Monday, June 29, 2009

Outland at... 57???

Well, not exactly. When you reach level 58, you can visit the NPC outside of the Outland portal that is in the Blasted Lands. He gives you a quest to enter the portal and speak with an NPC on the other side, who sends you to the flight master, who sends you to Thrallmar to speak with yet another NPC. That NPC sends you to another NPC and then you can begin questing in earnest.

Anyway, the NPC that you speak to after you land at Thrallmar? His quest (smack dab in the middle of a chain of quests) is obtainable at 57. When the group was in the 40s, I used my level 74 mage to port them to Shattrath and my level 74 warlock to summon in the one character who shared the mage's account. So they were bound in Shattrath and I had decided to get the flight paths and some discovery experience while I was still 57. Upon reaching Thrallmar, I was surprised to see the yellow exclamation point over the NPC's head.

Long story short, you can complete that quest (for something like 4,250 exp) but when he attempts to give you the last quest in the chain, you get a message to the effect that you're not of the appropriate level. The rest of the quests in the chain can only be accepted at 58, except that when the flight master attempts to give you the quest you completed at 57, you get a message reminding you that you already completed it. Then when you arrive at Thrallmar, you simply skip that NPC and complete the quest chain.

The reason I was running around Outland at 57 was that questing in the old world had just about dried up*, and I still had most of that level to go. I had skipped the Carrion Grubbage quest in Eastern Plaguelands because I remembered that the drop rate wasn't very good. With few options, I decided to do it, and it turns out that the drop rate has been significantly improved. It was above 75% and possibly higher, and I didn't have problems finding grubs to kill. Maybe they increased the spawn rate or the number of grubs, or maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but the quest didn't take as long as I had feared. After that, I went to Winterspring and took the quest to kill Ursius (which I had abandoned previously, since I couldn't find him at the time). I completed that one and finished the chain by killing Sky-Rotam. On the way back to complete the quest, I saw that I was about 16,000 experience short, and remembered that I was getting more than 8,000 experience for desecrating the Alliance bonfires as part of the festival event. So I figured I'd do that twice more and finally get level 58. But to my pleasant surprise, the quest completion for the chain that started with Urius is just over 16,000 experience (one turn in for 11,900, then the NPC gives you a second quest to speak to him again, which granted something like 4,750).

*Bear in mind that during the level grind, I was skipping quests that required lots of grinding for quest drops. In the lower levels I did those quests with very rare exceptions, but over time I skipped them more frequently. Kill quests are perfect for a group, but collection quests can become a real grind, even though the ability to bind the "interact with object" function to a keypress has made collection quests much more tolerable.

So I was finally 58 and headed to Outland to start gearing up. I had geared the team up almost exclusively from quest drops, and that leaves you fairly lacking at level 58. The first few quests in Hellfire Peninsula provide a weapon upgrade, as well as armor upgrades for the head, chest, and leg slots. These provided a very nice boost to the team. One funny aside-- after completing that quest and upgrading the hunter's bows, I was dismayed to see how often they were missing with their shots. It couldn't be the level difference, I thought-- I'd killed mobs that were 10+ levels above me in the past. And then I happened to notice the text window on one of the hunter's screens:

Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 125
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 126
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 127
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 128
Your skill in Crossbows has increased to 129

The icon for the hunter upgrade was that of a typical bow, not a crossbow. But the weapon is indeed a crossbow, and although my hunters had trained the skill, they'd never used one before. So the excessive missed shots were due to the fact that they were starting from a skill of 1. But with four of them firing away and the pets keeping the mobs busy, it was not a problem aside from taking a bit longer for stuff to die. Once their skill got into the 240s, they rarely missed anymore, and things started to move quickly again.

Anyway, once I was in Outland, the experience came much quicker, and they hit level 60 in short order. Along the way, they completed the quest to kill Blacktalon the Savage, a level 63 elite that is not a pushover for a modestly-geared team of level 58. I also completed the quest to kill Arazzius the Cruel, another 62/63 elite that is a bit tougher than Blacktalon. I completed the latter quest first, losing two pets only because I had moved my pet heal button and the pets weren't getting the periodic heals from the hunters while my shaman spammed heals on herself to deal with the spawned adds (which despawn after a certain amount of time, to my relief). The group also killed an elite 61 orc that roams around the edgeds of the road to the ramparts.

Having gotten to 60, they then completed the long series of quests that lead the player to encounter the Maghar faction. It's a ridiculously easy quest line, requiring only some running back and forth and simple interaction with quest NPCs. You do not have to kill anything to complete the quests. There are five or six steps, and each one rewards just over 10,000 experience, with the final quest also providing a piece of gear. You can then get a short series of similarly easy quests from an NPC in the Maghar grounds, which provided a new bow for the hunters and a new staff for the shaman. It's a lot of exp, a lot of gold, and two pieces of gear that you earn for mostly just running around.

Having ground out levels 50-60 with a lot of play time, I will start to scale back my time spent and work through Outland at a more leisurely pace. But I figure I'll be at level 68 and ready for Northrend before long, since the experience curve from 60-70 has been lowered by a fair amount and the experience granted from quest turn-ins has been boosted significantly. The upcoming patch (3.2) will lower the costs to increase your riding skill, as well as boosting the flying speed of the slower flying mount (from a 60% increase to a 150% increase!!!). So for now I'm still on my slow ground mounts. The patch may not arrive for some time, but that shouldn't be a problem. At 68 I will almost certainly head to Northrend, which means that flying won't be an issue until level 77, and by then the patch should be in place. Otherwise, by then the group should have enough money to upgrade to fast ground mounts and slow flying mounts from drops and quest rewards anyway...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Closer and closer

The group is humming right along, they are level 51 and about a third of the way to their next level. While it is my desire to get them to 58 as soon as I can, I admit I have not been leveling as efficiently as I can. I got wrapped up in the "Zelda tribute" quest line, which ends with a battle against a level 56 elite (who happens to hit very hard and has a knockback attack). The rewards are of very limited use to the group, but once I started the quest I decided I would finish it, which slowed my leveling pace because it requires you to run all over the place.

There are many other quests that I can still complete in Un'Goro Crater, but many of them are collection quests, and with more and more options for questing I am skipping collection quests when I can. And many of the ones in Un'Goro have poor drop rates, as well (or at least they used to, and I'm no longer interested in figuring out if that is the case or not).

I got about a level's worth of experience thanks to the special bonfire events going on in the game. You get just under 3% of a level for doing a very quick quest at the bonfire camps outside of most of your faction's quest hubs. You also get about 6% of a level if you "desecrate" the opposing faction's bonfire. This is a lot of experience for nothing more than clicking on an NPC or item and clicking "Complete." Desecrating an opposing faction's bonfire flags you for PvP if you are on a PvE server. But there seemed to be very little ganking on Eldre'Thalas. In any event, not wanting to do even more running around, I limited my 'desecrating' to the fires in Gadgetzan and Winterspring, since the Alliance bonfires were within a short distance from the Horde bonfires.

Aside from an easy way to stockpile experience, the only other effect was to leave the pets a bit farther behind than normal, since they only gain experience from kills. But it didn't take long to rectify that, and they're level 51 now as well. The scorpid was replaced by a gorilla. Now that I can use the talents that increase happiness during combat, it's a simple case of taming the pet and having him fight two or three battles, and it is at max (or near max) happiness. No need to worry about feeding them even a single time.

Anyway, while there are still plenty of quests in Un'Goro, I've already visited the Bulwark in Tirisfal Glades and grabbed the first few Plaguelands quests. There are a fair number of quests that do not require you to collect a lot of dropped items, and therefore some of the tedium from grinding can be avoided. Plus, it gets me back to doing quests that are a bit more challenging, as some of the Un'Goro quests were already green. And frankly, I have not done the Plaguelands quests all that often, and so they're actually a bit fresh.

But my goal is still to get through the next seven levels quickly and then head to Outland. The questing in Outland is more straightforward from a gear-collecting standpoint, particularly at the beginning (after which it gets somewhat muddled again, sigh). From there it's just a steady quest grind towards level 68 and Northrend, but that's a bridge for another day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I cheated again!

The team is 47 and very close to 48 and zooming right along. The title refers to the way I completed the quest line that begins when you click on a bottle of poison in a small troll camp in the Hinterlands. There is one step that requires you to click on a tablet in Zul'Farrak after killing the boss named Theka the Martyr. The final step involves summoning and defeating a level 55 elite spider in the Hinterlands.

The team was 43 at the time and I knew that the part in Zul'Farrak would probably be doable, but it would be difficult and time-consuming. And the 55 elite that you summon at the end is particularly tough even for a level 55 elite. So I decided to go with a tried-and-true formula... outrank the quest!

This would be a bit tricky, since Zul'Farrak is a 5-man zone, and my team is always full. I wanted to make sure that all five could interact with the tablet, but I also didn't want to make multiple trips if I could avoid it. Thus, some juggling was in order. First, I zoned in with the normal team. And just to be safe (although this step was probably not necessary) I killed the first three mobs in the zone with the group. Then I zoned out, dropped one of the party members, and invited my level 80 shaman. She zoned in by herself and quickly cleared a path to Theka, then killed him and ran back out. I re-invited the last group member and ran back in to loot the tablet.

Zul'Farrak has many patrols. Most are a single mob or a pair of mobs, but other groups have up to four (these groups can be a real problem, but there are none between the entrance and Theka's area). Some of the patrol paths are very long, and the patrols do respawn. The group had to deal with two patrols while running the path that the shaman had cleared just moments before. I don't know if they respawned that quickly or simply were on a very long patrol path. Both consisted of a single mob and were dispatched with ease, and I was able to continue the quest line. All that was left was to summon and defeat Shadra, the named spider.

That part was a bit simpler, as I kept the shaman near the group instead of switching her in. The group summoned the spider and initiated the attack, thus "claiming" the mob for loot purposes. The shaman took over (too slowly, as it turned out-- Shadra flattened one of the hunters in mere seconds!) and killed the mob. Then she rez'ed the dead hunter, everyone looted what they needed, and the group was on its way to fame and fortune.

Well, perhaps not fame, but fortune for sure! The quest finale has two steps to it. The first is turning in the last quest item to an NPC in Tarren Mill (who guides you through the quest line). The last step is to report to an NPC in the Undercity to inform him of your progress. Each of these steps rewards 12,250 experience (remember, this is a quest designed to be completed in the early/mid 50s) for a total of 24,500! And the hunters walked out with an updated quest reward, a very nice BP! The shaman also got a shield upgrade, though it's designed more around tanking than spell-casting. So far she rarely does anything besides stand around and soak up experience, so it's not a big deal.

Having moved past level 44, two of the hunters dropped their DPS pets and replaced them with a scorpid and a bear, both of which are tank pets. At level 44, the tank pets have access to a talent that causes their Growl ability to generate extra threat and also increase their happiness. The DPS pets have a talent that gives a chance on hit to increase their happiness and heal them. The upshot is that now the pets do not need to be fed as long as they are in combat periodically. Since I'm always questing and killing, I have not had to feed them since getting those talents.

Anyway, my recent leveling path took me through Feralas and the Hinterlands. If there is one collection quest that I will never multibox again, it is the one called Natural Materials. I tend to be selective about collection quests, since I have to collect five times as many items as a solo character. But depending on the drop rate and any associated quests, they can be manageable. For example, if you're doing most of the quests in Tarren Mill, you may as well pick up the one called Souvenirs of Death, which requires that you collect 30 skulls. For my group, this meant 150 skulls! but the skulls were a 100% drop rate and there were many other quests that required you to kill the humanoids that dropped them. I didn't require more than a handful of extra kills to get the 150 drops I needed.

But Natural Materials... ugh. The main problem was the Metallic Fragments, of which you have to loot 40-- per character. That's 200 drops total, of an item that doesn't have a 100% drop rate. But I figured that since I would be questing on the mobs that drop the quest items, it would work out.

Not quite.

The fragments drop off of hippogryphs in Feralas. And as I explained, the drop rate is less than 100%. In fact, it seemed to be somewhere in the 40%-60% range. Which means that I wound up killing something like 350-500 of the damned things. What's even dumber is that the drop rate on the other items was better, even though I required far fewer of them. Why did I put myself through that? For one thing, I had already collected the other items and felt that if I'd come that far, I would finish it (stubbornness is not always an admirable trait). But more importantly, the area where you find the hippogryphs is teeming with them. There is almost never anyone else around, and the 'gryphs respawn quickly. This means that I never had to wait on a respawn and could kill and kill and kill... and kill... and kill...

But I finally did get it done. =P

Anyway, here's to level 48, which I can get tonight. And then on towards 50, at which point I assume I'll head to the Western Plaguelands...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I cheated... >.<

...A little bit, anyway. After mowing through the Nesingwary quests in Stranglethorn Vale I finally got to the last one, which requires killing a level 43 elite tiger. My group was 34 at the time, so I was facing a nine-level deficit along with the elite status of the mob. Having dealt with a level 40 elite at level 32 without much difficulty, I decided to give it a shot. I didn't want to wait because the quest promised a good upgrade to the hunter's weapons. They would be replacing their 21.2DPS guns with 25.3DPS bows!

However, King Bangalash was not cooperating. On my first two attempts at him, I wound up getting a level 37 or 38 add right from the start. He has pretty good damage output, which meant that I had to cast heals early. This meant that the group was getting aggro early, which took away their ranged DPS. Another problem is that at 50%, two level 43 (non-elite) adds will spawn to help out. The level disparity and the confusion of having so many mobs on top of the group meant that frost traps were of limited effectiveness. The first two attempts ended in wipes. But I wanted those bows! So I brought my level 80 enhancement shaman, cleared out any wandering mobs and pounded King Bangalash and his adds into the ground, allowing the group to complete the quest and be on their merry way with a nice overall DPS boost.

Currently the group is level 36 and closing on 37. The pets consist of one cat and three hyenas, and I no longer have to worry about feeding them, since they have the pet talent that generates happiness (and health) when they are fighting. The first rank of the talent gives a 10% chance to generate 5% happiness, and it procs often enough to "keep them in the green," so to speak. They now have the second rank for good measure. Tank pets get a similar ability at level 44, and when the group gets that level I will swap out two of the hyenas for two tank pets and go back to the earlier setup.

The group still has red and orange quests to deal with, but with more and more quest areas opening up, I now have a good number of yellow (ie, level-equivalent) quests to complete. I cleared out most of the quests in Brackenwall Village in Dustwallow Marsh, and am ready to visit the relatively recently-added quest hub named Mudsprocket. There are also a number of quests waiting in the Grom'Gol Base Camp in Stranglethorn Vale that should be yellow or orange now. Those two quest hubs should be enough to get the group to level 40, at which point I can head to the Badlands/Swamp of Sorrows and start working on those quests.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bang! Bang, BANG!


PS- I'm going to add the link to my guild, in order to make it easier to inspect the characters.

The talent respec for the hunters made a noticeable difference. I've put all of their points towards strengthening the pets (for example, the first five points went to increasing the pet's stamina, instead of the talent that gives a chance to increase the hunter's attack speed). They have more health and armor, their damage and critical strike chance are increased, and their focus regeneration has been increased as well. I do have to make sure that I react quickly now, because if the hunters do not attack the mob within a few seconds of engagement, the pets will kill it before I get to do any damage to it. The group doesn't get credit for the kill if the pets do all of the damage.

An indication as to how effective the pets are, and how powerful a coordinated group of five is, at level 32 I easily completed the quest chain that ends when you kill a level 40 NPC and a level 40 Elite NPC. I will admit that the elite mob did not seem particularly tough, although it helped that he switched aggro from one pet to the other midway through the fight, and thus none of the pets ever got lower than 40% health. Still, taking out a +8 elite mob with 4,226 health (about four times the health of the mobs I typically deal with at this level) with such ease was a treat.

There is one annoying quirk that I've dealt with a few times now with escort-type quests. An example was the quest to escort two goblins and their small caravan through a short stretch of road in Desolace. All five characters interacted with the quest NPC, and all of them accepted the quest (ie, it was in their quest log and on the on-screen quest tracker). But at the end of the escort, only four of the five characters received credit for the completion! I haven't seen anything that indicates what causes it, and it seems to be random in terms of which character fails to get credit. I had to run it a second time (after a lengthy delay, since it doesn't reset quickly) in order to complete it for the last character.

The reason I decided to run it again, instead of just forgetting about it, is that the quest provided a nice upgrade to each hunter's ranged weapon. Since I run a group of five, I don't worry about gear (the group was using level 2 quest legs until their mid-20s, for example), with one exception. Since weapons provide a direct boost to DPS, I upgrade them just about any chance I get. Until now, they had all used bows, and they were using 15.9DPS bows, with the exception of one of them who was using a 19DPS bow that she'd gotten as a loot drop.

The guns are 21.2DPS, a nice upgrade all around. But since their gun skill was at 1/160, I would need to stagger their use while they all raised their skill. Initially I figured I would do it two at a time, but since I was just questing on outdoor mobs, and since the pets were now pumping out significant DPS, I went with another idea. The hunter with the 19DPS bow kept using it, while the other three used their new guns. Shortly thereafter they were at 130 skill, at which point I switched out the last hunter's bow. They're all in the 150-165 skill range now.

I can't say this definitively, but raising weapon skills seems quicker now. The hunters were getting steady skill increases (ie, an increase with each attack) until around 130-140 skill when their max was 160. And the skill increases did not slow down until they were within five points of their maximum. Maybe it always worked this way, or maybe it always worked this way at lower levels, I don't know. But it seemed a much smoother transition than I had anticipated. With Blizzard doing everything that they can to speed up the lower level grind, it wouldn't surprise me.

Speaking of which, the combination of less experience per level from 20-60, combined with the greatly increased experience that is rewarded upon quest completion, has made it so that my group has not had to grind for experience at any time. Although they've been doing mostly orange and red quests (due to skipping quests and lower exp-per-kill) they have not run out of quests that they can handle. And with more quest areas opening up in the low 30s, I'm now finding myself doing yellow (or level-appropriate) quests for the first time in a while. A level a night is pretty easy now. And I will be ready for the Dustwallow Marsh quests before I'm done with the quests in Arathi, Desolace, and Stranglethorn Vale. Not having to hunt around for quests will be a welcome change.

There are other game changes which are a big help as well. There is a new quest hub in Dustwallow Marsh, added a few patches ago. It fills a small gap in the level 35-40 range, but for my group the benefit is that there is already another quest hub in that zone. I should be able to move from one to the other and complete lots of quests (and a few levels) without a lot of travel. The addition of pet talents (also implemented some time ago) is already paying off, in that I have given the two DPS pets the talent that regenerates happiness during combat. I won't be able to provide a similar talent to the tank pets until level 44, and thus I'm thinking of finding two more DPS pets until that time. Not having to worry about feeding the pets is a minor convenience, but a convenience nonetheless. The ability to stack ammunition to 1000 instead of 200 is very convenient, as is the change to quivers/pouches. They no longer provide haste, which is instead "built into" the hunter. Previously, you needed a 10-slot quiver or pouch to hold 2000 ammo and give the hunter haste. Now all you need is two bag slots. It's awesome, especially if you find yourself switching weapon types, as will happen during the leveling process.

The group is about 3/5 of the way through level 33 and should hit level 34 shortly before I run out of quests in Desolace.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back again!

So the most recent hiatus lasted about three months. Or at least it is three months between updates. I had hardly been playing at all before finally canceling in March, and I started fairly slowly when I began again in June. I leveled my shaman from 77 to 80 over the course of a few days, then stopped playing. I tried the group again for quests but found it boring.

I decided to try leveling a new group of five together, that wasn't as mixed as the original group. I rolled up two warlocks and three mages, but around level 18 that got a bit tired as well. Then I rolled up a shaman and four hunters, and that group is 32 as of today, and I've enjoyed leveling them. My intention is to level via questing, and that is what I've done so far. They have not set foot into a dungeon, and while I won't rule it out, I have not made any plans to. I am hoping to get them to 58 in relatively short order so that I see how they fare in Outland and then Northrend.

One thing that I learned as I worked with the mixed group was that it's important to avoid trying to do too much. Each class gets lots of cool abilities and attacks, and I tried to incorporate as many of those as I could, and that would often cause me problems. So I've been trying to keep things simple, even though it means ignoring a lot of abilities and utility. With a coordinated group like this, the simple approach works best. Send the pets, mark the mob, fire away, heal when/if needed. In fact, one of the best things about the hunter group is that a considerable portion of their DPS is "fire and forget." Pets will auto-attack and use special abilities, and the hunters will continue to shoot their bows/guns with a single keypress. Additional keypresses can increase the DPS and utility, but that steady stream of non-interactive damage is extremely convenient.

Another area where the shaman/hunter group seems to be better than the warlock/mage group is in dealing with higher-level mobs. Since I've been skipping certain quests as I go along (mostly the more onerous collection quests) and since leveling as a group provides less experience from mobs, I have found myself with a quest log that has mostly orange and red quests in it, and dealing with mobs that are 5-8 levels above the group. Mobs that high will resist a lot of spells and spell damage, and they even make it rough on melee. But they have been surprisingly susceptible to ranged physical damage. My first taste of this was taking down a level 25 named mob (along with a wandering add) in The Barrens when my group was level 15. My most recent taste was taking down a level 40 named (and a level 37 add) in Stranglethorn Vale at level 28, as well as a level 40 named (and a level 38 add) in Stromgarde Keep at level 31. Things can get a bit hairy in these situations, because the low melee damage from the pets and the chance to resist a taunt means that sometimes the mob heads to the group. But so far they've been able to do some pretty impressive stuff with orange/red mobs.

In fact, despite doing so many red quests versus red mobs, the group of five has experienced a total of three deaths. One of those was when they were swarmed by eleven mobs (eight NPCs and three pets) in Stromgarde Keep. I did manage to kill them all with only that one death, but I've been considering putting the hunter ice traps on a hotkey, in order to keep such situations from getting out of control. Even with occasional resists, it should help with crowd control when I get a lot of adds. Thankfully, at level 30 the questing has opened up a bit, and I should be able to get more yellow/orange quests to complete. There seems to be a point, around the +6 level mark, where the pets have a lot of trouble keeping a mob's attention. Anything within 1-6 levels of the group is generally easy meat, especially if I see it first.

As for pets, I went with two tanks (bear and boar) and two DPS (cat and hyena). I initially had a bat, which has a nice stun attack, but it's on a fairly long timer and thus was not reliable (I prefer not to macro such things, at least for now). The cat has a bleed attack and the hyena has a snare, and those are on relatively short timers and thus more useful. If I plan to use traps for crowd control, I may need to find a replacement for the cat, since bleeds will break the trap. But with four traps to place, it may not be that big a problem. Eventually I will have each hunter tame a tank pet and a DPS pet, and see how different combinations work out. For outdoors mobs (even elites) I expect that any combination will suffice.

I did not plan out the talent specs very well up to now, but will probably reset them today. I was thinking of going with a mixture of specs, but with the aggro problems that the hunters have had (due to the higher level mobs) I will have them all go with beast master specs for the time being. The pets will have more health, more armor, and more DPS and they'll benefit more from heals. The hunters will trade off a bit of DPS, which should help the pets keep aggro. I will also re-spec the shaman to reduce healing aggro (she will be full resto in any event). That should make for slightly smoother leveling, especially in areas with higher level mobs and the larger aggro ranges that result.

I'll provide updates as I go. One note for now is that among the improvements that Blizzard made to leveling speed, they have increased the drop rates on some collection quests. Or at least that seems to be the case. I know that at least one quest that used to have a moderately-low drop rate (the raptor hearts quest in Arathi Highlands) has had the drop rate increased to 100%. It certainly made for a more enjoyable grind to know that I needed to kill 60 raptors instead of 100-180...