Being Useless

Via Tobold, I discovered a very insightful blog, the Greedy Goblin. I've wondered for some time now why I'm not particularly interested in playing WoW anymore. And now I have the answer.

Greedy Goblin describes the "theory of leisure", that one of the ways to attract mates is to show that you can afford to waste money, support useless people and do nothing useful. That you can afford wrecking Ferraris, buying bling-bling and having pompous parties all of the time. Or grind faction rep, complete achivements and get that last epic item. In TBC, I justified to myself that grinding mats for shadow resistance gear was required to reach Illidan, or respeccing to Deep Fire and Leatherworking just to kill Brutallus was reasonable.

But now.. in Wrath, leisure is all you have. Why get gear when blues are enough to kill almost every raid boss? Why grind rep when you don't need the enchant? Why complete achievements when you already have a mount? Or a title? Or a tabard? That just does not make sense according to my utilitarian mindset. And therefore I don't do it.

To think of it.. some of the animosity between "casual" and "hardcore" can spring from the theory of leisure. The strawman image of the hardcore is the "no-life" nerd, who seems to subconciously think that just showing that he can devote so much time to something as useless as MMORPGs, he can make people believe that he's successful enough to be able to afford to do that, even if he's neglecting other aspects of his life. In other words, he's relying on people to commit the fallacy of non sequitur. Conversely, the strawman image of the casual flaunts his real-life credentials, saying that he doesn't need the "vestments" of being successful.. and then wants them anyway. The hardcore will ridicule the casual saying that if the casual was really successful, he could afford the time and effort to get the vestments himself. The casual will retort that the vestments are meaningless anyway, and that the hardcore are overcompensating. My part in those arguments has been to show that the vestments require less time and effort than the hardcore says they do, which devalues them. And funnily enough, it's often the casual who I end up arguing against, because devaluing the vestments also deflates their argument that the hardcore are sacrificing too much.

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.


Occupational Hazards

I've seen quite gruesome sights on this journey, but this.. Fleshworks is something else. I've heard the stories and even fought some of the abdominations myself, but I've never seen them made. The floors are scattered with spare parts. Only.. every part once belonged to a living, breathing being. Now I understand why the captain forbade us from eating before battle.

"Private! Secure that cave!"
"Yes sir!"

There's two dead Geists on the entrance. I'm not taking any chances, so I crush their skulls just to make sure. Everything's covered by soot and ichor. Disgusting.

Eventually I arrive to one of the main chambers. The cave is illuminated by candles and torches, and I can barely see the edges. There's a toppled pile of metal bars on the floor. Someone's already been here. There's a figure standing next to a smooth slab of rock, with it's back turned against me. It's wearing a long, dark robe, the shoulderpads glow with unholy light and helm is made of bones. A necromancer! And the lump on the slab can only be his latest victim. The battle outside echoes in the caverns, so he must not have heard me. Yet. I have to take this chance.

"You monster!"
My hammer is deflected from the bone spires protecting his head. He turns, and looks at me with glowing yellow eyes.
"Ow! Dat does it! Is it doo much to ask for some peace and quiet?!"
The voice does not belong to a human, and now I see the fangs. It's a troll witch. I swing again, but my hammer hits only air.
"You can rest when you are dead, fiend!"
"Here? Hardly."


Stupid. I should have saved my blessings until after the witch has hexed me. My legs are stuck in the ice, and the felfire around the witch is condescing into a spell.
"Now before ya die.. I wanna know someting. Who do ya work for?"
"The Crusade will have your head for this!"
"Wat a coincidence. I was due to visit yer nice port after dis."
"Has your brain already rotten away? The only port nearby belongs to the Scarlets."
"So yer not a Scarlet? Oh. Oh!"
The felfire fades along with the spell.
"Sorry about de misunderstandin'.  It seems dat we're on de same side today."
"Lies. Lord Fordring would never hire someone like ya."
"Ya'd be surprised. Anyway.. Meet Crusader Olakin. As ya can see, he needs some medical attention."
"By the Light, he's in pieces!"
"Indeed. Now, hand me de thread."
"What happened to him?"
"Occupational hazard. It seems dat sabotagin' one of the most powerful armies on Azeroth can have some consequences."
"What are you doing?"
"Fixin' him. Cloth, leather, flesh.. it's all de same. Saw, please."


"Dere. Now we just apply some power and.."
"I can't watch."
"It's.. it's alive. It's alive!"
"By the Light!"
"Wh.. where am I?"
"I.. I died, didn't I?"
"Feelin' better?"
"Yes.. yes. Thank you, milady."
"So.. this troll does work for the the Argent Crusade?"
"Yes. Lady Shalkis has supported our cause since the Plaguelands. Lord Fordring can personally vouch for her."
"My apologies, miss. Miss?"
"Help me up. She's probably in the fray already."


Back on Track

With Storm Peaks done, it was time to move to the other endgame zone: Icecrown. I have only completed a few dozen of the 140+ quests in the zone, and it seems that Blizzard did spare the best for the last.

Icecrown is the first zone where phasing was built-in all the way. The main plotline starts with the Argent Crusade camp, which is being sieged by the Scourge. If you listen to Tirion Fordring's and the Ebon Watcher's dialogue, the Ebon Watcher correctly observes that the Lich King is using Tirion Fordring's morals against him by using captured Argent troops as meatshields. Fordring, being unwilling to kill his own troops, won't use artillery to break the siege. And that's where you come in. After you free the said meatshields (who, being paladins, buff and heal you), you get to the next phase, where the battlefield has been cleared of friendly troops and thus you're free to use the artillery. After  you've mopped up the rest of the Scourge, there is an another phase transition and the former battlefield quiets down. Soon afterwards you'll get a quest to start the next offensive to secure the next foothold. When you complete the quest, you gain access to a brand-new quest hub that wasn't on the map before. While seeing a full-size tower appear during the ten seconds it takes to return the quest is a bit funny, it's better than the alternative.

The Ebon Blade also gains a base with phasing. The deathknight on board the Horde airship , the Orgrim's Hammer, gives you a quest to contact an undercover death knight. The agent then instructs you to defeat and recruit a geist, a banshee and an abdomination from the Scourge outpost. Those three then help you fight an elite deathknight within the outpost. When you win, the Ebon Blade takes over the outpost, bringing along blacksmiths, vendors, an innkeeper, a mailbox, a flight master and all other usual amenities. And the three Scourge you recruited before stick around as questgivers. 

So far, so good.



After understanding that getting the questing achievement in Zul'Drak is impossible without group quests, I moved on to the Storm Peaks. The realm of powerful elementals, the dastardly iron dwarves andd the majestic giants..

..who ask me to participate in a snowball fight. Using a giant. Against mobs that I can kill faster myself.

But aside from the usual problems of low respawn and drop rates, running back-and-forth, the zone isn't that bad. It's the first one designed for flying mounts and it even uses phasing reasonably. For example, there is a big iron dwarf golem that's being constructed. It's a landmark for a series of quests, and eventually the iron dwarves manage to activate it. The mandatory faction grind with Sons of Hodir uses phasing as well.. and most of the time the reputation grinders are safely hidden away and won't tag any quest mobs. Of course, not every designer got the memo about this new, exciting feature, but it's not like Blizzard's famous for their consistent quality or anything.


A Little Push

Zul'Drak, the pride and joy of the Drakkari, who are brutal even by our standards. There is a sweet smell in the air, and it's not caused by the fortresses of death looming above, or my current prey. It's despair.

Their gatekeeper fortress, Drek'tharon has fallen. Their northwest border is being patrolled by the Scourge's trophies from the Storm Peaks, and the crusaders have enroached from the southwest. Their last bastion, Gul'drak, is teetering at the edge of oblivion. Their gods have turned against them, and in turn, they have turned against the gods. There is no place to run, no place to hide, and nobody to turn to. The Empire of Zul'Drak will die. Everyone knows it, even the Drakkari. All they need is a little push.

Well, more like a series of nudges. A new Scourge champion here, a crusader there.. All meticiously noted, cross-referenced and filed away by the Zandalar. The grand themes, the personal tragedies, the troop movements, and the minor details. Except.. a certain mercenary enjoying her work.

And there's so much to enjoy.  The righteous vengeance of emancipated slaves. The joy from a renewed offensive turning first into disbelief, hatred, fear and finally despair. The confusion of a soldier who's not sure whether he's looking at the face of his savior or his executioner. The glimmer of hope re-igniting in a washed-out god's eyes. Oh, and the killing. Oh yes. This is truly a blessed land. All of Azeroth is watching, and the audience is filled with luminaries. All I can say is..

Welcome to the great show.


Melee mages!

I dinged 80 and finally got the Mirror Image, the spell which is supposed to be at par with metamorphosis or exotic pets in coolness. I popped the spell, which summoned 3 copies of myself. They didn't seem to do anything until I hit a monster with a spell. They then fireblasted and ran into melee range with the mob, only to be summarily slaughtered. Oh well, perhaps I just don't know how to use the spell.

Try #2. This time I started with a Frost Nova, and the images fireblasted and started pelting the enemy with frostbolts. So far, so good. But why isn't the mob's health budging? I looked at the combat log, which showed that the mirror images only do about 100 damage per fireblast, and around 250 damage per frostbolt. Er.. what?

Try #3, PvP. An Alliance shadowpriest used Shadow Word: Death to kill one of my mirror images, which aggroed the other two. One of them casted Polymorph:  Penguin, and the other.. casted fireblast. Great, they're not only ineffectual, they're also morons.

Try #4, water elemental. Considering that the mirror images seem to use only frostbolts, polymorph and fireblasts, I wanted to see what they would do against a frost-immune mob. Sure enough, after the initial fireblast they didn't cast frostbolt.. instead, they started meleeing the elemental. And not only that, they were doing around 600 damage per glancing blow! They're actually more effective in melee than with spells. I feel bad complaining about my copies meleeing in various quests: the AI was obviously making the most of it's abilities.


Another derailment

With the Scholazar Basin done, I moved on to Zul'Drak. Zul'Drak is a zone which is a one big city, and thus I was hopeful. I liked the city of Kurast in Diablo 2, and hopefully the designers compared their notes.

However.. the very first quests are not promising. The very first quest involves killing a 100k hp mob which cannot be snared or slowed, and hits for 2.5k. Then there's a Wolvar rescue quest, where the supposedly friendly mobs were angry at me for being saved. And then there's a quest about Drakuru, the troll whose real agenda was supposed to be the big reveal of Grizzly Hills. Er.. what? Grizzly Hills has the same level range as Zul'Drak, yet the designers expect people to fully finish one before the other? They even share an instance, with build-up quests on both sides. It seems like the people assigning levels were not talking to the people making the quests and in the process ruined a perfectly good Nice Job Breaking It Hero moment the quest guys set up at Drek'tharon. In the Grizzly Hills, you first meet Drakuru, who has been captured by your local questgivers. Because the player fights the Drakkari elsewhere in the zone, doing some quests for Drakuru seems harmless enough. Of course, unlike the other questgivers, Drakuru only sends you against the pure Drakkari, not the plagued ones. But if you go to Zul'Drak first, Drakuru is already the local taskmaster for the Scourge, not some whiny little troll in a cage. It's obvious that the quest designers wanted Grizzly Hills and Drek'tharon to be completed first, but the overlapping level ranges undermined that. 

To think of it, it seems that the same issue is behind the design of Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord. The events of Borean Tundra happen before the events of Howling Fjord, which is why nobody in the Fjord sees the sudden contact with the Taun'ka odd. I think I'll opt for clearing the Storm Peaks before entering the Icecrown, just to make the storyline seem coherent.

Oh, and there's also one quest reward which was clearly unfinished. The Fire Extinguisher has staff graphics.. but is not a staff. It has DPS, it's a two-hander and it has weapon speed and flavor text. But that's it. There's no stats at all, leaving the item useless for both melee and casters. This would have been okay in the beta, but this is not even the release version. This is the patched version, and it still has a bug that's blatantly obvious to anyone who starts Zul'Drak.


Stuck in the Freezing Jihad

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm level 77 now, and the zones are starting to feel more and more tedious. I've been questing in the Hinterl.. Grizzly Hills. All of the old favourites are there: Camping and ninjaing of quest mobs, animals with no body parts, a whole lot of different vendor trash types to fill your inventory, quests which require you to travel all across the zone multiple times.. Fortunately I got my netherdrake back.

To top it off, the western part of the zone seems unfinished. The terrain and the doodads are there.. but considering the quest density of the eastern side of the zone, it seems that Grizzly Hills is missing at least 20 quests. It also seems like the main Horde base in the zone, Conquest Hold, has less quests than the small quest hub in the eastern part. The west has some Kill Ten Rats quests, a few quests against the only Vrykul presence in the zone, a small chain about the furbolgs, and the rest is in the eastern parts. The civil war between Rune Dwarves and the earth elementals, the Worgen, the Drakkari, the clues to Brann Bronzebeard's location and some more Kill Ten Rats. At least it wasn't as group-quest-happy as the Dragonblight, and I got only three group quests littering my quest log. I did run out of quest slots, though.

There's also a small PvP subzone called Venture Bay, where the Venture Company gets trampled between the Horde and the Alliance. Fair enough.. but it seems like it offers only level 74 PvP gear, just like Halaa and other PvP objectives in TBC. To top it off, it seems even more vulnerable to level 77+ players dominating it with flying mounts than Halaa or the Hellfire Peninsula towers. There's plenty of buildings to stand on, and it's somewhat simple to snipe any hostile forces trying to mow their way through friendly NPCs.

I like the looks, especially the height differences and the redwood trees, but the whole zone really feels like an afterthought.  

I've also switched to the Only Spec™ for mages, the deep fire/light frost Frostfire spec. Frostfire Bolt gets synergy benefits from both frost and fire talents, and the end result is a very crit-dependant build. Ice Shards coupled with Ignite means big crits.. but lackluster damage when you don't crit. And thanks to the diminishing returns from crit rating, my crit % has been steadily decreasing. It's probably the only accepted choice for raiding, though. Hopefully I'll ding soon, the rate at which the guild is clearing raid content is somewhat worrying, and they might be done with both 10- and 25-man versions of the raid content within a week or two. It seems that my worries about 10-man content being tougher than 25-man is misplaced, though. Apparently it can be cleared with five people.


Take Two

After I finally ran out of quests in the Dragonblight and unable to level further, I restarted Wrath by entering the Borean Tundra. Two levels later I can say that Borean Tundra is definitely the place to go if you're Horde.

First of all, the main theme of Wrath, the struggle against the Scourge, starts right outside Warsong Hold, and you'll run into Kel'Thuzad quickly enough. You're also re-introduced to the one of the major schisms within the Horde. And I'm not talking about the Forsaken here: It's Thrall's new Chessmaster approach versus Hellscream's "Orc Smash!". In the main hall of Warsong Hold, Garrosh Hellscream and Saurfang the Older discuss strategy. That is, whether to use strategy or not. Garrosh's drive to push through is understandable, considering that a creepy variety of the Vrykul ambushed the Horde ships and the Nerubians are literally undermining Warsong Hold. To stay still is to die slowly, but rushing into things might lead from bad to worse. Such as the quest to kill a necromancer that's been turning the local Horde farmers into monsters, cutting off the Horde's food supply. The necromancer is way out of your league, so Saurfang has to bail you out.

In general, it seems that all of the continuity in quest lines was made for Borean Tundra, and the Horde part of Howling Fjord was made as an afterthought. I missed a lot by starting at the Howling Fjord. To name a few:

  • The introduction of the Tuskarr and the Taun'ka
  • The civil war between the Red and Blue dragonflights
  • Scourge's overall objective to infect, dominate or resurrect ancient beasts
  • D.E.H.T.A. vs Nesingwary
  • Exodus of the Taun'ka and the start of integration of the Horde
  • Remnants of the fragile truce between Horde and the Alliance
  • Origin of the Gnomes, seasoned with a nice Cybermen homage
  • Murlocs, including one where you control a zerg of (non-combat) murlocs. Also, you get to loan the Blizzcon Murloc suit
And while the Blue Dragonflight obviously has been stealing Naaru technology, the overall look and feel of the place is very blue and thus omnious. You're also introduced to the crystal trees you'll see later around Dalaran. If you did the Nexus first like you were supposed to, arrival to the Crystalsong Forest should trigger an "Oh crap, they're here as well" reaction instead of just "Oo, pretty". There's also one room where the flames from the torches (along with everything else, including the air) are drawn towards.. a huge rift in space and time. The air around the rift is filled with blue drakes fighting etheral snakes, so it seems that the Blue Flight bit off slightly more than it can chew. Thus the resulting miniboss fight has a definite Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger feel to it. It also prepares the player for a questline in the Dragonblight where the Blue Flight tries to make a truce with the Ethereum, the antagonists from the Netherstorm. While there's plenty of reasons to dislike the jarring departure from the fantasy/steampunk mythos that was the Burning Crusade, having some plot glue is nice.

Eventually, you also get a glimpse of Malygos. However, he's somewhat of a disappointment. I was looking toward into seeing his insect-like, almost skeletal form that was described in the Day of the Dragon. Instead, he's just like every other dragon out there. At least Alexstraza got a decent model.

Eventually, I finished the rest of the quests in the Borean Tundra and returned to the Dragonblight. Now that the other half of the quests were open, getting to level 76 wasn't a problem. However, my quest log is rapidly filling with group quests, and I'll probably have to start rejecting quests soon.


Killing is my business..

.. and the business is good. Charred bodies as far as the eye can see. The stench of death fills my nostrils, and the screams of the survivors fill my ears. Truly, this is a work of art. With one small act of subversion, they have turned the tide of the war.. and shortsightedly aided their greatest enemy in the process. The Lich King can now breathe easily. The Alliance and the Horde will blame each other for this disaster, and will be too busy ripping each others' throats out to provide any credible opposition against the Lich King. Truly, this is a blessed land.

Yet.. there's so many excuses to slaughter and carnage, and so little time. Everyone here wants someone dominated, tortured, sold, killed and/or disintegrated, and I have to divide my time between all of them. Even the children of the Earthwarden seek my help. Oh, the irony. Just a few years ago, they would have attacked me on sight. The desperation behind their words of bravado is tastier than any flesh. They cannot afford to be picky, and they know it. Us "insects", the Gronn and now the Cult of the Damned have brought the fear of death into them. Beggars can't be choosers, and they all direly need what I'm selling.


Spectator Sport

After the fiasco of the last night's battle for Undercity, I tried again. Upon logging, I was promptly oneshotted. Twice. Apparently the event is up, because I can hear Sylvanas and Thrall yelling. I tried to get a bit closer, but got twoshotted by some unavoidable AoE. I run back.. and get swarmed by respawns. Sigh.

After some use of Invisibility, I bypass the respawns and see that Thrall and Sylvanas had killed a Doomguard boss. According to the yells, the dynamic duo is fighting Varimathras. I get a bit too close to a mob and I'm oneshotted. Again.

Eventually I figure out the safe range from which to follow the fireworks. Eventually, some Alliance arrives, the big boys speak about something.. and a question mark lits up on Thrall. Finally.


Off the Rails

I'm now about a quarter through the Dragonblight. I'm seeing level 77 people in a zone that's supposed to be level 72-74 and I actually ran out of quests at one point. Doing both the Fjord and the Tundra before the Dragonblight certainly seems to be the expected path. I eventually found a rather large Taun'ka village at the western edge of the zone, which is obviously the starting point for those who finished the Borean Tundra. Doing their quests opens up the main questlines for the zone: the integration of the Taun'ka to the Horde, their war against the Nerubians, the Wrath Gate and the Wyrmrest Temple. So yeah, Horde is definitely expected to clear the Tundra for the storyline to work.

I keep having the feeling that I'm doing something wrong. I get a quest to defend a Taun'ka chieftain against a Crypt Lord.. except that I don't need to do anything. The Crypt Lord just literally drops dead. Then I get a quest to disrupt the resurrection of Grakkarond, the forefather of the Dragons.. except that I don't need to do anything. Finally, I get to the main attraction in this theme park, the Wrath Gate. The cutscene is nice.. but the dragons just finish talking as the cutscene ends, so I have no idea what they were supposed to say. I start the Undercity siege questline and get a nice buildup at Ogrimmar, where Sylvanas, Thrall and Jaina are talking about sieging Undercity. They make me a portal and instruct me to join Vol'jin outside Undercity, which I do.

At Undercity, it seems that there's a siege going on. The orcs are cheering and the catapults are pummeling the outer walls.. but there's no defenders. I talk to Vol'jin and he tells me to talk to Thrall. There's an Orgrimmar portal behind me, which I cannot use. I'm guessing that Thrall will arrive soon. Any minute now.. Zzz.. I wait about half an hour. Maybe he's already inside. There's some more orcs there and even some at the Trade Quarter. I get to fight a few patrols of renegade Forsaken, but this siege is definitely less epic than advertised. I finally make my way to the Royal Quarter and.. nothing. No Thrall, no Sylvanas, no Varimathras. I get a momentary buff from both Thrall and Sylvanas, so they're around here somewhere.. and then everything respawns. An Abdomination pulls me to him and promptly twoshots me. I think I had been walking on the tracks of this particular rollercoaster and just got run over by the next set of cars. I do a corpserun, resurrect as far as possible from the Abdomination and keep mashing Blink.. but he pulls me back to him and oneshots me. I try again, with the exact same results. I double-check that I'm actually running the release version instead of the beta and log off. If I'm going to have to burn some experience points to get away from this mess, I might as well get some rested experience first.

Choosing the Arthas Option

One of the larger, underlying themes in Wrath of the Lich King is the retelling of the tale of Arthas through the various questlines of Northrend. While this was lampshaded by Arthas himself in the trailer, it seems that the point didn't hit home until now.

Blessing of Kings has a post about a questline where you torture someone to gain vital information, and many commenters as well as the poster himself were disgusted by that. And while that may be seen as a Take That on current U.S. politics, it also remains within the original theme. You're not supposed to choose.

To understand what's going on, we need to go back to where it started, the human campaign in Warcraft 3. I throughly enjoyed it because of such moments as Stratholme. Particularly because the viewpoints of all of the protagonists were understandable. Arthas was correct in that denying the Scourge a whole city's worth of troops was the right tactical decision, and that Uther's moral grandstanding prevented him from minimizing the losses. Medivh was correct in that the whole invasion put the humans in an unwinnable situation. Uther saw that Arthas was mostly motivated by ambition, vengeance and greed. He was not defending the citizens of Lordaeron out of compassion, he took it as a personal insult that the Scourge was stealing his subjects and undermining his upcoming rule.

Finally, there was Jaina, who stayed open-minded, realized the truth in Medivh's words and made the strategically right decision of cutting the losses and protecting the survivors of Lordaeron out of compassion.

IMHO, the problem here is that people don't like to be reminded that the quest structure in WoW is strictly linear. It's not a sandbox game where you "write your own story" and play out your character. You can't choose to be like Jaina, Uther or Medivh. It's a theme park where you see what the designers want you to see and do what the designers want you to do. Having your character picking the Arthas option on every step of the way is a conscious decision on their part. I expect the player characters to be be portrayed in the end as corrupt, hypocritical, selfish and evil as Arthas himself by the time you're smashing down the doors of Icecrown Citadel. That whatever happens, the world is going to still have a Lich King, even if that particular Lich King would not be Arthas/Ner'zhul. And then.. the player characters look down from the edge of oblivion at the last possible moment and step back.



It feels like the world has changed overnight. It wasn't long before when my associates were both fearful and glad that I was working for them, taking offense of my methods and the pleasure I derive from my work, while still being glad that my spells were aimed at their foes. All of that is now in the past.

In the last day, I've started a genocide against two species, tested weapons of war on live subjects several times, interrupted lovers' reunions, examined brains, slain ageless giants and executed people whose only crimes were not to be able to take on a whole fortress all by themselves. I even killed parents in front of their children, kidnapped the kids afterwards and delivered them to some greasy, yet laid-back people who have their own plans for them.

I am a monster, and they love me for it.

And it's not just me. Everyone is running around with newfound purpose in life. It seems like everyone decided that this is the time to seize their fate. By any and all means necessary.

Sure, I had doubts. Fortunately, one of my newfound associates sensed my inner turmoil and sent me to deal with it on a mountaintop. I fought myself, and cast that weakling into the Great Dark. I feel so much lighter now. My purpose is clear. I do not know where my fate leads me, and I do not care. And I'm loving every minute of it. The flames at my fingertips, the foolhardy roars of my opponents, the smell of burnt flesh and that moment of perfect mix of terror and defiance when they realize that their fate was to die by my hand all along. It is.. intoxicating.

Keep facerollin' rollin' rollin'

After finishing the Howling Fjord at level 71 I started the Dragonblight, even though some of my guildmates recommended that I do Borean Tundra first. When I arrived to the first few quest hubs, I saw why. Gray exclamation marks everywhere. Fortunately there were a few quests that got me to 72 and I could pick up some of the level 74 orange quests. If the Alliance is following my guildmates' advice, it explains all of those level 74-75 Alliance in the Howling Fjord. The four-level difference and the resulting ganking is sure to restart the cross-faction hate and hopefully provide some incentive for PvP later on.

The malady of having quest chains that make you go back to the same area multiple times continues with Dragonblight. I visited the Scarlet area of New Hearthglen at least five times, and one of the unfinished quests requires you to visit it three more times. Fortunately the nearest Forsaken town was not far away, but looking at the map I imagine that the Alliance will dislike New Hearthglen even more.

Dragonblight also contains the Wyrmrest Temple, the meeting place of all of the various dragonflights. Unfortunately, there seems to be little to be done there right now. Apparently I need a quest or my drake to access the upper levels. I also visited Ysera, but she was asleep as always. One other thing that I noticed is that the group quests start racking up. Howling Fjord had a few soloable ones, but instead of level 71 elite mobs with 20k hp there's now five level 74 elite mobs with 100k hp each. I haven't attempted them yet, because 100k hp is not something that I can just burn through and survive. At least not with the fire spec, which seems like the Only Spec™ according to guildchat. Frost doesn't even seem to keep up with Arcane.

As I mentioned before, getting a group to the starter instances seems to be really hard, with most of the server population already at level cap or near it. I eventually got into a guild group of two deathknights, a paladin and a shadowpriest and we entered Azjol'Nerub, the midlevel instance in the Dragonblight. I was initially worried that I was too low level to be of any use, but I was proven wrong quickly. Our highest-level character was a level 74 deathknight, the rest of us were around level 70-72.

The architecture of Azjol'Nerub is interesting. The place is really, really small. And by small, I mean: three rooms, three bosses. The interesting part is that it's a vertical instance. Most of the time you're walking on transparent spider webs and making your way down. We didn't have any healing set up, and the two deathknights kept competing for aggro. Still, we cleared the place quickly, with only one, completely avoidable wipe. The deathknights started tanking a mob in a spot where an endless stream of mobs tried to defeat the second boss, so in the end they were fighting three elite groups of three mobs each plus about a dozen of the endless adds. Aggro seems like a forgotten concept. Even with a deep fire single-target DPS spec, T6/SW gear and full cooldown usage I could not pull aggro from a deathknight dressed in greens. All of the bosses died very, very rapidly. We even lost one of the deathknights at the first boss with no ill effects whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the rest of the guild was PUGing Naxxramas. Let's just distill their experience to this single comment: "This boss is hard, he didn't die on first pull." I'm worried that Wrath is going to be an incredibly underwhelming experience from start to finish. It's quite telling that all of the raid content in Wrath was cleared 65 hours after release. That 30% nerf to everything before Wrath was not a freebie to let people finish TBC, it was a retuning of TBC to Wrath norms.

And as far as questing goes.. let's just say that my attitude is best summarized by Dark Legacy. Before Wrath I finished the Tranquilien quests using the same style and so far I haven't seen any reason to change. All I see is so much untapped potential.

For example, there was one questline in the Howling Fjord where a group of Forsaken Apothecaries are wondering why a nearby dwarven expedition has gone insane. I was hoping to encounter a Faceless One there, but.. nothing. You just grab the brains of the dwarves and the beer, and there's no followup. Or a quest where you get disguised as a worg to talk to a worg questgiver who assigns you to kill his upstart rival. That rival turned out to be a Worgen which was a decent plot twist in itself.. but the concept of a disguise was woefully underutilized. All it does is to avoid aggro from other worgs which you barely encounter on they way to the quest mob and feel like a shaman for a moment. However, using your own mount is faster and about as safe, so the point of the disguise is lost. There's also one questline where you enter the catacombs under a Vry'kul fortress where the Scourge is turning the Vry'kul into monsters. The walls of the catacombs are lined with dormant Vry'kul and one of the quests involves you waking them up and killing them. Five out of about a hundred, that is. And when you do wake one up, he dies. He isn't weakened or anything, he just drops dead. A whole catacomb full of Vry'kul that you never get to fight is a huge unfired Chekhov's Gun. Finally, there's a quest where you have to prevent a Vry'kul queen from waking up her king. When I entered that place, I saw full groups of Horde entering and exiting, so I assumed there was a a decent battle inside. No such luck. The place has barely any guards, and the queen itself died before I managed to cast a second Fireball. I've fought stronger trash mobs than this. So at least she managed to wake up the king, who's supposedly a badass? Kind of. The Lich King ports in, steals the Vry'kul king and taunts me that I need go to the instance I spent a day trying to get a group for to fight the Vry'kul king. I guess this is what they meant when they said that the Lich King would be involved in the storyline from the start. And to be fair, I did not see that coming. I never imagined that the Lich King would act like Jesse & James, the recurring comedy reliefs/villains from Pokemon. If he starts cracking one-liners I'm going to gank someone.


High Expectations

After reinstalling Vista, reinstalling Nvidia drivers five times and spending all of my limited free time time between release and Sunday fixing those issues, I finally got to play Wrath of the Lich King. Suffice to say, I was somewhat grumpy and thinking that Wrath better be the best expansion ever.

Naturally, it isn't. People are dinging 80 already, so I missed the initial leveling rush, so the initial instances are inaccessible. I've been more than 12 hours in the LFG queue so far. Unfortunately, some of the more undesirable parts of the leveling rush are still there, like about a dozen people fighting over drops from two mobs. Fortunately, all of the supposed group quests have been soloable so far. One of the more annoying things is that several hunters have read Big Red Kitty's posts about AoE grinding with a gorilla. I wouldn't mind otherwise, but they suck at it. When they inevitably fail and get their pet killed, the resulting zerg goes after me. Especially when I'm escorting an NPC who relies on proximity aggro. In one instance, I was questing in Shield Hills southeast of New Agamand when a gorilla hunter started AoEing. The only way to save myself was to jump into the water, which resulted in a long swim to the nearest elevator. I should have reserved Howling Fjord to my deathknight alt, at least he can ride on water. I suddently see the appeal of games like Fable, which are like MMORPGs, only with the other players are usually safely tucked away behind a chat screen, unable to mess things up. Hell is other people.

Note: None of the above is Blizzard's fault. The zone looks decent, and it has it's moments. Blizzard has it's own shortcomings, though. For example, quest hub design. New Agamand, a rather large settlement for the Forsaken has a handful of quests, and a two-hut Taun'ka village has at least three times as many. And that's just two of half a dozen or so quest hubs in the zone. There's the Vengeance Landing, the walrus village, pirates, Taun'ka spying on the Explorer's League, another Forsaken settlement.. It's like they wanted to have a quest hub every few quests.. and then failed to apply that principle to Winterhoof. That two-hut Taun'ka village has almost half of the whole zone's quests. Howling Fjord is classic WoW, in both good and bad. In TBC, you could pick up a bunch of quests from a well-defined quest hub, play for an hour or so and then return the quests, all at once. Fjord has plenty of quest chains where you first do fetch something, then go back to turn it in, only to return to the same area to fetch or kill something else. Granted, many of the quests suffering from that disease are about either testing the New Plague, assaulting the Vry'kul or researching the rune dwarves, and experimentation questlines do require some travel back-and-forth. But it's not like Blizzard doesn't know how to do these kinds of questlines. Terokkar Forest had a perfect example with the mana bomb questline. The first questgiver is right next to the village you're supposed to explore. You then eventually get sent near the Blood Elf camp, where there's an another NPC hidden close by, who serves as your primary questgiver from that point onward. The whole zone could make do with just a few settlements. There's also the concept of a summonable questgiver, which was introduced in Blade's Edge and is actually used in one of the Vry'kul questlines. But whoever made the Taun'ka quests obviously didn't compare notes with the other quest designers. Blizzard, learn from yourself.


Innovation, Blizzard Style

Innovation is hard.


The Ivory Tower of Vertical Content

I was recently listening to episode 7 of No Prisoners, No Mercy, and the hosts talked about the difficulties in making a pickup group for Karazhan and the attitudes of players that made the group fall apart. The hosts asked players who have visited Hyjal to comment, so here it is. I was initially planning on posting this as a comment on the episode page itself, but I felt that my reply was long enough to warrant a separate post. 

Basically, there's two basic ways of arranging content in a game. Horizontal means that you have a lot of variety, but little progression. Vertical is the opposite. Levels are vertical. You need to reach level 2 before you can reach level 3, and most of the raid content in WoW is vertical. You won't have a snowball's chance in Hell to get anything done in Hyjal if you don't have high-end Karazhan/Serpentshrine Cavern/Tempest Keep quality gear, and the knowledge and skills to match. Conversely, the pre-raid PvE dungeons in WoW are mostly horizontal content. Dire Maul was about as hard as Scholomance, and Shadow Labyrinth is about as hard as Arcatraz or Shattered Halls.

In my opinion, games need to have both, and maintaining a balance is one of the factors that makes game design hard. Variety is always good, but there also needs to be the next challenge in the horizon. As your knowledge, gear and skills improve, content that kept you at the edge of your seat before becomes trivial and boring. At that point it doesn't matter whether you're killing elves or demons or orcs if they all die within seconds. Likewise, if you know by heart that every enemy orc does X, Y and Z in that order, doing A, B and C to counter those moves becomes second nature and killing orcs becomes boring, even if doing A, B and C was appropriately challenging for you.

Arguably, Blizzard is vastly more focused on vertical content than horizontal, which is not that surprising considering that their lead game designers are former Everquest raiders, and they're making a game that they themselves like to play. Illidan's often-quoted one-liner "You are not prepared!" actually describes WoW pretty well. :-) Both the players and the designers know this, and expect everyone else to know this as well. And that's why people were concerned about raid composition, gear and experience (read: knowledge) in that Karazhan raid. Karazhan is not designed to be the starting point of the endgame PvE experience, the non-heroic instances are. I admit that I would also have concerns about a 600 spell damage warlock making a Karazhan group, because you can go much higher with nonheroic and heroic gear before even stepping into Karazhan. Especially if I don't know the player. Skill and knowledge are harder to measure than gear, and you can't always compensate one with one of the others, especially if there's a "gear check" encounter (like Curator) that you have to complete. The vertical progression in WoW goes so far that in some encounters your raid literally has to function like a well-oiled machine in order to succeed. And that is exactly what players wanted.

But what's wrong about giving players what they have been asking since Molten Core? That not everyone wanted it. Some people liked the less-demanding MC raids where you could chat, goof off and generally have fun with 39 of your friends. I have a good enough view from my ivory tower to see how that could be fun. My playstyle is not the One True playstyle for everyone. In my opinion, one of the major factors that made WoW the market leader was that it catered to different playstyles. That allowed Blizzard to get the most out of the network effect. If Blizzard undoes their good decisions and allows the balance to be swung too far in one direction (no matter what that direction may be), then they do deserve to lose market share. And Warhammer may be the game that all of those disillusioned players start playing. And that's good. Complacency kills, and even if I never end up playing WAR, the competition will help keep both Blizzard and Mythic on their toes, resulting in both games improving and thus benefiting fans of both games.


Jump-shotting tanks

Ebon Hold was somewhat better than Northrend. But not by much. Combat was tolerable, but I can't say that there was any tactics involved, just button-mashing. Fortunately you have a permanent buff that makes you feel overpowered compared to anything you encounter. Also, you get a run speed buff that works only inside Ebon Hold. That should make later visits to reforge your weapon much more tolerable.

There was also a sneak peek of the mount mechanics in the form of the Death Knight epic mount quest. In the quest, you have to steal a horse and ride it back to the quest giver. You mount the horse by right-clicking it and your action bar changes accordingly. If you turn while riding the horse, it turns appropiately in a wide arc. Well.. unless you're using a mouse to turn. Hopefully we don't see steamtanks doing jump shots in Lake Wintergrasp.

Frozen Solid

After the money SNAFU was sorted out, I stopped by at Vengance Landing for some sightseeing. A guildmate had warned about lag, and as soon as I arrived I saw what he meant.
The lag-o-meter says it's a mere 800 ms, but the real delay is around 2-5 seconds. I did a few standard-issue gathering quests. Thankfully, most of the mobs could be two-shotted so the lag wasn't really hazardous. The rewards were somewhat odd, though. Stamina, spirit and spellpower on gloves? I couldn't make heads or tails whether that was intended for mages, priests or warlocks, because that combination isn't optimal or even okay for any of those. The first quests in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley net you much better loot for about the same effort.

Here's a few screenshots of the new Forsaken design. I particularly liked how the ships are modified versions of the Orcish Juggernauts.
Forsaken ships
Forsaken Architecture

My bank alt spotted some NPCs in Orgrimmar screaming whenever a Death Knight arrived. Nice touch, but I bet it gets old when there's a dozen deathknights present at any time. So, next up is a spin on the instanced Death Knight starting zone.

I Am Not Prepared

After a half a day of patching, I finally got my WotLK up to speed and logged on.. only to realize that all of my gold is on my bank alt. Drat.

Melee vs Ranged Zerg

Tobold wonders whether the group dynamics in unorganized large-scale PvP are a result in players being stupider than the AI.

To answer his question: No, that's just how things work when there is no commander.

Here's what I observed during the Southshore vs Tarren Mill battles:

When it's every man for himself, even in a large group, people tend to attack the closest hostile target. If a melee enemy attacks a group, he's the closest target to everyone in that group. He gets zerged. When it's ranged vs ranged, everyone picks different targets according to their positioning within the group. They do favor targets on low health to finish them off, but attentive healers can prevent that from ever happening.

In both RTS games and in EvE Online, one of the most important tasks of a commander is to designate targets as "primary". You focus your firepower to one target to overwhelm the enemies' damage mitigation and healers. No such thing as a commander exists in unorganized large-scale PvP by definition.

However, Starship Troopers the movie shows something that could be used to make melee more useful in unorganized large-scale PvP: Directed throws. In the Klendathu battle, one of the bugs charges a group of marines, grabs a marine and throws him into the swarm of bugs. Naturally, the marine gets torn into pieces. The charging bug, although it's life expectancy is very low, can use the numbers of his allies to his advantage.

Currently, melee in MMORPGs cannot do that. Unless the whole friendly group charges, he's alone. And the friendly group won't do that unless they are certain of victory. That certainty can be achieved by either superior numbers or morale, and the lack of a commander makes achieving the second more difficult.

However, the Death Grip ability of the Death Knights in WotLK could achieve the same end result as the bug's charge+throw. But as always, the devil is in the details. In this particular case, it boils down to range. Can the Death Knight get close enough to Death Grip someone without getting zerged by the hostile ranged attackers?


Taking It Slow

Because I've been using the Only Spec for quite some time, I think I'll start with a fairly conservative 0/60/11. It has all of the oldies and the new fire goodies as well. Also, I currently don't have the mats for a Soulfrost on my Tempest of Chaos.

What is this WotLK I keep hearing about?

I guess I might have to start writing stuff again.


Death by Leech

Zubon has a disturbing insight about a recent lawsuit in China, RMT and US gambling legislature.

In the lawsuit, a judge ordered Blizzard/The9 to restore everything they took from a gold farmer, citing property laws. If anything virtual in game can be classified as property because RMT allows it to have a real value, then any game that relies on randomness is gambling, because you may lose or gain something of real value according to luck. And according to US law, it's illegal to transfer funds for online gambling. In other words, it would be illegal to pay to play an MMO where randomness dictates whether you win or lose. And that definition covers.. almost every MMO out there. RMT could end up killing the very industry it leeches from.

The most boneheaded thing about the whole issue is that Blizzard's Terms of Use were irrelevant in the lawsuit. They can't ban people for cheating. Granted, for Zubon's nightmare scenario to become reality, there would have to be a precedent in the US establishing the same principles as in the Chinese lawsuit. But the lawsuit in itself is bad enough. It's like taking your stuff back from a thief and then being convicted of theft yourself. Or being a victim of a can flipper in EvE. It's life imitating art.


Warhammer: 1.3 million subscribers

Serial Ganker has been doing the math, and estimates that Warhammer Online (or any other game entering the market) can attain about 1.3 million subscribers. Western subscribers, that is. The majority of WoW's 10 million players resides in the Far East, where Warhammer won't be released (at least for now).

However.. there's one disrepancy. As Green Armadillo pointed out, WoW has 2 million players in Europe and 2.5 million players in North America/Oceania.


Eredar Twins

Eredar Twins
Eredar Twins,
originally uploaded by Shalkis.
News about me quitting WoW have been slightly exaggarated.


The difference between instancing and sharding

Relmstein's been talking about seamless word design, but I think that he's a bit unclear about the difference between instancing and sharding. Both are used to avoid the problems of scaling (and introduce seams into the world), but there are a few critical differences.

I'll use WoW and EvE as examples, because those are the two games I know best. EvE is heavily instanced. Each star system is a separate instance, which makes sense. You can hardly interact with (read: shoot) someone who is several light years away. Conversely, it's possible to interact with someone in WoW if they're standing on the Ashenvale side of the Ashenvale-Barrens border and you're on the Barrens side. The WoW equivalent to EvE's jumpgate is the instance portal leading to Deeprun Tram. You go to an instance, but it's shared among all players on that realm/shard, and you can't interact with someone in Ironforge or Stormwind from Deeprun Tram. The difference is that there is always only one Jita (the most populated star system in EvE), but there are several Deeprun Trams, one for each realm/shard. Even if you wanted to, you cannot meet your friend in Deeprun Tram if he plays on a different realm/shard.

The problem with shardless design is that players are free to flock into a certain area and thus you more easily run into the issue of bandwidth demands increasing exponentially as the number of players nearby increases.

If a player makes any action, the results of that action must be transmitted to every player that can in any way be affected by that action. That includes everyone who is in visual range, because their clients must be able to render the animation for that action. As the number of players increases, so does the amount of bandwidth required to transmit the results to all witnesses. If there's only a few active players and a lot of spectators, the bandwidth requirements increase geometrically and the server is able to keep up. WoW, for example, can handle events where there are around 500-700 spectators with little or no percievable performance problems.

However.. if each of those players is an active participant and thus generates actions themselves, the amount of bandwidth required to transmit results rises exponentially. That same server that can handle 700 passive players will start timeouting people when around 200-300 people engage in combat.

WoW uses both instancing and sharding to combat that problem. At most, a dedicated instance can contain up to 80 players (Alterac Valley), so you only need to allocate bandwidth for that worst-case scenario. Sharding is used to divide the player base into so small groups that there isn't 200-300 players on any realm/shard that would be interested in engaging in one massive battle. It isn't a foolproof method, so Blizzard's been using instanced battlegrounds, arenas and geographically distributed PvP objectives to lure people away from the old Tarren Mill vs Southshore battles. I'm a bit curious about Lake Wintergrasp, though. Maybe Blizzard is more confident about their architecture this time. Or they just forgot some hard lessons of the past.


Unfair ban?

Apparently there's some commotion about someone named Lamaagetting banned by Blizzard for botting. Many people have risen to his defense, but I'd hold judgment for now. There's not that much evidence around.

A part of the problem is that the ban was a part of the latest wave of mass bans, so Blizzard's going to be swamped by complaints from both the innocent and the guilty. Lamaa says he's innocent. But both the truly innocent and the guilty would say that. People say that Lamaa would never do such a thing. I don't know Lamaa, these people or their motives, so that means little to me. From personal experience I do know that even people you like and trust can disappoint you. Blizzard does have an appeals process, but whatever department at Blizzard that's handling account suspensions and bans is going to be very busy for the foreseeable future, no matter how much hell Lamaa's blogging friends raise.

There's also been talks about fraud, since Lamaa did pay for a subscription, which he cannot use now. I don't think that appealing to fraud is going to help much. Blizzard can terminate the account at any time:

BLIZZARD MAY SUSPEND, TERMINATE, MODIFY, OR DELETE THE ACCOUNT AT ANY TIME WITH ANY REASON OR NO REASON, WITH OR WITHOUT NOTICE. For purposes of explanation and not limitation, most account suspensions, terminations and/or deletions are the result of violations of this Terms of Use or the EULA.

If Lamaa agreed to the Terms of Use, he also agreed to that part which says that Blizzard is not required to explain it's actions. End of story.

Well.. not quite. Maybe we should go through one hypothetical scenario: That he did purchase Glider, but didn't use it to powerlevel or farm gold. If he bought it, he probably installed it and started it as well. If Glider was running while WoW was running, Warden would have detected it, because it scans the process list. And as far as Blizzard is concerned, that's enough evidence to ban him:

It doesn't matter whether he actually used it to powerlevel or farm gold. If he did have Glider running at the same time as WoW, then he did break the terms of use and deserved to be banned. But as I said in the beginning, there's not enough evidence to make that call right now.

The moral of the story? Read those Terms of Use and End User License Agreements. They're not there just for show.


Negative synergies

While browsing the WotLK alpha wiki I spotted these two talents:

Burnout - Increases your spell critical damage bonus with all Fire spells by 5/10/15/20/25% but every time you critical with a Fire spell you lose an additional ?[internal entry blank]% of your total mana.

Hot Streak - Any time you cause 3 spell criticals in a row you have a 33%/66%/100% chance the next spell will gain 100% increased chance to score a critical hit.

So, if you crit you'll burn a percentage of your mana, and if you happen to chaincrit you crit some more. Hopefully Hot Streak has an internal cooldown or a counter that resets whenever it activates. But even then the "synergy" between these two talents can be devastating to the sustained damage of fire mages. Assuming you don't overaggro first, that is.


Betting on Failure Cascades

Tobold's been talking about how Age of Conan and Warhammer have been busy imitating World of Warcraft. He thinks that the developers are shooting themselves in the foot by providing a too similar experience to WoW. He's probably right, since the network effect is currently working in WoW's favor. However, there may be more to it than meets the eye. I think that FunCom and Mythic are betting that Wrath of the Lich King flops.

People do play WoW because their friends/family/coworkers play it. Breaking the network effect is hard, but it's not impossible. At some level, Blizzard does realize this. The old model was to funnel the whole player base towards high-end raid content. Homogenizing the player base is not unlike putting all your eggs in one basket. If you make old PvE content obsolete and your new PvE content is a major disappointment, your risk alienating a large percentage of your player base. If there's a viable alternative available that's praised by early adopters, the network effect could remanifest as a failure cascade, where the exodus grows exponentially. WoW doomsayers have been summoning this exodus for quite some time now, but so far it has not reached critical mass. This is why Blizzard has been promoting PvP more and more, because this reduces the overall risk. If your PvErs jump ship, the PvPers could stay put.

If AoC or WAR were only seen as good PvP games, many disillusioned WoW PvErs would not see them as viable alternatives. But if they provide incentives in the form of decent PvE games, they could attract both PvErs and PvPers and thus increase the chance that WotLK's failure cascade would direct all of those potential customers to them.

It's a risky bet, though. Like Tobold points out, there is a real danger that AoC and WAR will be simply seen as cheap copies of WoW. And even if Tycho threatens to sing if people point that out, it's still a valid point.


The pre-WotLK wait is here

My guild's been stuck on Kalecgos for a few weeks, so our raid leader called for a two-week raid break. Considering that I've been playing more EvE than WoW (even during raids), I welcomed the break.

Now with about a week and a half through the break, the 25-man raid announcements have started popping up on WoW Raidar once again. However, there's only 8 signups. With Age of Conan out soon and WotLK probably due to be released around Christmas, many people seem to be in the wait-and-see mode. Still, I'm getting a deja vu. I had two guilds pre-TBC that stopped raiding after a few wipes on Razuvious. That time I could get a few upgrades from PvP that were good for PvE, but that isn't the case here. If I'll never enter Sunwell again, I have almost as good gear as I can get. If history does repeat itself, there's no reasons left for me to resume my subscription until WotLK.

So.. I will wait and see.


The Turtle Smiles

I hope this clears up any confusion or frustration you may have about this situation, the only thing I have left is that I would like to take this time to remind you of our stance on Defrauding or Attempting to Defraud a GM, Kiranth

Is it just me, or does Auryk's avatar have a shark smile?


Prokofy Neva vs. Broken Toys

I wonder if there's a corollary to Godwin's Law that explains all of the Stalin references in this epic thread..

Is it so hard to understand that maybe, just maybe, sandbox and theme park-style games can co-exist? You may like one type more than the other, but that doesn't mean that everyone else is wrong and as bad as Stalin/Hitler/whatever.

But then again, this is the Internet. And when duty calls, we must do our part.


Nerf fire, buff shoes!

Fire is totally overpowered, it burns my shoes!


Things left unsaid

WoW Insider has a few articles on mage vs warlock rivalry. And I'm a bit conflicted on what to say.

I could say "I told you so". I could say that they need to QQ less and pew pew more. I could say that I outdamage warlocks. I could say that complacency kills. I could say that our arsenal of AoE skills balances things out. I could say that the utility we provide is enough to tip the scales. I could say that nobody is a "pure" class anymore. I could say it'll be better in 2.4 or at the Wrath of the Lich King. I could say that Blizzard just needs to fix the itemization. I could say a lot of things. I could even say that I don't care anymore.

But I'd just be lying.


Kalgan on Effort vs Rewards

Many "hardcore" raiders might nod approvingly at this comment by Kalgan:

I definitely think there's a valid argument to be made that the time investment and organizational requirement versus reward aren't balanced well enough right now
However, you should be careful what you wish for. Balance goes both ways. If Blizzard ever realizes how difficult the PvE encounters really are and balances the game.. a flamewar of epic propotions will ensue.


Fighting my inner demons


Mages will get new abilities in the expansion too, believe it or not. In fact, we intend to tone down how strong of a counter warlocks are to mages through the wotlk spells/talents.

Must.. not.. make.. a.. cynical.. comment..


Warlocks using mage gear?

I recently listened to the WoW Insider podcast where the topic of the day was the Warlock Life Tap change on the PTR. While my guild's warlocks have been up in arms about it, I haven't paid much attention to it. Until one of the hosts on the podcast mentioned that warlocks might start to favor mage gear. That comment was worth a chuckle for a variety of reasons. Suffice to say, I doubt that any sane warlocks will pick mage gear, since mage gear isn't optimal for mages either. If warlocks (especially Affliction warlocks) want to waste item points on spirit and spell crit, go right ahead. Maybe some poor fool even spends dkp on a certain robe.


How to kill Shartuul

By request, here's a guide on how to kill Overseer Shartuul, the soloable world boss encounter at the western plateau at Blade's Edge Mountains. If you can complete the prerequisites, anyone can defeat Shartuul. Race, gender, class, spec or gear will make no difference whatsoever.

But first, the prerequisites. You have to have completed the initial Ogri'la questline to be crowned the king/queen of the ogres and acquire Honored reputation. At that point, Kronk will ask you to Banish the Demons. As a reward, you get a Darkrune. You will also gain access to the followup daily quest, Banish More Demons, which rewards you either with an another Darkrune or a Darkrune Fragment. Collect 5 fragments and you'll get a Darkrune.

Now, go talk to Gahk, who'll upgrade your Darkrune to a Crystalforged Darkrune. Now you can challenge Shartuul and kill him. In theory, that is. Personally I recommend getting at least a few Charged Crystal Foci first. When properly used, these will allow you to "reset" the encounter. But more of that later.

So, off to Shartuul's teleporter, which is located northeast of the Skyguard camp. Avoid the Felguard Degrader and walk into the teleporter. Now, use your Crystalforged Darkrune. This will allow you to take control of the Felguard and start the encounter. Your own body will be safely hidden inside the teleporter.

Phase 1 of the Shartuul encounter involves you trying to break the Teleporter's shield while Shartuul sends his Felhound and Imp minions at you.

When you took control of the Felguard, your primary skill bar got replaced with the Felguard's skills:
Mortal Strike - your standard melee attack. Use it whenever you can.
Mighty Whirlwind - Point-blank range AoE attack.
Terrifying Roar - AoE fear.
Chaos Charge - Charge attack with an AoE element. Your key to completing the first phase of the encounter.
Smash Shield - Throws your hammer to break the teleporter's shields. Use it immediately when it's ready.
Absorb Life - Point-blank AoE life drain. Requires a Charged Crystal Focus to use. It's somewhat bugged, and not really required to complete phase 1.

Shartuul will start spawning his minions after you've used Smash Shield once. The first few waves could be killed using Mortal Strike alone, but it's better to get used to the rhythm now. Pick a corner and let the minions come to you. You'll quickly notice that the Felhounds will get into melee range immediately, the imps stay back and pelt you with fireballs. When all of the Felhounds are attacking you and you have an Imp nearby, run towards the imp and use Chaos Charge at around 10 yards. The direct damage from the charge should kill the Imp, and the AoE should kill all Felhounds around you. This simple manouver is the key to completing phase 1.

The number of Felhounds will ramp up as you keep damaging the shield with your Smash Shield. Since the Felhounds don't spawn all at once, you'll find that the cooldown of Chaos Charge becomes a problem. This is where the other skills come in. If you have a large amount of Felhounds at you and no imp nearby, use Mighty Whirlwind. While it takes longer to finish than Chaos Charge, it too should kill all Felhounds who received full damage from it. Your other primary skill, Terrifying Roar, can be used to avoid excessive damage from the initial Felhounds. Fear a bunch of them. They'll return by the time the Imp gets in range. Just stay patient until all of the Felhounds have returned to you. This is a perfect opportunity to use Chaos Charge to kill all of the minions at once. Remember to keep an eye on your Smash Shield cooldown.

Once the shield reaches around 20%, all remaining minions die and a Doomguard is released from the Teleporter. This is the end boss of phase 1. He does more damage than you, so stay away from his melee range and especially his flames. Wait until he gets in range and use Chaos Charge. Immediately afterwards use Mortal Strike and Terrifying Roar. This manouver will allow you to do damage to the Doomguard while denying him the opportunity to do the same. While he's running in fear, run as far as you can and wait for your Chaos Charge cooldown to recharge. Repeat. When he is almost dead your Felguard gets stunned and your life is drained. Congratulations, welcome to phase 2.

Phase 2 is similar to Phase 1. There's no shield to break this time, only waves of minions to fight. This time you'll control the Doomguard Punisher, which has a different set of skills:
Punishing Blow: Standard melee attack. Does more damage against stunned targets.
Fel Flames: Channeled AoE attack that lets you damage enemies in front of you. You can move while it's being cast.
Throw Axe: Ranged stun with a minimum range.
Super Jump: Ranged charge with an AoE stun element.
Consume Essence: Single-target life drain.
Bombing Run: Special attack which makes you reflect all enemy attacks and deal random damage to all enemies. Consumes a Charged Crystal Focus.

The minions you'll be fighting against are Mo'arg Tormenters and Gan'arg Underlings. The Gan'arg will melee you and construct cannons. Never let them do that. If you see one channelling a blue beam, stop whatever you're doing and stun/kill it. While you have a lifedrain attack, it isn't enough to offset the damage done by the cannons. Finally, the Gan'args can shield and heal the Mo'arg. This is seen as a red beam effect. Don't let them do that either. Stun or kill the Gan'arg and he'll stop.

The larger Mo'arg Tormenters will shoot poison at you, and have much more HP than the small Mo'args. These are your main targets in this phase.

Like in phase 1, the first waves are easy and no Mo'args will spawn. Super Jump towards the Gan'arg, use your Fel Flames to do AoE damage while you melee them down. Kill runners with Consume Essence or stun them with Super Jump or Throw Axe.

When a Mo'arg spawns, Super Jump to it as soon as possible and get a few Punishing Blows through while it's stunned. Remember to activate Fel Flames, and manouver yourself so that all of the Go'args are hit. The Fel Flames have a small stun effect, so you'll both do significant damage and stop them from rescuing the Mo'arg. When Fel Flames is on cooldown, run away and use Throw Axe or Super Jump to resume your stunlock. Your Punishing Blow requires the stun to do significant damage. If you need health, use your Consume Essence on Go'arg runners. It does around 90% damage, so choose wounded targets to finish them off. If you feel overwhelmed, you can use Bombing Run to get a breather.

Eventually, the Shivan Assassin will be activated. If you have any Go'args still running around, kill them first. Like in the phase 1 boss fight, the Shivan Assassin does much more damage than you, so you can't afford the extra damage inflicted by cannons. Bombing Run is highly effective here, since the Shivan Assassin has plenty of ranged attacks that you can reflect back to her. However, she can be defeated without the Bombing Run. The key to that is to keep her stunned as long as possible and dish out those Punishing Blows. Super Jump her. When the stun ends, run away and Throw an Axe at her. Keep your Fel Flames up while you're meleeing her. Eventually, your life will be drained and you take control of her. Welcome to phase 3.

Phases 3, 4 and 5 involve you controlling the Shivan Assassin and fight two of Shartuul's pets, and finally Shartuul himself. The Shivan Assassin has 3 different "stances": Fire, Shadow and Ice. The stance changes have a cooldown, so knowing when to use each of the stances is vital.

Aspect of the Shadow: The stance you use when you need to regain health.
Death Blast: Shadow damage spell. If the target had a Siphon Life debuff, the debuff is consumed and you heal yourself for a significant amount.
Siphon Life: DoT that also heals you. Keep it up whenever you can. When it's about to expire, use Death Blast and recast Siphon Life.
Shadow Nova: Point-blank spherical AoE spell which does damage and heals you.

Aspect of the Flame: Your damage-dealing stance. It has passive 20% bonus to movement speed.
Pyroblast. Fire damage.
Flame Buffet: Fire damage debuff. Stacks up to 10. Keep those 10 stacks up and you'll do decent damage with Pyroblast.
Cleansing Flame: Removes debuffs from you. Use whenever you get debuffed.

Aspect of the Ice: Your damage-mitigation stance. Generally you want to use it for the Ice Block and switch away as soon as the danger has passed.
Iceblast: Ice damage. Deals more damage if the target is frozen.
Icy Leap: Frost Nova coupled with a self-inflicted knockback. Only occassionally useful.
Ice Block: The mage version on steroids. Lasts only 4 seconds, but it also reflects spells while it's active. This spell is literally a lifesaver.

Whew. That's a lot to remember, and the first attempts to fight with the Shivan Assassin will probably end badly. Fortunately.. you have a reset button:

Chaos Strike. Ranged spell which requires a Charged Crystal Focus. While it has plenty of effects, it's particularly useful with the Shadow stance. It applies a debuff which greatly increases damage done.. and life drained. If the target is debuffed with Chaos Strike and Siphon Life, a Death Blast will heal you to full. If you are about to die, use the Chaos Strike.

So, off to the monsters. In phase 3, you fight the Eye of Shartuul, a beholder. He moves relatively slowly, but applies a nasty debuff in melee. Stay away from him. His standard attack is a Fel Fireball. It hurts a bit, but isn't particularly dangerous. He also places stun fields. You'll see when he's casting one, so you have plenty of time to move away. Make sure you don't step in one. Stunlocking yourself is not wise. Finally.. he has a Dark Glare. It does a whole lot of damage, and if you get hit by more than one of these you'll probably die. It has a long cast time, so you have time to switch to Ice Stance and Ice Block.

Start Phase 3 in Shadow stance. As soon as the Eye of Shartuul spawns, apply Siphon Life and the Shadow Nova debuff to it. Switch to Fire stance and start applying those Flame Buffets. If he's casting a Fel Fireball, cast a Pyroblast. Otherwise keep your distance and avoid those stun fields. Counter Dark Glare with Ice Block. Immediately afterwards switch to Shadow stance and use the Death Blast just in time to consume Siphon Life and heal yourself. Reapply Siphon Life and Shadow Nova and switch back to Fire stance. Repeat. The Eye of Shartuul is not particularly difficult, but Dark Glare can kill you.

Phase 4: Hound of Shartuul. He's a melee-only mob, so you'll be spending most of your time in Fire stance. As before, start in Shadow stance, apply debuffs and switch to Fire Stance for Flame Buffets. However.. the Hound of Shartuul can charge you and apply a nasty snare. Use Cleansing Flame to get rid of it and run away. Switch to Shadow Stance before your Siphon Life expires and regain some life. You should end this phase with 100% health.

Phase 5: Shartuul. This is where you'll probably need those Charged Crystal Foci. Start in Shadow Stance as usual. Shartuul will start the fight by flooding the arena with eyestalks. These eyestalks have a nasty Mind Flay that stacks. Shadow Nova will get rid of them and heal you, but there's a small but annoying bug that will make the eyestalks ignore it for a few seconds after they spawn. If you're being attacked, it's usually safe to use Shadow Nova. Shartuul himself should be in the arena by now. Apply Siphon Life on him and run to an another set of eyestalks and Shadow Nova them too. Switch to Flame stance and start applying those Flame Buffets while casting Pyroblast. When you get debuffed, use Cleansing Flame. If he starts to cast Incinerate, use Ice Block. If he resummons the eye stalks, use Shadow Nova. And whatever you do, remember to consume Siphon Life with Death Blast and reapply it. This is a long fight and you'll need that life.

Simple? Not really. The tricky thing in phase 5 is that Shartuul is somewhat random with Incinerate. He may cast if before or after the eyestalks, or skip casting it altogether. If you go to Ice Stance too soon, you'll risk letting either Flame Buffet or Siphon Life expire. If you switch stances too late you get hit with huge damage. Or you may get stuck in Ice Stance while the eyestalks peel away your health. Or get rid of the eyestalks and not have enough time to Ice Block. And once you get "off schedule" once, it's easy to keep messing up the timing. If that's the case, don't shy away from Chaos Strike. Get full health and try to get a hold of the timing. If you keep Flame Buffet and Siphon Life up, avoid Incinerates, get rid of eyestalks and remember to consume Siphon Life regularly.. Shartuul should eventually die.


Curing Purple Fever

Tobold posted about the relative value of purples. While mudflation and applying economic theory to MMOs isn't new anymore, there was one tidbit that caught my attention:

Raiders should learn that it is in their self-interest to spread out the epics more evenly.
While it's easy to say that one shouldn't care too much on who gets a particular epic, that won't be much consolation to people stuck in the vicious circle of purple fever.

You don't want to let other people have epics if you aren't sure whether they'll stick around or not. So you'll make arbitrary rules on who is eligible for a particular piece or loot, who won't get invites to raids etc. Naturally, all of that will just breed more distrust and envy. Eventually some people will leave, devaluing the guild of the collective benefit of their epics. To discourage that, you'll make even stricter rules, which cause more people to leave. Then, during a night of wiping at a previously easy boss because your class balance is screwed up.. tempers flare and guild breaking drama ensues.

I'm currently in the opposite self-reinforcing loop, where loot is plentiful and drama nonexistent. Unfortunately, reversing vicious circles is hard and painful at best, and quite impossible if you're deep enough into the downward spiral. To many, being an officer or a guild leader is the first time they're actually in a management position, so it's no surprise if they fail at detecting, let alone correcting these kinds of issues. But if you do succeed.. perhaps listing "Guild Management" in your resume isn't a bad idea after all.


Cloth Rocket Boots

From the French forums: There will be a cloth version of the Rocket Boots Xtreme.


Blizzard 1 - Peons4Hire 0

Blizzard just won an injunction against Peons4Hire, forbidding them from interfering with the game.


Sex, Drugs and RMT

Broken Toys has quotations from an another IGE lawsuit. Only this time it's the insiders suing one another. The feeding frenzy has begun, and I have my popcorn ready. Virtually Blind has more.


Game Over


..and After.


The End

The End
The End,
originally uploaded by Shalkis.
You know the best part of killing someone? The look on their face. It's that look. Not when they're threatened. Not when you hurt them. Not even when they see my spell. It's when they realize that they will die. Right here, right now.


Punctuality and Discipline

Zanderfin's been wondering about raid punctuality. Here's my two cents.

When I joined my current guild I wondered how they were able to clear raid instances in just 3 hours. Not anymore.

First of all, signups and therefore raid tuning is done a week ahead of time. Invites start 30 minutes beforehand. If you have a tight schedule, you're expected to get your consumables, repairs etc ready beforehand and log off near the instance. When you receive the invite, you're supposed to drop whatever you're doing and start heading for the instance. You're expected to help with summoning the furthest raid members. Raid start time is when the first pull is made, ready or not. At that time everyone is in the instance. Buffs have been done and water/food/healthstones have been distributed.

During the raid itself, everyone is expected to know what the mobs do and what you should do. Certain raid markers are always reserved for specific purpose. For example, triangle, square and circle are reserved for crowd-controllable humanoids. Classes are expected to organize their duties by themselves. When that green triangle pops up, I'll always know that I'm expected to Polymorph that mob during the pull.

At bosses, there are no extensive tactics explanations. Everyone is expected to read the tactics beforehand, and 90% of the time the only discussion is about picking people for specific roles, group reassignment etc. Preferably, all discussion about specifics is done beforehand on the forums. If we kill the boss, loot is distributed quickly. If you don't bid for an item, it'll be disenchanted in 20 seconds. Meanwhile, people are being resurrected and rebuffed. Tanks and crowd-controllers are already setting up for the next pull. If we wipe, everyone's expected to be ready for the next attempt in five minutes.

During the raid, there will be one longer pause (long=5-10 min). That's enough for food, a bio break or a chance to sate your nicotine addiction.

If you have a bad connection, you're expected to notify the raid leader and preferably find yourself a replacement. If you screwed up, you're expected to admit it. Not learning from your mistakes is grounds for a kick from the raid. A farm-status boss will only be attempted for a maximum of 3 times, unless problems that led to the wipe(s) were clearly resolved and won't be repeatable. The raid leader relocate the raid to a different instance or even disband the raid early if no progress can be expected.

Sounds harsh? Perhaps it is, but it works. Nobody's kidding themselves here. We don't go to an instance to spend an evening. We go to an instance to progress as far as we can, because that's what we like. To defeat challenging enemies like a well-oiled machine. This requires a lot of self-discipline and being responsible for yourself. Nobody will hold your hand.

Self-discipline also ties to the age-old discussion about casual and hardcore players. One can attain the oxymoronic rank of a casual raider by focusing on the quality of time, not the quantity. Spend less time yet achieve more.

At worst, WoW is like work. You spend long hours doing some mindlessly dull task while trying to tolerate your mindless associates and a frothy-mouthed, always-yelling boss. At best, WoW is like work. You arrive at your workplace refreshed and eager to work. You use your skills to solve problems many thought to be impossible. Customers praise you and your boss can't wait to reward you appropriately. And you go home early.


WoW, WAR & Persistent PvP

Tobold spotted Keen and Graev compare WoW's and Warhammer Online's PvP. I've also touched upon the issue while dicussing persistence, but Tobold does point out that if you give players immunity due to barriers such as factions, someone's going to abuse it.

EVE Online, on the other hand, has no such thing as predetermined factions, so players are free to punish former teammates as they please. The plurality and fluidity of player alliances ensures that no group has uncontestable supremacy, which keeps the game interesting.


Oo, shiny!

We're back in Black Temple after the holidays and proceed to Teron Gorefiend without major hitches. But then I do something completely foolish that had me cursing myself for the rest of the evening (and probably the next week). I bid on the Robe of the Shadow Council.

A caster robe with decent stats, lots of spelldamage and spell crit. How's that bad? It's bad because this item level 141 robe was worse than the item level 105 robe I was wearing, the Frozen Shadoweave Robe. Let's look at the stats, shall we?

Robe of the Shadow Council:
37 Stamina
36 Intellect
26 Spirit
28 Spell Critical Strike Rating
73 Spell Damage and Healing

Frozen Shadoweave Robe
30 Stamina
20 Intellect
Yellow Socket
Blue Socket
Socket bonus: 3 Spell Hit Rating
72 Shadow Damage
72 Frost Damage

At first glance, the choice seems obvious. Roughly the same spelldamage, but the former has more spell crit. As always, the devil is in the details, or in this case, sockets. If you equip the Frozen Shadoweave Robe with a Veiled Noble Topaz, (+4 spell hit and +5 spell damage) and a Glowing Nightseye (+5 spell damage and +6 stamina), you'll increase the stats by 7 Spell Hit, 10 Spell Damage and 5 Stamina.

Let's look at the new stats.
36 Stamina
20 Intellect
7 Spell Hit
82 Spell Damage.

Now, is 9 Spell Damage and 7 Spell Hit worse than 28 Spell Critical, which is 1.27% crit? Nope.

Let's factor in the remaining stat differences. 1 extra Stamina equals 10 hp, and 16 extra intellect equals +0.2% more crit. If you factor in Improved Divine Spirit from a friendly priest, you get 2.6 extra spell damage (10% of your Spirit) from it. So here's the final results:

+10 HP
-6 Spell Damage (rounded)
-7 Spell Hit
+1.29% Spell Crit

With my gear, that's roughly a 20 dps loss. Giving up 20 dps for 10 hp is simply not worth it. And as a final reminder, this is a comparison of item level 105 and item level 141 robes. Pre-Karazhan loot should not even compete in the same league as Black Temple loot and definitely not outperform it. I could go on a rant about how clueless Blizzard item designers are, but.. It's not the fool who asks, it's the fool who pays. In this case, me.


The End of the Beginning

The winds and the three-phase hum of the mongrels' spell pulls me back to the dreary reality of my predicament.
"Oh, ya are awake."
"You will never catch me unaware, mongrel."
"Now why would I wanna do dat, hm?"
The sound of metal clattering on rock attracts my interest and I turn my head. The troll has brought me my armor and weapons.
"Returning stolen property after the fact will not save your neck at the tribunal at Silvermoon, troll."
"But it might save yer own. Ya could have gotten it all back if ya just asked, but ya chose to.."
"I chose nothing! And no elf will ever accept.. scraps from a troll's table, assuming you ever know what such a thing is."
"Now dat is just rude. If ya do not accept a gift of life and freedom, perhaps ya will take it by force? Go on, dress up. Ya'll need yer.. scraps soon."

I grab my chestpiece and start strapping it on. I keep my blade and my bow at arm's length while I fit in the rest of my armor. There's no telling when the beast is finally unable to contain itself.


"Murderous mongrel. I wondered when the rampaging beast that you are would be unleashed."
"Ya'll see rampage all right. But murder requires intent and premeditation. Odderwise it's just plain old-fashioned killin'. I have no intention of killin' ya, derefore I'm not a murderer. Not.. yer murderer, anyway."
A lack of killing spirit, a fatal weakness. The limp arm is an another, and exposes her flank to my attacks. Cutting through her shoulderpads should not be a problem, but her sorcery might slow my blade enough. I'll have to sink my blade to her armpit, past that useless arm. Still, getting into position can prove to be difficult and I have to exploit any openings immediately.. If only I had Airin to distract her..
"Even Airin's blood was purer than yours. You deserve death for just what you did to her."
"Perhaps ya should have not sent it to it's death so easily. Dat's not someting a responsible master would do."
I make a rising sweep towards her limp arm. If I can just cut it off..
The troll takes a half-step backwards and chuckles: "Oo, frisky, aren't we?"
"Shut up and die."
I follow up with a downward lunge, driving my blade towards her other shoulder. Forcing her to plummet to the death she planned for me might not help me get down, but will be immensely satisfying.
The troll takes a sidestep and my blade hits nothing but air. I feel magic around her and instictively turn around, ready to block her poisonous, pitch-black blade. She may not possess strength, but one hit from that accursed blade would put me at even worse disadvantage. Her blow is harmlessly blocked, but I doubt she'd have the strength to split my skull anyway. She doesn't even try to press through my defence, but feints a thrust and retracts her blade only to lunge again. My armor deflects her blow and I press my sword down towards her outstretched arm. She lifts her blade up and only barely misses my head. Our weapons clang together. I force my blade down to her hilt and push her away. I feel her magic and make a broad sweep with my now-released blade with a single arm to my back and feel a satisfying clang. And a rather unsatisfactory sting in my wrist. Damn. The cut wasn't deep, but I can already feel the blade's powers working against me. I turn around and grip the blade with both hands. There's no more time for finesse. I push my blade and complete the sweep, but she ducks and deflects my strike upwards. She lunges forwards and nicks my cheek with the tip of her pitch-black, seething blade. For a moment, I thought I saw.. it's just her damn tricks. I continue the swing and make it a full circle. The force of my blow sends her reeling backwards.

"You are weak, troll."
"Two points for me, zero for ya."
"This isn't a game!".
"Says ya. Now stop tryin' to hit me and hit me."

The curse is taking effect. Her blue robes seem to be drenched in shadows, and her eyes burn. Her blade seems less like a weapon, and more like an extension of her arm. The limp arm flays in the wind like tattered cloth. I don't have much time before the fear takes hold of me. I lunge forward, but hit only shadows. The back of my neck explodes with pain, and I feel like touched by death itself. I make a wide sweep and hear that satisfying clang which echoes in my mind. I resume my two-handed grip and lash out at the shadows. The pain finds an opening in my elbow joint and slithers in. Another snakes around my waist, and the third almost forces me to drop my blade. How did it get so fast? Or did I get slower? Where are those eyes? I must strike at the eyes.. I hear a strong breathing sound all around me, like a dragon preparing to..

The sound seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. And not just one. Legion. The shadows flow back into a vaguely humanoid form. Her handclaw scrapes the rocks, and the seven imps are laughing at me, while the sixty-seven mouths just grin.
"it SeeMS datdatdatdat ya lost"
"Lost! Lost! Lost!"
"yer ChanCE to reCLAIm yer fre-fre-freeDOM by force."
"Force! Force! Force!"
"but FEAR not."
"Fear! Fear! Fear!"
"To-to-to-to-day IS dE day OF fORGiveness. aLL can be UNdone."
"Undone! Undone! Undone!"
My vision clears for a moment, and I see the blue, gold-trimmed sleeve being rolled back, revealing a blue four-fingered hand and a skeletal elbow. I hear the sky being drained. Shadows snake from the rest of the arm along the brilliant white bone, grabbing the flesh on the other side. More, and more. And more. I did not cause that wound, and in the matter of seconds it's no longer there. The arm flexes and is consumed by the shadows. How could I even hope to defeat such a thing?

"Seeeeeeeee. Aaaallllll bettttttteerrrr."

Despair grabs me by her hooks and I slump to my knees.
"Please. I'll.. I'll do anything."
The three-hundred and five mouths erupt into laughter.
"Anything! Anything! Anything!", the imps mock me.
"So nooooooooooooow ya gro-gro-gro-gro-growel."
The laughter is blue.
"Very well. I shall make ya a hero. A champion for yer people. But first, ya must reclaim de memory of de past and de rage of de present. At de ruins of Mathystra resides a lost soul who seeks a worthy cause. And near de Vector Coil ya'll find rage incarnate, courtesy of yer esteemed prince. Make sure to document everying ya see in de isles for yer fellow Farstriders. Now go."
"Right past dat platform."
And it is gone, along with the three imps and the three thousand mouths. When did it leave? I feel dotted pink. I pick up my bow, and it coils around my back. I look into the abyss, and take a step. The wind screams around me as I fall and..
I find myself in a cave, looking at an opening. A tauren seems to be sleeping near the campfire. I walk quietly to the night.