Friday, October 29, 2010

Homing in on level 60 ... and riding the rocket!

I've been quiet lately, but making progress in WoW. Alaurai is 3/4 of the way through level 75. Last night she finished with Dragonblight and moved on to Grizzly Hills. Thank you to Sthenia for helping me complete three difficult group quests in Dragonblight last night!

Even more exciting is the fact that Rakkael is closing in on level 60 and being able to fly. Woohoo! She reached level 59 last night.

Actually Rakkael blew all the way through level 59 in one evening, thanks to Jame's guides and the WoW-Pro add-on - and to some excellent coaching by my friend Orzu. (That's the same evening in which Alaurai also did those three group quests with Sthenia. Such efficiency!)

In the past couple of weeks Orzu has been giving me a lot of terrific advice through the WoW chat. He recommended that I switch my hunters from Beast Mastery to Survival, and the other night he showed me his Survival talent build and let me copy it, and in the beta he showed me where to get a terrific dog.

Orzu has also coached me on what shots and spells to use, and in what order, and convinced me to replace my beautiful elegant cats with big, clumsy-looking, but very useful bears. Ferocity cats are fine against a single enemy, but Tenacity bears are much better tanks and can cope much more effectively with mobs of mobs.

The result of all this help is that Rakkael is easily hammering through the quests suggested by Jame's Horde leveling guide. Last night I soloed a couple of quests in Shadow Hold in Felwood that Jame recommended doing only if I was able to find a group. I just walked into the cave and started killing things. Went all the way to the very bottom of the cave and back again with no problem; never came close to getting killed.

(Orzu, I'm sorry I wasted your time helping me the other night in Shadow Hold! Now I know I could have easily soloed the quests you helped me with. But I still really enjoyed playing with you. Thanks!)

I'm planning to get Alaurai an exotic pet, again thanks to Orzu's advice, and also plan to get one for Rakkael (love those white Devilsaurs!) as soon as she reaches level 69. Orzu says that having an exotic pet makes Beast Mastery a much more effective specialization. But to keep things simple for now, I'll probably stick with Survival most of the time.

It seems like the more I learn about this game, the more there is to learn. Orzu's coaching has led me to look for web sites with info about how to play hunters more effectively. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface.

Oh yes! One last very cool item. The other night I was in Stormwind with Alaurai, getting ready to do that incredible final Dragonblight quest with the King of Stormwind. Someone asked in the trade chat for a mage portal to Dalaran. I offered to fly him to Dalaran on my rocket instead. Turned out he had a lady friend who wanted to go too, and I flew them both.

I'd been planning to offer to do this once I got the ability to fly in Northrend. I'd been thinking that some people might enjoy the trip, even though the flight would take a lot longer than a mage portal, and that I might collect some small tips now and then. But after Blizzard removed the Dalaran and Shattrath portals to major cities in the Cata beta, I'd more or less forgotten about my plan, because access to those cities by lower level toons will become much less worthwhile when Cata arrives.

But while flying these people I realized that, contrary to being a poor man's alternative to a mage portal, a flight on the rocket to Dalaran is actually far more desirable. This is because you gain XP for every area you discover as you ride over it on the rocket. Both of my passengers leveled from 28 to 29 just on the XP gain from the flight!

After I'd gotten them to Dalaran, they asked me if I would fly them around to get the Hallow's End Tricks and Treats achievements. I ended up rocketing both of them to the various inns around Outland - and they both gave me nice tips for this. (They also leveled to 31 on the Outland discovery XP!)

All in all, I made 120 gold for a couple hours' fun, and did the achievement myself at the same time. Also got XP for discovering some areas I hadn't flown over before.

I hope to do more of this kind of thing. I think even after Cata comes and the portals in Dalaran go away, there will still be a lot of opportunities to make gold by giving people rocket rides to various places all over the world, not only for achievements but for access to flight points and other useful locations. And when Rakkael hits 60, I'll be able to do it (in the Old World and Outland) for Horde characters as well.

I think the dawning realization of rocket ride potential as well as my growing understanding of hunter play are good examples of the kind of expansion of possibilities that have and are coming with Patch 4.0.1 and Cataclysm. Also, a lot of things which were small annoyances (such as, for hunters, having to buy ammo and drinks all the time, and not being able to switch pets in the field) are being ironed out, which is making the game overall more fun.

The game is really changing - and the more I learn about them, the more I feel that these changes are (for the most part) very good things.

Thanks again to Orzu and Sthenia for making my WoWing a lot more fun!


PS. Add-on happiness is back. All of my most crucial add-ons which were broken by Patch 4.0.1 are now fixed, including Bartender, TomTom, Auctioneer, and Altoholic. Gatherer and Addon Control Panel never stopped working. QuestHelper is gone, but the WoW-Pro add-on is working so much better for me that I do not miss QH at all.

The only other add-ons I used which are still broken are FlightMap and MapNotes, and, while I miss these, they aren't essential.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jame's WoW-Pro Leveling Guides; those evil rogues

I came across an interview with Jame, who wrote the excellent guides that are incorporated into the WoW-Pro Add-On. It's a great interview, and Jame gives terrific insight into the process he uses to develop his guides. The interview is here:

Also, I've been assuming that we'd have to do without the guides for a while after Cataclysm hits. I mean, guides for several thousand new quests in just a few weeks? Impossible! But Jame has put together a team whose goal is to have complete guides ready by December 7. Here:

As to those treacherous rogues, I came across a couple of posts on the WoW forums in which a lot of people complain loudly that Subtlety rogues are now so overpowered (at least in PvP) that they can kill players many levels above them with one strike:

I'm sure Blizzard will address this at some point, but for now you rogues could really have a lot of fun!

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Paladin and Hunter rotations

Over the weekend I played my highest level paladin, Lauralia, up from level 28 to 31. I know things change as you get to higher levels, but if my experience with different level hunters is mirrored in paladins at higher levels, the basic rotation shouldn't change as much in 4.0/Cata as you level up, compared to the pre-Cata mechanics.

Since the patch I've leveled a hunter from level 6 to 11 and played two other hunters at levels 54 and 73-74. All use the same basic rotation (starting at level 10 you've got all the core shots and spells) but the higher levels have more options, so the rotations - if you want them to - can be more complex. But even with Alaurai at level 74, I seem to be almost as effective sticking to the same four core shots as I am when I get fancy.

Lauri is a Retribution pally and I really enjoyed playing her before the patch. But the patch eliminated one of my main spells: Taunt, which I used to pull a specific mob to me. This was especially useful if there was a crowd of them and I didn't want to get swamped.

But in 4.0, Taunt is gone. Augh! How do I pull them now?

Took me a while to figure it out. At first I was using Judgement (there is only one Judgement spell now) and then hitting them with Crusader Strike when they got to me, and then laying on an Excorcism. Judgement's effective range seems to have gotten a lot greater than before, which is terrific, and it made this rotation feasible.

But then I noticed the handy tooltip for Excorcism, which pointed out that I should avoid using Exorcism in melee because it takes a long time to build up. Good point.

So... how about using Exorcism as my first hit? That way I don't have to stand around waiting for it to build while the mob is pummeling me. But what's it's pull range?

I was doing Battle of Hillsbrad (remember us doing those quests together, Trojanne? Rakkeal and Jacara, I think) and I started experimenting with this. Wow! Awesome pull range! I can pull them from halfway across the farmer's fields. Awesome!

I quickly settled on a new rotation: Exorcism to pull, Judgement while they are running at me, and Crusader Strike when they get to me. So I've gotten in two solid hits before they even reach me. If more than one come, I hit Consecration, which still seems to be pretty effective. (Divine Storm, OTOH, doesn't seem to do much.)

If my health gets low, I stun my target with Hammer of Justice and heal myself with Holy Light, just as I used to do. It was working; I was mowing through those farmers and peasants like a thresher through ripe corn.

Then I realized that something special was happening every once in a while. The Exorcism icon on my action bar would start to glow, and if I hit that button while it was glowing, there was no delay; Exorcism had become instant. And the mobs died when I did that.

I looked in my talent tree and found that Art of War, in the third tier, makes your autoattacks have a 20% chance to make your next Exorcism, free, instant, and cause 100% additional damage! Awesome! This talent is getting filled ASAP in any retripally I roll.

Another interesting thing is that the cooldowns of the various spells now differ more than they used to, with both paladin and hunter. I can no longer spam the same two or three spells in the same order like I used to. I have to watch the cooldowns and hit the one that cools down first at any given time. This is a little more challenging than before, but I find that I like it.

Some of the new and modified spells aren't as effective as I'd expect. The hunter's vaunted Kill Shot, for example, is practically worthless because the time between it becoming available (at 20% of the mob's health) and the mob dying is so short. If I've just fired Arcane shot, say, when the mob hits 20%, then by the time the Kill Shot's cooldown is up, the mob's already dead. Kill Command doesn't seem to do much of anything either, and I don't seem to have a good way to increase my pets' threat level when I need to.

For my level 31 pally, as I mentioned Divine Storm seems to have little effect, but maybe it will scale up at higher levels or with the appropriate talent selections.

Bottom line is that so far, I like the changes. Yes, I have to pay more attention to the cooldowns and my rotation varies more (the same is true of my hunters) but it's a little more fun and interesting as a result.

And it's very gratifying when I get the sequence right and the mobs die at my feet moments after we engage - or, in the case of my hunters, before they even get to me.

I'm still working on my hunter rotation. Concussive Shot and Steady Shot are both good candidates for the initial hit, Concussive because it stuns the target and slows their run toward me, and Steady because it has a windup like the pally's Exorcism.

I hope to get to experimenting with Warrior and Rogue rotations soon.

The Impact of Cataclysm

Writing about the Patch 4.01 changes also made me think about the impact of the changes coming in Patch 4.0.3 and the Cataclysm expansion. While the current patch requires us to learn new shot/spell rotations and make some other adjustments, I think that the changes coming in the December patch and the Cataclysm expansion will actually have a greater impact on our game play.

Flying in the Old World, of course, will be awesome, and it will be fun to explore the new zones and try out the new races, or roll a toon in one of the new race/class combinations.

But the elimination of almost all existing quests (in the Old World, at least) in favor of new ones is a major change, and I am pretty sure it will take time for guides and databases to catch up. This is true of add-ons like Gatherer, QH2 and Carbonite, which depend on data collected from players over time, as well as leveling guides, which will have to be rewritten from scratch. Auction house scan data and knowledge we've collected over time will likely be impacted too.

We and our information resources will have to adapt to, among other things, the recalibration of most zone levels and thereby the level flows. Much of the reference material about quests, spells, abilities, geography, travel, vendors, items, gear - just about every aspect of the game - in sites like WoWHead, WoWWiki, and ThottBot will become obsolete, and it will take time to build up new and accurate information repositories. In the meantime we're going to be fumbling a bit.

We're going to have to learn our way around the world again. The loss of the capitol city portals in Dalaran and Shattrath is just the tip of the iceberg; so much of the land will be changing, zones reconfigured. What we know about sneaking a low-level Alliance toon past the Horde mobs at the Mor'Shan Rampart to get to Ratchet and thence Booty Bay, for example, or through Dustwallow to Theramore or Wetlands to Menethil to access these vital intercontinental harbors, or running a young Horde down from Arathi Highlands through Wetlands and Dun Morogh to Badlands or from Ghostlands to Light's Hope or past Darkshire to the Swamp of Sorrows for those key flight points - most or all of this knowledge may well become useless.

And there will be so many new flight points! On the maps it looks like double or triple the number. Travel for low level toons will be more convenient, but also more confusing at first. While leveling, we're going to have to remember to look for flight masters everywhere we go.

I think it was wise of Blizzard to split the changes into two parts, so we have time to adjust to the character-related changes before we have to learn about all the world changes. Cataclysm is going to be almost a whole new game. Bigger, and - I hope - a lot better too.

Thoughts on Patch 4.0.1

Now that I've been playing WoW with the patch for a few days, I have some thoughts on the changes. I know that some of us (me included) have been, ah, unsettled by the changes. With some miles under my paws now, I'm feeling a lot better about most of the changes.

Note that all of the add-ons that I consider essential are now working. Auctioneer is still on a "preview" release that must be manually installed; Bartender, Altoholic, Gatherer, and the WoW-Pro Addon all have official releases that can be installed through the Curse client. Without these, for me WoW was pretty much unplayable, but now all is well.

BTW, if anyone would rather not be on my impromptu little WoW mailing list, just let me know and I'll quit sending you my updates.


  • Flying in Northrend at level 68. Yay Yay Yay!
  • New paladin spell rotation. I played my highest level paladin from level 28 up to 31 this weekend. Took me a little while to figure out the new rotation, but now I like it a lot. More in a separate email.
  • New hunter shot/spell rotation. I'm getting used to it; it's very easy and powerful at low levels, more complex higher up, but the basics don't change.
  • Five hunter pets onboard; 20 (free!) stable slots.
  • Hunter use of Stance bar for Aspects. Neat; saves space, puts to use a bar that was formerly useless for hunters.
  • Reduction of cost of Dual Spec and Cold Weather Flying. All of my toons will get the latter as soon as they hit level 68, and I plan to start experimenting with Dual Spec shortly.


  • QuestHelper is dead. Big, big loss. But replacements are in the works, and in the meantime I am finding the WoW-Pro add-on
    - which incorporates Jame's legendary leveling guides - to be an excellent substitute. Potential replacements:
    • QuestHelper 2, which is being written from scratch by the original author of QH, not the guy who just now abandoned it. The Tasks list on his site contains some interesting new functionality. QH2 will probably be in development for a while.
    • Carbonite. A beta for 4.0.1 has already been released.
    • Lightheaded plus TomTom also looks to be a useful combination if you prefer free-form questing, and it's available now.
    • Several others are also being worked on. Two or three different people are trying to fix the original QuestHelper to work with 4.0.1. See the comments posted on the QH page on for details.
  • FlightMap. This is a bigger loss than I thought at first. It isn't a big deal for toons that have discovered all the flight points; all you lose is the flight timer. But for characters that are leveling, it's a real pain to have to keep looking on an external map for nearby flight points. I hope this gets fixed!
  • Pet talents get wiped when you stable a pet. I mean, come on! This is ridiculous. (I'm sure every class will have their gripes. This is mine. So far.)
  • MapNotes. No word yet on if/when a 4.0 version will be released. I rely on this heavily so I hope it's soon!
  • While it's great to be able to fly in Northrend as soon as you get there, this also has a downside. You never learn a zone as well by flying over it as you do when riding through it. Most people probably won't care. But learning my way around the world is one of my favorite aspects of the game, and I'm trying to remember to check the map frequently to see where I am whenever I plop down somewhere while following the TomTom arrow to the WoW-Pro add-on's next questing point.

Short term and minor issues:

  • The new talent trees. I think this will become a non-issue once the talent build geeks have published their builds for the rest of us to copy. I've already started to experiment with my pets' trees, and it's not bad.
  • Glyphs. I think the glyph restructuring will also become a non-issue pretty quickly - and the fact that you can have many glyphs and switch them around without destroying them will create a new market for inscriptionists and also make things more interesting for everyone.
  • FollowMe add-on. Haven't used this in months anyway.
  • Enchantrix Barker is broken. I don't use this, so I don't care.

There are other aspects of 4.0.1 that I don't have the knowledge or experience to comment on yet. Changes to the currencies, item stats, reforging, etc., as well as changes related to battlegrounds, arenas, and other PvP and endgame play are all beyond me right now.

All in all, so far I like what's happening in Patch 4.0. I hope you'll like them too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's rocket time in Northrend!!

I'm flying my rocket (thanks, Sthenia!) over Northrend at this very moment! On a live server (not beta)!

This has to be one of the least-discussed but - to me, anyway - most significant changes in Patch 4.0.1. You can now train for Cold Weather Flying, which allows you to fly in Northrend, at level 68 instead of 77 as before. Also, the price for this has been reduced from 1000 to 500 gold.

This change makes sense in a way, since when Cata hits Northrend will no longer be the endgame, but simply a collection of leveling zones as Outland has been since the release of the Lich King expansion.

I suppose for all you people with level 80's this news is just "Ho hum. We can already do that. Have been able to give our alts that ability at 68 for a long time."

But it's awesome for anyone who hasn't leveled up to 80 yet, because now you can fly anywhere you want in Northrend, and generally in a lot less time than on a taxi (the slang term for flight masters' flying beasts). Leveling in Northrend should go significantly faster now.

Now I have even more motivation to get Rakkael to level 60 and then through Outland to 68. Then she'll be able to give Horde players rides on her rocket (thanks, Dingbata!) too.

BTW, Alaurai's rocket now works in the Old World. I can ride it around a foot off the ground, and presumably give rides on it, but it won't fly until December 7.

Can't wait! Woohoo!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Talent build suggestions

For paladins unsettled by the changes to their characters' combat mechanics, here is a page with links to several possible paladin talent builds:

I would consider these as temporary, just-for-now solutions to get us going; I'm sure that as time goes on, the talent tree geeks are going to ramp up their analysis of the impact of all the various abilities and spells, and new refined tree builds will be posted.

I haven't found similar build suggestions for rogues, but you might want to keep an eye on the WoWHead forums for rogues:

For warriors, here are a couple of threads with arguments/discussions about Fury warrior PVE builds:

Also, if anyone feels like rolling a hunter, this thread has some suggested builds:

Patch 4.0 changes: Talent builds

I just came across this discussion of the changes in Patch 4.0:

I like this article because it's got a conceptual element: think of 4.0.1 as changes to your character, and think of Cataclysm in December (4.0.3) as changes to the world around you.

It also points to articles about each class and the changes to their talent trees. Paladins might find this discussion of Retribution paladins to be helpful:

This clarified for me the impact of picking a spec: it gives you most of the passive buffs that you formerly had to choose in the 41-point tree to make your spec work. So it definitely simplifies the process of setting up your talent build.

There's also a discussion of the rogue and its new Vanish ability here:

Warriors might want to read the warrior page:

Note that these were all written in September, based on play on the Public Test Realms, but they should still be generally applicable.

As time goes on, I am sure we will see much more information about the changes to the character mechanics. I'm eagerly awaiting the inevitable posting of suggested talent builds for the new 31 point trees. If anyone sees any of these come online, please let me know!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

WoW patch 4.0 goes live today

The first stage of Cataclysm, patch 4.0, goes live today, October 12. The servers are down now for extended maintenance and are supposed to come back up at noon PST, 3 PM our time.

This stage involves three files totaling 4.5 GB, which hopefully will have already been downloaded into your WoW Updates folder by the automatic Background Downloader. To see if you've got them, check here:

Vista/Win7: C:\Users\Public\Games\World of Warcraft\Updates
XP: C:\Program Files\World of Warcraft\Updates
Mac: Macintosh Main HD/Applications/World of Warcraft/Updates

Look for these files:

WoW-  (1.6 GB)
WoW-  (2.5 GB)
WoW-  (0.7 GB)

If you don't have these, you'll have to download them. The downloader should have automatically downloaded them over the past couple of weeks, starting whenever you exited WoW, but if you tend to shut your computer off after playing WoW, you may not have all of them. You'll need to set up WoW's downloader to do this.

If you do have them, then you can run WoW right now and it will start the install process. It will download a little more stuff and then start rolling all the changes contained in the above files into your WoW install. This will take a while; my machine has been doing it for about 20 minutes and is 25% done.

Once this is done, you should be able to run WoW and start playing whenever the servers come back up.

From what I have been able to find, the patch contains functional changes which will impact the way we play the game, including completely revamped talent trees, revisions to the hunter pet system, removal of ammo, changes in item stats, changes in levels at which classes gain abilities and spells, and new resources for hunters, paladins, warlocks, and druids.

From what I've seen, it also takes away some of the spells and abilities that I've come to rely on when playing my hunters and paladins. The addition of others will hopefully offset this, but from my experience in the Cata beta, hunter and paladin rotations are going to become more complex, more similar to the rotation necessary when playing warriors. It's definitely going to take some adjustment in the way we operate during combat.

The patch also includes changes to the launcher, fairly extensive revisions to the UI, and restructuring of the glyph and currency systems. It adds a new stat, Mastery rating, and the Reforging ability, which allows you to customize item stats. It also includes the new water and lava rendering, dynamic sunshafts, and multi-monitor support. Details here and here.

As far as I can tell, the patch does not contain Cataclysm's sweeping changes to the Old World (Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms) and I don't think we will be able to fly in these zones until the expansion arrives on December 7. However, given the size of the downloads, I could be wrong about this; I can't think of anything other than massive graphical changes that would take 4.5 GB!

Good luck! Let's hope we end up liking all these changes!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Cataclysm in my Bedroom

I spent all day yesterday in the Cataclysm beta!

Letting the Bartender Cheer Me Up
I got into the beta over a week ago, but I had a slow start, bogged down by the fact that I have become so accustomed to playing with assorted add-ons, most of which have not yet been ported to Cataclysm. I was totally helpless without Bartender. Where the heck did I put that spell, anyway? Click click click. Oops.

But after a few days of procrastination I finally installed Bartender, and created a new profile because apparently Bartender mostly works in Cata but only if you create new profiles. If you port existing profiles from an existing Live WoW install they will be broken.

I found the best way to replicate my old faithful Bartender profiles was to have Live WoW running on my laptop next to the keyboard and monitor for my gaming computer (running the beta), and try to visually replicate the position and size of all my usual action bars in Cata. It also helped to be able to go into the Bartender options on the laptop and see what values I'd been using for the various parameters.

Having my buttons back in all their usual places helped a lot, and now I'm starting to really get into Cataclysm.

Old World Changes
I already knew, from my first few tentative hours of exploration, how much I love being able to fly in the Old World - and how much I loathe the destruction of some of my favorite zones and towns, like the southern Barrens, Thousand Needles, and Auberdine, and the major (unpleasant) revisions to other areas, like the burned-out sections of Ashenvale and the invasion of Astranaar. I hate those stupid vortexes in the middle of Darkshire and Stranglethorn, too. Tacky. And disturbing.

But other changes are improvements. The expanded parts of Stormwind, for example, are gorgeous, and the city is absolutely stunning from the air. The beauty and realistic feel of this city is one of the most impressive accomplishments in the whole game, IMHO.

It's quite interesting, too, to see what's inside of the ruins of Lordearon, the city that the Undercity is, uh, under. Like Stormwind, Lordearon is a massive stone structure, but it's more squareish, rather Romanesque, very imposing and elegant. I think if it were renovated and populated this city would be quite appealing. I really wish they'd done this and used it instead of the dreadful stinky Undercity!

And while they were at it, why couldn't they have cleaned up the toxic green atmosphere in places like Felwood, Feralas, Eastern Plaguelands, and Un'garo Crater? They cut back on the forge smog in the Dwarven District of Stormwind, after all. <pout>

Moving on. Other areas are expanded - Brill, for example, is now a proper town, with its own flight point and trainers - and giant cemetary - and Light's Hope Chapel has been renovated, with a protective wall put up in front of the building. I rather miss the shabby old run-down previous version of the chapel, with its busted windows and rotting wood, but the new version is certainly prettier. These are just two examples; many other areas of the Old World have been built up.

Another excellent change is the new flight path between Rut'theron Village and the Exodar, making access to the wrecked space ship and its surroundings much more convenient. And by the way, it's really cool to be able to fly your own mount down the giant tree that is Teldrassil and then across the water to Darkshore!

Just a brief note on flying on your own mount in the Old World. I totally love it! Some parts of the world appear completely different when you can look down on them from above, and new stuff shows up which you had no idea was there. Even familiar things are fun to view with new, unfettered eyes.

Having the freedom to fly wherever you want, stop and look at things, then soar up and view the vast vistas and swoop down again somewhere else, is just amazing. The feeling I had when I first flew into Ashenvale, my favorite zone in terms of visual appeal, was indescribable.

And the world seems huge. Exploring it thoroughly from the air is going to take forever. I love this; for me, wandering around seeing new stuff - as well as things I haven't seen for a while - is the best part of the game.

Yesterday I poked around Orgrimmar for a while. It's really changed. The basic layout is still the same, but many (most?) of the major buildings have been replaced. The main area, the Valley of Strength, just inside the main entrance, where the bank and auction house were, is completely different. The old buildings and flight tower are gone, and they've built a new bank, new auction house and several other new buildings.

There is another bank and auction house over in the Valley of Honor, to the east, where the fishing, mining and blacksmithing trainers were. The blacksmithing trainer has been brought out of that back alley and is now next to the mining trainer's new location - and there is a jewelcrafting trainer there too, in the same building with the miners! Nice!

Also, conveniently, there is a solo banker and a solo auctioneer in a little niche up north in the Valley of Wisdom, west of the portal hub. These are great because they are close together - and right by a forge and anvil - whereas the bigger bank and auction house locations are spread out a bit and require a little bit of a hike to get from one to the other. This niche reminds me of the convenient area in Thunder Bluff where the bank, auctioneers, mining, and blacksmithing trainers are all quite close together.

The zeppelins now come to Orgrimmar at two new towers on the inside of the city, on a tall bluff between the Valley of Strength and the Valley of Wisdom. The riding/flying trainer is also on this bluff, as is the flight master. You get up and down between the bluff and the rest of the city via one of three elevators.

Other changes: the Drag has no roof and is now bright and cheery, and there is an entrance to the northeast that leads to Azshara, which is now the starting zone for the goblins, the new Horde race. The goblins' racial mount is a three-wheeled motorcycle, which I'm sure all you purists will hate. :)

I still don't like Orgrimmar that much; compared to the magnificent Stormwind, it is quite crude-looking and primitive. Stormwind is gorgeous, and I love being there. But there is a sense of energy and power at Orgrimmar that I find nowhere else.

These two cities are now going to be the central hubs even for level 85's. There are portals and NPC's in both cities that can teleport you to the new high-level zones once you have discovered those zones via quests.

I explored the new 80-82 leveling zone Vash'jir with a level 85 hunter that I copied from a pre-made toon supplied by Blizzard.

I didn't like Vash'jir at first; the way you get there is, um, a little traumatic, and you end up under water, operating out of the air bubble in a (leaking) upside down sunken ship, trying to do some quests before you drown. But after doing the initial couple of quests you get a spell that lets you breathe under water (only in the Vash'jir area) and things get better.

I struggled with the 85 hunter at first because the shots and spells available are different from what I am used to. Cata takes away some stuff I relied on and adds others. Fortunately my new Bartender install and profile enabled me to create a shot/spell button configuration more or less similar to what I'm used to.

Also the pet that came with the pre-made was a bat, and its wings kept getting in the way. It's bizarre to have it flapping its wings - complete with flapping sounds - while swimming around with you under water. Plus the only thing I had for it to eat was some really nice food buff that came with the pre-made toon and I didn't want to waste it by feeding it to the bat.

Floating around dodging seaweed and flapping wings while trying to kill eels and naga and evil little goblins and whatever while also trying to learn my new rotation was, er, interesting. I didn't die but the bat did croak once before I got a reasonable handle on things.

Once I did a few more quests and got an underwater mount (a seahorse!) I discovered a flight master that allowed me to fly back to the mainland. I went to Ironforge (this was a Night Elf pre-made), which is the closest city to Vash'jir, and bought some appropriate food.

Then I flew (yay!) a little ways over to the east to North Gate Pass, where I knew, from leveling one of my lower-level toons recently, there were some snow leopards. Tried to train one but a guard came over and killed it! Gad! Fortunately there were a couple more in the hills not far away, and in short order I had myself a new brilliant white kitty. Woo hoo!

BTW, high level hunters can now have five pets with them at all times, and twenty pets in the stable, which is awesome. And all the pets have the same combat characteristics; they only differ in the buffs they offer. Which means I can go back to playing big growly kitties instead of arf arf yelp yelp doggies.

And I'm going to go tame me some raptors! You remember that giant ravasaur in Ungaro Crater? Hee hee...

Here is an entertaining video on the entry into Vash'jir (spoiler warning!):

One of the things I liked about Vash'jir is that you can fly there from the mainland west of Ironforge. You get the fatigue bar shortly after leaving the coast but if you just keep flying you can make it with health to spare. Don't stop and hover, though, because the fatigue bar starts to move really fast when it gets below about 40%.

Paladin Changes
I did all my exploring of Orgrimmar with a premade level 85 Blood Elf paladin because my highest level Horde character, Rakaael, is only 51 and can't fly yet. I briefly played this character, trying a little combat. I must admit I am a little overwhelmed with all the new Paladin spells - and I really, really miss Taunt, which I used to use for pulling a mob out of a bunch, or just bringing one over to me so I didn't have to walk so far to kill it. LOL!

But the 85 paladin, like the 85 hunter, has so many spells that I was having to use the mouse cursor to hit some of them. I have to hit keys mainly with my left hand because it's such a long move from the mouse on the mattress to the right half of my keyboard, which dangles over me in bed (I'm disabled). This worked fine with the old hunter and paladin configurations, but the new spells and shots are so numerous that I have to play these toons like I play a warrior, using the mouse to hit butttons I can't easily reach with my left hand.

I'm not pleased with this, but hopefully I will eventually settle on a few choice shots and spells that will allow me to manage with (mostly, at least) a one-handed rotation as before.

Deepholm, Tol Barad, and Hyjal
While poking around Orgrimmar I stumbled on a quest that got me to Deepholm (which is under the Maelstrom in the middle of the ocean). I don't remember now exactly where I picked up this quest, but I'm sure we'll be able to find it. Once I had gone there, it opened up a portal in Org so I can easily go back again. Deepholm is rather strange and I didn't spend much time there, but I look forward to going back.

There is a dock outside of Orgrimmar now, home to a ship that leads to one of the new zones, but I haven't explored that yet. I did go briefly to Tol Barad, an island off of Gilneas (southeast of Silverpine Forest and the Undercity) which is the level 85 zone. This was pretty scary, given my ineptitude with the new spells, and my complete ignorance of which armor/weapons set (the 85 pre-made paladin came with four complete sets!) is appropriate for a Retribution pally.

I can't remember how I got to Tol Barad, either. I am going to have to try installing the MapNotes addon in Cata. Without it I'm hopeless. I am looking forward to when WoWWiki adds info on Cata travel and quests like this. Maybe I'll add some myself, now that I think of it.

I am also looking forward to exploring Hyjal, which is supposed to be really nice. This is also a level 77-82 leveling zone like Vash'jir, but reportedly gives somewhat less XP per quest. On the other hand, they say  some of the Vash'jir quests are bugged, while the ones in Hyjal are more stable.

There's a cute video on how to get an Alliance character to Hyjal (and also to Vash'jir) here:

This links to the low rez version of this video but if you have adequate bandwidth you might want to watch a higher rez.

I still haven't rolled a toon of either of the new races, so I have yet to experience the joys of the new races' starting zones. I did fly over the Trolls' new starting islands though, and they seemed nice.

Travel in Cata is going to be quite different. As you know, a level 60 will be able to fly almost anywhere - and in Northrend the minimum level is now 68! So even if I haven't reached 80 with Alaurai, my main, when Cata hits, she'll be able to fly there.

Note that I said almost. The exceptions are the Burning Crusade areas attached to the old world. We won't be able to fly in Silvermoon, Eversong Woods, or Ghostlands! Exodar and its associated Isles are also out. I think this is because they just haven't had time to redo these zones, and they don't want to hold up Cata for that. Anyway, these areas, having been done for BC, are better quality than the original vanilla zones, so they won't benefit as much from being reworked.

Of greater significance for leveling is that lower level toons will have many more flight points to use. Numerous flight points have been added to existing zones, such as - and this one is one I've wished for many times while leveling low-level Human and Night Elf toons in Elwynn Forest - at Goldshire. Other examples include three flight points in Westfall alone, and many more in zones such as Desolace, Ashenvale, Feralas, and Stonetalon. Getting around the old world is going to be much easier now.

Offsetting this, as you have probably heard, is the removal of the portals from Shattrath and Dalaran to the major cities. These cities will no longer be portal hubs. Dalaran will mainly be used by people who are leveling through Northrend, as Shattrath is now for Outland. They've added profession trainers to Dalaran to make leveling easier - and I hope they add an auction house! Otherwise everyone will have to have a banker alt or else run around begging mages for portals.

As I mentioned, there are new portal hubs in Orgrimmar and Stormwind, but these only go to the new high-level zones. As it stands now, if you want to travel from one continent to another you are going to have to take a ship or zeppelin, or pester a mage. Even for me, someone who loves travel and rarely hearthstones or uses portals, this is going to be a bit of an adjustment. The world just got a lot bigger!

The tradeoff is that the major lag most people have suffered in Dalaran should be gone. With Horde 85's spread out among three different auction/bank areas in Orgrimmar, and Alliance 85's using two (maybe three?) separate bank/auction areas in Stormwind, the lag problem should be greatly reduced. I hope!

I suppose I should mention problems I've come across. I've had quite a few, mainly in the form of game crashes. Usually the error is attempting to access invalid memory. These seem to happen more in some areas than others. Oddly, the worst places for these, for me anyway, seem to be Eastern Plaguelands and Tirisfal Glades; I crashed four or five times flying from the Undercity to Ghostlands. Southern Barrens is not too happy either. Flying at lower altitude may help; I'm not sure. But in many other areas I've had no problems at all.

One bug of note is in Azshara, where there is a dungeon that is misplaced above ground level in an area just north of Orgrimmar. You can't see it, but if you fly or ride into it, you can't get out. If you move, you can get blinded by what appear to be some of the textures in the dungeon but you can't see anything useful. I had to hearthstone to escape. But I'm sure this will be fixed soon.

Another issue is that you can only go through the portal between Eastern Plaguelands and Ghostlands one way, from north to south (from Ghostlands to the Plaguelands). There's a one-way invisible barrier that prevents you from going the other way on foot or in the air, unless you are riding on a flight master's mount. I don't know if this is a bug or intentional, but if it stays I believe it will prevent Alliance characters from getting to Ghostlands if they haven't already gone there and picked up the flight point in southeast Ghostlands.

I guess you could say I love it ... I hate it ... I don't know what to think.

I love love love being able to fly in the Old World, and I love some of the changes there, especially to Stormwind, my favorite city.

I very much dislike, however, the ruination of many of my most beloved areas. Mining in Thousand Needles was one of my most cherished pastimes, and I loved questing in the wide open, sunny, lush and cheerful Barrens. I also loved the sense of peaceful calm I got whenever I rode or flew into Astranaar. Sadly, all these delights and many more will be lost when the Cataclysm arrives.

Although I love the leveling of pet combat abilities and the fact that I can carry five pets with me now, the jury is still out for me on the other play changes I've encountered so far, particularly hunter and paladin combat rotations. I really enjoyed the simplicity of playing a Retribution paladin (at least up to level 29 so far) and I was quite content with playing my hunters as well. I hope I'll be able to get used to the new, more complicated rotas, but I'm not sure.

The changes to travel are a mixed bag. The removal of the portals to the major cities from Dalaran and Shattrath will force anyone who's been using them as portal hubs to change their way of thinking and of getting around the world. I suspect Dalaran is likely to become a ghost town, like Shattrath, Quel' Danas, Silvermoon, and the Exodar, and I'm sad about that.

But the new flight points scattered around the Old World will make travel while leveling much less tedious. And flying in the Old World will, of course, be a joy.

After living in the new world for a while, I'm looking forward to the Cataclysm with not quite so much dread as I was before. It's growing on me.

The Patch vs the Beta

Cataclysm is actually two different things. First comes a giant patch, which will upgrade the Old World (Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms) to the new Cataclysm-spec configurations, with sweeping changes to some parts of the geography and major changes to play functionality as well.

I'm sure there will also be minor changes to functionality in Outland and Northrend but not much in the way of geography changes in these zones. Ditto the zones that came with Burning Crusade's new races, which includes Silvermoon, Eversong Woods, and Ghostlands, plus the Exodar and its associated Isles.

Some time (a few weeks?) after the patch is rolled out, the Cataclysm expansion will be released. This will contain new races (Goblins and Worgren) along with their starting zones and new high-level zones to get your characters from level 80 to 85.

This distinction between Cataclysm the expansion and Cataclysm the patch really sunk in for me when I realized that there are two completely different test programs currently under way, each with their own servers: the PTR (public test realms) and the Cataclysm beta realms.

I believe the PTR realms are open to anyone, regardless of whether you've been invited into the beta, so if you want to see what the newly revised Old World zones will be like, head over to your Blizzard account and see if the PTR realms are available to you.

Be prepared for a giant download, though! The Cata beta is over 22 GB on my machine, and I suspect the PTR client is about the same size.

Patch 4.0
If I understand the process correctly, many of the changes I'm encountering in the beta will be delivered with patch 4.0, which will be arriving sometime in the upcoming weeks, prior to the release of the Cataclysm expansion. As of October 1, my computer has already downloaded about 4 GB of the patch. I'm sure there will be more.

By default, patches are downloaded automatically after you exit WoW. You might want to check your computer to see if you've gotten these updates yet. If not, you might want to leave your machine running overnight to let it download them.

Here are the default locations:

Mac: Macintosh HD/Applications/World of Warcraft/Updates

XP: C:\Program Files\World of Warcraft\Updates

Windows 7 and Vista: C:\Users\Public\Games\World of Warcraft\Updates

The files I have on my XP PC are named:


Yours will probably be named something similar.

BTW, by default the downloader uses a BitTorrent protocol, which is great if your router is happy with having zillions of connections constantly opening and closing. Mine isn't, and I found the download to be much faster when I disabled Peer-to-Peer Transfer in Options->Downloader Preferences in the WoW launcher.

Getting into the Beta
If you are interested in getting into the beta, here is a video on how to do it:

A lot of new people seem to be coming into the beta now; I think Blizzard is expanding the population to get more testing done before the release. If you are playing regularly may increase your chances of getting in. And if you pre-order a copy, I'm sure that wouldn't hurt your chances! My invite came a few days after I made my pre-order.

Speaking of release dates, the latest rumor is that Cata will be out in January 2011. Apparently Amazon sent out an email to its preorder customers saying that it will be delivered in January. So there should be more time to adjust to the upcoming patch 4.0 changes before Cataclysm itself hits.