18 April 2007

Hard, Then Easy

A busy weekend of leveling for me. Eric and DK were gone for the weekend. So, while Cargarios and Wyrmm were quietly resting in the inn, Alamein and Firegrin set out to do some catching up.

We've had a bit of a level gap for a while. Last Thursday, Wyrmm stood at level 28, with Cargarios at 27, Alamein at 24, and Firegrin at 21. In some ways that's fine, but I know I felt some pressure to catch up. To be sure -- that was my own pressure. Nobody is pushing to get us to level quicker, and neither Eric nor DK were concerned. But I didn't want to feel like I was being 'run' through the levels by more powerful characters. With a 3- or 4-level gap, we weren't quite there... but I was a bit nervous. So with the higher-level characters quiet for a few days, it was a great chance to progress.

Firegrin and Alamein did most of their leveling separately, as we just didn't seem to be online at the same times. Alamein started by running a lot of the quests in Duskwood. She wasn't able to finish most of the quest lines -- they really do require groups -- but she was able to move most of them to the penultimate step, and that probably moved her through 3 levels or so. She then spent Sunday doing quests in Ashenvale to kick her up another level.

I believe Firegrin spent his time on Kalimdor, running quests in Darkshore, Ashenvale, and Stonetalon Peak. On Sunday night, they were both in Ashenvale, and finally joined up so Firegrin could help Alamein finish the Raene's Cleansing quest series. Alamein had been able to solo it up until facing Ran Bloodtooth. He wasn't all that tough, but fighting him (with his ranged attack) and his one Furbolg buddy was just a bit too much for Alamein on her own. So Firegrin came to help out, and together they made short work of the pair.

By Sunday night, Alamein had dinged 28, while Firegrin finished at 25. With both of us able to add four levels in a few days, that puts us all on (more) even footing, and closes the bulk of the gap. Which feels pretty good. With Cargarios and Wyrmm back in action on Monday, we were all able to spend some time running things together in various combinations, and it felt great to have everyone at roughly the same level. What was most interesting for me though was the immense difference between playing solo and with even a small group at the same level. The tactics are almost completely different, and the encounters have a completely different feel.

Alamein did quite well soloing, but that involved a lot of careful play. She's specced somewhere between Restoration and Balance, so her strengths are tied to her casting abilities. So a typical encounter would be: Wrath, Moonfire, Roots; Faerie Fire, Moonfire, then Cat Form and build Energy while waiting for the mob. When he's freed, he should be at about 50 to 60% health; it's pretty easy to take him down from there with the kitty form. If it's a caster or shooter, I might take him out exclusively with Cat Form. I can use these methods up to +1 level above my head. If it's a tougher mob, then I would recast Roots and whittle him down a bit with Wrath, Starfire, and/or Moonfire. Two mobs would be a bit tougher, but I can usually crowd control one with roots, or Hibernate if it's a beast. Failing that, I might resort to Bear form to tank better and maybe Swipe to create a bit of area-effect damage.

That strategy works pretty well for grinding mobs. I can usually make it through 3 or 4 before I have to heal and/or drink. I'll use bandages to avoid small heals, and Regrowth for bigger heals. But I have to be careful about pulls, and watch for wandering mobs who can spoil the fun. It's a very efficient method, but takes some planning and caution. I work hard to avoid fighting unnecessary mobs, since they'll make me spend more recovery time, so I make liberal use of Soothe Animal or Hibernate to avoid fights. It's a careful, steady style of play.

But as soon as I group up, it's a different story. First of all, the mobs are hugely easier with 2- or 3-on-1. Also, we can use specialized roles, combining my Roots with Firegrin's bow, for instance. And so play becomes much different. We typically don't have to take much care in the basic areas, and if we pull 4 or 5 same-level mobs, it's usually not a crisis. Plus I'm using maybe 50% less mana and losing 50% less health, so I don't have to drink or heal nearly as often. We'll pull random mobs to fight, knowing that it won't cost us much time. If I need to eat and drink, I can do it while my partners continue killing -- so I will even gain experience and maybe quest objectives. It's easy, and casual, and makes for a much more relaxed experience.

Both styles are fun; I wouldn't want to do either one exclusively. I enjoy the tactical challenges of soloing orange quests; killing the worgen in Darkshire did wonders for my Skinning skill, too. But sometimes you just want to treat it as a casual game, and not have to think so much.

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