more quickly than they would have if he had been questing on his own. Plus the universal rule of grouping applied of course, meaning that things like accidental overpulls in densely packed areas largely ceased to be threatening.

I instantly knew that I wanted more of that and suggested at the end of the evening that we should do something like this again soon. He seemed to concur, but he may have simply taken it as a polite turn of phrase at the time, considering that he returned to Desolace on his own a few days later to finish what quests we had left over, but that didn't stop me from pushing. Maybe we could do another zone together? Where else had he not done any quests yet?

So we met up again some time later, clearing out the elite quests in Alterac while quite under-levelled for the area, and doing some quests in Arathi, where we duoed our way right into the heart of Stromgarde Keep, though we had to resign ourselves to being unable to kill Otto and Falconcrest with just the two of us. We quickly developed little routines, with me sheeping whichever mob he wasn't focusing, or him dodging out of melee range when mobs were rooted or frozen to heal himself back up when needed.

I also encouraged him to come along to dungeons with me. Just because my dungeon levelling group had died, that didn't mean that I didn't want to do them anymore, even if it meant going with some pugs! The more guildies the merrier though, and him being willing to go bear and tank was a boon to group formation as everybody knows that finding a tank is usually the trickiest part. We started by running Scarlet Monastery with two guildies and one pug, and then hit every instance on the way as our levelling journey continued.

Luckily we seemed to be reasonably in sync in terms of investment in levelling our alts, with neither party tempted to pull ahead too much. Like me, he works a desk job so couldn't play much on weekdays during day time, and evenings were often taken up by raids, so there was only a set amount of time available to focus on alt play - for both of us.

Slowly but surely we went from me being the one to ask him if and when he'd feel like playing again to him seeking me out, and at a higher frequency as well. His eagerness hit a peak around the time we were getting ready for Sunken Temple, as I remember him pushing for us to go "tomorrow evening" (whenever that was) and I was pushing back because I didn't feel ready for Sunken Temple yet because I was still missing quite a few quests for it, including my class quest. He was not to be deterred though and basically instructed me to just follow him, as he ploughed a path through several zones in a row in an attempt to get me through all the required pre-quest chains asap. For my class quest in Azshara he even logged his max-level warlock and laid waste to scores of naga and elves to speed up my quest progress for me. I think it was 2 am in the morning or something when we finished, and I felt both slightly delirious and incredibly amused. Ironically, we were then unable to go to Sunken Temple that night anyway, but for other reasons.

We also ended up forging new bonds/improving our relationships with other guildies that had alts in the right level range. For example there was the dps warrior main on his paladin alt, struggling with how slow everything was, who was grateful for every bit of assistance that would make things go a bit faster. Or the tank main who was happy to try out healing on his druid.

My favourite instance of this was when we were questing just outside Jaedenar in Felwood when we ran into a warrior killing some mobs in the same area. This person whispered me to ask what quests we were on and whether we were interested in grouping up, and I just remember slowly staring at his guild tag and level, when it was as if a light bulb had suddenly gone off in my head and I remembered that one of our regular community raiders from another guild had been levelling a warrior alt that was supposedly in our level range... "Leyland, is that you?" I whispered him, and I was right. Of course we threw him a group invite and then laid waste to the rest of Felwood as a trio in short order.

And well... last night our mage-and-druid team's journey finally came to its natural end. Our characters had never been completely in sync, so I dinged 60 just as we finished up business in Winterspring, while we had to then do a few more quests in Western Plaguelands to get him his ding as well. After several months of questing together (which, incidentally, was very efficient by my standards ... my mage's /played was only a little over seven days), we had reached our final destination - for now, that is. After all, the level cap will go up again in a little over two weeks.

In a way, this experience of levelling with a friend has been more quintessentially Classic to me than anything else. Raiding has been fun, but wasn't anything I had really planned for. And while exploring the world solo had its appeal too, it was limited in terms of longevity. But questing with a friend in the original World of Warcraft is still something that I can do all day long.

I'd also tried repeatedly to level with other people before, but it always fell apart for one of two reasons: either the other person would lose interest in playing (that character) altogether, or they would be so much more engaged and put in so much more time than me that they quickly out-paced me and simply left me behind. It's been nice to be able to make it work this once at least. I couldn't really have asked for a better capstone to my Classic experience.