I hit level 80 on Saturday night questing around in Icecrown which was what I intended but not exactly what I expected. My expectations were that I’d take the earliest opportunity to head over to Vashj’ir or Hyjal around, oh, 78-79. But I got kind of caught up in the questing in Icecrown even though I breezed through most of it and honestly I didn’t go when I first hit level 78 because I made a strange decision at that moment to try and catch my Blacksmithing skill up to a reasonable stage which caused me to stall at level 78 for days on end while I flew around Nagrand mining Fire and Earth Motes.
My rationale for working on Blacksmithing was that I was making a lot of progress on my other profession—especially Mining which, along with First Aid, I find ridiculously easy to level. The Cooking and Fishing dailies in both Orgrimmar and Dalaran did a lot toward moving those both along (actually I credit the Pilgrim’s Bounty requirements for most of my Cooking progress) so all that was left was poor Blacksmithing which, if you don’t keep it fairly even with your mining and therefore your current zone ore supplies, is a chore to level. One nice thing about Mining is that the mats from it sell for a grip on the Auction House. One bad thing about that is if you ever want to fast-track your Blacksmithing you end up paying those same prices you enjoy gouging other customers for the rest of the time. Since I’m a cheapskate I end up low-level farming for things like Mithril in Thousand Needles so I can make useles-to-me boots and greaves that either sell for a few gold to vendors or run up my re-listing fees on the AH. It’s pretty frustrating but I was so sick of profiting off my Mining mats and occasionally deciding to check on Blacksmithing only to discover I’d sold everything I needed to skill up the day before, I decided I needed to buckle down and make it a conscious decision.
I’m still a few Adamantite runs from getting up to the Wrath-level in my Blacksmithing skill but fortunately I’m not that far off and I at least learned my lesson and started saving all those Cobalt and Saronite bars instead of trying to make a quick buck off them and having to go back and re-farm later. But in between farming ore, dailies, cash generation (mostly from gems) and the general twiddling around that seems to define a lot of the game I was able to take some questing breaks and hit the Wrath level cap. I’d say that I immediately ran out and grabbed Cataclysm but the truth is I bought it long before that point. My rationale was that I wanted to fly in Azeroth to speed up some of the basic activities plus I was hitting skill level caps with possible skill ups being lost due to not having access to Illustrious Grand Master ranks but honestly I really just wanted to confirm for myself that I was ready to go whenever I managed to ding 80.
So, I’m 80 now. When it was time over the weekend to check out a new leveling zone I don’t know why but I picked Vashj’ir first. This was a weird decision because I have a really bizarre phobia about undersea visuals (for example, a slew of images that give me the über-wiggins can be found on this Google images page) and Vashj’ir is, well, it’s all underwater. I dunno, I guess it was because when I flew over the southwestern corner of Mount Hyjal as part of an Archeology profession run it looked very similar to other things I’d seen and done previously in WoW. So I went under the sea. Predictably it kind of freaked me out especially once I got to the point where you get the Seahorse mount and as it was touring around the zone while I tried the mini-game to break it and make it tame, I caught a glimpse of the massive and super creepy looking Whale Shark and I decided, “I’ve got to get out of here, I’m going to have nightmares.” And I did have nightmares. I may need therapy.
Now I may actually have stayed and just manned up about it but I was compelled to leave Vashj’ir for another more directly game-related reason: I found the zone to be ridiculously difficult. Part of it is certainly the three-dimensionality to the zone: Naga cruising around overhead were constantly going aggro on me and rushing down when I really needed to be using a bandage or eating. It was hard for me to get used to watching not just my immediate vicinity on the ground but also checking over my head for possible mob attacks. If it had added just an interesting new challenge to the mix that would have been one thing but it felt like it was just brutally difficult and no fun at all to constantly be ghost running and paying for repairs. No thanks. And maybe it was because I was a fresh 80 and not someone who’d dinged 80 back in 2008 and spent the last two years building up raid gear or honor grinding for top tier stuff but the overall difficulty curve between level 80 mobs from Icecrown and level 80 mobs from Vashj’ir felt wildly uneven. I could chain kill Scourge mobs from the Fleshworks using Victory Rush to restore my health to at least 90% after a 1-on-1 fight and I could maintain three or four simultaneously attacking mobs without dropping pretty easily. Once I got to Vashj’ir I’d have 20-30% health after each mob (not enough for Victory Rush to make up the difference) and if I pulled aggro on a second before the first was less than 15% health, it was pretty much curtains for me.
Between the frustration and the creepiness of it all, I bailed on Vashj’ir and went to Hyjal instead which I’m glad I did because once I bothered to do the entry quest where you get to see Deathwing and the rise of Ragnaros, it was clear Hyjal was going to be suitably epic for my run toward 85 and in fact I think Hyjal is going to be much more lore-heavy which is what I really like/want anyhow so it all works out there.
It turns out I kind of like the approach of letting my character level advance in bursts as opposed to steadily. While it’s been something of a hassle to work on Blacksmithing one thing that has been fun is how it’s forced me back into Outland where I’ve gotten a new respect for zones like Nagrand, Blade’s Edge Mountains and even Zangarmarsh (which I really enjoyed the first time through). I tend to treat the dailies, auction house fiddling, skill training, and achievement hunting as kind of my ceaseless To-Do list of stuff I want to ultimately accomplish and the questing is the real task at hand which everything is built around. That means I don’t really worry much about my XP/hour stat because some sessions I’ll knock out two dozen quests in an hour or two and other times I’ll play for longer than that like on a weekend night after the family is asleep and do very little other than fly around for hours and post a couple things onto the auction house.
I also rolled a Worgen (Priest, in this case) and worked up to about level 8 (which, based on the number of level 6-9 characters I have is about my one-session limit) so I could experience the starting story/zone. It’s simply fantastic what they’ve accomplished in terms of storytelling with this sequence and while I’m pretty focused on getting my main to 85 so I can actually enjoy and engage in some end-game activities for once, I’m anxious to get back to the Worgen because I really like this character and I’m intrigued to see the game from the Alliance side for once.
I actually have another game to talk about this week: I had a chance to play Blood Bowl on Xbox Live against Doctor Mac for half a match anyway. I brought in my Skaven (Nimh Conpoops) against his Lizardman team which in retrospect I probably should have picked an unfamiliar team of scrubs since he’s new to the game and a couple of my Gutter Runners are just insanely overpriced with five and six skills each which means even with the inducements it’s kind of hard to defend against a one-turn scorer. And of course not knowing the teams meant he left an opening for me, I got the Quick Snap roll and did score in one turn. Overall the game works great on Live although the omission of online leagues is both puzzling and a hugely missed opportunity.
The one problem I know the game has is that it isn’t quite transparent enough about what it’s doing or, sometimes more pertinently, what it isn’t doing. I lost a turn because it isn’t intuitive how to declare a blitz and a pass action on the same turn and as a result I left my ball carrier more or less defenseless due to an interface issue that I never would have had to worry about in a tabletop environment. For that reason alone I think there needs to be either a take-back option or at the very least an action preview that goes into more depth about what is supposed to happen on that turn than the current system conveys. I think by and large no one wants to win based on a mistake in the controls by the other player; they want to win based on strategy mistakes executed with the best intentions but either undesirable or unfortunate outcomes. Which is why, ultimately, I think Blood Bowl for PC (even the recently released PC-only Legendary edition) is a great fill-in for fans of the game but will never actually replace the tabletop game.
One minor downside of this Doctor Mac/Blood Bowl development is that I was planning to let my Live subscription lapse and now I’m finding a new reason to renew it. Curse you Microsoft and your payment model!