Sunday, May 2, 2010

Eighteen months of changes



It's been a year and a half since the last WoW expansion. Back then I levelled my DPS deathknight from level 55 to 80. For these past few months the WoW microbe has been tickling again so it was time to start levelling a new character. I've still got a stabled level 70 mage, hunter and warlock but I decided to go and level my lvl 51 warrior as I want to try out a new play style, tanking. And it's surprising how much has changed in these past eighteen months.

The first thing I noticed is the big improvement in levelling speed. The levels seemed to fly past as I rushed to level 60. But not only those levels went by fast, the 60-70 range also goes by a lot faster. I still followed James Levelling Guide but I could skip entire zones. It only took me Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh, Nagrand and part of Blade's Edge to get to level 70. When the guide told me that I'd now ding level 62 I was already level 63. And the biggest change to this range is of course that I could now buy and use a flying mount the minute I reached level 60! Gathering quests suddenly get a lot easier and the overall levelling speed goes up significantly.

Since you can now use your flying mount at level 60 I expected to be able to fly in Nothrend too. It would certainly be useful in the Howling Fjord starting area which contains a lot of height differences. After googling a bit I found out that it's possible to do so when your main character buys a heirloom item which only costs 1000 gold. The downside is that it's a bind on account item. And apparently a "bind on account" is actually a "bind on server" item. You can only send it to characters on the same server. My warrior is on another server however so I'll just have to level him with a regular mount (transferring servers would be an alternative option I don't want to take). It does feel strange to have to use your regular mount after ten levels of flying. But I'm sure that when Cataclysm hits Blizzard will allow us to fly in Northrend and lower the XP needed to get to level 80 again.

Another huge improvement is the new Dungeon Finder. I didn't bother to do any of the 50-60 instances as I think they just take too much time. Instances like Blackrock Depths, Maraudon or Dire Maul were a lot of fun but you need to be able to play for at least two hours. All new instances can be completed in less than an hour so I did do some of the Outland instances. First I signed up as DPS. Ten minutes later I was in the Hellfire instance. And thirty minutes later I was ported back to the exact same place where I was questing!  I remember how this would be done a few years ago. You'd have to find people in the chatrooms of the major cities with a "LF2M BRD, one tank and one healer". When you finally get that healer after half an hour you'd all have to ride to the instance and when you were finally done you'd have to ride back to the city. It could easily take you an entire evening just to do one instance! These days? It's a blast to run these instances, even the older ones! I knew that the Dungeon Finder was great for level 80 players but it's even better for levelling as you don't even have to stop questing any more while waiting in the queue!

Since the end goal of levelling this character is to tank some heroics I also went ahead and bought the dual talent specialization. I levelled as fury to level 60 but I've read before that protection was actually a good levelling spec. I only intended to use protection in instances though. And for these instances it has been great. You could level these with a fury/arms spec but things get a lot easier with your protection talents. And after a few nervous minutes I actually enjoyed tanking. You can set your own pace and it's fun to try and let all mobs stick to you while still watching out if you're not pulling any adds. Best of all are the queue times. Today I tanked the first Nothrend instance. Queue time? One second.

But protection is also surprisingly good to use while levelling. I tried out playing half an hour as fury and then half an hour as protection. Result? My DPS went up from 400 to 500 while my defenses went up considerably. I did more damage and I took less! Add to that that the AoE is better than with a fury spec and that protection is just more fun to play as it's a more reactive gameplay. Every time you block, dodge or parry an attack you can cast revenge on an enemy which does huge damage. And every time you cast revenge or devastate you've got a chance to get a free shield slam. There's a nice cohesion between these spells and they are also very rage efficient compared to fury's whirlwind and bloodthirst abilities. It's a very interactive play-style which suited me fine. If all that isn't enough it's also the best way to single elite mobs. You've got so many cooldowns: shield wall, last stand, shield block... Combine all these and you can solo those two men quests without much problems. So while I intended to level as fury and instance as protection I just ended up using only protection. I'm sure that a fury warrior is better at grinding but only if he's walking around in epics.

Overall I'm very impressed with the changes Blizzard has brought to the tables. Especially the dungeon finder is a clever way of using WoWs huge player-base. There will always be someone in these millions of players who wants to run BRD now. The dungeon finder makes sure that you can all do it together. The dual specialization is also a nice bonus for hybrid classes. I can see how it's especially useful for healers as you can't level decently with a healer spec. A shadow priest or boomkin only have to switch their specs and they can use their DPS gear to heal! It's also nice to see how Blizzard added small improvements. Being able to fly in Outland is a tiny amount of work for Blizzards engineers but it's great way to make levelling a lot faster. And their in game quest database is a big help. It's no longer needed to visit wowhead.com for every quest, you can just see where you have to go on your map.  All this makes me curious what Blizzard will come up with in the future. These changes are showing that Blizzard isn't sitting still between two expansions and it's great to see that they keep innovating the game with each patch.

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