Monday, July 20, 2009

Questing, questing, questing...

The group is level 73 as of last night, and about 62% towards level 74. At that point they can get the quest that allows them to enter the city of Dalaran, at which point I'll make it their home city. I could do that now, since my mage is level 74 and I have a warlock in Dalaran as well. But I've simply been focused on leveling via quests and not too worried about where the group is bound (they're still bound in Warsong Hold, since it's a quick boat ride to Orgrimmar from there).

The group completed all of the outdoors quests in Borean Tundra. They also completed two of the dungeon quests for the Nexus. Neither required killing a boss mob, so I figured it would be a good way to test out the viability of the group while getting some nice quest rewards. After a bumpy start that included three wipes, I found a good groove and cleared the way to completing the quests Have They No Shame? and Quickening. I have completed all of the outdoor quests in Howling Fjord with the exception of Field Test, which appears to be bugged. Once it is fixed I'll finish those up as well. I also intend to complete the dungeon quests for Utgarde Keep.

Dungeon quests provide a bit of challenge, but the rewards are worth it. The group's experience per kill on normal outdoor mobs is around 500 rested. Their experience per kill on dungeon elites is between 4900 and 5300 rested, or better than ten times the normal rate! And the quest reward experience is twice the normal rate as well (40,000 versus 20,000). Dungeon elites are also a better test of my ability to keep up a steady DPS rate while providing the necessary heals to the tank and properly managing aggro. Dungeon bosses further require additional coordination and reaction speed, depending on what gimmicks they have.

I haven't tried a dungeon boss yet, as I wanted to have some practice with the pet tank. My current setup has the shaman as resto spec. She has Earth Shield and Riptide (which provides an instant heal and then additional healing over time). One hunter is Beast Master spec and using a bear for a pet. The bear has an ability (Swipe) that hits several nearby targets, and I gave it the talent Thunderstomp, which also aggros nearby mobs. That helps tremendously with keeping mobs attacking the bear instead of heading towards the group. And with four hunters, I always have a Misdirection to throw in as well. With talents, the pet receives something like 40% to 50% additional healing from healing spells. The hunter is geared for stamina, and the bear has almost 10,100 health at level 72. The other hunters are spec'ed and geared for DPS. One is Marksman spec (for Trueshot Aura mostly) and the other two are Survival spec. They all have wolf pets, which provide a nice DPS buff (+204 attack power).

So I have a pretty good setup provided that I can coordinate tank aggro and DPS with heals. I'm still working on it, but I've got it working well enough for three packs of elites. I make sure the bear has Earth Shield on, then the hunters cast Mend Pet just as they send the pets to attack, and one of the hunters casts Misdirection on the tank pet. There should be enough healing to keep the pet in good shape until it has sufficient aggro for additional heals. If I think aggro will be an issue anyway, I can drop four freezing traps (or two, if the survival hunters have used Black Arrow, which they usually do). It's really about settling into a rhythm when engaging mobs, in order to minimize the number of 'panic moments' that can screw up a rotation.

The trickiest part of all of this is positioning. With the shaman as the primary character, I don't really pull mobs, I just get within range and send the pets in. Precise positioning and re-positioning, which can make some mobs much easier to handle, are really not an option with the pet as a tank. For some mobs, which were near to roamers and which had to be pulled, I just used a low level Lightning Bolt and then sent the pets to attack as the mob moved into the desired position. This worked, but was not ideal. On two occasions the shaman was down to less than 30% health by the time the pet had established aggro.

The downside to dungeon-running is that it's costly. If your team dies, it's a lot of money lost to repairs. Even if they do not die, repair costs are balanced by the relative lack of money being made compared to outdoors quests. Outdoor questing is a "money keg" that doesn't run out, you keep pressing the tap and it keeps pouring out gold. The group has about 1600-1700 gold per member, as I wait for patch 3.2 or level 77 (whichever arrives first) before I purchase the flying skill and mounts for the group. Since they're in Northrend, they won't be doing any flying until level 77 anyway, and I'd much rather wait for the 150% flying mounts.

At the moment, my goal is to complete every last outdoor quest I possibly can, assuming it doesn't become boring. And then I can look into which dailies are the most efficient to run. Right now, there are two available from the Kalu'ak. One requires looting eight ground spawns per character (or 40 in total). The other requires collecting several fish and luring a seal towards another seal so they can mate. The second quest does not give group credit-- each character must complete it separately, which makes it a bad choice for a multiboxer. The collection quest is tolerable, since the baskets that you must collect are numerous, located nearby, and spawn quickly. The Kalu'ak do have some nice faction rewards, but I'm not entirely sure that they're worth it.

The other available daily is Drake Hunt, in Coldarra. You must 'spear' a drake, withstand its attacks for about 20 seconds (no trouble even without Earth Shield) and then deliver it to an NPC in the camp there. This quest does give group credit, which means that you can capture and deliver the drake with one character, and all five complete the quest, making it an ideal quest for a multiboxer. It takes very little time to complete and provides experience, gold, and improved faction with the Wyrmrest Accord. That faction provides some very nice rewards for the group, and thus I intend to do the daily quest regularly.

There could be more significant changes coming, though. The group is close to level 74, which is the level of my paladin. He did very nicely as protection spec in the instance runs that I did with my mixed group, and might be the ideal replacement for the BM hunter. This would require a big change in my setup, though. The paladin would be the main character instead of the shaman, which would mean creating a lot of healing keybinds. But it may be worth it. We'll see!

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