Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not really back...


In a rare, but not unprecedented, move, the judge gave the jury two weeks off mid-trial for the holidays. I'll be back in deliberation after the New Year, so I won't be back on schedule for probably another 2 weeks here in blogland.

WoW-wise, I've been so immersed in the minutiae of rogue mechanics (mostly so I can keep up with my guild's stupid fury warrior, who is inexplicably about to get buffed while I'm not) that I haven't talked much about what's been going on lately.

About 6 weeks from being unleashed upon Northrend, I'm in nearly full epics (still need trinket and helm), I've run out of things to buy with badges (heirloom items, here I come!), and my guild has cleared all 4 themed wings in 10-man Naxx. Now the game's insidious grip has finally loosened enough that I can finally pry its black talons from skin and actually spend some of my free time outside of Azeroth.

Though Naxx was definitely a major challenge when we first stepped in wearing our leveling gear and having barely dipped our toes in heroics, the entire place has now become trivial, save for a kiting boss (Gluth) that is unusually hard for our group makeup. One short week after going in undergeared and killing only 2 bosses, we come back and cleared out almost the entire place in one weekend, one-shotting most of the bosses. So yeah, the place is a little easy for a group of seasoned raiders on the hardcore side. So it will probably be just right for the "we are a guild of friends who help each other and have a tabard, and we're going to try 10 man raids once we get more healers!" set, which makes up a large chunk of the subscriber base, as far as I can tell. And more power to them. I like having an easy early instance, though I look forward to something a little more old-school challenging in the future patches.

Once you clear the 4 wings (first 13 bosses), there are two bosses remaining in Naxxramas: Sapphiron the frost wyrm and Kel'Thuzad the lich. They both drop gear that is a tier higher than the rest of the instance. As far as I can tell so far, they are appropriately a tier harder than the other bosses. After blowing through the rest of the place, we've been stopped cold by Sapphiron. This is partly because we don't yet have much frost resist, but it's also partly because the fight can be pretty unforgiving. There is a ton of raid damage going around, the blizzard is tough to see and get out of, and you only have a few seconds to hide behind an object before his frost bomb kills you.

Wherever I look on the internet to figure out if we need frost resist (we're all making it anyway, which doesn't seem to jive with the casual focus of the rest of the instance, but is much easier than I thought it would be to craft), all I see are the "omg I'm a better person because I'm better at this game, you losers" crowd saying "you don't need frost resist if your group isn't retarded".

Not only are those people probably stretching the truth a little, and seemingly posting for no purpose other than to self-aggrandize at the expense of others, but they also have probably never led a normal raid. I defy you to find a group of ten people who you can get all together at once who are actually good enough to "not be retarded" by that guy's standards. The only guilds that make that are the server-first guilds, and only a tiny percentage of players are in them.

My guild is a casual guild that "seriously" raids, which to us means that anyone who is cool can join, and anyone from that group is free to raid with us as long as they contribute. This means bringing consumables, gemming and enchanting appropriately, performing reasonably well at your role, being able to follow raid directions to a reasonable extent, and not being a whiner or trying to wring more out of us than you earned.

From this policy, we end up with a raid full of awesome people, where half of the raid are absolute top-of-the-line (I'd pit them against any member of a server-first guild and expect them to keep up), and the other half are "pretty good". They put out strong dps but don't compete for the top spot, they tank well but don't have the full situational awareness of our best tanks, or they can keep the group alive in most situations but can't perform the emergency miracles that our best healers can. I would never, ever consider these people a "drag on the raid", and each one of them has an awesome attitude to match, where they will sometimes pass upgrades if they think the other person deserves it more, or cheerfully sit out a raid if we are full. Wherever they are weak, they take good constructive criticism and make efforts to improve, and then actually show improvement. In short, they are awesome to have in a raid.

They are not "retarded". But sometimes, they don't quite get behind the pillar in time, or don't notice that they are standing in the Bad Shit. And that's OK. I view myself as a top-of-the-line raider by any standard, and yet I've been known to walk right into a Heigan eruption myself from time to time. But it means that Frost Resist is right for us on the Sapph fight, since it gives us a nice margin for error that forum trolls claim isn't needed if you "aren't retarded".

So basically what I'm saying is: those guys on the forum are wrong. Why did I waste so much space on that?



Also, I can't stop reading The Greedy Goblin, even if he could stand to read something besides Ayn Rand once in a while.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Still on &($&%ing Jury Duty


My justice, though deadly, will not be quick. I expect to be out on Jury Duty for another week, which I will then follow by going away on a long holiday vacation.

Rather than leave the site totally dark for nearly a month, I'll try to at least throw up some sporadic content when I get some free time. Unfortunately, that time is not today.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jury Duty


My apologies for no new content today. I have been summoned to Jury Duty, and it is my legal obligation as an American to attend. I do not know how long I will be gone, it could just be one day, and it could be as long as a week. In the meantime, I don't expect to be able to post here. Rest assured that I will get back to posting once every weekday after I am done meting out justice.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Laziness: Supreme Laziness Edition


OMG I AM SO LAZY. Here is a 1- paragraph post! Or 5 paragraphs, if you like counting for yourself instead of taking my word for things.


How come this holiday season is the least exciting one video games have probably ever seen? Is it just because Nintendo has forsaken us, with their big releases being the glorified children's toy Wii Music and the brain-saggingly boring Animal Crossing? Or is it because every single other major release is a first-person shooter (Fallout, Bad Company, Resistance 2, Gears 2) or an exploration platformer (Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider). OK, Fallout is technically a first-person RPG and not a shooter, but that's probably why it's the only major holiday release I'm actually planning to pick up. Every single thing I listed is a sequel. Where are the creative new IPs (besides Left 4 Dead, which also has a number in it's name for some reason)? Most Xmases, I have a long list of exciting games I can't wait for.

What gives? Is it just that the gaming mainstream is straying further and further from my tastes? It definitely is, when the bestselling games are Call of Duty and Halo. Or maybe I'd just rather play WoW?

. . . or maybe...I'm just getting old? Have I finally outgrown your average video game? What am I going to do with my free time?


Sometimes I just like to wallow in the laziness, and let it wash over me like a mountain spring on a cool morning.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Level 80 Rogue Stats, Part 2: Simple Maths


Math. No one, except maybe that demonic woman who taught you 8th grade algebra, wants math to be part of their free time. It's not fun, or at least many of us have been trained to think it's not fun.

But math is a part of every recreational activity that even the least math-y person enjoys. Baseball is all about statistics, angle, and velocity, while billiards is pretty much trigonometry and basic physics with balls. Heck, even beer has to be measured. How many glasses of beer can we get from this pitcher? Should we get two?

My advice: get two.

And WoW, being a nerdy pursuit, is even more steeped in numbers. In all seriousness, WoW is little more than a pretty graphical sheen put over an invisible Matrix of math equations. And I'm here to give you the red pill for your rogue.

So what's going on under the hood? A LOT. And most of it you don't need to understand in order to top the damage meters while staying alive, and generally being an all-around asset to your group. You can just follow a few basic rules-of-thumb, and you'll be able to get an A or B+ in rogueing. Unfortunately, if you are going for that elusive A+, you're going to need the spreadsheet. Sorry.

Deciding whether a piece of gear is an upgrade is not as complicated as it seems.

First, you need to understand the concept of "Equivalency Points". Equivalent is a big word, but we all know it means "the same as" or "equal to". Why do we need these? Because we need to translate all of the different stats on an item, each with their different relative values to your DPS, into a single language so we can easily compare them.

According to those hardcore theorycrafters over at Elitist Jerks, the generally-accepted EP weights for Combat are:
  • Agility = 1 EP
  • Attack Power = .5 EP
  • Crit = .75 EP
  • Expertise = .8 EP
  • Haste = .7 EP
  • Hit= .8 EP in most cases. If you have 0%-9% total hit (including 5% from talents), it's worth more at .9 EP. If you have between 9% and 17%, it's worth .8 EP. If you have over 17% total, it drops to .7 EP.
  • Armor Penetration = .6 EP

The EP weights for Mutilate are:
  • Agility = 1 EP
  • Attack Power = .5 EP
  • Crit = .8 EP
  • Expertise = .95 EP
  • Haste = .7 EP
  • Hit= .9 EP in most cases. If you have 0%-9% total hit (including any from talents), it's worth more at 1.1 EP. If you have between 9% and 17%, it's worth .9 EP. If you have over 17% total, it drops to .65 EP.
  • Armor Penetration = .5 EP

Be warned, these weights will change based on what gear you currently have. That's what the spreadsheets are for. But if you are looking to simplify your math, you'll see that a few patterns emerge:

1 agility tends to be equal to 2 AP. Most ratings land at about 3/4 (.75) of an agility point. A special case is expertise for mutilate builds, where it is worth nearly as much as agility. Also, armor penetration is worth just over half an agility point. It won't be exact, but you can use these observations to get a general idea of how good a piece of gear is by translating all of the values into agility equivalency points ("the same as" agility!).


So, for those who want to do as little math as possible and get on with the killing (preferably of mages), the best quick 'n dirty way to figure out an item's "DPS Score" is in the following steps. I'll use as my example a cloak with 30 agility, 25 hit rating, 15 crit rating, and 100 attack power.
  1. Divide the Attack Power on the item in half. (100 AP = 50 EP)
  2. Add to the agility number. Remember, agility=EP (30 agi + 50EP= 80 EP)
  3. Combine the hit/crit ratings (25 + 15 = 40). If present, also include haste and expertise, remembering that expertise is a special case for Mutilate buids.
  4. Remove about a quarter off this rating total (40*3/4 = 30 EP). Do this either with quick mental guesstimates, or use the calculator on your computer if you want more exact numbers.
  5. Add the rating value to agi+AP value (30 EP + 80 EP = 110 EP).
And bam, you're done! You've determined that the cloak is worth roughly 110 EP, and can now compare it to a similar item to see which one will give you more dps. If the item has armor penetration, remember to divide that stat in half instead to find the EP value. Again, this isn't an exact measurement, but it does give a good idea while requiring as little pause as possible from actually playing with your new gear. If EP totals for two items are very close as Mutilate, remember that +hit is generally more valuable than haste or crit.

The steps listed above may at first seem like more bother than you'd like. But I guarantee you that if you try using them a few times, they will quickly become second nature, and you'll start to appreciate being able to quickly evaluate if an item is an upgrade or not.

The more specific conversation about why these values are the way they are, and how come hit is no longer king like it was back in TBC, will have to wait until next week.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Level 80 Rogue Stats, Part 1: Spreadsheeting. (yes, spreadsheeting)


Continuing Shark Wee-I mean, Rogueing Week here at Escape Hatch:


So yeah, things got a bit wonky with the stat explanation on my rogue weapon post. Even I can barely understand what I'm trying to say there at this point. Tomorrow, I'll go into more detail on how rogue stats work at level 80, and hopefully clear this up once and for all. At least, until someone else on Elitist Jerks figures out that it's all wrong. But first...

Escape Hatch: The Home Game!

If you'd like to play along at home, all you'll need is this handy-dandy rogue dps spreadsheet, courtesy of Vulajin. Sadly, it's the only way to really know for sure whether a piece of gear is an upgrade or not, or what cycle or spec you should use. There are just too many interactions amongst all of the various rogue stats to make truly hard and fast rules about what is most effective for every situation. You can use this spreadsheet to find out what will work best for you and your current gear.

It seems daunting, but it's simple to use. The main part of the talents tab is straightforward; just insert your spec. Then check the right side and fill in your race and professions. Also make sure it's using the right combo builder (mutilate or sinister strike) and a good cycle. Start with one of these cycles, and experiment with others once you get a hang of the sheet:

For Mutiliate, you want to start with Xe/Yr(CttC) and set Envenom to TRUE. This means that once you have an initial Slice N Dice up, you alternate e (envenom) and r (rupture) while keeping Cut to the Chase (CttC) up. The X and Y represent how many combo points, at minimum, you have up when you use the finisher. You can set these in the X and Y rows just below the cycle cell. Start by setting X and Y to 4.

For Combat, start with an Xs/Yr/Ze cycle with Envenom set to FALSE. Set all three values to 5. This means you will do a 5-point SnD, then 5-point rupture, then 5-point eviscerate, then repeat. This tends to be a strong Combat rotation on raid bosses.

The buffs tab is also simple, just type "true" or "false" depending on what your raid makeup usually is. For now, ignore the version history, cycle, cooldowns, and dps tabs.

Head to the gear tab, which is the real meat of the spreadsheet. You only need to worry about the left side of this page for now. You can use a dropdown menu at each slot and select, by name, what gear your character is currently wearing. The spreadsheet will fill in all the statistics for you. You can also use dropdown menus to select gems and enchants. It takes a little while to fill this out, but its worth it. Make sure you save your work.

Now it's time to pay attention to the green box at the top of the page, which displays the results of all of the calculations the spreadsheet is doing in the background, based on known rogue mechanics modeling. You should be able to figure out on your own what most of the stuff in this box means. The thing you are really concerned about is: Total DPS. This is what your projected raid-buffed dps should be in optimal conditions. Usually, this estimate is higher than what I can actually acheive, so don't worry too much about that for now.

Take that Total DPS figure, and type it into the Saved DPS slot. This will allow you to monitor how your Total DPS changes, in comparison to your current stats, when you make changes to the spreadsheet.

Now, keep an eye on that Total, and play around. Change some points in your spec, switch your weapons, try different poisons on them, etc., and watch how it affects your projected Total DPS. You may be surprised. For instance, I found that the 130 dps offhand that drops in Heroic Oculus was actually a dps downgrade compared to the 120 dps offhand I got from Wyrmrest reputation, because the heroic sword has inferior dps stats (too much stam!) and was .1 second slower (which can make a lot of difference with current rogue mechanics). Looking even further, it turned out that the 1.6 speed epic, 143 dps heroic badge sword is not as good an offhand as the 1.3 speed, 130 dps blue dagger (Librarian's Paper Cutter) that I'm currently using. Glad I could save myself some badges!

Once you've got this set up, keep it updated as you get new gear. Then use it to easily compare items and figure out what is an upgrade and what is not, without all of the tedious math that I'm going to go through tomorrow to try to explain why you should go for certain stats over others.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to use Tricks of the Trade



Tricks of the Trade is one of the new Rogue abilities added in Wrath of the Lich King. It becomes available at level 75. It may seem innocuous at first, but after I had it for only a day, I found that I could no longer be without it, and I'm probably spoiled from ever being able to play another melee dps class again, at least in 5-mans.






Its tooltip reads thusly:

Tricks of the Trade
15 Energy20 yd range
Instant30 sec cooldown
The current party or raid member becomes the target of your Tricks of the Trade. The threat caused by your next attack and all actions taken for 6 sec afterwards will be transferred to the target. In addition, all damage caused by the target is increased by 15% during this time.

You cannot use it on yourself. Sorry, meter-whores.

The game-changing ramification of this for me: I never have to worry about aggro again. I can begin attacking a mob immediately after the tank does, instead of having to wait and watch to make sure they have enough threat to keep me from pulling off of them. In fact, the more damage and threat I generate with my opener, the better it is for the tank! It's the exact opposite of what used to be the correct way to play.

The cooldown is only 30 seconds, so you can essentially use it every pull. When you activate it, it places a 30-second buff on you. This buff has the swiss-army-knife Tricks of the Trade icon. The 6-second window in which your target has 15% increased dps and you transfer your threat to your target does not start until you actually attack. So use it as early as you can: as soon as you are sure that the tank will pull in less than 30 seconds. You don't have to worry about wasting the effect until that 30 second timer is up.

Another reason to use it a few second before the pull is its 15 energy cost: you want to regen the energy before you actually start fighting.

If you simply click the TotT button with a party or raid member targeted, the 30 second buff will activate, but only appear on you. There will be no sign that it is on the right target until you actually begin the 6-second effect by attacking. At that point, the buff will show up for 6 seconds on the target's buff list. Don't worry: once you click the TotT button, the game will "remember" who you targeted and give the 15% damage and your threat to the proper target when you start attacking, no matter what you do in between. You just have to learn to trust the Tricks.

So obviously, in 5-mans, you are going to want to use this on the tank at the beginning of every fight. While you could manually target the tank between every pull, I personally find it easier to set the tank as my "focus target". Your focus target is an entity that the game remembers indefinitely (until you reset it or log out) as another target beyond whatever you currently have selected. The main use of setting a focus target is to be able to use an ability on your focus target without de-targeting your actual target. In this case, if you set up a macro that casts Tricks on your focus target you can use that macro while attacking, and you'll never de-target the mob.

Here's a very simple macro to start with:

#showtooltip Tricks of the Trade
/cast [target=focus] Tricks of the Trade

Eventually you are going to want a more complicated macro, but I haven't personally been able to get one to work yet. I'll report back if I do.

I have this macro hotkeyed, in an easy-to-reach spot. When I start an instance run, I set the tank as my focus (either by typing /focus while I have the tank targeted, or right-clicking his portrait and selecting "set focus"). Then, I hit my Tricks macro before each pull. Then me and the other dps can go hog-wild immediately without having to worry about pulling aggro off the tank.

This is especially fun with the level 80 rogue ability, Fan of Knives, which does aoe damage to all targets in range. On aoe pulls, I can open with FoK and give a ton of aoe aggro to the tank instantly.

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In a raid, you might find that after the initial pull, Tricks will come back off cooldown before a boss is dead, perhaps multiple times. Since your tank likely will not need help with aggro after the first Tricks, you can utilize all of the following cooldowns to give 15% dps to another dps player in your raid. Ideally, you just want to trade this with another rogue, so you both get 15% more damage and just trade your threat. But in a 10-man raid, there is unlikely to be another rogue. In these cases, you have a few things to consider:

  • Does the target have a full threat dump? This is important, as you give extra threat to the target. Hunters and Rogues are best for this, and mages and warlocks slightly less so. DPS warriors, DKs, and hybrid dps classes are last on the list because they tend to have little to no way of getting rid of the extra aggro if needed.
  • Who in your raid does the highest dps, besides you? In my raid group, this is a mage. Since the buff is a flat percentage of the target's damage, you want to give it to whoever is already doing the most.
  • Is the target in range? In my raid group, it's a hassle to get the mage within 20 yards of me, so in some cases I will instead use Tricks on a lower-dps melee character, or even the tank, just so it doesn't go to waste. But this is far from optimal.
When killing trash in raids, I use Tricks exactly as I do in a 5-man: set focus on tank, use before pull. On bosses, I will switch my focus to the dps-er I wish to buff. For the start of the fight, I'll manually target the tank, and click the original non-macro tricks button (placed elsewhere on my action bars) to give the tank opening aggro, then use my macro whenever Tricks comes off cooldown during the boss fight.

-------------

And that's pretty much how you use Tricks of the Trade. Being able to attack right at the beginning of a fight and actually help with aggro has been like crack to me, and an ability that looked lackluster on paper has actually turned into one of my favorite aspects of playing my rogue (as has Fan of Knives, but we'll talk more about that once they remove the cooldown).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Level 80 Rogue Weapons: a guide


Here is a guide to getting weapons for your rogue upon hitting level 80. It is from a PvE perspective of gearing up for 5-man dungeons and raids. I completely ignore PvP in this guide.

[4/1/09 note: some of the below guide will become outdated as of patch 3.1. I've added notes about what has changed.]

First, let's get a few basics out of the way.

-There are 2 viable specs for level 80 raiding: Mutilate and Combat (I will get into spec details in a future post). [if your guildies have good gear and you can get a good group setup, a deep subtlety Honor Among Thieves build is also viable. See my guide here]

-Maces suck for PvE. Don't bother with them at 80.

-Stats: with either spec, you want agility attack power first and foremost, followed almost immediately by attack power agility (but remember it takes 2 AP to compete with 1 agility!). You want to gem and enchant for agility AP and/or agility. Other melee stats (hit, crit, expertise, haste) are good, but slightly less desirable than agility/AP. Armor penetration rating is the black sheep: it's only about half as good as the other stats. Don't gear for it. When evaluating whether one piece of gear is better than another, add up the value of the stats according to their weights (1 agi=2, 1 AP=1, 1 hit/crit/haste/exp=1.8, 1 ArPen=1), then compare. [EDIT: Actually, 1 hit/crit/haste/exp would be more like 1.5] [EDIT2: recent research has shown that at current level 80 gear levels, AP is actually slightly more desirable than agility for pure raiding dps, though agility does offer defensive benefits of dodge and armor]

-For combat, you need a slow mainhand (2.5-2.8 speed) and a fast offhand (1.3-1.6 speed, the faster the better). Do not offhand a 1.8 speed dagger, no matter the dps on it! For mutilate, you want two fast daggers (1.3-1.5 speed), with the faster one in your mainhand. There is basically no PvE use for slow 1.8 speed daggers. [3.1 normalizes poison procs, making dagger speed matter a lot less. Focus on the dagger's dps rather than speed for the most part after the patch.]

-----------

There are 5 "tiers" of gear available at 80 currently: dungeon tier, heroic tier, Naxx 10 tier, Naxx 25 tier, and "25 man Sapphiron/Kel'thuzad/Malygos tier". I'm going to post today only considering the weapons you can get your hands on pre-raid, so no raiding drops will be featured here.

But it's interesting to note that Sapphiron and Kel'thuzad (the last 2 bosses in Naxx) and Malygos drop gear that is a tier higher than what is dropped by other bosses in that tier level. For rogues, this means that while most Naxx 10 bosses drop 143 dps weapons, Kel'thuzad 10 drops a 156 dps weapon. The 25-man Kel'thuzad drops a 171 dps weapon!

Why should this matter to you? Well it means that at whatever tier of raiding you do as Combat, your weapon specialization choice will likely end up being restricted by what these guys drop. For instance, it would be foolish to spec combat swords if you have a fist that is a tier higher available to you! In both cases (and as you'll see, even earlier) the best mainhand available will be a fist. Though it may make sense to spec combat swords as you work your way up to these bosses, you're inevitably going to end up speccing into either combat fist/dagger or combat fist/sword depending on what offhand you are able to get. Blizzard's item designers seem to have consciously decided to favor fists over swords at almost every tier, so be prepared to drop your swords when you have to. I personally favor swords, so this is pretty disappointing that the option isn't really there if you want to do your best dps.

Now, on with the show!

Dungeon tier (120 dps):

Swords:
  • Mainhand: Ymiron's Blade (Utgarde Pinnacle, final boss)
  • Offhand: Fang of Truth (Wyrmrest Accord - Honored) or Meathook's Slicer (Culling of Stratholme, first boss). The Fang is a much better option, and much easier to get, so I wouldn't even bother with the Slicer.
Daggers:
  • The Ritualistic Anatheme (Utgarde Pinnacle, first boss) and Lightblade Rivener (Kirin Tor - honored) have exactly the same stats. The Rivener is not unique, so you can hit honored with Kirin Tor, buy two, and you're good to go for Mutilate.
  • There's also the BoE Dustbringer (apparently caught while fishing?) if you really hate the Kirin Tor.
Fists:
  • There are zero appropriate fist weapons for rogues at this gear level. Har har, Blizzard.


Heroic tier (130 dps):

Swords:
Daggers:
  • The only option is Librarian's Paper Cutter, a BoE drop from Heroic Halls of Lightning. It is incredibly fast, and thus will outpace even higher dps slow weapons. Going into Naxx as Mutilate, you'll probably be weilding one or two of these. They also make an excellent offhand if you happen to be specced combat with a fist mainhand.
Fists:
  • One extremely good-looking Fist of the Deity (see photo above) drops off the final boss in Heroic Gun'Drak.

But don't stop here!

Naxx 10-level (143.5 dps) weapons available without raiding:

Swords:
  • Mainhand: I would not consider the Krol Cleaver, a BoE world drop, to be a reasonably available weapon, though it does compete for best pre-raid Combat mainhand. Currently, none of these even exist on my server, and I imagine any that do will go for unbelievable sums of gold. Better to save your money and go for the fist described below.
  • Offhand: The best option is Avool's Sword of Jin. However, this is a BoE drop off of trash in Naxx 10. Though you may see one for sale, most raids will give it to someone who will equip it. And if you do see it for sale, it most likely won't be worth the price, especially when you can pick up the Grasscutter for 50 badges, or a competitive dagger offhand for a more reasonable price.

Daggers:
  • Again, speed screws us here. A BoE world drop option, Namlak's Supernumerary Sticker, is OK, but will never be worth the price with all that useless dodge and parry rating on it. The more affordable Titansteel Shanker is a viable option that you can buy straight up or have a friendly Blacksmith craft for you, though it borders on being unacceptably slow. I'd almost just keep the Librarian's Paper Cutter instead of either of these. [the Shanker becomes an excellent starter choice after 3.1, and the sticker isn't so bad either, though likely not worth getting whent he Shanker is so easy to craft]

Fists:
  • The best Combat mainhand readily available without raiding is sadly not a sword, but a fist weapon. Greed drops from the final boss in Heroic Culling of Stratholme. On the bright side, it looks great.
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So, in summary, here's the easiest way to gear yourself as best you can at each tier:

Mutilate:
  • Dungeon level: get honored with the Kirin Tor as you hit 80 and pick up two Lightblade Riveners.
  • Either save up or run Heroic HoL to upgrade to one or two Paper Cutters. These will be fine to bring into Naxx.
  • If you want, you can replace your offhand Paper Cutter with a Titansteel Shanker. I am not sure if this would be a dps upgrade. [It definitely would be as of 3.1, do it!]
Combat:
  • Dungeon level: respec to Combat Swords as soon as you can get the mainhand from Utgarde Pinnacle. It should be easy to hit honored with Wyrmrest for your offhand as well.
  • Heroic level and beyond: Rep up with the Ebon Blade to revered next (you also want to do this for the helm enchant) for a better mainhand. Run Heroic Strat as often as you can, until you get Greed for your final mainhand upgrade (at which point you respec to Combat Fist/Dagger or Fist/Sword depending on your offhand). At the same time, you have a number of options for offhands:
  1. Craft a Titansteel Shanker
  2. Purchase a Grasscutter for 50 badges
  3. Purchase or run Heroic HoL for a Paper Cutter
  4. Purchase Avool's Sword of Jin
  5. Sit on whatever lower-tier offhand you have while you work on random drops

You'll walk into Naxx with a 143.5 dps mainhand fist, and at least a 130 dps offhand sword or dagger, if not a 143.5 dps one. Considering that this would match most Naxx drops, you'll be quite prepared to kill bosses and maybe even top the meters (not that we rogues care about that...wink wink).

[Note: with the change to the Lightning Reflexes talents, fist/sword specs will be official dead as of patch 3.1. When you walk into Naxx as combat, you should either have fist mainhand/dagger offhand or sword/sword, NOT a mix of the two.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vacation Time



I will be traveling for Thanksgiving starting today. I will not be back until Monday. I may or may not have internet access (oh, and I'm on vacation), so don't expect any posts until Monday. It will be a nice break from WoW, as well, and a chance to detox after my mad dash to 80. I'll be playing Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core on my PSP, which I expect to be F***ING METAL, as well as Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 2 on my PC if I get really bored while traveling (or my girlfriend demands the PSP back so she can play Patapon).

Have a great holiday!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ding! Level 80!



Hit 80 Thursday night. So it took about 1 week, with leaving work early on release day and taking Friday off. I was lucky in that I could spend time with my girlfriend and play WoW (and she's even more into it than I am! She dinged a day before I did...) at the same time, effectively allowing me to spend a lot more time playing without neglecting her. I really feel bad for those who are hitting 80 this weekend by themselves; they must either have no jobs or a seriously neglected group of family and friends.

Since dinging, I've had an opportunity to really dig into the non-raid meat of the endgame: level 80 dungeons, heroic dungeons, and daily quests.

The level 80 dungeons drop loot that requires level 78 to equip. They are quite easy, as a group without Sunwell gear could AoE down all of them without anyone in the group even being 80 yet. I imagine totally new characters in greens will still find these places easy at 80. There's really no Shattered Halls or Shadow Labyrinth in this expansion. Back in the day, those instances were such a jump in difficulty that no one would even attempt them without exactly the right group makeup and good gear.

Some small degree of challenge finally comes from Heroics. That's not to say that you can't take a group in decent gear (mostly blues from the regular dungeons, rep, quests, and crafting) and AoE many of them down. But you'll finally start to wipe if you make mistakes, and start using the occasional sheep, sap, hex, or freezing trap on the harder pulls. I have yet to see what I expect to be some of the harder heroics, such as Halls of Lightning and the Oculus. They may require more serious crowd control. Nonetheless, groups in even Naxx10 gear will probably be AoE mopping these places up for badges in no time (which is a nice change from when the entry-level raid was a faster and easier source of heroic badges).

From what I hear, Naxx will be more in line with TBCs heroics than with Karazhan. It is already being pugged on my server, which has a pretty low level of progression. Serious servers apparently already consider that place "old news". Whatever, I'm excited to see it and try it with my guild once more people reach 80 and gear out.

As for the dailies, Blizz took what was once an unnatural surgical addition (I likened it to stitching another arm onto the game), and integrated it into the new endgame from the ground up. Instead of feeling tacked-on, there are now dailies in multiple locations throughout each zone. All factions, including those you can "champion" in order to get rep from dungeons, have multiple repeatable dailies you can do for reputation. This alone, is a huge boon, and the single biggest improvement to the faction system: you no longer have to run a certain dungeon over and over to rep up. You can now do it solo via dailies, or rep up super-fast by combining dailies with dungeon rep runs.

There are even a smattering of non-faction dailies. These mostly provide money, but also other incentives. For instance, a daily quest in Storm Peaks rewards the player with some cash and a bag of spoils. 99.9% of the time, this bag will have a small amount of money and vendorable water in it. But every once in a while, the bag will have a POLAR BEAR MOUNT in it. A worthwhile daily for the lucky or mount-obsessed, I guess. Sadly, I will probably be doing it when I can, for that shot at the mount.

Regular dungeon runs give about 5 rep per mob and 50 per boss, for about 1000 rep per run. Heroics triple that, so running heroics will rep you up very quickly. It's still worth it to do the regular dungeon daily quest, however, because it rewards an extra 250 to the faction of your choice, plus 75 Kirin Tor rep.

All in all, the early endgame has improved immensely as far as I can tell. It remains to be seen how difficult it will get.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What To Do At 80


Level 80 "endgame" has some similarities to level 70, but is largely improved and streamlined. Here's what you need to know when you first ding 80 so you can most quickly and easily make the transition from leveling mode to endgame mode. This is from the perspective of someone planning to do some raiding, at least eventually.




1)
Factions, factions factions

This is the most important part of getting started in the endgame, so the more prepared you are to transition directly into this at 80, the better off you are. There is a lot you can do to get ready before 80 without slowing down your leveling. Most factions require some type of questline to unlock, some of them quite lengthy, and all of them fonts of xp and cash.

There are 4 factions you can "champion": Wyrmrest Accord, Argent Crusade, Kirin Tor, and Knights of the Ebon Blade. Pick one of these, and get Friendly with them before you hit 80 so you can buy their tabard. You'll need to wear the tabard into level 80 instances to get rep with them. Alternatively, you can select your horde/alliance main faction (Valiance Expedition or Horde Expedition), and simply do instances without wearing a tabard to earn faction with them. All of these factions also have dailies you can unlock by doing questlines. So far, I've discovered a WA daily in Dragonblight and a major AC daily in Zul'Drak, and I'm sure there are a lot more of them around.

There are 4 other factions that you can only rep up with via questing: Sons of Hodir (frost giants), Kalu'ak (walruses), Frenzyheart Tribe (super-furbolgs), and Oracles (super-murlocs). After the initial questlines, they all offer a selection of dailies. The last two are mutually exclusive like Aldor and Scryer, except that it is very easy to switch between them. I highly recommend you unlock the Kalu'ak dailies in Howling Fjord in your early 70's, the Frenzyheart or Oracles in Sholazar Basin in your mid-70's, and especially the Sons of Hodir in Storm Peaks in your late 70's. The Sons of Hodir questline starts from a goblin in K3 with the quest "They Took Our Men!", and is one of the most fun and exciting questlines I've ever done. To give any spoiler details would be a disservice to you: go do it!

Before you hit 80, select which factions your will focus on for dailies and for dungeons based on rewards and what your expect your playtime and group availability to be. You can see the rewards for each faction through wowhead. Start here, at the Northrend faction page.

2) Enchants

Most slots will have a decent starting Northrend enchant readily available for basic mats. You may even be able to get enchants on the cheap while they still give the enchanter skill points. But there are some slots that enchanter's can't help you with, and this is why you need to choose which factions to rep with carefully.
  • Helm: As with TBC, you can buy a helm enchant at revered with the right faction. The healing, spell dps, melee dps, and tanking enchants are all spread out amongst different factions. I'll be going with the Ebon Blade, since they have the melee dps enchant. This should be your main focus when selecting your first faction to champion.
  • Shoulder: Again, as with TBC, you'll get all of your shoulder enchants from the same faction. However, this time, instead of there being two varieties, one for Aldor and one for Scryer, they all come from Sons of Hodir. This is why I recommend Sons of Hodir as the first faction you focus on for dailies, at least until you get to honored. At honored, you can buy, for a nominal gold fee, shoulder enchants that match the Aldor exalted enchants. Better enchants are available at Exalted with the Sons, so you'll want to get your main character up there eventually.
  • Belt: For the first time, belts have an approximation of an enchant: a belt buckle, made by blacksmiths, which adds a colorless gem slot to a belt.
  • Legs: just as with TBC, you'll need to hit up a tailor or leatherworker for these. If you have one of those professions, find out which factions have the recipes you need.
3) Instances (and how gear progression works)

In a radical change from TBC, blues from heroics are actually a tier higher than blues from regular instances. To give you an idea of how it works: a one-handed sword from vanilla Utgarde Pinnacle deals 120 dps. A similar weapon from heroic Oculus deals 130 dps. A sword from Naxxramas-10 deals 143.5 dps.

So, if you want to be maximally prepared for Naxx (which may not turn out to be necessary, based on reports of how easy it is), you'll want to gear out in heroic-tier gear (which will be a mix of blues and epics). In order to survive heroics, you will likely need to be decked out in mostly level 80 blues from the lower dungeon tier.

Meanwhile, heroic badge gear is Naxx-10 level. The same heroic badges (Emblems of Heroism) drop in heroic dungeons and Naxx-10. A different kind of badge (Emblems of Valor) drop in Naxx-25, and can be used to purchase an entirely different selection of badge items that cannot be bought with EoH's and are of Naxx-25 quality. I expect that there will be a new type of emblem for each upcoming raid tier, allowing for higher-tier badge items without the situation you had in late TBC where Tier 4 players were clearing Kara for badges to buy Tier 6 rewards.

So, start out running the level 80 dungeons, then transition to heroics to prepare for Naxx. I find it rewarding to map out my expected gear progression ahead of time, so I know which instances are best to run, and where I can save time with quest rewards, rep rewards, and BoE or craftable replacements. However, there seems to be a good mix of gear in every dungeon, so it's likely you could run them willy-nilly and still get useful drops.


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Now you know how to get started at 80. If you have any questions or things you'd like me to add or clarify, I'd be glad to via the comments section below.



This counts as my Friday Laziness post, so don't expect a post tomorrow unless I'm particularly inspired. Twofer today, bitches.

News Flash: Easy Parts of Wrath are Easy


Hit 79 last night. I'm pretty much keeping up a one-level-a-day pace at this point. Granted, I'm playing about 6 hours a day (way more than I usually do!), but still it's shocking how much faster leveling is from 70-80 as it used to be from 60-70 (which took at least twice as much /played time, if I remember correctly). I basically come home from work, instance or quest with my girlfriend until she goes to bed at 10 to get half a level, then solo until 1 am to get the other half of the level. So basically, 6 hours a level, and it hasn't been getting significantly longer as I level up. I expected 78 to take much longer than 77, but if it did, I haven't noticed.

I'm also making big money. Having bought a bear mount for 800g and cold-weather flying for 1000g, and paying to skill up Mining, Jewelcrafting, and First Aid (all surprisingly expensive) and pretty much doing zero auction-housing, I'm actually almost net 2000g ahead of where I started. That's just from quest gold, drops off mobs, and vendoring the most expensive-looking reward from each quest. I've been sending all BoE greens to a guild enchanting friend (in exchange for enchants) and I haven't tried to sell any gems or ore yet, so the potential for profit is even higher.

I'll be buying the Kirin Tor ring for 8k gold when I ding 80 (I started leveling with about 9k saved already - thank you epic gems for badges). It statistically matches gear from 10-man raids (I don't expect to do much, if any, 25-mans in Wrath) so I won't be replacing it for months. It also offers a second hearth (separate cooldown from hearthstone), and actually frees me up to set my hearthstone itself somewhere other than Dalaran, such as my favorite daily quest hub or the nearest town to Naxx.

Right now, mining is off the charts. Mining nodes are everywhere, it seems I can't take a step in any zone without tripping over some cobalt or saronite. One major daily quest hub in Storm Peaks actually had 2 titanium and 2 saronite spawns in it while I was there picking up quests. And they respawn fast. In that same hub, I mined in 4 spots, left to do a quest, came back about 5 minutes later, and re-mined 2 of them along with one newly-spawned node. I have no idea yet if the spawn rate is bugged, or Blizzard intends for metal to be less rare than it was before (people spend more time mining and have more ore, but maybe recipes use more ore?), or if the spawn rate is normal for the expected population, but the proliferation is simply a function of the fact that I am far ahead of the pack. Last night I ran into a total of 3 other people in Storm Peaks, meanwhile Dragonblight and Grizzly Hills are literally blanketed with players. I guess we will find out the answer as things develop, but right now I'm stockpiling as much ore as I can while I'm still the only one mining these zones.

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I also did my first level 80 instance run last night: Halls of Lightning. It's a Titan instance full of iron dwarves and vykrul. The place was beautiful, probably the prettiest 5-man instance ever in this game. I don't want to spoil the surprise or the story, so I'll leave it at that.

The party was a level 79 prot warrior, level 79 frost mage, level 76 fury warrior, my level 78 rogue, and my girlfriend's level 79 enhancement shaman (healing). The players were some of the more experienced and expert raiders in my guild, and we all knew each other and the game very well, had good synergy, and were on Vent. We had started Wrath around tier 5 gear level and had all replaced about half of our gear with instance/quest blues by now.

We cleared the instance. Granted, we had our first legitimate wipe since the xpac came out (and we've done every leveling instance multiple times with this team), as we misunderstood the mechanic of the final boss, Loken, and then took a few more wipes to develop a new strategy that worked. He has an aura that deals more damage the further you are from him (so the party has to stack on top of him), but then he periodically does a long-cast-time aoe for 7-8k damage. Originally, we tried to use pillars in the room to line-of-sight his aoe a la the final boss of Setthek Halls.

It turns out they don't provide a break in line of sight. Boom goes the party.

Then, our intrepid level 76 warrior figured out that you could outrange the aoe, a la Murmur. But the entire party had to coordinate on which direction to run away, otherwise someone would die to the aura (partly because they ran away from the healer, and partly because Loken would run toward the tank after the explosion). So we coordinated a pattern where we would all run south the first time, then north the second time (since Loken kept moving to where the tank was after the explosion) and so on. We got him on the 4th try, when we finally got the running right. First level 80 instance cleared for our guild!

For those of you wondering how reputation works now in instances: if you just walk into an instance cold, kills give you rep with your basic horde or alliance faction (in our case, Warsong Offensive). If you are wearing a tabard for one of the factions that you can champion (I believe Wyrmrest Accord, Ebon Blade, and Argent Crusade is the full list), then you instead get full rep with that faction. Most trash elites give 5 rep, while boss kills give 50. I got about 1000 rep running Halls of Lightning, which was the longest instance I've yet seen in the game, taking just over an hour for our underleveled group.

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My working theory right now for why leveling and money-making are so much easier in Wrath is this: quest volume. Think about how many quests you completed to get to level 71. Compare that to how many quests you completed to get to 61. Quests in Northrend are easier to get to, take less time, have clearer objectives, and stack better than they did in Outlands, so I believe I'm simply doing more quests in less time, resulting in more xp and cash per hour than the more grind- and travel- heavy levels before Northrend. In most hubs, you pick up 3 quests for the same nearby area, do them all together quickly, hand them in, and then get 2 more that stack for another nearby area. Rinse repeat.

All in all, Wrath has been much easier than TBC so far. Personally, I don't think this is a bad thing, yet. I'm actually having a lot more fun. Not because it's easy, but because there is less hassle. It's not like questing was hard before: how many times have you actually failed a quest? 5 total in the past 3 years? And let me guess . . . all of them were escort quests that were a little buggy to begin with? Yeah, I thought so.

The only difficulty was the annoyance factor: having to find the quest target, having to travel out to it and back, and having to deal with non-quest-related hindrances along the way while often being delayed by slow respawn timers or terrible quest item drop rates. As far as I'm concerned, those timesink holdovers from the EQ days (thanks a lot, Tigole) can't go the way of the dodo fast enough. Good riddance.

We'll see if it becomes a problem as I get to the parts that are actually supposed to be a challenge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rogue leveling spec: success!







So I hit level 78 last night, and I can report that my rogue's leveling spec (previously mentioned here and here) has been a resounding success. Most of my guild is in the 72-75 range, with a few people keeping pace with me. I'm not ahead just because I play a lot (there are a number of people who play as much as or more than me who are levels behind me), or because I'm some super-genius at questing efficiently.


It's because: 1) I kill things instantly, and 2) I never have to get into any fight I don't want to, and 3) I never die.





1) Killing instantly:
  • My opener on every target while solo is Premeditation -> Shadowstep -> Cheap Shot -> Eviscerate -> Hemorrhage -> Hemo -> Hemo -> Eviscerate. Usually I only get to the first or second Hemo before the target is dead. Premed only has a 20 second cooldown, but I'm killing so fast I can only use it every other fight. For those other fights, I just do a Cheap Shot for 3 CPs (combo points), Hemo x2, then Evis, and those fights take a bit longer.
  • I start with 110 Energy, lose 10 to Shadowstep and 40 to Cheap Shot (thanks to Dirty Deeds), only 10 energy for the Evis (due to Relentless Strikes), leaving me with 50 energy. In the time it takes me to do all this and a Hemo, I'll regen enough energy to be able to spam 2 more 30-energy (Slaughter from the Shadows) Hemos without pausing to wait for energy. This is all burst damage.
  • This is enough burst to kill almost any mob, especially with the bonus damage from Shadowstep stacking with the 10% crit from the Glyph of Eviscerate on the initial Evis, then Remorseless Attacks boosting the first Hemo.
  • Shadowstep is up almost every other fight, and my run speed while stealthed is almost full (Camouflage and 8% boot enchant) so I move from mob to mob very quickly
  • Sustained damage in an instance group can be very high, but is totally dependent on who I group with due to Honor Among Thieves. With a warrior or feral druid tank and/or dps, shaman or paladin healer, and a mage or hunter, all of them with high crit, I will be bathing in combo points and spamming finishers with barely any reason to even use Hemo. In a group with a pally tank, resto druid, affliction warlock or generally low crit or poor gear, my sustained DPS will take a nosedive from lack of combo points.
  • I have very low sustained DPS solo. I need to kill the target during or immediately after the Cheap Shot. Luckily, I can do this on pretty much any non-elite mob. Basically, think of Eviscerate as your real attack (a la Sinister Strike or Heroic Strike) and Hemo as primarily a debuff move and secondary attack. Even a 3-point Evis will outperform a Hemo if the debuff is already up, especially with the Evis Glyph.
  • I can solo elites. Last night I solo'd the last two quests in the Troll Gods questline in Zul'Drak. Any stunnable elite is easy, especially with double Evasion available in tandem with Ghostly Strike. Elites who do magic damage are much harder, as Cloak of Shadows has a longish cooldown that is not reset by Preparation, so they may require a potion or - gasp! - help.
2) Avoiding wasteful conflicts:
  • Aggroed 3 monsters on my way to the quest target or ore node? Vanish when I get there.
  • Quest mob or item surrounded by monsters that you don't need to kill to complete a quest? Sneak past them! Stealth level and speed are maxed with this build.
  • Shadowstep can be used to teleport you to places you'd otherwise have to detour to reach.
3) ...profit. I mean, immortality:
  • Again, if the situation gets out of control, Vanish. The cooldown is short, and can be reset with Prep if needed.
  • Double Evasion stacked with Ghostly Strike (over 100% avoidance when both are up).
  • Adds can be sapped/blinded
  • Need a heal mid-fight? Blind your target, then bandage!
  • Run away with Sprint or even a tricky Shadowstep manuever
  • If all else fails, or I wasn't paying attention to my health and an enemy actually lands a killing blow, odds are Cheat Death will kick in, saving my life and alerting me with a big, glowy skull over my head. Now would be a good time to Vanish.

Note: Please ignore the telltale rotational arrows in the screenshot above that show it was taken from the dressing room.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Northrend: Video Gaming's First Real Theme Park



The reason Wrath has been more fun to play than the Burning Crusade really comes down to one thing: Story.

And I don't mean "story" as in "lore", although the tale that Blizzard has woven as a framework for these games, borrowing heavily from every other fantasy setting ever invented, is a big part of it.

When I say "story" is the key to why questing in Wrath is more fun and the environments are more exciting, I'm talking about a larger and more abstract concept. It's what Blizzard Lead World Designer Alex Afrasiabi talked about in a recent interview on 1up's Legendary Thread: trying to inject story into every aspect of Northrend.

Every inch of Northrend has context. Every area has a reason for being, and every quest has a purpose that jives with that reason. They actually attempt to be logically coherent. The zones are interesting because when you stumble upon a new area, you immediately get a sense that there is something already going on here. The zone is a lot closer to being alive. This is not a simple village of sinister trolls standing still, waiting to be slaughtered by you. This is a group of living people who were already doing something (likely sinister) before you came along to disrupt their plans (likely by slaughtering them). The quest hub isn't just randomly placed because you needed some quests. It's there because it's holding back an attacking Necropolis, or is a long-standing camp of woodsmen, or is a recently-awakened base for ancient creations of the Titans.

Think back to Nagrand. Sure it was beautiful. But what was actually there? A town for your faction. For alliance, it had no story, and no reason for being there. For horde, it served as a thin context for you to discover Thrall's grandmother. Aside from that, there were just a bunch of Ogre towns and animals. Nothing was really going on, and there was no purpose behind any of it. It was only there because they needed someplace for you to quest at that level, and you only went there because, well, how else were you going to hit 70? The only really memorable area, with a feeling of backstory and "this is different", is the big stone in the southwest. It turns out to be the resting place of a Naaru in the dark phase of its lifecycle, where it must absorb souls in order to "relight" itself back to the standard Naaru state. This is some pretty cool backstory and purpose. And it was sorely lacking in the rest of the game. Do you have any idea WHY area 52 is where it is? Do you even remember anything about Blade's Edge? Thought not.

Shadowmoon and Hellfire, two areas rich with Warcraft 1 and 2 backstory, were better, but still failed in general to really give the player the sense that things were going on worth getting involved in.

Though far from perfect on this (or any) front, Wrath has "story" in spades. Unlike in the Burning Crusade, almost nothing is arbitrary. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • In the zone Zul'Drak, you're sent to a series of Troll temples where a tribe is imprisoning some of the Northrend animal aspects (like the aspects of Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman). At one point, the bear, lynx, eagle, and dragonhawk spirits from ZA actually aid you in attempting to free the imprisoned troll demigods.
  • Nearby in Zul'Drak is an Argent Dawn camp pushed to the point of desperation. Their base in ruins, and beset on all sides by undead, they fight on, imploring you to go out there and bring in some of their wounded. It's the aftermath of a great battle in which the Argent Dawn actually claimed victory by bringing down a floating Necropolis from the sky. They also send you to finish off the inhabitants of the ruined Necropolis.
  • In Grizzly Hills, Furbolgs have taken up residence in a fallen world tree, and it is up to you to find the source of the corruption around the zone before they can bring a corrupted demigod back to life.
  • Sholazar Basin is home to an ongoing war between two native factions, either of which you may choose to aid. Meanwhile, Nesingwary hunts new game. Though Nesingwary is nothing new, the big difference in this zone is the clearly defined geography. Though they share the jungle theme, there are many very different areas, each with their own purpose for being different, whether that be scourge attack or Titan artifacts.


As Tobold has observed, questing was originally conceived as a way of spreading out the player base and getting them to visit different areas of the zone and try killing different targets. With this iteration, the concept has finally eveolved to the point where, instead of the xp and items/cash being the carrot that forces you to explore when you'd rather just sit in one place and grind, they now act more like a tour guide where seeing something new and learning more about the story is actually part of the carrot.

They've finally succeeded at creating a game world as a theme park.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wrath First Impressions




Let's get this out of the way: when I logged off Sunday night, my rogue was two bars from level 76.

I cleared Howling Fjord first, then did the standard (is it insane that four days in I'm using the word "standard"?) Dragonblight -> Grizzly Hills ->Zul'Drak progression. I've only done about half the quests in Zul'drak because I've spent about 1/3 of my time instancing.

Impressions:

Zones: Breathtaking. Seriously. You won't believe it until you see it. Which, if you are a WoW player, you already have. So this is kind of redundant.

Quests: Half-and-half. Either you are doing a boring grindy "kill 10 deer" or "bring me 10 deer intestines", or you are doing an epic, enormously fun quest with lore implications that has you doing things you have never done before. Or, in the middle, are new spins on some of the old quest paradigms with new surprises or prettier graphics put in. So far, my favorite (not counting the Wrath Gate, which is in a class of it's own) is the questline where you disguise yourself as a ghoul, then do a series of quests for a scourge lord in order to gain his trust. Once you've discovered his master plan, the questline culminates with you revealing your true identity and turning his own master plan against him. As part of the questline, you even come face to face with the Lich King himself. It's genius.

Instances:
This was where I was really blown away. Aside from the opening instance, Utgarde Keep, these places look great and tend to have unconventional or nonlinear layouts with actual variety to the environments you're visiting inside the instance. Gone is hall after hall of red stone, or hall after linear hall of blue, mossy caves, or hall after hall of grey stone, etc. Now, in one instance, you'll find yourself battling on platforms suspended high above the ground, then fending off waves of spiders atop a giant network of webs, then leap down into a glowing cave that leads to a dark, sinister inner sanctum. And it all fits together seamlessly. Even the trash mixes it up, so while there are still a lot of boring trash pulls, there are also plenty with unique abilities that require a specific strategy to overcome. Once you know the trick, it's easy, but it's also fun to figure out and execute the tricks as a team.

The instances vary in length, with some seriously taking 20 minutes while others border on an hour at maximum. Blizz delivered on the promise of bite-sized instances, a claim that I was very skeptical about. So far, I have not encountered anything like Shattered Halls or that miserable room in Shadow Labyrinth. Instancing is fun, rewarding, and can fit in your pocket! (or in a play session that actually fits with a real human life!)

And that isn't even mentioning the bosses. Some of the boss fights in the leveling 5-mans require more strategy - and have more scripting and epic feel - than many of the old raid bosses I've faced. I have so many new favorite bosses that I can't pick one. If I had to pick two:

-The boss that sends every party member into their own delusion where they must each kill what they believe to be everyone else in the party in order to set themselves free.

-The boss that turns the entire party, including tank and healer, into skeletons with a new action bar for half the fight. During this phase, you can't use normal abilities, you just have an attack, life drain, shield, and taunt available to you.

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I've only replaced 3 pieces of my gear with blues: ZA helmet (which I just discovered I forgot to enchant) replaced by drop in Drak'tharon Keep (level 75ish instance). Tier 5 gloves replaced by quest reward from Azjol-Nerub (72ish instance), even though the tier 5 was enchanted, because the new blue had no stamina on it. And finally, my stupid, ugly, FALCON PUNCH!!! mainhand fist weapon was replaced by a comically oversized mace from the new version of the Ring of Blood at 75.

So hopefully that gives you an idea of how quickly you are going to replace your gear.

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Overall, I am loving the xpac so far. Sure, it's not perfect. The "stop the ascension" quest is still bugged, it sucks to have to wait 10 minutes in a crowd of 15 people all hoping to tag the same quest mob, there are still too many "kill x boars" quests, some of the coolest lore questlines (particularly the two major lore points in Grizzly Hills) are severely truncated (at least for the horde) and should have been given more room to breath, and there are a lot of other problems. But honestly, I can barely remember them. All I can think about is how much actual JOY I've felt playing WoW for the past four days. And that's something the game hasn't made me feel for years.


So, bravo Blizzard.

Now go back to playing!

Fridays: now so lazy they're on Monday!


You now know what it takes to keep me from posting on my new every-weekday schedule: An entire continent of new WoW content.

Games that Rock: Wrath, so far...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Headlines you already know: Wrath is out!


I'm currently sitting at my desk at work. This computer does not have WoW installed. I'm not even supposed to have administrative privileges on my work computer (except I do now, as it turns out that I'm a bit smarter than my work's IT guys). Sitting hidden under my desk, mere inches away, are two blue boxes. One is large, and appears to have frost dripping from it. It is a collector's edition (girlfriend wanted the pet). It dwarfs the smaller box, my regular edition of Wrath of the Lich King. Anyone at my office could come by and see me at any time, so I cannot open the boxes to read the instruction booklet and admire the art book, nor may I indulge my desire to gently stroke the edges of the boxes while fantasizing about killing slightly larger boars.

Right now, ten buttloads of people are playing Wrath, crashing world, instance, and ventrillo servers worldwide. I am not one of them.

This may be the least productive work day this country has seen for 2 years.


Luckily, I have some personal days left for this year from my job (my job has excellent benefits).

If you ask my co-workers, they'll tell you that I recently developed a personal emergency that I must leave work for the afternoon to deal with. I also, I regretted to inform them, will be unable to make it into work tomorrow due to this private personal matter.

I've received many well wishes from those who assume my private, personal matter is tragic in nature.

I can now verify for you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am going to hell.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WoWinsider wants you to go blind.


WOWINSIDER, YOUR NEW POST TITLE FONT IS UGLY AS SIN. IT MAKES MY EYES BLEED. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CHANGE IT.


ahem.


Thanks.

Love,
Hatch

Azeroth Gets Blue Screen












Well then.

My original intent, of wrapping up my series on Recruit-A-Friend with screenshots of me taking a level 44 and a level 23 both to 59 in the space of 3 minutes by simply clicking "gift level" over and over were dashed by a complete failure on Azeroth's part to exist yesterday.

Normal Tuesday maintenance got extended to 6, then to "indefinite", then to 11pm, then to "soon", then back to "indefinite" in an odyssey of broken expectations, and the game was not back online until after I had gone to bed. Apparently, Blizz loaded the game up once, and quickly realized that everything in the mail system was completely gone, including millions of gold from the auction house. So they took the servers down, then brought them back up again without the mail, promising that they would replace everything that was lost. Unfortunately, they had to bring them back down again after realizing that somehow a big chunk of the PvP epic gear had lost its pricing data, causing players to storm the PvP vendors for piles of free gear. Now the servers are back up, and all the gear received from the bug has been taken back.


What it sounds like happened is that Blizzard's techs were presented with a choice: we can either load an older backup of the servers that still has the mail data, or we can load the most recent backup without the mail, but with everything else intact. Considering that I got my Tier 6 shoulders two days ago, I'm happy they went with the latter. Now they have to go back through that older backup, determine what mail is missing, and manually create and mail all of that stuff to the players to get everything squared away. Kudos to Blizz for being willing to put in the necessary effort to fix their mistakes. When you've got their kind of monopoly, it would be all too easy to just tell your customers "tough shit, it's not like you're going to quit and go play something else".


I honestly am not that bothered by server outages. They are rare enough that I still feel like I'm getting my money's worth. What's one evening when I've been able to log in every day without a hitch for months? If it were to become a more consistent thing, then it would be an issue for me. But as it stands, I was glad to spend the evening with my girlfriend, and then play Penny Arcade episode 2 for a few hours (which, by the way, rocks).

(omg.) Wrath (omg.) is coming out TOMORROW (OMG!!!), but I'll be stuck at work most of the day, so I'll probably wrap up the RAF series tomorrow. Not that you'll be here. You'll be in Northrend. You bastards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where to level your Recruit-A-Friend Pair




The above is a screenshot of my /played time on the Sisters Bulimia upon dinging 59.

That's 1 day, 13 hours, and 33 minutes of time spent logged into those characters. Keep in mind that I spent a bit of time logged in but afk doing other stuff. I leveled them over the course of 9 days, starting Friday Oct. 24 and ending Sunday, Nov. 1. That averages out to about 4 hours a day. Usually, I played 2-3 hours a weeknight and 4-5 on weekends. That's a lot of playing, but not much more time than the average person spends watching TV.

So in 37 hours of time spent logged in, I got two characters to level 59. Compare that with this guy: a player who prides himself on speed leveling [warning: guide seller site. I do not endorse the guide, just needed an example of what used to be record-breaking leveling]. His record for 1-60 was 4 days and 20 hours /played before RAF. With triple xp, I just cut that into almost exactly a third. Makes sense.

So, in case you didn't get the message, RAF is LUDICROUS. And that's BEFORE I "gift" a free 29 levels to another one of my characters! I anticipate that in less than 3 days /played total, I will have 4 new level 59s and a 44. It used to take longer than that to get a single 60.

-----------------



Last night, I brought my warlock/warrior pair to level 44, making all of my leveling plans complete. Tonight, I'll be giving all of my gift levels, and I'll bring some screenshots tomorrow to wrap up the ludicrousness of RAF.

Because you level so much faster using RAF, you're not going to follow a normal leveling progression. Your going to outlevel zones before you can clear them. You'll never need to stop questing to grind, and in most cases you won't even have to go to some of the zones you'd normally visit to level. Having a friend run you through instances can still be good xp, but remember you don't get the triple bonus when grouped with a 70, so in general it's a wash.

Keeping in mind this newfound freedom of choice, I'd recommend favoring any quest that has you kill x foozles. Both characters will get credit for each kill. Any quest that requires you to gather an item is less desirable, because you have to loot the items twice. The worst quests are those that have you loot a number of low drop rate items from a type of mob. Sometimes it makes sense to do these, but feel free to skip them if you have other quests available.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you have the Recruit a Friend summon available every hour. The summon for each account is on a separate cooldown. This means that your leveling characters should never have to travel to a new town to get a flight path. Simply log into your main character, fly to the location in question, then summon the leveling character from the other account to you. Then log off your main character, log back in the other leveling character, and then summon them. Poof, you never have to travel without a flight path again. I used this strategy to great effect, especially to get my lowbies to Gadgetzan, Dustwallow Marsh, Searing Gorge, and the portal to Outlands.

I also found it easier to organize and plan my trip by using the addons TourGuide, TomTom, and Lightheaded (along with Doublewide). Highly recommended.


Here's how I leveled. I did it from the horde perspective, but most of this is easily translatable for alliance, and where they differ I'll make a note. Don't bother returning to cities to train new spells and stash things in the bank until you have a natural break to switch zones (obviously, this isn't the case from 1-20, where you should be buying new skills constantly).

Levels 1-22: TBC starting area. No matter what your race/class, do the first 22 levels in the Blood Elf or Draenei starting area. They are just so much more well-designed and efficient. If you aren't making a BE or Draenei, then you can still get there quickly by exploiting the once-an-hour RAF summon as I described above by making a throwaway Blood Elf to initiate the summon sequence.

22-30: Horde can best do 22 through 30 in Hilsbrad. Go to Tarren Mill, and do all of the Elixir quests and the Battle of Hilsbrad questline, as well as the final step with the dwarves down south. This will easily get you through that entire level span. For Alliance, you can do the same in Darkshire, one of my favorite zones.

30-32: Don't forget to pick up your mounts! I got a summon to Shimmering Flats for these levels. However, this is optional, as all of the quests here are the inefficient "collect" quests. Skippable if you want to go straight to:

32(30)-38: Stranglethorn Vale. Yes, I know. You don't want to go there. Go there anyway. The questing is good, and you aren't going to be here more than a few hours this time. Horde will get extra quests as Grom'gol, while Alliance has a base camp to the far north. I did all of the quests in the north half, up to step 3 of the masteries, the goblin lumber area, the basilisks, the underwater murlocks, and the collection quests from the trolls (ears, etc.). Easy level 38.

38: After clearing north STV, it's worth it to make detours back to Booty Bay, Ratchet, and Shimmering Flats if necessary to hand in completed quests.

38-44:
Dustwallow Marsh. For Horde, stacking the Brackenwall quests with the Muddsprocket quests is ideal (and don't forget Jarl's hut!) Alliance can replace Brackenwall with Theramore, there is some cool new stuff there.

44: Again, you may need to make some quick detours, but the mass quest xp bonus is worth it. Don't forget to keep both characters together for the bonus!

44-46/47: Tanaris. Gadgetzan and the eastern docks have lots of good quests. Please do yourself a favor and skip the one where you have to pick up like 30 artifacts out of the sand. Now worth it with 2 characters.

46-48: Clean up the end of the 40's in Feralas. This is a lot better for Horde than Alliance. I'd actually recommend Hinterlands for Alliance instead. Just do the easy stuff here, to give you a buffer.

48-50: There's some quick and easy questing to be done in Searing Gorge. Just do what's easy and don't get too anal. If you find yourself fighting enemies who are grey to you, don't bother with that quest.

50-52: You're in the home stretch, but these levels are the longest. Pass the time in Felwood, where the mass "Kill x furlbogs" type of quests will serve you well.

52-56: One of my favorite zones, Un'Goro Crater. Tons of meat here for both factions.

56-58: You can pretty much mop this up by doing the Cauldron quest line in Western Plaguelands.


An there you are, you've made it to Outlands! The path should be pretty obvious from here.

Though you do end up visiting some places you might not like, please remember: you never have to set foot in Desolace. That alone is worth the price of the second account.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ultimate Recruit-A-Friend Pair


I have now verified that hunter/paladin is by far the best pair of classes to level together using Recruit-A-Friend.

Having gotten my copy of BC and upgrading the trial account fully, I created The Sisters Bulimia (female blood elf hunter and paladin) and plowed through the well-designed BE starting areas. The ludicrous xp inflation was still in effect, and over that first weekend I plowed through 30 levels with only a few hours played per day. Halloween was going on, so every inn offered a nice chunk of free xp, along with a one-time easy boost from putting out the fires the Headless Horseman liked to set in the lowbie towns. I didn't waste any time with professions, except on First Aid for the hunter, who was on my original account and would be doing the vast majority of the fighting.

I found that the biggest stumbling block to leveling was the class quests. The hunter had a lengthly quest line to learn to tame beasts. None of that quest xp went the the paladin, creating a deficit until I did her class quests to learn the resurrection spell. I basically got half the xp for my time doing these quests, but they were necessary to keep leveling.

Hunters were changed drastically in patch 3.02. I'm somewhat notorious for leveling hunters and never finishing them (have one parked at 43, one alliance at 60, and numerous hunters in their 20s), ever since vanilla WoW, so I'm pretty familiar with the torture that was learning pet skills. Clunkily, you had to leave your pet in the stable, venture out to a dangerous area without the pet, tame the right new pet who already had the skill rank you needed, then use that pet to fight until you learned the skill from them. You had to do this for every rank of every skill you wanted the pet to learn. It was needlessly punishing.

Blizzard took it all the way back in the other direction. When you tame a new pet, they come equipped with every non-talented skill that they will ever have (a focus dump, a racial skill or two, and growl), and those skills level up automatically with the pet. That's what's known in the business as a substantial improvement. This made leveling quite a bit less painful. Pets have also been divided into 3 groups, representing dps, tanking, or utility, each with their own pet talent trees full of new and old stuff. Wanting to level super-fast, I picked up the most immediately available dps pet (a lynx), who came equipped with like 5 skills that I would never have to put any work into upgrading.

Since I would be leveling quite fast and not necessarily updating my gear (upon reaching level 60 my Paladin was wearing mostly level 30 gear, for instance), I went with the least gear-reliant spec for the hunter: Beast Mastery. Let the pet do all the work: and work it would. Most of the time I could get off 2 shots at best before the pet had decimated my target. I was mowing things down. Nothing could kill like the hunter while leveling, making it the best dpser for a RAF pair.

This was helped by bringing along the best passive buffer (and therefore absolute best second character for an RAF pair), a paladin. I specced the paladin deep Ret. This had a few minor advantages, like buffing Blessing of Might (on the hunter and pet at all times) and increasing riding/running speed (the hunter took the mount speed talent in BM as well). But it had one major advantage: the newly consolidated Retribution Aura.

Back before the patch, all paladins had a basic Retribution Aura that simple reflected a small amount of holy damage whenever a party member was struck. They also had another aura that increased Holy damage, but could be talented to increase all damage by the party by 2%. Now, those two auras are consolidated, and at least 3 sets of talents in the Ret tree buff the new Retribution aura. So by keeping it up all the time, I buffed my pet's damage by 2% as well as causing him to reflect holy damage on attackers (which made it possible for the pet to hold aggro on multiple targets without attacking them all actively) and later increased the group's haste by 3%. So my hunter and pet were basically walking around with Blessing of Might, reflected holy damage, and a 5% damage increase just for having the paladin tagging along. Add in the fact that the Paladin could heal in a pinch and even bubble and run away from a lost battle to prevent a corpse run for the dead hunter, and you had a winning RAF recipe.

Clearly, by far the best possible pairing.

Oh, and by the way: level 1-59 in about a week, playing only 2-3 hours a day on average. Booyah.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Games That Are Metal: FF7



Fact: Final Fantasy 7 is the most metal game ever made.

Sure, there had been metal games before, and there have been metal games since. But none can compare to this magnum opus of metallity. As Wayne would say, it's intensity in ten cities. It can wail.

While Super Mario 64 brought us into the world of 3-D gameplay, Final Fantasy 7 brought 2-D gameplay into 3-D, and took game appearance and production values into a new, mind-bending realm that we'd never seen before. 3-D full-motion video cutscenes! 3-D battle sequences! WTF is a polygon!?!

The gameplay didn't do anything that couldn't have been pulled off in FF6's 2-D SNES engine. But it just looked so good. And what did Square choose to do with all of that production value? Bring to life the most metal world you've ever seen. Here, in no particular order, is why FF7 is the most metal game ever created:


1) The hero and villain have impossibly large swords. easily twice the size of their own bodies.

2) The hair. Many games have tried, but none have succeeded in creating better hair than Cloud's. It was scientifically formulated out of pure Cool Molecules.

3) Sephiroth looks like he's from a hair metal band, only more androgenous

4) Everyone is wearing tight leather outfits with lots of zippers

5) The game takes place in a dystopian steampunk future where the main villain is an evil corporation that is literally sucking the life force out of the earth. Again, a smaller entity doing the right thing and combating a much larger evil has a totally metal, revolutionist slant to it that I can't help but be charmed by.

5a) The entire setting. Swords and guns coexist. A city made of metal plates. It's just metal.

6) That city is actually a giant gun.

7) The protagonist's best friend has a gatling gun for a hand.

8) The hero uses his giant sword to battle hordes of soldiers while riding a motorcyle at top speed down a highway.

9) He follows this up by demonstrating his prowess as a master Xtreme snowboarder

9) One of the hero's other friends can transform into Frankenstein, a Werewolf, and a Demon.

10) At the end of the game, the villain uses an attack that shoots a giant laser beam through every single planet in the entire solar system, obliterating them.

10a) This planet-vaporaizing laser beam barely hurts your party.

11) And finally and most decisively, the music ROCKS. It sounds like it was written on electric guitar. Battles are conducted to headbanging riffs.



And this is just a partial list I came up with off the top of my head in the past ten minutes.

What, you expect me to put actual work into a post for Friday Laziness?