Abandoning the moral high ground

Last night I ditched what was left of my principles and bought a virtual ticket for Blizzcon 2017.

Yeah, I know. I’m not proud of it. For years I have haughtily disdained the groupie-like behavior I stereotyped Blizzcon-goers as. It was a kind of badge of honor for me that I could wait, like an adult, and see what announcements were made and consider their implications patiently and soberly. I am not a Big-Bang Theory kind of Blizzcon nerd, I told myself. I am a grownup.

But then…….

The thing that tipped the scales for me was the mount. Not so much the horde version, since I do not have a horde character, but something about that Stormwind Skychaser caused great lust to arise in my heart. At raid last night, a couple of our guildies had them and as soon as I saw them my only thought was, “I have got to get me one of these!” IMG_0279

So after raid, head hanging, looking around furtively as if I were buying porn, I plunked down my money and bought the ticket.

I have mentioned several times in this blog that I am not a mount collector, that I look at mounts as transportation, nothing more. I think that is generally true. Still, once in a while one comes along that I just have to have. The headless horseman mount was one such — I luckily got it the very first time I ever ran the holiday event many years ago, and it is still my go-to mount for every character. The engineer-crafted chopper was another, and I actually changed a profession on one of my alts from alchemist to engineer specifically so that I could craft this mount. There are one or two others, but those stand out in my mind.

And now the Stormwind Chaser.

Beyond this, though, I suppose now that I have a virtual ticket I will probably (virtually) drop into some of the Blizzcon 2017 activities. There are many of them that I am just not interested in — anything not related to WoW, any of the esports stuff, or the cosplay, for example. But I confess I am curious about what if any “big announcements” we may get about WoW.

I honestly do not know what to expect in that area. There are a great many players expecting The Big Announcement About The Next Expansion, and of course that may happen. But it also may not. Especially with the addition of Argus, Blizz has structured Legion to be almost infinitely expandable on its own. Relieved of the need to make the WoW world contiguous, new Legion content is mostly a matter of adding limited-terrain scenario-type instances one gets to via portals. Though I would not be in favor of it, there is really nothing stopping Blizz from using this mechanic for the next year or even two to extend Legion.

I stumbled across an interesting post from about a year ago by Nathan Grayson on Kotaku. It contained some quotes from Ion Hazzikostas at last year’s Blizzcon. It’s a short piece and you can read it for yourself, but one part in particular struck me:

“We’re working on a new expansion,” Hazzikostas told me. “It’s gonna be great. But we’re setting ourselves up to be much more flexible in the amount of patch content we create. We’re making sure that we’re always gonna be working on the next step, the next link in the chain. To keep our players engaged, to make sure there’s always something new to do in Azeroth. The expansion will be done when it’s done.”

“I don’t think [this will impact how much content is in the next expansion],” he said. “Obviously, the expansion will come out later than if we decided to make less patch content and focus on the expansion. But there’s always a process of iteration that goes into making our expansions. That’s gonna happen regardless. I think it’s more about making sure we have a contingency plan in place so that when it’s done, there hasn’t been a gap.”

I may be way off base here, but to me this hints strongly at Legion being close to a 3-year expansion, giving us two more years of it, not one more like many people think.

And what that may mean for Blizzcon 2017 is that instead of a detailed announcement of a new expansion, we will get more of a schedule. Something like approximate release dates for 7.3.5 and at least 7.4, along with some details of what those will contain. Any mention of the next expansion will be very sketchy, possibly limited to typical coy hints. Because what the Legion “content” approach has given Blizz is the luxury to not rush a new expansion. This is good and bad — we all saw what a disaster a rushed expansion could be with WoD (even though it seemed to take forever to go live it seemed undeniably to have been hastily slapped together and ill-conceived). On the other hand, Blizz is acutely aware of player impatience once an expansion hits about the 15-month time — no matter how much “content” is introduced, players think of it as the “old” expansion and start to look for other things to do, often moving to other games. (Blizz may hope these other games are Blizzard franchises, but they cannot be sure they will be.)

So, yeah, I bought the virtual ticket. Mainly because of the awesome mount. But I will be interested in some of the live streams, too.

Meanwhile, let the weekend commence. I got some air cruisin’ to do.

Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

Chromie? Really?

Am I the only one who does not get the whole Deaths of Chromie thing? Last night, as I was desperately trying to find something besides the new raid tier to get excited about in 7.2.5, I watched the MMO-C video on the Chromie scenario and read all of their detailed notes.

I still don’t get it. To me, it looks like a whole bunch of annoyance for a less-than-stellar cosmetic fluff reward, a title, and a mount. Maybe I am puzzled because I am not very big into transmogging or mounts, whereas players who really love these aspects of the game will be over the moon at the prospect of spending hours listening to Chromie’s headache-inducing squeak.

If I understand the scenario right, here are its “features”:

  • A series of five quests that bring you into the various sub-scenarios run out of Wyrmrest Temple. The last 2 quests seem to require a significant amount of dedicated play time in one chunk.
  • A garrison class hall set of class hall traits talents you “research” or something over time. (The visual representation of these is the same exact model of the class hall research traits.) Only when you accomplish all of these do you have a chance at completing the final part of the quest line/scenario. I think, by a quick calculation, that earning these talents takes a minimum of 10 days.
  • You must earn rep with Chromie. I am not clear on the reason for this, but it can apparently be done by moving through the various portals and killing mobs.
  • You are auto-bumped to level 112 with gear level 1000. (This should tell you something.)
  • You must clear each portal separately before you may move on to the final scenario. The first time you clear each, you must do a full clear of all trash plus boss(es). Subsequently, you may go directly to the boss in each.
  • The next-to-final quest puts you in a scenario where you must clear all portals in one go.
  • The final quest/scenario requires you to complete all portals in a total of 15 minutes. If not, presumably you must start over.

None of this sounds fun to me, nor do the rewards motivate me to suffer through it. I hate timed events anyway, they are too nerve-wracking for me to enjoy them, certainly I do not see them as part of what is supposed to be a leisure activity. Also, I absolutely do not see how this event relates in any way to the lore story of Legion.

The whole idea strikes me as one of those things an intern came up with and their supervisor said sure go ahead and develop it, just to give them something to do and stay out of everyone’s hair. Either that, or the dev team got marching orders to come up with something — anything — that would continue to boost Blizz’s Monthly Active User stats over the final days of the second quarter earnings period. Whatever, this Chromie thing strikes me as the WoD jukebox and Pepe events of Legion — a total time-filler, designed only to keep some number of players from becoming bored and disgruntled enough to stop playing until the next expansion.

Legion has reached the point where, other than raid tiers, there is little left to keep some players engaged. Hard core types and semi-casuals will do the raid tier, and along the way will do enough Mythic+ dungeons to slightly increase their chance to get the new legendaries. (However, even this activity is nerfed in 7.2.5, since there are no more multiple chests, so the payoff is significantly less in terms of legendary chances.) World Quest AP awards are largely insignificant and probably not worth the time once one has reached the billion+ AP requirement for a Concordance increase. Neither WQs, world bosses, nor BS dailies will give gear awards worth anything to anyone with even 875 or so ilevel. For these players, only the raid tier will yield the gear needed including t20. For non-raiders, Tomb of Sargeras will not be available in LFR until starting June 27, then will release new wings in 2-week intervals over the summer through August 8.

Add to this mixture the fact that it is summer when people typically stop playing computer games in favor of lots of outdoor activities, and I suppose if you are Blizz you are pretty desperate for anything to keep your second quarter metrics from falling off the chart. Clearly, adding in hours of quality time with Chromie indicates desperation.

Look, I know there are a lot of you who will love this little Chromie part of 7.2.5. More power to you, I hope you will have fun with it. But for me, if I ever do it, it will be in the waning days of Legion, when there is absolutely nothing else to occupy my time. Even then, I think farming mats would be more enjoyable for me.

Tomorrow is a 10-hour announced patch day to implement 7.2.5. That strikes me as a very long time. Let’s hope it is overkill on Blizz’s part, not that they are anticipating having a rough patch. See you on the other side.

Of mounts and imagination

Well, I got my hunter class mount last night. It is definitely cool, and I say this as someone who normally does not give a hoot about mounts — mostly I just think of them as transportation. Until last night, my main mount has been the Headless Horseman mount, which I got years ago the first time I ran the world event instance and have used ever since. I have always liked the HH mount because the movement mechanics flow gracefully whether it is in the air or on the ground — unlike most of the other flying mounts that may look impressive in the air but ridiculous waddling along on the ground.

I usually keep 3-4 mounts hot-keyed. HH is the main one, but at the start of an expansion (when we are ground bound), I switch it out for the Mekgineer Chopper, which I like mostly because I am amused at how certain alts look on it, especially my worgen, my panda, and my gnome. I also keep the Azure water strider from Mists on my action bar, because it is just so handy to have quickly available.

The third action bar mount is my Grand Expedition Yak. I actually just bought this about a month ago, because I am a real miser with my gold and it seemed like an unnecessary luxury. Prior to the yak, I had the much cheaper Traveler’s Tundra Mammoth, which does pretty much the same thing except transmogging. I found this mount to be invaluable while solo questing or leveling, because of the repair and vendoring functions. And its utility has only gotten more important with our dwindling bag space. I must admit, though, the upgrade to the GEY is very nice, because, well, it means I can always be well dressed in the field, no need to run around looking like a rummage sale until I can make it back to a city with transmog NPCs. 😉 (The one improvement I would most like to see on the GEY would be a mailbox.)

I usually reserve a fourth action bar space for a “mount du jour” — something just for variety. Maybe it is a new mount I have gotten, or an old one I haven’t used in a long time. Most often it is some kind of fiery mount, because even though I am not a big collector, I do like the ones with fire themes. If I know I will be doing a lot of underwater work, I will put my sea turtle in this fourth slot.

All this is by way of saying I usually do not go out of my way to collect mounts. But I liked the hunter class mount from the moment I saw the first pictures and videos of it. It combines the two animals I like most in the game — wolves and birds of prey. And the movement mechanics are nice. On the ground it moves like a wolf, but in the air it soars with the grace and ease of a hawk on a high thermal. Actually, in that aspect it is even better than my trusty HH steed, which rather awkwardly continues to move its legs and feet in the air. The wolfhawk looks at home in either medium.

The main thing I dislike about my new hunter mount is, once again, Blizz has felt the need to give a terrible sound to the summoning action. Instead of a whistle or even just silence, they have reused the same obnoxious sound they use for Bestial Wrath —  something that sounds to me like you are having a very hard poop.

This is a constant annoying thing Blizz does: they come up with some of the most creative, elegant designs, then it’s like they lose interest or get tired of the idea and finish up the details in an amazingly slipshod manner, anything to get it done and move on. It drives me crazy.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago while flying to Broken Shore. The flying mechanism has some terrific details. For example, if the zone you are in is sunny, you can see a very realistic-looking shadow of yourself and mount far down on the ground keeping perfect pace with your progress. It is a small artistic detail that most of us would not miss if it were not there, but which raises the level of the whole experience when you notice it. But on the other end of the spectrum, if you look closely at many of the riding postures in the game, frequently there are no reins — the rider has their hands in a rein-holding position, but in fact there is nothing there. Why go to such incredible detail to put in a tiny ground shadow, then neglect something as basic as rendering the artwork for reins?

Which in a roundabout way brings me to the hunter quest line for the class mount. It, too, was an example of incredible creativity combined with incredible laziness and lack of imagination.

Let’s start with the latter. The first thing I was confronted with when I got to Broken Shore to finish the Breaching the Tomb achievement and unlock the class mount quest line was — wait for it — “Kill 100 demons on Broken Shore”. No, I am not making that up. My first thought was, this must be a glitch because we just had a kill-100-demons quest a couple of weeks ago. Nope. No glitch, just a breathtaking lack of originality or indeed of any thought process whatsoever. The previous demon-killing quest got a lot of well deserved ridicule at the time, so I really don’t know what more can be said of the most recent one. It did not take long to do if you found a group doing Sentinax portals — less than 5 minutes in my case. Which begs the question, why even have it?

Blizz, in response to a lot of criticism of the whole BS weekly quest line, actually admitted that yes the quests were “fillers”, but hey they needed a breather so they could work on the next patch and stuff. Okay, I get it, they have somewhat overextended themselves with their commitment to “content” in Legion, and they needed to throw in some time wasting stuff so they could catch up. But sheesh, two “Kill 100 demons” quests almost back to back in the same quest line? That is either a staggering lack of imagination or a staggering refusal to give a shit. And it is yet another example of Blizz’s recent too-frequent tendency to abandon its commitment to excellence in favor of a commitment to good enough.

But once the hunter class mount quest line was unlocked, I had great fun. I will not spoil it for those of you who have not yet done it, but suffice it to say I found the final scenario to be imaginative, perfectly in line with the hunter class, and a whole lot of fun to do. It was neither too long nor too short, and the artwork and animation were just stupendous. The story line hung together, and it made perfect sense to get the mount at the end. I was almost sad when I realized that I would not get to do it again on my alt hunter — it turns out that the class mounts are account bound, assuming you have two of the same class and spec. (I do not know how it works out if you have two of the same class but different specs, but I assume your second character only has to advance their spec artifact to Concordance to be able to buy that spec’s class mount.)

I have not done any of the other class mount scenarios, so I don’t know if they are as engaging as the hunter one. I have heard some grumbling from some of my guildies — mainly priests and druids — that the class mounts are barely worth the effort, but beyond that I cannot say. I do know that the hunter wolfhawk was totally worth it for me.

Spider mount and my spidey sense

There is an interesting little flap going on in one of the Legion forums — you can read the original forum comments here or the MMO-C summary that cuts to the chase here. The discussion surrounds a new vendor in Legion who is selling items at outrageous prices, for example a spider mount for 2 million gold.

Yes, you read that right, it is not a typo — 2 million gold. For a ground mount. A big hairy spider.

When I first read the forum comments, I pretty much glossed over them. I am not much of a mount collector, much less a ground mount for an absurd amount of gold. There are many parts to this game that hold no interest for me, and this spider mount certainly falls into that category. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want one especially at that price, but I suppose there are some who will covet it because it is  a great ostentatious way to parade around and preen and pretend others greatly envy your godlike status in the game. Fine. Go for it. But I have less than zero interest in this mount, or for that matter any of the ridiculously-priced vanity items sold by this Legion vendor. And honestly, if I see someone riding around on this mount, my first thought will not be, “Oooooh, I am in the presence of greatness,” but rather, “Oooooh, I am in the presence of a moron.” Again, just my opinion, and remember I am not a collector of anything either IRL or in the game, so I clearly do not understand the allure of “rare” items.

Even though I don’t give a rat’s patoot one way or another if Blizz wants to put some of these items into the game (as long as they remain vanity items, not spec enhancements), I still found the forum comments very interesting.

First, I found it interesting that there were people who apparently felt very strongly either for or against the idea of fantastically overpriced items being introduced to the game. I mean, I would have thought it would be a great big “meh” to most people. If you have the gold and want to spend it on such things, have at it. If you think it is stupid to do that, whether or not you have the gold, then don’t buy the stuff. If you don’t have the gold, you can’t buy any of it. This is not a complex decision.

But many people were irate, either because they wanted the items and could not see themselves ever being able to afford them or because they will be able to afford them and fear the prices will be lowered, resulting in them not being recognized as the special snowflakes they are.

Or maybe the people who post in forums just feel they must be irate about everything. Who knows?

As a side comment, one of the things I really like about Blizz’s game time token is that it gives us a way to measure the worth of items, either in real money or in terms of game play time. So for example, currently in North America the token costs you $20 in real money, and it sells for a bit above 40,000 gold in the AH. Which means — check my math on this — that the spider mount will have a value of approximately $1000 in real money. (2 million divided by 40,000 times 20)

Put another way, it costs the equivalent of 50 months of game play (at 40,000 gold per month).

I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine paying $1000 for a collection of big hairy spider pixels, or  even trading more than 4 years of game play for it.

But on to the more interesting thing about this whole discussion, and my second point, which was Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas’s blue post responses to it. To his credit, they were quite lengthy and only once delved into dismissive, smarmy snarkiness (something along the lines of “Hey, if you are an arachnophobe you should be very glad it will be a rarely seen mount” — he really cannot help himself it seems). It is possible that he learned something about communication manners from his days leading the charge on the flying thing.

Still, I am trying to puzzle out what he could have meant in his detailed response when he said that Blizz actually designs the game to cater to small minorities of its player base. He seemed to be saying that designing for the minority  results in designing for the majority if you hit enough player minority groups because everyone’s favorite part of the game eventually gets attention.

*Scratches head*

It sounded like typical lawyer mumbo jumbo, but I suppose I can see at least the major point he was getting at. No matter what the devs do, some group will be unhappy and some group will be ecstatic over it. Since it is impossible therefore to design for everyone, they have opted to design for small groups and “everyone” belongs to one or more small groups. But it seemed to me that he went further than that and went to some pains to invoke the old argument that “we have our secret ways to know what players really want”.

Re-reading that last paragraph, it seems rambling and obscure, but I think that is because Watcher’s comments were, too. I feel like on the one hand he was trying to communicate something about the design process at Blizz, but on the other hand he was setting up some good reliable excuses to do very unpopular designs and justify them with the murky “broad base of player feedback, which we won’t tell you what that is but of which forums are only a small part”.

I will be interested to see if these blue posts are a setup to at least a part of what will happen tomorrow with the dev discussion on Twitch. I don’t know what if anything I expect from tomorrow. I know some people are betting it will be the announcement of the public beta. That is possible — if we are to have a beta, it is getting down to the wire on implementing it if Legion is to go live at the end of August. I am certain it will also be a big movie hype, as we are about a month out from that — possibly the official announcement of specific movie ticket tie-ins with the game, maybe a new trailer or a rerun of an old one.

What I would most love to see is an honest discussion of the reasons behind Legion’s massive spec overhaul (none of that “spec fantasy” doodoo), a real assessment of the status of class balancing, and an announcement of a reasonable boost for multiple artifacts — both to facilitate spec-switching and to encourage alt development. I know that is a ridiculous hope, almost on a “ridiculous” par with 2 million gold for a mount, but we are after all an optimistic species…

Check back here Wednesday for my take on the dev discussion. Meanwhile, maybe ask the boss for some overtime if you want a spider mount.

Thoughts while leveling

For the past month or so I have been very slowly leveling a Paladin. It is a class I have always been attracted to but never been able to stick with, probably because it is basically a melee class and I just do not enjoy melee.

Let me admit up front that I know zero about Paladins as a class, other than the most awesome one I ever knew was a Holy Paladin that was not only a fantastic healer but also a really fine raid leader. Of course, that was back in Cata, and I have no idea really of the relative power of the various specs now. I know I see a lot of Pally tanks and have not noticed many healers or damage dealers, but maybe that is just because I have not been paying attention. I selected Retribution for leveling purposes, but I am still drawn to the idea of Holy, partly because of the influence of my old raid leader and partly because I feel more comfortable in a healing spec than in any melee damage spec. But final spec selection is a ways off, as my little Pally is still hovering around the 30 level.

Anyway, herewith my random observations while leveling.

I have always thought of hunter leveling as easy, but having recently leveled a Rogue and now this Pally, I see that all leveling is face-roll easy these days, especially with heirlooms now. I know there are people who consider this development a bad thing, but I am OK with it. I still feel like the process lets me learn a new class at a nice easy pace, lets me explore all the specs without paying a huge price for it. If I want more challenge, I can always play around with pulling lots more mobs or dipping a toe into a zone higher than my current one.

The one thing I don’t like about the current leveling process is the nutty way that new spells are learned. It just seems to make no sense. I think my Pally had a grand total of two damage spells until well into the level 20’s. I do not get bored grinding quests for leveling, but I do get bored punching the same two buttons for level after level. Also, it seems to take forever until you get any AoE spells, which gets a bit annoying.

One of the coolest things Blizz has ever done is give us that Chauffeured Chopper reward from getting a certain number of heirlooms. It certainly makes the very early stages of leveling much more fun. If you are leveling in Eastern Kingdoms, it even makes that marathon run to get to Wetlands and Menethil Harbor seem a smidgeon less than an all-out death march. I always imagine my driver chatting with me when he picks me up, asking how did my quest go, pointing out scenic points as we travel, asking have I ever been here before, what’s our next stop,  when is lunch, etc.

In general, I think I prefer leveling in Eastern Kingdoms to leveling in Kalimdor, although I have done plenty of both. My least favorite zones, though, are Duskwood and both the Plaguelands. I am not a fan of dark, gloomy zones, nor am I fan of any of the multitude of zombie creatures so many people today seem enamored of.

Even though there is no longer much point to it, I usually try to level my professions as I level my alts. For one thing it gives me a small income, but for another it just seems like the right thing to do.

My Pally is my only plate-wearer (or will be once she gets high enough level), so maybe that will give my blacksmith something useful to do for a change. Also, I might get to finally use all those BoA Baleful plate items accumulating in my bank.

I haven’t yet run any instances with my Pally. I am hesitant because I know so little about playing the class, but on the other hand dungeons seem ridiculously easy at low levels now, and likely I would do just fine. OK, now I talked myself into it, I’ll run a couple this week.

One of the most annoying low level quest lines is the set from Abercrombie in Duskwood. The guy has like 4 or 5 quests, and as expected none of them are very challenging, but the thing is he lives a fair distance outside of Darkshire, and for some reason I find the seemingly-endless trips to see him very tedious. I feel like, Dude get a phone for crying out loud, I’ll call you with the quest results! It’s not like he lives in some place nice to visit, either, it’s a big old burned-out tower thingie surrounded by zombies (see above on my feelings about them).

I just always try to get through Duskwood as  fast as possible.

While leveling — especially at low levels — I always keep my hearthstone set to Stormwind, mainly for trips to the auction house and for profession training. I like the inn in Dwarven District, but I have never understood how it could be an inn when it has no place to sleep? One of the fun things I like doing is to get myself to an inn just before I log off, then lie down on a bed and do /sleep. It’s kind of a semi-superstition, makes me feel like my character really is rested when I log back on. But in Dwarven District, I have to find a corner of the floor to sleep on.

With all my new characters, when I reach level 60 I have to make a decision: Do I buy a boost or keep on grinding? Lately I have ended up buying the boost, mainly because I just do not like any of the Cata zone leveling, except for Uldum. I like the Mists leveling, but getting to that point is just very painful in my view. Still, I am conflicted, because I feel like boosting cheats you out of a big chunk of learning your spec. If it is a spec you have played a lot, well no big deal, but if it is a new spec I think it has a slight detrimental effect on your proficiency.

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I will keep my Pally. Usually for me the decision point comes somewhere around level 40. By then I have run a few dungeons, have played with all the specs, and have had a chance to get a basic feel for the play style. So we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I am (mostly) having fun with the leveling process. And getting a good idea of what it consists of these days and how it has changed over the last couple of expansions.

How I am spending my summer vacation

I decided to skip my normal Tuesday LFR torture yesterday, in light of my horrible experience last week, and instead logged on to play my new alt.

As I told you, I rolled a Brewmaster panda over this last weekend. I expected my interest in him to wane quickly — I have never successfully leveled any melee spec much less a tank. But I have to admit I am having a lot of fun so far. Of course, he is just level 21 and I usually get to about 50 or 60 before I give up on melee types, so I may yet delete him, but for now it is holding my interest.

He seems very OP — much like leveling a hunter, he just blasts through almost everything. One Keg Smash seems to kill nearly every mob, maybe throwing in a Blackout Kick for the few that don’t die immediately.  I have not leveled any new alts in a while, so maybe all classes can do this now, I don’t know. Some people might get bored with being so powerful at low levels, but I do not. I like it. I enjoy leveling fairly fast, and dying a lot does not enhance the experience for me. It is just annoying. Of course, leveling a monk is fast anyway, what with heirlooms and the extra XP from the daily.

As an aside, WOOHOO for that chauffeured chopper! What a cool mount for lowbies! Interestingly, though, I couldn’t use mine on this alt until about level 11 or 12 when I selected a faction. When I tried to use it earlier, I got an error informing me I was not the correct faction to use that item. Which is strange, because a few months ago I briefly rolled a baby hordie, and that alt could use the thing immediately. It is supposed to be account-wide, but apparently “account-wide” means either horde or alliance, nothing in between.

As soon as I hit level 20 I queued for a couple dungeons — Ragefire Chasm and Deadmines. I was scared silly and as a consequence probably way over-prepared. I studied the maps for each one and all the bosses, looking to see if there was any special thing for the tank to look out for. I found Atlas Maps useful and the Dungeon Journal pretty worthless. In the end, though, it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to know the dungeon layouts because both times there was an ants-in-the-pants DPS who just went charging through in front of everyone, pulling whatever was in the path. I probably should have been annoyed, but the truth is I was kind of relieved. I usually arrived a second or two after mobs had been pulled, and I didn’t have a problem getting aggro fairly quickly — Keg Smash is that awesome, combined with my taunt. A quick look at my logs afterwards showed that I put out a ton of damage, sometimes more than all the DPS combined, which I suppose at this low level for a Brewmaster is common. Still, it gave me a tiny bit of early confidence.

Something I never thought about before is how different it must be tanking for a 5-man instance than it is for a raid. And though I have not yet ventured into a raid as a tank, I can only surmise it is much more complex and stressful, not only because the bosses are harder, but also because of the coordination necessary with the other tank. (Interestingly, I find healing a 5-man to be far more difficult than healing in a raid, I guess because there is no one to cover your mistakes.)

At any rate, I enjoyed myself with my baby tank yesterday. It felt like playing hooky from school on a beautiful day. In fact, I am thinking about taking a week or two total break from logging in to my mains or my leveled alts. A break from T2, from garrisons, from hunter pendulum swings, from ridiculous JC profession requirements, from shipyards and all the other frustration that is WoD. Just pretend it doesn’t exist, go back to the simple fun of leveling and learning a new character. It will be like going to summer camp or spending a week at the beach. I think I need that.