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Learning through Leveling

October 11, 2011
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I have a confession that will probably sound strange to many long-time WoW players:  I love leveling.

I should be more exact.  Questing is quite fun since the Cataclysm changes to the 1-60 leveling experience, or at least it’s fun the first few times through any given zone.  The random dungeon finder is extremely helpful for knocking out dungeon quests and getting a chunk of XP in a hurry, even if the quality of the groups can range from completely pro to completely not.  Really, though, what I enjoy the most about leveling a new character is learning a new spec with a new compliment of spells … and therein lies my problem.

I have this (completely irrational) belief that if I want to learn how to play a new spec, I need to play that spec from the ground up.  This means that when I got it into my head that I wanted to learn how to play an Elemental Shaman, I didn’t go respec my level 85 Enhance/Resto shaman – I rolled another one.  When I decided that I wanted to learn the ins and outs of Atonement healing, I didn’t give my 85 priest an Atonement spec – I made a second priest.

This is probably a druid problem.  I’ve known plenty of players with druid mains who actually have 2 druids because our class legitimately has 4 specs, 2 of which focus on caster gear and 2 of which focus on Agility gear.  That makes it pretty simple to share (at least some) pieces of gear if you have a Resto/Boomkin druid and a Bear/Cat druid.  My problem is that I’ve extended this logic to every class in the game.

I absolutely despise changing a character’s spec at max level.  My original priest is a good example of this.  I had this masochistic idea to level her as Holy during the tail end of BC.  She got to level 60 and languished there until the advent of dual specing.  At that point I got her a shadow spec, of which I had absolutely no understanding, and pushed the rest of the way to 80 so that I could go back to healing full time.  At level 80, and even today after leveling her through Cataclysm, I have no freaking clue what I’m doing as Shadow.  At all.  I am probably the worst Shadow priest you’ll ever see.  I should sell tickets to the rare occasions when I agree to DPS a heroic on her.  Thank Elune I’m usually needed to heal.

My theory is that learning a spec from level 1 up means that you’ll learn how the talents and the spells weave together, and that you’ll come out a better player because of it.  The problem is, the talent specs themselves disprove my idea, since they often include talents to strengthen or supplement spells long before you’re actually at a level when those spells are trainable.  There are plenty of cases of this in the resto talent tree: While leveling, resto druids would begin to put points in Revitalize beginning as early as level 29, and into Empowered Touch sometime in the mid-40s.  These are required talents for a level 85 resto druid, and there are few better options while leveling that will allow you to get down the talent tree, but Lifebloom isn’t even trainable until level 64.  My theory has failed.

And yet I keep doing it.  I keep telling myself that this is a good way to learn things,  and that I’ll appreciate the time I spent thinking through my spec and abilities when I get the alt to max level.  So, bearing all that in mind, consider my current dilemma: I would really like to learn to PvP as a discipline priest (on the same little gnome priest who is currently experimenting with Atonement healing).

You can see where this is going already.  Battlegrounds, as far as I can tell, are not friendly for low-level casters.  We are too susceptible to gap-closers followed by one-shots.  There’s hardly a point to running a healing spec in the early battleground brackets, because everyone dies too quickly too even attempt to heal them.  But I have it in my head that this is how you learn all the things about a spec.

Don't you want to help this adorable gnome priest? Don't you?!

This is a plea for help and advice, blogosphere.  Should I completely give up on the idea of leveling a caster through PvP?  Is there a level range at which doing so becomes more reasonable?  Does anyone know of a good guide that will help me figure out what the hell I should be doing?  Anything at all would be extremely appreciated!

While we’re asking questions, what bizarre leveling habits do you have?  Do you see any point to leveling more than one character of the same class?  What do you think is the best way to learn about a class and spec, aside from external sources?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 11:18 pm

    Don’t give up on the idea altogether… You just need to realise that low level PvP is broken, and so for some classes, it’s not really an option. Healing in the lowbie bracket is VERY viable for a disc priest, but maybe not for anyone else, purely because PW:S is so powerful that it is like giving someone an extra health pool to be burned through first.

    If you dungeon level say, a resto druid, even without Lifebloom until alter down the track, you will develop skills in the class. Damage may be trivial to heal, but you still develop the understanding of the class that “Hey, I can put multiple HoTs on a target at one time, and when I use these two abilities together my burst is quite good”.

    Overall, I’m not sure that there’s a particular advantage by doing it this way – if you respec and invest the same time, you’re certainly not going to have less understanding. This is viable though. The real question is whether you enjoy it!

    • October 11, 2011 11:43 pm

      Wow, thank you for the encouragement. Hearing that disc might actually be able to hack it makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing.

      I do, absolutely, enjoy leveling this way. As I said, I don’t mind questing or using the Dungeon Finder, so I have as much fun getting to 85 as I do once I finally arrive. I also really enjoy gearing up a newly level capped toon – there’s just something particularly fulfilling about getting each one of them raid ready (even if I won’t necessarily take them into raids all that often).

  2. October 11, 2011 11:20 pm

    I entirely agree with your logic. I see things the same way. I suppose this could just be a problem with flexibility and learning things on my part, but I feel that it’s best to level in the spec you choose in order to maximize your understand of the spec and how things work.

    I think that’s also where the start of my hideous altitis started, but that’s neither here nor there. *cough*

    Although I do completely disagree with you about battlegrounds. That is the only way to learn ALL THE THINGS about death. In the face. (Why yes I do avoid battlegrounds like the Plague, why do you ask?) But again, that’s personal preference and prejudice – I know many people who agree that it’s the best way to learn to play a class/spec.

    Probably by now people will say that they’ve had enough time to have dabbled in all the classes to be pretty adaptable to any of them (plus all their viable specs) and so see no need to roll an entirely new character for the purpose. I think that it not only gives you ample time to learn what’s going on and how to utilize what’s in your toolbox, it gives your character a chance to develop a distinct personality of their own that’s (of necessity, imo) linked to their main(only) spec.

    • October 11, 2011 11:48 pm

      I’ve only seriously leveled a character through PvP once before (my warlock), and on that go-around I had a partner, who is actually GOOD AT PvP, to help me. It’s amazing how easily you can convince yourself that you’re good at PvP when you have someone who actually IS good helping you and constantly saving your butt. Then there’s the inevitable let-down that comes from a decision to go into a few battlegrounds without that person … suddenly you realize that they’ve been making your job easy, and making you look like you know what you’re doing. If I level this priest through battlegrounds, I’ll probably be doing it mostly alone this time. That’s a scary thought, but also one that I sort of like because I imagine it will make me a better PvPer for it … or I’ll end up throwing my computer across the room. High stakes.

      Your point about personality totally resonates with me. Though I really don’t RP anymore, I’ve yet to roll a character without having a clear sense of who they are and where they came from. As you mention, these things are often deeply tied into which spec I choose for them.

  3. October 11, 2011 11:22 pm

    I too feel more comfortable with a class that I’ve leveled myself. Of course, with all the changes in Cata, my rarely played upon toons seem like new, but it’s still easy enough to get into it.

    I also tend to enjoy doing ‘group activities’ while leveling instead of questing. One of these days I’ll see those new Cata quests…

    I also make lots of different characters of the same class. Usually it’s for an RP reason, but often for having a permanent toon of a different spec.

    As for pvping with a caster for leveling, I assume at some point you’ll get spells to deal with melee closing in on you. I’m not sure when, but I’m sure some pvp guru knows. As long as you don’t get super angry from dying all the time, you should be fine. 😀

    • October 11, 2011 11:54 pm

      Heh. I ended up deleting my Death Knight, who had been my main throughout a chunk of Wrath, specifically because the class changed so much in Cata. I’d always played her as a Frost tank, and when Blood became the only tanking tree I didn’t like the idea of having to relearn how to tank from level 80. This is a toon who had a ton of achievements, two fully leveled professions, a full compliment of ICC level gear, and epic flight .. and I deleted her because I didn’t want to spend 5 levels figuring out the class again. See why I say I have issues? 😛

    • October 12, 2011 1:00 pm

      Yup, I’d say that you may have some issues there. I usually never ever ever delete toons, so that’s a pretty large step! (Obviously you should have rolled a DK somewhere else to relearn the class. >.> )

      Though I was really bummed when tanking became blood only. I liked being a Unholy tank (yey minion!) and have another DK who I wanted to be a frost tank. Now the former frost tank DK has a backstory that makes less sense and my main DK misses her little minion while she’s tanking very much.

    • October 12, 2011 12:37 am

      Disc priests start off with good defenses (PW:S packs a punch). Mages get Blink and Frostbolt, they’re basically untouchable when played well.

      Warlocks have Fear at 14 and are the weakest clothies in the early brackets. While there aren’t a lot of counters to Fear, your mobility is hampered, your self-heals are weak, and you basically have to learn to kite like a hunter.

      Yeah, you’re going to die all the time in PvP. It doesn’t matter what class you roll – you’re going to die. I die more on plate classes than I do on casters, to be honest.

    • October 12, 2011 7:39 am

      Did someone ask for a PvP guru?

    • October 12, 2011 1:00 pm

      This may have been the pvp guru I was thinking of. >.>

    • October 12, 2011 2:46 pm

      /blush

      I’ll go back to lurking now. 🙂

  4. October 11, 2011 11:52 pm

    Disc is awesome in low level PvP and it gets better and better. I’d definitely recommend picking up reflective shield, it really helps silly melee kill themselves in one v ones.

    I just levelled my third Priest almost entirely through battlegrounds and it’s been great fun. I’m a bit like you in the fact that I get it into my head that a character is a certain spec and would rather level a new one, rather than change that. My original priest for example has dabbled in being Disc in a raid environment for the good for the raid but is Holy through and through. She currently has two holy specs whilst my new Priest has been disc from lv 10.

    Unfortunately gear is a bit make or break for levelling through PvP though. I would suggest the resilience heirlooms as opposed to the pve ones and regularly spending on your honor on stuff like the wsg and arathi blues every 10 levels. Then the full epic PvP set at 60 and 70, followed by cataclysm boe greens at 77 to 79.

    • October 12, 2011 12:01 am

      Thank you, Erinys! Your blog has been one of the places I’ve headed to try to get some information on all this, so I appreciate the personal attention.

      I have the priest in full heirlooms, including the resil shoulders. She is level 24 at the moment, and I think once I hit 30 and can dual spec her I will hop into battleground leveling. Part of my problem is that I’ll be trying to learn two things at once – Atonement and Disc PvP – and that will require a little bit of jumping back and forth between dungeons and battlegrounds. If anything, I’m a little worried I may end up leveling her too quickly (especially with all those heirlooms on), but I suppose I can always turn off the XP gain for a bit if this becomes a problem.

      Thank you again for your help, and I will certainly grab Reflective Shield in her PvP spec!

  5. October 12, 2011 12:05 am

    I apologize in advance for the lengthy nature of the comment. Short comments, why can I not write you?

    Oh wow, that seems to be a very painful approach, even for someone who likes leveling as much as you. I’ve leveled my druid from 1-60 as resto at the time (with a short boomkin period from 41-43 or something like that) and my paladin as holy from ~30-70. Both of them took forever to kill anything, but Anything never could kill them. Which was kind of fun. I wouldn’t repeat it today, though.

    Aaaaaanyway, back to you and your leveling…fetish…
    Starting early with what you want to do certainly helps you get a good grip on things. But if you have an 85 priest and want to play another spec of that priest, why not take your 85 priest and wipe your talents, your glyphs, your bars and start over. Look at your abilities: which do you have? What do they do exactly? Try them out (absorbs and triggered spells can, of course, not really be tested well, but at least you can play with their cooldowns if they have one). After that, you can have a look at your talents and glyphs: which seem to benefit you much? Try out a couple of things (remember: you can — if you don’t want to tab out — distribute your points without learning the talents through some interface>>features option, I think). Reading through the description and looking at the mastery and other specialisations of your spec will give you a rough idea of what you ought to be focusing on: disc priests mastery is the absorbtion amount of shields, so shield spells will play a certain role, resto druids will have to try to achieve harmony between direct healings and HoTs and so on. I think it’s important that you have your spells, spec and glyphs set up (at least in your mind) before you go to elitistjerks or any other site to look up guides. If you just follow the steps blindly, you will miss out on so many things. But if you made up your mind about all the stuff, you already have a basic knowledge. Even if you’re “wrong” in some of your talent or glyph choices, 1. there might be situations where YOUR setup is more useful, and 2. you will probably at least have a hunch about where you went wrong. If not, there’s still always asking. Looking up stat priorities is still best done outside of the game, since it takes up centuries of your time to try everything out yourself.

    But this just as an “alternative” to starting a new character every time.

    I also think that if you start new, especially as a healer, you will play differently when leveling than you end up playing in an end game setting. If you quest, you’ll have to use damage spells (or you might end up building a “pseudo-feral” set on the side a resto druid — it is possible) or — Heaven forbid — your wand. Even if you level exclusively through instances, you will not use your complete toolkit while doing so. With my 35 shaman, I rarely use anything other than Healing Stream Totem (if I remember to carve them), Earthshield and Lesser healing Wave (the small, cheap heal), because I don’t have to. Similarly, as Atonement you end up smiting and holy-firing your way through dungeons way into your 80s (provided nothing goes wrong) because you don’t need to do anything else. The damage tanks receive in most situations is laughable, so that you are able to heal them through the instance with having no mana in the beginning (due to respeccing from questing) and not drinking once (mostly due to chain pulling tanks). And this is without heirlooms or any of that fancy-ass crap.
    Additionally, as you mentioned, you might talent something for leveling that you end up dropping for the endgame. It does become difficult to adjust to not having certain things you used to rely on to bring you through certain situations (maybe if you leveled as a Demonology warlock and suddenly find yourself surrounded by enemies as Affli, unable to shift into your cool purple form of awesome immolatory destruction, and die because you didn’t get them down in time / didn’t have the 600% more armor).

    I unfortunately cannot tell you much about leveling through PvP. I don’t usually do a lot of it anyway (although I, too, expect most chars, and especially clothies, to be rather squishy at low levels). But may I refer you to Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual (http://cynwise.wordpress.com/) for anything PvP-related? Cynwise will probably know how PvP is like in the different brackets.
    I can only say that you absolutely don’t want to Atonement heal battlefields of any kind (you probably weren’t going to, anyway, but better safe than sorry). Shields are your friend, and probably the only things you’ll be able to toss out in the beginning (since you’re either locked out because of no haste and no Borrowed Time to cast faster or you’re dead after a few seconds).

    So, basically, the only thing I can advise you to do is to look at your spells and talents. And then look at them again. Hard.
    Otherwise you’ll end up as one of those guys who don’t know that they’ll be immune to Dispels, Interrupts and Silence for 3 sec when they use Inner Focus (with Strength of Soul), or that summoning your Army of the Dead can be a beneficial thing to do for the damage reduction you get (especially against casters, since you could parry or dodge melee dps anyway).

    And once you know all that, go and just practise.

    • October 12, 2011 12:17 am

      Hee! Well as I said, I realize that doing things this way isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. My druid, my main, had a feral leveling spec and, though a main spec healer, maintained a feral DPS spec through a lot of Wrath. It wasn’t until ICC, when ranged DPS tended to be more in demand, that I swapped her feral spec for balance – and that I learned completely at level 80. I do enjoy looking through talents and spells to figure out how they’re supposed to work together, but (as a few of the other commenters have mentioned) I often get it into my head that a particular character IS a certain spec, and I don’t like to change that.

      You’re also certainly correct that you simply don’t use all of your spells while leveling, or at least you don’t use them the same way you do at max level – and the same goes for talent builds. Unfortunately, I think you were also correct when you described this drive as a “fetish” – it’s irrational, I know it, and I can’t help myself. 😛

  6. October 12, 2011 12:13 am

    Discipline Priests and Arcane Mages do very well in lowbie battlegrounds. Disc priests are the preferred healers of the 10s and 19s, to be honest – their absorption allows people to live through the bursts. Frost mages don’t start off quite as strong as Arcane, but quickly – VERY quickly – catch up and become nightmares in these brackets. And by “these brackets” I mean “every single bracket up to and including 85.”

    There are very few gap closers in the early game. Sub rogues have one, but they are literally like RNG death at early levels – if you meet a geared rogue and he gets the drop on you, you’ll probably die. Conversely, if you get the drop on him, he’ll die.

    Hunters are really OP through the 30s, but scale back to merely potent through the 60s. They’re pretty even by the time you hit Outland.

    Learning your class through PvP leveling is absolutely the best way to do it. Classes which I PvP heavily on I figure out how to operate under pressure, what works well, what doesn’t work, how to use their toolkit in a variety of situations. Oh, I should hit Power Infusion THEN Prayer of Healing. Oh, I should use Cleave instead of Heroic Strike in case they’re off to the side of me. OH NOW I GET IT.

    I have a level 70 Disc priest which I leveled through LFD and PvP. I actually understand Disc pretty well, as it stands at level 70. She did very, very well in PvP, and I’m sure you will be able to do so too.

    What is it you’re looking for? Gearing, how to PvP, lowbie stuff?

    Here are some pages you might find helpful.

    http://greentintedgoggles.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/a-guide-to-twinking-in-cataclysm/
    http://www.twinkinfo.com/topic/18520-detailed-19-priest-twink-guide/
    http://psynister.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/hand-me-downs-a-poor-mans-heirlooms/
    http://cynwise.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/sabotaging-the-enemy-the-ethics-of-gear/
    http://cynwise.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/the-pvp-pause/

    While a lot of my focus has been on twinks, leveling a toon through PvP is basically the same, only you have to stop periodically and go get good non-heirloom pieces from dungeons from 15-60. Then you get the PvP gear at 60, mix it with heirlooms until 70, and then go full resilience gear at 70.

    Let me know if you need more specific help – hit me up on Twitter if you have short questions. Psynister has pvped on a priest all the way to the endgame, I’m sure he’d be happy to give some advice.

    • October 12, 2011 12:33 am

      Where do I start … ?

      This is just fantastic, Cyn. Thank you for the encouragement and all the links – some I recognize that I’ve read through before but perhaps didn’t realize how helpful it would be to give them another look. I suppose what I’m looking for, outside of basic info about spec and spells which I can find on my own, is some sort of idea of what I need to do to improve as a PvPer. I have this notion that it’s much more difficult to improve your PvP game than it is to become a better raider, because PvP always involves a level of chaos, whereas PvE usually requires practice and execution.

      It’s intimidating to step into battlegrounds knowing that my skill level won’t be as high as many people’s, and I don’t like the idea of letting down a team. I wouldn’t go into a raid instance without reading up on a boss strategy, and I don’t want to go into a BG unprepared, either. The problem is, though, that simply knowing the strategies for a BG aren’t enough, and neither is understanding your class. PvP requires so much muscle memory, so much instinct, and it just takes DOING it to get both of those things, or at least that’s my impression of it. I’m trying to make myself as prepared as possible by reading, watching, and gearing – when what I should really be doing is just queueing for the damn battlegrounds!

      I suppose what I actually need, then, is to talk myself into doing something a bit outside my comfort zone. I have no qualms about going into an 85 BG on my druid because I’ve done enough PvP on her to be confident that I won’t make a complete fool of myself. So that’s my plan for my little gnome priest tomorrow – get the spec, get the glyphs, and then hop into some BGs and let myself get killed a bunch. If all goes well, I’ll at least take a few Hordies with me.

  7. October 12, 2011 11:20 am

    Recently started a second paladin because I wanted to learn Ret. Not learn; relearn. Dropped Ret on my first pally when 4.0.1 hit. The changes made it unplayable. This second pally is now 85 and working on outgearing the original.

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