Zul’jin: An Overview, Part 1

Something different this time; I wanted to go over Zul’jin’s history, because most of the people who play the WoW game and don’t have a background with WC2 aren’t really going to know what he’s about. And since we’re coming up on Warlords of Draenor, an expansion poised to bring a lot of WC1/2 heroes back into the limelight, I thought it might be nice to remind people about Zul’jin and what he was about.

Do note that this will have some shades of my account on the Zandalari, though hopefully, nothing here will contradict official lore in an overt manner. Oh, and also; some analysis at the end, which may contain spoilers for Mike Stackpole’s Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, if you haven’t read that yet.

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Zul’jin was not a shadow hunter. He was not a witch doctor. There came a point in his life where if he smelled the loa on you, he’d put an axe in your skull just for fouling his presence with them. But Zul’jin’s relationship with the loa was complicated.

Zul’jin was fairly simple to understand: he was the Chieftain of the Amani, a forest troll bred for strength, for cunning, who had survived the predations of quel’dorei Farstriders and Stromgarde’s arrogant nobility his whole life. Under him the Amani were almost strong enough to threaten the elves in their shiny towers… almost. His people had waited a long time for their vengeance, and they could wait a bit longer.

When he had first heard tell of the orcs, it was from a Zandalari emissary. The tale the emissary told went something like this:

Apparently, some Gurubashi fools had been wandering about in the forbidden swamps around the Temple of Atal’Hakkar. Their loa had whispered of a disturbance, and what they found made “disturbance” into an understatement. The southern reaches of the swamp had been taken over by a horde of warriors who were coming and going through a massive portal. Heavily armed and armored, with green skin and wicked steel, they were clearly establishing themselves for an invasion. When the Gurubashi returned to their witch doctors for advice, the loa whispered “these invaders are no different from the humans, or the elves. They are not-trolls, and they do not know the loa. They are of no concern.”

Still, the empty-headed jungle trolls had enough sense to send someone to Zandalar to inform the God-king. And the God-king, after confirming this by sending his Hands and Eyes to bear witness (and also to ensure that the Blood God’s temple remained untouched), was kind enough to send his straight-backed Zandalari to every corner of the world, telling the troll chieftains of the news.

How kind of the God-king.

So the loa said to ignore the orcs, since they were not-trolls, even if the Gurubashi reported that the orcs had made straight for the humans’ southernmost castle. Zul’jin had thought, “they fight our enemies, maybe there’s something to be had in fighting with them.” But the witch doctors said no. And the Zandalari said that the God-king said no. And Zul’jin knew that trolls who defied the loa, or defied the God-king, well… they had a bad time.

Even when the orc warchief, Blackhand, sent an emissary to Zul’jin and asked for his aid in fighting the humans, Zul’jin declined, because it’s what the witch doctors said to do.

But then something happened that changed Zul’jin’s mind.

He got captured by some Farstriders. He’d gotten out of scrapes like this before, but these Farstriders knew him for who he was. They took precautions. Zul’jin knew he had no way out. And as they started to torture the other trolls who’d been caught with him, he started to wonder what would happen next.

It turns out that what happened next surprised him. The orcs came to his rescue, butchering the elves who held him captive. They said that they had a new leader, Doomhammer, who promised not just glorious battle but aid in destroying the elves if the trolls joined their Horde. And Zul’jin said yes without hesitation.

When he returned to Zul’Aman to gather his forces, the witch doctors were upset. They said the loa wanted nothing to do with the orcs. They said the God-king would not take kindly to Amani defiance.

Zul’jin reminded them, rather harshly, that it had not been the God-king who had rescued Zul’jin from torture and death. It had not been the loa, whom he had served his whole life. He’d made the sacrifices. He’d said the words. He’d done everything the loa had asked him to do, but he’d never seen them, never heard their voices, never witnessed their strength. And they could not deign to even afford the precious little effort it would have taken to free him from his bonds.

“De loa t’ink dey can leave me to die? De loa t’ink dey know what it means ta be a troll? Dey know not’ing.”

The orcs promised victory at last over their enemies. They promised the Amani an empire like none they had ever known. In the darkest recesses of his heart, Zul’jin believed that he could overthrow the God-king himself, and bring trolls the world over back to what was really important: strength, and the willingness to exercise that strength against one’s enemies. That was something the Zandalari had forgotten in their archaic preaching, their stagnating role as “preservers of troll culture.” If only Zul’jin had enough strength to show them all the truth… and maybe with the help of the orcs, and their ogres, their death knights, the goblins they had somehow employed, Zul’jin would be able to do what no troll had ever done with the blessings of the loa, or the auspices of the God-king.

He would bring truth to the world. Truth on the sharpened edge of an axe.

When it all came crashing down, Zul’jin could not help but laugh. The orcs failed because the Doomhammer had put his trust in someone who was obviously untrustworthy. And when Doomhammer took the bulk of his troops to correct what Gul’dan’s multiple schemes had wrought, Zul’jin saw his dreams of empire and truth crumble before him. And when the Farstriders surrounded him once again, and called him by his name in their nasal, pompous voices, and he bore witness to the bitter humor of fate, he laughed long and loud.

Their torturer took his eye, and still Zul’jin laughed. Matis promised to make the suffering last as long as possible, to try and exact vengeance for every elven life Zul’jin had taken, and Zul’jin squinted his empty-socket to squirt blood on the elf’s pretty face. Days or weeks later, when some random hunting party of trolls bungled into the camp and caused a ruckus, Zul’jin cut off his arm and escaped, careless about who had died for him. He returned to Zul’Aman, a smile on his face, having cheated death and the loa from their prize. He waited for his arm to grow back.

It didn’t.

He swallowed his pride and asked what few witch doctors were left for help. One had the temerity to say he’d offended the loa with his defiance, and they had taken his regeneration away. Zul’jin put a hatchet in that one’s chest. While other witch doctors were more careful with their words, none had better answers, and none could make his arm grow back. Or his eye. Every shadow hunter who came back from the war told him of his mistake, and he killed most of them for the insult. Those who held their tongues quietly left, until no shadow hunters remained. At some point he was told that they’d built a new settlement on the other side of the mountains, called Zul’Mashar, and he found that he cared very little.

He’d been taught his lesson, though he would never admit it to anyone, even himself. Maybe defying the loa had been a mistake. The emissaries from the God-king never returned, though the Eyes of Rastakhan, the spies, did nothing to conceal themselves on the borders of Zul’Aman. While he still had a tribe behind him that was a force to be reckoned with, he had gambled on Doomhammer and lost much. So he sat in Zul’Aman, content to wait once again. He had plenty of time to waste.

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Part Two will cover the rest of Zul’jin’s fate, as well as some analysis on why he’s a pertinent figure to call to mind right now. Stay tuned. ^_^

Realm Remixes: Mysterious Ways

So some diligent work by some of the other cats paying close attention to the connection process has revealed an interesting detail, but first, a bit of set-up.

The current state of WoW’s realm structure going into this process involved four datacenters where the realm hardware is housed, which are located in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Phoenix. Realms in the same datacenter are the pool of realms that players are usually drawn from for all the cross-realm shenanigans like CRZ, LFD, Battlegrounds, and LFR, but of course if you’re doing premade cross-realm stuff like BattleTag/RealID groups, it doesn’t matter what datacenter your realm is in. Also, all of the datacenters have realms that are in all different time zones, so the location of the datacenter isn’t an indicator of what time zones or regions are served there.

What Weekender and Urashima on the official forums have determined is that the connections being made have certain patterns:

1. Realms in Phoenix are only being connected with realms in LA, while realms in New York are only being connected with realms in Chicago. (There are some connections that are exclusively between LA realms, and some exclusively between Chicago realms, but that’s not the case for Phoenix or New York.)

2. Consequently, once a connection is made in, say, a Phoenix realm, players who log into that realm have their traffic directed to a new address in the LA datacenter. Same goes for New York realms, with their traffic going to Chicago.

3.  As a result, there are some players reporting increased ping times to access their realms, but since there hasn’t been a really dramatic outcry about it on the forums, it doesn’t appear to be something most players have noticed.

The major thing this revelation does is help to narrow down the possibilities for which realms get connected to which, especially once you get into discussing the RP/RP-PVP realms or the non-North American regions served by these datacenters. And while it doesn’t create a universal rule (for example, the Boulderfist/Bloodscalp/Dunemaul/Stonemaul/Maiev CR draws four realms from the same battlegroup, and only draws one realm from the opposing datacenter, and some other connections don’t draw from the opposing datacenter at all) it does create something that can help predict how the rest of this is going to shake out.

It also explains one little mystery: Anvilmar and Undermine were originally announced to get connected to each other back in Round 7. That was put on hold before Round 7 was implemented, and later on, the pairing disappeared completely; not pushed to a subsequent round, but dropped entirely from the list. After comparing all of the existing and proposed connections together, it turns out that Anvilmar/Undermine was the only connection that drew two realms from New York, without connecting first to one in Chicago.

I think it’s still likely that those two realms will ultimately be connected together, but they will likely get connected to a Chicago-side realm first.

So, that being said, what are the rules that seem to govern connections going forward?

    1. Realms in PHX will be connected to realms in LA, and realms in NY will be connected to realms in CHI. Connections may happen in CHI or LA that don’t involve realms in NY or PHX, respectively, but the inverse is not true.
    2. Realms will always be connected along server types (PVE/PVP/RP/RP-PVP).
    3. Only one realm is added to a connection at a time.
    4. Realms will always be connected along region/language barriers. (There’s no evidence to support this aside from the fact that no Oceanic, Brazilian or Latin American realms have been connected yet.)

As for targets, it seems that the existing CRs are topping off between 5-6000 raid-capable characters across both factions. From this, we can infer the following:

    1. Realms that have more characters than the existing CRs will likely not be connected.
    2. Realms that can’t be connected with another eligible realm without going over the limit (and thus threatening to become a high-pop queued realm) will likely not be connected.
    3. Realms that cannot be connected because no eligible realm is available may be left unconnected.

If we look particularly at the three non-North American zones serviced by the NA datacenters, we can actually draw some conclusions:

1. EDITED: Out of the three Latin American realms (Ragnaros, Drakkari, and Quel’thalas), the former two are PVP, while Quel’thalas is PVE.  realms. However, only Drakkari is under the 5-6k threshold, at 3.7k characters. While that’s not an unhealthy population it could certainly be better, but there’s nowhere to go for Drakkari, unless Blizzard opens up some FCMs from Ragnaros. (Thanks to the anon commenter Me for pointing this out.)

2. There are five realms for Brazil, with two PVP and three PVE. Azralon, Goldrinn, and Nemesis are all above the threshold, while Tol Barad (PVP) and Gallywix (PVE) are well below the threshold, and might potentially hit it if they were combined. However, they’re opposing server types, meaning they can’t be combined… which is distressing, given that those are the two worst-progressed Brazilian servers, and are in the middle of many of the other realms that are being connected currently. As with the Latin American realms, FCMs could fix this, but it clearly not a priority.

3. There are twelve Oceanic realms, six PVE and six PVP. Almost all of them are in the 3-4k character range, meaning they can’t be combined with each other without going over the threshold. Out of the whole set, the only viable connections possible involve Gundrak and Dreadmaul, both PVP servers with relatively low populations and middling progression. While they could be combined with each other to possibly compete with the rest of the Oceanic set, they could also be used individually to buff the next two smallest realms (Thaurissan and Jubei’thos). The other two PVP realms are Barthilas, which is already over the threshold, and Frostmourne, which is the #3 server in the NA and DOUBLES the threshold as a super-high-pop realm.

As for the RP/RP-PVP realms and the remaining North American realms, that’ll have to wait for next time.

Quick Fix

Sorry for the big delay in posts… I’ve been laid up with a bum foot and an increasingly attention-seeking baby boy, so I haven’t been able to really compose anything the last few days. More coming, hopefully before the holiday!

Thanks everyone!

Garrisons: Follow Me

UMAD BREW?

UMAD BREW?

Man, where to start with followers?

  • They’ll have different levels of rarity, similar to Battle Pets. The rarity will determine how many skills the follower has access to, and since skills translate into success rates on missions (when those skills are invoked), higher-quality followers will certainly be highly desirable.
  • Followers will gain levels (going from 90-100) and then start raising their iLvl once they reach 100, similar to players.
  • They’ll come from all classes, and among the list of skills will be professions so that they gain access to profession-specific missions and can work at profession buildings.
  • Followers, as you accumulate them, will be visible around your Garrison, working at buildings when you assign them there, or potentially just idling around. Collecting followers thus plays into making your Garrison feel like a living place.
  • Apparently they’ll come not only from playable races, but from NPC races as well: the mockup slides showing the followers included what looked to be a High Elf Death Knight. And a direct question to Stockton about the possibility of arakkoa as followers got a response of “For sure.”

Followers as Future Content

Building off that last element, what non-player races are then possible as followers? Assuming that certain races would fall into faction-aligned or faction-neutral categories, I can imagine it looking like this:

npc followersOf course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to suggesting follower races; whether Blizzard decides to do it or not is another matter entirely. Coming up with a narrative for why an Ethereal Priest would roll up onto an unshattered Draenor to take orders from flesh-bags like our PCs is perhaps too big a question to leave unanswered. But the big thing I feel makes this suggestion handy is the possibility for seeding new playable races by having adventurers of those races show up as followers.

Yeah, I know that there are no new races planned for Warlords, and that’s fine; but if the old concept about “seeding” races as playable within the world before introducing them has any gravity to it, then followers would be a good method to do it in advance of future expansions.

Interplay with Buildings

While many buildings will simply be places that followers work (when you don’t have them assigned to missions) many of them will directly effect the abilities of those followers: for example, the Armory will provide melee followers with a damage buff, while the Mage Tower will likely do the same for caster followers. The Academy will apparently allow them to level faster, but thinking about that made me wonder:

Followers have an XP bar that’s purple, just like the PC’s XP bar, right? Why not assign followers to the Inn to get Rested, so that they then get a Rested XP bonus when they go on missions, just as characters do? The Academy, then, could serve a different purpose; allowing followers to learn different skills through study.

That’s currently one thing that appears to be missing in the rest of this system; if followers have randomly generated skills when made available for hire, or when they’re acquired as quest rewards, faction rewards, or dungeon drops, then there exists the possibility that you might not get access to a skill you want if RNG is unkind to you. So having an avenue to teach your followers specific skills, whether it requires a large time investment or resource investment (or both) would be beneficial.

Alt Characters as Followers

Some people have floated the idea of alt characters playing into the followers system. I’m of two minds on this, so let’s go pros/cons:

Pros:

  • It encourages players to keep a stable of alts, since they’ll be visible while you’re rolling about your main’s garrison, and vice versa.
  • It encourages leveling those alts, since they’ll potentially get to 100 more quickly than normal followers would, since you can log into them and quest to gain XP instead of relying on missions.
  • It encourages the profession diversity that many alts tends to have, since that adds greater flexibility in what you choose for your profession buildings.

Cons:

  • It trivializes the process of hiring new followers if players with a full stable are able to very quickly get into doing group follower content.
  • It raises a lot of questions about how followers get skills. If a follower is keyed off an alt, does the game randomly choose skills? Does the player choose skills? Does the follower get both profession skills or just one?
  • The inherent confusion of logging onto your priest main, dispatching your warrior alt-based follower on a quest, and then logging onto that warrior and doing actual questing sounds straight-forward at first, but it’s also very easily double-dipping if the follower is keyed of your alt’s XP level, but gain XP both from quests AND from your actions actively playing that character.
  • If there’s a permanent-death mechanism for followers (which as come up in some discussions but doesn’t seem confirmed by any official source yet) then having alts auto-generate a follower token would be cheating the permanent-death mechanism, since there’s no way that a follower death would translate to an alt’s permanent death.
  • If followers become a tradable commodity, alt-based followers would need to be soulbound.

Overall, I think that having alts becoming full-on followers would probably introduce many more problems with the overarching follower system than the novelty would be worth. Especially if the novelty can be accomplished simply by allowing same-faction, same server alts to have the same NPC behaviors around the garrison without actually being followers. For as many people as have been asking for this addition, I’ve seen plenty just asking for alt visibility over actual functionality.

Follower Actions as NPCs

A few choice suggestions about stuff for followers to do around the Garrison:

  • Unassigned, undispatched followers could be at the Inn. Drinking, dancing, socializing, playing Hearthstone. Seriously, the Hearthstone table has got to be in our Inn. ^_^
  • Followers could be hanging about at the Blacksmith / Engineer / Tailor / Leatherworker getting their armor repair. Have a random piece of gear visibly removed (i.e. pants) and emphatic gestures to demonstrate that the follower would very much like to get covered up again.
  • Followers could be patrolling the walls, occasionally checking the territory with a spyglass.
  • Followers could be gathered in front of the Barracks, drilling or practicing against target dummies.

There’s obviously a lot more to talk about regarding followers, especially as more information about the Garrisons systems become more evident. Expect a LOT of iteration.

Garrisons: Analysis Part One of Many

I really can’t talk enough about how much I love the concept of Garrisons for Warlords of Draenor. A lot of other sites have given the basic overview of how they work, so I’ll let Blizzard cover that while I get into some nitty gritty about it — insofar as gritty examination is possible when it’s clearly still in an early design phase.

Allow me to get that Disclaimer out of the way: EVERYTHING about Warlords of Draenor is in design flux at this point, and the information Blizzard has released, in addition to all of my analysis and speculation below, might end up changing dramatically before the beta AND before the release of the expansion. So take everything with a grain of salt.

All that said, there’s a lot that we don’t know about Garrisons as it stands right now:

  • What do all of the buildings do? For the primary profession buildings, it seems pretty straightforward: park followers who have the appropriate skill there, and they’ll research recipes and craft them. For some of the other buildings, we know what they’ll do either because something showed up in one of the mockup slides or Cory Stockton answered a direct question about them. For some of the buildings though, it’s not clear what they’ll do.
  • How many followers can you assign to each building? What kind of effect is there in having multiple followers at the same task?
  • How many followers are we talking about total? The Barracks adds room for discrete numbers of followers per rank, but that’s specifically for the number of followers you can send on missions simultaneously. This means that having a maxed out Barracks would allow you to dispatch a single raid, but then you’d have two followers left that can quest (because you need more than 2 followers to do anything other than quest, if it’s a mission).
  • There’s also a lot of questions about what mechanisms govern followers. Infirmaries reduce downtime for followers, which implies that followers will need recovery time after going on missions. Upgrading the Garrison from tier to tier improves Travel Speed for Followers, implying that there’s a method to reduce mission time, which the Stables might play into.

There are certainly more questions, but I’ll get into them later. For now, let’s talk specifically about plots and choices.

Building Dynamics

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CLICK MEH SEYMOUR

By the time you get to the last tier (Tier 3, pictured above) your garrison appears to have 14 plots (4 small, 6 medium, and 4 large), but all told there are 24 buildings (neither count including the Town Hall).

  • 11 small buildings (1 each for the primary non-gathering professions, and Archaeology, and the Salvage Yard which doesn’t appear to have a stated purpose.)
  • 7 medium buildings (the rest of the professions show up here, with the Pet Stables, Trading Post, and the Lumber Mill, which also doesn’t have a stated or implied purpose.)
  • 6 large buildings (all of the major follower-affecting buildings are here.)

What this means is that the stated intent of “you’ll be able to cover professions you don’t have, but not enough plots to cover all of them” is definitely in play, since there are 10 small profession buildings (since the Salvage Yard doesn’t appear to be linked to a profession) but you only have 4 small plots to work with. Thus, with small buildings, there are a couple of interesting discrepancies to note:

  • Assuming the Storehouse is for Archaeology, that makes it the only secondary profession (aside from Fishing) to get a small building. Assuming that most players are going to use their four small plots to supplement the professions they don’t have, that puts Archaeology at a disadvantage, since it doesn’t generate gear or consumables, but instead only generates lore objects and vanity items.
  • Not knowing what the Salvage Yard is potentially restricts that choice even further; if it’s something that a player deems mission-critical, then that leaves only three small plots for supplementary professions. (More speculation on the Salvage Yard below.)
  • The Fishing Shack is mentioned as a starting building, but doesn’t appear in any of the mockups. Since Fishing only generates Cooking mats (and the occasional crate), that also puts it at a disadvantage compared to other primary profession buildings.

With medium buildings, there’s less constraint on choices, since you’ll have 6 medium plots but have 7 buildings to choose from. The interesting choice that comes into play is whether to aim for getting complete coverage in gathering professions and hiring followers while also reaping the benefits of the Trading Post and… whatever the Lumber Mill is supposed to do. (More speculation on the Lumber Mill below.)

With large buildings, there’s a greater constraint than with medium, but not as bad as small, since it’s 4 large plots and 6 buildings.

  • Without knowing how many characters you can dispatch on missions without a Barracks, there’s no way to judge how vital the Barracks itself will be.
  • The Academy is valuable in the leveling game while you work on building a team, but once you’ve got a diverse team it has less value. Assuming that we never permanently lose followers and that getting certain skills on followers won’t take an excessive grind, of course.
  • Assuming the Mage Tower provides a caster buff similar to what the Armory offers to melee followers, the Armory still has an advantage since it can also be used to train followers to a higher quality. However, the interesting choice between Mage Tower and Armory will be based on whether you can field a dungeon/raid team that meets the skill requirements of the mission AND hits the role requirements as well. The big question is whether the Mage Tower has a second purpose aside from the caster buff.
  • The Infirmary feels like it’s more valuable in an early game because reducing downtime means more income, but depending on what kind of follower population you can have, you might be able to mitigate the downtime penalty simply by cycling through followers, since you’ve got a max amount you can dispatch even with Barracks.
  • And not knowing what the Stable does makes it impossible to judge its choice value. It could improve travel speeds to reduce overall mission times, or it could just be a display point for our favorite mounts. Could be both.

So overall, even without knowing exactly what the limitations and abilities of certain buildings will be, there’s a decent amount of Interesting Choice to be had about all of the buildings, as well as a lot of replayability (or just making different choices with your alts’ garrisons). I feel, however, like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speculation:

Lumber Mill: Historically (as in the RTS games), the Lumber Mill strengthened building durability and was the delivery point for lumber. Since there’s no indication that the Garrisons will be attacked by external forces, and because lumber isn’t a player resource in this game, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Lumber Mill will get used for. It could play into the Garrison Supplies statistic, or it could enhance ranged DPS damage (which the Armory’s melee buff doesn’t explicitly cover). If so, it would be the only medium building to directly affect followers, which plays into the choice dynamics of large buildings.

Salvage Yard: The Salvage Yard uses an Engineering icon, and “Salvage” is the term that’s been used in the past for Engineering players to draw materials or vendor trash out of Mechanical corpses. However, in every slide where we see the Salvage Yard mentioned, there’s another small building (Tinker’s Garage/Engineering Works) that more directly connotes the Engineering profession. So what’s the Salvage Yard for?

  • Salvage Yard might be where you’d take items to be Disenchanted, since the Enchanter’s Tent will probably only research new enchants and apply them to your gear.
  • Building on that, I can imagine missions rewarding non-gear items that could be Salvaged in order to generate garrison supplies or new follower-specific gear.

More To Come:

There’s a lot to talk about with Garrisons, and I’m aiming to do this not only as an analysis of what was delivered at BlizzCon, but also an opportunity to make suggestions about the system and create a dialogue with Blizzard about how it works. All told, if this system is only half as dynamic as what was presented, it’s still going to be a huge selling point for Warlords of Draenor and likely the reason a good number of players come back. ^_^

BlizzCon Quick Reactions

First off, let me state unequivocally that I am extremely excited for Warlords of Draenor.

I had seen some leaked information beforehand, from reliable sources, that gave a bulletpoint list of stuff that was going to happen, but without the pitch from Metzen, and without the announcement trailer, it all fell flat. Nothing about it seemed appealing and I felt like the game was headed for a fall.

But now? After that pitch? THAT TRAILER? And everything else that’s been revealed? I’m so hyped, friends. SO hyped.

Sadly, I can’t go into big detail here, as I’ve got to pass out and get some sleep after an exhausting day, and tomorrow is going to be filled with the long-form wedding & reception that prevented me from being in-person at BlizzCon to begin with. Basically it’s going to be a couple days before I can get my proper reactions up here, but let’s just do a couple quick lists:

PROS:

  • Old Draenor looks amazing.
  • Reminding everyone that the orcs were always a badass male power fantasy is actually pretty awesome.
  • Huge new potential with Draenor as a location (a whole ogre empire continent off the map? perfect.)
  • Buckets of new lore on the Draenei, the arakkoa, in addition to other new races on the planet.
  • Garrisons and all the connected subsystems (this is easily my favorite system addition, so expect a big post about it).
  • The raid paradigm changes.
  • Inventory improvements.
  • The “instant 90” token.
  • The gronn are siege weapons. THE GRONN ARE SIEGE WEAPONS.

CONS:

  • The story isn’t bad at face-value (not enough is known about it yet to judge) but the premise takes a non-trivial amount of effort to explain: Garrosh gets sent back into time to stop the orc leaders from drinking the demon blood and instead forges them into the Iron Horde, which then builds the Dark Portal to invade Azeroth… but the Dark Portal is connected to present-day Azeroth. So essentially there’s an alternate-timeline, paradox-free set-up, but for a lot of people, it’s going to make them cross-eyed pretty fast.
  • I appreciate that it’s Warcraft and it’s Orcs vs. Humans, but man, we just got done killing a LOT of orcs in SoO and Battlefield: Barrens.
  • And while I don’t want to shortchange the story before I get the chance to experience it fully, the sense that MoP was sold as “the calm before the storm” and now WoD is being set-up as “rolling into the following expansion” is giving me the sense that Blizzard is just breadcrumbing the story forward. If the expansions are coming out more quickly, then maybe that’s okay, but the bottom line here is that I’m interested in getting a sense of resolution out of this expansion, and that’s not really being explicitly offered at this point.

So yeah: definitely a lot more to come tomorrow and in the following weeks, but if you had any doubt about Warlords of Draenor, doubt no more; the Alliance is going through the Dark Portal to whoop some ass, just like the good old days. ^_^

The Infinite Sadness (3 of 3)

We looked at what happened if the Infinite Dragonflight had successfully stopped Medivh from opening the Dark Portal, and what would have happened if they had prevented Taretha Foxton from implementing Thrall’s escape from Durnholde Keep. Only one Infinite moment remains: the Culling of Stratholme.

The last time Jaina Proudmoore and Uther the Lightbringer see Prince Arthas, he’s leading troops into the city of Stratholme, intent on killing the plagued inhabitants before they can be turned into the Scourge. He never returns. The Lightbringer has lost his greatest student, and Jaina has lost the man she loves. And now a horde of the undead swarms from the once-great city, desecrating everything in its path.

When the Prophet appears to them both, appealing to them to abandon Lordaeron and flee west, both rebuff him out of sheer grief and sadness… as well as a grim determination to not let Arthas’ death be meaningless. When Uther testifies to King Terenas Menethil and the other lords of the Alliance of the true threat of the Scourge, and of the death of Arthas, the Alliance is mobilized once more. Lordaeron becomes a battleground, awash in the dead, and as the battle rages on, Uther pulls every resource he can to aid in the battle… including a disgraced paladin named Tirion Fordring.

Uther gives Tirion a mission; rumors speak of a weapon of immense power hidden on the icy continent of Northrend, that may aid humanity in turning the tides against the Scourge. Tirion requests that his son Taelan accompany him, but Uther refuses, stating that Taelan’s talents as a paladin are needed in battle. The sooner Tirion returns with the weapon, Uther says, the sooner he can see his son.

By chance, Tirion meets with Muradin Bronzebeard in Northrend, following the same rumor of the weapon. As the quest continues, Tirion is haunted by dark dreams, where Taelan is beset by the undead, crying out for aid but receiving none. He grows more desperate and erratic, until at last he and Muradin locate the blade. Muradin balks after reading the inscription on Frostmourne, but Tirion ignores his warnings, intent on making any sacrifice in order to rescue his son. When he grips the blade, an explosion occurs, knocking Muradin back… but Tirion pays no attention, because through the sword, he hears whispers of an overwhelming will. Thus, when the dreadlord Mal’Ganis appears before Tirion, confident that he has given the Lich King the weapon he requires, Tirion decides to put the weapon to the test, and thrusts it through the dreadlord. Listening fully to the whispers of the Lich King, Tirion is confident that with the power of Frostmourne behind him, he can rescue his son.

Muradin emerges from the cave, knowing that Tirion is in the thrall of the Scourge, and makes his way back to Ironforge to tell Magni the bad news; if the might of the dwarves isn’t added to the forces of the Alliance in Lordaeron, no living thing is safe from the Scourge. When he arrives, however, he runs into Alexandros Mograine, who has come to request King Magni’s aid in crafting a weapon to fight against the undead menace. Hearing Muradin’s pleas to avenge Arthas, combined with the knowledge that the dread blade Frostmourne has been deployed against the living, Magni pours all of his own hunger for justice into the crafting of his masterwork: the Ashbringer. Mograine prepares to return to the front in Lordaeron with a pure weapon of immense power, with an army of dwarves at his back.

As Tirion marches in search of his son, the news spreads quickly that he’s returned as an enemy of the living. Uther mobilizes everything he can to try and stop Tirion, but with the runeblade and his own extensive battlefield experience, nothing can stop the death knight’s advance. Many heroes fall; Jaina works tirelessly to throw barriers in Tirion’s way, frustrating the Scourge advance, but ultimately fails, and Tirion raises her as a banshee for causing him so much trouble. Uther himself is unable to defeat Tirion, and dies cursing his own error in sending him north. All the while, Tirion resists the demands of the Lich King to assault the Lordaeron capital, intent on finding Taelan.

When father at last finds son, it is a bitter meeting: Taelan is appalled at what Tirion has done, swearing to defeat him and set right his father’s wrongs. Tirion struggles with containing the hunger of the runeblade and the whispered commandments of the Lich King, confronted with the disappointment of his own son. Despite having defeated far stronger enemies, Tirion withers under the assault of Taelan and his brethren, the Scarlet Crusade. Ultimately, Taelan impales himself upon Frostmourne, distracting Tirion long enough for the Mograine brothers, Renault and Darion, to finally defeat the death knight and wrest the runeblade from his grasp.

In death, Tirion finally experiences clarity, and is granted absolution when Taelan forgives him with his last breath. Father and son die together, united at last… but the runeblade remains, now without a wielder.

The Mograine brothers are torn over what to do with the weapon. Darion is convinced that it must be destroyed, but Renault looks upon the weapon and sees something that will allow him to elevate himself in the eyes of their father, Alexandros. Arriving with reinforcements, the Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan (secretly the Dreadlord Balnazzar, intent on salvaging the plans of the Legion in using the Scourge to destroy Azeroth) immediately takes Renault’s side, insisting that Frostmourne is their salvation.

When Renault takes up Frostmourne, Darion sees his brother’s inner darkness revealed, and learns the truth about Dathrohan’s deception. He barely escapes with his life, and flees to join his father, just now arriving with reinforcements and the ultimate weapon: the Ashbringer.

Will the Ashbringer be able to contend against Frostmourne? Can the Mograines and Muradin Bronzebeard contain Renault and his newly created Scourged Crusade, aided by the magical might of the Banshee Queen, Jaina Proudmoore?

Only time will tell.

The Infinite Sadness (2 of 3)

Last time we looked at what might have happened if the Infinite Dragonflight had succeeded in stopping Medivh from opening the Dark Portal. This time, we’ll look at what might have happened if the Infinites had succeeded in keeping Taretha Foxton from releasing Thrall from his enslavement under Aedalas Blackmoore.

Already stretched near to the breaking point by the abuses of Blackmoore, Thrall’s trust in humanity is shattered by the betrayal he feels when the long-awaited breakout he plotted with Taretha never comes. She never appears, not even to apologize or to offer any explanation for why she allowed the narrow window of opportunity for an escape to come and go. Instead, Thrall continues being used as a gladiator by his human jailors, and as a punching bag by whatever opposition he’s put up against.

He plots. He waits. His moment will come.

Eventually, he manipulates Blackmoore to let him interrogate some captive orcs to learn more of the orcish culture, and their language… and Blackmoore, both impressed at Thrall’s deduction of his plot and infuriated at the slave’s insolence, acquiesces: he is certain he holds total sway over Thrall, and that nothing can stop him from his goal of overthrowing Lordaeron.

Meanwhile, Orgrim Doomhammer has grown tired with waiting for a sign that the orcs are ready to guide their own destiny once more. Quietly he convinces the Frostwolf and Warsong clans to join him in assaulting the internment camps, and Grom Hellscream is the first to suggest an assault on the camps’ top commander at Durnholde Keep, in order to put the humans in a state of confusion. The Doomhammer agrees, but the orcs are faced with a confounding sight when they prepare to attack the keep; before the gates stands a lone orc with blue eyes, who approaches the invaders and demands a mak’gora.

Before accepting, Doomhammer asks the identity of the challenger. Thrall identifies himself, but says no more. Drek’thar warns him not to accept, but Grom urges him on, reminding him that the traditions of the orcs must be upheld if they have any chance of reclaiming their former glory. In the end, Doomhammer accepts… and after a grueling duel, Doomhammer falls.

The orcs, shocked that Thrall was capable of defeating the mighty Doomhammer, are then dumbfounded when Blackmoore, the commander of the internment camps and lord of Durnholde, laughs bitterly after observing the duel, ordering Thrall to lead the Horde on a march to besiege Stromgarde, the first step in his plot to overthrow House Menethil. Just as Grom prepares to shout his own mak’gora to retake control of the Horde from Thrall, Drek’thar stops him, and the two watch as Thrall turns away from Perenolde, picks up the Doomhammer, and orders the Horde to destroy Durnholde Keep and kill every human within. At first, the Horde is still, but then Grom raises Gorehowl into the air, bellows his warcry, and the orcs attack.

No human survives Durnholde. Blackmoore dies cursing the name of his monstrous creation.

Thrall and the Frostwolf and Warsong clans begin a campaign not unlike what Blackmoore had initially envisioned, only without Blackmoore there to reap all of the benefit; they assault the internment camps and liberate the orcs, reforming the Horde, but tempered now by Thrall’s human-taught pragmatism and the ruthlessness ingrained in him from the gladiator arena. As Drek’thar begrudgingly educates him on the orcish legacy of shamanism, and how trusting in Gul’dan’s demonic masters led them to ruin, Thrall declares that the Horde will return to shamanism, as that will aid them in recovering from the effects of the blood curse and give them true strength to defend themselves against the humans.

Thrall also makes it known that demon worship will not be tolerated, and any who resist are promptly killed, to demonstrate the Warchief’s resolve.

When the Alliance fields an army led by Prince Arthas of Lordaeron, Thrall rises to the challenge. The night before the battle, a cloaked human appears to Thrall in a dream, imploring him to abandon the battle with humans; to take his Horde and lead them west across the sea to a new land.

Thrall dismisses the dream as an attempt at trickery by the humans, and goes into the battle with zeal.

The Horde defeats the Alliance army in the field, but only barely; the enemy is better equipped and better trained, without the disadvantage of years of imprisonment in the troops. As Arthas draws his army further back into Lordaeron, Thrall is slow to pursue, wishing to give the Horde more time to recover their strength. He expects harassment from the Alliance, and while that does come, it is suddenly cut off, and the orcs are left to their own devices.

When the next assault comes, it is dead soldiers who come to do the fighting. Drek’thar warns Thrall of the necromancy that had been merely the first step on the orcs’ path to damnation, and Thrall rallies the Horde to destroy the undead, determined now to follow it to its source.

Before long, a mage named Jaina Proudmoore appears before Thrall under a white flag of surrender, telling Thrall what has happened; within Lordaeron, a group of necromancers called the Cult of the Damned began to spread grain tainted with a plague that would turn the living into mindless undead. Due to the Horde’s assault, Prince Arthas was unable to contain the plague, and before long the entire kingdom was infected. She appeals to Thrall for aid in destroying this Scourge, or barring that, freedom to seek safe passage to the south, where the other human kingdoms knew nothing of the coming threat.

Thrall did not believe that the woman’s story was a lie. He had seen the risen dead himself and knew them to be a true threat, one which his Horde would put down as penance for their past mistakes. But this woman, this Jaina, reminds him of Taretha. He had not been able to repay Taretha for her betrayal. And the irony of humans creating a terror that feeds upon humanity struck him as a fitting end.

Thrall spits upon Proudmoore’s request, and tells her that humanity is the enemy of the Horde, never its ally. However, he adds, the Horde would not stoop to killing cowards who run away from battle. Proudmoore leaves dejected, but Thrall promptly hears reports of lightly-guarded caravans of human civilians fleeing south. True to his word, he leaves them be.

And so the Horde remains in Lordaeron to fight against the inexorable waves of the undead. Thrall eventually realizes the battle would not go well unless they were able to find some manner of weapon that could aid them, and conveniently enough, rumors come to them of a legendary sword, a runeblade called Frostmourne, hidden in the frozen continent of Northrend, that might hold such power. He dispatches Grom Hellscream to retrieve it… but when Grom returns, he is not the same.

Faced now with his greatest warrior fighting for the Scourge, Thrall and the Horde are put on the defensive. He finds unlikely allies in the High Elves of Silvermoon, attempting to contain the Scourge before it can assault their homeland, and in the Amani trolls, who align with the orcs out of a simple desire for survival against the undead menace. And despite Thrall’s earlier bitterness to Jaina Proudmoore, a scattering of human paladins led by Prince Arthas appear, offering their assistance, and with them comes the very thing Thrall had wished for when he sent Grom north.

Arthas’ lieutenant, Alexandros Mograine, carries with him a legendary sword crafted by the dwarven king Magni Bronzebeard, that in Mograine’s hands empowers him to obliterate the undead. Mograine informs Thrall of the blade’s ultimate purpose: to slay Grom Hellscream, who had dueled and killed the dwarven prince Muradin for control of the dark runeblade. Thrall accepts Mograine’s aid, and together with Sylvanas Windrunner of Silvermoon, Zul’jin of the Amani tribe, Prince Arthas, Mograine the Ashbringer, and any hero left standing in Lordaeron, the hunt for Grom Hellscream, first of the Lich King’s Death Knights, begins.

Can this New Alliance stand against the the forces of the Scourged Horde?

Only time will tell.

The Infinite Sadness (1 of 3)

So a thought struck me, triggered by a tweet.

Has anyone considered exactly how the world would have been destroyed if the Infinite Dragonflight had succeeded in their efforts to disrupt certain events? The Bronze Dragonflight tells us that that’s ultimately what would have happened, but they don’t really take the time to explain how.

Let’s look at the three events in question:

Opening the Dark Portal: The Infinites strike at Medivh at his most vulnerable moment, when all of his power is tied up in opening the Dark Portal to Draenor, which would allow the Horde to enter Azeroth and set off the First War. The main implication we’re given here is that without the Horde, the inhabitants of Azeroth wouldn’t have been able to defeat the Scourge when they eventually invaded. The world drowns in the undead, the Legion wins, everything goes pear-shaped.

The Escape from Durnholde: By containing Taretha Foxton, the Infinites attempt to stop the chain of events that allows Thrall to be set free from his thralldom. Similar to above, if Thrall never reforms the Horde and leads everyone to Kalimdor, the Legion destroys the World tree, everything goes pear-shaped.

The Culling of Stratholme: By eliminating Arthas before he begins his journey to Northrend, the Infinites prevent him from becoming the Lich King’s servant, and thus from becoming the Lich King himself. Without Arthas to help liberate the Lich King and the Scourge from the Legion’s control, the Legion wins, destroys everything, pear-shapes.

And you’ll note I’m not including the Battle of Mount Hyjal because the Infinites never actually appear to be doing anything there. Or the Hour of Twilight instances because a) in End Time, we’re in the future, b) in Well of Eternity, WE’RE the ones interfering in the timeline, and c) in Hour of Twilight there’s actually no time travel.

So let’s experiment. First, a couple ground rules:

  • Rule #1: Each scenario assumes that aside from their one moment of interference, neither the Infinites nor the Bronzes interfere in the timeline. That means each scenario is mutually exclusive.
  • Rule #2: Given that the Infinites are targeting a single individual, each scenario is written assuming that the target just disappears. No body discovered, no evidence, big mystery. This is overt with Medivh and Arthas, but for some odd reason the Infinites only trapped Taretha, as though merely delaying the execution of the escape plan hatched with Thrall would have been enough of a change. For simplicity, I’m just writing it as “Taretha is GONE.”
  • Rule #3: While each scenario will ultimately end as the Bronzes/Infinites predict (aka pear-shaped Legion domination apocalypse), it may simply create a scenario where whatever heroes are in play simply have a much slimmer chance of success. In addition to preserving the true timeline, it may be that what makes the true timeline so important to salvage is that it may simply have the best chances of ending with the heroes winning.
  • Rule #4: …and as such, the described scenarios will end on a cliffhanger where on one hand, the good guys MIGHT win, but on the other hand, the bad guys might win… which is not really all that different from the circumstances we’re facing in the true timeline.

Let’s start at the beginning, then.

Despite carrying a kernel of the Dark Titan’s power within him, Medivh is unable to defend himself against the sustained assault of the Infinite dragons and their drakonid shocktroops. He dies without ever opening the Portal, his corpse left to rot somewhere in the Black Morass, forgotten by nearly everyone… save his apprentice, Khadgar. When Khadgar finally discovers the last whereabouts of his master, he finds himself before a giant inactive portal, and assumes the worst. With no other leads, he returns to Karazhan immediately to try and determine what Medivh had been doing, alone in the Black Morass, that would have gotten him killed. He sends word both to the court of King Llane of Stormwind and to his former mentors, the Kirin Tor. As the archmage had left no orders behind regarding what to do in the event of his death, control of Karazhan was granted to Khadgar, who then opened the tower as a school of magic, a satellite to the centers of learning in Dalaran and Stormwind. Despite all of his other efforts, Khadgar was haunted by the abrupt death of his master and with the aid of the Kirin Tor attempted to determine not only who had killed Medivh, and but what the archmage had meant to accomplish with the portal in the Black Morass.

Meanwhile, on Draenor, Gul’dan and his warlocks realize that Medivh’s activity stopped abruptly, and are unable to complete the opening of the Portal without Medivh’s aid. The Horde, formed as a weapon to destroy and tempered in the blood of the innocents of Draenor, promised a world to conquer and plunder by Gul’dan, now has nothing to fight. Warchief Blackhand is unable to control his forces as they squabble, agitating for a fight and resenting the warlocks who had failed to deliver. Orgrim Doomhammer eventually brings this to a head when he challenges Blackhand to a mak’gora, wins, and with the retired warchief’s blood still on his hands proceeds to start hunting down Gul’dan’s warlocks. Blackhand’s sons, Rend and Maim, are prevented from seeking revenge by Grom Hellscream, who has taken the ensuing chaos as an opportunity to reignite a past bloodfeud with the Black Tooth Grin brothers. And all the while, Durotan and Draka of the Frostwolf tribe seek out the elder shaman Ner’zhul, disgraced and exiled after Gul’dan’s rise to power, hoping that he can help return the orcs to their old ways.

As the Horde destroys itself in an orgy of blood and destruction, the true master behind its creation, Kil’jaeden the Deceiver, broods upon the setback. As the Dark Titan’s lieutenant, his task had been to create a force that would wipe out the opposition of the races of Azeroth, most especially the Night Elves and the Kirin Tor, who unbeknownst to one another had thwarted every serious effort by the Burning Legion to infiltrate Azeroth through subterfuge. The gambit of employing the Horde had been Kil’jaeden’s idea, but the unforeseen interference that had caused Sargeras’ vessel on Azeroth to die caused the entire plan to crumble. Looking now upon the Horde as it consumes itself, Kil’jaeden is convinced the orcs would have failed, because their destructive tendencies were far too easy to turn upon one another. A unified fighting force, one that acted with a single mind and singular purpose, would be the weapon he needed, and all he needed was a willing sacrifice.

Stepping into the halls of Hellfire Citadel, site of the deaths of Blackhand and Gul’dan’s warlocks, Kil’jaeden finds exactly the willing servant he needs: the spirit of Teron Gorefiend. When the Deceiver finishes his dark work, Gorefiend’s spirit is bound within a set of fearsome eldritch armor, and sits upon the empty throne of the Warchief as the Lich King. As his first act, he raises Blackhand into undeath, making him the first Death Knight, and from the corpses of all the orcs and ogres slain in the Horde’s self-destruction, a new army, crafted of the undead, bound to a single overwhelming will, is brought into being… the Scourge.

Back on Azeroth, Khadgar is aided greatly in his investigations by Kel’Thuzad of the Kirin Tor… who, while feigning interest in learning Medivh’s fate, is more interested in unlocking the secrets of necromancy and demonology that he is certain are hidden within the Guardian’s Library. With the help of Terestian Illhoof, a satyr killed long ago by Medivh and imprisoned within the tower, Kel’Thuzad is able to make contact with Kil’jaeden… and the Deceiver’s plan, once thought ruined, now has a chance of success once again.

On Draenor, the Scourge finally offers a challenge to what remains of the Horde. And yet even under Doomhammer’s leadership, the orcs cannot withstand the assault of the undead. Desperation makes for strange bedfellows, as Doomhammer finds himself aided by the ogre tribes and the arakkoa, crafting an alliance of all those who wish to survive the onslaught of the Scourge… including the draenei Prophet Velen and the broken remains of his people, who recognize that the Scourge is the greatest possible evil, and anything that still lives must align against the forces of death.

Meanwhile, Durotan and Draka have located Ner’zhul, only to discover that the elder shaman is struggling with the elemental forces of Draenor itself. The elemental spirits, infuriated by the past manipulations of Gul’dan and Ner’zhul’s own prior sins, are aligned to tear the world apart, but Ner’zhul’s resolve has kept them in check. And yet he warns the Frostwolf chieftain that if Gul’dan attempts to open the Dark Portal while the elements are in such a precarious position, nothing Ner’zhul does will prevent the world from destroying itself.

Gul’dan and his surviving Shadow Council members were able to evade the pursuit of Doomhammer’s Horde, but they are unable to escape the Scourge. Blackhand brings Gul’dan in chains before the Lich King, and as an added layer of humiliation, the Lich King raises the spirits of the other dead warlocks to aid Gul’dan in his efforts to open the Dark Portal. Kil’jaeden himself observes from his Throne above Hellfire Peninsula to personally ensure that his gambit does not fail.

On Azeroth, Kel’Thuzad works in secret to gather all of the materials necessary to complete Medivh’s dark work, including an experiment stolen from the Kirin Tor called the Eye of Dalaran. At last the portal is opened, and the first sight Kel’thuzad sees on the other side is Blackhand tearing Gul’dan’s head from his shoulders for his past insolence.

The Dark Portal is opened. The resistance of Doomhammer’s Horde is forgotten now that the Scourge has their entry point into Azeroth. Kil’jaeden’s gambit has succeeded at last. The dead pour through the portal, with Kel’Thuzad to guide them… and as Draenor tears itself apart, Ner’zhul, whose failures started the orcs down this wretched path, implores the Frostwolves and Doomhammer to pass through the Dark Portal into the world they were once meant to conquer… and save it from the horror that has been unleashed.

Will Khadgar be able to aid the races of Azeroth in protecting against the sudden inexorable assault of the Scourge? Will Durotan and Doomhammer with their few remaining allies be able to save Azeroth? Will Teron Gorefiend remain loyal to his dark masters?

Only time can tell.

Realm Remixes: Stumbling Blocks

Looks like Round 6 has been announced to go off on Monday, November 4th, but there are a couple of changes:

  • Gul’dan getting hooked to Black Dragonflight/Skullcrusher has been pushed to Round 7.
  • Lightning’s Blade getting linked with Burning Blade/Onyxia and the new Winterhoof/Kilrogg connection have been pushed to Round 8.
  • Daggerspine is getting added to Aegwynn/Gurubashi/Hakkar in Round 6, which was previously unannounced.
  • Dentarg and Whisperwind, neither of which were connected before, are also being hooked up in Round 6.

So Round 6 will now look like this:

  • Haomarush + Detheroc/Dethecus/Blackwing Lair
  • Stonemaul + Bloodscalp/Maiev/Boulderfist/Dunemaul
  • Daggerspine + Aegwynn/Gurubashi/Hakkar
  • Tortheldrin and Frostmane
  • Dentarg and Whisperwind

More analysis on those connections to come, but let’s also sound off the complete lists for Rounds 7 & 8. I think it highly unlikely that these rounds will take place before BlizzCon on the 8th/9th, so there’s certainly a good amount of time for stuff to change.

Round 7:

  • Scilla and Ursin
  • Undermine and Anvilmar
  • Malorne + Firetree/Rivendare/Drak’Tharon
  • Quel’dorei and Sen’jin
  • Echo Isles and Draenor
  • Fizzcrank and Aggramar
  • Gul’dan + Black Dragonflight/Skullcrusher (pushed from Round 6)

Round 8:

  • Lethon + Detheroc/Dethecus/Blackwing Lair/Haomarush
  • Smolderthorn + Chromaggus/Garithos/Anub’arak
  • Gorgonnash + Balnazzar/Warsong
  • Lightning’s Blade + Burning Blade/Onyxia (pushed from Round 6)
  • Cairne and Perenolde
  • Winterhoof and Kilrogg (pushed from Round 6)
BLOW IT UP

BLOW IT UP

Conclusions:

  • The trend of CRs only gaining one realm at a time continues; as I asserted in the previous post, it doesn’t look like Blizzard plans to take CRs and connect them together. Instead, CRs will get incremented with a new realm in successive rounds. Probably less possibility of bugs in the process.
  • Kilrogg/Winterhoof getting pushed back to Round 8 leaves Nesingwary/Vek’nilash as the only PVE CR, but Rounds 7 & 8 both end up adding a lot of PVE realms into the mix. It’s notable that Nesingwary/Vek’nilash isn’t getting a realm added to it in these rounds, despite having an altogether low population compared to other 2-realm CRs; compared to all of the other PVE CRs from these new rounds, it’s at the bottom of the pack in terms of raiding population. However, with the exception of Dentarg/Whisperwind, all of the PVE realms look primed to get more connections down the line.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any significance to the number of realms being connected into single CRs; the Dethecus/Detheroc CR, with five realms, has still only got a small fraction of the populations on the larger CRs. There’s no way to tell what Blizzard thinks is an upper limit on the number of realms that CAN be connected to one another, but with both the Dethecus/Detheroc CR and the Boulderfist CR at five realms each at the end of Round 8, there’s no sign of really stopping.
  • Rank 35 Whisperwind picks up Dentarg, one of the lowest-ranking PVE realms, and consequently takes the prize for largest population in a CR yet. It’s ahead by a mile over the three other largest CRs, and again resets the goalposts in terms of what Blizzard might consider to be a healthy population. Unless the numbers of the two realms are somehow grossly exaggerated, this might presage even more additions coming to the Boulderfist CR, which is lagging in 4th place for raiding population amongst CRs at this point. It’s notable that the 5-6k range for raiders boosts these CRs to within the top 30 realms for raiding population.
  • The seven connections taking place in Round 7, followed by six in Round 8, signals that Blizzard is going full-steam ahead with the connection process. Granted, those numbers might be inflated from what was initially going to be a six-realm push in Round 6, but given that Blizzard backfilled with Daggerspine and Dentarg/Whisperwind, it seems like they’re not letting anything really stop the inexorable progress. It’s still possible that they might be keeping things light while priming up for BlizzCon and we’ll see stuff go fast and furious after Veteran’s Day.
  • As a follow-up note from my write-up last week on faction imbalances, the data for these rounds clearly demonstrates that tendency in action: all of the PVE realms have a notable Alliance bias, while all of the PVP realms have a notable Horde bias.
    • I think it’s significant that realms like Anvilmar, which had a dramatic Alliance advantage, saw the ratio brought down dramatically with the addition of Undermine; again, this appears to be done more to give the disadvantaged faction a larger playerbase to draw from simply so that play can take place, as opposed to attempting to balance the factions on the server.
    • However, for some of the super-high-pop mega-realms that have 99:1 ratios, I don’t see CRs being a solution, but Blizzard might ultimately be okay with certain realms being hugely biased to one side if there are enough players able to participate. If you’re Alliance on Illidan or Mal’Ganis or Horde on Sargeras, you just might be out of luck.

Growing Pains

The last week has seen some more dramatic bugs crop up in the connection process. The issue where all but one realm in a CR group has an issue where character avatars aren’t appearing properly on the forums hasn’t been resolved. After Rivendare’s connection in Round 4, several players reported losing mail attachments after the realm restarts. And worst of all, players on Nesingwary started seeing all manner of wackiness happening with their characters lists after Patch 5.4.1 was applied: active characters had disappeared or were locked, preventing them from being accessed, and long-deleted characters appeared unexpectedly. The issue has at this point been resolved after a bunch of intensive work by the tech teams, but it’s certainly a sobering reminder that this is still a new process and there’s still a lot of risk to all of the existing CRs and the realms being added to them as the operation continues.

I feel like I should stress that problems like this aren’t really possible to anticipate, and that Blizzard only has a handful of testing realms that have virtually nonexistent populations compared to live realms. As such, Blizzard hasn’t got any testbed big enough to really ensure that these problems can’t occur when they push it live. Bugs happen. Unexpected code interactions cause unexpected reactions. I think the management of the Rivendare and Nesingwary events demonstrates that Blizzard is taking the process very seriously and has all hands on deck to make sure players are able to get back into play without too much disruption.

But some disruption is almost certain to take place. We just need to be patient and be confident that at the other end of this process, everyone is going to be on realms with playerbases large enough to participate in any content, and that’s on the whole going to be better for the game.

I expect this coming week might be light on CR news with BlizzCon taking place, but I’m confident we’ll get some commentary from the devs on how they think the procedure is going, and maybe how things are going to play out in the future.

And hell, there’s just going to be a lot to talk about during and after BlizzCon. Stay tuned. ^_^