Friday, February 4, 2011


After a month of doing Argent Tournament dailies, Alaurai is now - finally - a Crusader! Woo hoo!!

Dungeons vs. Questing
I've enjoyed seeing more of northern Northrend while doing the Argent quests. Last November, about three weeks before Cataclysm hit, I had almost reached level 78. With the encouragement of a player who I'd flown to Dalaran on my rocket, I stopped questing and ran dungeons. I wanted to make it the rest of the way to level 80 before the Shattering.

I had spent many weeks questing in Northrend, leveling from 69 to 77, but I blew through those last couple of levels in a weekend. There's no doubt in my mind that you level much more quickly doing dungeons as opposed to questing.

Still, I'm glad I spent the time I did questing, for a couple of reasons. Questing let me explore the countryside, which in a lot of zones is quite beautiful. I'm a person who needs to know where I am located physically in order to feel grounded. Getting to know my way around the world of Azeroth was very important to me - as well as a lot of fun.

Also, all that questing helped me develop my skills and improve my grasp of the game. I had tried a few dungeons earlier, mostly on lower level alts, but they were just too intense. Too much happening at the same time in a small space, and I often couldn't understand what had happened to me, or to the other members of the team. I needed time to integrate the game mechanics into my thinking, and get a lot of my responses to be more nearly automatic.

Soloing Dungeons and Dragons, and Other Fun Things
Last week, looking for city reputation, I started soloing dungeons for the first time. I ran the Stockade (took about five minutes), then a level 60ish dungeon (can't even remember which one), and then soloed Utgarde Pinnacle. I killed all the bosses without dying once - but I made a mistake on a pull of four trash mobs when a couple of roving guards were too close, and the six of them all aggroed at once and took me down. I went back and killed them all, naturally.

Now I'm running Cataclysm heroics (with PuGs, not solo!) and I'm still learning - and still making mistakes. But the mistakes are fewer, and I usually know right away when I've made one and what it was. And I have moments when I do a lot of things right, and when I do, it's very satisfying. The other day I was the top damage dealer in a regular Cata dungeon, dealing an average of over 8000 DPS throughout the entire run. That was immensely gratifying!

But as a result of my switch to dungeons, I missed out on exploring the higher level zones in Northrend. During the past month, doing the Argent Valiant and Champion dailies, I've seen a lot of Icecrown, Zul'drak, and the Storm Peaks. These are really gorgeous zones, beautifully done. I especially love the majestic stone structures in Zul'drak, with all the magnificent buildings and the wonderful elevated viaduct system bringing water to the crops.

Most of the Argent daily quests are quite easy and fun when you are level 85. Even the three-person group quest - where you have to kill a huge flying skeletal dragon named Chillmaw and her bombardiers - is easily soloable by me and my kitty. As to the rest, I can one- or two-shot most of the mobs, and in one particularly enjoyable quest, I can bring down a half dozen of them at a time with a couple of volleys of Multi-Shot on Rapid Fire. Such fun!

Sadly, that was a Valiant quest, and now that I'm a Crusader I don't get to do it any more.

There are exceptions to the fun, however. Mainly the jousting quests. At first I hated these. Riding on a special-vehicle horse (or cat, or mechanostrider, or whatever) and learning the unique jousting tactics was a real pain. Also, since your performance is determined by your mount's capabilities, it doesn't matter that you are level 85. Your mount still has the same damage dealing and health as if you were level 80. So you really have to learn how to fight with a lance and shield.

After a while I got the maneuvers down. Get three shields up, launch the opponent, and start hammering the Shield Breaker button. As soon as that flies, start hammering the Charge button. As soon as you've made contact, circle around to face the opponent while hammering the Shield Breaker button again. If you do it right, you'll get three big hits in and take down all her shields.

After you've circled back to face her, as soon as you engage in close combat, hit the Shield button to bring yours back up to three, if you've lost any, and spam the lance until she rides off for another charge. Repeat the above cycle until she yields. With this technique, I can win the Valient matches in a minute or so, and the Champion matches take just a little longer.

Sometimes, especially in the Champion area, the opponents will ride off outside the ring, and if you follow them, you'll get disqualified and have to start over. So I've learned to stay in the ring and toss Shield Breakers at them, and then ride to the other end of the ring and wait for them to come to me. When they get in range, I do a Charge and re-engage. This makes me more vulnerable to their Shield Breaker and/or Charge, but that's better than getting disqualified. And once I've kited them back into the ring, I resume my normal strategy and can usually take them down quite quickly.

These techniques also work out in the field, against the Boneguard Lieutenants, although since they don't ride away, it's hard to get multiple Charges in. I do one Charge, ride in a circle around the Lieutenant to trample his assistants, and just stand there hammering away until he goes down.

The Boneguard Commanders are a different matter. If it were just them and their footmen, I could handle them. But those stupid gargoyles flying around always seem to want to join the fun. No matter how many I take out before taking on a Commander, more pop up. And by the time I've taken out a couple of them, my shields are down and the Commander's taken a big chunk out of my health.

I found this quest so annoying and frustrating that I just stopped doing it. It isn't necessary for the Crusader title; it just earns you a couple Champion's Seals, which you can use to buy heirlooms. But there are much faster ways to earn those seals. Given the time it takes to kill three of these bastards - and their gargoyles - it's not worth doing, at least for me.

For the Crusader title - and the privilege of buying heirloom gear for your alts, you have to do five days' worth of dailies for each of the five major cities, for a total of twenty-five days. In addition to all the dailies, you have to get to Exalted reputation with all five cities and the Argent Crusade. For the city rep, you can either do quests - which by now are low level - or you can wear a city tabard and do dungeons. I was already Exalted with Stormwind, but I ran a lot of dungeons getting my reputation up with the other cities.

At the end I realized it was actually faster to do the low-level quests. On the day I completed the last of the dailies, I wound up doing really low level quests in Dun Morogh for Ironforge rep, and quests in Icecrown and Zul'drak for Argent rep.

I ran out of steam that evening before I made it to Exalted with Ironforge and the Argent Crusade, so I ended up doing more quests in Loch Modan and Zul'drak the next day.

I loved getting to know Loch Modan a little better. I discovered that even at level 85, level 5 quests can be fun. No need to roll a gnome to experience the new starting area quests. Then I went to Zul'drak and did Troll Patrol, including that annoying Alchemist Finklestein quest, in under twenty minutes.

How satisfying it was to hand in Troll Patrol and Congratulations and see that Crusader achievement come up!
Travel Tools
And even more satisfying to fly up to the tournament grounds and buy that Argent Crusader's Tabard!

This tabard is fantastic. It acts like a second hearthstone, teleporting you to the Argent Tournament Grounds, which is only a 90 second flight from Dalaran. And it's got a half hour cooldown, just like a hearthstone.

I bought the Baradin's Wardens Tabard the same day. This works the same as the Argent tabard; equip it, click on it, and it teleports you to Tol Barad, which of course is just a quick portal away from Stormwind.

Now I can have my hearthstone in Stormwind, or anywhere I want, and use the two tabards to get to Northrend or the Eastern Kingdoms in seconds. And with the portal hub and various other portals in Stormwind I can get to just about anywhere in Azeroth in less than four minutes.

For a travel junkie, this is glorious! LOL!

Cataclysm Travel Guide
By the way, for more details about traveling in WoW, see the Cataclysm Travel Guide at Wowpedia. I started writing this guide in December, a week or so after Cata hit. People were moaning and crying in the Trade chat about the removal of the portal hubs in Dalaran. The atmosphere was quite pathetic, really.

At first I created the guide just to try to cut down on the complaining - and howling for mage portals - but over time, as I added more and more of what I was learning about traveling around the world, it grew into something that even I find to be a very useful reference.

Apparently other people do too, because the guide is now well into the top 1% of all pages on Wowpedia, with almost 9000 hits as of this writing.

The latest additions include a section about the Dalaran Commute, which tells you how to get between Dalaran and Stormwind (or Orgrimmar) in five minutes or less, using only existing portals and your flying mount.

Also new is an expanded section about where to set your heartsthone, given your current level.

New Goals
After I reached level 85, for a while I found myself at a loss as to what to do next. I'd been questing for months, leveling up, and now that goal was gone. The Argent Crusader title, and the ability to buy the Argent Crusader's Tabard and heirloom gear, gave me a new goal.

But now that this is accomplished, I'm at a bit of a loss again. I've been doing battlegrounds in Tol Barad - and hating it. I did one battleground in Wintergrasp, but there were only about five players engaged. I really regret not having done Wintergrasp before Cata hit, when there were a lot of people and I could have gotten an idea of what PvP combat was like there.

But the nastiness that I've encountered from players of the opposing faction during and after battlegrounds has motivated me to get better gear. In fact, I've realized that the acquisition of better gear really is the equivalent of leveling once you reach level 85. Before Cata, level 80's were always telling me that "the game begins when you reach level 80." I had no idea what they meant.

Now I'm beginning to get an inkling. At the level cap (now 85) the PvE endgame consists of getting better and better gear so you can move on from regular dungeons to heroics, and then to raids. The old GearScore addon has been more or less supplanted by the new in-game Item Level, but either way your goal has become to keep getting better and better gear, much like you used to have the goal of leveling up.

The PvP side of the endgame is much the same, except you are looking for gear with resilience, which lets you stay alive a little longer when a crowd of players from the opposing faction is pounding on you. And you do battlegrounds and eventually arenas. Since I don't like battlegrounds very much, and I don't really like PvE arenas either, it seems unlikely right now that I will be experiencing much of the PvP aspects of the endgame.

A Wonderful Guild
I'm lucky to belong to a relatively young guild called Guardians of the Fallen, which is learning and growing at the same time I am. There's great camaraderie in the guild, which is led by a wonderfully supportive woman with a very adventurous spirit. (Caprica, you had me at Ragefire Caverns - and the zeppelin ride!)

We do a lot of level 70-80ish dungeons and raids, and have started doing regular level 81-85 dungeons, and even some heroics. As a guild, we aren't as effective in the higher level dungeons as we might be; we seem to wipe more often than I've come to expect while doing the same dungeons in PuGs, even in regular dungeons, never mind heroics.

But the spirit of adventure is priceless. I feel that by doing these dungeons we are improving our skills and learning to work together as a team. It feels great to be a part of this process.

I imagine that by the time I'm ready to do level 85 raids, the guild will be too. And I hope I'll be able to contribute to the continuing growth of the team.