How to improve at WOW
WOW is a big game. Lots of people play. Some people can have their gear tweaked out to the fifth decimal place and some have Int on a rogue. It take all kinds… but how do you get to be better at it? How can you, no matter what your personal skill or experience level, get better at playing your class?
There is a lot of good information out on the internet. The trick is figuring out how to use it. What do you search for, what do you do with what you find. How do you make sense of it all? That is what this post is all about.
First off you can do it. Seriously. Chances are that if you even think you can get more out of your character, you can.
You don’t have to play more
You don’t have to be a ‘no lifer’ or a ‘min-maxer’ or any of that. Those are things people use as excuses for not getting better. You will (probably) not have to radically change how much you play. You will also not have to spend huge amounts of time doing it.
Admitting you have a problem
Admitting a problem is the first step. Let’s face it, we ALL can find a way to get a few more points of damage/threat/healing out of our character. The problem is many people get into a comfort zone and don’t want to break out. Or they imagine improving is some huge hard thing that will consume their life. When they think this they make excuses and stay at their current level. I know because I have been there.
It is an attitude
The thing to realize is that improvement is a never ending goal. It is not about some magical thing you do and then you are uber. It is about recognizing that you COULD be better and trying to get better. That ‘trying to get better’ does NOT have to consume your life or your play time. It can even be done as a onetime exercise in character improvement. But even if it is a onetime thing you need to approach it with the right attitude.
But I LIKE how I play the game
That is fine too… But even within your own personal ‘style’ there are probably small things you can change that would make a large difference. Just because you hear the best spec for your class is one you don’t like does NOT mean you should give up on ever being better. Just about every spec is capable of great things. Also what is ‘best’ changes all the time and even varies based on what level of gear you have. Don’t let the attitudes or suggestions of others affect your goal of getting better. You are doing this for YOU, not them.
Identify the problem:
It might be that you suck at PVP. It might be that your DPS is just low all the time and people are starting to complain. Or maybe you stand in the fire too much. Or maybe your tanking is just not working out.
Try to focus in on the specific issue. Don’t be egotistical about it. Don’t be defensive with yourself. This is not the time to make yourself feel better. This is the time to rip off the bandaid of ego, stare at what you are doing wrong and say, ‘ok, I can make this better’.
The areas of improvement:
There are a lot. Here is my list: Gear level, Itemization, gems, enchants, Spec, Glyphs, ability rotation, tactics, strategies, Interface, control usage.
Wow, that is a big list isn’t it. Let’s run down them briefly.
This one is a TRAP! It is an excuse and a red herring. Yes, getting higher level gear can improve your numbers, but it is the LAST thing to worry about. Gevlon’s Undergeared project proved that you can down the whole first wing of ICC and multiple bosses beyond that in BLUE gear. This is just one of many graphic examples of how your gear does not improve you. Yeah, if you give a high end race car to any driver they will go fast. But so what? That does not mean you can race. Give every NASCAR driver a YUGO and they could hold a pretty impressive race. Give the first few dozen people off the street a NASCAR and you will have a lot of death and destruction but not a race…. Ok maybe that is what people go to races for, but you see my point. People that do poorly point to gear level as an excuse. DON’T LET IT BE YOUR EXCUSE.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you will hit a limit of what you can do with your gear. But the vast majority of the time if you have a performance issue it is not your gear. Using gear as your excuse paralyzes you and blinds you do all the things you can change and improve that are FAR more easy to fix.
(Yes, I know many raids might not let you in without a certain GS. Ignore them, they suck anyway.)
This is a biggy. If you just throw on a bunch of gear you will not have a good set, maybe even if you pick pieces that seem to be right. Heck even if you pick the pieces you read in a gear guide somewhere. Itemization is not as simple as that. I will get back to this later. Just don’t assume your itemization is right. Don’t assume anything when it comes to improvement. DO know your rule of thumbs: if you’re a healer, spellpower is good, if you’re a rogue, don’t stack intellect! But it gets tricky beyond that and you need to know your class. A gifted priest healer who just rolled a holy pally for the first time might not know that spirit is useless to her. A new bear might not know that the defense on tanky trinkets doesn’t do that much for him. Learn your rules of thumb so you don’t waste time on evaluating a piece of gear that just isn’t right.
Gems and enchants:
Same with Itemization. Don’t assume. Have you ever put an expensive enchant on only to find out later that it was totally wrong for your class and play style? Yeah I have. Most of us probably have, though maybe not all of us have realized it. Some people simply don’t care. If you want to improve don’t be that guy. Make sure the enchants work the way you think they do! Mongoose might look appealing to a hunter – but since it procs off of melee swings, a good hunter won’t get much use out of it.
Your spec can probably be improved. Almost certainly there is a point in there somewhere that could be someplace else. It might be of little importance or it could very well be the thing that makes or breaks you. Even if you had your spec right when you respecced last chances are your play style has drifted and there are changes you could make.
Research your glyphs, major and minor. If they seem confusing, look for a guide to what glyphs are best for your spec. There might just be three that stand out as “must haves”, or five that have situational uses. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get the best set for your playstyle.
This one can be huge. And it can be subtle and tricky. It can be as simple as finding out your are missing some skill you should be using or as tiny as using them in a different order. It can make a very large difference in your damage/threat/healing. Very large. For most players there is improvement they can make here. For many players there is a LOT of improvement they can make here.
Tactics are the small choices you make during combat. This covers all the buttons you press that are not simply doing your ‘rotation’. Target selection is tactics. Pulling tricks? Tactics. Healer Triage? That is tactics too. This area is pretty broad and it can be a lot harder to pin down your mistakes. Unfortunately there is a good chance that your mistakes are here. Most people could use an upgrade in their tactics.
Strategies are the bigger picture things. Stuff that over-arches everything. It is more vague than tactics and touches on a wider variety of ways you approach your character. There is not much I can say about this area because it is so big. Just remember there are larger things that can be areas of improvement too.
A final note before we get started…
Many of these actually work together. If you make a change to your tactics you might start using a new ability in your rotation. That might cause you to want to change a glyph and that decision effects what your spec should be. Don’t focus on one area of improvement and ignore the others. Try to remember what else can be effected.
I have had many times where I realized mistakes I was making, things I over looked or stuff I totally did not know. If you think I am writing this because I am elitist, you’re wrong. Unless seeking to get better at the game makes me an elitist…But heck, everyone can be that kind of elitist.
Before you wade out in the internet, keep in mind that much of the advice out there is aimed at a specific sector or area. For example almost all Talent builds are aimed at someone with max level. There is a good chance that you actually want some other build while leveling and want to respec several times on the way up to move points around. The same goes for stats on gear, glyphs, lots of things. How you play the game is not the same as how others play the game.
And, to make things worse, it is not always obvious. For example a guild to tanking might fail to mention it is totally focused on raid main tanking and that if you are tanking heroics only you might want things a lot different. A PVP guide won’t be much good for doing PVE, and vice versa.
I am going to start with gear, go through them categories of improvement. Keep in mind that if you change something later it might affect things in you already looked at. Never assume you are done tweaking things.
The gear choices you make while leveling are different then what you look for near max level.
Don’t waste a lot of time on it.
The first thing to say about leveling gear is ‘don’t worry about it much’. While leveling almost anything will do. But, sometimes it is a trouble area so here is how you take a look.
Find your worst items and look for a replacement. This is pretty straightforward. It is just what is says. You go down your list and look for the slot that is lagging the most and find something new for that. Let’s say you are 23 and looking over your gear you see you still have grey or white boots. That is a pretty good candidate for an upgrade.
Avoid the auction house. But if you do hit the AH, don’t buy the bestest thing you can find. That is a waste of money. Like with most things in life you can usually find something 80% as good for 20% the cost. Buy the Toyota, not the Lexus. You are going to replace it in a few levels soon anyway so don’t waste much on it.
You can avoid the AH by looking for a quest drop. Use site like Thottbot or WOWhead to find a quest reward that replaces your item and go run that quest. Another way to upgrade gear is to grind instances for a while. Go check the information on what drops there though. Thottbot, Wowhead, even WOWwikki all have boss drop information. Don’t forget to get the quests for that instance. Those often reward gear.
If you are above level 60 your best bet is quest drops. Bliz did a much better job from 60 to 80 of providing a steady flow of gear upgrades for people leveling. This is extra true for someone who just hit Outlands level of Northrend level. Do your research on what quests rewards you need and go find them.
Craft your own.
Do you have an higher level crafter alt or a friend who can? Heck you can even spam trade for someone and get them to make you a cheap green replacement for any slot you have that is really lagging.
Max level gearing up
There are four stages to max level gearing up.
Gearing up Stage 1: 200-219
Stage one of gearing up a lvl 80 character is to replace your quest greens and instance blues with item level 200 or 219 blues and purples. This involves running NON-heroic versions of all the level 80 instances. All of them except TOC, FOS, POS, and HOR drop item level 200 blues from each boss and Item level 200 purple from the final boss. This is decent stuff. TOC drops 200 purples from each encounter including trinkets but not including any weapons. FOS, POS and HOR drop 219 purples from all bosses and some random packs including trinkets and weapons. I recommend making a list of all the 200 and 219 gear you want from those top 4 places and running them all until you have most of that list.
Gearing up Stage 2: 232-245+
Badge gear and heroic ICC 5 man drops are what you are going for next. Start by grinding random heroics until you have a few pieces of badge gear (232). Once you have a few of those you can add some focused runs of the top 3, FOS, POS, and HOR. As you are working on ‘stage 2’ you can start also working stage 3. As you run out of things that drop on instances or from triumph badges you will have moved fully into stage 3.
Gearing up Stage 3 is ‘Best in Slot’
This is the stage where you start paying attention to gear guides and finding that one piece of gear that will be best in that slot until and unless you get a raid drop or a zillion frost badges.
Find a guide. There are a lot of great gearing up guides out there. But make sure your guide is up to date. If you find one that looks good but is actually from patch 3.1.2 you will waste a lot of effort and not have the best gear. Many blogs and other sites have made gear guides specifically tailored for showing you the best non-raid gear you can get. Find one for your class and keep it handy. Check off each slot as you get it.
Gearing up Stage 4
This is all about raid gear and frost badges. There are actually various levels of gear from raid drops and badges so you have to do your own research as to which you want. Also which you are working on will depend on what sort of raids you are getting into. You might be 12/12 in 25 man hard modes or you might only get the occasional weekly runs. Or it could be anywhere in between. If you are regularly in 10 man pugs that get 5-6 bosses down then you can easily compile a list of gear you are likely to see drop off of those bosses. If you check this list against what you can get with frost badges you will be able to have a master wish list of what you are working toward.
These depend on your spec. First off never leave anything ungemmed or enchanted. If you are not sure what is best min-max slap a cheap enchant or gem in there until you go find out what is best. Don’t waste Epic gems on less than phase 3 gear. Put those high gold cost ones on gear that you expect to wear a while. Also keep in mind what gemming and enchanting you want will vary based on other factors.
Step By Step Powering Up
Step 1: Rotation, Talents, Glyphs
The biggest areas of ‘problem’ you can have in your character revolve around your Ability Rotation, your Talent Build and your Glyphs. These three end up being a LOT to cover. But since they are tied tightly together it is hard to fully separate them. Chances are if you make a change to one you will want to change the others… but since it is impossible to talk about them in a lump lets break them down.
What might you be doing wrong with your ability rotation? There are two big ways to screw this up. There are other ones but these to cover most of it.
Using the wrong abilities.
There are a lot of abilities out there. Even in one spec there are a lot to pick from. BUT they are NOT all appropriate for you to use. As you level up you end up with abilities that are intended to replace other abilities in your main rotation. Also as you apply talent points you increase some abilities and decrease others. In a given fight there is a limit to your mana/rage/energy and also to the number of global cooldowns and seconds you have to use abilities. You can’t use them all. You have to pick which to cast and which to not cast. If you pick one over another you might be picking wrong. No, don’t tell me that you prefer to play that way and don’t want to change. That is nonsense. Some abilities are flat wrong. For example if you are a Prot warrior you should not be using Sunder Armor. For Prot warriors the Devastate ability completely replaces Sunder Armor. If you did not notice this you might go on using the wrong one. This is just one example and there are a LOT of others. Another example is that for a Survival hunter Explosive Shot replaces Arcane shot. There is pretty much no reason for a survival hunter to ever use Arcane shot once he gets Explosive Shot. That is just how the game is made.
It is critical that you find out what abilities make sense for your spec and which do not. It is also important you understand which abilities are interchangeable depending on situation. For example a warrior can use Heroic Strike or Cleave. They both (pre Cata) go off on the next strike so you get one or the other in a given swing but not both. So you pick which you want depending on the situation. It is not just spamming buttons. One is good for certain situations and the other is good for others. If you are just randomly hitting whichever you feel like or if you just use one because it is your favorite then there is a VERY good chance you are often using one that is not the best choice.
The scope of this article is not to tell you which is best. There are FAR to many choices to cover all that. The point is to get you to go look.
DO – Find out what abilities people are recommending for your class and spec and find out WHY they are recommending them. Don’t just find one guide and do what it says. It could be wrong or it could be out of date. Read several, check for counter arguments and debate. Check the dates on what you are reading.
Using abilities at the wrong time or in the wrong order.
There are efficient rotations out there. People with a head for numbers and a lot of time on their hands have worked out what rotations of abilities make sense for particular specs. If you trigger abilities in the wrong order, or prioritize one ability over another you can see very large changes in your damage/threat/healing. Even if you are using all the ‘right’ moves but are not using them in the right proportions you may be wasting a lot of your potential. I had the experience of realizing I was not using Maul enough on my bear. I was using it. I thought I was using it a lot. But when I studied up I realized I needed to be using it EVERY SWING. So I went and made macros so it triggered every time I pressed any of my other hot keyed attacks. My DPS/TPS shot way up. I knew Maul was important, and I was using it a fair bit. But I did not realize just how important it was or just how often I needed to be using it. Had someone told me ‘maul more’ I might have scoffed and said “I do that”. It was only when realizing I had a serious PROBLEM with my DPS/TPS and that I needed to make a serious change that I finally did the reading I needed to really see what I needed to change. VERY often small tweaks like this can make a large difference in damage/healing output. Don’t assume you have to make big changes to see big differences.
DO – Read up on proposed rotations. Make sure you check if they are intended for bosses, or trash or what. Rotations vary based on the fight. Read more than one version and look up enough to understand WHY they suggest those rotations. Compare that to what you do. I mean REALLY compare. Find a target dummy and practice. What you think you do for a rotation and what you actually do may be different in subtle and important ways. If the rotations you read about have a ‘priority system’ make certain you understand what they prioritize when and why.
Analogue inserts – this is even more important for certain class/specs. For instance, the paladin tanking rotation is a very tight rotation of abilities we call the “969 rotation”: you use an ability with a 9 second cooldown, then one with a 6 second cooldown, then 9, then 6, repeat til things are dead. If you do, you have insane amounts of aggro, control the fight, everything’s beautiful. If you don’t, you flail around, don’t have a good pattern, and your healer dies. Not every class plays like this – for instance my healing druid might cast any spell at any time depending on what needs doing.
There are a lot of ways to screw your talents up. Some are small and some are large. Sometimes when you vary from the conventional ‘wisdom’ in your talent build it does not matter and sometimes a few misplaced or missing points can completely hamstring your build. Let’s look what what you can do wrong.
Mistaking PVP and PVE talents
Are you a PVE DPSer? Then you don’t want to be wasting many points on things that up your HP or give you more dodge. There are a LOT of talents that are aimed squarely at PVP. If you are a PVPer and you don’t have some of those you will find you are squishy and get owned a lot. If you are a PVEer and put points into many of those talents you will find your dps/heals/threat is seriously lagging.
Points you forgot about
Play styles change. You might find you are never using a certain spell but you put 3 points into making it crit more often. Oops. Don’t let your Talents sit around forgotten. Check up on them and compare what you see to how you currently play the game. If you are 80 and are still using your leveling spec to run heroics and raids then you probably have some really poorly spent points.
Key Missing Points
Many trees have some points that really make or break it. It is not always obvious what those are. For example as a bear there are 3 points you HAVE to take or you can’t be a serious tank. I was ‘bearing’ at max level for a couple weeks before I went back and did my homework and realized what I had missed.
Here is a key point: Sometimes those critical talents are not in your main tree. In fact every decent build I have ever heard of has points in other trees that are important. I have never heard of good build with 71 points in one tree. But you see this mistake a LOT. The only way for that to happen is if people do not read all the available talents and weigh what things will and will not matter for how they play. Don’t be that person! 71 points in one tree is a sure sign of a noob. Fix it before people start to point and laugh.
Listening to ‘conventional wisdom’ in place of thinking
This can really hurt you. Don’t listen and turn off your brain. I lost track of how many level 60ish DKs I ran into that had all their points in frost and were trying to tank. Why? Because you use frost presence to tank. Clearly that means you must need to put all your points there, right? Wrong. If you don’t know why (and you are a DK) you either have not read what your talents say on them or you have not read anything on the internet about DK tank builds. Probably both. There are plenty of examples of this. Like putting all your points in to BM on a hunter because someone said it was good for leveling. Well it is good for leveling but don’t put your points there just because someone said something. Read up for yourself and do your own thinking.
Leveling without respeccing
There are some great builds out there for when you are max level. You can look one up and use to assign each point as you go. But that is almost certainly a bad idea. Because what you need while leveling is not the same. It works better to assign them as you go based on what you are currently using, and everyone so often, respec completely to move some points around that you don’t need anymore.
Always be ready to respec. Any change to your play style can change what points make the best sense for you.
Using a cookie cutter build
This can work… or it can be suboptimal. If you don’t know WHY they chose those talents then you will not know if they are actually best for your play style.
Reading the text for yourself and deciding based on just that
Wait… what? That is right. If you just go off what the text of the talent (or ability) says then you can get really screwed up. Why? Because Blizzard is BAD at percentages and uses the English language ambiguously. I am an engineer who deals a lot in contracts and requirements. Those contain specific language that is intended to be completely unambiguous. If two people read one thing and come up with a different idea of what it means then that text is BAD. Blizzard, in their descriptions of what talents and abilities do, makes this mistake a lot. A WHOLE LOT. Some of the text can be very misleading. A good example of this is taunts. If you read the text of ‘mocking blow’, ‘growl’ (bear), ‘growl’ (hunter pet), and Distracting Shot and tried to explain how each was different, without doing some extra research, you would be almost certainly completely and totally wrong. And the ways you would be wrong could be life or death in a party.
I am not saying you are too dumb to figure it out. I am saying those ability tool tips can be VERY misleading. I had to explain to a warrior one time that Mocking Blow was not a taunt. But it says right there in the text that it taunts. Except it doesn’t. It is a forced attack and not an ‘attack’. This is a subtle but very critical distinction and can lead to all sorts of headaches while tanking if you are depending on that ability. When your own judgement contradicts what is out there on the internet do NOT assume you have it right. Don’t assume the internet has it right either. Keep researching until you are SURE. If you find yourself saying ‘this has to be wrong because the ability says…’ stop right there and go research more. (And if you are totally lost about those taunt descriptions then go read my posts on tanking)
I have run into this first hand. For a long time I read the text of aimed shot as applying a debuff that makes other shots hit harder. Does it say that? Well not really, but it could be argued that it does. When I figured out how wrong I was I felt pretty stupid. This leads me to another point…
Since this post has gotten too long I will make it my last point.
Don’t let ‘feeling stupid’ get in the way of getting powered up
We all hate to feel like a buffoon. There are a lot of things about powering up that can make us feel that way. If someone gives us some criticism we mentally reject it. That sort of thing make us feel bad. Don’t look at it that way. Find a way to see their point. This means EVEN if they were a total asshat about it there might STILL be a point in there. In fact even if they way they worded it was WRONG there still might be a point in there somewhere if you look at things from all angles. If you are serious about getting better you need to start treating all criticism as a chance to improve your game.
Changing your rotation? Makes you feel awkward and clumsy.
Changing spec? Makes you feel totally lost and confused.
Reading that some other ability (that you ignore) is important. Makes you feel defensive, and annoyed with yourself and others.
Finding some advice that counters your thinking on gems or enchants? Makes you want to defend your side of things, or to call ‘sour grapes’ on their thinking.
There are many ways that trying to power up can get us defensive, or feeling stupid. Do NOT let that get in the way. You are in control of your own mind and emotions. Don’t let them control you and do NOT let them send you pack to your old less effective way of playing. It is easy to convince yourself that you are good enough. This is a crutch we lean on when getting better seems to hard. Most of that ‘hardness’ is mental and not real. Don’t let your natural reactions get in the way.
They are natural reactions. I am not saying feeling stupid is stupid. We ALL feel dumb when we realize we have been making a mistake. That is normal and perfectly ok. It does not mean you are dumb. It is only dumb to let that feeling rule you. Harness that annoyance and make it motivate you to get better.
It is VERY easy to let this sort of thing get in the way. Many times I have seen an issue with something and resisted actually doing something about it. I would slog forward for a while until the problem blew up in my face or the slog got so annoying I had to fix what was wrong. Have you ever done that? Ever realized your spec was bad but did not bother to fix it for a while? I think we have all been there at one time or another. Just learn to recognize when you are trying to avoid fixing something. It is usually a good indicator when you find yourself thinking up an excuse for something.
I had intended this post to give a case study of one character I did some ‘powering up’ to. But it has turned into such a huge wall of text I will save the practical examples for other posts. In the future I will try to document an actual ‘power up’ session and post what resources I use.