Monday, March 15, 2010

Leveling experiences and what Cataclysm has to do with it

I’ve been playing WoW since March 2005. And if you read this blog on any regular basis you will know I’m somewhat of an alt-a-holic. I’ve been pretty good (considering) in WotLK in keeping myself to two main characters I play – now my Paladin and my Druid – but when WotLK launched I was playing my Shaman and my Death Knight. I dropped my Shaman relatively early in the Winter 2008/Spring of 2009, but I played my Death Knight all the way until late Summer 2009. Now I never touch him and have no plans to revive him. I had recounted last November the various characters I have, but that list has changed somewhat as I deleted my Hunter and my Mage replacing them with a baby Horde Druid I’ve been blogging about recently and a baby Warrior I’d also blogged about in the recent past. But I also have a baby Horde Rogue which has been languishing at level 7 for a long time now. Because of my desire for a Horde Druid that is beginning to change though, and it’s the comparison between the two which I most want to blog about today.

First, understand that a new player is at a serious – and I mean tremendously so – disadvantage to other established players in that the current leveling experience simply sucks. Blizzard made changes to the 1-20 experience by upping mana and health regen for low level characters, and most recently enabled Rogues and Warriors to start out with dual-wield, whereas previously neither got dual-wield until level 20. Those changes certainly helped, but the issue of low level gear itemization was equally important, and that won’t be changed until Cataclysm. Right now you very easily can still be stuck with white/grey level items at level 12-15. And outside of a lucky green drop off a mob, buying something off the auction house at extraordinarily outrageous prices, or winning a lucky drop off a boss in dungeons you can start running in your teens, you are absolutely stuck. The best thing established players can do is equip your new alt with heirloom gear, but a new player doesn’t have that option.

Second, even without the gear issue you still need some way to support yourself. New players may not realize this point, but long time players certainly do. It’s why I didn’t simply transfer my Druid to Horde as he’s my Enchanter and my Jewel crafter on the Alliance side. During the leveling experience it isn’t as much of an issue, but by the time you are in your 70’s and certainly by the time you hit 80 and expect to raid you need some way to make gold or at the very least supply yourself with materials to raid (flasks, potions, gems, enchants). Otherwise you’ll go broke. 200 gold per day running dailies simply isn’t going to be enough to outfit you initially at level 80 when one gem alone can cost that much. Let alone the enchants you need. 1400 gold per week from dailies can be spent remarkably fast and that is ignoring the expense of mounts (flying or otherwise).

In my view it is necessary to have at least two characters to make yourself some-what self-sufficient, although three would be better. That is unless you have the time to complete 25 dailies daily, and still have time to do a considerable amount of farming. On the Alliance side my Druid is my Enchanter/Jewel Crafter, and my Paladin is my gatherer (Miner/Herbalist) and right now my Alchemist is my 75 Warlock who I don’t really play. Those are the professions I consider to be “must haves” and would not like to play without having direct access to. When I decided I wanted to have Horde side characters and had made the decision to become serious about that and started leveling my Horde Druid I also decided that I would need these available on that side as well. Which means that I would have to level 3, not 1, characters. As I have no set deadline to get all this done, and don’t even plan on raiding with at least 2 of them. I might raid on the Druid, but the other two (Rogue and Paladin) will just be support characters.

When I started leveling my Horde Druid I made a point of mentioning how OP he felt at the 1-10 bracket, mostly because of his heirloom gear. But I remember well what it was like when I leveled my Druid the first time around and nothing has changed since then. When a Druid first starts out their only recourse is to cast Wrath or Moonfire when they get it, and auto-swing a level 1 staff they get at creation. It’s a horrible experience, broken only by the need to constantly sit and drink water to regen mana. The fact that I could actually kill things with a few swings of my heirloom mace the second time around made all the difference in the world, but even my three heirloom items could not make up the difference by the time I was level 12 or 13. By then I hadn’t been able to upgrade the other white items I was still wearing and it began to show. By level 15 it felt very much like I remember feeling at the initial levels on my original Druid as it was taking longer and longer to kill things, and I was taking more damage doing it. Then I’d have to heal and was having to sit and regen mana again.

You do get bear form at level 10, and the idea really is to fight in bear form, yet that isn’t much different from just whacking with my mace. Fighting in bear form at levels 10-13 is just as slow as fighting in caster form, except if I need to heal I have to pop out into caster form, and then waste more mana by popping back into bear form. As you get closer to level 20 things get slightly better once you get swipe, and enrage, but not much more so. Things do not get markedly better until level 20 when you get cat form and can dish out much higher DPS, though you will occasionally still take damage spikes if you have to take on more than one mob at a time. But even with that you will have needed to upgrade those armor pieces, preferably through dungeons.

Compare that to the low level Rogue experience though. Low level Rogues start out with dual wield now and as with my Druid, I equipped Chest, Shoulder and heirloom weapons (two daggers). While it took only 2-3 whacks with my mace to kill things in the 1-10 bracket on my Druid, it would only take 1-2 seconds to kill things with my Rogue. While I have to wait for weapon swings on my Druid if I didn’t want to cast multiple Wrath spells, all I had to do to kill things with my Rogue was Sinister Strike to 1 or 2 combo points, then eviscerate. I leveled from level 7 to 15 over the weekend and still have that feeling of OP’ness, even though I haven’t upgraded any of my other armor pieces. It’s something altogether different from how my Druid felt by that level and highlights tremendous differences in the leveling experience that I think Blizzard needs to address. I haven’t seen any mention of it, but I keep hoping Blizzard will take the opportunity to conduct a cleanup of the classes while they also take the time to address the zones.

By level 15 on my Rogue I SS once, pop Slice and Dice and kill the mobs with white hits in just a few seconds. On my Druid I’ll apply claw 2-3 times, then rip as a finisher and kill individual mobs in a few seconds as well, but my Druid is level 24 right now, whereas my Rogue is nearly 10 levels lower. As this is my second Rogue, I already know (also) to ignore the advice I’ve seen so often to level as combat. Instead I’ll level as Assassination, where I’ll take a lot less damage and will have a whole lot more control over mobs. I won’t make the same mistakes I made the first go around.

The point is, even though the classes are obviously different, and have different abilities, the leveling experience should not be so stark between the classes. Rogues are very powerful at the lower levels and have very little, if any, issues when leveling. You can level non-stop and quite literally never have to regen if you know how to play the class right, whereas another class like Druid, is much slower and takes more effort. The gear situation I expect will be fixed in Cataclysm when Blizzard revamps the quests and zones, but the rest of the experience can be changed by altering when classes get abilities. For instance, why can’t Druids start out with Cat form and keeping bear form at level 10? Forcing someone to level by auto-attacking until level 20, or at the very least, semi-auto attacking until level 20 is just down right silly. If Cataclysm is WoW 2.0, as a lot of people are comparing it to, then take the time to clean up all the other glaring areas as well.