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. ^_^

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