Saturday, 26 December 2009

We're almost in our 30s now!

On leveling instances, that is. The first two parts are here and here. However, the time of playing like a noob is almost over. And it’s almost time to move on to the serious instances. Well soon anyway. Before we go there, two more silly little things: The Stockades, and the first of the Razorfen instances – Razorfen Kraul.

To go by order of level, we’ll start in the Razorfen Kraul.

6 Bosses with shiny blue loot (and a possible 2 more rare ones – we’ll get to that later), 2 quests available to both sides (one from Ratchet, one from inside the instance), 2 for the alliance and 2 for the horde. A grand total of 13.250 experience for the mighty horde (or 13.750 for the glorious alliance). That’s ... oooh... wow... 13250/38800 (at level 30) a third of a level. More than I had expected to be honest. I’ll give it a C in the usual rating, mainly because I think I have not done so this far.

Of course, this is an old world instance, so one of the quests comes from each continent for both sides; the quest in ratchet actually requires you to pick up three items at once. A good lot of travelling involved.

The instance entrance is still reasonably easy to find – but be prepared to dodge a few stealthy monsters on the way to it. For the horde who have played in the barrens this should not be new – Alliance might be surprised. The dungeon is a total mess. Especially if you brought a warrior in need of his warrior-quest-item (If you did: Go forward until you can turn left/right. Turn left. Follow the patch until you get to a trench crossable on a spiky bramble. Cross the brambles. Pull very very carefully from around the cauldron (there might be two patrols in this room – it’s been a while), turn right again as soon as you can for the warrior-quest-boss. There is no point at all in going further than the quest boss – you cannot go over the hedge here).

Best bet is probably an old dungeon-explorer classic: Stick to the right-hand wall and pray for no teleporters or moving walls (I haven’t found any yet, but it pays to stay suspicious). This path will also take you past all the bosses in the right order of difficulty. You’ll learn to hate the hunters than run out of range of melee, the stealthed ones and the all-time favourite: mobs that fear. You’ll also meet bosses that drop no loot at all, if you are unlucky (I’m looking at you Aggem, and you Death Speaker Jargba).

If you are really lucky, you’ll run into one of the rare elite bosses. Those are something starting here, I think. As with all rares, they share a spawn point and timer with a normal monster. This means, if you see the Blind Hunter there will be one bat less around. This also greatly speeds up looking for them later (I’m looking at you, Bannok Grimaxe) – just check all the spots they can spawn in, then reset the instance once you are sure only normal mobs are in their place. To be fair: not worth the effort at this level – but ah well.

I rambled on and on and forgot to award marks again... I’ll give it a C for location (horde)/ a D for location (alliance) and a C for instance design. I would complain more precisely, but it is just a muddy hole in the ground and deserves no more detail.

Which leave only the mysterious marker for time requirement. It’s lengthy, but not horribly so. I’d plan for two to three hours in a proper group (who actually know how to get there). Give it a B, so it doesn’t end up all that bland.

Grand total: C + C + C/D + B for a total of C. Sounds right. A muddy hole in the ground overall.

And then there are the Stockades. Now, of course, the stockades were designed to be similar in effort to Ragefire Chasm. You do a few prerequisites and slowly collect instance quests. Back in the olden days, when questing in Westfall and Redridge and the Wetlands was required to even stand a chance to level, this sort of made sense – even though the questlogs filled up horribly quick. Nowadays ... not so nice any more.

There are a total of 6 quests – one of those is available at level 16, the rest has a minimum level of 22 (way to go, design wise...). The highest level quest is 29, so we’ll base everything on that, of course. Total experience 19.350. This number is misleading, as there are lots and lots of prerequisite steps, as pointed out above. That’s 54% of level 29. I’ll give it a B, and the Deadmines will feel cheated now. However, I’ll make up for it in the “Time required” category – promise.

The instance design itself actually is quite good. The instance feels like a prison (not a very good one, granted – there are no toilets or bathrooms, no water supply, no sequentially opening door, slowing down intruders or prison breaks, no laser traps, no alarms, no speaker systems ... and maybe I should not have watched a modern day prison movie just before writing this). The guards are at the entrance behind a proper barricade (and occasionally there is a breakout or a push – I just can’t seem to figure out the timers and take screenshots – outside the entrance). The sensible thing would obviously to starve the prisoners to death – but being heroes we’ll push in for a bit of good old-fashioned assassination work gladly and with a song on our lips!

Also – one of the bosses can spawn in up to four different locations, which is a first at this level. Of course no one has the quest for him any more (see above), but that is beside the point. I’ll give it a B for instance design, as there needs to be room for improvement.

Time required... well. The instance is short. Half an hour will see a proper group through it after entrance. The prerequisite gathering is ridiculous, though. To have all the quests in your log after coming out of Azuremyst Isle, you’ll be bus for a good four hours. Possibly more. A solid F for this one – it desperately needs streamlining. Accessibility is good, with the thing located in the middle of Stormwind city – and as there are no horde quests we don’t need to worry about them finding a way in (just in case: Grom’Gol Basecamp in Stranglethorn Vale, ride north on the road into Duskwood, head to the graveyard, turn north, swim through the river into Elwynn forest then ride like the wind through Goldshire, over the bridge past the guards, turn left when you approach the first crossroads inside Stormwind, right again before you barge into the inn, left through the arch, over the bridge, turn right along the river and ride into the squat tower in front of you and over the barricade into the instance. Good luck!). A mark of A (as pointless as this is now, since patch 3.3 with the teleport features).

Total for those: B + B + F + A for a total of C. Yeah ... totally do not bother. Go in for the wool cloth an achievement if you have to.

There is one more thing. Lessons learnt is something I tend to neglect here. But there is one – and a rather nasty one at that. Some of the mobs in here use a special attack (kick) that interrupts spell casting. There are a lot of them that do it. This makes it entirely possible for a level 80 character to die in here, if you are not prepared for it. Granted, pulling the whole instance as a warlock might not have been the best plan, but it’s only a level 29ish instance. Or so I thought.

And this concludes today’s tour. Nothing fancy this week. Check back soon for the next part – and the Gnomeish home city.

*cue trumpets and fanfares and nuclear inferno*

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Holidays! And a foreign keyboard... oh my!

Righto. Hello everyone. For the first time in the last three zyears I feel like I vaguelzy got enough sleep. We've been on holidays for a week now, joining my parents-in-law over christmas. Of course, there are minor drawbacks - like us not being able to plazy for a whole of three weeks. Personallzy I think it's doing me good, but mzy wife seems to suffer a bit from withdrawal. This might have something to do with the violet proto-drake. I have a proper 'main' and thus got my merrzymaker last zyear, but her current paladin was not even born then.

Of course... if we ever find a computer able to run WoW over our holidazys, I'll be prettzy much out of luck. She did not forget to bring her authenticator.

Second minor annozyance - the english kezyboard. I've gotten used to mine bzy now - which has the Y's and Z's in a sensible place. This messes up mzy writing more than I thought possible.

But there is finally enough time to work on the things that were seriously neglected last year. I managed a whole of two rather good books by now: Graceling, Wrath of the Lemming Men (third in a series after this and this). I am also in the process of reading a third and there might be time for more!
To put this into proper perspective: I love to read. It's great, but I haven't found anywhere near enough time for it since the baby demands time now and then. How dare he... and why are his reflexes not up to taking my warrior to a 2200 arena rating yet?

We also managed to see a few good films - and I was really impressed by Avatar3D (official trailer behind that link for those like me who can't see videos at work). I had it pegged as another christmas time grand release of little value - what with it coinciding with the release of the computer and console games, the game giveaway on the McDonalds monopoly thing and so on and so forth. It was only after our fearless raid leader and his girlfriend recommended it that we decided to give it a go! And it was so worth it. I mean... yes... the grandparents had the baby and we got three hours in peace and quiet with our own bag of sweets, but the film was also blimmin' entertaining. Complete with explosions and a sex scene and everything!

Soo ... I'll be around, thinking about all the gearing that I miss and hoping for the latest bugs to be stamped out before I get back home in January.

1) I want raidwarnings to work in party. It drives me mental that I have no audio-clue for the party and healer any more when I charge the next group of enemies.
2) I want readychecks to be available to me as the tank. When I sign up as tank, I want the tool. I do not need to be leader (although... I've been a tank for a long time. I wouldn't mind, you know? Just make me leader already.)
3) I want the game difficulty balanced the way Blizzard thinks it's right. No more messing around with it when I am back. We wiped for 6 or 7 times on Marrowgar and took only three attempts on Lady Death-something. I read the same on Blogs that raided on day one of the patch. Apparently there was a patch to reduce Marrowgars difficulty on day 2. Ah well... but finally settle down on something, eh? And while you are looking at difficulty - please make it so that I am not able to outrun the stupid icewalls in the third new instance, trapping myself out of reach of the ghoulish horde to see Jaina die for being a silly wuss. You saw us run, get a jiggle on your royal highness!

Note: This keyboard hates me. Any spelling mistakes you find now are yours to keep and treasure. It's christmas after all.

Monday, 14 December 2009

You would not believe how easy it is to catch Syphilis!

So Tamarind from Righteous Orbs had a christmas wish. He wanted to be entertained - in private. He even promised all sorts of unspeakable things just for his entertainment - and he was not picky in who he allowed to perform. So naturally, I wanted some fun, too. And got my little christmas task - somewhere in there.

What is your most favourite 5-man instance?

This is really a difficult question (and completely rips apart the ongoing series about leveling instances). I thought about going through all of them and rating them properly. I thought about my history with instances and which ones I really enjoyed. And then I decided to go ahead in the spirit this was meant in and just use my gut-feeling.

So my favourite instance is: Trial of Champions.

There. I said it. You may hate me now, but I think I can offer an explanation as well. Or try to.

See ... when we got to the argent tournament grounds I originally had some trouble jousting. It was a nice thing to do, though. I played a warrior mostly, a paladin part-time and a deathknight when I felt like doing some damage. All of the plate-classes made perfect sense to put on a horse and arm with a lance - backed by half a ton of charging horse the damage against other platewearers seemed like a good idea.

Now pretend for a moment that there were a helmet on there. A fierce looking one - not this oversized sex-toy they hand out at the moment. With the shield and the barding on the horse it looks almost like something that should have been present on a medieval battlefield - unlike a certain golf caddy, for instance.

Where was I? Ah yes... jousting. Now see .. the jousting in itself was nice, but not entirely fun. The argent aspirants proved quite good practise targets, however. By the time I had my Crusader title (one of 26 at the moment ... don't ask), I think I had gotten decently competent. And then the fun started - back in the day we got to go to the Icecrown Citadel and beat up undead. Flying things and mounted things ... and best of all: skeletal footmen. There was no need (technically) to actually attack them. Blizzard had recognized that a half-ton of muscle in plate armour (no .. not me .. the horse! It's the lack of vertical stripes that makes me look wide!) can just run over those flimsy bone constructs and trample them.

Trampling damage!

Comeon! Could there be anything more cool?

Well technically yes - I was hoping for Icecrown citadel to have an entry level that used horses (not unlike Ulduar) to beat down a marching army of the undead. Think 10 (or 25 - even better) mounted knights riding side by side, driving a wedge of trampled, crushed and totally broken bones into the ground before charging up to the entrance.

Well yes, I see how that would probably annoy people terribly after about week one - and I did appreciate the argument that it would not be a good idea to set a clothy on a horse and give them a lance - but it did never occur to me when I first saw horses! Honest! (I probably play plate-wearers too much).

Sooo .. to get back to why I like ToC: We not only get to joust champions - we get to trample them in the ground. And keep running over them before they get a chance to rearm. I would have preferred if the Arms Warrior had pulled forth a polearm and actually made a difference against the horses (which would give that silly weapon class some justification) - but this is quite good.

I also seriously enjoy the tanking challenge it proved to be. The solutions against the three phases of black knight were different on warrior, druid, deathknight and paladin. The "turn around to avoid a stun" mechanic was new and different - and it is always a pleasure to see a reflective damage shield in place on a boss for impatient and not-very-perceptive DPS.

Well ... and quick gearing up (while breaking immersion and being generally horrid for all those who did it properly) helped my druid gain respectable gear levels and actually be able to tank the new and interesting heroics quickly. I did it all once the slow way on Koch - you know... when we wiped in Utgarde Pinnacle (normal) because the fights were actually tough. Back in November 2008 for those that don't remember the days.

And which do you hate most?

That one might not be a big surprise. I'll stick with Uldaman on the count of hate-beyond-all-normal-reason. This is partly based on historic reasons - the instance was redesigned recently and now misses of few of the hitches it once had. I shall pretend those fixes do not exist - for general amusement (not so much mine at the time).

You see... Uldaman was an instance appropriate for the level range of 35 to 50.

Read that again.

15 levels worth of an instance.

Back in the old days, instances were different. Longer - for one. More difficult (seriously - especially because no one really knew what they were doing. It was until late in 2004 until people discovered what this mysterious "Defense" stat was all about.

Uldaman was one of the worst. The entrance are was populated by elite dwarves and trogs. Two quests could be completed there. One of them probably had a followup that took you inside. However - now that the path to the entrance had been cleared properly by your well-armed group you were best off leaving and leveling a few times before coming back.

Of course only to clear everything again - and because the mobs were elite they were still hard - but gave no more experience. So you could wipe on stuff that did not actually benefit you in killing. At all.

Once inside you started with finding some dwarves, killing more trogs and generally making a mess of the place - so far so good. Nothing different from todays instances. You also were after two drops that were white: the medallion and the staff. Remember how pissy people can get these days about epic drops they deem "theirs"? It was pretty much the same with those two items back then - and for a good reason. The level you got those items was not appropriate for useing them. And besides - you had to return to Ironforge before then to hand a quest in and get a followup. If you were not lucky enough to have both mage and warlock - and incredibly good coordination - you would not finish that without clearing the entrance area again. Did I mention that those mobs were grey and could still kill groups? It was gruelling.

After you got to the Iron Girl Golem with PMS you recieved a silly reward - a two-handed axe or an off-hand item. My rogue was not well rewarded with either (the idea of supplying four quest rewards so that almost all classes had something sensible only happened with TBC).

And then had to slug your way through another hour (at least) of pointless trash - scorpions and more dark-iron dwarves and more trogs. To find some bosses in a hidden side corridor.

Ohh! Almost forgot. The only enchanting trainer above level 225 was in there. You had to go to an instance every single time you wanted to pick up a new recipe. Even if you were a rogue or druid at level 60 you still had to clear one trash pack before she would even spawn.

Where was this rambling going? Ah yes... the final bit of the instance is pretty much the precursor to Ulduar and the Halls of Stone. There is a great deal of Lore hidden back there. Guarded by a level 50 elite giant. Sure... you could try this at the same level 37 you entered in the first place - but it would be futile and hard and silly and wipefest inducing and not worth the time. Especially as you pretty much needed the experience of the quests when you actually were level 48.

The "good old times" were not so very good at times.

Oh yes - and you needed three people to actually get to the last boss. No cheating and going there at level 59 with your wife and just picking up quick quest experience. Noooo.

In total: Uldaman was an incredible time sink. It was designed that way. It's not even the worst one, probably - I suppose Blackrock Depths wins there. However Blackrock Mountain has a bar and a succubus in love and a charmed princess to make up for the length of it. And was prerequisite for the Onyxia entrance attunement - so if nothing else, you did it because you had to. It (for me) describes all that was bad about the original World of Warcraft design.

Boy am I glad some things changed.

I suppose I'll go into the new LFG tool - set myself as tank - wait my 10 seconds and hop into something with a few friendly players from other servers to beat up something. I'm even guaranteed a few useful rewards. Not just grind out time in a game doing something I don't enjoy because it needs doing for progress.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

2009 - The whole year in one single post!

Oooh.. this is starting to be like a bad television program. Aired in the early evening, when decent people don't watch yet. You know.. the hour between prime time and the end of later afternoon talkshows. It all started with a post on Righteous Orbs for me: the one where Tamarind does participate in another one of those not-quite-memes. Which still has me confused - being elderly and not well educated and thus having to look up new-fangled things like Meme.

But alas... it's a good idea for a post. I always wanted a BTD anyway and besides, the questions are quite nifty. I don't quite feel like tagging anyone, though - except for the druid who was killed last night in a live-lich king accident and thus didn't get the achievement. And she only gets a link if she asks for one, knowing she'd want her privacy respected and all.

What did you do in 2009 in WoW that you'd never done before?

Good start. Easy to answer as well. I actually tried healing an instance. Twice, as far as I remember. It has confirmed what I thought I'd known before: healing is hard, tanking is easy. I am still debating if I want to do it again. Maybe on my shaman? Apparently they have very few healing buttons - how hard can it be?

What was your favourite new place you visited?

This is difficult. I wanted to say "Northrend" first, but I think we got there before 2009, so it doesn't technically count. I think I'll cheat my way around this one: The place I found most impressive was the end of Black Temple. In particular the area just before Mother Shahraz. Some instances were really quite well designed. I also really enjoyed finally being able to defeat some old raid bosses that had forever eluded our guild: Tempest Keep, Serpentshrine Caverns and Mt. Hyjal in particular - the ones where we made progress but which we could never finish for lack of time.

What would you like to have in 2010 that you missed in 2009?

Fights that require more than one tank. I have to say that I loved A'lar back in Tempest Keep. Three platforms manned were safe enough - four would probably have been overkill. Two was just not enough. I don't want to push for fights like in the days of old, where about 23 tanks were required for the four horsemen, but I rolled a tank to tank - not to switch to DPS every second day.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I really would have liked to put "Obsidian Sanctum with three drakes - done properly" here. However, we're still not done and haven't managed to get enough people only to try for ages. I personally found that a very challenging fight - even more so as the adds tank than as anything else, really.
My replacement will have to be a silly "Flame Leviathan +4". It was better even than the glory of the hero reward. Even though... the letter was quite nice, so it'll come in a close second.

What was your biggest failure?

I never admit to mistakes. It detracts from the tanking business. I am invulnerable, invincible and perfect in all things, obviously. However, if you promise not to tell anyone, I might let you in on a little secret. The first Ulduar raiding group we joined was plagued by a bad choice of personalities. The raid leader had handpicked them for percieved ability in the time of old 25-man raids. Some did not live up to expectations, some just never got used to the new game that WotLK proved to be. Too many had personalities that did not handle repeated wiping well (me included). The raid group fell apart in the end - and I was looking forward to cancelled raids as it was better for my mental health.

I think the failure there was two-fold. Knowing the people involved I think we could have cost the raid less people by speaking up (Basically saying: the shamans DPS is total rubbish and the deathknight is performing way below his ability). If the raid leader had kicked those two, three more would have stayed around (me being one of them). The other option, of course, would have been to not be an idiot and actually work with the people involved. Help them not suck. I mean.. my deathknight was already better so it might have been possible - with a bit of diplomacy.

Ah well.. the difficulties of a social game. I'm just glad we stick to 10-man sometimes.

What did you get really, really excited about?

I'm dragging the same dead horse out into the light again, aren't I? I'd still say Obsidian Sanctum with three drakes up. It's such an awesome fight - the group we tried it with was perfect - we actually learnt and got better on each and every failure.

He still proved to be too hard for us. And is listed as the most lethal boss for me. I somehow had throught we'd got more attempts in. But damn, I am excited whenever I hear someone is willing to give it a new go.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

I'll let my anti-social streak shine through for once. I wish I had the heart to give up sooner and tell people they are crap. I tend to think they might actually take notice and try and change something - saving me and my group a load of unneccessary trouble. I somehow doubt it, though - and I would just come over as an ass.

What is your favourite WoW podcast or blog?

I don't have time to listen to podcasts - especially as I drive to work and can't listen there, unlike some people I know. My favourite blogs - after a bit of reading around - are still Egotistical Priest and Righteous Orbs. Really a shame Ego stopped writing a while ago.

I hope both of the authors will forgive me if I say that their blogs are content-light. I mostly read them because they are truly enjoyable to read. If I want serious game information I'll wade through the elitistjerks forums, not read blogposts (usually).

Tell us a valuable WoW lesson learnt in 2009!

I did learn that the social cohesion of a raid group is more important than percieved skill. Skill can be learnt - by practise, reading up or hints. If the people like each other they are willing to listen, though, and will work even on unusual suggestions. That is worth so much more than the ideal DPS at the start of the raid.

The most amazing thing we had was basically our "Mage of Crap DPS". Raid leader as well.. so he attempted to explain his lack of DPS with the added stress of marking targets and such. However - he has since progressed to the top of the DPS meters (with figures around 6k in a 10man environment - and we don't even have the magic damage increasing buff in our raid). I mean.. we'll still call him Crap DPS all day, but that has certainly changed.

All done (I think) - time to play! I will need to find a way to get my revenge on the stinky lich king.

Hit me for 876800 damage again, will you?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

It was patch day (to 3.3 if anyone reads this in years to come).

First impressions?

Yeah … they sort of can make a relationship fail or something, but in case of a patch day I tend to think: Let’s wait for another day before I settle on a grade.

However, in a cunning drive to post more recent content to the blog, I’m not above rambling about whatever I saw last night.

First: A new pet. Sorry. It was the first thing I saw, because my little bank alt used for testing add-on stability had mail. And she never has mail. So yes… apparently all those paranoid people owning an authenticator got a cute little core-hound pup as a pet. And it’s really rather on the cute side.

Second: My loot window now opens where my mouse is. That is … odd. It was somewhere else before, I am sure, and I will probably find a new option to lock it or something. It feels wrong at the moment, though. Especially odd when disenchanting a load of stuff for shiny dusts with a macro while moving your mouse all over the screen. Hey… that was not here before. And why is it there now? Creepy.

Third: New maps. I like them. I think I’ll probably need to sort through all my map-related add-ons soonish and see if they are still all required. I am not sure how I feel about the “go here to complete your quest” feature, but to be fair – the location is rather rough and you still sort of vaguely have to know what you are doing. Also… with now six level 80s I’ve done all the quests. I even got the Loremaster to prove it. It doesn’t affect my playing – and if it means less questions about Mankriks wife in the Barrens it is probably a good thing.

Fourth: New /LFR and /LFG tools. LFR is brilliant. I can sign up for any raid – even old ones. That’s something I missed sorely in the previous incarnation. Now the only thing missing is a sign-up for “For the Alliance” and I’d be perfectly content. And well… LFG looks confusing and needs testing. Can I sign up a whole group for a random daily and get the badges with people I like? Can I sign up for the normal instance and do it on heroic? How does this teleporting thing work? There was just not enough time because of …

Fifth: The weekly Raid and Icecrown Citadel. We have our weekly raid day on Wednesdays. Our raid group was ready and prepared (and mostly on time, even). We checked the weekly raid and it was Anub’Rekan. Err… the one in Naxx? The one that is probably one of the easiest bosses in Naxx? And he was worth 5 badges of frost and 5 of triumph? For 10 minutes of our time? Hell yes! It was good fun to actually see him die before the first locust swarm. This may not be a great achievement for high-powered raiders, but for us it’s still quite an achievement.

Moving from there to Icecrown Citadel brought us the usual patching day trouble. We could not get an instance for ourselves. “Too many instances are open – please try again later”. I think we saw that message continuously for almost 30 minutes before one of us finally managed to sneak in.

Spoilers ahead about the new raid.

I mean it.

The trash starting us out was interesting. It reminded me strongly of the first steps we took into Ulduar back in the day. It was exciting and dangerous (and the permanent respawn until you beat up the first group was interesting). We wiped when one of the big skeletons stumbled into our group near the end of the pull. We wiped when we got two groups at once. I think in total we took three attempts to clear all the way to the  first boss.

And he looks rather awesome.

I have not been as impressed with a boss since the Ulduar days again. He looks new and fresh and dangerous. He also proved to be quite a bit of a problem for us. We had decided beforehand not to read up on any tactics and thus it took us several attempts to get him down.

His cold fire of freezing flames caught us by surprise. His impaling spike/spine of “I stole this from Warlord Naj’entus” killed people (and we are only 10 – we feel the loss of each healer and dps instantly). His whirlwind killed no one – but it managed to drive the two tanks apart and his subsequent saber-lash killed us HARD. He did feel like a good mix of Halazzi in Zul Aman and the Warlord Naj’entus with more damage for everyone thrown in.

And wheee… he dropped my new tanking mace. A mace. With tank stats. For a dwarf. I love it.

Clearing to the next boss took a little time as well. The two priests managed to wipe us twice. On trash! Glorious! It took us a bit to figure out that they drain life. From everyone around the affected target. In nifty little chunks of 15.000 damage per person.

The second boss-girl was a little easier in the end. We only wiped two or three times. Her adds hurt, but the rest of the fight is rather manageable. I think the last wipe was just due to an inconvenient coincidence of “new add spawn” with “boss comes live and proceeds to deal more damage now that all her mana is gone”. Raid time up and all of us pretty happy, I think. It was hard, but not too badly so. It was plagued by crashes and delays, but that’s just patch day. It was new and sparkly and I like it. Can’t wait to try and push for some more.

Bedtime then … but not bad for a first day after a major patch.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Levelling instances rated again. I mean: More of them rated. Yes, that's it!

It seems almost time to have a second part. More instances rated for their levelling value. Which is not solely based on experience or even experience per hour. There are numerous factors that all weigh into how much I hate Uldaman an instance can be rated.

Last time we (that is the royal we again, by the way) decided to visit the low level instances of Ragefire Chasm and Deadmines. Today we move on to the mid-20s range. Not only in our choice of travelling companion, but also in the level range of the instance. A certain amount of experience coupled with a relaxed attitude and beautiful rewards are expected at this level. Again – in both the companion and the instance.

We shall try for a threesome today. Due to the dirty looks of my wife we’ll limit this experience to the dungeons only! Shadowfang Keep, Wailing Caverns, and the ever horrible Blackfathom Deeps.

Shadowfang Keep:

Quick introduction for those not blessed with a bloodelf chick horde character: Shadowfang Keep is located in Silverpine Forest, somewhere halfway down the road to hillsbrad. It’s a proper keep, overlooking a small settlement where the friendly population turns into bloodthirsty werewolves worgen at night. Pretty much the same happened in the keep, except that there are also the undead remains of the previous owners about – and some bats – and a mad mage.

Let’s start with the quests question. There are a measly total of three quests. The total experience for all those comes up to a ridiculously low 9500 experience. At level 27 (the highest level quest in this instance) 32.200 experience are required to advance. Not even 30% of a level. We’ll give this a D. Because Alliance players get exactly nothing – and for hordelings the amount is probably quicker gained by doing a few more quests outside.

Not a good start, however there is always point 2. Instance design. Now not only does Shadowfang Keep offer a rather nice walk-up, complete with drawbridge and portcullis, it also feels like a proper little keep should be designed. There are stables and locked doors, an inner courtyard crawling with defenders, armed guards on the walls, a dining hall with an attached kitchen and finally a towering tower with guards and bosses and the final mage. It feels as if the actual last few rooms should not fit into any of the towers seen from outside, but we shall gloss over minor inconsistencies like that and mention the rather nifty music instead. We like the Keep and grant it a princely A. Apparently we (that is me and my mid-20s companion) are not alone – as there are rumours about of Shadowfang Keep being rebuilt as a heroic dungeon in the Cataclysm expansion.

Accessibility and Time requirements go a bit hand in hand here. It’s a suitable instance for undead and blood elf players – especially as they have a good chance of actually picking up the quests in the turn of their normal gaming. It’s a bit out of the way for orcs, trolls and cows and it is in the middle of a horde levelling area for anyone alliancey. For the sake of continuity I’m going to award a B – because the deadmines got the same. It never took all that long to clear and is a pretty linear instance (with only a few twists and turns around the courtyard) so we’re awarding a B for time as well… I don’t remember anything remarkable, so it can’t deserve anything better or worse.

Total count for Shadowfang Keep comes up to D + A + B + B. A solid B (and I could have copied this straight from the Deadmines). Don’t do it for the quests and otherwise enjoy a well designed castle. Keep. Whatever.

It’s also the first instance I remember that had nasty patrols. Patrols that are worth waiting for and pulling safely into a corner. And an endboss that keeps his aggro list through a teleport but is then mainly available to ranged DPS. And a mindcontrol that requires CCing some of your party members. A good many things that’ll return later and in force.

Next up (or rather: down) the Wailing Caverns. Located in the Barrens (nowhere near Mankriks wife, just in case you found her) this instance is a bit of an oddity. There are neutral and horde quests in here. The good ones are all horde only – and the leather set was designed with shamans in mind, back in a time when only the mighty horde had those.

Quests start all over the place as well. Thunder Bluff (as far as I can remember), Ratchet and in the left eyesocket of the skull that makes up the entrance of the Wailing Caverns complex. Not all of the quests are elite – some of them are finished outside. I can truly not say if this was different back in the day (you know.. when men were men and dwarves were stout) – probably all the harmless critters populating the cave were elites back then.

There are a lot of quests, though. I count nine for a total experience value of 15.310. Highest level is a 22 (dungeon) – so based on the 24.000 experience required this comes to 64% of a level (if you’re a bloodelf chick hordeling). Not bad at all. We’re going to grant it a generous B, because picking up all of those quests will take you up approximately three levels from exploration experience alone.

Which leads to instance design. Much like most of the old world instances, the actual entrance is hidden inside a cave. The cave has side corridors, deep pits and carnivorous creatures – along with the usual mould and spiders and such. The annoyance factor of this entrance is downgraded a lot by the currently non-elite monsters. There even lives a rare thing in the pool in the centre (just in case you manage to slip on a slime patch and plummet into the … let’s just pretend it never happened, okay?).

Inside, the instance is split into three separate branches – all of them will be visited eventually due to the quest progression, but there is no indication which direction to head to first. Personally I think this is a great feature, giving more flexibility to exploration and happy dungeon-delving. Current instances do not really follow this design any more – and tend to be circular rooms with an entrance and a spawnpoint in the worst case. The three separate arms contain all sorts of mad druids, waterfalls, a spot where you actually need to jump to clear a ledge for progress, an angry tortoise, tin nodes and all sorts of snakes. Oh yes – and a giant murloc.

I’ll give it a B for instance design. I like it, but it is easy to get lost – and if you don’t get lost yourself you can bet on someone else doing just that and requiring backtracking and slow progress and markers and best a ball of string.

The time requirement is comparatively large. The instance itself is certainly not longer than the Deadmines, but the time spent travelling around the whole place adds up. Especially as the final quest only becomes available once all bosses are dead – and it requires you to go back to the entrance of the instance. If you are doing this in a proper group, trash will probably have respawned by now. I’d probably plan for a whole evening – certainly more than two hours - if you want to do the whole thing in one go. Note that there really is not much of an option to skip parts – the wings are not equal in length. I’ll give it a rating of C – this is one of the examples where maybe too much time is spent in comparison to the rewards.

Accessibility again depends on the faction – Horde have it a good bit easier than Alliance with a flightpoint at the Crossroads. Both are in for an overland walk, a weird path up a mountain and through the nose of a stone skull and down a spiralling path to the proper instance entrance. I’ll give it a C, too. This could be improved – but there is worse to come (maybe it’s too much of a spoiler if I mention that there will be worse in this very post?).

Total? B + B + C + C turns into a C in my math. Definitely so if you are an Alliance player. The quest rewards are so good that this might actually be a B for bloodelf chicks Hordelings.

And you’ll learn that instance quests take you to each and every boss and make you explore each and every corner of an instance. Which is a horrible lie in several of the instances to come, but prepares new players perfectly for the Outlands and Northrend.

And then there are the Blackfathom Deeps in this level range. My first instance, I think. Back in the day. As a rogue I was expected to tank and dps and heal with bandages. Nothing much changed since then, really.

Let’s get to the experience stuff first: Ten quests in total (if I didn’t mix up some alliance and horde ones) for 24.840 experience. At level 21 only 22.400 would be required, so you will level in this instance. Which is nice. The quests are also all available in a very limited area – this was originally intended as a night elf dungeon and they don’t have very many tree-huts settlements. Some of them are picked up inside the instance again – much like Wailing Caverns. Part of the quests are again completed outside the actual instance – and there might be a class quest there as well (paladin, or some such). I do have horrible memories about those quests taking forever and not being worth it, but the numbers here force me to give it an A. So there. Have an A.

The instance design is a good bit more linear again. Entrance (once you found it in the tunnel system outside) leads to puddles, leads to swimming around, leads to corridor, leads to area with Twilight Cultists, leads to Cult Leader, leads to opening sliding door, leads to endboss. There is some added bonus here – a few caves branch off, there are patrolling naga under water, the first puddle can be jumped across properly (if you can move) or a mountain scaled and slid down and there are the first stealthing mobs I can remember. A true pain if you are not prepared for slow and steady progress. It isn’t bad – as such – but it’s also not exactly and outstanding instance. I presume bad past experiences colour my perception here – and it’s gloomy and underground and below sea-level and there is dripping water and demons and such. I’ll give it a C. Because it feels bad – and that has to be reason enough.

The time requirement and accessibility are the true killers of this instance, however. It’s located as far away from any elven flightpoint as they could manage. Honestly! The graveyard is in a different zone! Yes I know there is a short path that takes you back to the entrance but COMEON! The quests usually have a prerequisite that is done inside the instance entrance area – which requires you to return to the questgiver for the next step thus making absolutely sure you will be fighting spawns again when you come back. Luckily everyone can have a mount at level 20 by now, but it is still faaaar faaar out there for travel time. I won’t even mention that the amount of twilight cultists is not enough to give everyone their quest drops in a 5-man group. You’d better do it twice, if you intend to do it properly. GOODNESS!

I’ll give it a double F for these two factors. Horrible, horrible placement.

Which comes up to a total of A + C + F + F. A nice average of D. Yep. That’s right. The one instance in the low level segment where the designers got the quest rewards right and it is completely spoilt by the location. Do yourself a favour and skip this one. And it doesn’t bloody help that the quest reward is either a wand or a shield and I did this on a rogue. Not at all!

This concludes post two of the fabulous series about rating dungeons for a better levelling experience. I hope you will tune in again when we return with more refreshing news about places everyone skips these days. Time to return to those mid-20s blonde bloodelf twins from the Silvermoon Beach Volleyball team levelling. Leveling, yes.

Monday, 7 December 2009

So how long does it take to 80?

Not that long, apparently. I got my Shaman up (as mentioned elsewhere) - mainly to help my wife with her Less-Rabi achievement. I did waste a little time playing around with leatherworking - those basilisks in Zangarmarsh cost me easily an hour of my playtime.

And I have to say.. I enjoy leveling now and then. There is something wonderfully satisfying about learning a new ability/spell. Preferrably truly new - not Fireball (Rank 124322).

The leveling game seems to be weirdly limited, though. I mean.. it accounts for only a tiny tiny amount of the total game.

How tiny?


I suppose running after achievements and doing raids takes a bit longer after all.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Nuked from Orbit

I had no idea going for hard modes could be that much fun. No wait.. that's not actually true. I always enjoyed Sartharion 3D attempts in the guild - but we have been slacking a bit lately.

Yesterday, however, we found the time to play around a bit in Ulduar again. Entered with a full group and decided to kill 100 of the little dwarves for a warm-up. We had already decided to go for a Flameleviathan kill with Turrets up, but I think we were just mostly happy to arrive at his starting point in the end. Hundreds of dead dwarves clinging to our bumbers, windshield wipers working madly and long since run out of wiper fluid.

Last week we had managed to get a FL+2 done - and we sort of expected a slight increase in difficulty - but hey.. nothing a team of professionals cannot handle, right?

So the big bad golf cart comes charging at us and we notice it has a few more hit-points. Quite a few more. Oh god, it's gone up to more than 80 million.

Combat starts, people start driving around and doing their thing, there is flaming fire on the golf cart and some burning oil on the ground and a voice in the background does exactly the same thing as on Branns Tribulations in the Halls of Stone. Ramble on and on and on with a droning voice that I tune out as soon as it appears. No usable information at all.
At first, it all just looks nice. There is shining beacons all over the place. Red and blue and blue and green. I wonder what those mean. Long persistance in this game has taught us one thing, however (No ... not that thing about Silvermoon and a horny tauren) - standing in shining stuff is usually bad! (Maybe this explains why we don't do so well on Yoggy).

It certainly looks shiny. No wait.. that does not do it justice. It's bloody awesome! That's better.

Comeon... how often do you get to race around on a motorbike, followed by agressive plants, running from thunderbolts and lightning and dropping burning patches of tar! It's that fantastic!

Of course.. it also is rather hard. We lost people - fast. After a few tens of percents we were a tank down, then a demolisher, then someone decided to cunningly throw themselves upwards on the leviathan to power it down - and got killed. Not without turning it off, though - and when the plants got me, there was only around 40 million health left and I had my trusty sword!

Nevvah give up! Nevvah surrender!

For some reason the thing came awake again before I had scratched the last few million points of paint off the side. And hit back. It hurt - briefly. But I always have to think of the pearl of chinese wisdom: "It hurts to admit you made a mistake - but if the mistake is big enough, the pain only lasts a second". Soooo very true.

We got it in the end... and even managed to snatch a nifty achievement screenshot for the blog collection.

I loved it!

And because the above was a bit content-light I'll even throw in some free hints.

1) The demolishers are going to be your main source of damage. 10 stacks of flaming pyrite are the way to go at all times. There will be the occasional dodging of a flame leviathan charge, but the top priority should be setting fire to the damn thing.

2) The motorcycles are actually your second source of damage - and about the only way to keep those plants mostly under control. Burning patches of sticky tar are the best way to control Freyas spawn. Shoot them once with the sonic cone, then run them into a patch. Always always always prioritize dropping more flaming pitch in the things path over anything else.

3) The tanks are pretty useless it seems. Interrupting the flame vents is only sensible if there is actually someone important on top of the boss, trying to shut down turrets. In our case it was just a warlock, so we decided to let him burn and instead kept one more target alive for the boss to pick on. Distance over all else - the paltry damage of the ramming maneuver pales in comparison to keeping the demolishers safe for one more turn.

4) Anything shiny is bad. Except, possibly, for shiny flaming tar when you are pursued by plants.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

My horse is too wide sometimes!

It's an interesting story, really. The size of my horse has more gameplay implications than I thought possible. I mean... I play a dwarf. We own rams (and everyone knows that a swift ram is always a good thing) and as such the problems of large mounts didn't really hit me. Unlike my shaman for instance, who - as an elephant riding draenei - managed to basically smash her face in on the door to the Stormwind Bank.

However .. that's not actually all. Of course there is occasionally a house I cannot get into while mounted. Usually they are the remote and unneccessary buildings anyway (like Stormwind Bank. I mean... pffft.. who'd want to go there). There also is the jousting at the Argent Tournament. I personally find the easiest fights to be on a small mount against another small mount.

I prefer to ride a ram and fight the mechano-walker-thing, the horses (both alive and dead), the raptor, the chicken and the wolf. The tiger is too long and the elephant and kodo are just too wide. How does this matter? Well.. in my jousting style I charge the enemy in the back as soon as I am able to (in a knightly fashion ... that is.. while yelling a warcry or some such. Not in a cowardly manner like those rouges and mascaras do). I then use the momentum to gain some distance from the enemy, use the jump-turn maneuver (which completely ignores the momentum of vehicles and thus allows me to turn on the spot) and throw something nasty in their face. Tadaa! Two shields gone (for about a second).

However... against the elephant, kodo and tiger this maneuver requires me to ride away further. So far, in fact, that I cannot close the distance before they get a spear-throw of their own off. It throws off my whole fighting.

And finally... the area where I currently have most problems:

Zul Gurub. The entrance to Bloodlord Mandokirs little playpen. Why would anyone go there? For the Blue Dragonhawk mount eventually, and the Swift Razzashi Raptor before then.

The area up to the entrance is pretty easily traversed as a level 80. Inside the playpen are around three groups of trolls or so (only one of which I kill - and them only for safety reasons) and three groups of ferocious raptors. Who drop this little cutie, as a side. And the bloodlord with his buddy Oggy, of course.

The trolls in this area come in the variety healer (called Priest, surprisingly), oddity (called Blooddrinker - and they drain their buddies health to replenish their own?), and DPS (called Guardian - complete with a knockback that sends ya flying all over the place). The entrance is thus a little bit of a tight spot. I marked the four guards up in this picture so it's easier to spot. In theory, a level 80 can ride through the centre two (star and triangle for those too lazy to look up). However - this fails on several of my mounts. The Rivendare Deathcharger is too fat. As is the Black Battlestrider. And the normal tigers and horses. Of course the bloody elephants are too wide.

So basically - I can squeeze past only on a ram. Any ram. A swift ram, a swift brew-induced ram. They just seem to like rams.

Oh yes.. so did I. It's good to be a dwarf, sometimes.