Over the Hump

The thirties were not the most fun of level ranges in Vanilla. You had no mount yet, yet you had to range further and further afield to find quests - particularly painful on classes that don't get some kind of speed boost, like a hunter's Aspect of the Cheetah or a druid's Travel Form (*cough*mypally*cough*). There's also a bit of a dearth of good dungeons in the low thirties... who ever wants to do SM GY? And the only Alliance players who ever want to go to Razorfen Kraul are warriors for their class quest (if I recall correctly).

I've written about questing in Stranglethorn Vale and Thousand Needles, but aside from that I also spent some time in Arathi killing kobolds and Syndicate, and more in Desolace, though I made a point of staying away from anything centaur-related. The quests associated with the goblin caravan turned out to be sadly broken, but from what I hear no private server has got those right yet. Also, Rexxar and his pet bear are jerks. (The latter killed me after chasing me halfway across the map... she just wouldn't let go!)

Either way, I'm proud to say that I'm finally over that hump (thus the title of this post) and hit level 40! There is no ding shot as I was actually in the middle of tanking a Scarlet Monastery run at the time, but I noted down that I hit this milestone after a /played time of four days and about nine and a half hours. So just getting from 30 to 40 took me almost two days of played time, about the same amount of time as 1 to 30! In fairness though, I wasn't trying to be terribly efficient about it (or else I wouldn't be levelling a paladin as prot/holy). I also can't help but wonder how much of that time was spent in combat, compared to running around, sitting on flight paths and idling at the Ironforge auction house. I wouldn't be surprised if it was less than fifty percent.

Of course, hitting level 40 means that I'm finally able to get my first mount! And this is where being a paladin has its perks, because they get their basic mount for free. It counts as a regular paladin ability and doesn't even require you to have had riding training. This is good, because while I've been trying to save up money, I still would have come up a bit short in terms of gold, mostly because ability training is horrifically expensive, and bank space is even more so. (And while the latter is largely optional, I couldn't resist buying some, considering the alternative would have been to *gasp* get rid of some items that I wanted to keep.)

Even though I'm sure that they will take even longer, I'm looking forward to the next couple of levels because a) I finally have a horse, b) they will take me to zones like Tanaris, Feralas and the Hinterlands, some of my favourite Vanilla WoW zones, and c) SM Cathedral and Zul'Farrak are fun and worth re-running more than once if the opportunity arises.


A Guild and Grind

I joined a guild again. It wasn't planned, but as I was sitting in Darkshire looking for people to polish off my last couple of group quests in Duskwood, a person called Pawsy whispered me to ask if I was unguilded for a reason, which I thought was an interesting way of starting a recruitment conversation. We talked for a bit, I told them about how I wasn't playing very much and had ended up somewhat disappointed by the last guild that I'd joined randomly, and in the end I agreed to join their brand-new levelling guild called "Mending". It really was brand-new, as according to the guild info it had been founded only about two weeks prior.

I was pretty impressed by the leadership's recruitment efforts, as they were apparently whispering people like crazy, to the point that they were joking about how they were getting "no, I don't want to join Mending right now" replies as soon as they even said "hi". I was impressed because while they didn't seem to be very discriminating with their invities, they did genuinely try to engage people in conversation in the process.

I asked about the group quests in guild chat and half an hour later they were done. Boom! That's why you joined a guild in Vanilla.

Of course, it also took only a few hours until I had my first impulse to ragequit, when I saw some guy repeatedly use the word "jew" as an insult in guild chat and realised that another guy called Donaldtrumps (the name says it all really) who had come across as kind of trollish in general chat was in the guild as well. However, I decided that I didn't want to be hasty, as the guild is still very new and one has to wait a bit to see how these things shake out. A few bad apples don't need to necessarily ruin it for everyone, depending on how they are received by the rest of the guild, and I've already seen a fair bit of pushback against people saying overly stupid/rude things in guild chat as well. In short: we'll see.

In terms of gameplay, after having gained a few levels in Stranglethorn Vale, I was starting to hit a bit of a wall there, in the sense that I ran out of quests that I could easily solo. Plus, the Horde players I was encountering were starting to get on my nerves a bit... like that troll shaman 7 levels above me that tried to gank me on the road twice, though both times I managed to keep myself alive for long enough for other Allies to come by and kill him instead. Then there was another troll shammy, only 2 levels higher or so, who tried to kill me near Nesingwary's camp, but I kept healing myself. By the time I was nearly dead due to running out of mana and he was out of mana as well, I handed in two quests so that I dinged and was instantly back to full health and mana, hah! Unfortunately that was when another troll shammy (is there anything else in STV?) who was 9 levels higher than me and had been fishing nearby decided to join in to kill me. Anyway, the point is - all those troll shamans were getting in my way a bit and I decided that it was time to visit Kalimdor again.

I took the boat to Theramore and crossed Dustwallow Marsh, the Barrens and Thousand Needles on foot. Seeing the old Thousand Needles again made me so happy, even if its design and textures seem kind of bland by today's standards. I missed those windy canyons. I unlocked the flight path in Gadgetzan and picked up the artisan cooking quest there, since my cooking is a bit ahead of my level, though I'll need to level up a couple more times before I can effectively farm the materials for the quest.

Then I decided to go do a couple of quests in the Shimmering Flats. I vaguely recall not doing those on my priest back in the day, because I was already too high level for them by the time I arrived in the area, so I was only ever peripherally aware of them. It's safe to say that I didn't miss out! They are all super grindy and anything that doesn't require you to simply kill things or pick items off the ground has a terrible drop rate. Salt Flat Venom or Hardened Shells, anyone? I was OK with it though, because honestly, I needed something to grind and these quests just gave me an excuse to pick on turtles and scorpids.

Also, an orc rogue who was something like 7 levels lower than me tried to kill me and failed; I killed her instead. Definitely preferable to Stranglethorn Vale.


The Green Hills of Stranglethorn

While I had found unexpected enjoyment in questing in Duskwood, I was also keen on moving on to Stranglethorn Vale. STV, as it is sometimes shortened to, is a place with a very mixed reputation. Personally I have mostly fond memories of it, but I also know people who absolutely loathed that zone. One of the friends that levelled with me when I first started playing WoW used to call it "Ganklethorn Vale". Since we played on a PvE server I didn't really get this whole world PvP thing at the time and it didn't really mean anything to me. Seeing Horde players for the first time was simply exciting.

Now that I'm actually getting to re-live the experience (sort of), I'm being reminded of both the good and the bad about this zone:

The Good:

- After the gloomy atmosphere of Duskwood, the sunny tropical beaches of Stranglethorn really lighten your mood.

- There are loads of quests by Vanilla standards. I mentioned before that while WoW gained fame for having more quests than any other MMO at the time, by today's standards they were actually pretty sparse, and you were constantly running from zone to zone to find new ones (or submit to the grind for a couple of levels).

The Bad:

- Especially as Alliance, there is so much walking. I'd forgotten that the Rebel Camp didn't gain a flight path until Burning Crusade, so the closest Alliance hub is Darkshire. Then it's all the way down the winding road to Booty Bay and it takes freaking forever because you're still on foot for another ten levels or so. No mercy or consideration for the fact that you didn't actually get a mount until level 40.

- As this is one of the first zones where Horde and Alliance are forced into some proximity, it's a popular spot for gankers on PvP servers. So far I've only been affected by it once though, and I guess I was kind of asking for it by fishing near Nesingwary's camp...

The Neutral:

- Mob density is high and many of them also make pretty worthwhile grind targets (animals for leather, humanoids for cloth and cash). On the other hand: mob density is pretty high and you can't take two steps off the road without being attacked. In a couple of spots you are likely to be attacked on the road as well, plus it's often hard not to get adds while fighting in many places.

- The zone covers a huge level range, from about 30 to 50. In some ways this is good - see the aforementioned positive about lots of quests. On the other hand you'll find yourself coming back to the place again, and again, and again (because this being Vanilla, of course there aren't enough quests to level in STV alone) and you'll probably get pretty tired of it after a while.

- The mobs start to get more interesting in terms of abilities, and since combat is so much slower than in modern day WoW, they actually get to use them. In some ways this is interesting, because it trains you to - for example - save stuns until the caster mob tries to heal, as they will otherwise heal to full. (Kurzen Medicine Men, anyone?) On the other hand, it makes certain mobs plain annoying to fight depending on your class. For example combat as a pally is already slow enough as it is, I don't need a stupid basilisk stunning me for three seconds twice per fight on top of it.

- The Green Hills of Stranglethorn clog up your bags. On the other hand, if you have the money, you can actually buy a chunk of XP, which is pretty neat in my opinion.

- Samantha Swifthoof patrols the road. That lady scared the crap out of me when I was an Alliance newbie and before I realised that she didn't aggro. It was weird to find out later that she never actually had a purpose in the live game... (She was originally meant to teach Tauren Plainsrunning.)


Priestly Noobishness

I also logged into my priest alt again and played her for a bit, though not for long. Unlike my pally, this character's "original version" was levelled with a group of friends, and trying to recreate that experience alone feels like a very pale shadow of the past.

Still, it does trigger some interesting memories. Like learning how to use Power Word: Shield. I remember that when I first got it, I used to basically just attack the mobs and then shield myself once they got into melee and started hitting me. Then one day, I observed another priest soloing out in the wilderness, and for some reason she was shielding herself before even pulling. At first that made me scratch my head. Power Word: Shield has a thirty second duration, so if you cast it before combat you're effectively wasting a fair bit of potential shielding time!

But of course it doesn't actually work like that in practice, because a couple of hits are already enough to consume the shield. And then you'll likely have to deal with the Weakened Soul debuff, which won't allow you to be re-shielded for fifteen seconds after the first shield was cast. By pre-shielding, you could give Weakened Soul time to run out, and by the time your enemy broke your shield you were then able to immediately re-shield again. Just from observing a stranger I learned one of the most important lessons about the basic use of shields.

Likewise, reading the tooltip for Fade brought back all kinds of memories. In Vanilla it said: "Fade out, discouraging enemies from attacking you for 10 sec." Combined with the way that using this ability made you appear semi-transparent for a few seconds, I interpreted that as it giving me some kind of temporary stealth which would allow me to sneak past enemies at a closer distance than usual. When that didn't work, I mentally discarded the ability as useless.

Of course, the real purpose of Fade (and later versions of the tooltip reflected that) is to reduce your threat in combat. After I constantly drew healing aggro in dungeons, someone eventually asked me why I was never using Fade. I don't remember what I said, but probably something along the lines of: "Because it doesn't work!" But then I gave it another go in group content, and seeing mobs that were running towards me a moment ago turn right around and go back to the tank the moment I hit Fade was absolutely mind-blowing.

It's remembering things like that which enables me to have near infinite patience with people who play badly or just don't seem to get how something works, regardless of which MMO I'm in. They've probably got some perfectly valid reason on their minds for why they are doing what they are doing - even if they are "doing it wrong" - and it's probably something that I never even would have been able to come up with. That's the noob's prerogative.