Power leveling my World of Warcraft Druid

While I waited for some of last week’s major content updates to happen, I spent the time pushing hard to power-level my (not so much anymore) baby Druid in World of Warcraft. In the span of two weeks, I went from a brand-new level 1 to level 83, mostly thanks to the double XP bonus and the ability to chain-heal dungeons.

In fact, after about level 30 or so, I did dungeons exclusively. It was simply more convenient and quicker, especially since I’d be outpacing old content pretty quickly anyway with the XP bonus. Each dungeon netted me a level or two, depending on if there were quests inside I hadn’t done yet, and I got enough gear from queuing up for randoms to stay up to date.

The plan for this character, therefore, is to keep dungeon crawling until she gets to about 100, at which point I’ll head on over and do Legion stuff for a while. I don’t have the Battle for Azeroth expansion pack on this account, and I’m loathe to spend money on it right now when it’s going to be rolled into the subscription package either with the pre-patch or Shadowlands (not really sure which). I figure that there are worse things than spending time in an expansion that I genuinely liked and getting some of the extra frills, like toys, pets, and mounts, that I currently lack.

Seriously, I’m level 83, and I don’t have a single mount on this account. Druid flight form rocks.

Every so often, I’ll team up with my wife on whatever character she’s leveling that day, and we’ll adventure together. Once she realized that she could ride my travel form, she demanded to be carried everywhere. I was fine with this until she started ringing a bell from the other room and shouting, “Driver! Driver come pick me up!”

So — and this is true — one of the times I had her on my back, I made for a beeline and jumped straight off a cliff to both of our deaths. Thelma and Louised it. I wish I had been recording the startled screech she made (and her subsequent “you are so CRAZY!” laugh) from the other room, because it’s become a fond memory.

I don’t want to pat my back, but I’m totally going to pat my back here and say that I’m not a half-bad healer. My favorite dungeon experience came from a Stratholme group that was quite death-prone, and I had to frantically playing the healing DoT keyboard to keep them from wiping. I got the above compliment as a result, which had to keep me warm for the times when PUGs yelled at me because Joe DPS charged into a boss mob and died in a fraction of a second.

Yeah, I think I’ve got my healing groove down pretty tight. I’ve probably spent more time in a non-combat resto form on this character than in any battles, so I’m sure to be rusty when I have to start fighting again. But I love the Druid healing options, and I’ve specced to have a few “oh crap!” options for when fights turn south. The big hulking tree form is pretty sweet to pull out on boss fights, in particular, but what really does it for me with this class is that it’s proactive rather than reactive healing. I find that I like that more in my MMO healers, to build up a stockpile of HoTs on the tank, than to have to play catch-up all the time.

Setting up shop as a baby Druid in World of Warcraft

As I told my wife the other day while we were playing World of Warcraft together, I just wasn’t feeling the same excitement of leveling and building up my Death Knight as I had expected. The more I contemplated a better fit, the word “Druid” kept coming to mind more and more. So I rerolled as she yelled from the other room “Are you KIDDING me? I sent you bags!”

Despite this deep wound in our marital relationship, it was a good move, because right from the get-go I was far more engaged in this character. I went with a Worgen (not my favorite race, but Druids have fairly limited options, and I wasn’t going Horde, rolling a Nelf, or grinding forever to get a Kul Tiran whatever. I figure I can always race switch in the future if I can’t stand it, but I’m not too worried.

Frankly, I think a Druid is a great choice for a brand-new account when you have no transmog or unlocks. Since I’d be mostly in a shapeshifted form, it didn’t really matter as much what my armor looked like, and I’d be getting a few movement advantages with the Moonglade teleport, instant travel form, and speed boosts. I won’t be worrying about chasing after mounts, either.

Compared to when I was playing a Druid on WoW Classic, this version is definitely more fun and energetic, with a bigger array of spells and more “pop” to them. I’m going Balance, so figuring out a good rotation was key to making combat encounters go more smooth. Probably the biggest nail-biting choice I had to make was the Tier 1 talents, which had two great choices that I wanted equally. One kept feeding me astral power both in and out of combat so that I could fire off the hard-hitting Starsurge at the start of the rotation, while the other was a three-treant summon. Considering that this was the only (as far as I can tell) pet or summon that the Balance Druid gets, I really wanted that summon, but after trying out the astral power-feeding talent, I couldn’t deny that I needed that more.

Of course, this all meant that I had to start all the way over at level 1 and do my best to charge forward to 120 while building up this account and what I needed for the character. I cheated just a wee bit by mailing all the gold I had from my other account, but that was just for 30-slot bags and a single WoW token. I took herbalism and skinning (skinning is so quick on Worgen!) and started gamely through zone quests.

It’s been both relaxing and enjoyable in a way that I look for in WoW. I have a goal, I have a class I like, and I have smaller milestones to keep me focused for the journey there. The double XP boost is a huge help, and within a few days, I was already in my mid-30s. I do love that the zones level-adjust alongside you so that I’m not over-leveling or quitting one zone to hit another. Once I get to 60, I’ll probably do Northrend from 60-80, then Pandaria, Draenor, Legion, and Battle for Azeroth. It’s a long, long road ahead, and that’s not even including any rep grinds. But I think at least getting to 120 and decking myself out in decent gear is pretty doable, and I’m excited to think of all of the toys and pets and other goodies I’ll be unlocking along the way.

One thing I haven’t been doing much of is dungeons. I will probably start weaving those in, just to get some better gear and have a change of pace, but that also means I’ll need to set up a Resto spec. Which is fine, I like to heal, but I’m not going to level a healer again. That’s an even longer road, and I like my Balance set too much.

Now that I feel like I’m definitely back into WoW, I need to do a lot of reading to catch up on the Shadowlands pre-patch changes that are coming and maneuver to be ready for the expansion. As much as is possible while juggling several other MMOs, of course.

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.

What’s it like to completely start over in World of Warcraft?

When I mentioned my “silly idea” for completely starting over in World of Warcraft with a second account to my wife, she went bananas over it. Like, banana split sundae with whipped cream, cherries, and little nut fragments that get stuck in your teeth. She’s been so into WoW for the last few months but hasn’t experienced much in the way of social connection, so she really loved the idea of us — for the first time — being able to play the game together.

So, what the heck, I created a new account and we were off to the races. I don’t know exactly how much my heart is in this project — my gut says that I’m far more interested in LOTRO and ESO right now — but I like making her happy, and I’m curious to see if I can get attached to a character stripped of any past history or accomplishments.

I could’ve gone a road-less-traveled route and picked a race/class combo that I hadn’t played much in the past, but for something like this, I needed a tested-and-true quantity. And for me, that meant making another Draenei Unholy Death Knight. If I’m going to have just one character, that’s got pretty much everything I want in a class and race right there.

I did give her a slightly different look and am trying out some different build ideas with her talents. What is the really astounding thing is that I was able to get the name “Figment” on a full server. Did not expect for that to happen, but I’m not complaining.

With the 100% XP buff going on, I dinged about four extra levels before even leaving the Death Knight intro zone. I elected to go to Northrend — haven’t been back there in ages — and just work through quests without any huge driving focus. I’ll probably out-level stuff way too fast for my taste, but it doesn’t really matter if I get to 120 faster than desired. There are still questlines and rep grinds and, oh, a million things to do to get this character anywhere near where my regular DK is at.

Probably shouldn’t think about that. That’ll kill my enthusiasm faster than anything else.

It’s pleasant, I guess is the word. It’s fine. I don’t feel that thrill I sometimes do when I come back to an old favorite after enough time has gone by to make it feel new again.

What is really nice is that, yes, my wife and I are able to play together. And we are doing these “WoW dates” every day or so. I love the new party sync system that downlevels her to my area and makes the quests available for her to do again. I hadn’t really given it much thought when they put it in the game last year, but I have to say that it works and is pretty slick in its execution. There’s no stress about her being way over my level or me leveling too quickly, because party sync will adjust to any situation.

We’re kind of yelling directions and chat at each other across the house, not to mention smack talk. It’ll either help us grow closer together or create a deep and burning wound that will never heal. Time will tell on this.

My silliest World of Warcraft idea yet

As I’ve said previously, I’m not playing World of Warcraft at the moment and probably won’t be doing so until Shadowlands launches. However, that hasn’t stopped me from idly daydreaming about a completely silly idea — which is to start over.

Like, over over. As in, a completely new account.

The thing is, my World of Warcraft account has been hijacked by my wife (and to a lesser extent, my kids), and now that she’s not working, it’s pretty much the only game she’s playing. So not only is there a time conflict, there’s also the fact that my server is filling up with not-my-characters. I’m all for sharing and everything, but in a game space, privacy and ownership appeals.

That’s secondary to the real reason that I keep coming back to this notion, occasionally scratching at it deep inside of my head, which is that there is a *huge* appeal in tackling a completely fresh start. After all, other than when I started back up in 2004, I’ve never had that full-bore tabula rasa experience. Since then, I’ve always had alts, collector edition bonuses, transmog unlocks, and all sorts of account unlocks. Most of these I simply take for granted these days, and it’s definitely not a bad thing to have some of those horrid grinds behind me.

Yet in other MMOs, I do like to do complete start-overs from time to time. Having that “fresh” project smell is a heady drug indeed, and sometimes those do-over characters end up becoming the ones I love the most. But I really can’t do that in WoW, because there’s nowhere I can go in the game where I’m not already benefiting from what I’ve done before.

I guess there is an exception that, and that’s WoW Classic, where I have zero unlocks or any way to give myself an artificial leg up. That’s probably why I’ve greatly enjoyed the first 20 or so levels of Classic the few times I’ve done that — but also why I drift away, because there’s nothing about the endgame of vanilla that is fun for me to work toward. In live, at least, there are achievements, unlocks, transmog, heritage armor, toys, and so on. Maybe it’s best just to hold out hope for Burning Crusade Classic and put this do-over notion to rest.

Logically, it’d be a really dumb idea to start up a second account. There’s the issue of money, for starters, which is why I can’t treat WoW the same way as free-to-play MMOs. I’d have to pay for the latest expansion, at the very least, plus a recurring subscription. Our budget right now isn’t that huge and I have brought almost all of my extra spending down to nil.

And there’s the reality of how much would have to “rebuilt” on a new account. Some of that might be pretty enjoyable, but it’d also be a mountain of stuff to do before pretty much getting back to where I already am.

If it was free, I might just go for it for the sake of filling up some summer hours. As it stands, I have more than enough to play in LOTRO, ESO, and elsewhere, so it will most likely remain a flight of fancy.

Why am I not more pumped for WoW: Shadowlands?

You’d think as a career World of Warcraft player whose household maintains an active subscription and as an MMO player without a lot of huge releases on the docket for this year, I’d be starting to ramp up my internal hype for Shadowlands. I mean, unlike some, I don’t hold a lot of angst about Battle for Azeroth. It was a generally fun expansion that wasn’t quite as good as Legion but wasn’t nearly the cesspit that the hyperbolic are making it out to be, and I’m always on board for another big dose of World of Warcraft content.

Yet I haven’t really been much in the mood for WoW this year, other than a month or so back in WoW Classic. I do this thing where every so often I’ll quickly load up a whole lot of my previous favorite games to see if my internal excitement has rejuvenated for any of them, and every time I’ve done it for WoW this year, I’ve felt lukewarm at best. I didn’t participate in the last patch and don’t have a strong urge to start a new character as a project.

But that’s now — what about the future? I mean, I guess Shadowlands looks interesting as a story concept. Delving into WoW’s version of the afterworld could hold a lot of possibilities, but Blizzard didn’t exactly knock our socks off with the expansion’s feature list last last year’s BlizzCon. There’s a randomized rogue-like dungeon, some new skills to earn, and… not much else? The revamp to the leveling process and the level squish will be a nice boon to any future alts, but that seems more like reorganizing a closet than coming up with genuinely new activities. If housing or some truly exciting feature or class was coming with the expansion, sure, I might be very much on board, but it’s hard to make a case with this one.

My lack of enthusiasm could also stem from simply enjoying right now what I’m playing. The triad of LOTRO, Guild Wars 2, and Fallout 76 offer a whole lot of enjoyment and doesn’t make me feel restless or lacking. I’m getting a bit of a different meal at each, and I feel quite full at the end of each night.

I suppose I’ll be back for Shadowlands later this year. My wife loves to play WoW (I got her a time card as a sweetheart gift a week ago) and she’ll want the expansion if nothing else. And I have to allow for the possibility that a few more months going by might do a lot to return my interest. But right here, right now, any talk about Shadowlands kind of just… bounces off and around me whenever I read it or see videos on it. I know I could be taking advantage of this rep boost to unlock more allied races, but I don’t play the ones I already have, so what’s the point there? And I gave up on the stupidly long grind for the bee mount months ago when I discovered that there were two layers of reputation.

I don’t think BlizzCon’s going to happen in person this year, but I could see Blizzard doing a full virtual BlizzCon instead to talk up Shadowlands (either its imminent release or its upcoming first patch) and Burning Crusade Classic. Probably be a nice shot in the arm for the company, but Blizz isn’t quite riding so high these days — and that makes it easier to ignore.

Why can’t World of Warcraft ever settle down on class design?

The only thing that’s constant about Blizzard is how inconstant it is toward World of Warcraft class design. The tides go in, the tides go out, seasons change, and the second a new expansion arrives on the scene, the developers suddenly have a new vision for how they want to do classes and retool everything. Maybe this time, the eighth time around, they’ll get it right. This time will crack the code. Maybe.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Listen, I’m not completely inflexible on this subject. MMOs feature change and adjustments over time, and I’ve yet to meet one that gets all of its classes exactly right out of the gate. Devs will get in there and monkey with things to make them better, with the expectation that if it gets good enough, they’ll leave well enough alone and offer careful, incremental improvements after that.

This is not Blizzard’s approach.

Blizzard’s approach is the interior designer who is never, ever satisfied with the layout of a given room and will forever be rearranging the furniture and decorations even if the last dozen or so iterations looked fine. Millions of players are spreading out their arms, yelling, “Stop, please stop, stop doing this all the time!” and it goes on anyway.

Oh, Blizz always has a reason. They’ll always show up on a Q&A stream or at BlizzCon and claim that they’re responding to feedback and performance and that one guy on the forums who had a really well-written post that one time. It’s always for a Good Reason and never because of raging insecurity and a lack of a cohesive, persistent vision for these classes.

The studio can’t even take a hint from the popularity of legacy servers in this regard. You know why players take a shine to these, Blizzard? It’s because it rolls back all of the last six rounds of changes you made to the classes they used to know intimately and liked. It returns the players to what used to be without the ever-present threat of an expansion class revamp.

So the revamp is coming, yet again, with Shadowlands. I can’t really tell if it’s bad or not, although the theme this time around is “unpruning” and giving players back abilities Blizzard took from them. The studio is presenting this to the community as if thanks is to be expected for slightly unmessing up a mess it made, but I don’t think it’s going to go over that great. We’re just tired of this antsy, jittery approach to class design that fosters not one whit of stability and security.

Seriously, Blizzard, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you just settle down already, pick a direction and go with it without second-guessing yourself every two years?

World of Warcraft Classic: Torn between two eras

Having both an old and modern version of an MMORPG up and running offers a lot of unique opportunities for comparison. But if I may be permitted to whine for just a moment, it’s the fact that neither of them are offering exactly what I’d love to be experiencing right now. It’s a Goldilocks conundrum.

Modern WoW is really solid in a lot of ways, full-featured, lots of content, all of the races and classes, tons to do, etc. But man, that endgame is the pits. I haven’t even been back for the visions and legendary cloak thing, and I can tell you that seeing yet another pointless grind for gear that we’re just going to ditch soon is beyond non-motivating.

WoW Classic offers a tougher, slower experience that does a lot to respark those old nostalgic memories. It makes drops feel meaningful and streamlines the game to feel more immediate and immersive. Yet that endgame is also the pits. If I hit level 60, I can’t see having anything to do with my character other than mothball her.

The “just right” solution may, in fact, be a Burning Crusade or Wrath server — more content, but still of an older era with talent trees and none of this goofy artifact/heart grinding. I’m sure there was just as much spinning wheels at high levels, but to me, it seems more manageable… and more “World of Warcrafty” than what we have now.

But for the time being, my sessions in WoW Classic are more relaxing, zen-like adventures that involve a lot of running and slow questing. The other day I was doing the level 20 Warlock quest, which sent me from Stormwind to (why not) the Barrens. THAT was well-thought out by devs, let me tell you. It’s a good run if you like dying and feeling like you’re the odd gnome out in the middle of a deep Horde territory, but for me it was mostly a half-hour to watch an episode of The Office while trying to get from Point A to B.

I can already see how a lot of the initial appeal of making a character on this server starts to wear off at this level. The first 20 levels are full of discovery and great growth — faster levels, talent points, bag space, setting stuff up, getting established, revisiting those cherished beginner zones. There’s still advancement and some significant milestones ahead, particularly at the 10-level marks, but it’s not quite as meaningful as before. That’s where having a strong endgame serves as motivation to get there, but when there is none that interests you, then… I guess you’re just in it for the journey. And how long can that last?

WoW Classic: Azerothian photographer

When you’ve done content so many times in an MMO, then you have to entertain yourself however you can. That might mean trying out some new class or crafting skill, exploring more, or (in my case) taking lots of pictures of WoW Classic. As incredibly pretty as the live game is, there’s still a lot of beautiful scenes that I keep stumbling across in Classic — such as this shot of Lakeridge above. I thought it looked very peaceful, up until that named boar behind me two-shotted me.

And while the characters definitely look more crude than in the live game, you’d be surprised at what some lighting might do to soften the hard lines. My character up there honestly looks like the 2020 version to my eyes.

To get my staff skill, I had to make the horrendously long run/boat ride to Darnassus. On the way, I got this picture of a tree-lighthouse that I thought was cute.

WELCOME TO STORMWIND! CHECK OUT OUR UNDERPITTIES!

Speaking of familiar sights, Goldshire inn — that wretched hive of ERP — looked so pretty with the light and shadows of the trees rippling down on it.

Here’s a fun way to traverse Elwynn Forest: Take the cannon from Darkmoon Faire. At least it shaved off like 30 seconds from my run, and I got to enjoy a brief bout of flying in Classic.

As for progress, I’m taking my time and definitely not going that fast. At the time of this writing, I’m level 18 and have done a couple of Deadmines runs while more-or-less sticking to a Classic quest walkthrough guide. My Warlock’s build isn’t going to shape up until level 40 or so, but I’m still having fun making money and grinding mobs while exploring this old-is-new-again world.

WoW Classic: The pitter-patter of little feet

I guess my self-imposed exile from World of Warcraft ended the other day as I found myself stumbling into WoW Classic due to a desire to… I don’t know? I guess I’m craving that old fashioned MMORPG experience, and as much as I’m getting it from LOTRO, it’s nice to have some variation.

Instead of picking up a previous character, I started over on Alliance with a Gnome Warlock. She kind of has this deer-caught-in-headlights look, but it’s her dark magic that counts. The Warlock always seems like a very safe choice with the legacy version of the game, with its greater survivability and wide toolset. Plus pets. Plus, Gnome!

You know you’re deep in Gnome country when you’re fighting trolls and some rando Gnome runs up and — instead of helping — does his weird little Gnome dance for your battle entertainment.

I quickly got to work getting through the newbie area (which, let’s be honest, I could probably do with my eyes closed). It’s always thrilling to start out with so very little and realize that you have to make your way with money, bags, spells, and all the rest. I was a little bummed that no 6-slot bags dropped that first night, but it’s OK. I shall prevail.

This area more than any other in the game holds such a wealth of nostalgia for me. For little moments here and there, I’m transported back to the wonder that I felt in 2004, that excitement over finally being able to get into this MMO. This was the first place I ever saw, and the snowy valley feels like home because of it. Even with the cruder graphics, there’s still a beauty when it’s all taken together, so great props to Blizzard’s art team back in the day.

It was a slower pace of combat, but I enjoyed pushing myself to nail down the best beginner rotation. I made it a priority to get the imp pet ASAP — which I thought was at level 6 but I got here at level 3 so what do I know? — and then began pulling two to three mobs at a time. The only time I died that first night was when the cave boss spawned on top of my head when my pet was dead and I was low on mana.

In a stroke of great fortune, I stumbled into a welcoming and friendly guild almost from the get-go. It’s not a huge guild, but there were a dozen on of varying levels (no greater than 38) all chatting about this and that. Hogger runs and gold generation and the like. The guild master and I bonded over our notions of superiority (both of us being Gnome Warlocks).

Long term goals? Eh, I’m not setting them. Thinking of the endgame in WoW Classic is a non-starter for me; there’s very little waiting for me at level 60 other than to just get to level 60. But at the very least, I can consider the journey a possible hedge against a future Burning Crusade/Lich King server that allows for transfers. That’s a weird long shot, but at the very least I should have some fun in the meantime.