Mixed signals

I'm having quite a bit of fun with Cataclysm content, but one thing that I've found striking so far is that Blizzard is sending some very mixed signals in certain areas.

For example I found the revamped low-level areas to be very easy-going for the most part, with mobs much more spread out than they used to be and more neutral mobs interspersed among the hostile ones. Yet some of the new high-level zones are among the most deadly areas (without elites) that the developers ever designed, what with the enemies' massive health pools, tight grouping and high respawn rates.

Or take dungeon quests: On the one hand Blizzard advertised that they were going to put the quest givers directly inside the instances so people would be able to pick them up more easily, yet on the other hand they gave us Throne of the Tides, where the quest NPC inside won't even speak to you unless you've completed all of Vashj'ir. Having to pick up quests for Sunken Temple in four different zones was a piece of cake compared to what essentially comes down to having to do nearly one-hundred and fifty pre-quests just to do two instance quests in a levelling instance.

On the one hand they introduced a guild levelling system and guild achievements to make you play with your friends, but on the other hand they got rid of group quests almost entirely, made levelling in sync a royal pain in the arse and generally made questing more annoying if you've got company.

And of course, they left the dungeon finder in the game with no changes. In my guild this has led to some strange conflicts. Everyone agrees that running with a guild group is generally far superior to running with a pug, but guild groups (at least in a medium-sized guild) have a problem: unless you plan ahead for every five-man as if it were a raid, they are pretty unreliable. The tank you were hoping for might have a headache and end up not wanting to run tonight, maybe there are three healers online and they can't all get into a group, or maybe everyone just started a run five minutes before you logged on.

Comparatively, the dungeon finder has one advantage there: the guaranteed spot. If you queue up there, you might have to wait forty minutes, but unless it's three in the morning (and maybe even then) you will get into a group eventually. It might be a horrible group and you might not make it past the first boss, but at the very least you'll get a chance to go.

So you try to build a guild group in the evening and get responses like "I would have come but I just got into a pug after a fifty-minute queue" or "oh sorry, we're already in a run together and just pugged the healer from the dungeon finder". And so everyone ends up pugging something or someone, and then the ones who log on later end up having to pug more in turn... and suddenly you have ten guildies doing heroics but not a single group that counts as a guild run.

I don't want to condemn the dungeon finder here, but I have to say that in light of the changes to guilds and the like, it feels oddly out of place to me now and as if the different systems are sabotaging each other. Run with your guild, it's more fun and gives achievements! No, use the dungeon finder, it guarantees you a spot at the press of a button!

Cataclysm, the expansion of contradictions?


Gearing up is hard to do

My fellow officers are starting to talk about when to start raiding, and while I agree that we should probably look into it soon, I have to admit that I don't think I'm quite prepared for it yet. I got to eighty-five somewhat more slowly than many, ran some normal instances... but I've only completed one heroic so far. I know that I could do better, but part of me is seriously put off by the gearing up process for some reason, which surprised me because I've always been one of the more dedicated raiders. What has changed?

I started thinking about how I handled the gear reset in previous expansions. In Burning Crusade it didn't really affect me because I didn't get into raiding until a few months after expansion release, and even then I was kind of drafted into it as my guild needed a shadow priest to shackle stuff in Karazhan. I was brought for my utility before anything else, and nobody cared that I had crappy gear. I only learned about things like the hit cap and enchants slowly and over time, but nobody seemed to mind much.

Looking back at BC heroics, they weren't that amazing a source of pre-raid gear either though. There were no "heroic" tags and I had almost forgotten that with the exception of the last boss who dropped an epic, all the previous bosses dropped the same items on heroic as they did on normal, plus some gems and stuff. Wearing full heroic gear before you started raiding wasn't really a requirement, because for many classes there was only a limited amount of heroic gear to begin with. There was a heavy dependence on crafting and quest rewards.

In WOTLK on the other hand the gear curve was so gentle that gearing up happened almost automatically because very little of it was necessary. I know I wasn't the only raider who still wore a lot of her level seventy epics when stepping foot into the new level eighty raids. In addition, heroics and ten-man raids were designed to be alternative gearing paths, so they dropped the same quality of loot. Or in other words, just having run normals meant that you were geared enough to raid.

The Cataclysm system on the other hand seems to be designed with the intent to be very grind-heavy. Run lots of normals to gear up for heroics, run lots of heroics to gear up for raids. I don't actually know how tight the gear requirements for raiding are, but from what I've heard they are tough enough that you'll want to wear the best gear you can possibly get beforehand. Now, thinking back to how people chained heroics in WOTLK that doesn't sound so bad, but Blizzard went back to a model of more challenging heroics in Cataclysm, so chaining them with pugs is actually not recommended. I've only run two so far myself, and while they were fun with my guild, I'm rather intimidated by the notion of attempting those same instances with pugs. So I don't do a lot of runs and gear up very slowly. My old epics mostly had to go before I could even enter the last of the new normal modes because they were dragging my average item level down too much. Sadface.

In addition I'm being told that warlocks and mages don't like spirit anymore now, and Blizzard seems to have itemised accordingly. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but spirit cloth suddenly seems annoyingly rare. For example I was looking for some nice pre-heroic boots for my priesting and the only PvE item I could find where these shoes from normal Halls of Origination. In comparison, my clothie brethren not interested in spirit have a choice between two different pairs of crafted boots (they have resilience but are accessible without actually doing any PvP) and two ilevel 333 quest rewards.

So you run the same couple of normal mode instances that have the only spirit cloth drops over and over, just to have a pug mage or lock who hasn't got the memo about spirit yet outroll you when your item finally drops. Argh.

Dejected, I turned towards reputation rewards where possible, just to find out that the faction with the best rewards for my class and spec is the only new Cataclysm faction for which you can't grind reputation by running dungeons with a tabard, and the only way to get your rep with them up is to grind dailies in Tol Barad. I gave this a try in my holy spec and had to run for my life after the second pull. I don't remember the last time soloing as a healer was this painful; my damage is piddly compared to the mobs' massive health pools, I run oom after every other kill and getting adds leaves you no choice but to run or die. I eventually caved in and sacrificed my PvP disc spec for a shadow soloing spec so as to not be completely useless on my own. But I'm a healer, damn it, why do I have to struggle through killing things to get better healing gear?

I guess I will have to push through this rough spot somehow, because it would set a rather bad example if not even the officers are ready to raid in terms of gear. But damn it, gearing up has never been this un-fun.


The more things change, the more they stay the same

I hope you all had a good Christmas.

I was just looking through some old pictures on my computer after uploading a couple of Christmas shots, when I stumbled across this (click to enlarge): It's a crappy old sketch of mine that I had completely forgotten about, detailing some of my first impressions of Northrend.

How does this compare to my feelings about Cataclysm right now?

Everything looks really good. Oh, without a doubt, especially now that you can fly over (nearly) all those old world zones.

NPCs talk a lot more than they used to. Oh god, I had no idea what was yet to come, did I? I almost miss the days when Apothecary Lysander yelling about SEVERE STOMACH PAINS every thirty seconds counted as "talking much".

Most quests can be soloed... that doesn't mean that questing alone is actually more fun. Those stick spiders were supposed to represent the Nerubians just outside Warsong Hold, which forced my hunter into a tight spot more than once during early WOTLK. Thinking about whether that statement still applies today, I kind of have to say no. Respawn rates can still be silly in places, but I think that zones like Vashj'ir for example are actually designed to be more fun when you're playing alone. Of course, once you've tried to do some dailies in Tol Barad and got swarmed by the same mobs respawning on top of you three times in a row, you'll desperately cling to anyone who's willing to group with you again.

Instance bosses with adds are pretty common and a healer's bane. That one's funny because I don't remember feeling that way about the Wrath instances at all, ever, but I had very similar thoughts during several of the boss fights in the new Cataclysm instances. (Azil, I'm looking at you.)

Instances in general are very... interesting. Again I can hardly believe that I ever found the Northrend instances interesting. That's what rerunning the places a few hundred times will do to you I suppose. Though I do remember the multiple times I saw people get stuck on that ledge in the Nexus and be forced to suicide (pre-dungeon finder teleport). Cataclysm instances seem interesting to me too now - I'm not looking forward to one day finding them as dull as I found the Northrend instances towards the end.


My picks for the Pink Pigtail Inn list of 2010

Larísa is once again looking for input for her annual roundup of what was good and interesting in WoW - if you haven't seen it yet, the post is here. I always love these; finally an awards "show" that I can care about!  

1. Best raid instance 

Unfortunately there isn't really much to choose from in this category, is there? We pretty much raided Icecrown Citadel all year round. It was good for a while, but it was annoying and tedious for even longer. 

2. Least successful raid instance 

Again, this one is pretty easy. Like I said last year when I nominated the Eye of Eternity, the least successful instances aren't actually those that people complain about, it's those that they don't even care to go into. There was only one such raid that fit that bill this year: the Ruby Sanctum. I think it's a bit of a shame actually because Halion wasn't a terrible boss. He just felt kind of out of place, both in terms of lore and in terms of difficulty. Then again, a small part of me is tempted to nominate Naxxramas. People raided Karazhan right until WOTLK came around, but who bothered to visit Kel'thuzad anymore this year? 

3. Most longed for instance 

I'm finding it hard to pick anything here because we spent all year longing for Cataclysm. I don't think anyone really longed for Ruby Sanctum to come out (and if they did, they were probably disappointed quite quickly). I suppose some of us were longing for the Ulduar days, but Ulduar already won this category last year. Personally I think I mostly longed for the Black Temple, remembering what it was like for raiding to truly hold my interest until the very end of an expansion.  

4. Silliest gold sink 

I already nominated them last year but since they didn't win I can do so again... Mechano-Hogs! Not only are they ludicrously expensive, their sound effects are annoying as hell. I can listen to cars driving outside my window all day, thanks, I don't need that to invade my fantasy world... Of course now it's even worse because with the introduction of goblins to the Horde, poor people can get access to noisy vehicles too. /sigh  

5. Biggest addition to the game  

I don't think the dungeon finder counts because it was already introduced last year and it just doesn't feel new to me anymore. So I would say the 4.0 revamp of all classes and their talent trees.  

6. Best quest 

Have there even been any new quests this year other than the breadcrumb quest for Ruby Sanctum? I think I'll have to abstain from that one because all I can think of right now are the shiny new Cataclysm quests.  

7. Ugliest tabard  

I'll probably have to agree with someone else's nomination of the Loremaster's Colors here. The idea with the exclamation mark was nice and all, but the end result just looks ugly. 

8. Favorite non combat pet 

On a side note, I was rather baffled when immediately upon release of the Shattering, half the blogs I read updated with nothing but squeeing about some new non-combat pets. O...kay? The whole world has changed and that's the thing everyone's most excited about? Am I the only female player who doesn't really care about them? I mean, they look kind of cute but I never even remember to keep any of them out anyway... My personal favourite this year would have to be a tie between the Netherwhelp and Lurky because a guildie gifted me a BC collector's code, which meant a lot to me. But since those two are not from one, but two expansions ago by now, I'll vote for the Curious Wolvar Pup instead. Nothing beats a pet with a story. I was rather disappointed that Blizzard never reset the Dalaran orphan quest this year so I couldn't get the Oracle Hatchling as well.  

9. Biggest community controversy 

You know, I couldn't actually think of something for this category right away, until I saw someone else bring up Real ID on the forums. Oh right, that thing where I was in the very small minority that wasn't terribly upset; that would explain why I forgot about it... definitely caused the biggest hubbub though. 

10. Most charming Blizzard employee 

I haven't really been keeping up with what the blues say and do, so I can't comment on this one.  

11. Best podcast 

Blue Plz! is the only one I listen to with any regularity, but the Obscurecast seems pretty nice as well.  

12. Biggest blog facelift 

Murloc Parliament, without a doubt! I'm not sure if everyone even remembers who she was before...  

13. Most memorable blog post 

I've read a lot of good posts this year but can't think of a single best one to pick.  

14. Most noticed blogger breakthrough 

Syl from Raging Monkeys. Yes, I know she's got co-bloggers... but it was mostly her that I noticed commenting on other people's blogs when they'd only just started up and I've seriously never seen a blog skyrocket in popularity so quickly. That's what I call successful networking!  

15. Most solid content provider 

I'd like to nominate Klepsacovic from Troll Racials are Overpowered for this one. Sometimes he strays into crazy rambling territory, but he does update more frequently and more reliably than anyone else I read. That's worth a lot, especially on a quiet Sunday afternoon.  

16. Most hugged blogger 

Again I take inspiration from another blogger and cast my vote with Pike from Aspect of the Hare. The outpouring of support when she brought up having financial problems recently was quite impressive. Though not as impressive as that in response to her favourite pet's model getting changed... Hunters. They like to stick together.  

17. Hottest blogosphere topic 

The whole feminism debate. There was some good and thought-provoking stuff in there, but it went on for so long and got so heated after a while that I just wanted it to go away eventually. "Frostheimgate" or whatever you want to call it would probably make a pretty decent runner-up though. And if bronze medals were to be given out as well, I'd give one to the whole "harrassing bad roleplayers" affair early in the year.  

18. Best writer 

Tamarind won last year... can I nominate his co-writer Chastity then? If not I'll go with Rades from Orcish Army Knife. I can't wait to see Larísa's own picks, she always has interesting thoughts on them as well.

Some instance musings

I've finally run all the Cataclysm dungeons on normal mode now, mostly in guild groups, but I've also healed and tanked a couple of dungeon finder pugs. Apparently a lot of healers are rather unhappy with them at the moment. I don't want to downplay their experiences, but I really don't think it's all that bad.

First off, I can't comment on the difficulty of heroics yet since I haven't run any so far, but making a judgement about them being too hard less than two weeks after expansion release strikes me as premature. I'd be rather disappointed if the progression curve was completely smooth sailing from beginning to end on day one. Running into some obstacles and not always succeeding at what you're trying to do sounds about right on target to me when everybody is only just barely fulfilling the minimum gear requirements for heroics and half the people have no idea what the bosses' abilities are.

Some healers are also complaining about bad/rude groups... that's nothing new though, is it? The only difference is that your group not playing well and not working together might actually jeopardise your success now, where previously you could just heal through the dps standing in the fire, and if the ICC-geared tank ran off and pulled before you were ready he'd survive without heals anyway. But was that really a so much more fun game, where people flailing in three different directions simply didn't matter?

Related to this, I've also seen comments about healers feeling... powerless. Again I can kind of understand that, especially when I'm trying to "top off" a dps that ate a cleave and he has as much health as the tank so even that simple task feels like a momentous undertaking... but in all honesty, there's also a part of me that really likes it. Yes, being a healer is about being responsible and saving others, but I found that in late WOTLK there came a point where I felt like I was supposed to heal through absolutely everything simply because I could and it just became too much. It's nice to be able to pass on some of the responsibility and be able to say "no, I can't cover that, you'll have to do it differently if we're supposed to defeat this encounter". In fact, in normals it's hardly even pronounced enough in my opinion. I've healed some pugs through Vortex Pinnacle and Lost City in particular where no crowd control was used, three different people had aggro on the pull and still I could keep everyone up without any deaths. It just made me want to facepalm.

Most of my runs have been guild groups though, and while I can heal through messy pug pulls, watching them get executed by guildies who actually work together is so much more fun. I just swell with pride and happiness when I see some of our top dpsers, who had been degraded to AoE bots during Wrath heroics like everyone else, crowd control and kite and help me dispel and generally do an awesome job.

I'm also oddly enjoying the logistics of putting a guild group together. It feels really old school to grab one of the tanks when he gets online, ask in guild chat whether anyone else wants to join and then fly to the instance to summon the people who haven't discovered the entrance or whose gear doesn't qualify for the dungeon finder yet. You could consider it annoying faffing around, but I actually find it pleasant to have more reason to interact with my guildies outside of raiding again. (We're not all real life friends or anything like that, so it's quite possible to lose touch if you never chat in-game.)

In terms of healing as a holy priest, these are some of the observations I've made:

- You'll want to be in Heal Chakra pretty much ninety-nine percent of the time. The AoE healing Chakra is kind of meh in instances because you shouldn't be doing heavy AoE healing for any prolonged period of time; it will just drain you of your mana very, very quickly. In most situations where more than one person takes damage it's feasible and preferable to just top them off with single target spells whenever you get around to it. Heal Chakra is actually pretty good for that too, as you can cycle heals around to refresh Renews on multiple people.

- Heal Chakra also gives you access to Holy Word: Serenity, which is actually all kinds of awesome. I have to admit that I completely ignored it pre-Cataclysm because I just didn't see its use. It wasn't until I found myself increasingly starved for mana after levelling that I realised that it actually costs less than Heal, while healing for more. Now I use it pretty much on cooldown. The increased crit chance on the target afterwards is a nice bonus as well, and reason why it should be cast on the tank by preference.

- I'm really liking Surge of Light again. It still doesn't proc quite as often as I'd like, but often enough to notice. Again it was mana starvation that truly changed my mind about it, because when everything feels like a drain on your mana bar, free instant heals of a reasonable size are quite amazing. Every time those golden curves appear next to my character it's a little "hallelujah" moment. Now I just wish Blizzard would allow us to spend it on smites again, because I get so many procs while soloing and they are all utterly useless right now.

- Echo of Light, the holy mastery, is really growing on me. Again this is something that didn't really strike me as that amazing back in ICC since the heals from it seemed so piddly, but in this new Cataclysm world full of mana constraints where people aren't always topped off all the time, having a little extra HoT tacked onto all of your direct heals is actually quite valuable. According to my Recount it makes up about ten percent of my effective healing on an average dungeon run, and that's with relatively low mastery rating. I'll have to consult the theorycrafters though to figure out how the stat compares to crit and haste in terms of efficiency.

- I'm actually using my full arsenal of healing spells again, which is pretty fun. Then again, I was using my full arsenal of healing spells pre-4.0 too, only with a heavier emphasis on the AoE spells. Now it's the opposite, with the single target heals hogging the spotlight and the AoE heals feeling kind of weak and not worth the mana unless shit has really hit the fan and you're struggling to keep your party alive for even five more seconds (after that you'll be oom anyway). I suppose one thing I do like about that is that the single target heals are the ones that reward intelligent targetting, as opposed to all those AoE heals that eventually became so smart that you just had to click on anyone and all the right people would be healed anyway. I do like my own decisions having more value attached to them again.


Uldum and cut scenes

My boyfriend and I completed Uldum today. From what I can gather it seems to be a very popular zone, but I can't really share that sentiment after this first playthrough.

First things first though: I did like the overall look and feel of the zone, what with me being a fan of all things related to ancient Egypt. The Harrison Jones quest line bordered on being tacky at times, but personally I thought that it was quite funny. (My favourite bit was the "into the chests" line early on that made fun of the extremely dodgy start of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

I also liked the tol'vir. They are basically cat centaurs, which is cool. I was just kind of disappointed that they didn't seem to have any females as far as I could tell. Not to press the feminism angle too much, but this just struck me as kind of lazy. I mean, I can kind of understand why Blizzard hasn't introduced any female ogres into the game to date for example, because they aren't something that's been frequently portrayed in fantasy art and they'd have to invest rescources into designing something that looks convincing themselves. But the tol'vir... are freaking cat centaurs. Normal centaurs already have females in the game, take that basic concept, replace the head with that of a cat and the legs with cat paws and you're golden! I just don't understand... /sigh

Quest-wise Uldum played with some new mechanics, which was interesting, but also repeated some old mistakes that Blizzard really should have known to avoid by now. Killing a trillion pygmies for some quest item with a rubbish drop rate is not fun! Another quest that I remember as impressively unfun was one where you have to pick up some items off the ground in area filled with neutral mobs that turn hostile and aggro as soon as you touch anything, with some additional mob spawns all over the ground that triggered as you walked past them.

And then... there were the cut scenes. The popular opinion seems to be that these are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but personally I really came to loathe them throughout the course of the zone.

One reason for this was that a lot of them were simply very badly bugged. I expect some bugs here and there, but I had problems with about a third of all cut scenes, most often because they would simply force my camera to look at the wall for a minute and watch... nothing. Most often this seemed to be triggered by me and my boyfriend trying to set off a cut scene at the same time, and we finally managed to avoid more troubles by making sure to "take turns" as it were if we knew that something was coming up. I just can't believe that problems like these made it into the final release. I mean, it's an MMO; surely more than one player completing a quest at the same time is not that strange a concept, is it? On other occasions I've had a cut scene fail to play altogether, or the opposite: it started playing for me again when my boyfriend completed his quest even though I'd already seen it once. Another time I saw my character randomly appear in the air and fall to the ground halfway through a series of unrelated events that I was supposed to watch.

If the cut scene was supposed to play in the middle of a quest and failed, I could at least abandon and try again (and again...), but some scenes only triggered upon quest completion, so if you missed them you were out of luck. This was particularly annoying when I was supposed to watch an important council meeting that I'd been working towards for about a dozen quests - and then I got to stare at a wall for a minute and had no idea what was actually decided in the end.

Other wonky side effects included unwanted teleportation. One quest triggered a cut scene upon picking up the last quest item and then dumped you back at the quest giver, which was a fair bit away from where you had been working on the actual quest objectives. I was rather annoyed by this because there had been loot on the ground that I hadn't picked up yet! So I started to fly back to fetch it, and just as I was about to reach my sparkles, my boyfriend completed the quest as well, for some reason I got the cut scene again and was dumped back at the quest giver again! I guess the developers thought that this would be a convenient way of saving people the oh-so-long flight back, but for me it was just a nuisance.

This sort of leads me to what else I didn't like about the cut scenes even when they weren't bugged, namely the lack of control. About half the time I felt that they added little to the story and seemed to be more about taking control away from the player by fixing their camera angle and making them watch certain pieces of NPC dialogue in real time. I just didn't really see the point. At other times, they even take control of your character away from you, most often to justify them doing something stupid, like getting captured by a bunch of random bandits or whatever. If you died to some felboars in Hellfire after having killed C'Thun that was kind of silly but at least your own fault, but now every Kingslayer gets pwned by random pygmies because Blizzard says so. This doesn't help the roleplaying experience, it hurts it.

I can't blame Blizzard for wanting to try something new, and I did enjoy some of the cut scenes. When they were used to show events happening on a greater scale or to show character animations that we don't usually see in the game... that was nice. However, especially towards the end of the zone I couldn't fight the feeling that someone just went nuts with their new cinematic tool and decided to make every bit of NPC speech into a "cut scene" just because they could. Take quest. Watch cut scene. Hand quest in. Watch cut scene. Hello, I would like to do some actual playing here!

I do hope Blizzard won't consider Uldum a successful experiment in that regard...


My thoughts on Vashj'ir

Others have discussed this topic at length already, but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring as well.

Let me start off by saying that I rather enjoyed the zone as a whole, but I do have to add the caveat that this was my first playthrough and that I did the entire zone solo. I think the latter bit is particularly important because from questing with my boyfriend I've got the impression that "the new WoW" is actually not particularly group friendly. As Zelmaru pointed out in a comment elsewhere, the frequent phasing means that you can only level with someone else if you are in "lock-step", since you can neither skip ahead nor go back to help your friend kill things that have already been phased out for you.

Contrary to what some people hopefully proclaimed after the Shattering, collection quests don't all have a hundred-percent drop rate either. My boyfriend and I got started on Uldum today and I lost count of how many times we had to circle the same spot of desert, killing pygmies for their stupid rare drops, just to complete a simple quest for both of us.

Some quests are also more likely to just not work properly or bug out if you try to do them in a group. For example there was this quest in Mount Hyjal where you were supposed to trap and interrogate a harpy, and I was very confused that I didn't get any dialogue options when I tried to talk to her... and then she suddenly dropped dead and I got a quest completion message. Turns out that only my boyfriend had been allowed to question to her. Lame. Or in early Uldum we completed a quest at the same time and while my boyfriend got to watch a cut scene afterwards, the quest giver just phased out quietly on my screen. I could go on and on...

Anyway, Vashj'ir. The sad truth is, questing alone actually made it easier for me to enjoy the story since things went much more smoothly that way. I only had to worry about gathering crab meat or whatever for myself, nothing got borked up for me just because my boyfriend clicked on it two seconds earlier, and I found it easier to suspend my disbelief and believe the NPCs' constant praise of my unique talents and heroic deeds.

While the zone is still extremely linear, I do admit that it felt a bit less constraining than the worgen starter area, because at least I was never completely locked into a four by four market square or anything of the like. I could still swim around and explore the entire zone if I wanted to, even if many areas seemed oddly empty if you were visiting them in the "wrong" phase. I only ran into an obstacle on the rails once, when I finished everything at a hub but couldn't pick up any follow-up quests. I then went back to the area where I had completed the last couple of quests and found a completely unrelated quest giver in a corner somewhere, whose quest then unlocked the rest of the zone for me. In the end it turned out that he wasn't completely unrelated as he became a recurring character, but it still felt clumsy to me that he was placed somewhere where he could easily be overlooked if he was that important to the plot.

Many of the quest achievements also felt kind of pointless to me. For example, you can't get 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea without completing Visions of Vashj'ir Past and Sinking into Vashj'ir as well, so why have separate achievements for those anyway? Fancy names aside, they are basically all equivalents of "complete x quests in Vashj'ir". Felt to me as if Blizzard was worried that if players weren't getting an achievement pop-up at least every so often during their way through the zone, they might get bored...

There were a couple of quests independent of the main storyline by the way, but they were thoroughly unimportant. For example you'd kill a wandering Alliance NPC, get a quest pop-up saying something along the lines of "Alliance, here? You better kill them!" and then that was it. Didn't really make me feel like I had discovered a great little Easter Egg or anything.

Also, the seclusion of the storyline made suspension of disbelief harder for me than usual. You're supposedly helping out these ship-wrecked survivors with no contact to the outside world... but for convenience's sake, you can stop at any time and then hop through a portal in Orgrimmar that will take you right back to where you left off. MMOs have always requried a lot of suspension of disbelief, but if all NPCs are stuck in the same place and time forever, at least that's consistent. However, having my questing move the story onward, until the point where I decide to hearth and it all magically freezes in time, is once again a whole new kind of awkward. I like the idea that the world goes on without me, that's part of the appeal of an MMO.

Many of the quests themselves also weren't actually that inspiring. I'm tempted to keep a record of my next playthrough and count just how many quests are basically a variation of "kill some naga", because I got the impression that it's a very large percentage. Good thing that I like naga. They are probably my favourite NPC race and if they ever became playable I'd happily roll a dozen.

I particularly liked the battlemaiden quests for that reason, but also because my character "playing" yet another character felt like diving into an additional layer of roleplaying to me, and even as someone who hasn't actually roleplayed much in WoW in a long time, I really got into the spirit of being the battlemaiden, appreciating her fierce loyalty to her cause and the way one of the male naga quipped with her about who got to do more killing. Why wasn't she around in the end? With her abilities she would have made for a fierce raid boss...

Since I'm talking about likes now, I should probably also mention that I really liked the look of the zone. For some people that might be a minor thing, but for me it's very important. If I don't enjoy the way a zone looks, I won't ever enjoy questing there either, regardless of the actual quest content. Deepholm for example was a big turn-off for me simply due to being nothing but black rocks overlaid with more black rocks. The underwater movement in Vashj'ir didn't pose too much of a problem either, though it probably helped that I was going through the zone on my druid, whose instant-cast aquatic form was often more efficient than even the seahorse.

The ending to the major quest line struck me as very weak, unfortunately, because it was basically one endless cut scene - except that for the first ten minutes or so it's not even apparent that it's a cut scene. I can pretty much agree with Adam's spoileriffic account of it here because my own experience was eerily similar, except that as Horde I was dealing with goblins instead of gnomes... and I got stuck behind one of the submarine's pipes while bouncing around in boredom and was about to hearth out in disgust when a cut scene mercifully ejected me. Who designed these bloody ships anyway? I managed to get stuck on the Alliance airship in Deepholm the other day as well.

Anyway, tl;dr version:

Things that I liked about Vashj'ir:
- Smooth single-player story progression
- Pretty to look at in a Little Mermaid kind of way
- Naga everywhere, and you even get to play one for a little bit, yay!

Things that I didn't like so much:
- Too much linearity and all its associated problems (awkward time flow, redundant achievements, getting stuck)
- The final quest basically being one huge, boring cut scene.


Return to Icecrown Citadel

So everyone is gushing about the new content... and in the meantime, my guild went to raid ICC last night. Lolwut?

I mentioned before that I managed to complete my Glory of the Icecrown Raider (10 player) achievement shortly after the Shattering, but not all of our raiders did so at the same time, and some were still missing one or two achievements by the time Cataclysm came out. We promised that we'd still get them their bone drakes too, regardless of the allure of the new content. And we did. I'm so glad.

To be honest I was slightly worried because I was sure that I wasn't the only one who wasn't terribly keen on going back to ICC now that we were finally out of it, on a purely personal level at least. However, part of well-working guild is generally that you occasionally have to sacrifice a little bit of your own fun for the good of the other members of the group. Seeing everyone be willing to make that sacrifice and help out with those last couple of drakes really made me hopeful for our future raiding adventures.

As a fun fact, we did not completely steamroll the content. The massive jump in stamina between eighty and eighty-five certainly trivialised some mechanics - for example I saw someone survive one of Sindragosa's frost blasts on heroic mode, which used to one-shot everyone, including tanks. However, going from close to the best gear for your level to quest greens, combined with the massively painful stat scaling, meant that our newly levelled damage dealers often had lower dps than before due to not having enough hit, and our healers ran out of mana after every other trash pull.

On heroic Putricide we even had a few wipes - due to a couple of problems really, but a lot of it was honestly healing fail I think, with all of us either running out of mana halfway through the fight or overcompensating badly (no, I can't heal you now, I need to conserve mana) so that people died. I considered it good practice though, and it was very noticeable that we improved significantly after each wipe.

For me personally I found that the biggest adjustment was to teach myself to not use Renew so much. I was already using Heal on the tank whenever possible, but whenever I saw raiders taking damage from the abomination's aura I was still way too quick to toss a Renew on them. It's just too expensive to use it like that all the time now, plus I was still casting it too early so the last ticks sometimes resulted in overhealing. Dare to let those health pools dip a bit, they sure are big enough for it now.

It was also a good opportunity for those of our raiders who decided to switch mains in Cataclysm to try out their new class in a raid environment where everything was pretty laid back. I for one just howled with laughter when our guild leader, who switched from rogue to disc priest, accidentally life-gripped one of the tanks during a trash fight...

Oh, and if you've ever considered levelling by doing old raids, just for the fun of it - don't bother. Raids have always suffered from an XP penalty, which in the case of ICC was just enough to cancel out the rested bonus I had, but with the recent XP nerfs the amount of experience we gained was just ludicrously low. I think I got 40 XP for killing Lady Deathwhisper. I can get that for picking two bloody Peacebloom.


Some thoughts on the worgen starter zone and phasing

Due to unexpected circumstances, one of the first things that I ended up doing after installing the expansion was roll a worgen to check out their starting zone. And I do have to say, I had a blast. The levels just flew by as I pressed on again and again because I was eager to find out what would happen next. Also, even if the Twilight hype has tainted the image of werewolves for you, there's just something extremely cool about getting to play an intelligent wolf(wo)man.

That said, the worgen themselves kind of bugged me. I had heard a comment here or there that the English accents of the NPCs weren't particularly good, but I couldn't really appreciate what they meant until I had to listen to lines like "get gabbin' or get goin'" over and over again myself. I mean, English is not my first language so I'm not as sensitive to accents as a native speaker, but even I wanted to slap these guys and yell at them to stop trying to do a bad English accent and start speaking like a normal person. It's enough to drive you batty.

The worgen running animation also looked really funny to me. Maybe it's because their lack of a tail unbalances them or something, but to me their movement looked as if they were perpetually running around in very uncomfortable shoes or running across hot coals. Try saying "ow" every time your worgen takes a step and it seems strangely appropriate. I wonder if I'll get used to it through exposure over time, but at the moment I find that hard to imagine.

The thing that bugged me the most however, was how incredibly, and I do mean incredibly, linear a worgen's first ten levels or so are. I mean, WoW has had a reputation for being the "theme park" of MMOs for a while now, and some bloggers frequently deride it for having too much of an on-rails experience, but to be honest I never thought that it was that bad before. The quests certainly guided you along, but you didn't have to follow them. You could completely ignore the quest givers in your starting zone and go on to do something else, and a fair few people did.

With the worgen however, I don't think that's even possible. I reckon that you could get a warlock and two other friends to summon you out of the starter zone, but on your own I'm not sure whether it would even be possible to "escape", due to the phasing. I mean, for the first couple of levels you're not even officially a worgen yet, just a human citizen of Gilneas.

Still, that by itself wouldn't even bother me that much yet, but personally I couldn't shake the feeling that the story progression was almost being shoved down my throat. Maybe I was just unlucky with my experience gains or something, but every time I levelled and gained access to a new ability I was stuck in a phase with no class trainers. What, you want your new abilities? Never mind, you'll be just fine without them, just keep working on that story and maybe we'll let you train later.

It was even worse with professions. There was a generic profession trainer in a village where you quest around level five, and I foolishly forgot to learn both of my planned primary professions. By the time I realised that however, he had already been phased out. I then spent a fair amount of time searching every new phase I entered for another profession trainer, but never found one and was forced to continue profession-less until I was allowed to leave Gilneas at level twelve. I felt as if Blizzard was slapping me on the wrist, chiding me for wanting to "waste time" with something as silly as professions when they were trying to tell a story here, damn it! Focus on the story, girl!

From what I've seen of the new level eighty-one and up zones, they seem to be following a similar pattern, ushering you from one phased quest hub to the next. Sometimes it's cool to see the world change around you, but other times I'd just like to muck about a bit and enjoy the fantastic world around me. Unfortunately there isn't much to do there apart from talking to the NPCs that give me the breadcrumb quest to enter the next phase.

Okay, that sounds incredibly whiny and I don't mean for it to sound like that. Don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying the new zones right now. There's a lot of interesting stuff to discover. The problem is that I'd really like this content to last and be fun the second time around as well. I ended Wrath of the Lich King with eight level eighties, and with the low-level quest areas having been redesigned, I might want to level more!

In the past I enjoyed questing in a variety of zones, picking and choosing my quests, working on professions and doing things in a different order to spice things up. But how interesting is it going to be to the follow the exact same sequence of quests a second and third time, with little to no room for deviation? Being amazed at the phasing isn't really something that you can repeat ad infinitum. But Tam already covered this subject much better than I ever could.


Expansion Anxiety

I hope everyone else had a better first day of Cataclysm than I had.

You see, my boyfriend and I had made this sweet but slightly cheesy plan to give the expansion to each other as early Christmas gifts. I bought a copy for him on my way home from work. He had ordered a copy for me from Amazon ages ago... and it didn't arrive. Well, crap. He then insisted that I should install the copy that I had bought for myself instead and that he would wait. I didn't argue because I knew that there was no point (he can be quite stubborn) and I was kind of keen on seeing the new content... but once I logged on, I just felt bad about being there without him.

I mean, I didn't want to start levelling without him, obviously. So instead of going to any of the new places I decided to just fly around old Azeroth a bit, picked up some of the new flight paths and so on. I started to idly pick some flowers on the way and was appalled to see that even picking a peacebloom still gives me experience at level eighty - only twenty per flower, but still. No flowers then... hmm, how about I try this new archaeology lark? Guess what, that gives pretty big chunks of XP as well. /sigh

I have to admit, looking at the guild roster didn't make me happy either. The moment I logged on in the early afternoon, several people had already gained at least one level, and one person was just about to hit eighty-three. So much for eighty to eighty-five taking as long as seventy to eighty did, huh?

Tam wrote a nice post about fearing the rat race yesterday, and while I was mentally nodding my head in agreement while reading it, I had forgotten just how bad it could be. Basically, the moment I logged on and immediately saw all my guildies ahead of me already, I had painful flashbacks to the beginning of Wrath. "OMG, why aren't you [level] yet, we need people to run [instance that requires a higher level than I am]?" Nobody did that to me today fortunately, but the mere memory made me cringe. I don't think I'm a particularly slow leveller, but I do like to take my time, and I do have things outside of WoW that I need to take care of. For some reason I thought that my guildies would be the same way, but it's amazing how a group of individuals that is in perfect agreement about raiding can still have vastly different approaches to levelling.

In the end I just logged off my main and rolled a worgen for laughs. Less reason to feel guilty about playing without my significant other (having some alts of our own is par for the course anyway), and no self-inflicted pressure to keep up with the Joneses in terms of levelling.

I just need to keep my calm now. In a few weeks all of this will be forgotten and we'll all be focused on the new group content.


Instancing from level 25 to 35

Time for another installment of my series about levelling through the old dungeons in a post-Shattering world! I'm not sure how useful it is but I really enjoy writing it. Especially as I'm sure that Blizzard isn't done with making changes yet and I like documenting the process.

Scarlet Monastery

The Scarlet Monastery becomes available a bit earlier now than it used to, with the first wing opening up in the dungeon finder at level twenty-six. Otherwise it hasn't changed much, which is fine by me as it was one of the best old world instances to begin with. Why fix something that isn't broken? I was just a bit sad to see that Vorrel Sengutz doesn't offer a quest to his fellow Hordies anymore. I guess since the devs don't want you to have to pick up dungeon quests in the outside world anymore, they also don't want quests from inside a dungeon to send you outside.

All the wings have separate kill quests for all the bosses now, which results in a silly amount of blue quest rewards from those four instances alone. On Horde side they are given by a dark ranger who's standing at the entrance with a couple of Forsaken soldiers. Somehow this bugged me. When someone in a city asks me to please go to this scary place where nobody else dares to go and defeat the evil within, I feel brave and as if the quest giver thinks highly of me. When a bunch of soliders ready for battle tell me to go ahead and throw myself into the fray while they wait at the back - it will be alright, honest - I feel like I'm being used as cannon fodder or just plainly being made fun of. Hrmph.

There's also another quest giver in several wings, an undead rogue called Dominic who wears a gas mask and appears to keep his distance from the rest of the NPCs, even though he wants to see the Scarlet Crusade go down as well. He intrigued me. Is he a rogue apothecary or something?

Razorfen Kraul

Razorfen Kraul has been bumped up by about five levels, presumably because things were already kind of crowded in the low twenties. Layout and bosses have remained the same however, except that I could have sworn that Agathelos the Raging didn't always have a name. I think he was just called Raging Something-or-other?

Even the goblin escort quest is still there, but people still weren't particularly interested in doing it after getting their "instance complete" pop-up, not in my runs at least. No really, Blizzard, telling people that they are done is an automatic death sentence for any content that you might still have in store afterwards.

What I found interesting is that the quests for the instance paint a somewhat different and more coherent picture of the dungeon than before. You used to go in there to kill the quillboar because... they were evil. No elaboration was necessary, nor any explanation of why they were the way they were. The largest bit of story that you used to get was that the last boss dropped an item that started a quest revealing a connection between the quillboar and the undead. The new quests however tell you to fight the quillboar because they are trying to take over the Barrens with a giant armoured boar. No, really. Likewise, the justification for Going, Going, Guano! is now that this strange bat poop "seems to send the quillboar into a murderous frenzy" and must be studied. Okaaay... an A for effort I guess. Too bad that they couldn't shoehorn the snufflenose gophers into this whole thing as well somehow.

More importantly though, you also get to talk to the spirit of Agamaggan, who is now an NPC towards the end of the instance, and it turns out that the quillboar have actually been corrupted by Charlga Razorflank. There is even talk of helping them "return to their noble roots" by killing her. I'm not so sure about that, but I have to admit that it's a nicer story than just "kill these evil guys".

One caveat: Agamaggan's spirit stands only a few metres away from the final boss, and if you end up with a group of imbeciles like I did in one run, they might rush in and pull the boss before anyone has had a chance to hand in the quest and pick up the follow-up to kill Charlga. Be ready.


Like it was the case for Wailing Caverns, the big changes that were announced for Maraudon at Blizzcon have not yet been implemented. In other words, it still consists of three parts that don't really feel quite right as instances of their own, though Blizzard at least tried to apply some band-aids to the most glaring problems.

The Wicked Grotto for example, formerly Purple Crystals, used to have only one boss, which was just silly. Blizzard decided to change that by randomly moving Tinkerer Gizlock, aka that goblin towards the end of Maraudon that half the playerbase didn't know about and the other half never bothered to go to, smack into the middle of the purple dungeon area. This feels extremely random, but then a goblin in the middle of Maraudon has always been a bit odd. I think for the time being it's a good move, as it adds some value to the Wicked Grotto and actually exposes more people to the guy. If the players don't come to the boss, the boss has to come to them!

Celebras the Cursed is now officially part of Earth Song Falls, formerly known as Pristine Waters, at least according to the dungeon map, but his placement is still problematic. Players entering this part of the instance will now spawn on top of the waterfall instead of at the bottom, meaning that they only have to turn around to get to Celebras... but unfortunately old habits die hard. In the group I was in people just ran straight ahead and jumped down the waterfall, and when the tank made an attempt to loop back towards Celebras, he was told off for going the wrong way because that boss was nothing special anyway. If you are in a position to take the lead and want to kill him - and why wouldn't you, when he's right behind you - you'll probably have to shout at the rest of your party quickly to make sure that they don't hurl themselves off the cliff prematurely.

The quests in Maraudon are now given directly by the spirit of Zaetar, which is slightly strange to say the least. It's particularly bad if you start in Foulspore Cavern, aka Orange Crystals, where he doesn't even identify himself in the quest text initially. So you just get this quest to kill some guys... out of nowhere. I would think that even in Azeroth killing people because invisible voices told you to do so would be considered slightly crazy.

That said, once you figure out who's talking I thought that the story flowed better this way and is easier to understand for someone who's new to the lore, as opposed to the old way where you'd make your way through this huge mysterious cavern and then get an infodump at the end about how this princess you just killed seduced a guy called Zaetar and blah dee blah.


Uldaman could take a leaf out of Maraudon's book there - in regards to infodumping I mean, as it still has that annoying quest at the end where your only objective is to click through ten pages of text about the titans, which I haven't actually paid any attention to in years. There's a little animation that alternates between a picture of a dwarf and a trogg now, possibly to intrigue you, but that's really not enough.

The quest givers on Horde side are a bunch of blood elves from a group that calls itself The Reliquary and looks like it's supposed to be a Horde equivalent of the Explorer's League. I thought that was interesting.

The rest of the instance remains unsplit and pretty much the same as before, except that it's a lot less confusing when you actually have a map at hand. I still managed to nearly get lost though...

I have to admit I got pretty excited about having to do Archaedas "the proper way" again, as I'll always remember him as the first dungeon boss for which our newbie group needed an explanation and proper strategy back in the day. It was nice to see him actually get a chance to execute his add-spawning moves again, even if they still didn't pose nearly as much of a threat as they did to us newbies back in the day. He also seems to have ditched the overpowered clone of himself at the end that used to serve as a sort of enrage timer.

As far as tuning goes, I'm generally unsure of what to think of these instances. Things have definitely got somewhat easier compared to the earliest levels, but that might be due to me having dual spec now. Still, there seems to be considerable variation between the difficulty of my runs and it's not always due to heirloom gear. For example I had an SM run where I literally felt completely superfluous, and the tank was just a warrior in levelling gear. At the same time there were also still runs where I needed mana breaks every now and then, even as resto. It just doesn't really add up.


The Stonetalon Story

I mentioned that I haven't actually had a chance to do much questing on my new druid due to zooming through the levels so quickly. I did the Northern Barrens and thought that they were an entertaining enough place, but they haven't really been changed too drastically. All the quests have been updated and streamlined, but you still get to steal the Samophlange and they even left that harpy quest chain in... /shudder.

Around level twenty-five I found time to go to Stonetalon, and I have to say, unlike the Northern Barrens this zone is very different now. It used to be a fairly quiet and serene place with no clear theme to it - kill some wildlife, kill some elementals, and oh, I guess the Venture Co. is a bit of a problem in this corner here. This has changed a lot.

The following is going to be very spoiler-heavy, so don't read on if you have yet to quest in Stonetalon Mountains as Horde and want to be surprised.

It all started innocently enough, with a quest to ride with a caravan from Ashenvale (which I had skipped) to Stonetalon. "Will that cart fit through the tunnel to Stonetalon?" I wondered. And then my jaw dropped as I saw that the formerly narrow tunnel known as the Talondeep Path had been turned into the Talondeep Pass. "I can't believe they blasted through the bloody mountain," was all I could think of for the rest of the ride. In hindsight I suppose that the damage might have been done by Deathwing instead, but it didn't really look that way to me.

Once you arrive in Stonetalon, you're given the rank of grunt via a buff and are told to take care of a variety of tasks for the orcish army in the area, which is heavily involved in battling the Alliance. Kill some Alliance, destroy Alliance stuff, gather and build things to destroy even more Alliance stuff. As you do so, you advance in rank, as your superior comes to appreciate your contributions more and more.

I wasn't at all happy however. All the orcs that I got to work with were either fanatical Hellscream supporters or of peon-level intelligence. In Windshear Crag some orcs were burning down trees with flamethrowers. I thought the whole reason that the orcs cut down so many trees was that they liked to build things out of lumber, not because they get a kick out of blowing stuff up for the sake of it. If this was what the Horde was all about under Garrosh, I didn't really want to be part of it anymore, and I was starting to regret my choice to quest in this zone.

The only thing that made me smile was a side quest to repair a deranged little blood elf girl's pet robot and then go slaughter some Alliance with it to entertain her. Even the battle-hardened Overlord was slightly embarrassed by her request for ice cream after we were done. "I am really not sure where [she] even came from," he admitted uneasily.

Finally you get sent to take the big bomb that the goblins have been building to an Alliance base... or something. Upon arrival you see the local orc general arguing with a tauren druid who tells him that he's mistaken in wanting to attack the giant tree in the vale. It's just a place of learning for young druids; the Alliance isn't hiding any "weapons of mass destruction" there.

I cringed. Is the Horde an evil caricature of the United States now? Please keep real-life politics out of my World of Warcraft! Not to mention that I certainly don't remember that tree being there before the Cataclysm, and for all the changes that he has caused, I don't think that Deathwing planted giant trees anywhere.

The next quest has you going to the tree to investigate. The tauren tells you that he sent his son ahead and that you're supposed to meet with him. Why do I have a bad feeling about this...

As I approached the tree I soon stopped in my tracks. Low-level night elves were running back and forth with fear icons over their heads and shouting things in a language I couldn't understand. Such a simple thing and yet so evocative. I actually felt my stomach tighten as I climbed the tree towards the yellow question mark on my mini map. It was worse than I had feared: the young tauren was already dead, and in his cold hand he was still clutching the badge of the orcish general. Oh god.

I dutifully reported back to the tauren chieftain, who had been joined by his wife in the meantime. They were both extremely distraught by their son's death, and I joined them with a couple of /cry emotes because I felt sad too. I've reported the death of a lot of NPCs in my time, but rarely did the ones left behind express such grief.

Of course the story had nowhere nice to go from there. The tauren couple confronts the general about his involvement in their son's death and he basically launches into a villainous speech about how the young tauren was a weakling anyway etc. He's also mad at the player for unconvering his plot and in the ensuing kerfluffle the tauren couple helps you to kill the orc and his henchmen after they attack you.

But the pain isn't over yet. The tauren still haven't turned on the Horde; they are horrified by what happened and want you to plead with the Overlord, to let him know that the general was the one who started it all. I returned to his fortress with a feeling of dread. I had seen a couple of quests where Blizzard now gives you different dialogue options when talking to NPCs, but the overall outcome didn't seem to be different. Would I really get a chance to tell the Overlord what I wanted to?

Of course not. From the way the quest completes it's prescribed that you only tell him that those nasty tauren killed the general and the Overlord immediately rushes off to deal with the matter. I was so frustrated! There are linear stories and then there is pure railroading. Never in my life did I want anything more than to be able to just have a fricking choice in a WoW quest.

Wondering how much worse it was possibly going to get, I returned to where I had last seen the tauren couple and found the wife's corpse at my feet upon landing. The chieftain himself had been subdued by the Overlord and was kneeling at the edge of the cliff, looking out at the giant tree in the distance. The orc greeted me enthusiastically and told me to witness what it means to be Horde... at which point he sent the balloon with the bomb attached to it at the giant tree, it blew up in a ginormous explosion and left nothing behind but a giant black crater.

I felt close to tears. I've done quests where I accidentally helped the bad guy before, but somehow the results never felt all that bad. Oh, so I helped to bring Hakkar back? Oh well, that's one more raid boss for us to kill! But this... this was just all around horrible, seemed to serve no purpose and was supposedly sanctioned by my entire faction. I was about ready to stop playing Horde for good.

It was during this moment of deepest despair that a portal opened behind me and Garrosh stepped through. Great, just when I thought that it couldn't get any worse... except: Garrosh wasn't happy either. A fully voiced dialogue followed, during which he expressed extreme distaste at the way the Overlord had murdered innocents, while quoting Saurfang about honour - this felt very poignant, as he doesn't actually name him but I instantly recognised the quote from ICC. Pissed off to the nth degree, he then grabs the Overlord by the throat and tosses him off the cliff. Oh.

As he turned around to look at me with the words "And you!" I did a /cower emote and wanted to do nothing more than vanish on the spot. I sure did deserve his wrath, but the sad tauren chieftain of all people spoke up in time to save me from being the next one off the cliff and Garrosh eventually left while grumbling about how I should find better things to do elsewhere.

At the end my immersion broke a little as I couldn't help but wonder why the quest completion ended in the tauren chieftain offering me some gear after all that had happened, and when I took too long to pick my reward and complete the quest, the phase reset with the Overlord respawning next to me. I quickly pressed the complete button just to get him out of my sight.

I have to give Blizzard kudos for really getting me emotionally involved in this story. It covers some pretty serious ground, most importantly the terrible feeling of being caught in a vicious circle where things only ever get worse and you're unable to stop it.

On the other hand however, I'm not entirely sure whether this kind of story is really appropriate for a game like WoW. I don't mean that you can't have any serious or sad quests, but... it's basically an entire zone's worth of quests building up to you facilitating something atrocious. This isn't like watching a sad movie, this is you acting out something bad yourself. How many times do you really want to do that? How many times do you want to get all these people killed (again)? Your only option to avoid it is to is to just not play in this zone at all. I for one am likely to avoid Stonetalon when levelling any alts from now on because I'm not keen on supporting these particular events again, and I'm not sure whether designing content like that is a very good idea when you heavily rely on your game having a lot of replay value.

On a side note, I'm really curious now what this zone looks like from Alliance side, as there is an Alliance base not far from the giant tree. Do they live in a blissful alternate world where this story never happens? Is the area already a giant crater when you come there to quest? Or do you actually witness the events from afar, as more evidence of why you should really hate the Horde?


From the Stockade to Gnomeregan

Apparently some people have already levelled two or more characters from one to sixty since the Shattering. Where do people find the time?!

My druid is still coming along nicely; I even managed to do some questing in Stonetalon without anything turning grey. I might write a post about that as well at some point. But first, more observations about what has or hasn't changed in low-level dungeons:

The Stormwind Stockade has been completely revamped like the Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep, but remains a fricking boring place anyway. It's a bloody cellar with some generic enemies in every room! Pah. I don't know whether the Alliance still gets the same quests as before for it, but as Horde we didn't even have a reason to kill any trash and with just going straight towards all the bosses, things went incredibly fast. Oh, and none of the trash mobs are called Defias anymore.

The new bosses are some random rogue type with a hat, a fire elemental (about a third of the instance has been invaded and wrecked by elementals, you'd think the prisoners would be a bit more concerned about that), and Hogger! I knew that the latter would be there because I happened to do the new Hogger quest in Elwynn Forest before, which ends with him getting taken to the Stockade. All the fights were fairly boring compared to DM and SFK, but Hogger at least seemed to be a nice exercise in learning to interrupt, as he keeps spamming an ability with a cast time that damages the whole group a little bit and debuffs everyone's damage output. Basically it's not vital to interrupt it (and unlikely that you'll manage every time anyway, even if you try), but considering how often it happens during the fight and that the spell affects damage output, even slow dpsers might eventually connect the dots and give it some thought...

This was also the first instance where I started to feel that our characters are clearly advancing in power faster than the dungeon mobs, despite of the buffs. Back in RFC the trash seemed tough, but in here our paladin tank started by pulling a group of both elite and non-elite mobs two levels below him, and all the non-elites got one-shot by his Avenger's Shield. Ouch...

Blackfathom Deeps has changed very little, apart from the mob buffs and new quest givers that all the instances seem to have received. The biggest change I noticed was that there is now a trapped fire elemental in front of the Twilight's Hammer cultist area who gives you the quest to kill Kelris. The old dying Argent Dawn guy in his cavern that used to give this quest before is still around but seems to have been turned into a member of the Alliance and wouldn't talk to me.

Ghamoo-ra has roughly doubled in size and been given a scarier model, presumably to justify a turtle being a boss. (Kresh in WC was still the same though...) Lorgus Jett is still around too, but contrary to what I had hoped he still isn't a proper boss, and the quest to kill him seems to have gone as well from what I could tell, so I'm not sure why they kept him in. Maybe for the Alliance? Oh, and Kelris lost his annoying tank-sleep ability I think. The devs did mention wanting to get rid of that kind of thing.

Gnomeregan again has hardly changed at all, which I found particularly disappointing considering that the story of the gnomes has been advanced so much otherwise. In fact the only changes that I noticed at all were that the Viscious Fallout has been doubled in size as well to stand out from the crowd of smaller elementals in the same area, and some of the sludges have been changed to a new, "blobbier" ooze model. Oh, and the goblin escort quest seems to have been removed, presumably because it kind of broke the "flow" of the instance, forcing you to go back to the entrance.

Scarlet Monastery next!


Reunited with my holy half

After I ranted about the 4.0 changes to holy priests for the umpteenth time back in October, I did end up going through with my plan of switching to raiding with my resto druid until the end of the expansion. It was the right choice; I had fun again and our raids went very well. We even got Glory of the Icecrown Raider (10 player) at last! Better late than never I say.

It wasn't until the other night that I finally dared to give my priest a whirl again, since we needed a dispeller for the Lich King fight. (On a side note, Blizzard restricting disease dispelling to only two classes has been such a nuisance on this fight. They should have changed Necrotic Plague's classification to magic or something.) I was hopeful that the changes to Chakra had improved things, but I was still a little uneasy.

Fortunately my fears turned out to be completely unfounded. The 4.0.3 changes have really made a massive difference and a lot of abilities sync up a lot better now.

For example I'm glad that they removed the Renew Chakra state. It was too good to use anything else a lot of the time, and doing nothing but spam Renew was boring. Not to mention that it tried to occupy the same niche as ProH Chakra, which was just awkward. The only thing I'll miss is Holy Word: Aspire, which I rather liked and would have loved to keep for Heal Chakra, instead of Holy Word: Serenity. A second HoT for tank healing would have been awesome.

The new thiry second cooldown on Chakra, combined with a thirty second duration, also helps a lot, because it allows you to have Chakra up at all times without weaving useless spells into your rotation just to extend your current Chakra state. The thirty second cooldown also makes it more realistically versatile - most bosses that switch between doing different kinds of damage don't take a whole minute to do so, meaning that with the one minute cooldown you sooner or later ended up with the completely wrong Chakra and nothing you could do about it. With the reduced cooldown I found that switching Chakra state to adjust to the fight actually felt fluid now instad of clunky (though I still realised every now and then that I chose the wrong one after a few casts - but that's just a matter of practice).

ProH Chakra getting activated by Prayer of Mending as well now is a godsend. No more spamming of unneeded ProHs just to boost my other AoE spells! The associated Holy Word: Sanctuary being on a longer cooldown made me a little sad at first, seeing how it's probably the coolest new spell that holy got with the talent revamp, but after a bit of consideration I decided that I actually like it. It makes it more of an extra healing boost that you use strategically at a certain point in time instead of something that you spam on the ground whenever the raid is clumped up and taking damage.

I even ended up using Heal every now and then! The throughput buff for priests was quite noticeable and Heal is actually on par with the other classes' cheap heals now. On fights with relatively low tank damage it's quite a useful way to preserve mana really. On heroic Deathbringer Saurfang for example my mana actually lasted longer than before 4.0, despite of the regen nerf, because I used a combination of Heal and rolling Renews (with the occasional Flash or Greater to cover spikes) until the soft enrage, which helped me save a lot of mana.

I'm so happy that being a priest is fun again! I feel ready to take priesting to the new level cap now and actually look forward to perfecting my use of Chakra and its associated abilities. (And never mind Archangel as holy, I'd probably rather go for something like this.)


"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.