Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can I Just Say I'm Stoked for Legion?

Cause I'm gonna whether you think I should or not.

I'm stoked for Legion.

I had to look back to see if I'd noted any sort of excitement during the lead-up to Warlords of Draenor. I'm sure it was there, but this seems entirely different, more palpable. Yes, we're hearing the same old lines about how this will be the "best" and most "content-intensive" expansion we've had to date, but this time around not only do I want to believe them, I feel I should believe them.

But in all honesty, aside from maybe patch 6.2, I don't care if the cycle looks like Warlords. Given Blizzard is promising much more than that is encouraging, but for now I'm cool with surveying the landscape around me own my own time: demons invading, factional losses, political upheaval---some real story.

The environment just feels like Warcraft again, and it's been perfectly exemplified by demon invasions. If I wasn't in a guild, the isolation of the garrison and the convenience of the self-service ready-to-raid tools might have left me feeling like I was the only real live person playing. And that's perhaps why I reacted in mild surprise when, while waiting on a boat to get to Undercity the other day, a player asked, "Hey, can someone with a dual mount fly me to the invasion point?"

I looked at the white text above their head with mild curiosity, then realized, "Oh shit! A real, organic quest!" Then I noticed the other dozen-and-a-half players waiting on the boat as well (who all were incidentally doing their best NPC impressions and not acknowledging this player). The game felt alive! I quickly mounted my rocket and sidled over to the player. Later that day, I found 100g in my mailbox. There was no note, and I don't remember the character's name, but I don't care. I'm saying that came from them.

Granted, Legion isn't quite out yet, so it might be premature to ask how Legion's treating you. But really, based on what you've seen, what do you think so far?

I can't wait to see the final product on Tuesday.

Monday, August 22, 2016

WoW Weekly: That's a Wrap

The shot above is one I didn't imagine seeing on my own login screen. Prior to this weekend, the top six characters sat at max level, most of them decently geared due to Heroic HFC alt runs and the occasional LFR. So last week when it was announced that XP gains for completing invasion stages had been massively nerfed, I abandoned any dreams of having a full roster of max-level characters.

Then, the weekend came early: I decided to take Friday off from work in order to check off some to-dos that had been on the list for too long. Right before heading out to run errands, I saw some interesting chatter on Twitter indicating that invasion mob XP had been hotfixed in the players' favor: experience from shared non-boss kills would be more rewarding, and there were massive amounts of XP to be had from the various bosses (skulls & named) across the map.

Long story short, I spent the better part of Friday and Saturday night (my sometimes-idea of the perfect weekend) working on alts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Most of these characters were sitting between 90 and 93, though one began this journey at 80 and another at 84. It didn't take much time at all---roughly an hour played-sans-prep per character---to level from 90 to 100. As of right now, players have about a week left before Legion launches and the deluge of XP will cease. Below, I'll describe the method I used.

Legion Invasion Power-leveling Tips

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I began this journey with a bit of an advantage: gold. Gold made it so that every single one of my characters could be in the best shape possible when it came to XP gains: in addition to being max-rested, they all had full heirlooms and access to the most lucrative leveling potion: Elixir of the Rapid Mind.


You'll need to dust off those old heirlooms for these fights. Ideally, you'll have the helm, shoulder, cloak, chest, legs and ring slots covered. This will give you a +50% bonus to experience gains. You may find additional heirlooms to be an overall power increase for your character, and that's fine---they just don't actually give a bonus to experience. Remember, heirlooms can be upgraded to function up to level 100 through a token purchased from a vendor found in Undercity.

Mandatory Potions

There are two potions you should have in your possession before you start on this journey; both are relatively simple to get. 

The first, Excess Potion of Accelerated Learning, can be purchased from your Garrison Quartermaster for 100 Garrison Resources. This provides a 20% boost to experience gains and lasts for an hour. Most players should have a garrison and plenty of resources left over to make this happen. However, I did mention two of my characters started sub-90, meaning they hadn't yet set foot on Draenor. So did I spend the time to establish my garrison once they hit 90? I did. 

Here's why: it's easy. I'm not sure it's worth it, as I haven't done the math, but it's easy. Remember, you can completely skip the Tanaan Intro by porting to Gorgrond from the Timeless Isle. Alternatively, a mage port to Warspear and a quick flight to your garrison area will also do the trick. Once there, a half-dozen short quests (about 10 minutes) end with you seeing the construction of your garrison; when it's all over, you'll be left with 105 garrison resources---just enough to buy one potion.* The one catch: you must be level 91 to purchase said potion, so I waited until each character was 91 to set up their garrison.

Most importantly, you need a few Elixirs of the Rapid Mind, but this one's going to cost you. And here you thought all that Warlords gold was for pets and sniping items off the Black Market Auction House! There was a good amount of elixirs on my server's auction house at the start of the weekend; by Sunday night, the supply was but a fraction of the original count, and the price had gone up 50%. These potions will give a 300% boost to experience gains, but the catch is they last a trifling 15 minutes. Across the six characters, I probably purchased just under two-dozen, which amounted to roughly 250,000g. So there is a bit of investment in this method, but I feel no regret and only need to scroll up to the header image for a reminder that I made the right choice. 

*If you are using 300% elixirs in addition to the 20% potion, you should reach level 100 before you need another 20% potion.

Choosing Your Invasion Point

In my opinion, there are four invasion points that are the most attractive to attack, two per faction. For Horde players, these are Azshara and Northern Barrens; for Alliance, it's Dun Morogh and Westfall. It's mainly because they're near faction capital cities: this provides quick travel to invasion sites, and also somewhat guarantees that a large factional force will be present. The latter point is more important on PvP servers, of course, as it means you'll in theory spend less time getting ganked as a lowbie. If you can, ask in general if there's a raid group to join, or start your own. I found it's much easier to become a healer's target when in-group, which can aid in death prevention.

Invasion Strat & Potion Use

Your first order of business is to survive. Yes, you'll be fighting and tagging stuff, and may have to be wary of the opposing faction, but if you're dead you cannot take advantage of all that XP (aside from phase transitions, which I'll touch on below)! There's nothing like having a 470% XP boost---both pots, heirlooms, rested---only to watch all three Phase 2 bosses die while you're a ghost in the graveyard.

Secondly, you'll want to tag everything that you can, especially in Phase 1; the bigger mobs tend to give more XP, with the named bosses and skulls found across the map providing the greatest time spent per XP gained. You'll see in Phase 3 that there's a predictable flow to how/when bosses will appear across the map. It's another big reason why I chose the zones I did in the previous section.

In terms of potion use, I use the 20% when entering the very first invasion of the day, waiting to pop the 300% until just before Phase 1 ends. This way I'm not losing too much potential XP in Phase 1 if the mobs are too scattered or if I'm slow, but still allows me to take advantage of the boost when awarded XP at the phase transition. The potion will be up for all of the Phase 3 zone bosses and will provide bonus XP at the transition to Phase 4. If you do this successfully, you should only need three 300% potions---four at most---on the journey from 90 to 100.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because this is where you're going to reset the invasion.

Invasion Resets

As we all know, invasions currently rotate on a two hour timer. However, what people may not know is that these invasions can be run as many times in that two hour window as a player wants so long as they don't kill the Phase 4 boss.

Since the meat of the XP gains are found via killing bosses in Phases 2 and 3, the idea is to spend as much time in those phases while under the influence of XP boosts. If you log your character out after Phase 4 begins, and then log back in, the invasion will reset and most times will start you somewhere in Phase 1---a handful of times it started me out in Phase 2. Granted, you only earn phase change XP and chests the first time through a specific invasion, but you're not in this for gear, and the XP to be had by repeating Phases 2 and 3 in quick succession absolutely dwarfs what you'd see if you simply went around completing fresh invasions. Not to mention travel time is a huge waste of a 15,000g potion that lasts for 15 minutes.

General Tips

Live to fight again - can't stress this enough: don't die. There are several graveyards that do not act like a PvP graveyard, i.e., you'll have to run back to your corpse in order to resurrect. And let me tell you, these graveyards are not conveniently placed. In almost every instance this happened to me, the boss I was fighting was long dead once I finally got back to my body, meaning I missed out on roughly 1/3 of a level of XP.

Re-potting - You should reach level 100 prior to your 20% XP potion running out. However, you'll have to reapply the 300% potion up to three times; like the first application, I've found it best to apply it right before Phase 2; however, if you find yourself in an unusually long Phase 3 and a couple of boss kills might fall outside of the buff window, it might be best to reapply then. That's your call.

Tagging - You only need to hit a mob once to get its XP; however, don't stray too far away when you're tagging. I learned you can be too far away from a tagged mob in order to benefit from its XP. Again, don't get too zealous as much as you want to practice your rotation. Being alive when that tagged boss falls is the ultimate goal.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Upside to the Legion XP Nerf

Update 8.22.16 - As of late last week, mob XP has been hotfixed & players can expect generous amounts of experience for boss mobs, as well as decent amount of XP on non-boss shared kills.

We've had the official word, even as Blizzard is quite busy this week, but I didn't need to wait for it either because I've seen the proof with my own eyes: experience gained from invasions has been...savagely nerfed (I think I'm finally done with Warlords now). I've all but written the eulogy for my battle-ready alt army. Yesterday, with the help of a full heirloom set and the +20% XP potion from the garrison, I was able to take my 92ish shaman to 94 by completing three invasions.

Over lunch today I confirmed rumors I'd seen earlier on Twitter: we're getting a fraction of what we saw yesterday. However, there is now a third invasion present on the map, and the timers appear to be resetting every two hours instead of every four. Below is the very rough math I cobbled together:
These numbers were approximated from a character in their low 90s. If it doesn't make sense, yesterday in a four-hour period you could earn 640k XP for two events; today you can earn nearly double that (1,152,000 XP) in the same four-hour window, but it requires your participation in three times as any invasion events---which means earning the same amount of experience you did yesterday will require more of your time.

If we assume that each invasion takes 20 minutes to complete and use the numbers above, and if my math doesn't suck, it shows that yesterday we could expect roughly 16k XP/min during invasions. Today, that number is 9.6k XP/min.

I can understand why: if XP remained the same as it was yesterday, a level 90 player could feasibly see two million XP in that four-hour window; that could mean four to five levels, meaning reaching max level is easily obtainable in an afternoon. Just seems too easy and likely not in line with Blizzard's original intentions.

TL;DR: there's a lot more experience on the table to be had, but we'll have to settle for grabbing it in smaller handfuls, as the overall rate of experience given by invasions has been reduced. At least with the two-hour reset timers there won't be as much downtime for players looking to farm and level. I'm curious to see if this trend will continue next week.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

WoW Weekly: Getting Prepared

WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing inside the game and out. From mount farming and raiding, to music, movies, books and other games.

While there is a lot of stuff I'd like to write about based on what I've experienced in-game during the last 24 hours, I'm going to leave all of that alone until more players have had the chance to experience the new content. Any post here that contains even a semblance of a spoiler will be marked as such---I won't be giving anything away for those who'd rather see it all themselves first. 

This will be a spoiler-free post as it relates to lore. I will write about the Broken Shore and the Demon Hunter starting experience in general terms, so if you'd rather not hear a peep, stop back after you've had some time to play. I've only spent a couple of hours in game since invasions began and demon hunters became playable, but that time has left me eagerly anticipating the arrival of the full expansion, as well as scrambling to carve out more time in a busy week to sit down with the game. 

The Betrayer and Me
When I stopped home over the noon hour---also, several hours before maintenance was scheduled to conclude---I was surprised to see my list showing a couple of friends online. So I logged in, deleted my nameholder mage and went to create a new character. Sure enough, on the screen was a night elf demon hunter. Of course, I'd be of the Blood Elf variety, but this was nonetheless great news. 

I'm not surprised the "100 most popular girls names" I googled were snatched up, but I knew I wanted a name that was simple and familiar. I was really trying for a single-syllable name but couldn't settle on anything I liked. Thus, Mehlody came into being (pictured at top). 

I haven't actually finished the demon hunter starting area, but what I've experienced so far has been encouraging. The DH, to me, feels a bit rogue-ish but distinct enough to where it remains appealing. Granted, I haven't yet earned all of my abilities (as far as I know), and I'm curious to learn about the difference between the Havoc and Vengeance specs. 

Broken for Shore
I played again for about an hour after work before I had to run off to other obligations. This was enough time to play through the entirety of the Broken Shore scenario and the aftermath that (for Horde players) takes place in and around Orgrimmar, culminating with being sent to fend off one of the invasions that are starting to happen all across Azeroth (well, a handful of predesignated zones).

It shouldn't take that long for most players to finish the questline---I was simply taking my time, exploring a little, letting it all sink in. I visited Ravika before setting off to the Broken Shore, which is something you should do for three toys and a sweet transmog that essentially allows you to hide whatever's in your feet slot.

As for the Broken Shore scenario itself? I think it's likely to go down as one of the best intros we've seen from Blizzard. Players will walk away from this one with a much deeper understanding of the Legion's might and what it could mean for the fate of Azeroth. For me, the Tanaan Invasion that led us onto Draenor was missing something; I don't know exactly what it was missing, but whatever it was, the Broken Shore experience has it. Can't say I've ever been more excited to see where the story is going. I hope this indicates Blizzard will really focus on storytelling and eliciting emotion this expansion. There were moments in this where I could feel my heart pounding, and afterwards I was left in awe.

What is Next
For starters, I'm planning to finish up the demon hunter intro after band practice tonight, maybe putz around with some dungeons, LFR, or legacy content (another character to add to the weekly Alysrazor runs). After that's finished, I'll likely hit as many invasions as I can to collect all of the things. I may run each of my level 100s through the Broken Shore scenario. Word is you can skip it once you've completed it for the first time, but unlike the Tanaan invasion, I'm not sure I want to. 

I'm looking forward to a lot more Warcraft in my future. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

WoW Weekly: Dormant

WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing inside the game and out. From mount farming and raiding, to music, movies, books and other games.


That's what we all saw last Tuesday with the arrival of the Legion pre-patch. How's it been going for you? I had a pretty busy week leading up to the guild's Thursday raid night, so I wasn't able to put in a great deal of time into learning my enhancement shaman's new rotation. Bosses fell in record time, but things still felt a bit off. While the enhancement rotation looks different on the surface---no more totems, no more Maelstrom x 5 Lightning Bolts, no more shocks---the spells we see now have parallels in the old rotation. 

Instead of Unleash Elements, I've talented into Frostbrand with the aim to keep the buff up 100% of the time. Instead of keeping Flameshock active, we now maintain the Flametongue buff. The main difference between the old and the new is the concept of "building and spending" abilities. We definitely have a lot more control over Maelstrom accrual, though right now the rate of acquisition seems a bit slow. Currently, I'm noticing a bit more down time in combat compared to the old rotation. I've been told the artifact weapon come Legion will smooth some of this out. 

After spending some time with target dummies, setting up some WeakAuras, and killing a half-dozen raid bosses, the rotation is beginning to feel natural. Phew. For a while I felt like I might have to bid farewell to my main since the Burning Crusade. 

Thanks for All The Resources
Now that the lucrativeness of the garrison is all but gone, the call to log in on a daily basis to gather gold has gone quiet. There's still quite a bit I could finish up in Legion, like collecting missing toys, pets, and mounts, but I generally leave a chunk of content unfinished for the inevitable down time that will happen in the new expansion. For example, once the guild had Heroic Archimonde on farm status, I started going after old-world mounts as well as achievements on the Timeless Isle. 

Falling to My Death, Over and Over Again
This makes no sense, I thought to myself, as I plummeted from the skies over Orgrimmar towards the ground where certain death awaited. I repeated this several dozen times in order to satisfy the requirements for the Feat of Strength It All Makes Sense Now over the course of my lunch hour earlier this week. Can't say it was fun, but it's done. 

Climbing the Mount(ain) Runs
After landing two mounts I'd been after for some time, as mentioned in my last post, I set my sights on Alysrazor in the Firelands. However, the prospect of setting up six more characters under the new changes feels too daunting at the moment, and for now, I've ceased mount runs until I can get a better handle on my enhancement shaman.

Making Grandpa Proud

This will probably get the Gaming Affairs treatment at some point, because I've sunk a lot of time into Stardew Valley over the past month and a half. I was turned on to the title by my step-brother, and at first glance it looked pretty dumb. Never played Harvest Moon or Farmville but that's what Stardew looked like to me. Essentially, you inherit a farm in disrepair from your grandfather, and it's up to you to rejuvenate it. 

While it's very similar to those other games in many aspects from what I'm told, I've had a good time in-game. There's a lot of character depth that took me by surprise, and at times the game highlights some quite serious and deep problems, like corporate business running mom & pop shops out of town, townsfolk struggling with depression and self-image, and soldiers returning from war with PTSD. Admittedly, it's beginning to feel stale, especially as I edge closer to "beating" the game (I'd liken this to earning all of WoW's achievements, but on a much smaller scale). That said, the staleness only began to creep in after I logged more than 70 hours. Normally $15, I nabbed it for a discount during the Steam Summer Sale. It's been a while since I put that much time into WoW over a two-month period, so I'd call it money well-spent.

Check out the title for yourself on Steam.

Watching Winona Freak Out
Netflix Originals, man. They've got a good thing going. I've plowed through Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Ranch, and Bloodline. With Vikings, Game of Thrones, and the Walking Dead on hiatus I started looking for something new. Which is when I found Stranger Things. It's set in the early 80s in what could be almost any small, rural town in America. I won't spoil anything, but the basic premise is that a boy goes missing, a strange girl with powers shows up and the people involved try to make sense of it all. It has a strikingly nostalgic feel and reminded me of some classics: E.T., Goonies, Stand By Me, and so on. Winona Ryder plays the missing boy's mother, and offers an authentic performance that involves a lot of screaming and yelling. 

I binged that in about a week, so I'm back in the running for a new show. Heard quite a bit about some of the other Originals I haven't touched yet (OITNB, House of Cards, etc.)...any thoughts? 

Getting the Band Back Together
The group I've been playing with since 2007ish has started to book shows again. We had a couple-year hiatus due to marriages and babies and those sorts of things. Now that things have settled down, families have gotten comfortable with their new routines (/target Child, /cast Silence), we're looking to write, record, and play a show from time to time.