Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Entry 18: Lean Theory Applied to Leveling - The Grind

Being a hybrid is odd. It seems to me, at least at this stage of the leveling game, that enchancement is about head and shoulders above either restoration or elemental in terms of efficiency. Why? Gear availability, and the stats that go with that.

As a melee dpser there are two stats that interest me the most: strength and agility. Strength makes every melee strike hit for more and agility increase my chances to crit (thus enabling all my talent-related melee buffs). Applying a bit of the logic behind gear I learned on Ferenczys, I am actively pursuing both Str and Agi to the complete exclusion of Stam, Int, and Spi. Why? For the exact same reason warlocks are told to stack as much +dmg as they can: stamina does not matter when your fights only last 15 seconds.

My first run through the game, I clung unquestioningly to the stats of survival and longevity. Stamina and Intellect (and yes, spirit too) were everywhere on my gear because I was under the impression that a longer life/mana bar meant I would survive more. While this is true, it's a paradigm worth investigating a little further. Let me use both Feren and Shatterhoof for comparison.

Leveling with Ferenczy was an exercise in patience. I didn't master Drain Tanking until late in my warlock career, and Demonology (at the time) was a grossly underpowered talent tree, so I went the way of Destruction. My fights consisted of blowing the bejeezus out of things, and usually ending fights with 70-60% hp and mana. My threat was through the roof, so I couldn't use my pets to tank like other lock builds. I NEEDED Stam and Int because the more of those I had, the more fights I could go before needing to eat/drink. Or so I thought.

The flipside, which I hadn't learned till much later, was that stacking +dmg made much MORE sense because you could kill the same number of mobs with fewer spells. Fights are much shorter, and consequently your mana pool is taxed much less. There is obviously a tradeoff, as even highly efficient spells are limited by a smaller mana pool, but by and large you are increasing something more useful to a leveling character: SPEED. The faster you kill, the faster you earn xp, and thus the faster you level.

What +dmg is to locks, +agi/+str is to an Enhancement shaman. I usually have to settle for gear options that are one or the other with a stam component, but by and large everything on Shatterhoof is focused on melee damage. The fact that he's in mail armor (well, mostly; I still have a few leather pieces that I'm using because the stats are more in line with the above reasoning) helps considerably, as I'm penalized less for having a smaller health pool. This has allowed me to grind a hell of a lot faster than I would have thought. Last night for instance I cleared out an entire camp of Grimtotem tauren in under ten minutes, drinking/eating once. Shamans have a distinct advantage when it comes to closely spaced mobs in PVE, because it allows us to maximize the use of our totems. If I know I will be able to pull from a single spot for a good while, I will generate my little field of totems and pull with rank 1 Lighting Bolt. The range is ridiculous, and the cost is minimal.

If a full complement of totems is inefficient but I want a good boost, I have found that Grace of Air is by far more useful than Strength of Earth. The totem increases my crit chance by a good amount, and that just makes everything else gel better. Though Strenght of Earth is very powerful when coupled with Windfury, the proc chance of WF makes it an unsure thing. I would rather have the guarantee of more Flurry/Unleashed Rage/Shamanistic Focus uptime more crit brings to the table. This has led me to consider Agi a more important stat for Enhancement shamans than Str. Apart from being a talent enabler through crit %, it enables Dodge too, which only serves to reduce my downtime between pulls even further.

I don't see how Elemental, the other shaman DPS tree, could possibly compare to the sheer killing speed of Enhancement at this point. The availability of +nature/+spell damage on mail pieces at this level seems to be pretty sparse. Sure, I could go into some cloth pieces the same way I now dip into Leather, but shamans lack the ability to CC a mob that other casters enjoy. Pure casters like Mages, Locks and Priests can root, fear, and stun long enough for their spells to cast and kill the target. Druids, like shamans, have more limited ways of keeping something under control, but whereas they can Root a target outside, the best a shaman can do is Frost Shock when the target is in range and kite the target. Running means not casting, and not casting means you aren't killing things, which, to borrow a term from lean manufacturing, is muda.

So here I am, deep into Enhancement and up to my eyeballs in melee stats. What use have I of my other tree abilities? I might use Healing Wave a couple of times, but by and large bandaging is more efficient because it doesn't cut into my mana pool. Lighting bolt is better suited towards poking a target to get it's attention, since the only time I ever do that is when I've got my forest of totems up, and at that point I don't want to waste the mana on the full-rank spell because the almost-guaranteed Shamanistic Focus buff makes shocks so much more efficient.

In the spirit of true lean principle, I will now state what should be common sense to anyone leveling a toon in WoW:

1. Gear to your strengths, and find the most efficient method of killing your target.
2. Stamina/Intellect/Spirit are not imporant while you level. Damage output is.
3. Downtime is bad (lean: Non-value added); travel time is downtime, so the faster you get from A to B (or the less times you have to span the gap), the more time you'll spend doing something productive. See number 4.
4. Install QuestHelper. It modifies your map to show you the location of every one of your quest objectives, letting you work out a logical path from one to the other to maximize your grinding efficiency.
5. Gathering professions are more efficient than crafting professions for two reasons:
5a. You are already out in the wilderness, so you aren't 'wasting time' endlessly crafting in a major city
5b. You don't need to spend gold to increase your proficiency (beyond ranking up that is)
6. As soon as possible, set your Hearthstone to Shattrath City. While you lose the ability to instantly port to the nearby inn while you are leveling, the capability of near-instant travel across continents is huge.

I am now 4 days /played on Shatterhoof and nearing level 50. I'm not sure what a 'good' rate of leveling is, but this seems pretty damn quick compared to all the time I seemed to have spent putzing around with Ferenczys, and a good part of those 4 days was spent pre-30 gearing up for some casual twink PVP. I can only really play in 30-40 minute increments, but each play session I average roughly half a bar of XP if I turn in all the quests I complete. Rested state is awesome. The 'slow' period between 30-40 seems to have gone by pretty quick, and if memory serves, things pick up again once I cross 50 and get access to more centralized quest hubs.

Not sure how much longer I'll be at this though. My family is expecting a new addition soon! It will soon be time for me to hang up the gamer hat and start being a daddy. :) Who knows, I may be back for Wrath of the Lich King, which is looking more and more casual friendly with every tidbit I hear. Thanks Blizz for making even a part-timer like myself feel welcome.

1 comment:

Cynra said...

Aww, disappointing. I stumbled across your blog and was excited to see that your character's name was Ferenczys. I looked at that and said, "Wow! Someone else gives their characters Hungarian names!"

Shame that you haven't updated in a while.