So it's official. All those clues and rumors pointing to a Dec. 7 launch date turned out to have more than a grain of truth to them. We now have officially a little over eight weeks to go before the expansion drops on our collective heads and much, much less before Patch 4.0.1 kicks off the chain of events that breaks the game world pretty much literally. Now what? With the clock ticking to definite date, we have to plan ahead. With the revelation that arena Season 9 and rated battlegrounds begin a week after launch, that doesn't give us a whole lot of time.
So let's plan ahead. Not that most of you haven't already laid out your plans, but considering I'm a lazy player, I'm betting a whole bunch of people haven't been conscientious about their preparations for Cataclysm. Today, we'll keep it simple -- we'll run down the next few weeks with a checklist of things we should do in the days leading up to the expansion. We'll count it down from Tuesday, maintenance day, or what many players typically know as the day we get to go outside the house. Besides, Dec. 7 falls on a Tuesday, so we'll count backwards from there.
Week 1: Oct. 5-11
Level up If you don't have a character at level 80 yet, it might be time to put your altitis on hold and get at least one character -- preferably your favorite one -- to max level. A lot of the great zones such as Mount Hyjal, Deepholm, or Skywall will be for higher-level characters, so it really pays to have a high-level character to access the amazing content. Although everything in Azeroth will be revamped, the completely new stuff is either at very low levels for goblins and worgen or for level 80 characters and higher. Most importantly, rated battlegrounds are only for level 85 players, so if you want to participate in the new PvP environment, it makes sense to have at least one character ready to zip through five levels. You've only got a week to do it, after all.
If you already have one or more level 80 characters but still have some alts lagging behind, you might want to consider speeding up the process, if only to have the option of what character to level to 85 when the game goes live. Unless you really want a new leveling experience -- admittedly part of Cataclysm's appeal -- don't worry too much about the new race-class combinations. Considering the level of flexibility and openness to which Blizzard has lifted the game, there's a good chance that paid race changes will become available as soon as the expansion hits, so converting an existing character into one of the new options should be a mere $25 away. Of course, you can also save money and level up a new character the old-fashioned way, but unless you're a mad leveler, don't expect to field your human hunter or tauren paladin as soon as Season 9 begins.
Stockpile PvP currency I mentioned this last week, but players should already be stockpiling PvP currency to ensure that they get 4,000 new honor points when the patch drops. There's no reason not to do it if you're inclined to PvP, and it should be easy enough for most players to achieve. Your best bet for this would be to obtain as many Wintergrasp Marks of Honor as you can, because these convert at fairly high rates for the time investment involved. You can check how much honor you'll be getting using a currency calculator and plan your week from there. If you're already at the soft cap, you can start stockpiling on your other characters, as well. If you don't make the cap by the time the patch drops, don't worry; you'll still be able to earn the new honor points by participating in the battlegrounds or other PvP events until the expansion. Getting your honor now only saves you the trouble of having to grind for it later.
Last hurrah for arena Season 8 If you play arenas, this is most likely your last week to get a rating in hopes of attaining a title. With the currency conversion in place, it makes absolutely no sense to purchase PvP gear that won't see any use in a competitive environment, so any arena games played at this point are for achievements and stockpiling points. Whatever your rating, any points gained will be converted to the new honor points, so even if you don't normally play arenas, a mere 10 scrub games will still net you some Cataclysm currency.
Week 2: Oct. 12-18
Go nuts with your new skillz Smart money is on Patch 4.0.1 dropping this week or the next, which means everything changes. This will be the week where everyone gets a taste of the new abilities and revamped talent trees. Plan ahead of the crowd by playing with your talents. Everyone gets a free re-spec, so the first spec or two is free. Read up on the new talents and what they mean for your class right here on WoW Insider, where the various class columnists have been busy dissecting all the new abilities in a series of posts covering 4.0.1. There's a wealth of information out there (by out there, I mean right here on this site) so you don't have to go blind into the new era.
Once the patch hits, choose your talents carefully. As much as the developers hoped that there would be no need for two distinct PvE and PvP specs, it seems inevitable that some talents would work well in one aspect of the game but not the other. Dual specs will allow you to have one spec for PvP and another for dungeons or raids. The next few weeks is your chance to familiarize yourself with all the new abilities -- yours as well as those of the other classes. Especially for players who didn't have access to the beta or try out the PTR, here's where theory becomes practice. Just remember that things will be different at max level. Some folks will feel a little overpowered for a while because the game is balanced for level 85. So take advantage ...
Battlegrounds bonanza With Patch 4.0.1 marking the end of Season 8, arenas close and battlegrounds become the absolute best place to test drive your new abilities and combos. Forget grinding mobs! Grind your opponents' skulls! And avoid hitting those dungeons just yet -- you don't want to cause your PUG to wipe just because you haven't mastered those new talents yet, do you? Of course not. Hit the battlegrounds and blast away with those cool talents. With the abilities scaled for max level, you should experience a surge in power! The caveat is that all your enemies got the same boost. Since most dungeon loot will be obsolete in about a month or so, many players will only run dungeons and raids mostly for the achievements.
Get some cred Speaking of achievements, it is a good time to start working on some battleground achievements. With rated battlegrounds on the horizon, it helps to have some achievements under your belt to get into groups easier. Although I believe in running with a seasoned crew, rated battlegrounds are PUG heaven. This means you might need to flash some achievements to run with the better groups. Conqueror and Justicar titles are good, although getting exalted reputation with three battlegrounds if you're only starting out might be a tall order in the short weeks left before the expansion. On the other hand, simple achievements like winning 100 games carry weight -- it at least shows you've played the battleground long enough to not flounder in it.
Week 3: Oct. 19-26
Find a guild You might also want to explore getting into a guild if you aren't already in one. With the changes in Cataclysm, small guilds can be just as competitive as big guilds, earning the same rewards in fewer doses. If you've been meaning to start up a small, tight guild with family and friends, there couldn't be a better time. With the new hard cap imposed on guilds -- 600 is still a pretty big number -- the developers are sending a message that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. There's a technical reason for the hard cap, of course, but with all the changes coming, members of small guilds should no longer feel like second-class Azerothians.
Why should you consider a guild when battlegrounds play is doable solo? You can absolutely PUG everything, but being part of a guild grants access to battleground guild achievements and theoretically better organization. Higher-level guilds also grant bonuses to honor gains, which only makes gear acquisition easier for you in the long run. If you're joining a battlegrounds-centric guild -- there might be a few of those -- then those achievements that you've been grinding will come in handy for your application.
File your leave It shouldn't be too early to file your leave at work if you plan to take a short break to, uh, celebrate the launch of Cataclysm. Since the launch happens on a workday, players who want to play the expansion right away will need to take leaves from work. If you've got vacation leaves to spare and really want to get the most out of the game on its first week, then why not use them in December? With Blizzard giving players a week to level to 85, you'll probably need the extra playing time to make it in time. You can opt to file leave on Friday the 10th and/or Monday the 13th, which should give you a three- or four-day weekend to play Cataclysm. That should be plenty of time. You also avoid the overpopulating crowds and possible bugs that pop up on launch day.
We should be set for now. Next week, I'll run down on the other stuff you can be doing in preparation for Cataclysm. Weeks four to eight shouldn't be too heavy once you've set out the groundwork. Until then, have fun and smash some face!
Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Find out how the Cataclysm talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels in the expansion, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. Visit Blood Sport for the inside line on arena PvP.