Level 90 – At Last the Beginning!

WoW Vale of Blossoms

So late Friday I hit 90, about 2-3 quests into Townlong Steppes.  Odd name that, for a zone that really has next to relation to actually steppes.  Those are supposed to be large expanses of fields, instead I get giant hills, caves, trees, swamps.  Still, 2 quests in and I had already unlocked the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, which is the final super zone, with the new islands’ capital-ish cities – or as I like to call the zone, daily-quest hub central.

Since in the end, reaching level 90 is really the beginning of the expansion.  I think only 1-2 dailies opened up during my travels but once I hit the magic number, it’s like an explosion of blue quests.  I can raise a dragon, I can maintain a farm, I can fish, I can cook, I can kill insects, I can collect flowers…I can be a professional go-fer.

I took the time to try out the last 2 zones and get a feel for their stories.  So let’s sum up the entire adventure a bit, knowing that I’m missing the final end pieces to two zones.

Jade Forest – A decent introduction to the denizens of Pandaria, with temples and mountains and lakes.  Jinyu (advanced Murlocs) play prominently, as to the actual Pandas.  There’s no real progress in the zone, barring 1 quest that has you destroy a giant statue.  Looks great, plays awkward as it’s the first time you’re using the new questing mechanics.

Four Winds – Basically you’re an animal killer throughout.  The entire zone is one giant farm.  Other than the quests on the west end, bordering Dread Wastes, there’s nothing of note here.  But those quests are amazing.  Also, quite short.

Karasang Wilds – Hello Stranglethorn Vale v. 5!  You finally get to see a town build up in phases, which is cool.  You also free another spirit, the Crane.  That portion is WAY too fast.  Like 5 quests and bam.  I didn’t understand this zone.

Kun Lai Summit – (well, there’s a mini zone with 3 quests before this).  This is the meat and potatoes zone.  You get to meet everyone, help build up a bunch of towns, see temples, explore the lore.  A couple quests in, all of a sudden I’m sent to 7 different hubs to try my luck helping.  The story is great, if disperse.  You really get an understanding of the workings of the population here.  Plus, there’s a Yak Wash.  You unlock the Tiger spirit here (cool in concept, horrible in execution).  You also need to complete this zone to unlock the Vale.

Townlong Steppes – This is a giant battlefield between the Pandas, the Sha and the Mantid insects from the south.  I’m about ¾ of the way through now.  I have a great dislike for everything in this zone, from the story, to the mechanics to the flow.  You’re supposed to unlock the Ox here (I can see him).

Dread Wastes – This is the insect home and you play with a faction that’s trying to restore order to the chaos.  If you’ve seen Starship Troopers, you know what to expect from the bugs.  There’s a central hub for the faction and everything just seems to “gel” throughout.  Seeing the links to the other zones is good too but the best part is the story. There’s a lore reason for everything here, meaning you actually have a purpose for the quests.  Refreshing.

Vale of Eternal Blossoms – Other than a small section in the middle for daily quests, this is a lore and city zone.  The picture above shows me standing in the fields.  Everything looks great.  Sadly, there’s a disconnect between why you’re here and what you’re doing.  What is cool though, is the Lore.  I learned more about Pandaria in 20 minutes than I learned over the 30 hours of leveling.  Who are the Mogu, why there’s a giant turtle, who are the Hozen, the Grummles and all the others.

Here’s my crystal ball though.  The Dread Wastes are going to be the main lore driver for the rest of the expansion.  The Mogu could not be more generic and are massively overused.  The Mantid – just wow.

Punch Out

The little one decided to sleep all night, so I got some time in tonight.  I finally had the chance to finish up all the quests in Four Valleys, which was quite an adventure.
WoW Insect ColossusChen Stormstout and I ended up in the Brewery taking on some neat mini bosses.  One I needed to knock barrels over his head to slow him down, another I needed to AE the entire zone to get started and the final one I had to periodically run over bubbles to drop the boss’ shield.  I rather enjoyed that portion as you had to pay attention and I was finally NOT OUTSIDE.

The final quest is related to the picture above.  Once you finish all the quests in both Karasang and Four Winds, you end up on the west side of the zone, fighting a massive insect invasion.  That big blue guy, a colossus appropriately, knocks down the wall and insects plow over.  These guys hit like trucks, I died on the first multi-pull, so I had to change strategies.  You end up with a group of guys you’ve been talking to since you landed on the island and take down some more mini bosses before finally heading for the big guy.

Well before this though, you have a sub quest to practice your martial arts – namely chopping blocks with your fists.  It’s a fun quest with an interesting mechanic.  Once you get to this big guy, like 50 quests later, you get shot into his stomach.  Inside, you use this same block chopping mini-game to kill him from the inside.  Which I must admit is cool in notion (a bit less in practice, since you know, inside the stomach and all).

I was quite pleased with the end of this zone quest.  There were a lot of ups and downs along the way but as a story arc, I’ll remember it for a while.

Progress, Perhaps

So here’s a picture of my monk giving this Hozen a massage.  A 100 fist massage.WoW Monk Fists

Last night the little one decided to drink for about 4 hours.  Due to that, I got to play on a raft for a bit and punch some monkeys around.  If it wasn’t monkey, it was sharks.  Or cats.  Lots of cats.

Previous expansions, there was a reason for  being a mass murderer.  Sure, you attacked boars and bears and beasts but for the most part, it was humanoids.  And they were out to kill you.  In Panda land, I find myself more often than not, killing mass patches of wildlife, just to collect a pile of feathers for some monk’s collection.  The sheer amount of birds I’ve killed is staggering.  I lasso them, I take their eggs, I take their feathers, I take their flesh.  What’s with this bird slaughter?

A bit like the previous post, Hemet and pandas have something in common it seems.  A hatred of anything that moves and can’t talk.

That being said, I did see a couple quests against the Sha.  HP Lovecraft slimeballs of hatred.  But 5 quests in the 60 (or more) per zone is more like a side quest.  I spent more time collecting items to build a raft, go out to see, kill sharks and hunt treasure than I did fighting a guy 30 feet tall made of slime.

So I’m done with the Jade Forest and Karasang Wilds.  I’m back in Four Winds to finish the story, with only a couple steps into level 88.  I did 2.5 zones (or so) in 3 levels, with 4 zones to go.  Wonder what will happen at 90.

Well That Didn't Go As Planned

My littlest one took over 2 hours to take her bottle last night, so I didn’t really get a chance to do much with the Monk other than some Nesingwary quests.  Which I’ll talk about briefly.  Hah!

In the original incarnation of WoW there was a place called Stranglethorn Vale.  It was huge.  Dying was a major pain in the butt as you’d have to cross 5 minutes of land to have a chance to find your body.  Usually in a bad spot, and you’d die again.  I played on a PvP server for a bit and this zone made me quit that idea after being ganked for the 5th time.  Anyways, STV as it was called, had a camp with Nesingwary – a hunter. He and his crew sent you around to kill various wildlife – cats, crocs, raptors.  All told, there were ~20 quests in the chain and it finished with 4 elite kills.  Everyone grouped for those.

BC had him come around in Nagrand for some more killing.  Again, a ton of quests, way too much blood.  LK had him in Sholazar Basin with a few less quests within his sphere but more like the leader of a small town.  In Cataclysm, he was an NPC in a quest in Hyjal but didn’t offer any real interaction.  The real change was STV becoming tolerable.

Anyhow, Hemet’s murderous ways are back in Pandaria and way more like STV than should be healthy.  He (and his cronies) sends you to kill some mushu, stags, cats and foxes.  The catch is that these buggers are a combination of any of the following: a) in groups, b) invisible, c) low spawning, d) in the middle of other hostile enemies.

What would normally be a 2-3 minute quest turns into a 20 minute murder-fest of crazy proportions.  Seriously, the area should be called “fields of slaughter” for the masses of corpses strewn around.  Side note – I pull out my Shaman skinner for this zone.  He just stands in one spot, skins like mad, makes profits.

People think that the Lich King or Deathwing were massive killers but I stand by the idea that Hemet Nesingwary is responsible for more deaths than any other character in WoW.

Hemet Most Wanted

The New Curve

I finally hit 85 with my Monk the other day, which means that Pandaria is open to me.  Let’s meta first.  Monks have a daily quest that gives a 1 hour buff for 50% exp boost.  Every 10 levels (it seemed) the quest became available again and refreshed the buff plus added another hour.  I had full heirloom gear plus accepted a random level 25 guild invite, giving me something like 70% experience boost.  I also created the monk and waited a day, to get some rested experience (monks rested exp lasts twice as long as other races).  So take all of that in and I was sitting at nearly 350% experience boost for the first 60 levels.

I rather enjoyed the “new” 1-58 portion.  It linear, granted, but the stories were much better.  Especially in the underused zones.  Punching Deathwing in the face or riding a motorcycle with a babe into the moon is pretty funny.  58-68 is the Outland stuff.  I barely entered Terrokar (3rd zone) before I happily left.  There’s one town in that zone, when I first entered, had a solid 10 quest givers hungering for me to help them.  It was like  Christmas Tree had lit up.  Next up was Northrend.  I did one starting zone, then the game quests pushed me through 2 zones in a flash, with me ending up in Zul’Drak.  The experience gain here was crazy.   I missed some of the more involved quests, like the one where you blow up the zombies with an abomination.  Cataclysm is still behind a level 80 wall but once in, you only need 2 zones (out of 5).  Now this is linear questing!  I chose Hyjal to avoid the 3d mess of transport in water-world.  The story here is pretty cool and getting to take on massive bosses (with the help of other bosses) is awesome.  Fighting Ragnaros is a massive letdown though, as you’re just a gopher.  “Slay these bugs while I hit this massive wall of fire”.  Like they couldn’t kill them with a blink?

Deepholm is next, which is my favorite of all Cataclysm zones.  WoW has a penchant for keeping all single player zones above ground and all dungeons underground.  I guess people like the feeling of an “open” zone.  Well, this is a massive cave under the Maelstrom, full of fairly rich lore that hasn’t yet been abused. I remember the original WoW and the first dungeon patched in – Mauradon.  I played that with friends a whole bunch of times, it was a blast since it was an open dungeon.  I found Theradras to be a damn cool idea as a boss.  Earth elementals, to that point, were a collection of random rocks.  They remained that way until Cataclysm (while Fire and Water were used in Molten Core).  Deathwing lived underground for millenia.   Why only 1 zone?  Bah!

Level 85 opens the Pandaria stuff.  I zone in, get on a helicopopter and start nuking some things. 2-3 quests later, I’ve killed some horde bad guys then this massive wall of gunk comes alive.  I’m 1 zone through and I’ve never seen another horde enemy.  I thought this was the Horde vs. Alliance expansion pack?

Anyhoot, I’m having fun.  The quest structure is a lot better.  I get sent all over the map to discover new zones and enemies.  Some are silly (the SI:7 quests), some are somewhat serious and others are just strange (stomping bookworms).  A few times though, I’ve run around without any quests in my log and no direction.  That was the most fun I’ve had to be honest.  I haven’t really “explored” WoW since Vanilla and having to get off the rails for a bit felt good.  I had to cross half the zone before I found the next breadcrumb quest.

I have leveled 3 characters to 85, 2 more to 80 and 3 to 60 over the years.  If I were to rate the leveling curve experience thusfar, I would go with Pandaria > 1-60 (post-Cataclysm > Lich King > Cataclysm >1-60 (pre-Cataclysm)>>> Burning Crusade.  The 1-60 (pre-Cataclysm) isn’t really fair since the game wasn’t even a themepark back then – at least not by today’s standards.

The next few posts will probably cover my experiences from 85-90. It’s an interesting ride.