Sunday, December 28, 2008

28 hours to Northrend

My Death Knight hit 68 after 28 hours of /played time, mostly questing and a few instances here and there. I did about 250 quests and leveled pretty much exclusively in three zones (Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh and Nagrand). And I didn't even complete any of these zones.

The bottom line is that Blizzard did really cut down on the time to level, and I'm actually quite excited at the prospect of taking my plate AOE machine through the Northrend grind (third time).

At this point, I'm even seriously considering making her my main, but I'll save that for another post.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Death Knights for Dummies

With things tapering off on my main (who is now pretty much only raiding and doing reputation dailies), I decided to give this Death Knight thing a serious try.

I played the DK starter areas twice (in the beta and in the live game) and I came out unimpressed both times.  The class felt a bit awkward to me and if seemed to me that Blizzard was trying to create something different and ended up creating something complex.

As it turns out, while rich in lore and fun quests, the DK starting area is actually a very poor testing ground to unleash all the entertainment that the Death Knight class can deliver, and it took me a few hours in Hellfire Peninsula to realize that.  I am now 62 and I am having a lot of fun with my Knight.

The first thing that impresses me about Death Knights is that they are pretty much AOE machines wearing plate.  

Anything within ten yards of a competent DK is taking tons of damages under different forms.  I predict that they will become as good at trash AOE tanking as Paladins.  Remember these times when your character is barely handling two mobs above your level, a third one joins in and you think "Crap.  Corpse run incoming"?  Well, with a Death Knight, not only do I actually look forward to that, but I sometimes Death Grip one from afar because otherwise, some of my DPS is going to waste.

Oh and I usually finish the fight with at least half, if not all, of my health.  I'm talking about a 62 DK handling 3-4 mobs that are two levels above, here.  And by handling, I really mean "meleeing".

The mechanics of the class is complex and prone to a lot of exploration, so I most likely don't have everything down here, but here is what I have found out so far.  The overall idea is to put as many diseases as you can on one mob, spread it with Pestilence and then pick various finishers depending on the situation.  While leveling, you don't really need to worry about renewing diseases since the mobs will be dead by the time the first diseases expire.

It usually goes a bit like this (if a line starts with (aoe), it means I'm fighting several mobs, which is what I try to do most of the time).
  • (aoe) Death and Decay
  • Icy Touch, Plague Strike (to put two diseases on a target)
  • Pestilence (spreads the diseases to all mobs with a cool graphic effect)
  • (aoe) Blood Boil (not quite sure this is really useful since only the current target affected by disease will be hit hard, the others will only feel a little sting)
  • If I'm taking damage, Death Strike (which heals me, but doesn't hurt much), otherwise Blood Strike (which hurts more)
  • When the mob is about to die, Obliterate (which does a lot of damage but also consumes a disease)
  • Interspersed in all this, Death Coil, as Runic Power becomes available
All these abilities deal little damage when taken separately, but when you see them compounded with each other, groups of mobs fall like flies.  Of course, the ghoul is also dealing a reasonable amount of damage and I reassign it to various mobs based on the health bars I see on the screen.

As a data point, my 62 DK was able to solo all the giants that roam in the Northwestern area of the Hellfire Peninsula.  While this is unlikely to impress hunters and warlocks, you need to keep in mind that the DK is actually meleeing the elite the entire time.  There is no fearing or using a pet to take the punishment for you (your pet ghoul doesn't have any aggro retaining abilities, so you usually send it in first, but as soon as you engage, the mob will turn its full attention to you).

Elite soloing in a nutshell:
  • Use Frost Presence (Death Knights' tanking aura).
  • Cast Bone Armor and wait for a minute before engaging, so you can cast a second one during the fight.
  • Be ready to cast Icebound Fortitude (Death Knights' "oh crap" button) if things go bad, but I actually never had to
  • Use your regular AOE spells when adds appear (Death and Decay, Pestilence, etc...).
At 62, my DK has about half of her original blue starter gear and half Outland green gear, so all of the above is based on abilities alone and not overgear. 

As for add-ons, I installed Magic Runes, but I barely use it, for a couple of reasons:
  • As I mentioned above, mobs usually die by the time the initial diseases wear off, so the importance of keeping track of them is lessened while leveling.  Still, I already have Quartz configured to show me this in an effective way for my Rogue (Slice and Dice, Rupture and Deadly Poison all neatly stacked up in the middle of the screen) and the exact same configuration is working great to keep track of diseases.

  • Dominos is doing a good job at showing me the proper cooldowns.  For example, if an ability needs one Frost and one Unholy and that they have respectively two and six seconds more to go, Domino will show that ability with a cooldown of six seconds.
I'm still having fun so far, time will tell if the novelty of the class will wear off.

Monday, December 1, 2008

WOTLK raiding: first impressions

A few random thoughts after two weeks:
  • Hunter damage is out of control: it never drops under 2500 DPS and during one pull in Naxx where we aggroed three groups, the top hunter clocked at 9000+ DPS. WTH? I can't believe this would be working as intended. My first reaction would be that it should be nerfed, but the crazy hunter DPS is probably a big factor in the fact that Naxx seems so easy. I would be curious to see Blizzard's official position on that.

  • Mages and Warlocks are getting very rare. I'm not sure how widespread it is, but our lead Lock told me he didn't like where the class was going and that he was tired to be a one-button raider, so he's leveling a Death Knight. As a matter of fact, we joined up with another guild to do a quick Naxx 25 run and we had zero mages, zero warlocks and one rogue. And five paladins.

  • Naxxramas is easy and varied (at least the first four wings). It's a great entry-level instance which will probably become as popular as Karazhan, although it's simpler and less demanding on gear. Sapphiron and KT will require a bit more work, though.

  • Same remark for the Obsidian Sanctum, which was already a lot of fun to raid in the beta. I really love the fact that not only can you pick the 10 or 25-man version, but you can also decide how hard you want it to be (for people not familiar with this instance: it's very short, features three mini-bosses and one main boss. Each mini-boss you leave alive makes the main boss harder to kill, but he will also drop more loot if you pull it off. Same idea as ZG, although I don't remember if Hakkar dropped more loot depending on how many of the other bosses were still alive).

  • Another interesting idea from Blizzard: Archavon. He's the only boss in an instance that is accessible only to the faction that controls Wintergrasp and he drops some pretty cool stuff for an easy fight (we killed him with a 25-man pug).

  • It's been barely two weeks and I already have 1 T7 and 1 T7.5 piece. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it, it seems like it should take much longer. As for the rogue class, I find myself back in the top dps meters now that my gear is becoming decent, but the various theorycraft articles I read are scaring me (for example, I'm still sitting at 230 hit but the cap seems to be at least double that... yikes).

  • I'm reading a lot of positive things about Death Knights at 80. I've never leveled one beyond 60, but I'm getting more and more intrigued to push one all the way to 80 now, more so than my existing 70 characters.

  • The dailies are much more scattered than in TBC but fun overall. I'm exalted with one faction already (yay championing) and by now, there is no loot that any of these reputations will get me, so I'm going to focus more on useless stuff, such as another mount+pets (Oracles) and the fishing pole or the penguin (Kalu'ak).

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's been widely said, including by myself, that players in T5-T6 will not find upgrades before the late 80's and even Naxx.

Well, I was wrong.

I found my first good upgrade in Gundrak (level 75 instance in Zul'Drak) and then another one in the Halls of Stone (level 76 in the Storm Peaks). And these are not minor upgrades: the cloak dropped by the Maiden in HoS, which can be reached -- and therefore, farmed -- in 20mn, is better than Teron Gorefiend's cloak, which is one of the best melee cloaks in TBC.

I completely missed these upgrades because I didn't run many instances in the beta, so if you are 75 or above, you should start running instances more aggressively (the two Halls instances are absolutely gorgeous).

Monday, November 17, 2008

WOTLK early impressions

A few random thoughts:
  • Good job on Blizzard's part for the scaling and respawn rate. I haven't encountered any big bottleneck while questing (except for the server queues, of course, which have sometimes reached 40mn).

  • My guild is a raiding guild so everybody is crazy busy power leveling, even though we have no firm schedule to get back into raiding. Some of our players have been repeatedly flipping various instances for quick XP. We have a few 75-78 and most are lower. Quite a few of them took some time off and were probably playing close to non-stop over the weekend.

  • Instance flipping *seems* to work well but I'm not 100% sure it's that much faster than questing. For example, I calculated that Drak Tharon Keep will net you about 100k XP in a half hour, which is the equivalent of four quests (80k XP + the killing involved). I think I can definitely knock down four quests in that amount of time, depending on the traveling involved. Anyway, I accept every single run I get invited to since this is precisely what I didn't get to experience during the beta. Oh and big hug to Blizzard for short instances.

  • I am guilty of trying to level fast as well. First of all because I have played most of this already in the beta, so the novelty is no longer there, but also because I want to be sure I'm not left behind, even though reason tells me that none of this will be a factor in 2-3 weeks once all our raiders are 80.

  • For this purpose, QuestHelper is nothing short of amazing. Not only has it worked flawlessly for 95% of the quests I've been doing, but it also calculates the best paths for questing and even shows them on your map. It doesn't account for quest follow-ups, though, which means that sometimes it will tell you to do A and then turn in B, while turning in B first might be faster because the follow-up to B will create a shorter graph. Really not a big deal, I'm absolutely baffled at how well this add-on works and I admit to feeling a mix of fascination and repulsion at the idea of implementing graph traversal algorithms in LUA.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Leveling a Rogue in Northrend

This article on WoWInsider gives some good starter information on how to get ready for the 70-80 grind, but I think the author is overthinking the problem.

Anyone with T5+ gear will be shredding mobs until 80, so you might as well pick an exotic spec and have some fun with it until the harsh reality of endgame raiding forces you back into a more sobering DPS dishing configuration.

I leveled Shadowstep+Cold Blood in the beta and I was chuckling with glee all the way to Icecrown. The sheer amount of burst is absolutely wonderful and two crits are all it takes to kill any mob with just three hits. I didn't even bother re-equipping my sword once out of stealth...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Selling pets for fun and profit

Out of curiosity, I bought a few extra pets with my Alliance character, which I then put up on the Horde AH. All these pets cost 0.5s and I put them up for 12g.

They sold within a few hours.

Intrigued, I bought more and slowly increased the initial bid and buy-out prices to find out how far I could push it... None of my auctions ever expired, they all got bought out. I'm talking about items bought for 0.5s that I am now selling for 40g. Crazy stuff.

I just make sure that I only ever put one kind of each pet (there are 4 cats, 3 moths and 3 owls) and as soon as one sells, I put up another one, just to maintain the perception of scarcity. Also, I'm probably going to start buying out any pet that I see on sale for less than 10g in an attempt to monopolize the market.

I'm guessing this is working well because transferring pets across factions requires either two different people or two accounts, which most players can't practically do. What most players have, though, is gold and an incomprehensible hunger for achievements.

I don't know how long this will last, but I have made close to 1000g over the past 48 hours just by spending a few minutes at a time at the AH, and this is probably the first time I encounter a money scheme that blows the Dailies out of the water.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pet achievement

In my quest to complete achievements that require some effort, I recently decided to try to get 50 pets, which is quite a challenge since I'm starting with basically two...

So far, I have accomplished the easy part (stock up on pets that are sold by vendors) and I have rounded up 25 (still no Sinister Squashling though :-(). Now the hard part begins.

My next action items is to keep farming Dead Mines for the parrot dropped by the pirates on the boat. Cookie also drops a Siamese Cat but I already have it (forgot where I got it).

There's also another pet dropped by a rare in the Undead area, which I'm planning on farming.

Quite a few pets can be easily bought by Alliance characters, too. I have a 60 Alliance Priest, but she's parked on a different server and I don't feel like paying for yet another transfer, so I'm probably going to create a Human character, have her run all the way to Booty Bay, transfer some money to her via the neutral auction and then send her on a shopping spree (which might take a while since she'll be running and some of these pets are in remote areas, such as Darnassus). And then I'll sell the pets back to my Horde main via the neutral AH.

There are also two Engineering pets that can be used by non Engineers (the yeti and the toad), but they're a bit painful and costly to assemble, so I'll save that for last.

Another thing I need to investigate is whether I completed the three chicken escort quests. I'm pretty sure I did but I'll have to double check. The sad thing is that if such is the case, I probably destroyed the reward and I haven't been given the option to resurrect it from the NPC. Sigh.

Oh and of course, there are numerous web sites that have the full directory of pets (about 100 as of today), but I thought I'd share my findings so far.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tenris Mirkblood and the incoming plague

We did the new Karazhan boss yesterday, it's a good opportunity to visit an area that nobody ever goes to (even as of today, I have never killed any of the animal bosses). The good thing about Mirkblood is that he drops a pet for all members of the raid and an axe that can be used as an air guitar.

Other than that, we also did the two Necropole quests (one of which requires a group). It's good fun, but probably painful on a PvP server. Once we had our objectives, we all flagged ourselves to rain some mayhem on our fellow alliances anyway. Also, it's worth hanging around longer to pick more Necrotic Runes since you can buy a cool summoning horn for 40 Runes (don't forget you need 10 more to turn in the quest). Oh and for 8 Runes, you can get the Argent Dawn tabard, which has an achievement of its own, if you're into that.

The quests end there, though, so a bit disappointing. Hope there's more to come.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Achievement frenzy

Did your guild catch the fever too?

Most of my guildies spent the entire night chasing silly achievements like exploring all of Arathi Highlands or completing AQ20 (they 4-manned it, I believe). I think I saw Onyxia die three times over a period of a couple of hours too.

I aimed for something a little more out of the ordinary: I went to SSC and I fished Lurker. Then I went to Stormwind to do some more fishing and I was planning on clearing the Stockades while I was there but I got badly pwned by the guards (now level 75, darn you Blizzard) so I had to give up.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thirty days

That's the time it took me in the Wrath of the Lich King beta to reach 80. Each level takes between six and eight hours, so 70 hours of play in 30 days, which gives about 2 hours every day... ... It felt like very casual leveling but the numbers seem to say otherwise.


Very enjoyable overall. Outland leveling was already fun and WOTLK is even better.

The quests are even more streamlined now: you reach a new zone, you have one or two new quests, you turn them in and new ones open, usually grouped at the same location. Phasing allows for some interesting variations (mostly seeing the landscape change as the storyline progresses) and there are some new types of quests involving various devices and vehicles that break the kill/gather monotony.

All the zones are beautiful and a few of them got me gasping, and I don't get easily impressed by graphic candy.

Every 2-3 levels, something new happens that motivates you to push further: at 72-73, you will do the epic Death Gate quest, at 74 you reach Dalaran, at 77 you can fly again, and at 80, you beat the game and the credits roll.

Ok, maybe not.

I did a short 10-man earlier in the Obsidian Temple, which gave me a short, albeit thrilling, glimpse into raiding at 80. It definitely feels quite new with all the new animations, sounds and abilities that everybody has (for example, I was receiving an insane amount of HOTs). This particular instance is clearly aimed at giving cheap Badges of Heroism to players, but it was short and sweet.

I'm not quite sure what I want to do now or even if I want to keep playing the beta or simply wait until the game ships. This is usually the time when you need to get organized and start running 5 or 10-man and also work on leveling your main professions (along with cooking, which is a bit painful right now) but I don't feel I'll have the energy to do this on the beta.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Invisible stats

Some of the items I received recently make me scratch my head:
These four items are ilevel 128 and they replaced items of 115 value (mostly Karazhan stuff).

The problem is that despite their higher ilevel, equipping these pieces have made my Hit Rating and my AP drop substantially (hit went down from 251 to 193... ouch), and for Rogues, these stats are usually our measuring stick, so I'm guessing they actually offer bonuses in the form of "invisible" stats.

For example, the Choker improves my Haste Rating by 25. My attempts to find some meaningful (i.e. Elitist Jerks or Shadow Panther) explanations of why this stat is important have not been very successful, and as far as I can tell, Haste Rating cannot even be seen on my Character panel.

The Money Belt ignores 77 of my opponent's armor, which doesn't seem very significant, but I guess considering the number of attacks that a Rogue does, it probably adds up and translates into a reasonable increase of DPS (and my cloak already ignores 112 armor, so that's 188 armor ignored total).

So I pulled my faithful Rogue DPS spreadsheet, entered the new information and I started crunching a few numbers. Here are the results.

First, here are the abbreviations I'll be using for this study:
  1. The Savage Choker (ilevel 128, increases Haste Rating)
  2. Worgen's Claw Necklace (ilevel 115)

  3. Gloves of the Searing Grip (ilevel 128, increases Expertise)
  4. Netherblade Gloves (ilevel 120)

  5. Bladeangel's Money Belt (ilevel 128, ignores opponent's armor)
  6. Primalstrike Belt (ilevel 115)

  7. Boots of Effortless Striking (ilevel 128).
  8. Edgewalker's Long Boots (ilevel 115)
The baseline combination is 1357 (maximized ilevel) and the spreadsheet gives me a DPS of 737, which sounds a bit low compared to my observed DPS in raids, but it doesn't matter since I just want to compare configurations. In the combinations below, keep in mind that odd numbers correspond to an ilevel 128 item and even numbers represent a lower ilevel.

Here are the DPS values obtained for combinations of these pieces (sorry for the big vertical space, but it's blogger being a pest):

CombinationVariation in DPS

The surprise is that the Worgen neck piece seems to improve DPS whenever it's used instead of the Savage Choker, despite it being ilevel 128. The rest of the data seems to confirm that for gloves and belt, the increase in ilevel does translate into an increase of DPS, although it's very slight. The worst case scenario (-10 DPS) means that you will be hitting a boss for 4800 less damage over an eight minute fight. Considering these bosses have 4+ million hit points, it doesn't seem to be very significant.

The first clear conclusion of this study is that the Worgen Claw Necklace and the Edgewalker's Long Boots (both ilevel 115) are better than their ilevel 128 counterparts: they increase DPS in every combination where they are used. For the other two slot pieces, higher ilevel translates into higher DPS, which gives me the answer that I was looking for: the best combination is seems to be 2358 (two ilevel 128 and two ilevel 115).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Weapon skills need to die

My warrior is leveling nicely and I'm having a reasonable amount of fun with it. By reasonable, I mean that the grind is not too painful, but the Warrior class definitely doesn't have any of the various "oomphes" that other classes have when they level (Rogue: "I ripped this clothie mob in 5 seconds", Mage: "Look how I take down 80% of this mob's health before it can even reach me", Lock: "Watch me solo an elite 4 levels above me", etc...).

No such achievement for a warrior: you just charge, whack whack whack, see the mob's health drop slowly and marvel at the occasional crit, and then do it again. I suspect leveling a paladin is equally non-eventful.

I leveled Arms until 41 with the Warrior quest weapon (very nice) and I then respecced Fury and I am currently double wielding two blue weapons and waiting until level 51 where the AV reward should grant me another uberleetwtfbbq two-hander.

A blue axe dropped for me in ZF last night. "Sweet", I thought when I saw it, "Nice axe! Oh... no... an axe".

I have nothing against axes in particular, it's just that at 47, I never used one yet, so my axe skill is at 0. Which means, it's time for the stupid weapon skill up dance.

So here I go, picking on the lowest level mobs possible (still around 45 where I am currently grinding), pop on Defensive Stance with a shield (have to last as long as possible), auto-swing the axe, occasionally use an ability that might prolong the fight (Demoralizing Shout or similar), and when my health has dropped significantly, Piercing Howl and run like a little girl. Bandage. Repeat.


Weapon skilling up is this thing that you either never notice (typically when you just leveled and your cap is now 5 higher, but the increase in miss rate is hardly noticeable until you cap it again) or just a mind-numbing process that can be done while browsing the web. I wish Blizzard would remove it altogether, I can't see any point in this drudgery any more, especially since they keep adding new stats that are more interesting to analyze and work on (weapon expertise comes to mind).

Or is there something I'm missing?