Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Entry 15: A Walk on the Shaman Side

Recently, I've toned down the amount of lockage on my account to break things up a little. I've run into something of a wall of Feren. I've purchased my epic flight mount, so money holds no sway over me anymore. I have little to no desire to level enchanting any more, since I'm probably going to lose it in favor of Inscription when Wrath gets released. My guild continues to stumble trying to re-establish a routine Kara group thanks to some painful desertions earlier in the year, so raiding in on hiatus. Magister's Terrace is still mildly entertaining, but everyone seems entirely afraid of heroic mode, so much so that most of my heroic attempts, assuming I even get a full group together, end up falling apart half a dozen pulls into the instance. Most of the time it doesn't even seem like we're doing that badly! We'll run in, start fighting a few groups, down them in (at least, to me) reasonable time, when usually the healer will pipe up that the tank is simply not geared enough for the run. Someone else will nod sagely, and suddenly we're done. Yours truly ends up scratching his head in confusion, but having never tanked/healed a major instance before, I defer to the knowledge and experience of those more familiar with the concepts. It's happened so often that I'm pretty much ambivalent about it.

Though Timbal's Focusing Crystal sure would be sweet.

So, glancing through my character screen, I decided that I'd rather spend my scant WoW hours doing something productive rather than farming Shattered Sun rep. Who needs a title anyway, right? I dusted off Shatterhoof, my trusty Shaman, and set about relearning the basics of shamanism.

It's been a very interesting experience, to be sure. Remember, Feren has been my main for over three years, and I've rarely deviated, if at all. In fact, the last time I started alting it up was about three or four months before Burning Crusade got released...

Hm. This seems to be turning into a trend.

In any case, I've been slowly working on Shatterhoof, plugging my way up the level grind and having a right good time of things. I decided early on that I was going to do this as an enhancement shaman, only because I wasn't all that interested in doing ANOTHER caster, and healers are notoriously bad at leveling. Before shelving him the first time I'd leveled him to 31, a Corpsemaker strapped proudly to his back, so I was in good shape to start things up again.

Leveling as a melee hybrid is worlds away from what it was like leveling Feren. For one, I've learned a lot about general game practices that I just didn't have when I first started playing. He's got two gathering professions as opposed to my original halacious choice of tailoring/enchanting. He's staying on top of his first aid instead of letting it languish. He's selling most of his green drops on the AH.

I've noticed quite a few things about leveling this time around that have changed since my days pre-BC.

For one, the reduced XP requirement is really nice. I breezed through the thirties without too much difficulty at all, at roughly an hour per level. It definitely helps that I grabbed QuestHelper and a coordinate AddOn to guide my travels, but even then, Ghost Wolf is a luxury my warlock never had.

If there's a downside to the faster leveling experience, it's the reduced amount of gold potential characters seem to have now as they level up. Whereas before you could reasonably expect to have enough saved for your first mount by the time you hit 40, even through studious use of the AH and selling all the vendor trash I could get my grubby hooves on, I was barely scratching 50Gs by the time Shatter reached 40. Feren had to subsidize his first mount with a nice gold donation, which I should easily be able to recoup thanks to my awesome awesome Nether Ray.

The counterbalance to this shorter accumulation period however is the massive amount of gold on the open market. Prices for even low level materials like herbs and leather are MUCH higher now than I remember them to be before TBC. Just yesterday I sold off a bags worth of heavy and medium leather for a tidy profit. I was amazed by how high the buyouts were on the AH when I checked for average prices. I really need to update Auctioneer.

So even though I'm raking in more gold per auction, I just don't spend as much time actually gathering in one spot before I've exhausted the leveling potential and moved on. Getting the money for an epic mount is going to be just as much of a headache. Feren won't be retiring his bomber jacket anytime soon, I don't think.

Beyond the 'incidentals' of the WoW experience though, shamans are a blast to play. I readily admit that I am probably the worst shaman you'll ever meet. I'm no good with much outside of my happy little enhancement sphere. Totems confuse me; I can never remember which totems I have access to or when I should be using them. For a while, I was using Strength of Earth routinely to beef up my Two-hander swings, but I was taking heaps of damage. I couldn't go more than two or three mobs at a time before having to eat or bandage. When I switched to Stoneskin and Healing Stream though, my endurance went through the roof. But once I got Dual Wield, I've found that I'm simply moving too much to warrant dropping totems of any kind. Between Stormstrike, Flurry and Windfury procs, I'm just tearing through stuff. I used to think that my warrior was quick!

My noobness as a shaman was painfully apparent when I did my first non-boosted instance run the other day. We hit the Cathedral side of SM, our party consisting of a two-hander warrior, a rogue, a warlock, priest, and myself. Since we were all above 40, everyone was pretty comfortable. Let me tell you, I haven't been in an instance run so chaotic in my life! People were pulling every which way, only mild focusing going on, no one was waiting for drinks between pulls, and even the rogue stopped trying to CC when he noticed the warrior's favorite button seemed to be Whirlwind.

We wiped once, right at the doors to the cathedral, when we simply got overwhelmed by a stream of elites as runners chained groups one after another. Our priest dropped, but we stayed up for quite some time before the warrior went down. It was only then that I realized, to my embarassment, that I have HEALING SPELLS on my toolbar.

Oh yeah. I'm a shaman. Silly me.

So instead of keeping Mr. Fury alive, I kept on blidly whacking away. He died. Warlock died. I soon died. Rogue vanished and the mobs reset. I popped back up (yay Resurrection!), began ressing people, and we were back at it. The whole run was over in about 30 minutes. I dropped all of two totems the entire time, right at Mograine. No one had a DPS meter, but I was definitely smashing face. It was chaotic, but a very welcome change of pace from the ridiculous amount of attention I normall pay to an instance run. MgT has indeed raised the bar for situational awareness.

But Feren, if you're so used to watching multiple mobs, fear juggling, seduce macro'ing, DPSing and watching your threat, why in the world are you such a bad shaman? I'll admit, my situational awareness as a shaman is NOTHING like it is on my lock, and I think I know why. I just don't have shaman in my blood yet. I don't know or remember, instinctively, what I can or cannot do in any given situation. That kind of familiarity can only come from years of experience on the same toon. Besides that, though I'm still in the DPS corner of the party triad, the spheres of responsibility my shaman has is far different from that of a warlock.

As a lock, I've got two jobs: CC and DPS intelligently. As a shaman, it's more like: DPS (single target w/ melee or multi target with chain lighting, still not sure when to switch), incidental healing as necessary, party buffs via totems, removing poisons and diseases, and locking down casters and runners with Earth/Frost Shock as necessary.

That's a lot of stuff to stay on top of, and I haven't even hit the point where I should be thinking about totem twisting yet.

In my defense, no single shaman can be expected to do ALL of that. There's still a priority to things. As enhancement, my primary responsibilities seem to be DPS and party buffs, followed closely by caster/runner control. I should only think or worry about healing if our primary healer bites it, or if the party needs a quick boost, and poison/disease cleansing can just as easily be handled by their respective totems than by me spamming spells.

Oh, that's right. Purge. I also keep mobs purged. Add that to the mixing pot.

I've been told that as I specialize further into the Enhancement tree, some of those responsibilities will likely drop off. Without spell damage gear my Chain Lightnings will be underwhelming at best, and the inability to switch out gear besides weapons during combat pretty much ensures I won't be expected to spot heal if a healer drops. Still, I want to be sure I know HOW to do those things, because doing otherwise is like disabling features of your computer just because you never plan on using them.

You may not PLAN on doing so, but it can't hurt to know how, if the situation ever calls for it.

I've also gained newfound respect for self-res abilities. On my warlock, I rarely run with an SS up simply because I'm either in an instance (and thus someone else gets the SS) and I don't play on a PVP server. Still, in hindsight I can see why it is so important for leveling locks to make sure they keep that buff up at all times, especially while running quest chains. The amount of time you save from being able to pop back up instead of doing the old graveyard shuffle is significant. Travel time notwhitstanding, you will also avoid having to deal with respawns. To all you aspiring warlocks out there reading this blog, take heed: ALWAYS have your SS up and ALWAYS have your Healthstone conjured. We warlocks may be close to invincible, but it's always good to be prepared.

Just pretend that you're Dracula. Stake through the heart, exposure to sunlight, head chopped off and body burned....POP, not dead anymore! Vengeance! Blood! Suffering on all mine enemies!

Ahem. Anyway, you get the point. Ahnks are so cheap that I am now shocked when I think about all the instance wipes I've experienced wherein the shaman sheepishly confesses to not having any on hand. WHAT? Any time I'm in a capital city I'm loading up on the damn things. Not that I find myself dying frequently, but I'd feel really dumb if I didn't have one on hand when I needed it. Same goes for the other reagents Shamans tend to go through, like Fish Oil and Shiny Scales. Never know when water breathing or water walking might come in handy. Just don't use water walking if you intend on jumping into a pool from a high elevation.

Do you suppose a water-walking enchanted corpse leaves water-walking blood and gore all over the place after a splat? There's an image for you.

It's also painfully evident that some classes are just better at leveling than others. Even among DPS classes, some are more equal than others. As a lock, you must be sure to spec in such a way that you take advantage of one of two of our most efficient grinding trees. Demonology and Affliction both have a lot to offer warlocks as they level, presenting two different paths that cater to drastically different playstyles. Affliction is more self-sustaining and is (in my opinion) more efficient at farming multiple mobs, but Demonology has more burst potential and is probably better suited to a PVP server.

And while gear dependency is certainly higher on a melee character like a rogue or shaman, having a high level toon that can bankroll periodic gear upgrades makes for very fast, very efficient leveling. It's gotten me wondering about just what the optimal account leveling process might be. That though is material for a later post.

I'm level 44 now, only a scant 14 more till I'm through the Dark Portal. Until then, depending on whether the guild needs my warlocking prowess, it seems as though Shatterhoof is going to be getting the majority of the spotlight, with his undead benefactor dutifully watching his progress. Very gothic, really. I may have to write a more definitive story about how those two interact one of these days.

Lightning Cows FTW.

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