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Familiarity breeds surprising results?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt.” It usually means that once you become too familiar with something, you eventually begin to feel contempt for it, and no longer consider it worth your time. For gaming, I always assumed that the more familiar you get with a game, the easier it is to play. Of course, that can lead to faster burnout from playing too much, but that’s a different story.

So I currently play WoW on the Alliance side, and have been since open stress tests in September, 2004. I’ve had some downtown when real life momentarily took over and I didn’t have time to play much, but overall, I’m still enjoying myself. The method to my enjoyment is leveling up alts and taking my chances against the Horde in contested zones (did I mention I’m on a PvP server?). It’s fun, it’s risky and it’s definitely a challenge, and while I tend to level sloooooooowly, it’s a good thing in my opinion. I’ve had one character at level 60 since mid-March now, and the next highest is still only level 42. The rest of my little mob of newbies range from level 10 (my auction house mule) to level 24 (my mining rogue). Nothing too serious on any of them. 

Except for a casual bit of time during beta, when my guild played Horde just to see what the other side is like, I haven’t put any time into a Horde character. This was mostly because playing on one server takes enough time, and that’s with a guild to support me. Playing solo on another server in a new realm has far more of a learning curve. So I just never bothered with Horde and concentrated on learning the quest lines on the Alliance side in order to zoom through them as quickly as possible when leveling the next newbie alt.

I had my chance to go over to the other side when some guildmates decided to take a break from our server and play on our “unofficial” Horde server. They were organized about it, and with a bit of support, it wasn’t such a bad idea to try playing a Horde character. My first one was an undead rogue, made one night long before this when our primary server was down and the guild went over to screw around on the Horde side. Nothing serious, and even after playing the character with the others, I still only managed to make it to level 15. She wasn’t the most efficient leveler, but I didn’t know the lay of the land as it were.

So I decided to try out the nemesis of the Alliance – a shaman. Everyone on the Alliance side complains about the shaman, because they appear to be overpowered to our point-of-view. Just the sheer amount of different skills seems to give them a huge advantage in leveling and PvPing. So I wanted to see the truth of these powerhouses, and created a tauren so that I would be on the other continent and in new territory. I thought this would be fair, since I didn’t want to rely on what I had learned about the quests, etc. near the Undead city.

My first impression was how spread out the tauren lands were, but then I realized it wasn’t all that bad, and I got down to work. I just hit up every quest I could find and worked on knocking them out as efficiently as I could. Since my first character (and the one I’ve played the most) is a warrior, I tended to melee a lot and forget about using my totems and some other spells. That didn’t seem to matter too much, and in no time I had moved from the newbie zone, to the capital of Thunder Bluff and then on to Orgrimmar and the other continent as quests moved me about. I didn’t think much about how long it was taking me to level, but finally reaching level 20 so that I could get my ghost wolf (travel) form was a big day for me. Out of curiosity, I checked my /played time and came up with 1day, 1 hour, 37 minutes and 44 seconds. Not too shabby for someone who doesn’t know the lay of the land. I had a bit of help near the end from the guildmates that were playing Horde more regularly, but that was all really.

Well, I decided my break was over and I went back to play Alliance again. Since I already had a warrior, a mage, a rogue, a druid, a priest and a paladin, I figured I’d try yet another newbie character – the warlock. I have no interest in playing hunter really, so unless something changed, this would be my seventh and last alt. I created a gnome and got her out of the newbie area and to Ironforge as quickly as I could. Since I’ve done all the quests in the area, that didn’t seem to take long at all. Instead of moving on to the next dwarven/gnome zone though, I made the perilous run across a contested zone and headed to the night elf zone. I’ve had 3 NE characters now, I figured I knew the zone and the quests there pretty darn well, right?

So I’m cruising through these quests, bunching them together so I’m hitting the same mobs for multiple quests at the same time. Efficiency is the key here. I was getting closer, and finally, the magic level 20 arrived. Confident in what I would see, I did /played to find out how much more quickly I had reached this level than I did on the Horde side – 22 hours, 43 minutes, 12 seconds.

Huh?

I thought I had read that wrong. It took me about 25.5 hours to level a character to 20 in a zone I knew nothing about on a character type I had never played versus taking almost 23 hours to level my seventh character in zones I was very familiar with and quests I had done way more than once before. That made no sense at all and frankly surprised me.

My assumption was that being so familiar with these quests and zones meant I could breeze through them far more quickly the more often I did them, and I’m guessing that would be most people’s assumption as well. Yet my highly unscientific test hadn’t borne these assumptions out. My first guess was because the Blizzard devs really do favor Horde over Alliance (and oh yeah, nerf shamans!) because of the ease of leveling in their zones. I mean, Horde can level to 30 without ever hitting a contested zone (and becoming targets) while Alliance have to go through a contested zone just to move between the NE capital city and the dwarven capital. Nothing suspicious there at all.

But then I thought about it more, maybe it was me. More to the point, maybe my familiarity with out of game resources helped me level an unfamiliar character type in an unknown zone because I had those resources to rely on and I used them precisely because I didn’t know the area. I knew everything in the NE zones that I was doing, and I knew how to group the quests, etc. together so I just did it without having to look everything up. Yeah, I was probably fairly efficient in my leveling, and since I was untagged, soloing and concentrating specifically on the leveling, that was probably about the fastest I’ve managed.

On the other hand, I looked up Horde quests that weren’t obvious to me, read up on the quests available for the area I was in and grabbed everything I could and just went to town on my leveling. I may not have known the area or the character type very well, but I did know how to maximize my leveling when I was unfamiliar with something. My guess is that even though all I was doing was leveling my Alliance character, there was a certain sense of complacency to that playtime. I knew the quests, I had map markers from other characters that had been through the zones previously, I didn’t really need to work hard to level fast.

But I did have to put in some work for the Horde, I just didn’t consider it such. Using resources like Thottbot and Allakhazam to research things isn’t work because I’m so used to using those sites already. So even though I’m generally a slow leveler, the fact that it only took me about 3 more hours to level my shaman to level 20 than it did to level my warlock is probably pretty amazing for me.

That, or WoW Shaman really are the robot Jesus of gaming and need to be nerfed back into the stone age.

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