WoW: Professions

One of the really striking things about my World of Warcraft experience so far is the lack of grinding. I mean, sure, there are quests that involve seeking out and killing wandering creatures, but even so, that’s not grinding, it’s questing. It’s not driven by our personal need for more power to make the rest of the game easier, it’s driven by some NPC in a position of authority telling you to do stuff and rewarding you with goodies and XP and congratulations. (Lots of single-player CRPGs have the NPCs heap praise upon you for achieving tremendous things that no one else could, but here they do it in a context where other people who have done exactly the same things are wandering around and calling each other names.) What’s more, the kill-stuff quests usually come paired with a quest to do some other task in or past the area where the stuff to be killed resides, so I find I generally just wind up automatically meeting my quota (or coming very close to it) in the course of pursuing my other duties.

There is, however, one aspect of the game that feels very grindy, and that’s the Professions. Professions are mainly crafting skills. They’re completely optional, but the fact that they’re optional makes them fit into the category of self-directed power-seeking that I mentioned above. And yes, they involve simple repetitive activity, although for the most part you don’t have to participate; you can just tell the computer to make twenty bandages or whatever, and it’ll do the iterations without need for further input.

In what I assume is an effort to force diversity, no character can practice all the professions. There are four professions that everyone gets — cooking, fishing, first aid, and archeology, of all weird combos — and on top of that, you can take up to two electives. I haven’t chosen these slots for Oleari yet, but Pleasance has taking Tailoring and Enchanting. These, it turns out, are a widely-recommended pairing for mage-types, but I didn’t know this when I picked them. I picked them because they made sense: a warlock can only wear cloth, so I figured this combination would let me make my own enchanted equipment. It turns out there’s another wrinkle to it: the Enchantment profession also involves disenchanting things, which destroys them but returns a certain amount of enchantment supplies (magic powders and the like). Now, you can buy the same supplies from town, but they’re pretty expensive. Tailoring, however, can produce items that have small stat bonuses without explicitly enchanting them. These items can, however, be disenchanted. So there’s a nice dovetailing of the grind there: if you make some clothing and then disenchant it, you get to practice both Tailoring and Enchanting, and get some relatively cheap Enchanting supplies into the bargain.

To some extent, you can buy your way into professional skill. Take Cooking. The first Cooking recipe you learn is for a spice cake, the ingredients of which can be purchased from a guy standing right next to the trainer who gave you your first point of Cooking skill in the first place. If you have the cash to spend on it, it makes sense to just whip up a bunch of spice cake then and there, increasing your skill with each step. However, as you gain skill, easier tasks start failing to yield skill. The menu of things you know how to make is color-coded by how likely they are to yield a skill point, so it’s easy to pick the things to practice with.

The other limiting factor to grinding professions is scarcity of resources. Most low-level recipes (other than spice cake) need meat. Unlike in our world, wolf meat is apparently commonly eaten in Azeroth, as is bear — the closest thing to a normal meat animal I’ve seen is those pigs back in the orcish territories, and even those pigs are pretty fierce. The point is, the only way to obtain meat for food is to engage it in combat. You might think Tailoring would be a different matter, but no, the only source of raw cloth is fallen adversaries. This affects First Aid as well, because the same cloth drops are the raw material for bandages. You can buy thread — most Tailoring recipes require it — but there’s nary a usable loom in sight. Battle is your loom. So, this puts a brake on how much practice you can put in between quests. No one’s becoming a master craftsman without also becoming a war hero.

Except that there seem to be professions immune to this. Like Fishing. I haven’t done a lot of Fishing yet (and haven’t done any successful Fishing at all), but it seems to be mainly just a matter of finding an appropriate lake for your skill level and then hitting a button every ten seconds or so to keep casting your line. There’s something of a tradition to this, I suppose. Everquest had similar fishing mechanics, as did A Tale in the Desert. It’s a low-risk, low-reward, easy-to-implement mechanic for anyone who wants to just waste time.

Archeology I have no idea about. There’s an Archeology trainer in the Undercity, but he seems to be broken: I go to him to purchase training, and he gives me a completely empty purchase menu. Maybe there’s a quest or something I’ll have to complete first.

9 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 17 Jan 2011

    Archaeology isn’t broken; you need to own the Cataclysm expansion in order to do it.

    Fishing has an added wrinkle; anyone can successfully fish in fishing pools, assuming your cast lands in the pool.

    It’s a shame that MMOs generally don’t allow you to get a decent game experience sticking entirely to professions, but generally it’s because professions aren’t supposed to be the focus.

  2. Starmaker on 17 Jan 2011

    Word of advice from a casual player: Make sure to train the professions you want to train NOW, even if it feels grindy. Otherwise you’ll miss the resource bracket and end up having, say, tons of Mageweave that you can’t yet use due to not being done with Silk yet, which drives down overall enjoyment *a lot*.

    See, players are constantly retooling their characters, which means dropping professions and leveling new ones. So one might level up with Gathering (to earn monies) and then switch to Crafting. Thus, there’s a demand for newb resources created by high-level players which drives up prices. Lapsed casual players will have a hard time competing with them – really, the two options are (1) farming greys and (2) leveling another char. Runecloth in particular is always in high demand since it can be exchanged for faction reputation.

    The Tailoring Enchanting combo is a good balance between ease of leveling, high-end usefulness and fun.

    Ease of leveling = ease of finding base resources + independence, high-end usefulness = quality + consumption, fun = shininess + permanency + integration.

    Integration and independence are opposites: engineering is woot!!!AWESOME!!! but requires one to scrounge for and store mountains of random crap, inscription is streamlined!streamlined!streamlined! and so unbelievably boring you’ll lose faith in humanity. True story: Whoever levels Inscription to 375 goes to Paradise because there’s nothing in Hell they haven’t yet seen. Shininess is observability of results: cloth goods are wearable, enchantments shine.

    On Fishing: buy a lure (not necessary but helps), check the fishing level requirement map and go to a level-appropriate place.

  3. Starmaker on 17 Jan 2011

    Huh, where have the plusses gone?

  4. Carl Muckenhoupt on 17 Jan 2011

    WordPress tends to eat plus signs in comments. I think it has something to do with incorrectly processing the text field as if it were a URL query string — the plus sign being the URL-encoded form of the space character. Anyway, I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve taken the liberty of putting them back where they seemed to belong.

  5. Merus on 17 Jan 2011

    Runecloth’s actually gone down a lot because they removed the cloth quests and added tabards: if you run any Azeroth dungeon while wearing a tabard for a city, you’ll earn reputation for that city. Reputation gives a discount for all costs paid to that faction, and most factions have additional rewards for being at a particular faction level. You’ll notice a gentleman labelled a ‘Quartermaster’ next to the flight master in the capital cities who sells fancy cloaks and largish bags if you’re at particular reputation levels with a city. He also sells the tabard that allows you to champion that city in dungeons. More exotic factions have other rewards, such as pets, mounts, or end-game gear.

  6. josh g. on 17 Jan 2011

    Another recommendation from a sort-of-casual ex-player: unless crafting is really, really your thing, pick two of the resource-gathering professions and just use them to make money. I put a lot of time into Smithing, and while it was fun to occasionally run around with a sword or armor that I made, 9 times out of 10 I was better off gameplay-wise with gear that I had picked up while questing.

    Resource-gathering professions like mining or herbalism, on the other hand, are money makers. You can sell the stuff you collect on the auction house to other players who are trying to buy their way into a crafting profession.

    The exception to this is maybe Alchemy. Potions are consumable and don’t replace other gear or effects, and so crafting those yourself is pretty handy. (So Herbalism and Alchemy would make you self-sufficient for potions.)

  7. Carl Muckenhoupt on 17 Jan 2011

    Yeah, I’m definitely finding that Tailoring puts me at most one step ahead of the quest rewards, and often not even that. I’m more or less regarding it at this point as just something to help me get better at Enchanting, which I can use to improve anything I’m wearing, regardless of whether I found it or made it.

    I guess I’ll go either Herbalism/Mining or Herbalism/Alchemy with Oleari. Herbalism is kind of a no-brainer for a Tauren, what with the racial bonus.

  8. malkav11 on 17 Jan 2011

    I’m pretty sure enchanting materials aren’t purchaseable at later levels (except from other players, of course) as that would be completely contrary to how other professions work.

    And the distinction between the professions that everyone gets and the ones that fill slots is fairly simple: crafting professions are meant to be useful, gathering professions are meant to fuel them. Fishing, first aid, cooking, and archaeology are meant to be hobbies done in one’s spare time with some mild utility if you pursue them far enough, and maybe a few neat toys.

    Cooking essentially just gets you better food and drink – you can get by on the stuff that can be bought from vendors or found on dead foes (some classes, like death knights, rarely need to use even the drops), but the cooked stuff will provide small stat buffs, and at high levels is a source of “feasts” that can be placed for everyone in a raid to use and get that small but potentially advantageous buff.

    Fishing provides some materials for cooking, can get a few pets and one mount, gets a few fish that do interesting things, and has a few special achievements like fishing up coins from the fountain in Dalaran. Also, these days you can fish anywhere, but if the body of water is appropriate for your skill level (or is below your skill level) you will fish up actual fish rather than junk on a more regular basis.

    First aid has had no practical value for me whatsoever, but it theoretically offers some emergency healing.

    And Archaeology is mostly about the lore you learn from the artifacts you dig up, but there’s a pet or two, a mount, some Bind on Account epic gear, and a few interesting toys. You have to be fairly lucky to get the shinier stuff.

  9. Carl Muckenhoupt on 17 Jan 2011

    Shortly after posting this, I got to the point where I started learning Enchantment recipes with ingredients not available in stores. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted — and it lasted quite a bit longer than the spice cake.

    For what it’s worth, Pleasance has been getting pretty far advanced in Cooking just on the basis that she keeps finding wolf meat and might as well cook it. But she hasn’t actually eaten any. She’s undead; she prefers to feast on human flesh.

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