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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.





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.

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?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Night of the Living Recruit-A-Friend

In one week, this blog will become All Lich King All The Time. Things have generally cooled down in-game, but we can expect the real pre-xpac event within the next few days, so I'd better get back to recruit-a-friend before there's so much to talk about all at once that I'd have to quit my job to keep up.

As we've already established, RAF is ludicrous. For 34 levels of effort, I will have 4 new level 60's and a level 44.

It was ridiculous from the first moment. While waiting for my new copy of the game to arrive so I could make my Blood Elves, I created a pair of orcs using the instant trial account, dual-boxing on my single laptop. I had already decided the Blood Elves (dubbed, by my girlfriend, "The Sisters Bulimia") would be a hunter/paladin pair. I already have a 70 rogue and druid, would be using my free gift levels on a mage, and my girlfriend already has a 70 priest and shaman. So I went with a warlock/warrior pair for this one.

Both characters loaded into the Valley of Trials. I made the Warlock's window really big, the warrior's window pretty small, grouped them, and hotkeyed "follow" for the warrior. I set it up so I could see the edge of the warrrior's window so I could switch easily between them and also constantly see that she was following the warlock. I set the group's loot to free for all. That way, the lock could handle the vast majority of the looting, minimizing the necessary switches between windows.

Now that they were grouped and in each other's vicinity, I would get triple xp for both of them on mobs and quests. I pick up the first quest on both characters: Kill 10 boars. Normally, you'll get your first level from completing this quest.

I got a level on both characters just for the killing of the boars themselves. Then I got an entire freaking level just for handing in the quest.

This was going to be fun. Normally, one leaves the Valley at around level 5, having completed the entire little questline there. This time, I again left at level 5, this time having completed a grand total of 4 quests.

Then things started to suck. I would not recommend anyone ever try to level a character without first installing The Burning Crusade. The Blood Elf starting areas are so good that trying to level in Durotar again feels akin to shoving a railroad spike through my neck. Every single quest involved ten minutes of travel, and there were barely any quests available in Mulgore anyway. It was a struggle to get the characters to 10 where they could go to the Barrens.

In my opinion, the Barrens are underrated. If you ignore General chat, the quests are reasonably easy to complete efficiently and the area looks beautiful, despite being a largely flat desert. The Barrens still don't come close to matching the ease of the Ghostlands, but at least they compare more favorably to the misery that was Mulgore.

The only hitch was that I arrived in Crossroads, eager to quest, on day 1 of the Scourge Zombie invasion. Every time I walked into town to hand in or pick up quests, I was instantly mauled by an army of level ?? zombies, many of them raised from the corpses of the very quest-givers I was searching for. Nonetheless, I endured the constant (and often repeated) corpse runs for an evening and managed to get close to level 17. I did this over 2 days, with only a few hours played each day.

The warlock and warrior sat at 17 for quite a while after that, because my BC box arrived and I was able to start leveling the Sisters Bulimia in earnest. Unless the Lich King razes Orgrimmar tonight, expect to hear about them tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Don't bother talking about politics in game...

...and certainly, under no circumstances, ever talk about politics on your blog, website, or podcast that is not specifically about politics!

I can't think of anything but American politics today (which is why you are getting this post instead of a gaming post), but I certainly am not going to even begin to give you even a tiny peek at what my positions might be.

Do not talk about politics with your guild. In, fact I would go so far as to warn other people to stop talking about politics if they bring it up.

Why? Because despite the fact that last night each presidential candidate encouraged reconciliation and unity in their respective speeches, it is still an incredibly divisive topic in America. It offers no benefit. You will never convince someone else to change their positions because of something you said in trade chat or even your guild's Ventrillo server. Especially if what you say is a talking point your opponents have already heard and dismissed from a more authoritative source than yourself. You will never make a new friend by expressing your political opinions. Anybody you agree strongly with is likely to already be your friend anyway for other reasons. So there is no actual benefit to making political statements in-game or even on your blog of podcast. It will never help you.

But it can and will hurt you. You immediately alienate those who disagree with you. You make it more difficult for even those that liked you before to stomach you now that they know you have such diametrically opposed beliefs. If you blog or podcast, you are willingly throwing away half of your audience.

And for what? So you can feel good about stating your opinions and pretending they matter to others? Deluding yourself into thinking you will sway them, or do anything other than drive them away?

As a quick example: I used to love listening to the podcast Taverncast. For a long while they were a WoW-focused podcast. But the cast all stopped playing the game, and switched over to a new, more free-floating format after a long hiatus. In the first episode of this new format, they somehow came to the topic of Universal Health Care. One of the members of the cast expressed a strong opinion that was the exact opposite of a very strong opinion I held. Hearing this person spout an opinion clearly based on misinformation and obvious biases rather than facts and logic made me angry. I wanted to argue with them, show them how they were wrong, etc. The opinion was, to me, so downright imbecilic that I couldn't respect that person anymore. I used to find them at least mildly entertaining, but I could no longer listen to content from someone who was so wrong about this issue. I could no longer be entertained by this person. I never listened to their podcast again. I know for a fact that I am not the only person who reacted this way.

For another example, look at the reaction to Tobold's recent post urging people to vote. You would have to try really hard to find anything clearly partisan in his statement. But he was eviscerated none the less.

You can express your opinion if you want. I'm not trying to supress anyone's freedom of speech. All I'm saying is that you may want to look at the pros/cons of expressing your political opinion in a non-political context. You may end up making a decision to keep your mouth shut that ends up benefiting you in the end.

Get over yourself. I understand the impulse to talk about politics. But don't do it. You have nothing to gain, and stand to lose a lot.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking the day off

Go vote.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rogue spec 70-80: follow-up

As you may recall from last week, I'm leaning towards a Subtlety/Assassination spec for leveling my rogue when Wrath hits. It's unquestionable that this build would offer much more utility and survivability than a Combat leveling build. But would I be gimping myself so hard in damage that my leveling would be slowed? Rather than leaving it up to luck, I decided to test it out a bit and see how things shook out in the real world. So I found a group of level 70 mobs, and tried both specs.

All tests were made using the same mobs for roughly 15-20 minutes each. I did not change my glyphs (SS and SnD) at any point.

First, I made a more leveling-focused version of my Combat spec: 5/51/5

The playstyle for this build was to run from mob to mob without stealthing. Upon reaching the target, I would hit Sinister Strike once, then activate Slice and Dice. Then I would either SS them to death, or use an Eviscerate if the time seemed right (the evis would kill them and I had 3 or more combo points). If evis was not worth it, I might use the CPs for SnD instead, so I wouldn't have to reactivate it for a while. I used most of my cooldowns, except I forgot to use Adrenaline Rush. I had Wound Poison on both hands (as it beats IP for Combat builds currently).

905 DPS is pretty respectable while solo and unbuffed. You'll notice none of my SSs were dodged or parried, due to the expertise bonus for Combat spec supplementing my expertise gear.

Caveats: I did not use cooldowns to the maximum effectiveness. I neglected Adrenaline Rush and also neglected to gather up 2 or more foes on every Blade Flurry cooldown to take advantage of the double damage. A better-played session would probably have yielded higher DPS. So let's assume this one actually does around 1000 dps while grinding solo.

Next I tested out a Subtlety/Assassination build (20/0/41) using the same technique: I run from mob to mob unstealthed, spamming Hemo and eviscerate when appropriate. However, I don't use SnD with this build. I'm relying on yellow damage rather than white.

Hm. 782. Only about 100 less, but still a significant decrease in DPS. I was disappointed, so I gave it more though. Even with the Eviscerate Glyph (10% more crit), I wouldn't make up the difference. But I really want the utility of this build. While leveling I'll be competing for the tag on a lot of mobs, and Shadowstep is really my only good tagging tool.

So I thought on it some more, and looking over the talents I realized that I wasn't playing to my strengths. This build had many buffs to stealth, and I could increase my damage coming out of stealth. Cheap Shot was an extremely good investment with it's reduced cost and extra combo point return. If I stealthed, I'd also be safer more of the time from unexpected ambushes, be able to pickpocket, and be able to use premeditiation. I devised a new strategy, which intended to kill all targets during the 6-second window of increased damage provided by Master of Subtlety.

I got back to killing the same mobs, stealthing between each kill. Premed only has a 20 second cooldown, so it was up at least every other mob, if not more often. I could mitigate the slowdown of stealth via shadowstep every other mob, and Cheap Shot kept me from taking much damage at all. Premed followed by CS gave me 5 CPs for an immediate Evis, with energy left for a Hemo. If any of that crit, the mob would die immediately. I found my DPS varied wildly from fight to fight: I'd either do 1100 dps and drop the target within the CS, or I'd do about 850 dps because I had to wait for another Hemo or two. I ended up with a 940 average, which compares favorably to Combat. Keep in mind this was without the Glyph of Evis.

So I did a little bit less average damage than Combat. But I found myself running out of spawns with this new technique...I was moving between mobs so much faster, never having to pause to bandage, that they weren't respawning fast enough to keep up with me now. On top of that, I took almost no damage, could tag more easily, could pickpocket naturally, and piles of survivability via prep.

So happily, with a playstyle adjustment, Hemo comes out the clear winner.