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.

New play styles

A few days ago, at the suggestion of someone I respect, I decided to just bite the bullet and switch my main hunter to Marksman spec, even though I said I would never do it. It hasn’t been an easy transition so far, either mechanically or psychologically. And as if that weren’t trauma enough, last night I rolled a new brewmaster panda.

The hunter change has been more dramatic than I expected it to be. I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. I first tried it with a pet, taking Focusing Shot as my Tier 7 talent. My initial practices, unbuffed, at the target dummies yielded 3-4k improvement over my best Beastmastery efforts and a good 7-8k improvement over the sad Survival spec. And this was with me really not having a clue how to play MM.

Trying a few Apexis bonus areas was “interesting.” After weeks of mindlessly blasting through them as BM, I found I had to actually *gasp* be a little more careful as MM, since my pet has less power and I have more. Meant I had to actually key bind my MD-to-Pet macro and spam it, else I felt in danger of getting overwhelmed with my normal 15-20 mobs. Since MM has pretty puny AoE, I found myself relying more on things like my zone artillery strikes and some of the engineer-produced explosive gizmos. I also found I really missed the instant gratification of spamming Arcane Shot to dump focus.

In general, it was hard for me to start to wrap my brain around the idea of a hunter having to stand still a lot and wind up most shots. (As a minor aside, I was slightly annoyed that the tool tips refer to the wind up time for shots as “cast” time. Hunters are not/not casters. The fact that devs are content to use such language in tool tips indicates to me that they really do not understand the hunter class very well.) Not counting Kill Shot, our only real MM instant shot is the signature one, Chimaera Shot, and being it is a signature shot it has a 9-second cooldown. Both Aimed Shot and the focus-resto shot have a greater than 2-second shot wind up time. It feels tedious and slow.

I had gotten used to Focusing Shot when I used it for my SV hunter, and I did not find the stand still requirement for it to be limiting. But when combined with the Sniper Training requirement, I feel very restricted. Mind you, I don’t know if MM actually is more restrictive, since Sniper Training is fairly generous in its movement allowance, but I know that I was conscious of the requirement and consequently felt as if my feet were nailed to the ground. Add in the lack of instant shots, and I felt like I was playing my destro lock, except without the decent AoE.

I did not feel like I was playing a hunter.

Still, my damage was noticeably improved. Even more so when I took Lone Wolf instead of Focusing Shot for my Tier 7 talent. But again, much of my hunter identity is tied up in my pet, and not having one felt just wrong somehow. But the damage increase is undeniable.

Bottom line is that I will undoubtedly feel more comfortable with MM as a spec the longer I play it, and the better I get the more damage I will do, but I doubt if it will ever feel “huntery” to me. I am pretty sure I will go back to SV or even BM as soon as Blizz decides to make either of those viable again.

Regarding my new panda, I had fun doing the initial leveling in the Panda starting area. I had forgotten what a fun story that is. It’s too bad you can’t go back there once you leave it, just like it’s too bad worgen can’t go back to Gilneas.

I decided to level a new melee class rather than respec one of my hybrids, because I think it will be easier to play if I grow with it as I level. I have tried switching my mistweaver to use its windwalker secondary, but I find it a tad overwhelming at level 100.

I don’t know if I am psychologically suited to tanking, but it has always seemed to me to be the most challenging group role, so I thought if I tried it in some low level instances as I level it might be a bit less intimidating than jumping in at level 90 or 100. Pretty sure I have been in some groups with tanks who have done just that, and it is not fun. Honestly, the thing I am most worried about is getting lost, as my sense of direction is really horrible! I have spent my game life following tanks, either as a deeps or as a healer, and I frequently get lost if we wipe and I have to run back. So I foresee a lot of study even at very low levels before I subject a group to my baby tank.

In the big picture, though, it’s good to challenge yourself, shake things up every once in a while. Even if neither of my new play styles pans out for me in the long run, it’s fun to try.




Proving Grounds revisited

Yesterday I decided to try and gear up my destro warlock and discovered, when I went to queue up for the 3 instances needed for round two of the legendary, that I had not yet completed the proving grounds requirement. So I took a deep breath and entered the PG instance.

I have only done the WoD version on my two hunters and on my MW monk, all of them when they were at relatively low ilevels. The instance starts at 615 and scales up the difficulty if your gear is above that level. I think my three characters were all around ilvl 600 when they did it, but the instance does not scale down the difficulty to account for anything below 615.

The DPS PG is ridiculously easy for a hunter — even an undergeared one, and especially a survival hunter — and I had zero problems getting silver on both of mine, first try, plenty of time left over.  (And no, I have no interest whatsoever in getting gold or god forbid endless.) My MW was a little more challenging, it took me about 6 or 7 tries to get the silver. It’s been awhile, but I seem to remember that I got much better results when I pitched in with some damage to help out the pitiful DPS NPCs.

My lock is somewhere around 652 ilevel, and honestly getting silver was not a walk in the park. I got bronze immediately, but it took me a few tries to get the silver. I attribute most of this difficulty to my lack of recent practice with my lock. Once I switched around a few talents to get more AoE power and had regained some proficiency with using my cooldowns, I was fine.

The experience made me think a little about the whole PG concept. I recall that I was pretty excited about it when it was announced for 5.4, thinking it would be a great way — finally — for tanks and healers to practice without subjecting a group to the painful realities of their learning curve. In fact, Blizz promoted it this way, saying it would be a tutorial  experience, a hands-on way to improve your skills. Unfortunately, I envisioned a somewhat grander and more useful tool than what we got, but still it was a good game addition.

In the hype leading up to WoD, Blizz said that the PG would be improved by providing much more in the way of tutorials, and also that it would be a requirement for heroics. I think this was yet another example of Blizz over-promising, as what I see is that the “more tutorials” consists of that NPC “teaching” you to not stand in bad shit and to interrupt casters. Big whoop.

I don’t feel I can comment on the heals PG, as I have only done it a couple times. But I’ve done the DPS one now something like 10 times on various alts, up to silver. It has one or two extremely limited uses, which I will discuss below, but in general it stinks as a DPS tutorial or even as a DPS gate for heroics. In my opinion, it is basically just an AoE race. The single target guys are easy to deal with, and the required “movement” consists of getting behind the shield dudes and kiting that Big Ball o’ Wax so that it hits a mob.

Where the challenge comes is when you have to apply AoE on those disgusting little rabbit creatures as you are killing the single targets. You cannot engage the rabbits one by one or you will run out of time. This is simple for a hunter and a lock, not so simple for some other classes. Classes/specs that lack a robust cleave or AoE will have a significantly harder time completing silver in my opinion. Not sure I will even attempt it on my arcane mage, but that is one example that comes to mind.

The only use I can see for the current PG is that it forces you to practice with your class/spec buttons. That’s it. So if you have not used your character for awhile, it serves as a quick refresher. Or if for example you leveled your hybrid as DPS but really want to play it at level as a healer or tank, the PG  can help you practice a couple of rotations as a practical exercise that is different from using a target dummy. Will it teach you how to tank or heal? Not even close.

There is no good reason to require PG silver for heroics. Beyond a pre-school kind of “training” it is meaningless as a predictor for competence. I am not saying Blizz should get rid of the requirement, just that it is useless as one. It’s like requiring players to visit Goldshire before they can queue for heroics — possibly interesting, more likely annoying, but completely unrelated to performance in an instance.

I still believe there is a lot of potential for the idea of Proving Grounds. For example, offering a better variety of scenarios would be interesting. You might choose, for example, among scenarios including little to no movement, high movement, single target or lots of adds, tank switching, raid-wide damage versus heavy tank damage for healers to contend with, etc. You could also work on certain mechanics in a PG. For example, the conveyor belt mechanic has been used a lot since 5.4, so having that in a PG  might be useful as an option.

Another nice innovation would be the option to take one or two people into the PG with you. This would be useful in lots of circumstances. For example, someone just learning a new role or class might ask the guild expert on that to give them pointers while in the PG. One or two raid team members might want to work on some specific coordination techniques. Lots of possibilities.

Proving Grounds in their current state are close to useless, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean Blizz should abandon them. It would be nice to see them expanded and improved in the next expansion.