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Mists of Pandaria – Three Weeks In

On September 25th, something very interesting happened. Mists of Pandaria was released to a horde of fans who were eager to have something different, and hopefully better than what Cataclysm had been. They were chomping at the bit, desperate for something more than running a raid for the past 9 months.

Blizzard Entertainment did an extrordinary thing. They delivered, and then some.

Most people I had spoken to were completely done with Cataclysm. Dragon Soul had been out for about 9 months, they had cleared everything and had all of the mounts and achievements they could get or wanted to get. All of their professions were maxed, they had all the reputations they needed, or whatever their case may have been.

Personally, I wasn’t playing as much as I had before. I would log on a few nights a week to do a couple randoms, maybe a Raid Finder group (if it didn’t blow up). Leveling alts only stays exciting for so long. Not having time to raid took out the only regular thing I had ever relied on in previous expansions. The only thing I was doing was leveling my Alliance Mage on my friends’ server.

When Mists launched, all of a sudden I had so much stuff to do again. True to what I had been expecting, the very first thing I did was do some pet battles. I had only done a little bit of them in beta, and they were just as much fun as I remembered. Memories of playing Pokemon in junior high school came back in a very big way.

For the first time since Burning Crusade, my wife and I decided to level our mains together. I play a Feral Druid and she plays an Enhancement Shaman, so we were able to power through most mobs without much problem (except for some of the rares that we stumbled across). We hit 90 this past weekend, and really enjoyed all of the zones that we quested through.

Overall, the quest design of this expansion is absolutely amazing. There were quests where we laughed – mainly the Hozen quests, especially Riko expressing his undying (see what I did there?) love for Kiryn – some quests that were quite touching, but the most important thing is that pretty much all of them were a lot of fun.

There is one thing that I keep coming back to, something that I find myself saying all the time, which is how absolutely beautiful the new content is. It’s hard to believe that the engine running this is over 8 years old, yet we’re still given these amazing views. Everything from the grand temples and structures, down to the small little tumbleweeds that blow around Kun-Lai Summit. The environment is gorgeous and incredibly immersive.

At the moment, I have yet to find something about this expansion that I don’t like. The closest thing that I could label as a complaint is that there’s just too much to do. Once I hit level 90, I have at least four different factions that I want to raise my reptutation with immediately, and being the completionist that I am, I want to eventually get them all up to exalted.

I still have yet to fully do many dungeons or scenarios – the only ones I’ve done is one run of the new heroic Scholomance, and one instance of the Arena of Annihilation.

All I know is that I’m more excited about this expansion than I have been for any other, possibly having Burning Crusade for the exception (only because at the time, it was the first expansion). One last note: a few friends of mine were extremely critical of the Mists of Pandaria announcement after BlizzCon. They were complaining about how much it looked like a very weak expansion without much content. Now, after talking with them after the release, they have completely changed their stances and are quite happy with the result.

Bring it on!

Signature Abilities

There are certain things in the game that scream: “THIS IS WORLD OF WARCRAFT!” Each class has their own special thing that people think of when they picture the class in their head. Some have changed over time, being iconic when the game came out and all but vanished now. Some have emerged over time, starting as a thought and finally being realized.

One good thing is that I couldn’t think of one specific ability that is recognizable for the entire game. There are a few front-runners, but there are many that define each class. Blizzard has done a great job of making each class very individual (with a few exceptions), and you know who you are playing by what you can do.

Shamans get two picks from me: Frost Shock and Bloodlust. Sorry Alliance, but it will always be Bloodlust and not Heroism. In Vanilla PvP, Frost Shock was one of the biggest abilities that the Horde had in their arsenal, as it was a good snare on a short cooldown that did a decent amount of damage. There used to be an addon that would have an audio file of “FROST SHOOOOOCK!” when it was used. Bloodlust, including the roaring-murloc-style sound, is such a great feeling. The very first time it was used in game for my character gave me goosebumps.

(The above is my son being a good PvP Shaman in training)

Druids are pretty straight forward, being that their forms truly define who they are. Not as much as previously, with the removal of a permanent Tree Form, but I believe that Bear Form & Cat Form are truly iconic (and of course the laser chicken). There’s no mistaking what you’re fighting when you have a cat tearing up your face. Being able to be a warrior, rogue, mage, and priest all in one is a nice feeling.

To me, the Warrior’s signature ability was mainly visible in Vanilla as it was before big nerfs. Mortal Strike was a high damage move that also caused the target to receive 50% less healing as a debuff. This was in place for a very long time until it was nerfed to be only 10% less healing, as it was very overpowered for PvP. Many tanks were Arms spec in Vanilla mainly for this ability, so mobs that healed themselves could be mitigated. Close second is Titan’s Grip – being able to wield two two-handed weapons is just awesome.

Rogues are mainly known for one thing: their stuns. They have close to fifty thousand of them (or so it would seem at time in PvP), and used well they can completely lock out someone for a good period of time. By the time the stuns wear off, the target’s health is low enough that they’re as good as dead.

Warlocks also have two great abilities to cause grief to people: Fear and Death Coil. Both mainly in Vanilla again, but the combination of the two spells were great to keep a player or a mob out of the way for a good period of time. The only problem with PvE use of them is that they have a very good chance to pull approximately one thousand other mobs who are close by.

Mages have two things that I believe is their signature, which is Polymorph and the ability to blow stuff up. Polymorph’s history goes back to the early RTS games, and thankfully stays in the game today as a great crowd control device. Being able to have different animals other than sheep is nice for groups or raids with multiple mages, but the sheep is still awesome. Plus, mages can blow stuff up, including Living Bomb. How can you go wrong?

Hunters are definitely known for having their pets and their traps. The removal of Eyes of the Beast, allowing direct control over the pet, is definitely a big loss – it was also the way our guild pulled Baron Geddon in Molten Core back in Vanilla. When pets had their happiness system or needing to tame specific pets to learn specific abilities, or basically how pets were before they were all made generic are what truly defined hunters for a very long time. The traps have become a lot better, as rather than having to place them where the character is, they are now able to be launched to a location without having to sacrifice yourself. Coming close behind is feign death, which is also useful in real life.

I had a difficult time coming up with a specific priest signature ability. Eventually I decided on Shadowform and the ability to be a very flexible healer. Unfortunately with all the specific heals that a priest has, there are too many to narrow down to one signature one, apart from Greater Heal. Bread and butter healing. Shadowform is very different in the fact that it gave priests a way to do very good damage and still be a priest at heart.

Death Knights are pretty easy, as Death Grip is one of the first things that a player uses after rolling one. Being able to yank someone right to you, also acting as a taunt, is a tank’s best friend. Plus, a lot of fun in PvP. Army of the Dead is a close contender, as there are few things more awesome than an army of ghouls rampaging on your behalf.

The Paladin signature ability was the easiest one to come up with. Divine Shield, or the infamous “Bubble”. Unfortunately not being able to last long enough for a full bubble-hearth, it still has the reputation that it definitely deserves.

In conclusion, each class has things that truly make them feel unique. Even the Druid, which “borrows” the styles of other classes, still makes the playstyle their own. Even though they use rage like a warrior, they are not warriors (parrying with their faces takes skill).

As a signature ability for the game? I don’t think there needs to be one. The closest “iconic” one that I can think of would have to be Bloodlust. It is synonymous with the Orc culture, and every time I hear the sound effect I can’t help but think of the Warcraft series.

Protagonist Development

I don’t envy Blizzard’s creative development department. Not one bit. I do, however, have a huge amount of respect for Chris Metzen and his crew of awesomeness, as they have an extremely hard job – keeping things straight, and making the lore of the game make sense.

To begin with, creating anything new and original is really difficult. While the human/elf/dwarf/etc universe was not created by Blizzard, they took something that people could recognize and put their own spin on it. A few examples of their original thinking: dragons being the protectors of the world and having dominion over a certain part of it; the Emerald Dream concept, having a complete copy of the unadultered world exist in dream form; the Titans, Sargeras, and the Burning Legion.

Along with this is taking the characters that are created and making them believable. Nobody likes the perfect character who has absolutely no faults (/cough Rhonin and his raptor army), because there’s not a human in real life who is perfect. Take any good novel or movie and see the characters that people relate to the most, and look at who wrote their stories. It’s those people who you want to thank.

When a protagonist is established, it must be incredibly hard to balance the good and bad. They may have some great things about them, but there can’t be any downsides – once again, that are believable. Something simple such as being clumsy isn’t a character flaw, it’s a fact of life. Not trusting anyone because you were sold into slavery as a child is a character flaw, as it’s a huge obstacle that that person must overcome.

There will be spoilers for the Elemental Bonds questline of 4.2 following.

There are a number of major characters in World of Warcraft, built up over the years by the games or novels. Currently in Cataclysm, and particularly in a certain quest line in 4.2, Thrall is undoubtedly at the middle of everything. The leader of the Earthen Ring and the most powerful Shaman on Azeroth is a big thing to balance out as a believable character.

The quest line that I mentioned starts just outside of Nordrassil (after breadcrumbs from either capital) with a convocation of the four remaining Dragon Aspects, the Archdruids, and the leaders of the Earthen Ring (including Thrall and Aggra). Mending the World Tree in Hyjal was the plan, but unfortunately a certain fallen Archdruid had other plans from his “master”. Fandral explains that his master has sensed that Thrall is the single biggest threat to his master’s plans, and he needs to be taken care of.

Rather than simply killing Thrall, Fandral splits the shaman’s spirit into the four elements and sends them to the four elemental planes of the Skywall, Abyssal Maw, Deepholm, and Firelands. The Aspects seem unable to help him, so Aggra decides to take matters into her own hands and task the player to go with her and help restore him to one piece.

This is when we see the different sides of Thrall, and the emotions that he has been trying to keep together for years. Doubt, desire, patience, and fury are all expressed during the different parts. There have been times where he has shown certain parts of this through the game, but never have they been out of control. The elemental planes have enhanced these senses, so you and Aggra have to restore him to as close to normal as possible.

There have been some good conversations on Twitter that I’ve seen, mainly between WoW Insider staffers, arguing about what this quest line does. Does it establish Thrall as more of a fleshed out character, or does it make Aggra a major character with Thrall as the sidekick?

Personally, my thought is that it’s a bit of both. Thrall is given more depth as a character, but the problem that I see is the fact that he’s being set up as an uber-character, and very close to the Mary Sue problem of Rhonin. He’s going through this whole ordeal to basically “cure” his major character flaws – the fact that he has had the problem of controlling his emotions. After this, what else is there to make him realistic?

I have really enjoyed the progression of Aggra’s character. She was annoying at first in The Shattering novel by Christie Golden, but by the end of the book I had grown to like her. After having a small role in the Lost Isles part of the Goblin starting experience, we don’t see her again until she ferries the character into Deepholm. This quest line makes her much more believable and has more of a personality, especially during the Deepholm parts where she gets mad at Thrall for being so stubborn.

Nothing will be perfectly written. In all of the stories written, people can nitpick parts of a character for parts that they don’t like. However, getting as realistic as possible is the ideal dream of an author. With these characters being in a persistent world that is constantly being written, there’s more of a chance for them to have more development in the future.

My concluding thoughts is that the characters are written well, but I believe that Aggra shines more than Thrall in this part. I really like both characters, and having most of my history being a Horde player I’ve had a man-crush on Thrall at times for being awesome. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Metzen and the creative development team takes the story forward.

Altaholic-ness, Redux

A while back, I mentioned how much I enjoy leveling alts. To this day the trend continues, and unfortunately Cataclysm has made it even easier to enjoy this hobby. The addition of new races, new race/class combinations, and the complete redesign of the level 1-60 leveling process was just a bit of encouragement. Then I go and splurge on all three heirloom cloaks from guild rep, making it that much easier.

My habit has continued, and it has flourished.

One big thing that I’m a bit surprised about is that two classes that I enjoyed quite a bit before have not interested me as much now. The Warlock, my very first class that I got to the level cap with on the Horde side in Vanilla, has no presence on my character list at all. I tried rolling one a few times, but it’s just not doing it for me right now. Perhaps later. The Death Knight, a class that I thoroughly enjoyed back in WotLK, is now my bank alt. I have one that I’m trying to level through Outland right now, but I think it might be more of that continent’s fault than the DK class itself.

My Shaman just recently hit 65 after simmering on the backburner for a while. I wanted to get geared up and ready for heroics and raids before I focused too much on any alt for a little bit. Now that I’m raiding again (woot!), I’ve been slowly working him through Outland. As I mentioned before, it really is a chore to get through the BC content. I remember trying to rush as fast as possible to 58 so we could get away from the junk of Vanilla content – oh, how times have changed.

There’s the hunter who’s in the late thirties. I was going pretty steady with it for a while, but I’ve lost interest in it for the moment. These phases come and go quite quickly with various classes and how I feel with it. On our old server, I was leveling a rogue with my wife and was having a blast. I tried rolling a rogue a few times already, and it’s just not doing anything for me right now. More than likely, it’s too close to the cat druid that I work on mostly right now.

One character that I was looking forward to rolling at Cataclysm was my goblin priest, and she’s been quite a bit of fun. Checking out the talent trees previously, Discipline looked like a great spec to try out for leveling as it had a good mixture of damage and healing abilities. So far I’ve leveled exclusively through the dungeon finder from level 15 on, just to work on my skills so when I hit a higher level I’m not completely out of it. I’m only level 29, so it’s not really too big of a challenge, but it’s been a good experience so far.

Lastly, I have lowbies of the rest of them: paladin, mage, and warrior. I’ve played a paladin and mage to level cap previously and enjoyed it, and the highest I’ve ever gotten a warrior was to the mid twenties. Some of the higher levels that I have right now are going to be DPS and healing, so I’m thinking a tanking warrior would be fun. Heirloom shield please?

I enjoy the different experiences that I have on each character when I play them. Each has their own different feel, their own nuances that I have to figure out – it’s nice to have such flexibility within the game. Plus, this is all on the Horde side. If I wanted something completely new, I’d work on my Alliance characters… maybe.

Were Five Levels Enough?

This is part of a Blog Azeroth Shared Topic.

I’ve heard it from a number of sources, people saying that Blizzard should have stuck to the normal 10 levels per expansion.  They set their own precedent with Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, why change it now?  My thought: because they could.  As well, I believe that they made the right choice.

For one thing, space is at a premium.  At this point in the game, it’d be pretty hard to pull out another continent to quest in.  I know it’s not really a requirement, as we found out in Cataclysm – just put the zones around the world in some of the “dead spaces” that had existed before.  I don’t think that they could have fit 10 levels worth of stuff into the zones that we got.  Yes, the experience could have been adjusted accordingly, but after what we had in BC and WotLK and having a whole continent full of zones, I think it would have been a mistake.  I like the fact that the Cataclysm zones only gave one or two levels at most, and didn’t seem rushed or too long either.

Whether it was five or ten levels, for a majority of people the game begins once you reach the cap.  In most cases, people blow by everything just to get to the top and start gearing for heroics and raids.  I’ve seen it where people don’t even start questing at all until they reach the level cap, and level through dungeons so they can make money by completing quests later.  For a fair amount of people I’ve spoken to, the game doesn’t really start until they’re raiding.

I remember hearing an interview prior to Cataclysm coming out, and one of the reasons that Blizzard decided to only do five levels was just so it didn’t seem so big.  If you have to get to level 100 in a future expansion, it’ll be a bit daunting to start out at level one.  If they can get the same amount of game, the same amount of sheer awesomeness into fewer levels, I’m all for it.  Fortunately with the amount of options available for leveling, you can do something different with every alt you level.

Currently, I’m leveling my Shaman alt through Outland.  Going back, I wish that it was a five level expansion, but at the time I know I was fighting to catch up to the rest of the guild who had already gone on and reached level 70 already.  There is a lot of great things in the old zones, but it was just lots of the same thing over and over again.

In the end, I believe that Blizzard didn’t give us just five levels.  They gave us 65 levels with the redesign of the Old World on Azeroth.  I’ve said before how much I enjoy the new leveling zones, and I just can’t say it enough.  I’m perfectly fine with only five “new” levels, because of all the work that was put in to the rest of the game.

The Shaman experiment

Not too long ago, I started a new character as an alt to work on while I waited to transfer my main over from another server. As I’ve mentioned before, our guild decided to move from Vek’nilash to Thrall in the interests of getting a better pool of raiders to make better progress. We had our date of the move, but there was about a month or so of time in between. As I’ve also mentioned, I’m an altaholic, so I was quite excited about being able to start brand new characters and do the leveling experience again – even moreso with the changes coming in Cataclysm.

I had a hard time deciding what class to work on. There were a few that I wanted to try, mainly ones that I had difficulty leveling or staying focused on in the past. Ultimately, I decided on rolling a new Troll Shaman. As of right now, I think I made a wise decision.

Currently, I only have three characters at level 80: a Druid, Paladin, and Shaman. For whatever reason, the hybrid classes seemed to be a good fit for me. However, I’ve only put significant effort into my Druid (currently my main) and my Paladin (a former main), while getting bored of my Shaman incredibly fast. This is quite disappointing, since I put a fair amount of money into him, getting epic flying and dual spec. If I would have known that I wasn’t going to stick with it, I most definitely wouldn’t have spent that extra 6000 gold.

This time I’m doing things a bit differently. When I leveled my first Shaman, I had done it as Elemental with a Resto offspec, with the heirloom shoulders only. This time I’m doing it as Enhancement with no current offspec (but will eventually do a Resto offspec), with both the heirloom shoulders and chest, as well as two heirloom maces. I had gotten to the early 30s without any heirlooms, since I was waiting to transfer things over from the old server, and even while doing that I found it to be incredibly fun.

Once I was able to get the heirlooms over, along with patch 4.0.1 hitting, I went from doing decently to hitting like a truck. I was able to kill elites who were four levels higher than me and barely needing to heal myself afterwards. I’m currently level 44 going between Tanaris and Feralas, and still having a great deal of fun. So far the only thing that I’m not particularly liking is the lack of cleansing. I miss being able to have a poison and disease cleanse while being Enhancement, which made leveling even easier.

Blizzard recently announced some changes to damage dealt at the lower levels, as they say it’s currently a little overpowered. As much as I hate to say this, I agree completely. That being said, I’m certainly not complaining about it at all. As long as I can continue to solo elites, I’ll be one very happy person.

Trying the Shaman again was a big experiment. I wanted to have a character who was versatile and not locked in to one role, but was able to do well at whatever spec I chose. Enhancement is definitely a winner in the new talent tree revamp. This experiment has gone well, and I look forward to continuing it.

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