I'm a Priest Again!

A common piece of advice given to new bloggers is to not make the name and theme of their blog too specific, because interests change over time and you'll want to be able to seamlessly expand the focus of your writing as required, without having anything feel out of place. I've always discarded the part about not being too narrow with your theme, because I've been happy to just make new blogs with different themes anyway... but there's something to the name thing I suppose.

I've never exactly regretted naming this blog "Priest with a Cause", but even aside from Google's initial confusion about whether my writings had anything to do with clergymen, it's sometimes felt a bit awkward as time went on. Back when I started this blog, it seemed impossible to fathom that I'd ever want to main anything other than a priest - my mains on both sides of the faction divide had been priests for years, after all. However, after I first quit the game in Cataclysm, things got weird:

In other words, it's actually been a full decade since this blog really lived up to its name, and that has sometimes bothered me at least a little. I tried my hand at playing priest here and there during my private server years, and I did eventually make a dwarf priest in Classic too, but she never really got levelled very much or quickly.

Until recently, that is. As I said in my last post, with all my previous max-level characters at 70, it was time for a new alt to rise up from the ranks, and my most progressed was actually my priest, so I kept working on her here and there. Soon my levelling buddy expressed interest in having her team up with his warrior once she got high enough for Outland. Warrior/priest, the original OTP... who could say no to that?

Originally I thought she was going to be shadow spec, like I was for most of original Burning Crusade. Back in the day shadow priests were the new hotness and everyone wanted one or more in their raid. I remember I was pretty much recruited specifically to be part of one of my guild's Kara teams because they "needed" a shadow priest for crowd control and other utility. And in the 25-mans we ideally always wanted to run with three shadow priests, one for the two ranged dps groups and one for the healers. I remember that people absolutely loved shadow priests, and I loved being popular.

In Classic BC though... things feel very different. Shadow priests still have their role to play, and nobody dislikes them, but it's much, much more low key than it used to be. People hardly cared about CC in Karazhan even at the start of Classic, and in 25-mans you apparently want exactly one shadow priest to power your arcane mages and that's it. Nobody minds if you want to bring a shadow priest to a dungeon or Kara, but if you're in the process of building a group and thinking about what classes you'd like to bring, you're likely to think of almost every other ranged dps before a shadow priest. That's just how it is, and I'm not entirely sure why.

I guess Classic's increased min-max culture has brought it into starker relief that shadow priests do less damage per second than other classes (back in original BC, with so many of us being bad, the waters remained muddy about these things for much longer), plus average dps is so much higher, leading to fights being over much more quickly, so that "running out of mana" (the main thing a shadow priest in the group helps to prevent) just isn't as much of a concern as it used to be.

I still levelled my little dwarf as shadow of course, because anything else would have seemed masochistic. She spent most of her time questing on her own after all, and when I did get into a dungeon group on occasion I could still both dps or heal as shadow spec. But as I approached Outland, I got thoughtful. My levelling buddy was going to go for a hybrid spec to be able to both tank or dps in levelling dungeons, but healing as shadow was likely going to get rough after level 60 in a group of levellers with average gear.

So when the time eventually came to start adventuring in Hellfire Peninsula, and step into Ramparts in specific, I hearthed to Ironforge, respecced to holy, and then asked for a summon back. And I didn't really mind. My night elf priest back in the day did something very similar, respeccing from shadow to holy in early Outland to focus on being the group healer, and it was fine. And even my troll priest, who was shadow throughout most of BC, ended up going holy when we suffered a healer shortage towards the end of the expansion.

What surprised me though, was that it wasn't just fine: I absolutely loved it. I've enjoyed healing on my paladin, but she only has two healing spells: big heal and small heal, and while that comes with its own challenges, especially in AoE situations, it's not exactly very mentally stimulating to decide which of the two to press next in any given situation.

But even though it's been so many years now since I played a priest at anything but lowbie level, it somehow still felt like coming home. So many different heals to keybind, and oh the fun of deciding which one to choose moment to moment. My brain and fingers even seemed to long to return to keybinds from a decade ago that I couldn't possibly remember on a conscious level, but I could still sense my fingers twitching towards certain combinations if that makes sense. I also instantly found myself missing Prayer of Mending and Binding Heal, abilities I won't get until later down the line but which I kind of automatically wanted to slot into my rotation already. It was honestly kind of surreal how familiar and comfortable it felt.

We blasted from level 60 to 62 within two days by mostly running Ramparts and Blood Furnace, and it just made me so happy it's silly. I'm not saying anything about wanting to change mains or anything at this point, but boy, do I really want to play this character more.

Priest can be rough to play solo because while the class can be specced and equipped to play "okay" on its own, it will still always pale in comparison to the power of a dedicated dps class, and if you've ever had a taste of the latter, it will always feel like a downgrade. But a priest's power to keep a group of friends alive (and in interesting ways!) is perhaps unmatched... it's just that the only way to really enjoy this is to have multiple friends that are reliably playing with you, ideally both a tank and dps to actually kill stuff. I went for a long time without having this sort of group setup... but I'm thinking I might finally be back in a place that makes it worth it.


Old Azeroth in Burning Crusade

I had four Alliance characters at level 60 by the end of Classic. With all of them having reached 70 and me finding myself increasingly running out of interesting short-term goals to pursue on them, the time had come to look at levelling some more alts from scratch (or close to it).

Spending time in "the old world" again has been kind of nice - I hadn't even realised how much I missed it. I do love Outland, but there's something special about many of those original zones as well.

I read a YouTube comment the other day in which the author said something along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing heavily) that Classic made them realise that what they loved the most about Burning Crusade was actually levelling through the old world while having Outland to look forward to. This really resonated with me.

Back in the day, I wasn't someone who jumped through the Dark Portal on day one - I did have an Alliance character at level sixty, but I wasn't in any particular rush. I also levelled a Draenei mage with a group of friends, and started over on Horde side to join a guild there. At the time, it was all one large game to me, and I didn't feel the separation between the base game and the expansion that strongly. My levelling buddies and I would get some quest rewards in Hellfire Peninsula and then go back to Blackrock Depths anyway just to finally be able to beat the Emperor.

This feels very different in Classic. My priest hit level 58 the other day and everyone seemed to be flabbergasted that I wasn't running off to Hellfire Peninsula instantly. However, she had so much profession catch-up left to do, and so many dungeons she never even set foot in! I'm not saying I'll stick to old world content until I've done every last thing, but I don't see anything wrong with pursuing a few more goals in Azeroth before moving on. I'll still get to spend more than enough time in Outland later.

Sadly, spending more time on my lower-level alts has highlighted how everything feels ever so slightly "off" already. This isn't the levelling experience that I remember from original Burning Crusade... because in those early days the old world was still largely unchanged - things like the big levelling nerf and removal of most outdoor elites weren't implemented until later, but in Classic Burning Crusade, they've been there from the start.

And these were changes that were largely praised as good things. There were always people who complained that the levelling in Vanilla was badly balanced, with whole stretches of levelling "where you had to grind mobs because there weren't any quests to do" - but thanks to these changes, no more! The issue for me was, I never remember having that problem to begin with, so the "solution" just threw things out of whack for me instead.

It took me until now, levelling my alts in Classic BC, to realise that this is because levelling in Vanilla/Classic was actually really well balanced - but it was balanced around the idea that you would want to take part in all aspects of the game: do quests, run dungeons and skill up professions. And since that's what I did, things (mostly) worked out pretty well for me - the dungeons would plug any "holes" in the levelling curve where there weren't that many solo quests available, and the materials I grabbed on the way would be about enough to keep up with my professions without too much additional effort required (in most cases anyway).

The Burning Crusade XP nerf on the other hand rebalanced the game around just levelling solo via quests and doing nothing else... which means that things like dungeons fall by the wayside, and professions require additional grinding or heavy investment in the auction house to be kept up to par. I've been feeling the loss of dungeons particularly hard though, because while I do enjoy running them, I also like questing, and by the time I've managed to pick up all the dungeon quests I'm already almost out of the instance's level range, leading to me ultimately being funnelled into just skipping most of them.

But even on the occasions when I have tried to form a group, it's a time-consuming process that often results in people giving up before ever getting anywhere. Even if you do succeed in getting through a dungeon it might not be in the form of getting a proper party together but rather some kind soul giving you a free boost because they feel sorry for you after seeing you spam LFG for an hour. Nethergarde Keep isn't the kind of dystopia where everybody just buys and sells boosts the way people describe it on Reddit, but I've seen for myself that it can be discouraging to spend what feels like way too much time on forming a proper group simply because the rebalanced gameplay makes levelling dungeons not really worthwhile in the same way they were in Classic.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. I guess it just shows that the seeds of WoW messing up its own levelling experience were planted much earlier than I thought. Because at first glance it sounds so sensible: just reduce the XP required for each level, it still takes long enough to get to level cap! Make more mobs non-elites, so people can just do everything solo when there are fewer levellers around! But it all has knock-on effects, so that people group less because you made the group content less rewarding, engage with fewer aspects of the game because they just breeze past them while levelling, and it all snowballs from there.


Classic Battle for Mount Hyjal

When it comes to content and instances that feature enemies spawning on a timer, there seem to be two main camps of players: One that finds them boring because they think they're capable of going faster than the timer will let them, so it artificially slows them down, and one that finds them stressful because the timer forces them to go faster than they're comfortable with. Based on the sorts of things I've heard about the Battle for Mount Hyjal raid and Black Morass dungeon, the majority of players are seemingly in the first camp.

Me, I've always been in the apparently small minority that actually enjoys these instances because to me, they feel well-paced and somewhat challenging but not overly so. (I found them trickier in original Burning Crusade, but even then I could deal with it.)

Even aside from that, I've always liked Battle for Mount Hyjal for other reasons. One is the lush green landscape... and now that I think about it, this is something that applies to Burning Crusade raids in general: a lot of them take place in colourful and visually interesting locations, which can't be said for the raids in every WoW expansion. Too many of them are set in dark caves or stark fortresses in my opinion.

I also liked the whole dynamic of the raid group basically fighting a retreat, holding off attackers for a while and then falling back to another camp until the climatic fight for the world tree itself. That sort of narrative progression in raids isn't that unusual nowadays, but at the time it felt quite novel and like a refreshing change from just going into some big baddie's lair filled with minions that are simply sitting there, waiting for you to clear them out and take their stuff.

With all that said, I was quite looking forward to the Forks' first foray into Mount Hyjal after the tier six raids officially opened their doors in Classic late last week. However, I'll admit that there was also a bit of apprehension in the mix, mostly related to me worrying about people possibly underestimating the raid/overestimating our abilities. There'd been a lot of talk about how most of tier six is much easier than Kael and Vashj... which is true, but knowing my guild, that doesn't mean we won't find ways to wipe due to silly things anyway.

Plus there's the fact that we're on a much bigger server now, and people are seeing all these more hardcore raiders in Black Temple gear after mere days, forgetting that we moved onto a server with a lot more guilds that are much better than us - meaning that seeing other guilds clear the content quickly in no way indicates that we'll have an easy time with it too.

In the end it worked out alright by my standards. We didn't get close to clearing all of Mount Hyjal on the first night as some people seemed to be hoping (even if I'm not sure how serious they were), but we did kill three bosses and had at least an attempt on the fourth.

Our first wipe felt very typical for us: We made it through the first few trash waves easily, and the healers were joking to wake them up when there's some actual healing to do... and then we got to the wave with multiple abominations and our paladin tank just went splat, at which point things escalated quickly and we all died. People took it in stride though, and the same was true for the other wipes we had, which could be traced back to understandable confusion or first-time mess-ups that were easy to forgive. 

I do think Archimonde will be more challenging to us as it's a fight that requires a certain amount of personal responsibility and people having awareness of their surroundings, which is not something the Forks have traditionally been good at, but we'll see how it goes. I am kind of excited by the idea of us being able to work our way through both Mount Hyjal and Black Temple in good time and actually finding some time to farm gear there, and then to look at what comes after, as my original Burning Crusade experience ended in Black Temple.