Thursday, July 29, 2010

Into the Home Stretch!

I managed to get my Rogue the rest of the way through Outland yesterday and have him now safely parked in Warsong Hold in Borean Tundra - all ready to get eaten by big undead spiders out in the quarry!

So all four of this last set of toons have now made it to Northrend and are ready for the final push. I did pick up dual spec on the rogue so that I could try an assassination / mutilate build for running instances. I wasn't finding it particularly effective for leveling, and actually wasn't noticing any difference in my dps in instances either. The primary difference for leveling is you lose some of the AoE capabilities that you have with combat in both Blade Fury and Killing Spree. It is also to your advantage to start all of your attacks out of stealth to get Overkill going and that just takes a little longer. While it doesn't feel quite as rogue-ish, combat has a lot more ability to just walk up and start smacking guys around. So I guess that's 1000g down the tubes for nothing!

I'll be picking up the priest starting today and hope to get him a few more levels before switching over to the mage next week. I've still been debating just doing them one at a time from here on out, but then there's part of me that thinks it would be pretty cool to have four toons all hit 80 within a week or so of each other, so I'll probably stick with the current rotation for now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another Toon Hits Northrend

I did manage to get one more toon safely established in Northrend this past week, with the Shaman being the latest to join the club. It now remains just for the rogue to make the final push. He's sitting at level 65 and questing through Terrokar Forest, so I'm really hoping to get him the rest of the way by the end of the day tomorrow.

I've also been messing around on the beta a fair amount and have started to level a couple of toons through Hyjal and Vash'jir just to see the content. The quests so far are remarkably well put together and its very easy to follow the quest chains and breadcrumbs through both zones. The quest rewards seem very good, especially if you're hitting those zones in quest greens and blues from Northrend. It's hard to tell on some of them how good they will be because the mastery stat isn't fully implemented yet, but I did manage to get a staff for my warlock that was a clear upgrade to the Seethe / Shriveled Heart combination that he was rocking.

I've also had a chance to take some initial attempts at two of the new instances - Blackrock Caverns and Throne of the Tides. It looks like both will require some significant nerfing before release if players coming straight out of Northrend are going to have any hope. I have seen a ton of groups wipe time after time with the entire group being in full T-10 / ICC gear. The mechanics of the second boss in Blackrock Caverns in particular seems to get the best of everyone - it seems that folks haven't had to worry about standing in beams since Outland!

In any case, I'm trying to balance continuing to work on leveling my toons with experimenting with the beta. It is getting harder and harder to remain focused on the pre-Cataclysm stuff with so much new goodness out there to try!

So, as a general update. Both the mage and priest are sitting at 71. The shaman is sitting at 68 and has just started questing in Northrend. The rogue is sitting at 65 and will hopefully be visiting the shores of Borean Tundra within the next day or two!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And The Leveling Slows

So both my priest and my mage are now slogging through Northrend, and I had forgotten what slow going questing through there can be. In reality, because I've been leveling these last four toons simultaneously, I haven't really done much questing in Northrend since early February. While I love how the quests fit together so much more nicely, particularly than Azeroth, I had forgotten how much slower it goes.

I'm averaging somewhere right around 450-550,000 xp per hour questing on both toons, so it's actually a pretty decent pace of a level every 3 hours or so. There are some areas where I can get it up a little bit higher than that, which helps. I tried a few instances on my mage just to make sure that nothing had changed about my xp per hour calculations on Northrend instances and it still consistently drops my xp per hour down to around 300,000 while running instances (and that is generally with rested xp - if you're running without rested xp, expect something even south of that).

While I tend to go back and forth quite a bit, I have to say that right now the mage is probably my favorite and if I had to pick just one to finish the rest of the way, it would probably be the mage. Maybe it is because my original main was a warlock, so the style of play just feels familiar. But I believe it is because of the speed at which the mage just tears through everything in sight.

I've also been distracted by all of the news and information coming out about Cataclysm and tinkering with the new 31 point talent trees. I do think almost all of these changes are going to be a huge benefit to people leveling toons from scratch as the new abilities granted, particularly on what are normally considered good leveling specs, are all things that can make a big difference at early levels. The only one that I'm not so sure about so far is Intimidation for Beast Mastery hunters. I've actually taken a look at the Survival tree, and given some of the interesting new talents in there, there could actually be a case made for leveling as Survival rather than Beast Mastery, utilizing traps to handle multiple mob pulls.

The thought of a bunch of level 10 warlocks running around with their Felguards just seems crazy. And getting Mangle at level 10 as a leveling druid. Be still my heart! I'm also very curious to see how the Holy Power feature works out for Paladins. Having some extra burst while leveling always helps. Plus, it's always fun to have more to keep track of and more buttons to push. I might have to start over with a toon from each class on the alliance side just to experience the thrills! (This is where the men in white coats show up to have a little chat with me).

So, as an overall update, the Rogue made it to level 63 in Outland. My Shadow Priest is at level 71 and is almost finished with Borean Tundra and my Frost Mage is at level 70 working her way through Borean Tundra. I'll be heading back to the Shaman later in the week for the final push to Northrend on the Shaman.

Still on track for some time in late August or early September to have all of these done.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rogueing Through Outland and Real ID thoughts

As planned, I did manage to get about 5 levels into Outland on my rogue and he's now sitting at level 63, starting to work through Zangarmash. Combat still tends to work very well as long as I only end up pulling 2 mobs or three at the most. Any more than that, and I can still use Vanish to get me out of trouble, but I've still had to corpse run once or twice, which I'm never a big fan of. As it turns out, the xp per hour for corpse-running is the lowest of any WoW activity!

I've actually debated shelling out the gold for dual spec, particularly now that I have access to Envenom and doing a second spec with Assassination for running instances. Given how squishy this toons can be and how careful I have to be with pulls even while soloing, it might actually make it so that using instances more for leveling is more competitive on an xp per hour basis than it has been with some of my other toons. I haven't actually pulled the trigger on that yet, and I'm going to go back to working on the Shadow Priest and other toons for a while, so it may be a while before I get back to that again.

Now that the whole firestorm has subsided, I wanted to add my two cents on Real ID as well. Part of what I think we all sometimes tend to lose sight of is that ActivisionBlizzard's mission is not to create or provide an enjoyable positive gaming experience to all of us. ActivisionBlizzard is a public corporation, and at the end of the day, they have a fiduciary responsibility to make money for their shareholders. They're not a not for profit or charity dedicated to improving the lives of gamers. They have to be focused on profit.

Now that's not to say that creating an excellent product and a positive gaming experience can't be part of that. There are two obvious ways for them to continue to increase their profits. One is to grow their subscriber base, and the more people that love the game and tell their friends about it, the easier that is to do. The second way is to sell more to your existing subscribers. So, we've seen sparkle ponies and pets you can buy and character customization and other features that many of the players want and are willing to pay more for.

From a business and financial standpoint, the Facebook connection is not an unreasonable one. The key demographics for both WoW and Facebook are very similar and it's pretty reasonable to assume that the average WoW player is also a heavy Facebook user given those demographics, so building a connection between those two would seem like something their customers might reasonably want.

I think the part that they missed in this calculations were the obvious privacy issues and the fact that part of what makes the game enjoyable is the escapism and the ability to be someone else. While we may enjoy both, we're playing WoW to get away, and we don't want a connection between WoW and our real world. In some ways, it's a lot like New Coke (I know - I'm dating myself here). While everyone may have thought it tasted better in all their panels and surveys, there was still a huge backlash, because what they thought might be better and what they really wanted were two very different things.

If you read ActivisionBlizzard's annual report that they sent to their shareholders last year, you'll see that they lay out 3 Core Principles that they operate by.

  • Focus their Resources Against the Largest and Most Profitable Opportunities
  • Deliver Compelling Game Experiences to Customer, and
  • Continuously Improve Operational Discipline
In that same letter to shareholder's they laid out the following about Battle.net and why that would be a key part of delivering a compelling game experience to their customers:

Blizzard Entertainment’s ongoing support of its online community is a great example of this. Blizzard expects to launch a new version of Battle.net®, evolving it into the industry’s premier online gaming destination. The service will offer advanced communication features, social networking, player matching and digital content delivery. Battle.net is designed to keep players connected to their friends no matter which Blizzard game they are playing.

While I think they viewed this as something that would delight their customers, they clearly overestimated gamers interests in having their virtual identities linked with their real world identities and may not have fully considered the potential legal exposures. Remember, maximizing your return to your shareholders isn't helped if you get sued by a bunch of people if they get stalked or attacked by nuts that you revealed their real names to.

So, it's a balancing act for Blizzard. Maximize shareholder return, and continue to delight your customers. It was definitely a misstep this time around.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mage heads North - Shammy and Rogue Power On

So, just returning from a bit of vacation and back to working on leveling my various toons. I did manage to drive the mage into Northrend before leaving for vacation. Since returning, I was able to get the Shaman a little further into Outland - from level 64 to level 66. I've now gone back to working on the Rogue for a little while.

Since the rogue seems to be squishiest of all of these last four toons, I'm working on trying another questing path through Outland - at least for Hellfire Peninsula. I've always hit those demon camps up above Thrallmar pretty early on in Hellfire, and while it's doable, it's probably not the easiest approach, so I'm going to work on hitting Spinebreaker and Falcon Watch a little bit earlier and maybe come back to the Forge Camps later on. We'll see how that goes. I will probably work on the rogue until the early part of next week - likely won't actually get him all the way through Outland, but maybe a few levels.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Leveling Update and Northrend Ho!

So June was a pretty productive month from a leveling standpoint. I managed to gain a total of 36 levels across my various toons for a total of 1.2 levels per day. This puts my average for the year at 1.15 and puts me currently on target to finish getting these last four toons to 80 by August 27th. Of course, the Northrend levels will likely take somewhat longer and that combined with various weeks for summer vacations I expect will push that date into mid-September by the time its all said and done.

Of course, with the Cataclysm beta just going live yesterday, if Wrath's timing is any indication, I don't expect a release date until sometime in November for Cataclysm. So I should be more than fine.

I did manage to finish getting the Shadow Priest to 68, so he became the first of the "Joar Final Four" to make it to Northrend. I may be able to get the Frost Mage there this week as well, although I'm leaving for a few days of vacation on Sunday, so that's going to create some significant delays for the Shaman who would have been up during that time period.

Shadow continues to be an excellent leveling spec. I have actually dual-spec'd the priest as Discipline in the hopes of every now and then queuing for a battleground, but so far, the length of the queue has always outlasted my patience.

So here is where we stand with the final four:

Joarvyk - Shadow Priest - 68
Joara - Frost Mage - 64
Joarbek - Elemental Shaman (at least for now) - 64
Joarstab - Combat Rogue - 58

Once these four are done, I'll have nine toons at 80 with one slot saved (a goblin warrior) to level through the post-Cataclysm world.