Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Nefarian could not do...

So I didn't get to play in all the new 4.2 goodness last night. I downloaded the patch, updated all my addons, logged in, logged back out, enabled out-of-date addons, logged back in, picked up the quests from the Hero's Call Board and Naraat the Earthspeaker, and took the portal to Hyjal...

...where my game promptly slowed down to approximately 1 frame every 10 seconds.

I hearthed back to Stormwind, where the lag issues persisted, though not as bad. (Which is interesting, because SW was fine before I lag issues.)

I decided, rather than get in a four-way wrestling match between me, the game, my system, and the throngs of people out doing the new 4.2 content, I'd just go continue my Mass Effect replay for the night and try again today.

I must have had bad luck or bad interaction between one of my addons and...something. Because Norfin zoned into Hyjal just as I logged out and he had zero issues.

I was already committed in my mind to shooting aliens and synthetics rather than shredding elementals, so I let it go. I'll give it another try tonight.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We did it! 12/12!

I called "last attempt."

I called "real last attempt."

I called "for real-real, seriously last attempt."

The problem was, even though we were way past our usual cutoff time, we kept getting closer and closer.

I mean, you don't stop when you get to 25%, then 18%, then 7%...

So I declared that we would stop when someone whispered me and said they had to go to bed before they made face-waffles on their keyboard.

And as soon as I said that:

So crazy. And on that last attempt, the successful one, it felt so cool and calm. (Save Karmaze, whose voice went up 2 octaves and doubled in tempo.)

I'm really proud of this group. I was looking through the guild forums the other day and realized that we didn't even start raiding together until mid-April. Some of us had seen Halfus, Magmaw, and Omnitron prior to that, but I don't think we'd managed to kill all of them, if any. So, in all reality, we learned and conquered all 12 normal mode bosses in two and a half months. And we did it before the patch nerfed them significantly.

The last night before the nerf. Talk about bringing it down to the wire.

We joked (after the raid) about still being at it, right on the heels of a kill, when the servers went down for maintenance. We kinda wondered if anyone was going to be unfortunate enough to experience that. Thankfully, not us.

For most of us, this was a true 12/12, giving us our Defender of a Shattered World titles. It also unlocked the Dark Phoenix for our guild.

(I finally replaced my 346 helm, too.)

Come tomorrow, no one will really know we earned them before the patch. But that's okay. We do.

We're going to take Thursday to go redo BoT. We only have one Council kill, and our Hunter (my other half, Norfin) was healing on his Shaman when we did it. So we want to get him his achieve and title. The other Shaman who's regularly filled our 3rd healer slot also needs that fight for the raid portion of his Defender achieve.

Monday we're taking off for the holiday.

And then it's into the Firelands after that.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Al'Akir defeated! 11/12!

Brutal fight. Every phase has things that can go horribly wrong. And, as the tank, it's exceedingly easy to wipe the raid at any point in the first two phases if you're not paying attention and performing with absolute precision. No easy task when you're trying to manage adds, lead the raid, watch the timers, and find the gaps in the squall lines. Plus, you know, still put up respectable tanking damage to help the raid get through those phases quicker.

The hardest part was the third phase just because--to even get to it--you had to get through the other two phases first, which we were only doing about 33% of the time. Made it really, really hard to learn how to execute the strategy properly. In those kinds of situations, it's up to the raid leader to step up and really guide everyone through the process. There's no room for ambiguity. Once I figured out how to lead that phase effectively, we got him. (Not to sound like it was all me or anything.)

I got my tier shoulders out of the fight, which means I was able to justify spending my VP on the robe. I now have the 4-set bonus and don't look half bad (except for the silly belt).

Only Nef is left. The first half of Thursday's raid will be spent just clearing to him. We have the first five bosses down to an art, with the possible exception of Chimaeron. We can usually down him, but it's still almost never pretty.

Providing the first 5 go that smoothly, we'll be left with 4.5 hours to down Nef before 4.2 drops. Going 12/12 before the nerf would be a huge accomplishment considering how late we got started raiding in this expansion and how long it took us to really hit our stride once we did.

Even if we don't quite pull it off, we're going to stay in Tier 11 until we get him, just to have it all wrapped up. Then it's off to the Firelands.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Bear's Guide to BWD: Atramedes

Atramedes resides on the north end of the Vault of Shadowflame in BWD. He's a unique boss with a new sound mechanic. At the beginning of the fight everyone in the raid has 0 "sound." Every time someone gets hit by one of his special abilities, they gain sound. If/when they hit 100, he focuses on them and cannot be taunted off. Many of his special abilities are also deadlier against people with higher sound levels. Why sound? Because Atramedes is blind. Sonar, people.

There are 10 gongs around the room (5 per side) that can be to cause Vertigo on Atramedes. While under the effects of Vertigo, he'll take additional damage and the sound level of everyone in the raid will be reset to 0. However, you don't want to use them recklessly. Each time you ring one, Atramedes destroys it and they serve an important function during the fight.

If you have DBM (or similar addon), you can see sound levels represented in easy-to-read text. If not, you'll be dependent on an in-game sound meter graphic. It's a circle that fills blue (from the center, expanding outwards) as your sound rises. I find it's very difficult to read because of the non-linear relationship between a circle's radius and area. Low levels of sound tend to look much worse than they really are.

Atramedes is a single-tank fight. It's not unusual for Bears to be asked to go Cat for this fight to get a little extra DPS boost. There's no enrage timer, but if he isn't killed before your raid runs out of gongs to ring, it will cause a wipe.

But this is a guide for Bears that do end up tanking.

There's two phases to this fight. An 80-second ground phase followed by a 40-second air phase. Rinse, repeat. You'll only be tanking Atramedes while he's on the ground. He hits hard, but slow. So you usually don't have to panic (too much) if your health dips low. Your healers will (probably) have time to get you back up.

You'll want to know ahead of time the order that your raid is using the gongs. In my raids we use the gongs on the east side of the room during the ground phases, starting with the northern-most one (closest to where Atramedes spawns) and moving south. You want to keep Atramedes positioned such that the gong is one side of him and the center of the room is on the other. Your ranged should be standing near the next gong to be rang and melee generally do their job from the other side.

During the initial pull, this is not very hard to accomplish. When he lands (in the center of the room) after the air-phases, it's a little harder. You sometimes have to kite him to the north or south end of the room first and then swing him around and into position. Make sure you're communicating with your healers when you do this so they don't end up out of range.

All throughout the ground phase, Atramedes will be casting Modulation and Sonar Pulse. There's nothing you can do about the former, so don't worry about it too much. The latter causes four gold discs to spawn beneath Atramedes and move out in random directions. They move somewhat slowly and are relatively easy to avoid. Atramedes has a fairly large hit box, so try to make sure you're tanking from the edge of it. It gives you more time before the discs reach you and more time for them to spread further apart, making easier gaps to run through. Strafing is your friend here.

Sometimes fate conspires against you and there won't be an easy gap for you to hit. When this happens, run straight through the discs towards Atramedes to minimize the amount of time one is touching you.

Twice during each ground phase (at roughly 20 and 60 seconds), Atramedes will use his Sonic Breath ability. He targets a single player and casts a room-length, fire-laser at them. That player needs to run around Atramedes to avoid it. (Atramedes continually tracks the target for the the six or so seconds this beam lasts.) Anyone the fire-laser touches takes damage and gains sound. As the tank, you'll never be the target of this ability, but that doesn't mean whoever is targeted won't track it right through you. You may have to move to avoid it.

Once per ground phase (at roughly 40 seconds) Atramedes will cast Searing Flame. Your ranged should be standing by on the gong as this ability approaches and ring it very quickly when he starts casting it. It must be interrupted by the gong. If you have high sound (more than 50), pop Barkskin before this ability goes off. If you have really high sound (more than 75) use Survival Instincts instead. And if you have low health, Frenzied Regeneration is probably not a bad idea in addition to either one of your damage mitigation abilities, regardless of your sound level.

Once Atramedes starts to fly up into the air, you and the rest of your raid should start running in a large circle around the edge of the floor. Atramedes is going to pick one person and start chasing them with Roaring Flame Breath, a beam similar to Sonic Breath except that it goes downward now. It starts fairly slowly at first (faster if the target has high sound) and gradually speeds up as it chases them. The beam does heavy, fast ticking damage to the player if it catches up. It also leaves a trail of fire on the ground behind it that will damage anyone that runs through it. They'll also gain sound (presumably because of shouting something between "Ow! Ow! Ow!" and "Oh god, the burning! Make it stop!").

The beam can be stopped by ringing a gong.

Once the beam targets someone, everyone else should collapse down to the center except for a designated gong-ringer. The gong-ringer needs to stand near an available gong (in my raid group, we use the gongs on the west side of the room for the air phases) and keep an eye on the person being chased. When the Flame Breath is about to catch up to that person, they need to use a gong and then immediately start running. Why? They become the new Flame Breath target.

In order to keep the number of gongs needed for the air phase at 1, the gong-ringer should hold out as long as possible. People being chased by Flame Breath should do whatever they can to increase the time the gong-ringer has to save them (Sprint, Dash, Blink, Lock Gate, Ghost Wolf, Heroic Leap, etc).

Providing we don't get targeted initially, we Bears make very good gong-ringers. For starters, we can't DPS Atramedes while he's in the air (ranged can still reach him) so we're pretty much useless during the air phase anyway. Secondly, we can shift Cat to gain a speed boost via Feral Swiftness and have Dash available to us every other air phase.

Whether or not you're the gong-ringer, keep an eye out for Sonar Bombs. These fall fairly rapidly during the air phases and frequently target the spaces people are standing in. There will be a set of flashing rings that appear where one is going to land a few seconds before it does. If one of these appears under you, move.

If you're not the gong-ringer, just hang out near the middle and get ready to pick up Atramedes when he lands. Stay out of fire patches on the ground and Sonar Bomb zones. Also stay 6 yards from other raid members so you don't catch splash damage from the Sonic Fireballs that will be raining down.

Atramedes has a pretty anemic loot-table as far as Bears are concerned. The only drop you'll potentially be looking for is the Sark of the Unwatched.

As with all my boss strats, I'm writing from the overall perspective of a Bear tank (in 10-man) and what they will need to do. For you Cats reading this blog, I suggest you check out Dinaer's guides on Forever a Noob. They're written for Rogues but are a pretty good guide for melee in general and his gear drop suggestions (with the exception of weapons) will be spot on for Cats. If I have additional insight, I will try to add it in my blog.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cho'gall dead! BoT Clear!

Our first attempt of the night we got him to 11%, which was our best ever. At that point I knew for sure we had him tonight.

After Cho fell, we headed over to T4W to make quick work of the Conclave and then started learning Al'Akir. We only had an hour, but we made good progress. I think we may be at 11/12 before the week is over, leaving only Nef.

So many levels...

Another hectic weekend gone by with a lot of things that took my attention away from WoW. I'm not complaining. I had fun doing them and I don't mind spending time away from the game.

It's just not conducive to power leveling a toon.

Sanele is 72 now and almost done with the Fjord. Just a few more quests out of Fort Wildervar and then it's off to Dragonblight.

My plan is to get her to 80 by the weekend, which is ambitious. Tonight is raid night (Cho'gall will die) and I have hockey Friday night (although not until 10:45, so I should have plenty of time in the early evening).

Then it's the final push to 85.

After that, I plan to take Maeniel from 80 to 85, mostly because I've worked through my stockpile of enchanting mats leveling his skill and questing/leveling is a huge source of DE'able gear.

After that, no more leveling for a while. Once I go through the the aforementioned plans I'll have taken three toons from 80 to 85 (Saniel, Daluaan, Siaaryn), three from 1 to 85 (Grevioux, Sanele, Maeniel), and one from 80 to 82 (Maarken), all since Cata's release.

And now that I typed that out, the little completionist on my shoulder is telling me I can't leave my DK as my lone hold-out. So I'll probably end up finally maxing him out, too. Finally give his Frost spec a shot.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Tanking the weekend, part 2

After taking a few days off of leveling my Warrior I sat down on Saturday morning and queued up again to see if things would get any better.

Between the time I started and when I took a coffee break, I ran 3 or 4 dungeons. Most of them actually went pretty smoothly. The groups were nice enough, the DPS did a relatively good job of not trying to tank for me, and I didn't run across any major jerks. I even ended up in one group with a Hunter that was an obvious fan of Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper Saga. So we chatted about that a little while going through one of the Dire Maul wings.

I gained a couple levels from the runs, putting me somewhere around 47 when I stood up to take a break.

Once I did get out of the routine of leave-queue-run, though, I found that I was extremely reluctant to get back into it. I started doing anything I could to delay sitting back down in front of my comp and queuing again. I even started cleaning the kitchen.

I took a step back and realized that, even with the better groups than I ran with last weekend, I just wasn't having fun. And the only reason I'd continued to queue as long as I had (pretty much everything past level 30) is because I said I was going to level to 85 by tanking dungeons and that was that.

What makes WoW fun:
I've been playing this game for over 5 years now, and I'm honestly well past the point where the game itself is enough to keep me interested in playing. That's not a knock on WoW. It's still an amazing game. I don't think it has a lack of things to offer...I just think I've done and seen more of it than not.

There's two main things that keep me coming back: social interaction and challenge.

Low-level dungeon running has neither.

The social aspect of this game is huge for me. I've made a lot of friends over the years and if they were to all scatter, I probably wouldn't stick around long. But even outside that, if I'm in a group with people, I want to feel like I'm in a group with people, not silent robots on auto-pilot. I can power run a dungeon with the best of them, and I don't always mind doing so. But if there's not some kind of talk or banter going on, it just feels like a slog.

Talking with the "Firekeeper" Hunter I mentioned above was actually fun. But it was easy to tell the rest of the group wished we'd just shut up and go faster.

The challenge aspect is obvious. I love raiding with my guild, because I love tackling those challenges. It's actually tough. There's effort involved.

Of course, I would never want to try to tackle those challenges without those same social connections I mention above. They're what keep it fun and light in the face of wipes and such. So there's a hand-in-hand aspect there.

Outside of those two factors, though, there's something else that started to notice:

I'm not convinced dungeons are actually faster than questing.
It's no secret that running dungeons while leveling can rocket you completely past zones. It's been a well-posted fact ever since 4.0 dropped. But I think that has less to do with how much experience you gain through dungeon running and more to do with how tightly tuned questing is now.

Prior to level 30, you definitely rip through the levels while you're running dungeons, no question. I would often ding more than once from beginning to end. This is especially true the first time I hit each dungeon and had quests to turn in at the end.

But as time went on, even with tank insta-queue, I felt like leveling speed had actually slowed to a crawl. I felt that even my two Worgen (Grevioux and Maeniel) that had gone 1-60 with no heirlooms had leveled faster post-40 than Sanele was. Or it could be that I was just enjoying it more. Either way...

The leveling-via-dungeons experiment is over
After that last run, I just decided I wasn't feeling it. There was no reason to play the game in a way I wasn't enjoying for reasons that I wasn't sure were even valid. So I stopped queuing and headed out into the world.

Since I was already stocked up on all the Prot plate gear (and out of JP on all my 85s), I decided to just stick with it and see how it would go. I figured, if nothing else, the bonus XP would offset any speed differences.

Two things happened:
1) I started having fun again. How novel.
2) OMG, I'm ripping through levels. Due in no small part to how easy it is to kill things.

With just about every character I've ever played before, if I was running along on my mount and accidentally pulled something, I'd just keep going and hope it didn't catch up. If it did, I'd kill it and then keep going.

On my Warrior, I'll look around first to see if there's at least 2 or 3 other mobs I can pull. If so, I'll stop and mow them all down. If not, then I'll try to keep going. A Prot Warrior can kill huge groups of mobs just as fast and more efficiently than a single one. And that's gobs of XP every time.

I've started playing games where I see how many mobs I can pull before they all start leashing or overwhelm me. In some areas of the Blasted Lands, I was able to get upwards of 15 on me at a time and drop them all.

Now that's fun.

My play time this past weekend was somewhat limited again. Much of my time Saturday was spent with my family celebrating the birth of my new nephew. And there was a lot of housework to be done on Sunday. Still, I managed to make it to 61. I did run Ramparts once, when I got the quest to do so. It was a good change of pace from the leveling grind and gave me a good chunk of XP. I plan to do Bloodfurnace once I turn in that quest.

In Outland and Northrend, I think this might be the way to go. Mix it up. Run dungeons when the natural progression of questing asks you to and leave them otherwise.

Obviously, this doesn't work in the old world anymore, where all the dungeon quests have been moved inside the dungeons. There's no real breadcrumbs leading you inside.

And, of course, this is just my preference. But it's what felt fun and stress free, and isn't that why I play games anyway?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Picture Day!

Just some of the screenshots I've collected over the last couple months.

The werewolves can now breathe underwater. We're boned.

One of the only helmets I've seen that don't look absolutely ridiculous on Worgen.

Yes, I have both the Sparkle Pony and Running Wild. But it's a werewolf riding a giant, armored saber cat. How metal is that?

Wolf totem.

Speaking of totems, Earthmender Duarn decided to vent some of his frustrations while I was busy fighting Iso'rath.

This is the kind of quest I can really get behind!

In order to make the 31-point Demonology talent more appealing, a stealth component has been added. (Not really.)


Take two conversations, equal parts awesome, and mix together...

Prince Thunderaan down. Guild achievement imminent.

Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that's not the proper duration on Mend Pet. (This happens whenever I have him out in groups. Also, anyone have a good name for a worm?)

I finally got the last piece (robe) of my Priest's Tier 6 set. And a shiny mace for the finishing touch. Looks soooo good.

This happened while waiting for a raid member that dc'd.

More Guild Firsts (in chronological order):


Double Dragons

Ascendent Council

We made damn good progress on Cho'gall last night. I fully expect him to die Monday.