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.