Seventy-three, that is.
Last weekend, with the team approaching level 72, I figured it was time to try my hand at a Northrend dungeon. So I left Borean Tundra behind for a time and headed off to the other starter area, the Howling Fjord. After completing several of the quests in Vengeance Landing, I was handed a quest to kill a boss NPC in Utgarde Keep.
Utgarde Keep is considered the first dungeon of the expansion, designed for a group of characters levels 70-72. I reworked my macros slightly, and headed off for the dungeon. Having entered, I was greeted by a quest NPC who handed me three more quests. Grabbing those up, I got set up and started pulling trash mobs.
My setup at this time had the priest spec'ed for shadow and the shaman (level 75 at this time) as restoration. For a time I swapped between the two specs for them (shadow vs healing for the priest, elemental vs healing for the shaman) and this was what I settled on for the attempt in UK. I figured that the shaman was better able to deal with healing aggro and her DPS might be too high as elemental. She also has an impressive healing arsenal at hand, from an interesting heal-over-time (large upfront heal and then additional healing over time) to good direct heals thanks to her level, to Earth Shield, which provides periodic heals when the paladin gets struck by melee combat.
The trash clear went well, with only one group wipe when I lost the shaman during a pull. There is a large room, designed as a stable of sorts, with wyrms and their handlers. The wyrms are a pretty standard tank/spank mob, with only an annoying knockback to deal with (which is all but mitigated by positioning the tank with his back to a wall or obstacle). The handlers have a habit of stopping at a distance and making ranged attacks, with which they killed the shaman, after which the group wiped. But aside from that it was quite smooth. Finally, I reached Prince Keleseth, the first boss in the instance.
Keleseth is a fairly straightforward fight. He fires off shadowbolts from time to time that do moderate damage, he summons a group of five skeletons to attack the group, and he will occasionally cast a frost tomb on a party member. The frost tomb has 2,500 "health" and inflicts a DoT on its victim, which does a total of 8,000 damage if left to run its full duration (during which the affected character cannot take any action). Thus, the strategy is to DPS down the boss while keeping up heals and quickly removing the frost tomb when it is applied to a character. The skeletons are best kept on the tank or crowd-controlled in some manner, as Keleseth will re-summon them after they are all dead.
I made three attempts at him, all three ending in wipes with the boss still relatively healthy. He casts the frost tomb pretty frequently, and it proved to be the biggest headache. DPSing it down most of the time was not a big problem, and the skeletons seemed manageable. But at some point I'd lose the tank and after that it was a quick wipe. It did not help that for some reason, casting any other spells while the shaman was casting her heals tended to interrupt her heals. And that now and then the priest would shift out of shadowform, reducing her effectiveness considerably. I did manage to complete one of the quests and get the group some new necklaces (the paladin's being the biggest upgrade, with its +defense).
In any event, I went back to questing outdoors. I re-did my macros to streamline their DPS rotations and went back to one-shotting mobs and completing quests. Around this time I learned that most of the quests for the Nexus (the second dungeon in Northrend) could be completed pretty easily and quickly. So I went back to Borean Tundra and completed the quests in Coldarra, then I grabbed the quests I needed and galloped on into the Nexus.
By this time, the shaman was elemental spec'ed and the priest was holy. Since I wasn't planning on getting very far into the zone (I was hoping to complete Have They No Shame?, a quest that requires clearing some trash and grabbing a book) I did not make any changes to their macro setups. The paladin would receive a shield and renew from the priest prior to the pull, and the group would go with a simplified (and direct-damage heavy) DPS rotation.
To make a long story short, the clear to the quest item went without a hitch. No wipes, no deaths, no panicky moments. Lesson learned-- keep it simple, stupid! One of the concerns I've had so far is how to work in the various spells and abilities that the different characters have. The priest, as shadow spec, had two effects and two DoTs. The mage had several direct-damage spells. The warlock had four DoTs and various other spells and debuffs. And I wasn't even thinking about AoE spells and other effects! By trying to fit all/most of their spells and abilities into a DPS rotation, I was severely hurting the group's DPS efficiency. During this run, I primarily dropped a couple of DoTs and then had the DPS (the shaman, mage, and warlock this time) spam their direct-damage spells with only a periodic break to re-apply any DoTs or debuffs. It worked like a charm.
I've worked out a simpler yet more efficient DPS rotation now. The first three keypresses result in the warlock dropping two DoTs and a damage-increasing debuff on the mob (while also sending in her pet to attack) the shaman using a Flame Shock/Lava Burst combo (which does enormous up front damage, the paladin really needs to be on his game, aggro-wise), and the mage buffing her crit chance with fire spells, then firing off two short-casting fire spells and loading up a Pyroblast (long cast, huge damage). After that, it's mostly Shadow Bolt/Lightning Bolt/Fireball spam. The priest can keep up her heals as needed, and the paladin concentrates on using Avenger's Shield, Holy Shield, and Hammer of the Righteous as they refresh. If I feel it's needed, I can also use Consecration to AoE around the paladin for extra aggro, but the abilities I described were sufficient.
Next weekend I'll either continue to quest or hit the Nexus again. I'd like to complete any and all quests in Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord and then move on to Dragonblight. I'm pretty close to completing the quests in those areas already, and am itching at another shot at instance running. Perhaps with the simplified DPS rotation and some more practice, I can start working my way through dungeons again. On the other hand, I could always just get to level 80 as fast as I can, gear up as well as possible via normal instances and rep rewards, and then hit the heroic dungeons. That's pretty much the goal anyway. But we'll see...
In any event, turning in the quest I did complete got the group to level 73, with the exception of the shaman, who got to level 76 later on. They also got some nice blue-quality shoulders, with the paladin once again getting the best upgrade. It's almost worth the pain of leveling up another shaman to try a group with two shaman, one as elemental and one as resto (in place of the priest). But for now this group will have to do, and in terms of capabilities it's just fine. I simply need to continue to fine tune my control of the group.