The Doomhammer Remix: The King and the Warchief

A concept struck me while I was discussing some aspects of the Horde’s history a few days ago. I don’t want to give away the conceit straight off, but to set to the scene, keep these details in mind:

  • Orgrim Doomhammer was captured after the Battle of Blackrock Spire during the Second War and held in the capital of Lordaeron, a prisoner of King Terenas.
  • Terenas, as the chief organizer of the Alliance, was responsible for starting the internment program that imprisoned the orcs for years before they were set free by Thrall.
  • Because the dialogue here was so critical to me, I tried to imagine Tony Jay as Terenas (as he was in WC3) and Peter Cullen as Doomhammer (as he was cast to play the role in the cancelled Warcraft Adventures game). If nothing else, the irony of having a voice actor who traditionally did villainous roles as the more readily identifiable “hero” (Jay) and an actor linked inextricably with one of the most recognizable heroes in cartoons as the more overt “villain” (Cullen) was incredibly amusing to me.

Scene 1: A Dungeon in Lordaeron’s Capital

When Terenas entered the cell, he did not expect the chained orc to rise. The orc did not, his small grey eyes focused on the form of the slightly-built king. When the cell door closed, the king set the torch he carried in a sconce, then crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.

“Should I be honored?” said the Doomhammer, the chains about his wrists jingling as he shrugged in mild confusion.

“You have been my guest here for some time, Warchief,” said the King, “and so I felt another conference between us was in order.”

“A conference with no other audience,” Orgrim replied.

“There are those among my peers who do not consider you…” and at this Terenas paused, careful, “worth further conversation.”

The Doomhammer scoffed. “And so, king, you see why the Horde is led by a warchief. A warchief has no peers.”

“I see,” Terenas said, “when a warchief is abandoned by his troops, there are none who have an interest in ransoming him. Surprising.”

“Orcs do not believe in ransom, human. Some might seek honor for themselves by daring to rescue their warchief against impossible odds, but there are many who would consider me a failure for allowing myself to be captured.”

Terenas spread his hands to take in the cell. “Then here we are. No one will come to rescue you, warchief, for your people are scattered, imprisoned, or dead.”

“Which begs the question of why you wished to speak with me, king.”

Terenas nodded, and paused briefly. Clearly he needed to choose his words more carefully, because the orc was as cunning as he was brutishly strong. “As I said, your Horde is beaten. Your goblin mercenaries have fled back to their islands, your troll allies have retreated to their forests, and the orcs and ogres still uncaptured hide in caves and hovels from the hunting parties of all the kingdoms. Your portal is closed forever. There are questions I would ask about your future, and though my allies feel the answers are self-evident I would know your opinion, for your kind have displayed more than the mere low cunning of thieves or scavengers.”

At this, the Doomhammer rose to his feet, even though the chains that bound him would not allow more than scant inches of slack. “Your Lion and his apprentice did their work well. But so long as an orc is alive, he must fight to survive in the world. We will cut out our place on Azeroth or die in the attempt.”

The King could hear the swelling pride, concealed beneath the measured but menacing delivery. And yet the orc’s choice of words was intriguing. “You seek merely a place? Do you no longer seek conquest? Or destruction?”

Orgrim squared his shoulders, the chains at his wrists clinking again. “My predecessor was only interested in destruction. I deposed him because he was a puppet of darker forces, but I chose to press the war because your Lion rose to the challenge. It is in the nature of orcs to contest the strong, to battle those who choose to battle. So you see, king, even if we are beaten, we are never broken.”

A grin threatened to break across Terenas’ features, but he held it in check. “So if I were to release you, and your people, and offer you a land in which to live peacefully, you would gather your strength and attack at the first opportunity?”

Orgrim spat, his voice lowering to a growl. “You ask if I would eat the scraps from your table, like a dog. I would not, king. Nor would any orc. I would choose death before your charity.”

“I would call it amnesty, but that is clearly a matter of perspective.” Terenas paused. “You would not take what is given to you freely, but choose instead to fight for it, regardless of what you may lose.” His voice trailed off, ponderous.

“You sound impressed,” the Doomhammer said.

“I am impressed. There are no people like you on our world, Warchief. The trolls, the goblins; they understand a bargain. Your kind are an enigma, a riddle to which I have no answer, save death.”

“And why not death?” The orc bristled, the chains jangling again. “I have no value as a prisoner, nor do my warriors. You would be better served killing us, if you have the mettle to do it.”

“That is the difference between you and I, orc,” said the King. “The Light teaches us that mercy is the mark of a virtuous ruler. I cannot order the death of unarmed thousands, even of the bloodthirsty murderers you call your Horde. That is not justice, but butchery. That is not our way.”

“This ‘Light’ you speak of,” said Orgrim, “I have heard of it. There was a people once, upon my world, who spoke as you spoke. Of piety and mercy and virtue.”

“You slaughtered them, didn’t you?” said the King, detecting the slightest hesitation in the orc’s speech.

And yet the Doomhammer continued, undeterred: “They rose to the challenge, and failed. Their Light did nothing to save them, and their faith was rewarded with death. As will yours, king, if you do not kill us all.”

Terenas had held the Doomhammer’s gaze, and held it now for a longer time. Words were the king’s specialty; he’d convinced the other nations to forge this Alliance, after all, despite generations of land wars and trade disputes. And yet now his words failed him in the face of this implacable enemy. Despite all of that, every fiber of his being told him that something deep within the recesses of this creature had a kernel of nobility to it.

Without taking his gaze away from the warchief, the King knocked on the cell door. Moments later it opened. “I pray we meet again, Warchief,” and turned to go.

“At my execution,” grunted the orc, “or yours.”

Terenas let the grin show across his face before passing through the door. He looked down the hallway, seeing that his household guard had assembled, as previously instructed. Their captain stepped forward at the King’s nod.

“Remember your orders, captain,” said the King. “Take the Warchief outside the city, unchain him, and return to him his arms and armor. No harm is to come to him unless he chooses to assault you first.” As the captain saluted silently, Terenas heard a confused grunt from within the cell. He turned to regard the orc, who said nothing.

“You ask for death, Warchief, as though there is no other path, and I deny it to you. You spit on freedom, and yet I grant it to you, alone, for now Azeroth is your prison. Look now to your people, as I look to mine. When you do, I wonder if the future will remain so certain.” Terenas nodded his respect, turned and left his soldiers to their duty.

He was sure that if he ever met Orgrim Doomhammer again, the circumstances would be quite different.

*****

End notes:

  • The only explanation for Doomhammer’s escape from imprisonment was his own offhand remarks to Thrall in Lord of the Clans, where he states he was held as an oddity and then escaped easily. With this scene, Doomhammer is released by Terenas, but Doomhammer would never admit to being set free, since everyone would question why, as Doomhammer himself did, whereas writing it off as an escape wouldn’t raise any suspicion.
  • Upon his capture at Blackrock, there isn’t any clear-cut reason provided as to what triggers Doomhammer to escape imprisonment but then go into a self-imposed exile until Drek’thar sends for him. Words are spent explaining that he saw the orcs in the internment camps and saw they’d lost the will to fight, but not why he waits until Drek’thar takes on an apprentice before he decides to start his liberation campaign.
  • The idea that Terenas knew about the lethargy of the orcs and intentionally released Doomhammer so he could see it for himself was intriguing to me. As though Terenas wanted Orgrim to come to the conclusion on his own that the orcs were, in fact, broken in their defeat.
  • Couple this with the idea that Terenas is dealing Doomhammer a more painful blow by shattering his pride rather than simply killing him, and hopefully it adds some depth and cunning to Terenas, who otherwise comes across as somewhat ignorant in all of his appearance otherwise (prior to his death, of course).
  • To a certain extent, this is building towards a what-if scenario that would really change the course of the post-WC2 history, and if there’s interest I might pursue that line further. But the idea of asking what the conversation between Terenas and Doomhammer would look like was what gave birth to this scene, and it was a great thought experiment if not a lot of fun to write.

What do you think? Let me know below. ^_^

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Scaled Content and Reward Systems Ideoblog

So the problem is coming up with a rewards scheme, huh?

Let’s think about all the rewards that exist in the game already, and consider how well they’d work for scaled content:

  • Transmogrifiable gear, which is purely cosmetic armor.
    • Pros: Xmog gear was a good carrot for gold challenge modes, and a good opportunity to flex unique armor models, so that’s proof-of-concept.
    • Cons: Most people running old content now are doing it to get xmog gear drops. There’s also the problem where it contributes to bank bloat, and taxing the art/model team in creating more armor.
  • Progression gear, which is meant to be used in current content.
    • Pros: This would put scaled content into competition with new content as a timesink.
    • Cons: This would put scaled content into competition with new content as a gearing mechanism, which Chilton specifically says they don’t want to do.
  • Heirloom gear, which scales with level and is meant to be used by alts for fast leveling.
    • Pros: Heirloom gear, whether from spending JP, Faire tickets, guild achievements or killing the shit out of Garrosh is pretty roundly considered a cool thing.
    • Cons: Heirloom is already pretty well in-place, and has been more frequently upgraded to cover non-current level curves, meaning it’s already pretty well-saturated. Adding more is just bank bloat.
  • Points (Justice/Valor/Honor/Conquest), which are meant to be spent getting gear used at certain levels of PVE/PVP content.
    • Pros: Just as daily quests became an avenue to trickle in some VP gains, scaled content providing VP could be a compelling avenue to make them rewarding without directly competing with current content…
    • Cons: …but the problem with dailies providing VP, along with all of their other issues, was that people felt that an avenue for VP gains meant it was all the more necessary to hit the cap. You also run into the issue where collecting VP in scaled dungeons has to measured against the VP/hour and VP/effort from scenarios, challenge modes, LFR, heroic dungeons, and Flex/N/HM raiding. And that’s just issues on the Valor end; Justice points being useless and doing PVE content to get top-end PVP gear are just the tip of the iceberg besides.
  • Charms, which are used to get bonus rolls on raid drops and/or used in the Treasure Run solo scenario.
    • Pros: Charms are a low-impact reward, since they only provide a chance at gear, which still requires you to complete current content to get that shot. And don’t contribute to bank bloat.
    • Cons: This is going to be a good reward unless you’re someone who really hates getting a Fail Bag when using a coin.
  • Gold, which is… well, gold. Self-evident.
    • Pros: Pretty much everything that isn’t acquired by killing something, spending points, or spending money on the AH takes gold. So it’s pretty broadly useful…
    • Cons: …but it’s also pretty easy to come by otherwise, in addition to being the thing that shows up most of the time in the Fail Bag. And if the reward is too juicy, it only contributes to huge gold inflation, which is never good for server economies.
  • Mounts & pets, which are purely cosmetic bonuses.
    • Pros: These are used pretty frequently as rewards, especially for people who love a unique look or are compulsive collectors, and don’t contribute to bank bloat. The Raiding with Leases achievement series has been pretty successful in that respect.
    • Cons: The chance at mount and pet drops are already used for some dungeons, so it’s not exactly new.  And for the amount of content we’re talking, that’s a lot of work creating new rewards or reskinning existing ones.
  • Tabards, which are cosmetic.
    • Pros: Easy method to show off completion of a thing without having to link an achievement…
    • Cons: …but it contributes to bank bloat, usually clashes with xmog, and isn’t very exciting, especially if it doesn’t do anything useful.
  • Titles, which are also cosmetic.
    • Pros: Great way to display completion of a thing that shows up in the nameplate rather than on the character, and doesn’t contribute to bank bloat.
    • Cons: Titles getting thrown out like candy deflates their value and importance, and introduces a new kind of bloat.

So I can really see why the devs are having problems coming up with how to do a good rewards system here. Because you have to consider that scaling content is going to require a level of coordination that’s likely somewhere between heroic dungeons and raiding, and a time investment that, in some cases, is going to be as long as what’s employed for current raiding content. You want to make sure players feel like they’re not wasting their time, but you also have to make sure they know “hey guys, you’re going to get the real rewards doing current raiding, not this throwback stuff.”

Looking at all of that, I’m thinking that killing bosses ought to reward a Satchel that can contains Charms, Justice and/or Valor, gold, and perhaps a lower chance of drop mounts that are usually available from the bosses in that dungeon. The charms incentivize running current content as well, so you can use them, the Justice/Valor help justify the time investment (by contributing to acquiring gear for whatever endgame content you’re working), the gold helps zero out the durability costs incurred during the experience, and the mount drops put a big RNG carrot that’s got greater apparent availability.

I worry a lot about other vanity items or even the “clear Silver and get the ability to teleport to the instance” carrot that’s used for Challenge Dungeons, because I worry about bank bloat and about giving players too many teleports. But even I think that there needs to be a more unique reward for running scaled content to compel players to do it.

Off the cuff (and in combination with all the player housing fantasies that players have had since forever) there’s the idea that running scaled dungeons would give you progress towards a trophy of the dungeon that you could prop up in your player-house. That helps to give a unique and tangible rewards for the player while also creating gameplay for player housing that doesn’t already exist. (But honestly, I never was one of the cats holding out for player housing, which was why I loved the Sunsong Ranch so much.)

What do you think could work as a reward for scaled content? Let me know in the comments!

Shadow Priest Ability Iteration for WOWX5

Over on Feckless Leader, Ross talked about his thoughts for what Enhancement might look like if Dr. Street gets his wish about culling abilities from all the specs in the coming expansion.

That in mind, I wanted to look at Shadow in particular and maybe do a bit of the same thinking.

The Current State Remains Current

As it stands, Shadow’s priority set-up looks like this:

  1. Cast Devouring Plague when you have 3 orbs.
  2. Keep Mind Blast on CD until you get 3 orbs. (During Execute, tap Shadow Word: Death at least once for orbs)
  3. Keep Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch up on the target.
  4. Mind Flay as a filler.

Obviously, the Talent Grid is going to play into that system as well, but I’ve got some thoughts on that I’ll get to in a minute. For now, looking strictly at Shadow’s regular toolkit, you’ve got the six priority spells listed up there, Mind Sear for AoE, Dispersion and Power Word: Shield for damage mitigation, Vampiric Embrace for occasional group residual healing, Silence, Psychic Horror, and Psychic Scream for fear/interrupts, Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope for mana returns, Mind Spike for add-killing, Fade for aggro management, and various non-Shadow specific spells that aren’t locked to Disc/Holy.

When it comes down to it, Shadow is pretty lean on spells in comparison to Enhancement, but I think that’s got more to do with Shaman. Shaman, as a class, has a lot of abilities that are accessible across all three specs, with a wide variety of spells that are mutually exclusive (weapon imbues and totems, specifically) while Shadow has really only got two spells that are like that in Inner Fire/Will. There’s also a lot of spells that Shadow flat out can’t use while in Shadowform (though I’m pleased to note that in the current iteration of the 5.4 PTR, the Glyph of Dark Binding spells are now rolled into Shadowform by default). So overall, I don’t think there are a lot of abilities that can just get cut or combined to reduce the bloat, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Mind Spike can go, mostly because it doesn’t satisfy the intended design of being a good spell in burst phases or against low-health adds, especially since losing synergy with Mind Blast.
  • One could argue that having to juggle two dots is a sign that one could go, but I’d say that if Shadow didn’t have to manage VT and SW:P it would trivialize the difficulty of the spec play.
  • I’m not certain Fade is useful when Shadow has Dispersion, but if that collapse happened you’d see Dispersion given to Holy/Disc priests.

Glyph It Good

Something that Ross didn’t really address, and something that I think might help in terms of reducing the number of buttons pushed, is considering how it might be valuable to turn certain spells into glyphs to collapse them together. Obviously this would add a layer where you’d have mutually-exclusive glyphs, but that doesn’t sound like it would be too difficult to manage.

For example, Psychic Horror, Psychic Scream, and Silence all have relatively long cooldowns (30-45 seconds) and all serve the same primary purpose of interrupting a target’s offensive ability. The difference is mainly in cost (Psychic Horror costs Orbs, while Silence and Psychic Scream cost mana) and number of targets hit (Psychic Scream hits up to 5, while the others are single-target).

So let’s make Psychic Scream the primary spell, and modify it thusly:

  • Glyph of Focused Screams: Your Psychic Scream now hits only one target, and instead of fleeing in terror, the target is silenced and unable to cast spells for 5 seconds. Non-player victim spell-casting is also interrupted for 3 seconds.
  • Glyph of Horrific Screams: Your Psychic Scream now hits only one target, and also causes the target to drop their weapons and shield for 8 seconds. Cooldown increased to 45 seconds.

As a result, players would have only one button for interrupts (though admittedly, fear-immune mobs made Silence the only viable interrupt anyway) but it would be one button instead of three.

On Talents

I am beginning to suspect that part of the reason for the talent grid design was not just its obvious purpose (give players a variety of choices about how to individualize their characters) but also the ability for them to control button bloat. Each tier presents the opportunity for three new abilities to come into play, allowing the designers to go wild with coming up with new potential concepts, BUT each tier only gives players one more button, if even that, since it might be a passive or an ability that alters an existing rotational ability. This wasn’t something that was hugely evident to players making the transition from Wrath or Cataclysm to Mists, because many of the abilities that showed up in the grid for most classes were talents that had been in the trees before. But in a new expansion, with the talent grid being well-established, Blizzard can really push into new territory and make the next tier something that’s got a lot of potential pop to it.

I’m actually pretty happy with the level 90 talents for Shadow, since it’s really a choice of “how many targets do you want to hit and where are they going to be?” So I’ve got faith that the next tier will be pretty dynamic as well.

Wishlisting

In terms of off-the-cuff ideas of stuff I’d like to change about or add to Shadow, here’s what I’ve got.

  • Alter Mind Flay to be the low-life add spell by adding this (either baseline or as a glyph): If Mind Flay is cast on a target with none of your Shadow damage-over-time effects, each tick decreases the cooldown of your Mind Blast by 2 seconds.
  • Make Void Shift a combat resurrection for Shadow.
  • Inner Darkness: A burst of shadowy energy fills the caster, making Shadow Word: Death usable on targets that have less than 50% health. Shadow: When not in combat, gain one shadow orb every 2 seconds. You can only have Inner Will, Inner Fire, or Inner Darkness active at a time.
  • Devouring Plague should be renamed to Devouring Shadows. The ‘Plague’ bit is an artifact of when it was a Forsaken Priest racial, and it doesn’t fit the themes of the class as a whole. (Admittedly, this is a quibble, but it’s one that’s bothered me since DP became a rotational spell in Wrath.)
  • Bring back Shadowguard as a glyph for Shadowform: When struck by a single-target spell, melee, or ranged attack, gain 1 Shadow Orb. This effect can only take place every few seconds.

What do you see in the future for Shadow as a spec? What about other classes and specs? Sound off in the comments. ^_^

Hellscream’s Eternal Hatred

So what should happen this morning but this:

Now, a great discussion can be had about how awesome this patch is going to be, how excited I am to see the story of Mists of Pandaria come to a conclusion, the factional disposition of the ships arrayed in the oncoming fleet (seriously, there are people who want to talk about that in a serious “Ghostcrawler doesn’t love me because an Alliance ship is sailing alongside a Forsaken ship” manner)… but there’s a particular throughline in this trailer that really sold something to me. Something Blizzard’s really been working at selling every since they announced the Siege of Orgrimmar and Garrosh Hellscream’s heel-heel turn.

Out the gate, I’ll mention that I never liked Hellscream’s elevation in the narrative. I liked Thrall and Thrall’s sensibilities as a leader during the classic/BC days, and seeing Garrosh act like a tool in the 3.2 Secrets of Ulduar trailer rubbed me the wrong way. I was among the people who wanted anyone other than Garrosh to be Warchief when we found out Thrall was going off to do his World Shaman gig. And I simmered while Garrosh bungled one thing after another in the questing experience. So hearing we were going to kill him? I was all thumbs up at that.

Consequently, a lot of people were talking about how Garrosh has been hit with the villain bat. And I was into that until a couple events took place. First, I read Sarah Pine’s second contribution to the Faction Leader shorts that centered on Hellscream. Second, I heard Christie Golden’s comments after writing Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, where Garrosh has gone full-on heel and is aggressively going after the Alliance. (I also read Golden’s book because dude, Jaina.)

Suffice it to say that my opinion on Garrosh has shifted a bit. I think arguments can be made that he is being portrayed consistently as a hero of what he envisions the Horde to be. The problem is that how Garrosh envisions the Horde, and how Thrall, Vol’jin, Varian, and Jaina all view the Horde, is pretty dramatically different. But if there’s something about my education in writing fiction that’s stuck, it’s that villains can’t be written as mustache-twirling ne’er-do-wells; they have to be the hero of their own narrative.

So about that trailer…

What I think is interesting in this trailer for 5.4 is that Garrosh’ characterization is pretty locked in with how he’s been portrayed in Mists so far, and is a logical extension of his portrayal in all media leading up to the present. I think this is demonstrated specifically by his dialogue with Taran Zhu.

“Your father dealt in powers ‘beyond reckoning.’ Where is he now?”

That Garrosh gets enraged when Zhu mentions Grom makes sense. Even if Thrall succeeded in convincing Garrosh that Grom was ultimately a hero, Garrosh is still really sensitive about the part where Grom led the Horde down a pretty dark path when he drank the blood. Garrosh isn’t being lolevil here: Zhu is making a crack about Grom, Garrosh can’t let that stand. Looking back at Heart of War, Garrosh was equally incensed when Krenna makes a crack about Grom.

“They are no longer part of MY HORDE.” 

Garrosh has been butting heads with Baine, Vol’jin, and Lor’themar since the beginning of the Pandaren campaign. He killed Vol’jin for being insubordinate; he doesn’t need the trolls. Baine walked away from him after Northwatch, and only lends token support in Pandaria; he doesn’t need the Tauren. Lor’themar walked away from Garrosh to run his own game on the Isle of Thunder, making airs that it was for the Horde, and Garrosh straight-up doesn’t care. So Garrosh is convinced that he really hasn’t got a need for anyone else now that he has the Heart of Y’shaarj. Garrosh isn’t being lolevil here either: if the objective of the Horde is to become strong and dominate your enemies (which is a logical conclusion after Heart of War), then those who haven’t got the stamina to keep up with Garrosh don’t have a place on the winning team.

“They will come for you.” “Yes, I’m counting on it.”

Garrosh operates purely on the assumption that the path to glory and honor for the Horde is through confrontation and warfare and given the history of the Horde throughout the franchise, this is consistent with stated orcish goals. Now that he has the ultimate arsenal, he’s certain he’ll win that contest when it comes down to it; he just has to wait for Varian and the Voodoo Revolution to come knocking and answer the challenge. This isn’t Garrosh being lolevil: the only way to be the champion is to demonstrate that you can crush all challengers.

This feeds back into what Golden said about Garrosh having something of a weak core. He isn’t able to participate in the First War because he’s too young, or in the Second because he’s got the pox. His impression of what the Horde is supposed to be is clouded by a lack of first-hand experience combined with the sentiments of Greatmother Geyah, as well as doubts about Thrall’s management of the Horde. So when you see a guy like Malkorok, a First/Second War veteran, someone who probably knew Grom and definitely knew Blackhand, you can hear him selling Garrosh on a version of the Horde that Garrosh likes better, one that validates all of his doubts but also shows him the path to victory. And that path is contingent on finding someone to punch, so you can start a fight, then win it, and prove you’re the best.

Garrosh isn’t evil for stirring the hornets’ nest; he wants to show the hornets he can beat them.

“You pandaren tried to bury your hate, your anger. But such power cannot be contained.” 

Garrosh has associated that hatred and anger are the keys to unlocking personal strength and power. If you hate your enemy, you possess that much more willpower in fighting against him, thus hate makes you stronger, and if stronger is better, hate is necessary. This might be the most unsupported element of the character’s narrative (to an extent, you see it played up during the Divine Bell sequence in 5.1, when Garrosh exhorts his warriors to manage their negative emotions and turn it into power) but it’s the most critical element to understanding why Garrosh isn’t really just drinking the villain Kool-Aid. Ultimately, Garrosh knows that the path of survival requires victory, and it’s not victory if it’s not domination, and would you dominate someone if you didn’t have a reason to hate him?

This is subjectively evil, but that really condemns the entire history of the orcish clan warfare that Garrosh is himself a product of.

“I answer to NO ONE.”

When you are #1, people bow. Those who don’t bow are cut down. And if someone is able to overthrow you, you’d better be dead as a result, because the shame of having the champion’s seat and losing it is too great a dishonor to bear. Always go out on top.

That’s how big daddy Grom did it, after all.

Villainy at its Height

Maybe Garrosh isn’t the best villain WoW has ever seen; he doesn’t have the inherent tragedy of Illidan’s story (“What can I do to make Tyrande love me?”), or the determination of Kael’thas (“How can I do what’s necessary to preserve my people?”), or the sheer overwhelming blindness of Arthas (“I’m the Prince! I know what’s right! Picking up this totally cursed sword will help me defeat th– oh crap I’m working for the bad guys now HEY DAD LOOK AT THIS COOL SWORD I FOUND!”) but he also hasn’t got the platform that those guys had in terms of story delivery. Warcraft 3 had a better platform for story because the player was given those heroes as an avatar. In WoW, given that our avatars are our own nameless characters, there’s not as much opportunity to form a bond with Garrosh and understand where he’s coming from. And it’s notable that all of the best opportunities for Garrosh’ character development take place in the short stories and books, not in the game.

Taking all the different perspectives into consideration is something that not all players are going to do; and ultimately, some players are just going to look at Garrosh and see a dude with a big bag of loot hidden in his chest cavity. But for me, I think that Garrosh is one of the most nuanced characters the World of Warcraft has seen, and while I’m going to take great personal pleasure in killing him, I appreciate what Blizzard has done to make him worthy of our attention.

What do you think? Do you buy Garrosh’ villainy? Think he’s really a misunderstood hero? Voted for a Basic Campfire? Sound off in the comments, tell me what you think. ^_^

A Tale of Two Cities

Astute players might remember that the event that kicked off Mists of Pandaria was the preview version of the Theramore’s Fall scenario, where the Horde dropped a super mana-bomb on Theramore and BLEW IT THE HELL UP. And then players might later recall that during the Patch 5.1 Landfall storyline, Jaina Proudmoore (who survived the destruction of her city) ended up bringing Dalaran back into the Alliance.

Now, that description above is accurate, and at face value, it makes it sound like both factions wound up getting an even deal by the end of it. The problem is this: I don’t feel like either faction got a proper shake out of that bargain, and the result is that while players have been directed by the last two expansions to really pay attention to the faction war that’s a cornerstone of the Warcraft franchise (the first game was called Orcs vs. Humans, and they’ve stuck pretty well to that idea) that faction war hasn’t really been implemented in a way that makes players feel gung-ho about the factions they’re on.

And there’s a lot of pretty loud arguments that have been going on for the last couple years where you’ve got players on both sides claiming that the other side has got the favor of Blizzard’s dev team. Overall, it’s getting pretty toxic. But let’s look at the issues particular to Mists and then look at how it could have been mixed better to serve the intended purpose.

Bomb a Head

The way that the Theramore scenario plays for Horde players goes like this: players are tasked with planting bombs on docked ships to disable the fleet, killing critical members of the city’s defense, and freeing a captured Sunreaver infiltrator before warping out in advance of the Mana Bomb getting dropped on the city. In fact, the brief cinematic of the bomb dropping is your reward for clearing the place.

The way it plays for Alliance players is dramatically different: the players arrive on the Ferry from Menethil Harbor just in time to see the bomb dropped, and then spend the scenario killing Horde stragglers and defending Jaina Proudmoore while she secures the Focusing Iris that was the heart of the bomb. Alliance players get to witness first-hand the sharp change that’s taken place in jaina: someone who had espoused peace with the Horde for the longest time is now brutally killing Horde troops, not just in self-defense but out of tragic rage.

Now there are a few ways players likely reacted to this layout of events, dependent on faction:

  • Horde players might fist-bump and say “we just toasted an Alliance position on Kalimdor. For the Horde, baby! Yeah!”
  • Horde players might feel betrayed a little by the idea that Garrosh would drop a nuke on Theramore, which, sure, was an Alliance stronghold, but prior to the Alliance invasion of the Barrens, Theramore had kept to itself and Jaina had been a critical part of the creation of the Horde, AND its preservation at the Battle of Mount Hyjal. “This wasn’t an honorable victory…”
  • Alliance players don’t really have a choice on how to feel about it: “OH SHIT THEY JUST BLEW UP OUR SHIT WHERE’S JAINA YOU OKAY NO CLEARLY YOU ARE NOT OKAY YOU JUST ICED LIKE FORTY DUDES”
  • For completion’s sake, yes, there are players who are going to give zero fucks about the story. This is the last time I’ll mention those folks because nothing in this article will mean anything to them anyway.

Horde players have got a spectrum of choices on feels, and the Alliance pretty much don’t. It’s a victory for the Horde that they might not be 100% okay about, but it’s 100% a defeat for the Alliance, not just in the form of losing the city, but also in the huge character shift (albeit justified) in Jaina that’s taken place.

The follow-through here isn’t even really received in-game: it’s delivered in Christie Golden’s Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War novel, and covers how Jaina, after almost destroying Orgrimmar with the Focusing Iris out of retribution, calms down a bit, is made the leader of the Kirin Tor, and vows to take down Garrosh. Garrosh, meanwhile, loses the momentum of what was to be a grand campaign of conquering all of Kalimdor for the Horde when his fleet loses a sortie with the Alliance, and Northwatch Hold ends up getting re-taken by Varian Wrynn.

There’s your tone for the beginning of Mists: the Alliance took a major blow, and the Horde won a clear victory, even if not everyone in the Horde is happy about it.

Balance the Scales

Let’s skip ahead to Patch 5.1 (mostly because there’s nothing pertinent in the launch content aside from Admiral Rogers rallying the troops with “For Theramore!” a bunch and being an uncompromising field commander). In 5.1, the footholds established by both the Alliance and the Horde on the south shores of Pandaria set off an arms race; mainly, Garrosh has learned about the Sha and what Sha energies can do to people, and hears tell of an artifact, the Divine Bell, that ostensibly can be used to control the Sha energies. He employs the Blood Elves, his magical experts, in tracking down the Bell. The Alliance discovers this, and hunt for the Bell in kind. The Alliance ultimately gets the Bell first and takes it to Darnassus for study, only for it to be stolen by the Blood Elves due to some inside-job shenanigans. This triggers Jaina to purge the Sunreavers from Dalaran, and bring the city firmly back into the hands of the Alliance. Oh, and then Anduin Wrynn finds the perfect counter to the Bell (a lubed-up mallet? Really guys?) and almost gets himself killed destroying it.

The way the Purge of Dalaran plays for Horde players is like this: once the player is told that Jaina’s gone off the deep end and the Silver Covenant are throwing all the Sunreavers into the Violet Hold, the job is to go into Dalaran and help the Sunreavers escape. The Covenant are rolling around like thugs, Jaina is pimp-walking around the city with two gargantuan water elementals and very clearly should not be engaged, and the whole event takes the form of a fallback action for the Horde. Greater emphasis is placed on Lor’themar being pissed at Jaina and moderately upset with Garrosh for continuing to risk sin’dorei assets in his power grab.

The way the Purge plays for Alliance players, you ask? You’re basically butchering Sunreavers at every turn. They’re stealing from the bank, they’re lurking in the sewers, they’re lurking in their own quarter… the Covenant aren’t characterized any more heroically for the Alliance than they are on the Horde version, and the Sunreavers are just blanket evil instead of blanket innocent. Jaina is still rolling around like a gangster, meaning Vereesa Windrunner is giving you orders, and if there’s anything they’ve solidly done with Vereesa over time, they’ve made her REALLY HATE the Blood Elves.

The different reactions here are interesting:

  • Horde players might feel like Jaina is overreacting to what a handful of Sunreaver agents are doing. That’s justified by the unmitigated brutality of the Covenant assault on the Sunreavers in the city. The Sunreavers on the whole are made to look 100% innocent, even though Horde players know that at this point Fanlyr Silverthorn really has pretty much betrayed the Kirin Tor’s neutrality.
  • Alliance players might feel like a fist-bump moment is justified for blendering a bunch of Blood Elves on the streets of Dalaran, but I found myself wondering that if the whole organization had been complicit in the betrayal, why wouldn’t they have tried to organize a better coup, or more aptly, a better escape attempt?
  • Which leads me to the other Alliance reaction: is going wholesale slaughter on the Blood Elves really the only way to go about this? We’re given the promise from Vereesa that all of the Sunreavers who are going to go peacefully have done so already, but we don’t see that happening, and we’re certainly not agents of that event. And even then, if this was something that the organization as a whole was involved in, and if there’s a bloody magical prison within the city limits, wouldn’t it be better to insist on capture instead of kill?

I don’t feel like the Alliance got quite the same spectrum of feels on this that the Horde did about Theramore. And the Horde doesn’t really get the point driven home that they’ve lost Dalaran, because by the end of it, Lor’themar is complaining about Jaina going apeshit and about Garrosh being a jerk. There’s no sense of loss on the Horde end of this; this wasn’t a defeat for them, just an inconvenience overcome by how awesome the Horde players were at evacuating so many Sunreavers with so little preparation. By contrast, the Alliance get slapped in the face a little bit when Varian Wrynn reports that by assaulting the Sunreavers, Jaina sabotaged the King’s plot to get the Blood Elves to defect. Which Jaina gives zero fucks about, BTW.

Now, the follow-through for this actually works out okay, because it’s done in 5.2 when the Kirin Tor and the Sunreavers are going toe-to-toe, racing to see who can beat the Thunder King first. And the way stuff plays out, both the Sunreavers AND the Kirin Tor walk away from Lei Shen’s crib with powerful weapons; the Horde gets the Dark Animus, and Jaina gets a super-powered Lightning Stick to go along with her nigh-godlike powers with the Focusing Iris. But even then, things don’t feel exceptionally balanced.

The Remix

So the problem here is that while the Alliance has a victory (winning Dalaran) to replace a defeat (the Fall of Theramore), it doesn’t really feel like much of a victory, because we just slaughtered everything in sight, which isn’t what the Alliance is typically all about. Meanwhile, the Horde doesn’t really have a defeat (losing Dalaran isn’t acknowledged as such) to balance the victory they won (Theramore), because even if you don’t like Garrosh’ tactical choices it’s still a victory for the Horde.

And yes, while you can argue that the Siege of Orgrimmar is an upcoming “defeat” for the Horde, that doesn’t really work: the Darkspear Revolution (which all the Horde players are aligned with) and the Alliance together are taking down Garrosh, and the city is just collateral damage at that point. The Horde aren’t really defeated because once they take their city back from Garrosh, they get to keep it. The Alliance doesn’t get to keep Theramore, and it’s debatable if they get to keep Dalaran in a post-Garrosh world, given the Kirin Tor’s past stance on neutrality.

So the only way to make this work is to make Dalaran feel like more of a defeat for the Horde, and more of a victory for the Alliance. How does that get done?

  • On the Alliance side, the questing is oriented around 1) capturing Sunreavers and getting them into the Violet Citadel, perhaps through a magic wand that will port a subdued target to a cell, 2) pumping Aethas Sunreaver for information, revealing that he was complicit in Garrosh’ plans the whole time, 3) constructing overflow cells in the Underbelly, and 4) defeating Horde reinforcements attempting to free the Sunreavers. If you characterize the Sunreaver NPCs with gossip text indicating that “our loyalty was with the Horde all along!” and other such sentiments, then the Alliance feels like they’re really eliminating a cancer from the city with an eye to dealing a blow to the Horde by securing so many of their magical assets.
  • On the Horde side, having the Horde players struggling against a wider spread of Alliance heroes would be a great way to eliminate that sense that the Silver Covenant are just rolling around like Gestapo agents. Rescuing innocent bystanders is great, but some of the holdout Sunreavers ought to insist “y’know what? Aethas was right. We should have done this ages ago.”
  • More importantly, at the end, when you’re chilling with Lor’themar, I’d have wanted the dialogue to go like this:

Lor’themar Theron yells: Aethas! 
Archmage Aethas Sunreaver says: Yes, my lord! Thanks to this hero, a few of us made it out of there. Many more have been sent to the Violet Ho–
(Lor’themar draws his sword and levels the point at Aethas’ neck.)
Lor’themar Theron says: Give me a reason not to send your head back to Proudmoore in a box.

Archmage Aethas Sunreaver says: My Lord? I… I don’t understand!
Lor’themar Theron says: Your lackey Fanlyr told me everything once this accursed Bell appeared in my city. Do you realize what you’ve done? 

Lor’themar Theron says: The Kirin Tor now belong to the Alliance. Their city, the headquarters of the most powerful magical organization in the world, belongs to the Alliance! 

Lor’themar Theron says: And all we have to show for it is your sniveling face, what few Sunreavers aren’t trapped in a Dalaran dungeon, and this damned relic!
Archmage Aethas Sunreaver says: My Lord, everything I’ve done has been at the order of our Warchief…

Lor’themar Theron spits.

Lor’themar Theron says: Oh, of that I’m certain. 

Lor’themar Theron says: Hal’duron, summon the rangers. Rommath, assemble the Blood Magi, and add the remaining Sunreavers’ strength to your own. And lock this maggot in the darkest cell you can find. 

Archmage Aethas Sunreaver says: Wait, no!

Lor’themar Theron says: We Sin’dorei will take our future into our own hands. We were burnt by the Alliance, and we’ve now been burnt by the Horde. We’ll see what the ‘Warchief’ says to that, when the time is right. 

Grand Magister Rommath says: My Lord. YOU would make a fine Warchief.
Lor’themar Theron says: We shall see. Prepare the fleet! The next move is mine, and I’ll brook no quarter for the next fool who forces my hand. 

This helps to set-up Lor’themar’s position with the Sunreaver Onslaught on the Isle of Thunder; it’s about getting something powerful that he can use to turn the tables on Garrosh. And it demonstrates very strongly that the Horde not only lost Dalaran (which is bad) but they’re on the verge of losing the Blood Elves as well if Garrosh stays in charge. Combined with the Darkspear Revolution in Patch 5.3, it more soundly spells out what’s coming while also demonstrating the precarious position of the Horde as a faction.

As far the Alliance changes, it’s all about demonstrating that the faction isn’t about righteous slaughter, but containing the problem, as well as showing that at least from the Alliance perspective, some of the Sunreavers are totally aligned with the Horde instead of being neutral. Also, it preserves the element that Jaina acted without Varian’s approval, ruining the diplomacy side-game that the King was running to get Silvermoon to defect, but it gives Jaina the ability to argue “maybe we can turn some of them to our side. Since they’re alive and not dead, we can try that and still get something out of this.”

The Wrap-Up

I don’t normally like wading into the whole faction debate; my position is that as long as there’s a good story being told, it doesn’t matter which faction it’s for. The problem is when it’s not a good story, and the Silver Covenant going all hate-crimes on the Sunreavers doesn’t give me a good feeling about being an Alliance player. When it comes down to it, the Horde is missing out on the same dramatic rollercoaster as the Alliance if both factions aren’t given victories and defeats of similar magnitude. So if you’re going to take the Alliance military presence out of Southern Kalimdor by nuking Theramore, the Horde ought to lose access to the resources of the Sunreavers and the Kirin Tor and really feel that impact.

Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree!  ^_^

The Rise and Fall of Daily Quests

With the impending release of Patch 5.4, with the Timeless Isle becoming Blizzard’s big gamble in response to complaints of daily quest burnout, I think a review of how this mechanism has been used in WoW’s history is in order.

World of Warcraft

You may be surprised to hear that daily quests weren’t a thing in the launch version of the game. In fact, throughout all of the classic game, you really only had two kinds of quests: your traditional yellow bangs that offered one-time quests, and your occasional yellow bangs that were “infinite repeatable” quests, in that once you completed the quest you could pick it up again. The second type was used pretty rarely, but two examples jump to mind that I feel acted as the prototype for daily questing: Silithus and the Argent Dawn, which were updated with this content late in the classic patch cycle.

  • In Silithus, the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj (Patch 1.9) opened a series of repeatable quests that asked players to face off against elite mobs in the area, from Twilight’s Hammer cultists to roaming elementals to silithid bugs. Because the monsters here were exceptionally dangerous, these were all flagged as group quests. The quests rewarded various badges that could be combined to get various rewards from the Cenarion Circle, in addition to being a reputation avenue for them.
  • In Eastern Plaguelands, Shadow of the Necropolis (Patch 1.11) revamped Light’s Hope Chapel with several repeatable quests. The repeatables here were centered around earning Insignias of the Argent Dawn and the Scarlet Crusade, which could be acquired a variety of different ways (everything from crafting tasks to farming up particular mob drops) and then spent to acquire various rewards from the Dawn, including a big spread of epic equipment.

Since both of these quest hubs gave players a repeatable, non-raid-oriented method of both grinding up reputation but also centered around gaining up a special currency that granted access to raid-level rewards, you can see how this might have contributed to later designs. But let’s get to actually dailies, shall we?

Burning Crusade

Patch 2.1 introduced the first true daily quests with the Netherwing, the Skettis Skyguard, and Ogri’la. In all three cases, after a brief introductory quest, players gained access to a set of quests that could be completed every day, granting reputation that gated access to epic equipment, mounts, and consumables.

The limit of ten dailies per day meant that players had to prioritize who they were going to work on first, and there wasn’t any variability to the quests. Ogri’la offered various avenues to acquire more Apexis shards (they were lootable off mobs and could be gathered from nodes in the area) and the Netherwing Egg hunt was, like today’s Cloud Serpent eggs, a scavenger-hunt where you were competing with other players on your realm for spawns, but without the dailies you were just saving yourself time spent farming later OR some days off the whole grind.

The argument from Blizzard at the time was they wanted to give players a reason to interact with the game every day, but also provide something that wasn’t going to require an extensive amount of time on the players’ part. Because the ten-quest limit meant you were only working one hub at a given time, and because the quests were pretty well-localized, this was a boon to casual players who didn’t have a lot of time to play, and was something raiders could work on while waiting for the raid to come together. The complaint, of course, was that there wasn’t any variability in the quests.

The next iteration came a couple patches later (Patch 2.3), when daily dungeons and daily heroics were added. While this was oriented more around being another avenue for Badges of Justice, it still gave players a random option in terms of what dungeon to run, adding in the variability players seem to be looking for. Of course, the difficulty differences and keying differences between various dungeons had an effect for players.

In Patch 2.4, the Shattered Sun Offensive dailies raised the daily cap up to 25, and then promptly filled that quota with SSO quests. Aside from raising the cap, the SSO quests didn’t really change the game at all, though the place being a Contested area made it a real disaster/pleasure on PVP servers.

Overall, dailies served their purpose in giving players a reason to log in everyday, but after hitting Exalted with the respective faction, you didn’t have much reason to continue with the faction. The Daily Dungeon/Heroic contributed to the Badge of Justice grind in a significant way, but… well, we’ll get to that.

Wrath of the Lich King

The big iteration on daily quests that we saw in the new expansion was the addition of dailies that weren’t intended for max level. The Venture Bay area in Grizzly Hills (as well as a contested area upriver) offered dailies that involved killing players or player-like mobs to gain a currency that gave rewards that were tuned for that stage in the leveling curve, and other hubs provided at least a couple options in that area as well.

Meanwhile, the matrix of having a wide spread of factions that offered different gear to different specs, as well as being the primary source of head/shoulder enchantments came into play for the first time. The Tabard Championing system also provided the first time when dailies and mob-grinding could be completely eliminated from the reputation equation.

Objectively, the big changes to dailies in Wrath were that they came into play during the leveling curve, helped you rep up with factions that were much more pertinent to characters because of item enhancements, and generally could get circumvented with Tabard Championing. Again, once you were Exalted, you didn’t really have much business working for the faction anymore.

Cataclysm

Here’s where stuff starting to get turned on it’s head: Tabard Championing became the norm for how you repped up with the critical factions. Only Therazane was really contingent on doing daily quests (the Twilight Highlands factions had a few and the Tol Barad factions had a bunch if you liked fighting over quest objectives, but neither were as endgame-critical as Therazane was). You had much wider variability in what quests you were doing day-to-day for each faction, and combined with the daily random heroic (which was now built into LFG instead of being a quest) Blizzard was still compelling you log in every day and do content that was probably different from the day before, but the overwhelming issue of Cataclysm not having enough content extended here too.

The addition of the Regrowth/Molten Front hubs helped a bit, but it was done in a manner that wasn’t directly related to working for a faction; yeah, you get rewards at the end, yeah, you’re accumulating a currency, but the only way to get rep with the Avengers of Hyjal was to kill baddies in the Firelands Raid. So it’s definitely an instance where the link between dailies and working for a faction weren’t directly related, as they had been in the past.

Mists of Pandaria

And now, in the current, we’ve got the big game-changers.

  • Nearly all of the factions in the expansion have their reputation gain driven almost completely by daily quests.
  • Tabard Championing is gone, principally because it felt tacked on.
  • The 25/day daily limit was removed, since launch factions provided almost 50 daily opportunities for quests across Pandaria.
  • At launch, all of the quests in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms were a series of daily quests for the Golden Lotus, and getting Exalted with them was a prerequisite for starting the daily grinds for the August Celestials and Shado-Pan. This was done to prevent players from feeling overwhelmed by the number of factions to rep with, but the result backfired; by making the Golden Lotus required, people burnt out on the Vale questing experience and dailies in general before getting to the factions they needed for Valor gear.
  • And the big kicker: all daily quests now provided a few Valor Points for completing them, while the proportional Valor Rewards from raiding and running heroic dungeons were reduced. In Cataclysm, you could nearly cap your valor just from killing the raidbosses of the current tier, or doing seven heroic random dungeons. In Mists, you didn’t get nearly as much Valor per kill/run. Now, other avenues existed; scenarios, challenge mode dungeons, and dailies all provided avenues to get your Valor cap, and capping on one character increased Valor gains for all your other characters on that server by 50%. But the genie was out of the bottle; running dailies, more than ever before, was something that needed to be maximized if you wanted to get your character to optimal gear.

Characters very quickly burnt out on the daily experience. Even with a wide breadth of variability in the quests offered (Ex. the Golden Lotus had multiple hubs throughout the Vale, and a normal day’s run would only take you to half of them) players loudly groused about how gated the experience had become.

In 5.1, the introduction of the two Landfall factions (Operation: Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive) was received a little better because of a number of mechanisms: first, hitting breakpoints in the reputation grind opened up one-off quests that told the Landfall narrative, so players were able to break up the monotony of the daily grind by looking forward to new quests. Second, most of the major factions had Grand Commendations added to the game, purchased once you hit revered, that would double reputation gains with that faction for all of your characters.

In 5.2, the two Isle of Thunder factions (the Kirin Tor Offensive and the Sunreaver Onslaught) were pretty much as refined a version of the daily model as could be achieved, but faced pushback because the Isle of Thunder wasn’t flyable. Combined with a more dangerous crop of enemy mobs on the island and fewer story moments (instead of being unlocked by individual reputation gains, they were unlocked by zone-wide participation by the two factions, and took the form of solo scenarios instead of quest-chains) it’s debatable whether this hub was better received vs. the Landfall factions. But the resourcing message at this point was “no more dailies.”

5.3 showed that iteration heard loud and clear: Battlefield: Barrens only has a weekly quest to collect resources from mobs, nodes, caravan escorts, and boss kills, and that was it in terms of repeatable content. Like the Molten Front it’s not associated directly with a faction, meaning there’s no gating to the rewards aside from your willingness to farm for them. And all indications about the Timeless Isle in 5.4 seem to say that it’ll be much the same, only bigger.

SO WHAT THE HELL DAILIES

So what’s happened is that we’ve kinda come full circle on daily questing. They went from something that was just an incentive to log in every day in order to get some bonus mounts and optional gear to something that was perceived as being 100% necessary if you were going to play your character right. And with the glut of quests that dominated the early stages of Mists it’s no surprise that players burnt out on them.

But the self-directed, non-quest-oriented methodology that we’re seeing espoused with Battlefield:Barrens and the Timeless Isle has potential issues as well.

  • Some players like direction, and more importantly the limitations that’s inherently placed by completing a daily quest.
  • Some players don’t like obvious grinds, and if you’ve got rewards that cost hundreds of [Currency] that drops 1-2 at a time from mobs in the area, players see that as a pretty obvious grind, complicated by having to compete with other players for mobs.
  • Some players like the sequence of working through a series of quests. Granted, only the Landfall factions (and the Tillers to a certain extent) had a sequential story that unlocked over time, and that’s a challenge to overcome.

I foresee daily quests being deployed pretty cautiously in the future; Mists overused them in a pretty dramatic way, and I think players are spooked off them for now. But I think Blizzard needs to have that mechanic of tempting players to log in every day. It doesn’t need to be as draconic as, say, Neverwinter’s daily prayer mechanism, but even just having dailies be only one or two factions instead of, y’know, ALL OF THEM would probably be the best path forward.

Suffice it to say I’m interested in hearing the postmortem between now and BlizzCon. ^_^

WoWInsider Community Blog Topic: Extra Specs

Rigga Robin Torres asked about adding bonus specs to the classes and I’ve got a response.

Short answer: I don’t think four specs work for all classes, but it could bring more tanks and healers to the table.

Long answer needs a bit of qualification: I know that adding more tanking and healing specs doesn’t necessarily bring more tanks and healers to the table. Adding the death knight, initially with its three tanking specs, didn’t result in a drastic increase in the availability of dependable tanks (“dependable” being the operative phrase; plenty of Wrath DKs didn’t know how to tank because it wasn’t exceptionally clear how to do so).

Adding the monk, which had both a tanking and healing spec, introduced more of those specs to the field, but I think the reason you don’t hear as much about tanking/healing shortages in MoP is because you’ve got more players doing scenarios, which don’t require either, and LFR somewhat takes the work out of finding people to fulfill those roles. So by reducing the overt demand for tanks and healers, Blizzard can give the implication that the shortages aren’t as much of an issue anymore.

So my goal with wanting to get more tanks/healers isn’t about trying to manage a shortage of players in those roles; it’s more about introducing those roles to players who historically haven’t had access to them within their classes. So if you’re a mage, and you like the kit of being a mage, and you’re not interested in rolling anything other than a mage, then having a tank spec available to you might give greater incentive to experiment with tanking, which might lead you to doing it more often, provided you enjoy it.

Death Knight: Necromancy (Ranged Caster DPS)

First blush is going to be “but doesn’t this take away from Unholy’s kit?” To which my response is this: if Unholy capitalizes more on diseases and the more permanent ghoul pet, then there’s room for Necromancy to be a nuke-oriented caster who spawns more temporary pets, like skeletons. As a bonus, this helps to match thematically with Second War Death Knights (who were ranged casters who inexplicably wore plate armor) AND it comes up with a way to employ spellpower plate for a spec other than Holy Paladins.

Druid: SCREW YOU TREEHUGGERS YOU GET NOTHING

Hunter: Sentinel (Tank)

Given a unique kit of traps and the ability to grant bonus abilities to Tenacity pets, the Sentinel tank could also call back to Huntress units from WC3 by using more Glaive-based abilities. Yes, this would probably result in Glaive Toss becoming a spec ability instead of a talent, but that wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. You’d have Sentinel mitigation be dependent on active abilities like Deterrence and perhaps a tricked-up version of Exhiliration. But overall, the Sentinel would be a hunter in melee ducking and weaving around boss attacks, bouncing him off the Tenacious pet, and moving him around the battlefield a lot.

Mage: Force (Tank)

A lot of people like to suggest a healing spec for mages; I’m more interested in having a mage rocking what’s essentially magical power-armor and standing toe-to-toe with the boss. Force mitigation would be based around big absorption, and I could see abilities predicated on “when the shield is depleted, the Mage is teleported ten yards back.” If the Sentinel Hunter’s kit is going to be greater mobility and containing the boss, then the Force Mage’s shtick is going to be “stand in front of the boss but very quickly escape when necessary.”

Monk: Flamecaster (Ranged Caster DPS)

This is more a matter of filling in the blank than anything else, but all three current specs of Monk draw on the functions of one of the four August Celestials. The Red Crane is the odd one out, but a fourth spec that focuses on nukes could be a way to fill the gap.

Paladin: ???

Not gonna lie, I’m not sure what to do with Paladins. The kit of the whole class involves wearing plate, swinging hammers, and splashing healing everywhere. I could see an argument for a ranged caster spec to use spellpower plate, but I’m not sure how to diversify it from Discipline Priests. And in my book, Holy Paladins should be in the front line so that their armor actually gets put to use, instead of backrowing it with the clothies and trees,

Priest: ???

Given that my main is Priest, it really bugs me that I haven’t got a fourth spec idea for them. Giving them a melee spec feels redundant given Monks and Paladins, and giving them a Holy DPS spec would feel like it deflates Atonement and Chastise-oriented play for Disc/Holy Priests.

Rogue: Mockery (Tank)

Evasion tanking should totally be a thing. And if you’re not going to build a Bard class (and I gotta be honest, I can’t think of how they’d work) then having the kit of “mocking your enemies into underestimating you” should totally be a thing that rogues do. Warriors have got Taunt and Mocking Banner, sure, but Rogues really can turn around and shake their asses at an enemy while also being able to dodge and parry attacks. The vocal aspects of the archetypal swashbuckling rogue isn’t something that Combat plays up very much, and out of existing Rogue specs that’s where they ought to be.

Shaman: Preservation (Tank)

Similar to how Monk has got some kit that’s just being left on the table, it always felt like there should have been an Earth-oriented Shaman tree that tanked. Between the existing threat-generating abilities and the kit of being able to drop totems to do virtually anything (especially the MoP redesign of totems being cooldown abilities instead of constant buffs) means that the only reason this hasn’t happened yet is sheer willpower.

Warlock: Brutality (Tank)

Could you build a tanking spec just out of Metamorphosis? You could, but you’d also need to figure out how Demonology stays a ranged DPS spec and a tanking spec at the same time. Unless I’m mistaken, trying to have have one spec do two different roles is what started the fourth-spec discussion to start with. So instead, here’s Brutality: a spec designed not around a warlock harnessing enough knowledge and power to become a demon temporarily, but instead a warlock who infuses himself with enough power to sock a demon (or non-demon boss enemy) in the face and have it leave a mark. If the kit of the WC3 Demon Hunters was that they fought fire with fire by becoming demon-like, the Brutality Warlock would do the same thing by making the right deals and sacrifices to be able to simply shrug off attacks that would kill other clothies.

Warrior: Bravery (Healer)

I know, I know: people have joked at a warrior healing spec using bandages since forever. And people have balked at the idea of the most inherently magic-free class having abilities that are clearly magical in nature. But if you get a little looser on the idea of what Hit Points are, I could totally see a warrior that heals people through morale, or through impressive attacks that show the enemy isn’t unbeatable. And what you’d have is a Warrior wearing spellpower plate swinging sword and/or board into the bad guys and telling her allies “WALK IT OFF DAISY.”

On Armor

Clearly the problem with some of the tank suggestions I listed is that you don’t currently have tanking armor in that category, meaning armor that capitalizes on Stamina, dodge/parry, that sort of thing. Given some of the overtures Ghostcrawler has been making about how stacking haste is okay (in moderation) for Paladins because it supports active mitigation, I could see a model where you don’t need tanking cloth/mail because primary stats can provide passive mitigation minimums and then secondary stat management becomes what governs your active mitigation. That’s not a perfect solution (it begs the question of why survival stats or even tanking armor should continue to exist) but I think it makes for a good conversation.

So there you go: fourth specs are a thing that can give a bunch of existing classes new functionality, but it would take a lot of work to reinvent how tanking would work for the classes who can’t currently do it. I think it would be a worthwhile effort, but hey, that’s just my mix. ^_^

Primer: Cataclysm, Part 3 (Patch 4.3)

The last content patch for Cataclysm brought a number of big changes to the game, but let’s get the story out of the way first.

<– (pardon the subtitles; Blizzard apparently doesn’t like this trailer anymore)

DEATHWANGED

So it turns out Deathwing is too damn powerful to really be beaten by conventional means, even if all four remaining Dragon Aspects (Alextrasza, Ysera, Nozdormu, and Kalecgos, having been just recently promoted to the role) combine their mojo to do it. The Aspects discuss what to do, realizing that the only weapon they could use that could potentially bring down Deathwing is the Dragon Soul.

“Wait, what?”

Okay, quick recap: the Dragon Soul was an artifact that Neltharion created, ostensibly as a weapon against the invasion of the Legion during the War of the Ancients. He tricked the other Dragon Aspects into investing their power into the thing and attempted to set himself up as a god, but ended up not being able to follow through with the attempt. Later, the Soul is stolen from him and was meant to be used by Azshara to fortify the passage for the Legion to enter Azeroth. This failed too, and the Soul was secured and hidden by the four Aspects, enchanted so that Deathwing couldn’t use it.

To make a long story short, the Dragon/Demon Soul comes into play in the Second War, but gets destroyed shortly thereafter, restoring the invested powers of the four Aspects.

So Nozdormu says that the Demon Soul is vulnerable at a certain point in time, but he’s unable to retrieve it because of someone in the future interfering with his ability to access that time. This kicks off the narrative of the three Hour of Twilight 5-mans:

  • End Time: Through Nozdormu’s power, the party gets poofed to a future Azeroth where Deathwing has won. Having destroyed all life on Azeroth, the Destroyer impales himself on the top of Wyrmrest Temple, his great corpse leaking molten fury everywhere. Within the Dragonshrines, players square off against the shades of Sylvanas, Jaina Proudmoore, Baine Bloodhoof, and Tyrande Whisperwind (you face two out of the four each time you run the place, and it’s random which ones you get) before going to the Bronze Shrine to throw down against the source of the interference, the creator of the Infinite Dragonflight, Murozond (which is really a corrupted version of Nozdormu who violated his charge and sought to prevent his own death). After killing his future self, Nozdormu appears to the players, saying that he’ll send them to retrieve the Dragon Soul from the one place and time it can be grabbed…
  • War of the Ancients: Disguised as Highborne Night Elves in the middle of Azshara’s gambit to invite Sargeras in for tea, the party gets some assistance from Illidan and Tyrande as they face off against the servants of Azshara, and then the queen herself. Azshara escapes, and the party takes on her captain Varo’then and the pit lord Mannoroth as the last obstacle between them and the Soul. With the artifact in hand, it’s back to the present-day Dragonblight to hand it off to Thrall so that he can deliver it to Wyrmrest Temple…
  • Hour of Twilight: … only it turns out that apparently the forces of Deathwing have laid a trap for Thrall, trying to catch him before he can reach the temple. The party escorts the World Shaman and protects him from ascendants, assassins and the turncoat Archbishop Benedictus to get Thrall and his cargo safely to the temple.

Which is just in time for a huge assault by twilight dragons, the Twilight’s Hammer, a buttload of angry elementals, and two Faceless Generals of the Old Gods to show up and try to bring down Wyrmrest. This is the Dragon Soul raid, and the final showdown is on.

Dragon Soul, Part 1

After clearing all kinds of nastiness at the base of the tower (the aforementioned elementals and Faceless Doods), the raid heads upstairs to meet with Thrall and the Aspects. The Dragon Soul is pretty juicy, but they still don’t think it’ll be enough to beat Deathwing. Kalecgos suggests going to the Eye of Eternity to get the Focusing Iris of the Blue Flight as a way to let the Aspects increase the power within the Dragon Soul. Somehow, the Twilight’s Hammer knew about this in advance and are waiting for the raid when the show up. With the Focusing Iris in hand, the raid heads back to the Temple to protect the Aspects while they charge up the death ray.

Dragon Soul, Part 2

Deathwing arrives to gloat that the Aspects won’t have a chance to play their trump card, because he’s going to sic the biggest, baddest twilight dragon ever created on them: Ultraxion. And imma link the Fatboss guide on this fight because I think they describe it well and give a sense for what fight complexity was like in DS as a whole. (Not the Ultraxion is the most challenging fight or the most technical fight, but it had some innovative bits to it that I enjoyed, in addition to the hard enrage element.)

So after killing a nice fuck-off dragon, you watch Thrall take Shot 1 at Deathwing. He doesn’t get a solid hit, but Deathwing’s hurt and knows he can’t really take on the Aspects at this point and rabbits out. The raid (along with Team Thrall) hop on an Alliance airship to chase down the Destroyer. You face off against the last wave of twilight dragons before doing the first Deathwing encounter, which involves prying the elementium armor plates off of his backside so you can buy Thrall some time and provide a better opening for a kill shot.

Everyone comes on down to celebrate, but then, of course, there’s the second Deathwing encounter, where he pops up out of the Maelstrom as a giant flaming tentacle monster, and you’ve got to protect the Aspects while they charge up what they really hope is going to be killing blow. Turns out it works, and you wrap up with this:

MEGA HAPPY ENDING

All right, so, Thrall and Aggra gonna have some brown babies, the Aspects have lost their mojo, but hey, Deathwing and the Twilight’s Hammer are all pretty much fertilizer at this point. So now what?

Well, there was a second round of big technical additions to the game that came in with 4.3:

  • The most important was the Raid Finder difficulty, which was tuned to be less technical than Normal raiding, pulled a proper mix of tank, healing and DPS characters from across multiple realms to form up a 25-man raid, and dropped gear that was marginally weaker than Normal drops. Big advantage was Hey! Raiding! for people who didn’t have teams. Big disadvantage was Hey! Ninja looting! Because 25 randomly-assembled folk aren’t really beholden to being fair about who gets what raid drops out of the place. This set the stage for a big change in MoP, but we’ll get there.
  • Void Storage added an expanded vault for item storage, which had limitations and a nominal gold cost associated with withdrawals and deposits. If you really wanted to hold on to a bunch of old tier sets or Archaeology doodads, it was pretty useful.
  • Transmogrification allowed you to take the appearance of any piece of gear you could normally equip and paste that appearance over your current armor. Want to roll in nothing but Paladin Tier 4 Justicar Regalia? You can do that. Want to mix up an outfit to create a unique look? Do that too.
  • Reforging (brief: shuffle up the stats on your gear in order to emphasize more of the stats you wanted) got a better UI and was co-located with the Ethereal Traders who offered Void Storage and Transmog, just to make it easier to find.
  • The Darkmoon Faire got an upgrade as well. Instead of shuffling between Mulgore, Elwynn Forest and Shattrath, the Darkmoon Faire is now its own instanced area, with a ton more games, its own deathmatch arena, Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftains performing on the hour, and profession quests that gave you +5 skill points when you completed them.

Also added in 4.3 was the Rogue Legendary quest chain, but I’ll cover that next time.

REVIEW

For the most part, people received Dragon Soul relatively well. You could hear complaints about the amount of re-used assets that were employed, though: End Time and Hour of Twilight both just used mildly altered sections of the Dragonblight zone, while Dragon Soul itself used Wyrmrest Temple, the giant shells employed in Vashj’ir, the Eye of Eternity, and effectively the same Alliance ship used in the Airship fight from ICC. Obviously the fight on Deathwing’s spine and the final showdown in the Maelstrom were new assets, but people called out Blizzard for cheaping out on what was supposed to be the pinnacle fights of the expansion. The mechanics of the fights, when taken in Normal or Heroic difficulty, were pretty satisfying, but most people experienced the easy-mode variant in Raid Finder and complained that they didn’t feel challenged.

Meanwhile, the War of the Ancients 5-man was revealed to be the remains of what had initially been planned as a War of the Ancients raid. The assets in that 5-man were almost wholly unique and smacked of a lot of polish, while all the rest of the 4.3 instance content was recycled material. After the scrapping of the Abyssal Maw raid, the burnout of the ZA/ZG remixes, and the general opinion that the “all red and burning” palette of the Firelands was an eyesore, players were left wanting in the content department by the end of the expansion.

Raid Finder was something of a mixed blessing. The bad loot problems caused a lot of bad blood, the implementation essentially killed pick-up-group raiding, and many people blame the continued death of server identity on the addition of more cross-realm queuing gameplay. However, a lot more people saw Dragon Soul than had seen any pre-Raid Finder raid, and Blizzard chalked it up as a win.

So while the mystery of what the next expansion would be held out, Cataclysm ended with a bang that perhaps didn’t satisfy as many people as it could have.

Some final notes on Cataclysm and some advance notes on Mists of Pandaria to come next time. ^_^

Primer: Cataclysm, Part 2 (Patches 4.1/4.2)

In terms of lore, there was initially a lot more to come in Cataclysm after the initial launch. The first major content patch planned was going to throw a raid covering what happens to Neptulon, Elemental Lord of Water, who got kidnapped by a giant squid at the end of Throne of the Tides. You might remember seeing previews of the Abyssal Maw raid at BlizzCon 2010.

Well, the Abyssal Maw never happened. Blizzard saw how people reacted to Vashj’ir and were having trouble getting up any excitement themselves for more underwater shenanigans inside of giant seashells or jellyfish, so Abyssal Maw got scrapped and all their efforts got focused on the Firelands raid, which would complete the Ragnaros narrative that had been left dangling in Mount Hyjal. But THAT process took so many resources to do that it needed to get pushed back to 4.2. And in an effort to keep players entertained while they finished Rag’s pedicure (just go with it), they threw out 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari.

BURNINATING THE COUNTRYSI- no wait trolls first

Blizzard’s original mix on the Zandalari coming into Cataclysm was that their homeland was sinking, and they were empowering some of their baddest dudes to try and secure a place for the Zandalari to go. My remix on Friday covered that relatively close to the original, but the core stuff went like this:

  • Zul’Aman got re-cut as a 5-man, with the timed Bear run still in place (because all the animal bosses were still there) but with a new final boss (Daakara) who worked slightly differently from Zul’jin. (No one really has an explanation for the switch, but aside from some bonus trash it’s the most significant change to ZA.)
  • Zul’Gurub got completely remixed: while the layout was the same, some areas (the Spider-boss location) were blocked off, the Edge of Madness was altered completely, and while some of the bosses share names with their original versions, the boss mechanics are wildly different. Aside from Jin’do and Mandokir, only the Snake-boss (Venoxis) and the Panther-boss (originally Arlokk but now her sister Kilnara) remain, Tiger and Bat are replaced with optional mini-bosses, and all over the place there are environmental hazards like rolling boulders, flamethrower turrets, and exploding poison flowers that change up the landscape completely.

The cool thing about the remixes is that it made ZA accessible and the infamous Bear run something you could attempt with LFD, and it made ZG both much more modern and simultaneously more of a throwback raid because of the sheer amount of optional stuff there was do in there. The big problem with the remixes was that they were the only content in 4.1. The dungeon drops were half a tier higher than the launch heroic drops, and they rewarded twice as many valor points as the launch heroics, meaning they were super-optimal for players. Meaning in order to hit valor caps and maximize upgrades without going into the launch raids, people were chain-running TWO HEROICS over and over, every week. There was a LOT of burnout. Which makes for a great segue into…

BURNINATING THA COUNTRYSIDE (for real this time)

Patch 4.2 brought us to the Firelands to face off against Ragnaros on his home turf. When we killed him in Molten Core, all we did was banish him from the mortal plane. Killing him in the Firelands will end him permanently. But getting to him is going to require cutting our way through the many, many denizens of the Firelands, including but not limited to a buuuuuunch of angry Flamewakers, a giant flaming spider, a walking volcano, a green dragon warped into becoming a flaming firebird (featuring the greatest aerial combat sequence in the game), and Majordomo Fandral Staghelm. Oh, and core hounds. LOTSA core hounds.

It also altered Mount Hyjal slightly, in terms of adding in some new daily quests that opened up the gateway to the Firelands, as well as creating a daily area WITHIN the Firelands that focused on disabling Ragnaros’ defenses and growing an exceptionally fire-retardant tree in the Firelands to further counter the Firelord’s power.

Something else in 4.2, for all the non-raiders, was the Elemental Bonds questchain, which capitalized on carrying forward Thrall’s journey as the World Shaman.

“Wait, what? World Shaman?” I hear you say.

*deep breath* So back before the Shattering, Thrall sensed the Elements were going bonkers, so he and the Earthen Ring rolled to Outland to talk to the elements of a world that had been destroyed. While there he meets a Mag’hari Earthen Ring shaman named Aggra, who basically spends a lot of time smacking him around for thinking he can be a shaman and a warchief at the same time. (Most of this gets covered in Christie Golden’s The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm.)

This is why Thrall offloads his warchief duties to Garrosh Hellscream, and why he drops the armor and rocks a hoodie and a big bead necklace. He dedicates himself to becoming the World Shaman so he can heal the world. (Oh, and Aggra starts warming up to him.)

The Elemental Bonds questchain starts off with Thrall attempting to link up with the Cenarion Circle and the Dragon Aspects to try and heal Nordrassil fully, thinking that might help the world mend itself. Before the ritual can start, Fandral Staghelm, empowered by Ragnaros, drops in and curses Thrall, splitting his essence and scattering him to the four elemental planes. Aggra takes any heroes who’ll go along with her and chases after Thrall’s essence in each plane, revealing the struggles he faces within; his desire for peace, love, and progeny, his doubts over putting Garrosh in charge, and his rage over the thoughtless war and death that Garrosh and Varian Wrynn have wreaked upon the world. At the end of it all, Aggra is able to reassemble Thrall, and they continue on together with new resolve. (Oh, and Thrall proposes traditional orcish lifemate bonding wedding thing, and all the Dragon Aspects and Jaina are there and it’s really pretty awkward but roll with it.)

FIRE EXTINGUISHED

The Firelands raid overall was pretty straightforward, even though a lot of people complained about there being too much trash (which was because of all the haters that didn’t like the dearth of trash in launch raids) and was in many ways a remix of Molten Core. When you look at it, Molten Core wasn’t a very diverse raid: it was a LOT of trash, where the bosses where either super-sized versions of the trash mobs OR were a bunch of flamewakers who’s only mechanics boiled down to “dispel spam” or “interrupts”. Firelands made the Plane of Fire feel like it had more an ecosystem to it, and the bosses were very distinct from the trash in addition to having some complicated mechanics to them.

The Elemental Bonds questchain served to deliver story on Thrall that wasn’t contained in a novel, but had some quirky mechanisms at each stage, in addition to being something that multiple characters not linked together were attempting to do simultaneously. And the big thing it did (aside from showing Aggra being really hung up about Thrall) was convince everyone that Blizzard needed a better method to deliver story within the confines of the game that didn’t require extensive art development. Thankfully, a solution for that was in the pipe for Mists of Pandaria.

With Ragnaros’ defeat, all of the major conflicts presented in Cataclysm had been resolved, aside from the faction war and Deathwing himself. Guess what’s coming next. ^_^

Primer: Cataclysm, Part 1 (Launch Content)

Back when I killed the Lich King, it was with a guild mostly made up of RL friends who’d been rolling the WoW game for awhile. Shortly after that kill, however, many of the players considered it their pinnacle achievement that nothing could ever really top, so they left the game. Lately, they’ve shown a bit of interest in what’s going on with WoW (even if they can’t really come back because family, time constraints, and the $15 sub cost) and I offered to write up a primer covering the broad strokes of what happened since Arthas went dark.

The Shattering

So Deathwing chestbursts his way out of Azeroth, with a huge mad-on for roasting the world. The Old Gods have driven him mad as well as empowering him far more than his monstrous draconic elementium-armored form can even contain, so he decides that bringing an end to the planet he was sworn to protect is the best way to go out. Because it’s an apocalypse scenario, the end-of-the-world cult the Twilight’s Hammer join up with DW, as well as servants of the Old Gods, and the elemental lieutenants who have warred for them for millennia.

Atop Mount Hyjal, Ragnaros is summoned in and is aided by the Hammer in attempting to burn down Nordrassil. The Cenarion Circle calls for aid and they rally/resurrect many of the Ancients atop Hyjal to assist in fighting back the Hammer.

In the sunken depths of Vashj’ir, the naga are stirring, but it seems like they’re fighting against the Old Gods too… and hey, they still want to kill the surface dwellers too, no kidding.

In Deepholm, Therazane the Earthmother, Elemental Lord of Earth, refuses to let the earth elementals be corrupted by the Old Gods. So the opposition destroys the World Pillar, which is apparently a loadbearing structure for Azeroth, and the Earthen Ring struggles to rebuild the Pillar to keep the world from collapsing on itself.

In Uldum, the former servants of the Titans called the Tol’vir are faced with both incursion and betrayal. Some of the Tol’vir are returned to their former pre-Curse-of-Flesh forms by servants of Deathwing in return for crippling the area’s defense. What are the Tol’vir defending? Tell me, you remember back in Ulduar how Algalon the Observer was about to initiate a process that would trigger the world to get reset to a blank slate, thus wiping out all advanced life on Azeroth? Uldum is where the machinery for that process is kept, and the Tol’vir were there to guard it. “World-destroying machinery?” you say, but in the next breath the Twilight’s Hammer are there. (Also a bunch of tiresome Indiana Jones references.)

And in the Twilight Highlands, both the Horde and Alliance are making inroads to bring some old forces into the war; the Alliance arranges a wedding (really) to bring the many disparate Wildhammer dwarf clans together under the Lion Banner, while the Horde throws a coup to bring the Dragonmaw clan back into the fold. Aaaaand the servants of the Old Gods are chestbursting out here too because hey tentacles.

If it sounds like the narrative is somewhat all over the place, that’s because it is. Instead of a single-continent narrative, as was used in BC and Wrath, Cataclysm had the 80-85 zones spread out across the planet, linked only by portals from Stormwind and Orgrimmar and not really linked well in terms of narrative. The first round of raiding brought some of those narratives mostly to a close as well:

  • The Bastion of Twilight (in Twilight Highlands, natch) had everyone clawing their way against the Twilight’s Hammer, from their dragon servants and Elemental Ascendants up to Cho’gall himself. Clearing the joint on Heroic unlocked a really crazy fight against Sinestra, the broodmother of the Black Dragonflight, who’s been hatching all the twilight dragons for her baby-daddy Deathwing. For the most part, this ended the Twilight’s Hammer involvement in the expansion (though some holdouts appeared later, because you can’t keep a good cult down.)
  • Throne of the Four Winds was pretty similar to Gruul’s Lair from back in BC: first a council fight in the Conclave of Wind, and then a one-boss ohmygodhe’shugewhyarewedoingthis fight against Al’Akir the Windlord, Elemental Lord of Air. This ended the Uldum narrative pretty handily, even though the place wasn’t really given a strong narrative to start with and all of the potential with the location and the Tol’vir was really just left on the table.
  • Blackwing Descent is an interesting anomaly because it’s really only tangentially related to the other narratives going on. Turns out that Deathwing stopped in Orgrimmar and Stormwind to pick up the heads of his two greatest children, Nefarian and Onyxia (respectively) so that Nefarian could continue experimenting with stuff, just like he’d been doing in Blackwing Lair all those years ago. Oh, and Nef got to take her sister and make MechaZombieOnyxia. There’s no Twilight stuff, no elemental lord stuff, no Old God stuff: in a lot of ways, BWD is a remix of BWL in terms of trash, boss flavor, and Nefarian’s constant mocking presence. And the final fight is Nefarian and MechaZombieOnyxia together versus your ill-equipped 10- or 25-man raid.

The End of the Beginning of the End

All that up there (well, in addition to a clutch of launch 5-mans which were all pretty diverse and mostly tied in with the above zones/narratives)  was the launch content in Cataclysm. In terms of most of the systemic changes in the game, you’re familiar with most of those already: the talent crunch to shorter trees, the greater emphasis on spec identity, the first release of heroic remixes in Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep, the addition of worgen and goblin PCs to the game, as well as gritty things like the Justice Point gear sets that prepped you for that first tier of raiding. And the new class/race combinations. And the revamp of virtually every single pre-BC zone.

Through all of these changes, Cataclysm was very ambitious in trying to make the leveling experience more approachable to new players, but it also did that at the cost of endgame content. The linearity of the end-game zones, the initial punishing difficulty of the 5-man heroics (combined with the Luck of the Draw buff being bugged and healers having to contend with sweeping system changes), and the incredibly grindy aspects of Archaeology as the new profession were a turn off to a lot of players.

So evidence demonstrates that there was a swift drop in subscribers not long after Cataclysm launched. Aside from some of the flaws listed above, it might be because Deathwing wasn’t widely received as compelling a villain as Arthas had been (and aside from occasionally carpet-bombing a zone, he wasn’t as present as Arthas was in the leveling experience); for others, it’s because the game had changed too dramatically from the familiar. But as I’ll demonstrate in the primers to come, there was a lot more change to come down the pipe, some of it actually for the better.

What do you recall about the launch of Cataclysm? Any questions about the period I didn’t answer? Sound off in the comments.