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Has it really been…

Almost 2 years since I last wrote a post? Can that be possible. I’d like to say to use the excuse that a lot has been going on, but let’s be honest. I’m lazy.

But I’m still playing. Leveling a warrior who is currently level 67. My goal is to level every class to 90 before WoD hits, but I’m not going to make it. I tried to level my Shaman from 85 to 90 and I just couldn’t do it. I switched from enhancement to elemental in a desperate attempt to be interested, but it didn’t work. I might just delete him. I even went so far as to roll a brand new Shaman to level from the beginning as elemental, but that didn’t help either. I fear that Shaman isn’t for me.

But what I am trying is leveling with specs that are not traditionally considered leveling specs. So, for example, I leveled a DK as blood and it was a blast. I’m leveling my warrior as prot and that’s fun as well. Back in WotLK I leveled a warrior as prot and it was deathly boring. He could survive almost anything, but every combat took forever. Now, every mob is dead in two hits tops. It’s great.

Next I want to level a priest all the way to 90 as disc. I usually end up switching to shadow early on, when shadow gets good. But I suspect that Blizzard had been working hard to make every spec levelable and I want to see what disc is like.

For real giggles, I should tried resto druid. I’m not a big druid fan. I’ve never managed to level a druid to any level cap. Can I now level one to 90? I’ll have to give it a try.

Hitting A Wall In D3

I’ve managed to get to Inferno Act 2 on two different characters, one a Monk and the other a Wizard. But I’m kind of hitting a wall at that point. My gear isn’t quite good enough to farm champions in order to prepare to finish Act 2 and move on to Act 3. I really do want to kill Diablo on Inferno, though, so I’m planning to stick with it. But this is the kind of situation where I tend to lose interest and move on to other games. To be honest, I’m a little surprised I’ve played the game as long as I have. I tend not to be able to run through the same content multiple times (except for WoW, of course). But I’ve run through the entire game any number of times already and I don’t really have a problem running through it many more times. But if I’m going to get stuck in Act 2, unable to progress, then I may give up. Not a great attitude, I know. But there it is.

If I do give up, I may finish up some loose ends in WoW before the pre-MoP 5.0 update that will bring all the changes to talents and such. At that point, I do have a plan to level something as I wait for MoP to be released. But I’m not sure what. Might be my Warlock. Might be something else.

Before D3 came out, I was diligently leveling yet another Priest. If I remember correctly, she is some bars in to 84, so just a bit more play and she’d be 85. Not that I have a huge connection to her or anything. I doubt I’ll play her much (if at all) once MoP comes out, but you never know.

Actually, I think I’m facing the possibility of needing to delete some of my characters. The problem isn’t so much that I don’t have room for more alts. I think I still have about 20 slots left. The real problem is that I don’t have space on my main Horde and Alliance servers. I think we’re going to get an extra character slot (11 on a server, instead of the current 10) when MoP is released, so that everybody has room to level a Panda (uh, I mean Pandaren, of course). That will help. But I anticipate wanting to start from scratch on a number of different classes in order to see how they level. The talent system is going to be so different once MoP is released, and I’m keen to check out the leveling experience on a number of classes. So I may have to delete what I have, up until now, considered to be “important characters”. Some of these characters go back to when I first started playing WoW. Deleting them may be difficult. It remains to be seen whether I can do it or not.

Still Alive

I’ve been playing a lot of Diablo 3 the last couple of months. I am going to be playing MoP, though, when it is released. My main project will be a Pandaren Monk (of course), but I am also keen to level a Warlock. I’ve heard that Warlocks get major love in the next expansion and I want to see what it’s like to level one with the new changes. I’m trying to decide whether to start a new Warlock or level my existing Warlock (who happens to be the the first character I rolled in Cataclysm). I’m leaning toward leveling my existing Warlock, mainly because if I were to roll a new one I’d probably be tempted to delete the existing one to make room, and it seems a shame to delete a level 66 Warlock.

I’m pretty exited about pet battles, actually. Even if I don’t end up battling other players, I think just capture pets and training them is going to be fun. I’ve already played a bit with pet battles in the beta and it turns out to be quite a bit more fun than I thought it would be.

I’ve also been playing a Monk a bit in the beta. Not a Pandaren, because I don’t want to spoil all the new content in Pandaria. I’ll save that for when MoP is released. But I didn’t really see a problem with playing around with the Monk class, so I rolled a Blood Elf Monk. I’ve only managed to level her to 18 (if I remember correctly), but I’m not sure I really love the Monk class. I leveled her as Windwalker for most of her first 18 levels, but toward the end I switched to Mistweaver and found I actually liked it better. This was just solo leveling (no instances or anything), so I assumed the DPS spec would be the way to go. And maybe it is past a certain level. But in the beginning, Mistweaver seems adequate with the additional benefit of being able to heal myself. I suspect I’ll have a better idea which spec I like after I’ve leveled more seriously when the game has been released.

It’s Me

It’s me. And my owl that looks like a bird.

When WoW was new, there was a lot in the game that wasn’t well designed. Maybe “not well designed” isn’t really the right way to put it. More likely, the game designers just didn’t really know how certain game mechanics would play out in practice, so they threw stuff together to see what would stick and what would need to be reworked. Hunters are a good example. Back in the day, Hunters had to level their pets’ skills “by hand”. Pets didn’t have their own talent points. They had abilities with ranks. Abilities depended on the type of pet. Cats, for example, might have a bite ability. As a cat’s experience level increased, her potential ability rank increased as well. I don’t remember the exact details, but lets say a cat had a bite of rank 1 when newly tamed at level 10. At level 20, the maximum bite rank might be 2. But the cat’s bite didn’t automatically increase to rank 2. It was still at rank 1 until her hunter trained her to rank 2. How did a hunter train her cat to rank 2? Well, this is where things got interesting. Different ranks of an ability were actually considered different abilities. A rank 2 bite was basically a different ability than a rank 1 bite. In order for a hunter to teach her pet a certain rank of an ability, the hunter herself needed to know that ability at that rank. How did a hunter learn pet abilities? By going out and finding a beast that knew the ability, at the given rank, taming it, and then spending time with the pet. If the hunter spent enough time with the pet, then the hunter herself would acquire all of the abilities of the pet. Once the hunter learned an ability, she could then teach it to all of her other pets that were able to learn that ability.

What all this meant in practice was that hunters had to spend a fair amount of time taming pets just to learn pet abilities. And looking back on it now, the whole system feels like it was a bit ad hoc. By which I mean that it didn’t feel well thought out and it ended up creating game play I doubt the game designers had envisioned when they first designed it. For example, hunters couldn’t necessarily depend on which untamed beasts had the rank of ability they needed to learn. Research was required to figure out which beasts to tame in order to learn the abilities they needed. Not all beasts were the same. Cats in some parts of the Azeroth would know rank 2 bite, while others, in other parts of Azeroth wouldn’t. You couldn’t just run out and tame any level 20 cat and expect to learn rank 2 bite. You needed to know where to go and what cats to look for. All of which meant that hunters had to play a kind of mini-game of taming pets just so they could play their class.  Personally, I enjoyed this ad hoc mini-game, but I could imagine other hunters not enjoying it at all. I could also imagine that other players playing classes other than hunter might be a little jealous. Not necessarily because they didn’t get to play the same taming game. But because they didn’t have a mini-game like it for their class.

Pets no longer have ability ranks, and there is no longer a need to go out and tame specific pets just to learn new ranks of abilities. The whole system was scrapped in favor of a talent system for pets. Pet abilities still exist, but hunters can now be guaranteed that pets in a given family will have the abilities of that family. Blizzard has normalized the entire pet ability system so that each family has its own unique set of abilities. The current system feels much more like it was by design. It also feels like it behaves exactly as the game designers envisioned it would.

I am fascinated by the distinction between ‘ad hoc’ and ‘by design’. Game design that is ‘by design’ feels very predictable, while ‘ad hoc’ design feels unpredictable. Ad hoc design can lead to emergent game play. By ‘emergent game play’ I mean game play that isn’t imagined by the game designers. My guess is that, in general, game designers aren’t really comfortable with emergent game play because it is, almost by definition, out of the designers’ control. Game designers may have very few tools with which to alter or “fix” emergent play. Going back to the hunter example, it may or may not have been the case that the designers intended for hunters to travel the world looking for beasts to tame, but that is the play that emerged from the pet abilities system. But that game play was not really under the designers’ control. It was a confusing system for new players, and even experience players might not be aware of how to find the beasts they needed to tame to take full advantage of their pets’ abilities. All of which likely resulted in some hunters having an advantage over other hunters simply because they knew about the Petopia website, or they had read some forum post with a trick about where and how to tame a special pet. There was likely little that the game designers could do to make serious changes to the pet ability system as it existed in the original game. So they scrapped it and replaced it with something far more predictable and far less ad hoc.

The current pet talent system is almost certainly easier for the developers to tune and balance. It’s also easier for new players to understand. I’m not knock the talent system at all. I think it still provides hunters with ways to customize their pets. Heck, in some ways the talent system gives hunters more interesting choices than the old pet ability system did.  I know the Blizzard game designers are very big on providing players with interesting choices and the current pet talent system does that well.

That said, I can’t help feel a little nostalgic for some of the emergent play that has disappeared in the game.

Professional Thoughts

In a recent post I suggested that Rogues make a good class for a person new to World of Warcraft. Now I’d like to consider which professions to choose that will maximize the fun.

There was a time when the question of which profession goes well with the Rogue would be simple: leatherworking, because it provided much needed gear upgrades while leveling. Times have changed, however, and the various armor crafting professions haven’t kept up with the rest of the game, at least not while leveling. Quest rewards have been revamped throughout the game, and it is now quite easy to have a reasonably well-equipped character from quest rewards alone. In fact, I think it’s almost more fun to equip a character purely from quest rewards than it is to equip a character from crafted pieces. To make matters worse (or better, depending on how you look at it), the Looking For Group tool makes it even easier to equip a character with decent gear. Before the LFG, it could be quite challenging to run dungeons enough times to get meaningful gear upgrades. If you had a group of friends, or a guild, that you could depend on to run dungeons with on a regular basis, then you probably had decent gear. But if you tended to run solo a lot, as I do, then dungeons were something you’d only run very occasionally, and definitely not enough to depend on for gear. When the LFG was introduced, all that changed. It suddenly became possible to run dungeons even for loners like me, and that put all the previously out-of-reach blue dungeon gear at everybody’s fingertips. The LFG is great, but it does make the various gear crafting professions, like leatherworking, even less relevant to the leveling processes.

There is actually another reason to avoid leatherworking as a leveling profession: crafting plateaus. A “crafting plateau” is a range of levels in a crafting profession for which the material costs to make items that allow a level up are so high that you end up having to grind for materials (or buy the materials on the Auction House) just to get past the plateau. I know for leatherworking there is a plateau right before hitting 250. The problem, basically, is that we now level our characters so quickly that we end up leveling out of the areas containing the mobs that drop the kind of leather we need in order to craft leather gear. And the leather requirement for the gear is higher than it should be. If this were end game gear, then I could understand the material costs for one piece of gear being high or hard to find. But for low-level gear that’s needed just to level, I don’t really get the point. I think Blizzard needs to seriously overhaul the various gear crafting professions and re-tune their material costs and leveling requirements for the lower levels. Maybe they can make the gear itself more relevant at the same time.

The crafting plateau problem is actually even worse as you approach the various level caps for old expansions. In Burning Crusade, for example, the level cap for professions was 375, but levels become hard to come by at much lower levels. Blizzard has made adjustments such that the lowest level items in the next expansion, Wrath in this case, starts before the end of the highest level items in the previous expansion. For example, the first craftable LW item in Wrath is Borean Armor Kit, which can be crafted at 350. So once you hit 350, you can start crafting armor kits to get to the next item level, which is 370 (Arctic Boots and others). But getting even to 350 turns out to be fairly painful and requires a fair amount of either grinding mobs for leathers, or expensive AH purchases, to accomplish. What makes the whole process even worse is that none of the gear that you’ll craft to level leatherworking to 350 is even anything you want. It’s all completely overshadowed by even the lowest level Wrath gear (crafted or not).

Which is just a very long way of saying, don’t take leatherworking for your new Rogue. It won’t be fun. If you want to be a leatherworker at end game, then wait until you’ve leveled to the level cap and then level leatherworking.

If not leatherworking, then what, you might asked. If this is a new character on a new server, without any gold, then the usual strategy is to level two gathering professions and sell everything you gather on the AH. Which gathering professions are best may depend a bit on the server, but in general, I think all the gathering professions work to make money. I’m partial to mining (as it feeds into blacksmithing and jewelcrafting), but herbs should also do quite well (herbs are also needed by two professions: alchemy and inscriptions). Skinning isn’t bad either, and if you are planning to become a leatherworker at some point in your career, you might want one of your gathering professions to be skinning, just so you can have a head start.

Gathering professions can be a great way to make money, but they aren’t necessarily fun. If it’s fun you are looking for, then I’d suggest taking a look at engineering. Engineering is probably my favorite profession. It has it all, really. Everything from craftable vanity pets, such as squirrels and rabbits, to useful items such as Parachute Cloak and Deepdive Helmet. But even more valuable than pets and parachutes, in my opinion at least, are the various teleportation devices. There’s a teleport to Gadgetzan (or Everlook for Goblin engineerings), a teleport to Toshley’s Station (or Area 52 for Goblin engineers), and a wormhole generator to various locations in Northrend. I use these teleportation devices frequently. They save all kinds of time getting from one place to another.

I should probably warn you upfront that the one thing you probably won’t do with engineering is make any money. To be honest, I’ve not really investigated engineering for money-making potential, so there might be a couple of interesting items that other players tend to like to buy. Back when Hunters used ammo, engineers could make some money crafting ammo and putting it on the AH. And there are scopes and guns that can still be sold to Hunters. In general, though, I doubt you are going to make much with engineering. The reason to level engineering isn’t for the money, it’s for the fun of it.

If you do choose engineering as one of your professions, then you’ll probably want to compliment it with mining. Occasionally you’ll need materials from one of the other gathering professions, but the vast majority of the materials used by engineers comes from mining.

Balista: Goblin Hunter

Meet Balista, my new Goblin Hunter. I threatened to roll a Goblin hunter, and here she is. She’s currently all of level 10. She has yet to leave the Lost Isles, but she’s high enough level to pick her spec and tame her first pets. Some things of note about Hunters and Goblin Hunters:

1. One reason I rolled a Goblin hunter was because I wanted to tame some of the cool beasts I’ve seen roaming the Lost Isles. Granted, none of these beasts are unique. I can tame them anywhere in Azeroth. But I like the idea that they’re all in one place. I figured I could wander around taming every beast I saw. Which would have been a great idea, except for one little problem: As far as I can tell, there are no Stable Masters anywhere to be found. Bummer. I hate abandoning pets. And I particularly hate abandoning my starter pet. Goblins start off with a Crab, which, while not particularly special, is still cute enough to hang on to. Also, I consider the starter pet to be special. Hunter’s have plenty of space in the stable to keep the starter pet, so why abandon it? Except that with no Stable Master, abandoning is the only choice if I want to be able to tame anything else. Hopefully Blizzard will rectify this oversight and stick a Stable Master somewhere on the Lost Isles.

2. Since I can’t stable my pets, I’ve decided that my strategy will be to tame as many pets as I can, one at a time, while I’m still on the Lost Isles. As far as I know, once I leave, I can’t go back, so this is my only chance. Might as well make the most of it. My first tamed pet was a raptor. When I tamed it, it was red. I even named it ‘Red’. But when I logged in this morning, before breakfast, I found my red raptor had become a black raptor. After breakfast I logged in again and discovered my black raptor was now purple. Cool. Too bad I couldn’t keep him. When I got to the bit with the turtles, I abandoned my raptor and tamed a turtle. I think this might be my first turtle pet. He’s quite cute. I resisted the urge to name him Bourne. That was Pikestaff‘s clever joke. I’m almost tempted to keep the turtle, but I know i can’t. Not if I want to tame something else. I know there are monkey’s on the island, and I’m keen to tame one of those as well.

3. If you are planning to roll a Hunter, keep in mind the one ironclad rule of Hunters: no melee! Hunters are ranged DPS. Period. Ignore Raptor Strike when you train it. You’ll never use it. Or, at least, you shouldn’t use it (and when the Mists of Pandaria expansion hits, you won’t be able to, because Hunters will no longer be able to use melee weapons). If something’s getting in your face, the first order of business is to get back to range so you can continue attacking with your ranged weapon. Before level 10, it can be a little tricky to stay at range. You don’t have control of your pet. To compensate, you have to use strategies that keep the mobs at a distance until they die. The trick is to open each attack as far away from the mob as possible. Your pet will immediately engage anything you shoot. You may need to back up a bit, or even sidestep, which is faster, in order to keep distance between you and the mob. That gives your pet a chance to engage the mob and grab the aggro away from you. Once that happens, you should be free to wail on the mob with impunity using Arcane Shot and that, together with your pet’s attacks, should kill the mob long before it can ever get to you. To be honest, I didn’t really have a problem opening with Arcane Shot, as long as I was prepared to move backwards as my pet engaged. The pet still managed to get the aggro quickly. Things become decidedly easier when you get Concussive Shot at level 8. Then you can open with Concussive Shot, which buys you a lot of time to kill mobs before they reach you. Actually, I found an even better strategy was to open with Steady Shot, followed quickly by Arcane Shot, and then Concussive Shot. That puts the mob in a serious hole, health-wise, and also starts the Concussive Shot timer after you’ve already done damage.

4. The whole problem with aggro and such described above is completely moot once you ding level 10, because at level 10 you can finally control your pet. What I like to do is create a /petattack macro that I can stick on my action bar. And when I learn Hunter’s Mark (at level 14), I put that in the macro as well. Then I can target a mob and hit the macro to start combat. My pet runs in and once he’s established aggro, I begin my attack.

5. I’m planning to level as Survival, at least in the beginning. Eventually I want to be Beast Master, so that I can tame all possible beasts. But that isn’t really an issue in the early game, so I’m not going to worry about it. I’ve noodled around with Survival on other Hunter’s and I’ve found it to be a surprisingly fun spec.

Those are my notes for now. Time will tell if I continue leveling Balista for any length of time. I’m having fun now, but we’ll have to see how I feel once I get off the Lost Isles.

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