Back Into the Fire

Two weeks of vacation isn’t enough – I’ll just put it as plain as that. The first week was all renovations, the second was rain pretty much every day. It wasn’t office work, granted, and I was able to disconnect from email/chat for that time, but it wasn’t what I’d consider a break. When I did get back to the house, the back to school stuff was needed, our fridge needs to be replaced, and my Raider laptop has 4 faulty keys. First world problems much.

The Laptop Keyboard

I have a GE75 Raider, it’s a bit over a year old. The ESC, ~, Y and numpad 5 are not working for some reason. I checked the mechanical parts, everything is fine. The backlight is fine too. I figure I’ll order a new keyboard and replace it. But the GE75 is too new, so I’m rather looking for replacement parts for a GE73 (1yr earlier model). Most ship from China, but I did find one at a reasonable price nearby.

I’ve built my own PCs for years. I’ve repaired numerous laptops. Keyboard on laptops are the absolute worst thing to replace, since you need to take everything out. The GE75 has 2 hidden screws, or hidden in a way that you can’t really get to them without taking more parts first. I was really hoping not to have to take the fan off, and just the board, but everything is glued to something else. The form factor is so small, there are cables connected to both sides of the main board, and I always felt like I was breaking something. Finally get to the keyboard case and there’s a damn shield covering it. One that’s set with plastic rivets. It’s impossible for me to repair without breaking a pile more.

So now I need to find a shop that can do the work for me.

Stardew Valley

I use gaming as stress management. I picked up Stardew Valley for my tablet a while ago, never really got into it. Given the past few weeks, I took it for a spin.

It’s certainly calming. Managing energy levels to get through a day is a fun set of constraints. It’s impossible to lose, which is also good for stress. What it has a bit too much of is breadth to start. There are so, so many objectives that are possible, and nearly all of them are gated behind multiple days of work. They are optional, but they often unlock some other activity – like a greenhouse that grows plants year long.

The gameplay is such that you always get that “one more day” drive. Nearly every action can be automated in some manner, but that requires materials/money. Getting that also takes time and months of in-game effort. The systems are intertwined, and not easily explained, making wiki almost mandatory.

Not saying that’s a bad thing, just that sometimes I end up hitting a wall cause I can’t figure out how the next step completes. Say like a fish that only shows up when raining in the summer, at night, at a lake. How am I supposed to know that?

It is fun to discover new things. Realizing that almost everything has a value aside from money. It’s a drastic departure from most modern games, what with the grey/green/purple quality info. Once into the groove, things start working out.

I’m starting Spring in year 2 now. I understand enough of the mechanics now to close out the community Center this year and those extra unlocks. It’s fun setting up long term goals, then the short term ones as steps.

Plus it has fishing.

Shadowlands – Meh

Legion worked primarily because it was a fresh breath of air on the WoD structure.  It had a big focus on the world and story, added new life to dungeons (with keys), and had a pile of horizontal stuff along the way.  The main gaps were around the abundance of RNG on game-changing items (good vs. bad legendaries).  There were challenges when it came to alts, and even larger challenges when it came to different specs.

BfA rubbed the wrong way because rather than build on that model, it opted to add multiple levels of RNG to pretty much every system.  Instead of targeting vertical progression, a wide swath of activities actually had a negative progress curve. The balance from launch improved the RNG, dramatically.  Multiple activities provide progress towards goals, which is mechanically solid.  What remains is Blizz’s frankly bonkers approach to balancing those options.  Multi-spec characters really took a beating here, since skills were locked into gear.  Felt like time travel.

Which brings me to Shadowlands.

There are multiple systems here that appear solid at the conceptual level.  It appears to be the merger of factions and talents, which seems a somewhat logical point in 2020.  It appears to provide rewards outside the gear, also good.  It has a visible progress line, compared to a roll of the die for the next upgrade, great.

Where the gap is for me, and from various blogs I appear to not be alone, is in the Blizz approach to balancing these choices.  Sure, there’s the meta, and there will always be a meta.  It’s 2020 for crying out loud.  No, what I’m getting at is that the illusion of choice due to poor balancing.  If your job is healing, then there are no choices but those that increase healing.  If you need movement for 1 fight out of 10, but it takes you a week to get access to that skill… well then you don’t take that skill.

I keep using the word balance, but we only ever think of one side of that scale – the one we are evaluating.  The measure on the opposite end is even more important.  If I am balancing a skill, we all have to agree on what’s the counterweight, the baseline.  Blizz has a habit of making that weight equal to 100% optimal use in mythic difficulty.  They will eventually reduce that, but it takes time.  The amount of time that takes, and the level, directly impacts the importance of the meta.

Further, the internal testing/beta process is clearly broken.  The massive nerfs applied to corruption effects once live show that clearly. Everyone was given a choice between a tactical nuke, and a rake.  I get that nothing is perfect, I more than get that.  That’s my everyday life, ugh.  You need to iterate, that’s normal.  But BfA didn’t have a single system that launched in an “acceptable” state, everything felt rushed.  I will be the first to admit that nearly every system improved over time, but that level of improvement is typicall in the beta process… not live.

My newsfeed has a ton of Shadowlands stuff.   Beta is live.  Core systems (like conduits) are already going back to the drawing board.  The speed of that change means that Blizz didn’t really think it was going to fly anyhow.  The selling features of this expansion are really twofold.  That this covenant system works (and is therefore balanced) and that the Maw has some sort of attraction to do on a regular basis.  As of now, in beta, where the excitement should be high, it’s instead very muted.  It’s very reminiscent of the BfA beta vibe.

Maybe we do end up with the A/B cycle of good/bad expansions.  I hope so more for Blizzard’s sake than my own.  There are a lot of eyes on this expansion, and if the cash cow that is WoW no longer produces, we are all aware that Mr. Kotick is more than willing to take action to solve it.  Way too many people lose in that event.

Heirlooms in BfA

For a very long time, the entire point of heirlooms was to bypass the wonky leveling mechanics in WoW.  Mainly the fact that items scaled in power, smoothing (?) the power curve.  The % increase to xp gain has been a perk on top of that, and of larger and larger benefit as the leveling experience has gotten longer.  From level 100+, there’s really nothing in game that provides any character growth, it’s just a time tax.  Every expansion just adds 4 hours or so to the leveling period.

Shadowlands aims to reduce that time tax – with something near the 20hr mark to get from 1-60.  That’s in the realm of most single player games, so not too bad.  Heatmaps are going to be interesting… I don’t see why anyone, anywhere, would want to level in any zone that was NOT Legion / BfA.  Anything pre-MoP feels horrendous – and unless you’re really strapped for attention, you’re best playing the LFD roulette.

But 20 hours, that’s doable I guess.  Certainly less than the current pace of leveling, even with heirlooms.  So I guess that’s why Blizz is not planning to have an %XP boost anymore.  The item scaling appears to still be there, but I’d be wildly surprised if anyone thinks that’s enough of a motivator in a single expansion cycle (where I assume item levels make sense).

Taken from another lens, I see heirlooms as a band-aid for the larger problem – time to level.  That problem generated other problems, primarily the value of a level.  The level crunch should get rid of the value problem, where you spend 20 hours and get nothing for it.  The time to level reduction is pretty much required, given Blizz’ persistence to only put relevant content at max level.  I mean, aside from the art, what’s different from a player at level 30 and 119?  The rotation is 95% the same, there’s no real grouping aside from guilds, crafting is entirely meaningless.  The Class Trial option gives you nearly every permutation of gameplay for a class – and it doesnt take 20 hours to complete.

But that’s a larger rant.

Right now, Blizz is cutting leveling time, reducing a significant problem’s impact.  Removing %XP from heirlooms, in this expansion, removes the practical need to buy them.  Curious if they will do the same to the Refer a Friend bonus…

 

Offline Puzzles

Internet at the cottage isn’t the best, and it’s not like we have rigs to manage the load here anyway.  I can work off my phone for the majority of the day, and there’s a need to decompress a tad between work and life.

There’s a couple tablets we have with, and in this ever-connected world, it’s a challenge to find things that work offline.  I’d hazard to say that most things work better offline, since they cannot access the ad servers – and nearly everything mobile has ads.  You end up losing an ad banner, or some injected ad in the middle of play. (Side note, if more than 10% of my time is spent watching ads, then that’s an uninstall.)  There are games that simply will not work offline – Super Mario Run is certainly one of them.  I get multiplayer / server hosted games… but others make less sense.

I end up with puzzlers instead, since they are rarely online.  There are some good ones out there.

The Room Series by Fireproof Games is a solid choice.  They last about 4-5 hours each, use touch controls, and have some decent puzzles.  Often there are branching choices near the end.  They are big games, so you want to be on wifi to download them.  Easy to be engrossed.

The House of Davinci by Blue Brain Games is also quite good.  The overall design is quite impressive, and most of the puzzles follow a logical flow.  It’s a notch under the Room series, but still incredibly higher than the next ones you can find.

Wordscapes has an absolutely horrendous ad system when you’re online.  When offline, it’s serene!

Sudoku puzzles abound, and it would be hard to make any serious recommendation.  They fit the niche between crosswords (which I find purposefully obtuse) and find-a-word.  The best part here is the option to select a difficulty.  Sometimes I want stupid easy, other times a tougher go.

Hidden Folks is awesome.  Like a monochrome Where’s Waldo.  Not terribly long, but very easy to get through – and the art is neat.

Monument Valley (and sequel) are great picks.  Escher paintings have always intrigued me and its even cooler to see them in motion.

Guild of Dungeoneering is a rogue-like card based dungeon explorer.  The game is somewhat simple, with a lot of unlocks along the road.  Its presentation values are astounding – like you were in a P&P game.

There are others that I flit to/from.  Puzzles/sims seem to be the ones I enjoy the most.  There’s a few idle games that come up, but I’d prefer to play than to wait for some cooldown to be available.

 

You’ll notice that nearly all these recommendations are games you need to pay for.  It’s impressive how much quality you can get for $5.  I can’t stand gatcha games, or the crazy grind / f2p bullplop that permeates mobile gaming.  You won’t find me downloading a Square Enix game at $30 (!!) but the $5-7 range seems to provide the best bang for the buck.  And it’s not like anyone is ordering a coffee anymore…

Leveling Speed

What feels good for someone could feel off for another.  And in a game with multiple options, leveling between choices can vary wildly as well.

There’s really nothing that replaces the first time for pretty much anything in life.  It’s all shiny and new.  Games certainly have that in spades, where it may be mechanics that open up over time, or a story that just hits all the right notes.  Horizon: Zero Dawn was a damn feast in both those spaces, where more and more things just kept coming at you.  God of War’s story is just mind boggling the first time you run through it.  While both are made to play be played a main time, then perhaps a New Game+ (or much later), MMOs are instead meant to be replayed ad nauseum.  The leveling portion (getting another class/character to top level) is a part that just really struggles to come close to the first time.

Most MMO’s today suffer from this fatigue, not so much because the of the repetitive nature of the game, but because the games themselves are so old and that the leveling portion itself is a fraction of the totality of the game.  Since I’m leveling alts in WoW, I’ll pick on that for now.

There are few milestones in the leveling portion

  • 1 to 20 – starting experience
  • 21 to 60 – core skills (~24 hours from 1 to 60)
  • 61 to 80 – Frozen Throne + flying! (15 hours)
  • 81 to 90 – Pandaria (4 hours)
  • 91 to 100 – Warlords (4 hours)
  • 101 to 110 – Legion (4 hours)
  • 111 to 120 – BfA (12 hours)

Character progression-wise, 1 to 60 is where the real meat is.  You get pretty much the entire toolset by 30, and flying at 60, so the rest is all filler.  I still like to think that each milestone should be of similar duration, simply because the expansion mechanics do some somersaults.  I mean, you KNOW you’re in WoD because of the unskippable intro quest.  All told, it’s about 50 hours to get to 110.

Assuming you have heirlooms, war mode, and flying unlocked for every zone.

81 to 110 is all done within a similar timeframe – but only if you’ve unlocked flying everywhere – takes maybe 2 hours to get through each phase.  The 61 to 80 portion feels like it takes longer than the 21-60 part, but that’s not at all true.  Catalcysm was just after WotLK and we were still in the hub/fetch quest model.  There’s an insane amount of backtracking that is jut completely ignored once you can fly – and if you have any plans of visiting that content at all, it’s worth every second to unlock flying (remember to use a Human for any rep-based gains).

Now, the differences between classes is absurd.  A Hunter with War Mode skills (2 massive DPS boosts on relatively short cooldowns) can take out absolutely anything – even the 3+ targets in BfA.  It’s right on the edge of being a complete joke.  The other side of that spectrum is something like the Shaman, where even a single regular target can kill you.  I get the concept that each class has strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part they sort of all fit into this middle pack.  And because the class kits are determined way back at the start of the journey, the rest of the ride can be quite painful.

Now, the fundamental question here is Does It Matter?  In the context of leveling alts, not at all.  It’s just a repeat of what came before (minus the Legion Class Hall stuff, which can be awesome).  It’s a speedbum.  Where it does matter is in the goal of bringing in new main characters (either new players, or existing players changing classes).  The player’s enjoyment of the toolkit + leveling experience has a pretty big impact on the viability of that class long term.

If you have a chance, play a DH for an hour or so.  Then play any other class in the leveling process.  Or a WW Monk vs. a Rogue (or cat druid).  Some classes/specs have such a dynamic toolkit that moves beyond 2-3 keys, and their abilities just look damn cool.  Hate on Pally if you want, but there’s no denying that it looks like a Paladin should look.

Long post to short point.  I dont for a second imagine that Blizz has the resources necessary to re-jig the leveling experience or class kits.  I am hopeful that they address the time-to-level portion so that people can get to relevant content and current mechanics sooner.  Right now, Shadowlands seems to clock in at 1-50 taking ~20 hours – I still think that’s twice as long as needed.  It would be amazing if they somehow made the older content relevant again… but in nearly every respect that matters, that ship left port years and years ago.

 

 

Throttling the Market

WoW had a stealth fix applied that impacts people who play the Auction House, effectively throttling the number of transactions after a certain limit is reached.  High level

With this hotfix, we’ve implemented a new system that effectively gives each player a “budget” of AH actions per minute, and only kicks in once that budget has been exceeded. The system is tuned so that is should never affect players using the AH typically: buying consumables, listing gathered or crafted goods for sale, searching for specific items you want to purchase, etc. It should be essentially impossible to encounter the new limits for most players.

The first question I have is why?  I can only assume this is a throughput/TX issue where the servers were taking a major load and impacting other parts of the game.  It’s entirely possible that a very small fraction of players are causing a majority of the game load.  This is sort of like how time dilation works in EvE, where there isn’t a hard cap, simply a soft one that allows things to move at a snail’s pace.  Degraded service, rather than failed service.

Balance-wise, I am more curious as to where this threshold exists.  Long gone are the days where people posted single items rather than stacks, clogging up the AH space.  It was why I stopped playin a Hunter – getting ammo was stupid complicated.  Getting rid of thousands of individual posting isn’t a problem that needs solving anymore.

A long time ago I used to play the AH, maybe 30 minutes a day or so.  Made enough money to get a dozen+ WoW tokens.  I can’t see how anyone would have the Brontosaurus mount who wasn’t using something like TSM to make money.  It’s entirely the purpose of that mount after all.  Entirely normal to run a few hundred changes in a few minutes – cancelling auctions and reposting at a different price.  Filling up in materials.

The sidenote here would be snipe scans.  That takes a look across the entire AH for things that are well below market value.  It’s nearly impossible to find these manually.  Someone continually polling the entire AH would be a massive drain on server.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term market value.  It’s certainly a number Blizz can change over time, and I’m sure they are seeing server TX volumes take a massive nosedive.  Even more curious if this is account-wide, or character specific.  If there’s a hard drop (e.g. cap goes away after an hour) or if it’s a variable rate limit.

There’s a real world analogy here, where the majority of stock market transactions are high volume automated systems, making pennies a trade, but having millions of transactions a day.  It would be something to see what TX throttling would have as an impact to the market volatility.  Course that won’t ever happen, for reasons that are clearly obvious that the people making the most money in this behavior are also the ones who make the rules…

WoW Expansion Content

Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus.  Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.

Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus.  That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream.  The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead.  You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out.  When you don’t spend half your time travelling.  The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.

As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model.  The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there.  Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown.  Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world.  Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good.  You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.

Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up.  Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK.  Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level.  WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations.  Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.

Dungeons have been all over the map.  They were only ever relevant up to WotLK.  Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that.  WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better.  Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards.  BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.

The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks.  Long gone are the days of 40 person raids.  Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding.  These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE.  It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain.  Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess.  If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running.  Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows.  It’s not a sustainable model.

Tangent

I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion.  The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion.  The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it.  The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests.  But it’s there!  Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind.  The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics.  There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content.  The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.

On Track

The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another.  Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added.  LFG is one.  LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm.  Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight.  Mythics are now the content du-jour.

The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion.  The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum).  It’s somethign to do, every other day or so.  And provides another catch up mechanic.

But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world.  I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant.  Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start.  Piles of cosmetics.  Have pets drop.  Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role.  Make it a horizontal progress system.  I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this.  I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system.  Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.

You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions.  The less said about them the better.  I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.

It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched.  The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront.  Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.

 

 

RNG Sprinkles

Part of the process of leveling of an alt (Void Elf Priest), I’m getting a clear reminder on multiple aspects of the dev thinking process over the years.  Quest design from Cataclysm in particular is a level of gameplay that really takes me for a loop.  MMO dev has come a long way.

The pace of leveling (or really, futility of it in WoW) is another post.  This one is about character design.

Quite a few class/spec combos really devolve into 3 main buttons, which are cooldown/resource related.  Talents then add a proc mechanic.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get another long cooldown button to press.  So what you see at level 20 is pretty darn close to the rotation you see until you ding 120.  I won’t get too much into the balancing challenges posed by talents, just enoguh to say that there are ones that are clearly better than others with only a small amount that aren’t viable.

The ability “un-pruning” for Shadowlands may address this, but effectively requires some redesign work for each class/spec.  That’s a ton of work.

But THIS post is about the RNG of character development – specifically Azerite and Corruption, as each are item-specific.  I’ve yet to find a spec that didn’t have a clear winner in the Azerite trait category.  There’s been a lot of tweaking since launch, but you’re not going to find a Frost Mage that isn’t stacking 3x Flash Freeze (2 stacks give more than 3 stacks of anything else).  The was a main pain point I had with the original system, where you would have a great trait, then get a clear ilvl upgrade but without the trait and just ignore that new piece.  The end result is a best-in-slot list that has massive variations, and you’re looking for 1 drop from 1 boss that is not so much optimal as super-powered.  Some Azerite traits will change player rotations, making some more suddenly more viable to use.

Corruption is the inversion of Azerite traits.  Instead of have the points on hand, you’re working on credit.  Your corruption “debt” has penalties to playstyle, but provides an insane boost.  Infinite Stars & Twilight Devastation are like a nuke on a fly.  They can account for 50% of a player’s DPS.  There are other traits that have benefits (Masterful for Frost Mages is quite impressive), but that requires a level of math that isn’t obvious without sims.  You put IS on any player, and they will immediately see the difference.  Doesn’t change the playstyle, you just have a massive passive source of DPS.

Oh, and Corruption is applied through RNG on drops, or RNG through a vendor with grindable currency requirements.  There’s no way to target a trait, other than grind currency and hope the vendor eventually has it in stock.  I’m cool with the RNG part, I am less so with the crazy passive power gains.  If you thought Titanforging was bad, then this would make you go up the wall.

The design choices here are quite odd.  The “plan” was to have scaling difficulty and less of a gap between a fresh 120 and a max 120.  That really didn’t work at launch of BfA, and Corruption traits seem to be the answer to it.  There are certainly catch up mechanics to get over that hump, give everyone a passive DPS boost, and sort of sweep 8.0/8.1 under the rug like it didn’t happen.  Azerite traits could use a bit of balancing, but the method of acquisition is straightforward enough.  Corruption as a concept is actually really cool, and parts of the implementation are a nice twist – the debt aspect in particular.  It’s the sum of the parts that I find irritating.  May just be time to accept the fact that stat squishes are going to be part of each expansion, as the power curve inside each is now at the exponential level.

 

 

 

 

WoW: War Mode

In the previous post I mentioned that War Mode had great benefits for leveling – in particular in the portions that are pre-Legion.  The BfA content with War Mode puts you in the same zones as fully geared 120 players – you’re going to die a few times.  Still worth it if the bonus is 20%+.

War Mode as a concept is neat.  Add some extra risk for some extra rewards.  Where things gets messed up is in the actual risks and rewards.  So let’s start this backwards.

The rewards themselves scale from 10% to 30%, depending on faction balances.  At low amounts, the rewards aren’t exactly stellar.  1 death per hour is enough to offset a 10% gain to experience.  But let’s say you’re 120.  The rewards are limited to gold, war resources, and azerite power.  War Resources have been meaningless since 8.1.  Azerite Power has marginal use today.  Gold is always useful.

The risks are more complex.  You are sharing space with the other faction, and therefore you can be killed by the other faction.  You only share space with people who also have War Mode on, and if your % is high (20%+) then odds are there are MORE of the other faction than yours.  So yeah, the chance of dying is higher but in practical respects, most other levelers have no interest in attacking you.  People at 120 do, which makes leveling in BfA zones riskier.  The way WoW is built, most classes offer AE attacks as an effective way of dealing with content.  AE often triggers a PvP battle if you’re next to someone.  So you are going to be less effective if you avoid AE attacks.

Since the rewards are related to completing activities, you want to complete those activities safely and quickly.  Is it better to get 10% more gold completing a quest alone, with threat of PvP, or to complete a quest with 5 other people, no chance of death, and 5x as fast?  Any elite WQ is effectively impossible if there’s no one around to help.  So in this respect, it isn’t really a risk, it’s an active hurdle.  At max level, if you are not in a critical mass of other players, then there’s no point to War Mode.

Does it matter?

Really, does it?  Is WoW a PvP game?  Taking  BfA’s (poorly received) storyline out for a minute, when’s the last time we saw PvP as any sort of driver for content?  Even WoD had both factions working together, so you need to go back to Pandaria (early parts) – 8 years ago.

On even footing (like a BG), the Horde has a marginal advantage to the Alliance due to some racial skills.  That inherent advantage has attracted min-maxers where every advantage counts.  That adds yet another advantage to PvP for Horde players.  There are only two ways to offset that advantage – more “good” Alliance players, or more “power” for Alliance players.

War Mode tries to get there with incentivizing playing Alliance.  But the rewards are so miniscule that they cannot be seen at all as any advantage to pull someone AWAY from playing Horde.  Even if you were to swap all racials between factions, the playerbase is stronger on Horde and enough to offset the racial imbalance.  Not to mention the $$$ impacts of a faction change.  There’s only a small percentage of players who would pay to swap for a 1% gain to power.  There’s an astronomically larger percentage that goes “I’ve got friends and dozens of hours invested in this character, I’m good.”.

Way Forward

War Mode for leveling has next to no risk, it’s all reward.  Shadowlands is re-writing the leveling experience anyhow.  Unless the incentives are massively swapped (e.g. a % boost to primary stats in non-instanced content), there’s really no purpose to it for max level characters.

A good experiment, in the social carrot aspect is much larger than Blizzard had assumed.  But unlikely to matter in the long run.  Better off putting money in breaking the faction divide and getting people playing together.

WoW Alts

When BfA launched my first 120 was my Monk.  Seems to have been the case since Pandaria, for reasons I’ve gone into a bunch of times.  My 2nd was a Horde Demon Hunter, on another server due to the DH restrictions.  I wanted to see the Horde storyline and DH is a ridiculously efficient leveling class.  When both hit 120, there was a major gearing wall, and the azurite system made by blood boil.  I dropped out until a few weeks ago.

I figured with double faction and xp, it was an ok time to use my pile of WoW tokens.  When I started, the roster looked like this:

110: Hunter, Rogue, Death Knight, Demon Hunter, Paladin, Druid

100: Shaman

80: Mage, Warlock

Warrior and Priest as bank alts.

Before I get into the details, there’s a question of why?  Alts are easier to play in BfA than Legion (by FAR!), and allow running older raids for pets/drops with less waiting for lockouts.  Also lets you see if you want to run another class as a main / fun factor.  It is in no way practical to run multiple max level characters.

Goals

First up was unlocking flying.  That took just over 3 days, as I had already unlocked Pathfinder 1 way back at launch.  Mechagon was the holdout faction, even with a contract that added +10 per world quest.  The bugger here is that Mechagon doesn’t have world quests, only dailies.

While I was unlocking that portion, I was testing the waters with the 8.2/8.3 content.  The Heart of Azeroth boost in Naz is quick enough, and you unlock a huge power increase.  That’s enough to survive the invasions that 8.3 brought, though you need an ilvl close to 420 to do the horrific visions for the cloak upgrade.  The side areas can’t really be done by anything but a tank and low ilvls.

I was keeping mental notes of what happened when.

The Alt Plans

Heirloom gear to 120 (head, shoulder, chest, legs, cloak) gives +45%xp.  The generic 100% boost helps.  The choice was with or without war mode.  I wanted to try without to see what happened.

Gearing would be weird bit, since scaling in BfA is all over the place.  I know that starting BfA gives you a weapon, and that there’s 1 quest per zone that gives you another.  Starting Nazjatar gives you a i370 weapon, and there are really high odds you get enough mana pearls to get 4 benthic (i385) armor pieces.  Get that sorted out, then WQ to fill in the ring/trinkets, and then armor again.  Mechagon is effectively useless for this.  That’s enough to start an invasion from 8.3.

The Execution

The Rogue was the next up to 120.  Stormsong Valley + another dozen or so quests in Drustvar (unlocking the first village).  That was pretty quick, a single death, but felt like I was hitting with a wet sponge compared to my Monk.  Gearing went relatively smoothly, focusing on upgrading the worst pieces first.  The cloak quest was painful to get through.

Next is the DH to 120.  Drustvar + up to the boat crash section in Tirigarde.  While it took more quests, the Drustvar experience was much faster than Stormsong due to the quest design.  Stormsong has at least 4 quest hubs that are just a massive pain to get through due to mob density.  If people aren’t leveling, then it’s just not fun.

Finally, I brought my mage up with War Mode enabled.  I’ll talk about that mode in a bit, but the experience gains were massive.  Drustvar alone was enough to hit 120, and that’s without any rested XP.  However, the mage died a LOT.  A bit from ganking, but way more due to power balancing.  They have no real armor, making them ultra dependent on damage output.  I leveled Frost, which is super proc dependent, which is greatly impacted by Mastery.  Crappy gear = low weapon power + low mastery. = low damage.

War Mode

This is a really, really weird system.  +25% experience and +25% rewards (gold while leveling).  Since every single zone up until Legion is designed to be faction specific quest lines, you rarely ever see anyone from the other faction.  When you do, it’s clear you’re both leveling. The gains are significant XP-wise, but 25% more gold on a 3g reward is meaningless.

Legion has some rough spots, as you can’t really use AE or trigger a massive fight.  If I did, it was often just easier to stand there and die than waste time fighting back.  The optional “clear this area” quests were skipped for that reason.  It was pretty quick, though I have to say the Artifact Weapon stuff is a bummer without the special skills.  Since Legion doesn’t give any weapon rewards, getting the artifact at 100 is the only thing you’ll see for 10 levels.

War Mode in BfA.  80% of Drustvar is cool.  The last 20% in the haunted village is less so.  I got ganked, and then corpse hunted for 10 minutes.  Being level 5 or 119, you are going to get stomped by any geared 120.  The flipside is that the XP gains are solid (saved ~1hr or so), and the BfA gold rewards are significant.  Was around 10k total by the time I hit 120.  That said, the second I hit 120 I turned off War Mode.

Why?  Cause 95% of world content is better in a group, and that means AE.  AE + War Mode = massive battles.  Useless battles.  I would much rather complete a WQ / event 5x faster than get 25% more gold.  More in another post.

Lessons Learned

There are many, many tools to help level up faster.  Only a few are really worth it.  Doing dungeon runs in LFG can be substituted.

  • Heirlooms armor – getting +45% xp is easy enough (head/chest/shoulder/back).  I suggest only having 1 cloak for all alts, rather than 3 of the (int/str/agi) if money is a thing.  A single piece costs 500+1000+2000+5000 = 8,500 gold.  Armor type matters (e.g. cloth for casters)
  • Heirloom weapons – from 1-100 this is very useful and relatively cheap.  At 100 you get an artifact weapon, and BfA is over quick enough.  1-100 costs 2,250 for a single weapon.  Getting it to BfA quality adds 10,500 to the cost.  The stats on the thing make a difference too.  Hunters are the worst here, since they are the only gun users.
    • Flying.  Sweet baby jeebers, make sure this is unlocked before leveling in a zone and that you buy the associated skills (Master is optional)
  • Zones: 1-60 any Vanilla zone is fine.  60-80 you want to do Borean Tundra (this is the slowest portion).  80-90 is Jade Forest.  90-100 is the starting WoD zone of your faction.  100-110 is Azshara.  110-120 is Drustvar / Vol’dun.  You’re only going to see 1 zone per level range.
  • Bags:  Get 20 slot bags.  You’re going to fill up like crazy.
  • War Mode: Turn it on.
  • Professions:  Mining and herbalism gives great xp.
  • Treasures / Rare mobs:  Treasure chests are worth collecting for xp.  Rare mobs should generally be avoided.
  • Gold: At best you’re going to make 15,000g from 1-120 doing quests and selling loot, and nearly all of it coming from BfA content.  Flying (280%) will cost you ~5,000g.

Heirloom Table

To give you an idea of where you can re-use Heirloom gear, as a full set of armor + weapons for 1-120 = 55,250g.  Druid as a Cat saves money.  Shaman as Enhancement as well.

STAT TYPE WEAPON
WAR STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
DK STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
PAL STR PLATE 2HDN/1HND
MNK AGI LEATHER 2HND/1HND
ROG AGI LEATHER 1HND
DRU AGI/INT LEATHER 2HND/1HND
DH AGI LEATHER 1HND
HUN AGI MAIL RANGED
SHM AGI/INT MAIL 2HDN/1HND
WLK INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF
PRI INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF
MAG INT CLOTH STAFF/1HDN+OFF