Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rep grinding isn't so bad

Wapsi is quickly making friends in Pandaria. It's 5 weeks out from the start of the expansion, and her rep status is as follows:
Lorewalkers- Exalted
Order of the Cloud Serpents- Exalted
Klaaxi- Revered
Golden Lotus- Revered
Tillers- Revered
Anglers- Honored
Shado-Pan- Friendly
August Celestials- Neutral

Given all of the QQ in the Blizzard forums about how hard it is to grind these reps, I'm really surprised at how easy it's been given that I've approached the process very casually. I don't do a set of dailies on a particular day unless I feel like it, and I took a lot of breaks on the Klaaxi and Golden Lotus. Furthermore, by the time Wapsi reached revered with Golden Lotus, she had enough Valor points saved for the epic shoulders, so that was nice.

It all worked out pretty nicely in my opinion, but then I would probably feel differently if I had to work 2-3 hours of dailies in addition to raiding into my play time. Also, Wapsi has been super lucky with gear drops in LFR when using her Elder Charm of Good Fortune option. She's picked up a trinket, boots, gloves and chest in just 1.5 runs, so between that and valor purchases when she can manage it, I think she'll be good for future LFR content as it comes. This also makes dailies much, much easier, she cuts through enemies like butter now!

Wapsi reached revered with the Klaaxi just last night, and revived the last two Paragons. Eventually, Wapsi will continue Klaaxi dailies just because I am really enjoying this storyline. One suggestion from the forums that I really liked was granting the title "Wakener" upon reaching exalted with the Klaaxi. I would wear that title and the Klaaxi tabard proudly, friend of the insects!

This past weekend I had some time to play Blatella the shadow priest. Shadow seems stupid easy to me, Blatella cuts down enemies easily and takes very little damage. Her numbers are very good in dungeons, too. I feel like she's easier to level due to her survivability than Wapsi was, which seems strange for a clothie, but I suppose that's the benefit of doing the killing at range.

I've been taking the leveling very slowly with Blatella, never running out of rested XP and doing all of the quest she can find. So she was the first toon who got to help Lorewalker Cho at Serpent's Heart, unlocking an amazing cinematic that gives me goosebumps right now just thinking about it! I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't done the quests, but it really made me sad for what the Horde and Alliance are bringing to Pandaria. 

After the quest chain was over, Blatella received a breadcrumb quest inviting her to Valley of the Four Winds. It seemed that by following this quest chain she was treated very differently in the Valley than Wapsi was (although maybe I just read the quest text more carefully this time!). Whatever the case, I really, really enjoyed the story arc Blatella experienced, and I am glad that I have decided to go slowly and uncover as much story as I can with her. The story also works well with my "in my head RP" for Blatella, who has struggled with her affiliation with light and dark since becoming forsaken, so it's been fun to imagine how her Pandaria experiences have impacted her inner conflict. 

Finally, this Sunday I felt like I had spent a lot of time in Pandaria and needed something different. Wapsi's guild has acquired the heirloom legs so I bought the intellect mail set for Panthalassa and set her to work as a healer in the last 5 levels of Wrath dungeons. Healing as resto shaman is still faceroll easy (way, way better for me than Holy Priest was), so with her heirlooms and a bunch of rested XP Pantha was at level 80 in just a couple of easy hours. 

Next, I'll set her to questing all the way through Vash'jir as Elemental so I can get the Loremaster of Cata and Cata Explorer achieves on my account, and then I'll finish leveling to 85 as Resto in dungeons. My primary goal for Pantha is to have her be my pet battle toon once she gets to level 90.

One last nice little surprise- I found out that as a Pandaren, Pantha is now able to purchase the turtle racial mounts! So I added a bunch more mounts to my stable!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elegon lols

This is what it looks like when you fall through the platform on Elegon, which Wapsi accomplished not once but twice in LFR. Movement is not my strong point, and by the time DBM warns me to move Wapsi is too far from the edge to avoid falling to her death. Luckily, no one else was so clumsy the second time, Elegon went down, and Wapsi won a nice trinket. Combined with bonus roles from the first half of LFR earlier this week, Wapsi has also upgraded her gloves and chest. So I'm pretty happy with where she's at now.

Since I don't raid, I feel like Wapsi can focus on Anglers and Tillers dailies, and just do Golden Lotus and Klaaxi whenever I feel like it. I find the Anglers dailies to be relaxing and fun, similar to Cloud Serpents, and I am excited about getting the waterstrider mount. I haven't quite figured out the logic behind the Tillers, but I like planting veggies on my little farm and delivering dishes for people around the countryside.

Wapsi's alchemy profession has also been a real boon this expansion. Flasks and living steel are bringing in a lot of gold, and my Drak'Thul hordies are now richer than they have ever been. For the first time, I have been able to consider purchasing a mechanohog, although I think I'll save my gold for the various exalted mounts. It's nice to finally be financially comfortable!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cloud Serpents

I haven't even gone to work yet and already I'm a winner. YES!

Of all the Pandaria faction dailies I've run so far, I've found the Order of the Cloud Serpents the most enjoyable. So that's probably why Wapsi hit exalted with them first, of all of the daily-providing factions. The option to collect Onyx Eggs was a big help too; each time I logged on over the past week, Wapsi flew around Windward Isle to check for eggs, typically finding 1-3 each time. I would estimate that about 1/3 of the rep Wapsi needed to get from revered to exalted came from these eggs.

Uh, hi floating panda lady? I'm really lost aren't I?

I think Wapsi got lucky with daily quests too- thankfully she only had to run the race once. Given my poor spatial skills, Wapsi was hopelessly lost in no time. But upon reaching the finish line...she was awarded first place! The rest of the competitors must have stopped off at a pub or something.

I guess it's a metaphor for real life: some hard work, some stupid luck, and Wapsi won her prize!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Enhancing and Shadow Priesting

On Saturday I had time to send Wapsi around Pandaria to find all of the Lorewalkers scrolls, using the coordinates posted here and the TomTom addon. I was in need of a nice shiny reward after a week of only being able to do dailies and archaeology due to crappy hotel WiFi while I was out of town. Archaeology has been very fruitful for Wapsi- she's max level now, and has uncovered all of the Pandaren and Mogu rares, and is now trading her completed Pandaria artifacts for Tol'Vir fragments in hopes of finding the Scepter of Azj'Aqir bug mount. I think she's 5 rares away from the Professor title too, woot!

Wapsi has run the Headless Horseman instance a couple of times it would be nice to get the mount, but the masks are pretty cool too!

Dailies are going slowly, and Wapsi is about halfway through honored with both the Golden Lotus and the Klaaxi. Due to not running heroics and scenarios this past week however, she is really low on Valor points. She spent some on a 489 ring from the Golden Lotus (supposed to be available at revered, but she got it at honored, strange), so now I guess she needs to focus on collecting more. Maybe she'll run a few heroics today, as she still needs a couple more armor upgrades to get into raid finder.

I've figured some things out about enhancement shaman too, better late than never! I'm now monitoring 3 target debuffs/caster buffs using the addon NeedToKnow:

Unleash Elements applies Unleashed Fury and Unleash Flame, the former of which is followed by Lightning Bolt (with at least 3 Maelstrom Weapon stacks), the latter of which is followed either by Flame Shock (single target) or Fire Nova (AOE, after spreading Flame Shock with Lava Lash). The third buff is good old Searing Flames from the Searing Totem, which I thought had been dispensed with as of 5.0.4 along with Lava Burst for Enhancement. Turns out Searing Flames stacks on the caster now, and at 5 stacks doubles the damage of Lava Lash.

So monitoring these buffs/debuffs and hitting the appropriate buttons has taken care of some of the downtime in the enhancement rotation. Combined with the various utility spells and totems and cooldowns, Enhancement feels busy and interesting. I am looking forward to utterly destroying things as Wapsi's gear improves!

I've been spending a bit of time leveling Blatella the Shadow Priest too. This spec feels really smooth and powerful right off the bat, compared with how clunky Enhancement felt at first. I was worried about being super squishy in Pandaria, but as it turns out, Blatella takes very little damage even without her shield. Also, Mind Sear seems to have been tweaked so her AOE damage is acceptable now too. I'm glad that shadow priest feels so good, it's a nice change from Enhancement when I'm tired of doing melee.

Blatella has been trick or treating at inns in the Jade Forest, and has twice been transformed into a pirate- kind of a nasty trick to play on a Forsaken! Is this what Blatella looked like when she was human? I imagine she spent a lot of time looking in the mirror in this state, wistfully remembering what she used to be...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On the evolution of intelligence

We are fascinated by the question of where our intelligence arose, and how our ancestors transitioned from clever apes to humans with big brains imparting the capacity for abstract thought and a life of the mind. This week, real life intersected with WoW life and I have been thinking on this specific question and the more general question of how large brains and complex behavioral repertoires have arisen in a number of lineages spanning nearly every major branch of the animals. In Azeroth, we know of one driving force that has the ability of "elevating" a species to a higher level of intelligence, which manifests as the ability to use magic to shape the world. That force is the Well of Eternity.

From JadedAlt, because I don't have any screenshots of my own!

The Well of Eternity is a font of magical waters that drove the physical and magical evolution of the night elves from troll-like ancestors. The silithids were also affected by the Well, although not to the extent of the kaldorei. Now that we have arrived in Pandaria, we have learned that the Mogu also arose from humble beginnings, reaching great intellectual and magical heights due to their interaction with the waters of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. It would appear that a second source of the Well of Eternity exists in Pandaria. The Well was put upon Azeroth by the Titans, a race of god-like world creators, for reasons unknown.

A sentient race placing an object on a planet to drive the evolution of intelligence in its creatures? A familiar theme in science fiction as well, such as Arthur C Clarke's 2001.

The religions of earth have of course adopted a similar approach to the question of the origin of intelligence, but invoking an omniscient god to infuse the first humans with intelligence or to provide a guiding hand to facilitate its evolution.

In my business, evolutionary neurobiology, we look for driving forces, selective pressures, here on earth. The consensus at the moment is that environments that provided cognitive challenges drive the evolution of behaviors to deal with them, and the large brains needed to support those behaviors. The question that is most difficult to solve is what would be that cognitive challenge. In insects, my model species, the need for visual cognition: learning and associating visual cues, and learning to orient in a larger world using visual landmarks, is associated with the acquisition of large higher brain centers in at least three separate groups of insects (the ants bees and wasps, the cockroaches, and herbivorous scarab beetles). In vertebrates, the cognitive demands of social living are often invoked, but this may not hold up outside of our species.

From link

Whatever those selective pressures were, they had a rapid and dramatic effect on brain size in a number of animal lineages. The above graph shows just how dramatic: after a period of relative stasis in brain size, hominid brains expanded rapidly beginning about 2 million years ago. Similar trends are seen in cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and elephants, as well as in the insect group Hymenoptera (wasps of all kinds, as well as ants and bees).

Something here on earth is providing a Well of Eternity-like selective pressure to some of our creatures, resulting in rapidly increasing brain sizes, expanding behavioral repertoires, and in the case of humans, the evolution of sentience. One of my primary goals as a scientist is to gain a better understanding of what that might be, using the endless diversity of insects to give clues as to what behavioral capabilities might have provided such an enormous selective advantage that they warranted a greatly increased investment in energetically expensive brain tissue. And since evolution tends to take similar paths even in distantly related species, it's likely that insights provided by insects will shed light on the evolution of brain and behavior in vertebrates and even humans.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sha of QQ

Yes I stole that from the Blizzard forums during yesterday's server restart debacle. It's interesting to me how much griping is going on in the forums regarding the expansion. Maybe it's because people feel entitled to more since they pay a monthly fee, but I still don't understand why they don't just move to another game if WoW has become unbearable for them. Maybe I just have low expectations?

I have my own little QQ too: The dead space in the enhancement shaman rotation is continuing to drive me nuts! It's worst when I'm running a dungeon and I need to switch mobs during the dead space, and I have to just stand there until something comes off of cooldown. I think I'm going to have to pull the autoattack button out for those situations, which seems like a pretty clunky solution. Another solution might be to just start playing my death knight again, but I really want to put off leveling new toons until Wapsi has done her rep grinds due to buffs in alt rep grinding introduced recently.

Overall though, I have been enjoying the sheer amount of things to do in Pandaria! Dailies are not dragging me down yet, perhaps because they are pretty challenging; both Golden Lotus and Klaaxi dailies require fighting mobs that can still overwhelm Wapsi if she pulls to many. I've begun the Cloud Serpent Riders dailies just because they're a little more relaxing, and I love that Wapsi has to use all of her secondary professions to complete them.

The heroic dungeons and scenarios are also challenging, but in a good way. Perhaps because everyone is learning the new instances, the groups I have run in so far have been very polite. I ran Gate of the Setting Sun yesterday (heroic dungeon) and although I'm getting a lot better at not standing in bad, I still need improvement! The last boss, a giant bug named Raigonn, required a couple of wipes before we figured out the mechanics of using the cannons to get up to his face and break down his armor. The cannons were a bit glitchy for me and kept dropping me rather than shooting me at the bug, but we eventually got the kill and it felt like a real accomplishment. Scenarios are also a burst of manic energy, with Wapsi using every skill she has as well as offhealing when necessary. My only wish is that heroics and scenarios awarded a bit more Valor, as despite being pretty busy this past week, Wapsi is still pretty far from being able to purchase any valor gear. LFR will have to wait a bit, it seems.

Finally, I learned two important bits of information this weekend:
1. In archaeology, finished common artifacts are not just for vendoring! Right click to convert to a Restored Artifact, which can then be turned in to Brann Bronzebeard for fragments of any race! Wish I had known that earlier!

2. Enhancement shaman Spirit Walk is not just for breaking out of movement impairing effects, but also gives a nice little speed boost a la feral druid Dash. Coupled with Ghost Wolf, this is very handy for running away when things get a little hairy!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oh, oh!

The Klaxxi are metalheads, of course!

On to the end game

Wapsi reached level 90 last night and purchased her Pandaria flight license immediately (as well as going back and spending JP to finally purchase that Wyrmrest Accord mount!). Despite all of the complaining I've seen on the forums, I didn't think that leveling 85-90 was all that bad. To me, it was definitely more pleasant and less of a grind than 80-85.

So now I guess it's time for some dailies and rep grinding with Pandaria factions and running heroic dungeons. The ilvl requirement for heroics has been reduced to 435 so Wapsi just qualifies. As for rep, I've decided to focus on the Klaaxi and Golden Lotus first. Reaching honored with both will allow me to purchase epic rings and necklace, and revered with both will open up epic legs, waist, shoulder and chest armor. Together, she'll be into LFR in no time.

I'm really happy to have Wapsi flying again, and I'm looking forward to continuing to explore Pandaria and doing some archaeology and fishing along the way. I'm also excited about reaching exalted with all of the Pandaria factions and purchasing some mounts! I don't think I have to worry about the gold needed, as Wapsi is still making a killing selling ore on the AH, and will be leveling her alchemy...

...with herbs picked by Blatella, who I just started in Pandaria this week. It will take me a while to get used to Shadow Priesting again, but I'm motivated by some of the pretty cloth drops she'll get as she levels.

One thing that makes me a little apprehensive about leveling another class is revealed by my current UI.  Wapsi has SO MANY BUTTONS, and she uses them all! The top left group are her keybound actions, top right are situational use totems and a couple of other things, bottom left is healing (using VuhDo) and CC, and bottom right are cooldowns. So much to keep track of that I need to keep it in the middle of the screen, along with IceHUD HP and mana bars. It feels like I'm pretty good at playing a shaman, the I'm not entirely looking forward to the learning curve in getting to that place on another toon.

Also, about halfway through level 89, something changed and Wapsi started experiencing dead space in her rotation again, in some cases requiring her to rely on white damage for 3-5 seconds or so. Pre-5.0.4, I filled this space by casting Lava Burst with 5 stacks of Searing Flames applied by the totem, but post-patch enhancement shaman no longer have Lava Burst. My suggestion would be to maybe take Earth Shock off of the same cooldown timer as Flame Shock? I just started using Earth Shock again anyway for the Weakened Blows target debuff and would be nice to not have to alternate it with Flame Shock.

Despite these little issues, I'm still enjoying playing enhancement overall. Her AOE damage and cooldowns are awesome (wish she could cast Stormblast more than 2-3 times under Ascendance though, but I suppose that would be totally OP)!

And I had another crazy thought while doing my first Golden Lotus dailies: it's kind of awesome to have a friend, even if it's an NPC. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to select an NPC companion to accompany you on your dailies and talk to, kind of like you can in Diablo III? Maybe you could unlock the ability at honored with a faction, if not immediately upon begin dailies. Either way, Wapsi would totally have a Klaaxi buddy with her everywhere! I for one welcome our insect overlords!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Puttering towards 90

Wapsi has finally made it to Dread Wastes, about 25% of the way into level 89. I'm looking forward to reaching 90 with her so she can play endgame dailies, heroics and raid finder, and work on her professions. Wapsi is my explorer, going boldly into new content and paving the way for the rest of my alts! But in the meantime, I'm enjoying the scenery and quests and filling up my bags with armor and weapons for transmog, and sending gifts of BOE gear to my other 85s.

I'm still impressed by how beautiful everything is, and the complexity of it all. Wow feels like a different game to me now, so much so that I feel like it will be awhile before I can level my baby monk through so many levels of old content.

Found some Klaxxi (I think that's right) last night while exploring. They didn't have anything to say yet, but I checked in with their flight master.

Despite my disinterest in the old content at the moment, I still want to play my ele/resto shaman since I have been enjoying her so much. After seeing a couple of panda shaman while leveling on Wapsi, I decided that I should join them. As much as I liked Pantha the orc, Pantha the panda seems fresh and a bit more fun now. She climbed a couple more levels to 75 healing Wrath dungeons last night, and finally replaced her Thrallmar quest shield!

So the plan right now is to keep exploring Pandaria on Wapsi, and to gain a couple of levels on Pantha whenever she has some rested XP stored up. After that, I'll need to chose another level 85 to send to Pandaria, which requires relearning their playstyle since the big talent change patch. I really feel like I'm getting $15 a month worth out of this game!