I sort of promised a World of Warcraft update when I reached level 90, so here we are.
I got to level 90 on schedule, about halfway through Townlong Steppes. Considering that I also had not finished Krasarang Wilds at this point, that’s about three and a half zones out of six, so the XP curve is definitely fairly forgiving this expansion. I have since finished all the quests in Townlong and Krasarang, so the only thing left for Loremaster of Pandaria is the Dread Wastes, which I shall get to once I finish gearing up for raids.
Speaking of which, I do kind of miss the more casual leveling experience that I had in classic and Burning Crusade, when I didn’t feel pressure to raid as soon as possible after launch and could complete all the zone quests before worrying about other things. Part of the problem is that there is just so much to do in Pandaria that I literally do not have time. I log on and there are no less than four sets of daily quests to do: Arboretum (the celestial dragon dudes), Tillers, Anglers, and Golden Lotus, plus farming mats for endgame cooking and alchemy, plus running dungeons and scenarios to get my item level up. And, of course, pet battles. Who’s a cute little level 20 Mojo? Yes you are!
Note: I am not complaining. I’d rather have stuff to do than no stuff to do. And I haven’t even touched PvP yet or started raiding. It’s just that the sheer amount of content that Blizzard has packed into Mists of Pandaria is a bit overwhelming at times (again: good!), and there’s this competing impetus to “raid, dammit”.
So, back to the list of impressions.
Blizzard was not lying when they said that the questing path this expansion was their best ever. A few minor bugs aside, the quests this time around are as varied and entertaining as I’ve ever seen them. I also like that the zone quest achievements are broken down into segments and you get a toast for every piece of them you complete. The sense of making incremental progress towards the end reward is welcome — much better than a dry “50 of 125″.
Daily quests (which unlock once you reach level 90) are also varied. Once you have done them a few times, you quickly get the idea that they follow a theme: each day, for each faction, a particular questing area is chosen, and then a set of random quests from that area is selected, plus one or more “general” quests. Keeping it thematic helps with immersion and also helps you finish them faster.
Once you hit level 90 and purchase the flying upgrade for Pandaria, you get to really see the world. In addition to the usual map reveals, there are a lot of achievements related to the various lore objects scattered around the continent, which I mentioned in my previous post. Well, it turns out that these objects are the key to upgrading your reputation with the Lorewalkers faction.
Now, if I had all the time in the world, I’d search the continent high and low and not consult a guide — in point of fact, I found almost half of the objects just by encountering them while questing, but others I would not have found had I not specifically gone looking for them. In the end, expediency won out over immersion, and Wowhead came to the rescue by providing me a map to the locations.
A few turn-ins later and I hit Exalted with Lorewalkers. Not much there, though, just a mount to add to my pile and some toys that make Archaeology easier. I do want to get the Archaeology achievements, though, but doing that will involve a lot of time traipsing through digsites, and that’ll have to wait until I’m less busy.
Faction Daily Quests
I mentioned this a bit earlier, but the new faction daily quest system is interesting. First, it’s how you gain most of your reputation in Mists. Sure, there are some reputations you get through killing things (The Black Prince is one of them) and dungeons (in this case, it’s the Tushui Pandaren faction that is part of the Alliance group — the only reason for a level 90 to do this, though, is for the mounts), but most of it is quest grinding. This sets a hard cap on how much you can acquire in a day and some of them are harder than others.
For example, maxing your personal friendships with all of the Tillers NPCs requires searching Pandaria high and low for very hard to spot dirt mounds, so you can dig up quest items to give as gifts. Not very fun, especially as they don’t show up on the minimap radar. Fortunately, Gatherer seems to track them in its latest version, and I’m sure that’d be more helpful if my map weren’t full to the brim of herb locations, to the point where it’s almost annoying.
Also, getting Nat Pagle reputation (which to me seems to be the single most annoying one in the game) requires obsessively fishing for three rare fish that can only be caught once per day. Oh. My. God. And all this just for a book that lets you teach fishing to your alts and an achievement to confirm that you are insane or have OCD.
The other faction dailies are certainly more straightforward, although I need to go look up Shado-Pan, as I haven’t found a quest hub for them yet, oddly. Golden Lotus is the biggest drag in terms of time and sheer quantity, although you do get rewarded with a bunch of those Lesser Charms of Good Fortune that can boost your loot rolls in LFR.
I was prepared mentally for the usual plunge in secondary stats as I leveled from 85 to 90. After all, I’ve seen it with each expansion so far: those hard-won stats you got in raids suddenly are crap when it comes time for the next set of endgame content and you have to gear up all over again. Pandaria hit me really hard, though. I saw my stats plunge by over 75% even with questing gear, and at a current item level of 455 I have barely managed to surpass the DPS I used to be able to pull in Cataclysm. When level 90 mobs have five to ten times the health of level 85 Cataclysm mobs, it is sloooooooow to kill them.
I’ve seen some of the simulations for level 90 performance in Tier 14 gear and I have to say that I’d settle for even half of the notional 100K+ DPS that it says I should be able to do. Still, there’s only up to go, and I do have to admit that the stat boosts with each gear upgrade have a noticeable effect on my performance. The biggest thing that drives me nuts is the loss of haste, though. When I could count on 27% haste in Moonkin Form at baseline, I had a certain set of reflexes built up to handle the pace of casting. DoT rotations, nukes, all of it felt natural and automatic. Now I am constantly fighting against my cast bar and global cooldown, waiting for what feels like an eternity to mash the next button. Damn you, muscle memory!
I am performing well in most fights, though, and I’m competitive over the long haul with other classes. I just have to remember all my tools, like Astral Communion before fights to push me into an Eclipse mode, and using Celestial Alignment on cooldown and at the right times. Also, Hurricane/Astral Storm is king for AoE fights now, unlike before when it was a waste of time. Wild Mushrooms need some kind of buff, though.
Dungeons and Scenarios
The dungeon content so far is varied and challenging. I know many people will say that Heroics are too easy… and they are, for organized groups and guild teams. I’ve been hearing horror stories about PuGs getting flattened by some bosses, and I’ve seen it myself.
I recently got in a Scarlet Monastery group with a tank that insisted on chain pulling everything, pulling two or three trash packs at once, even pulling trash and bosses at the same time. He kept getting mauled and we finally had to tell him, “Hey, dude, we aren’t in 478 gear here. Lay off a bit.” His response was that he was only at 453 or something. I wanted to murder him. We finally convinced him to do one pull at a time and, lo and behold, we won easily.
Some moments in the dungeons are highly memorable, like fighting a giant ale elemental while floating around in bubbles formed from beer suds, or advancing on a wall of archers while holding shields grabbed from the environment. I think that’s what Blizzard was going for with this expansion: making the process of beating on giant health bars for loot more entertaining, and they definitely succeeded.
I think my guild is going to be in shape to hit up raiding in the next week or so, and I’ll report back on how that goes when it happens.
I have a confession: I was going to give up on the pet battle system at one point over frustration with the difficulty of the grind. Beating even-level wild pet teams 50% of the time and getting a meager five or ten percent of the XP bar for each of my pets just wasn’t going to cut it. Then Blizzard apparently put in some undocumented nerfs, specifically to the health scaling of wild pets.
Apparently, this was to differentiate wild pet quality more clearly. Poor quality pets have the lowest health and stats, while Rare quality pets have the best. Well, if you see a group of three level 17 snakes, one with 550 health and another with 950 health, you know which one is the rare and can plan your captures accordingly. Still, the net effect is to make it possible to defeat wild pets of a much higher level than your own pets’. For example, I was winning battles against Pandaria pets (level 23-24) with my level 19 team on a regular basis, and getting decent XP for it too.
That leaves the real challenges to be the master pet trainer encounters, and boy are they challenges. They still do the AI Roulette thing: I’ve seen elite pets that could have wiped the floor with me cast self-buffs multiple times in a row, but I’ve also seen them do some horrible combo attacks, like one pet putting a double damage debuff up and the next one using a super attack that hit for over 1,000 damage. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to clear both Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor and am now working on Outland.
The thing that bothers me now is that there’s apparently a long-standing bug that prevents your traps from getting upgraded once you get certain achievements. Blizzard claims to have hotfixed this, and it does indeed seem to be working for some people, but mainly just those who got the achievement after the hotfix, not before. As I’m in the “before” category, I still have my dinky little baseline traps and it is really annoying, especially as I know that there are better versions available. I realize this could sound hypocritical from someone who’s made a point of criticizing whiners, but please fix it, Blizzard!
Well, that’s it so far. More later as I see what raids are like in this expansion.