Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Leveling Dungeons - Rated for your Convenience - Part 1

So Tamarind has started the rather nifty dragon rating system. And thus proven that a rating system can be entertaining, no matter how much people agree or disagree to some points (to point out the comments on cross-dressing Chromie is probably not necessary at this point).

So … I think I’ll blatantly steal his idea and rate levelling instances. Not those Northrend ones – they are done to death by every level 80 in the epic badge farm (“LF2M tank healer badge farm, going UK, UP, AN, OK, VH, TOC pst whisper stats, epic achie.”) The good stuff starts somewhere completely different after all.

Of course, I’ll need a rating system. Something that manages to show my complete contempt for Uldaman bad instances. Something that handles the Stairs well and shows off their glory. Even if you are just levelling an alt decked out in seven heirloom items and twinked beyond belief.

So let’s see. There will be marks for Quests (we are talking about levelling instances, so something with lots of quests for lots of experience is good. Then it also doesn’t matter that your wife’s level 80 dragged you through and you gained only 3 experience per mob kill. Not that I’ve ever done something like that.), Instance Design (because I hate Uldaman some instances and love others), Accessibility and Time Requirements. And probably something else, if I can think of it. No need to really nail things down now – we’ll stay flexible. Oh yes... and I pretend to tank a lot, so we’ll throw in “Important Lessons” for your later raiding career that can be learnt here. Well… as long as your wife’s level 80 is not dragging you through.

Now technically I mostly play Alliance. Well… I only play Alliance since about halfway through Karazhan but that shan’t stop me from talking about the lowest level instance I can remember. Ragefire Chasm! Bane of many a level 80 night elf in search of the elusive Classic Dungeon Master achievement – not so much by virtue of it’s tough bosses, more by the three selling points in real estate.

Located in the middle of Orgrimmar this instance is aimed at roughly level 15 or so. People at level 13 do reasonably well and only recently the Goblin two-manned it at level 18.

There are a rather nice five (or six, if you count the follwup) quests for it. Picking them up can be a bit of a pain (as always with old world content) – one of them starts in Thunder Bluff, one in Undercity, two in Orgrimmar and one of those has an especially annoying series of prerequisites from Thrall. Total reward: 9475 experience (without the use of heirloom items) for quests available at level 9 and rated as level 15 to 16. For comparison: 13.600 experience is required to advance from level 15 to 16. Cunning math places that at almost 70% of a level.

We’ll give it a quest rating of B – mainly because there always needs to be room for improvement and because some of the prequests are a tad on the tedious side.

The instance design was apparently considered so good that it was reused. In particular – the Maw of Neltharion in Dragonblight uses the same layout over large stretches of the area. Some bits are inaccessible, and there was a cave added at the beginning, but otherwise identical. Now … I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s not a horrible layout. It is pretty straightforward, but not completely linear. In the room of the first boss there are actually three different paths you could take! Well sure... you can see them all from the beginning, but it does vaguely resemble a big spiderweb with a … hmm… flaming demon of fire in the middle. Maybe I need to find better analogies.

We’ll give it a C for instance design. It’s suitably dark and gloomy, but there are much, much better examples in the bright levelling future.

The accessibility question is a bit of a giveaway thanks to my grand introduction (need to work on that as well, it seems). It’s located in the middle of a capital city. Surrounded by level 75 elite guards. So if you are a low level hordeling on the way to learning how to tank on your shaman (or some such) it has great infrastructure. Zeppelin connections, flightpath, bank, auctionhouse and a spa in the Valley of Wisdom (of course not in Honour, silly). It doesn’t get any better, so here you are... have you first grade A.

That leaves only timeframe and things to be learnt here. There are three bosses, a good sized amount of trash and it’s an instance full of elite mobs. I’d plan on a bit more than an hour if everyone knows vaguely what they are doing. The amount of patrols near the first boss can lead to unfortunate wipes, and the Orgrimmar graveyard used to be a bit too far away.

A generous B for it … just because it’s nothing outstanding, really.

And if you do this properly then you’ll learn at least two interesting things: knockbacks can and will take you over the edge of a fighting area if you’re not careful – and lava really hurts. Especially if there is no way out of it. And you’re trapped. And on fire. And burning!

B, C, A, B … seems to come out a total of B overall. Hmm. That sounds too good really. I think I’d rather complete a few quests outside to level quicker. And linen cloth can be farmed better elsewere. We’ll use the arbitrary mitigation factor and downgrade Ragefire Chasm to a C total. Because we can. Ha!

Now on the other side of the ocean (and the war) there is an entirely different starting instance. Located in the charming foothills of Westfall the fabled Deadmines await intrepid alliance questers and horde twinks.

I aim for a much better introduction this time round, without giving away everything right at the start. There are a total of 5 quests for the Deadmines, available from Stormwind and Westfall. No need to fly all around the world here! The rewards are a respectable, but not impressive, 9750 exp total. As a minimum level of 15 is required and the quests are ranged as 17 to 22, we’ll use the level 21 requirements: 22.400 experience to reach 22. A measly 44%.

This number is off by quite a bit, however, as the most rewarding quest (both in terms of experience and quest reward) has a few precursor steps. Six, really. While you’re there, it makes perfect sense to pick up every other quest in Sentinel Hill, as you will be killing all of Westfall twice. Let me put an exclamation mark after that and try again: You will be killing all of Westfall twice! With a dull spoon if you have to! And to start of the chain that eventually leads into the Deadmines you first get sent to Redridge. Because you have no mount yet and it’s the longest straight distance in World of Warcraft.

So we shall give it a… say… D. It’s incredibly stupid to do all those quests when you could instead be in the Draenei starting area, but they do provide a good bunch of experience.

Next up, the saving grace of the Deadmines. Instance design. Here… have an A, let’s move on.

Not enough explanation you say? Oh well… if I have to. The instance itself is located in a hideout dug under a building in Moonbrook. The caves themselves follow the usually three-dimensional layout using a two-dimensional map – or in other words, they are a nightmare to navigate if you don’t know where you are going. Once inside the instance, it gets a whole lot more linear, though. There usually is only one path, sometimes it forks out for very short distances. This alone should qualify for a bad ranking, however the design is actually made fun. There is a mining tunnel full of ore at the beginning – the extension of the outside area. There are goblin lumberjacks crafting something wooden with a ginormous chopping robot. There is a smeltery with a foreman and fire and patrols and engineering loot. There are mages overseeing a mining operation with explosives deeper inside. And once you grab the gunpowder left lying around carelessly (under heavy guard, in a side tunnel) and blow up the big brass doors you get to the main piece.

Slight spoiler coming up now – just in case you never have seen any posts about the Deadmines, have somehow never managed to go there and don’t want to be told about what’s happening: don’t continue reading. Then again – what are you doing in this post anyway….

An underground harbour. Complete with pirate ship, shipwrights, parrots, more cannons than you could shake a Salt Shaker at and a first mate. There also is a murloc cook and a captain and all sorts – the main loot sorry.. the main event is, of course, Edwin vanCleef. He’s a bit of a mix of revolutionary and union representative – as he would be depicted by the governor of California.

As I said: a straight A.

That leaves accessibility: The westfall flightpoint is a bit of a walk and it’s a total pain for the horde to reach. The entrance is also located inside a town swarming with enemy spellcasters – usually sniping from within doorways. And then buried under a mountain in a maze of epic proportions with twisting corridors – and some of us even manage to get lost in a straight corridor like… say… Archavons.

I can’t help but give it a B, for the pure amusement factor of getting there. Always lovely in a new group – or with people who forgot just how annoying the entrance area actually is.

Time involved: Make no mistake – Deadmines is a long instance if played with a proper group. Discounting all the “LF1M Tank, DM” time I’d guess you’d need about half an hour to reach the instance entrance, another half hour to the smeltery, another hour to the boat and then a stunning hour to clear the whole place and spike the guns and throw their powder into the lake. Three hours? Sounds about right. Give it a B.

D + A + B + B comes out a solid B. Yeah.. why not. Basically you’re in for a better experience if you skip the quests.

And do we learn something in there? Well.. this is the first instance I know where people technically have to learn where to walk (“Left side down the smeltery or you pull the whole room”) and that patrols will be triggered from behind on each and every door you open. Not bad, but nothing life-changing.

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