Wrath no more

23 November 2010 § 3 Comments

The Shattering is happening as we speak, so it is time to say goodbye to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It may also be time to look back and reflect on different aspects of this expansion – both good and bad.

The levelling experience

I think Blizzard did a good job about the levelling experience. Most of the zones looked gorgeous, with some good stories and some decent foreshadowing of instances/events to come. I liked meeting King Ymiron in Howling Fjord, before facing him in Utgarde Pinnacle, and I wish this kind of foreshadowing was used more often. I really loved the Taunka storyline on Horde, as well as the Matthew Lehner story in Icecrown. If anything, I wish there was a tigher interaction between the storylines used in questing and the dungeons/raid instances of the expansion: why didn’t we do more with the whole story about the Lich King getting rid of his heart?

In a similar vein, let’s not have an Obsidian Sanctum debacle again: that instance had no story link with ANYTHING else in the game, it was just sort of there. I had to have a friend dig out the story behind the instance online, because there is literally nothing in the game to let us know what is it supposed to represent. In a similar vein, I was a bit disappointed with the whole Nexus War story: it features through a good part of Borean Tundra and Dragonblight, but then fizzles out completely in the later zones, and the fact that Malygos was a first-tier boss meant that we “solved it” way too early. Ulduar, awesome as it was, could have used some tighter link to the Scourge: I understand Yogg Saron has been helping with Arthas corruption, but in many ways that actually cheapens the Lich King story, which is more dramatic precisely because it is a story of a Prince choosing to do all those horrible things as a way to save his land. This is a minor gripe though, as Ulduar did have a good storyline throughout Storm Peaks, and I probably could just handle it being just a synchronicity issue, with a new menace emerging while we prepare to deal with Arthas.

We all know that Blizzard lamented that Illidan was a bit of an invisible enemy in Burning Crusade, as non-raiders hardly ever met him. With Arthas, I think they swung the pendulum the other way a bit too much, turning him too much into a 007 villain, never missing an opportunity to explain his plans in details only to let the heroes go so that they could eventually come back and get him. I hope with Deathwing they find a happier middle ground, maybe having major lore figures intercede and save adventurers, porting them to safety and similar, instead of having the boss just walk off the scene of the confrontation.

The gearing-up experience

The combination of badge gear, LFG tool, and higher-level 5-man dungeons meant that gearing was much easier and pleasurable than in either BC or Vanilla. I remember running alts through Karazhan right until the very end of the expansion, while thankfully we were spared running Naxx in the same way. The simplification of the badge system was probably needed, and sounds appropriate. I am a bit scared about what will happen with the LFG tool if instances and heroics are going to require more coordination: in many ways, I think LFG works well because you need no interaction with your group members. Let’s just say that I’ll try my damnedest to level and learn the dungeons with friends, rather than with the anonymous people who are likely to start a blame war (and a group quit) at the first wipe.

I really really like the idea of having some 5-man dungeons being designed for more geared playes, and I hope that they keep that design. One thing though: please do not have once again loot tables as long as the ICC 5-man ones, or at least try to make drop itemisation a bit more even. There were some slots that just required one boss, and one boss only, unless you had access to raid loot (not the case for many alts): caster shield, tank shield and caster offhand are all cases in point here. And please, keep in mind we have TWO trinket slots, so we need to have two decent trinkets per spec.

All in all, Wrath actually managed to reduce the gear gap considerably: right now, I think most 80 characters are in 245/251 gear, while most raiders would be in 264/277, a gap of only 1-2 tiers, which is completely acceptable.

The raiding experience

In raiding, the record is a bit mixed. There is no question to me that the high point of the raiding in this expansion was Ulduar. Bosses were fun, they progressed nicely from the easier Siege ones, to the Keepers, to Vezax and Yogg, and finally Algalon. There were also a nice number of side bosses which you could skip while progressing, and just do on off-nights or as filler. The fight were well thought out, with some nice mechanics, and they were very very different from each other and from what we had seen before. The art was absolutely fantastic, and thus the atmosphere was great.

I want to mention especially the in-game triggers of hard modes, which were, in my mind, the best possible way to have heroics. In-game triggers sometimes were actually a check, because if you could not manage to trigger the hard mode, you were just not geared enough to handle it (XT, Thorim); sometimes they were fun (“What happens if I push this red but… oh…”); and sometimes were just more traditional ways (Yogg, Freya). Blizzard has stated that they did not like the fact that it basically required players to look on outside sites how to actually trigger them, but that’s easily solved: for example, NPCs at the start of the instance could have dialogue options about how to trigger the different hard modes. It certainly made a lot more game sense than toggling an interface button (which is convenient, but a bit of a last resort measure in my mind).

I think there is also no doubt that the low point was Trial of the Crusader. The biggest problem there was the multiplication of instances, so that 10 and 25-man raiders ended up facing Icehowl 4 times a week, which is a surefire recipe for burnout. The fights were not too bad (I personally enjoyed the val’kyrs, Anub’Arak and Faction Champs), and the absence of trash was definitely a plus. The single room though was a definite bummer, as well as the really punishing hard mode of no-wipes (oh the frustration when one of our raiders would die to Faction Champs…). The whole tier of raiding was a bit lackluster, imo: I kinda understand Tirion’s idea of selecting the best fighters to get into ICC, as you want to avoid giving a Lich any more fodder to resurrect, but surely in that case you would want to mix Alliance and Horde (which Tirion doesn’t even try to do), and the selection could be a bit more serious than jousting. It really feels like the developers got enamored with the vehicle mechanic a bit too much, and maybe had a longing for Arthurian stories – but they just felt completely out of place here.

Naxx was not bad, but way too easy and just rehashed to be really enjoyable. Malygos was actually an interesting fight, but proved that players really take a long time to figure out a new mechanic. Controlling the drakes was not hard, but try teaching that to all the people in your 25-man… Sarth was ok, and I liked the 3D version (especially when you could not zerg it, and had to control it), except for its total lack of anchoring to the rest of the world.

Icecrown Citadel was enjoyable, probably just second to Ulduar in terms of awesomeness. I had some issues with stories (if Saurfang and Tirion and Muradin interact at the beginning, why do we suddenly need to race each other to get to the Lich King? Feels a bit contrived to me), and a strong desire for a more gradual progression of the hard modes: the jump between Sindragosa/Putricide to Lich King is a bit too much, it would be nice to have a more gradual progression. I am definitely in favour of a REALLY HARD final boss to the expansion, though, so no complaints there.

All in all, though, this has probably been the most enjoyable of the expansions so far, so I hope Blizzard can keep it up. Who knows, two years from now I may be writing the wrap up to the Cataclysm expansion…

Heroic Crimson Halls

28 April 2010 § Leave a comment

Trying to catch up with all the hard modes/heroic, but it’s not easy! So, here we go!

Blood Princes

Changes from normal: Any movement will cause a debuff called Shadow Prison, stacking. This debuff will damage you when you move, and it can stack pretty high.

When I read the description, I got a bit scared, because honestly there’s a lot of movement in this fight. However, it turns out that I was worrying about nothing. Shadow Prison is a non-issue: the debuff will hurt you only when you move, so even if you have it stacked very high, simply stopping will prevent you from taking any damage. The stack of debuffs itself will reset after 10 secs of no movement.

That said, the fight is still pretty hard, but that’s mostly because of the amped up version of the usual abilities. Kinetic Bombs start MUCH closer to the ground, and need a fair bit more damage. Pets are  not enough to keep them afloat anymore, so ranged will need to keep a much closer watch on them. Bombs falling was actually our major source of failure, until we literally split the room in three quadrants (dais, left floor and right floor) and assigned one ranged dps to each section.

Everything else hurts a lot more too, so it is essential to minimise damage. That goes especially for the Keleseth tank: it is even more essential than in normal to keep 3 if not 4 orbs on him at all times, given the size of the Empowered Shadow Lances. The good news is that the shadow orbs give shadow resistance, which means that the tank does not have to worry about Shadow Prison too much. Careful though, because the tank healer still will have to limit its movements.

All in all, this is not a hard Heroic mode – it is however very frustrating, because a minor slip will cause wipes. My group got very far on the first try, but then it took us about 10 more before getting it, simply because as soon as one thing was going wrong, the whole raid was falling like a house of cards.

Blood Queen Lanathel

Changes from normal: the Queen now gains Presence of the Darkfallen, which increases her Shroud of Sorrow damage.

This is essentially the same as in normal: although the shroud will hurt progressively more, the difference will only be felt once you have many vampires in the raid, which is when their self healing will lighten the healing load in general. Air phases do hurt though (I was actually sure her Bloodbolt Whirls were affected by Presence of the Darkfallen too, before I checked the tooltip), so make sure you use healing/survival cooldowns during those. Also, because she has more health, the air phases happen slightly later, which means it is very important that bitten people wait until the end of Frenzied Bloodthirst to bite the next target. Basically, this will push the third round of bites towards the end of the second air phase – and considerably lighten the healing load of said air phase.

This is one of the easiest Heroic modes, and certainly the easiest one of the token-dropping bosses. It is very likely you will one- or two-shot it, even the first time you see it, as long as your raid has a clear biting order established and knows how to handle Swarming Shadows and Pacts of the Darkfallen.

I will post the Plagueworks soon (minus Putricide, which we’re still working on).

Heroic Lower Spire

20 April 2010 § Leave a comment

I realised that after my initial post on Marrowgar, I never really did post any other note on hard modes. Given I have a bit of a writer’s block about the rest of the game, I think it’s a good time to at least take care of some of the easier Heroics.

Lady Deathwhisper

Four main changes here:

  • She will mind control a raid member, who will become big, and deal more damag (same as in 25). Simply cc the mind-controlled person, possibly with something relatively short (I find psychic scream to be perfect).
  • Adds keep spawning in P2 – the tank who doesn’t deal with her should put some threat onto these guys to make sure they don’t go for healers. Note to any enterprising priests: the adds are all (or at least most) casters. If you run in and fear to cc a MC’ed melee, this will scatter the adds too – and because they are casters, they will stay scattered. That means tanks will have trouble keeping aggro on the adds, who will proceed to aggro on healers, which is bad. Although, yeah, of course, no-one will be so dumb to use Scream in P2, right? *looks shifty*
  • She is untauntable – so tank switches will happen because one tank will not be able to build any threat once his debuff stacks too high. That means threat will build a lot more slowly here than normal, and dps need to be absolutely sure to be below BOTH tanks in threat.
  • The ghosts in P2 explode for AoE damage, so it’s a good idea to spread around and make sure you don’t get hit by it multiple times. It is an even better idea to kite these ghosts so no-one takes ANY damage from them.

Our dps only attacks adds if they are threat capped on the boss – which means that we basically burn her down before adds overwhelm us. We prefer this to a “control” strategy of making sure adds die and not too many are up, simply because it’s easier to execute, but YMMV.

All in all, a fairly simple hard mode – certainly easier than Marrowgar.

Gunship

There is only one change in this fight: rockets do a little knockback. When I read this, I actually had to go and read which ones were the rockets: it’s the ones that have a big pattern on the ground on their targeted area, forewarning where they will land. So yeah, you can imagine how hard this is. If you thought this was free loot in normal, it is even worse on Heroic…

Deathbringer Saurfang

The main change is that the Blood Beasts will apply a debuff on the raid that slows everyone’s movement. The second change is that if a person with a Mark dies, Saurfang will heal for an obscene amount (20%? Something like that) – in essence, if someone with Mark dies, it’s a wipe.

The main difficulty, however, comes from the ramping up of damage. In normal, I single heal this, and we go through it with out any Mark going out. In Heroic, we get 2 marks, and they HURT.

So, dps needs to be on top of their game to kill the Beasts asap, and you cannot afford to have any Beast hitting a dps at all – if the dps survives such a hit (and they will only if they have a ton of hits or a disc shield on them), Saurfang still gains considerable blood power, making the rest of the fight a lot harder.

For all the healers, this is one of the hardest fights I’ve healed. We switched specs around, so that our paladin tank now heals with me, our dps warrior tanks with our DK, and our druid and holy priest switch to their caster specs and dps. Paladin Beacon basically allows you to ignore the first mark, or treat it like a non-issue – a boomkin’s Typhoon is a boon, so it’s a win-win. Even so, once the second mark is out, we have either our druid or our elemental shaman heal that person, while I scramble keeping tanks and Blood Boil victims up and Lyshai beacons the first mark and one of the tanks (and gets innervated just before the second mark goes out, basically). We could probably do it without a paladin healer (we did our first kill without it), but beacon does simplify things.

Special note for paladins: Divine Shield and Hand of Protection prevent Saurfang from gaining blood power from Blood Boil. Make sure to use both abilities (HoP on the first target, and DS whenever you’re the target), because preventing him from gaining blood power is just about the most important thing.

Special note for healing priests: this fight will tax your mana (and that of your raidmates), so Hymn of Hope can be useful. The only time when you’ll be able to channel it is before the first mark goes out, as healing goes batshit crazy afterwards. So, once Saurfang comes out, focus him (you only have 1:45 secs of  introduction to do so…), and once his blood power is around 80, use your Hymn. Also, be careful about using Divine Hymn: hits on the tanks are too high to be healed through that only, so if you do it when you REALLY need it (with two marks out) it’s likely you will have a tank death. Use it earlier, as a way to save mana (with Inner Focus) – not late, as a way to heal as many people as possible.

And yes, this is by far the hardest of the Heroic fights in Lower Spire – and in fact, it is harder than some of the later fights too. So be very careful about it!

Next up will be Crimson Halls!

Heroic Marrowgar impressions

1 April 2010 § Leave a comment

You know, I’d heard that the first four Heroic mode bosses were a walk in the park. Well, I don’t know what parks you people walk in, but yeah, definitely not an easy and done deal. They are certainly a lot less complicated than the LK fight, but not free loot either. Except the Gunship Battle – THAT is free loot.

So, Marrowgar Heroic. The main difference are:

  • Bone Storm lasts one movement longer, and HURTS
  • Bone Spikes go off during Bone Storm too
  • Coldflame lasts longer and hurts

Of course he has more health, hits harder – but you kind of expect that. This fight is actually not bad at all, the problem is, you need to prioritise. See, if you’re used to roflstomping through normal, then you do all the phases without really paying attention. Moving to Heroics means you need to pay attention to details of the fight you may have forgotten in the meantime (I know I had!), but most importantly you will need to change your priority list because the importance of the various aspects of the fight may have changed. This is something I think is valid for all Heroics, and a lesson I’ll need to keep in mind.

Case in point: for Marrowgar, the normal phase will go as you’re used to. All dps and healers will be clumped up on his butt, while tanks dance with the coldflames. Yes there will be more coldflames down for the tank, yes everything will hurt more – but it’s basically the same.

The Bone Storms, however, are the crucial phase. There are two key messages here:

  • everyone needs to stay alive: this is essential. Staying alive takes priority over everything else. If you’re a dps and you can throw a heal or a shield on someone else who’s in trouble, do so. Use your healthstones. Heal yourself. Most importantly, spread out A LOT, because his bone storm does 13k where he is, and if more than 2 people get it, your healers are going to start using language that will make a dock worker blush (and healers, be careful not to have your PTT down when you do…).
  • the corollary to the message above is that Bone Spikes are NOT your main priority. Your main priority is staying alive, corollary spreading out. If you’re melee, you really should not be close to the bone spikes AT ALL. You don’t want to have 3 melee + the spike victim in the same spot, because that means there’s a 40% chance of him charging THAT SPOT, and the raid suffering an instant 50k+ damage spike. Let ranged deal with the spikes, heal the spike victims, and stay alive.

The big secret is that the bone spikes actually don’t hurt too much – it is the only ability that doesn’t scale up in Heroic. You still get hit for 9k at the beginning, + 10% health per second. You also don’t get hit by Coldflame, because you’re conveniently floating up. So, healers can keep you up through that damage, as long as you don’t get Marrowgar bone storming over a spike too.

Summing it all up, you start the fight as usual. About 7 secs before Bone storm, Marrowgar will throw a spike out. If you’re a healer, spread out around then. If you’re dps, use all your instants on that spike while spreading out. If you’re a melee, feel free to use about 2 GCDs on the spike, then move as fast as you can. To spread out, but still be in range of healers, we used the circular pattern on the floor as a marker – we tried to spread out at the edge of it, in the “string-of-pearl” configuration that we used on LK. For the next 30 secs, ranged kills the spike (we had ONE melee, Killetheth, our rogue, helping out: that’s both because rogues can cloak and survive, and because he does beastly dps), healers go nuts keeping everyone up, and everyone else focuses on staying alive. Once the Bone storm is over, you all collapse on one spot opposite where the tanks are, and start dps’ing him again. Assuming you don’t have people dying during Bone storms, you probably need to go through 3-4 of them to get the fight done – which is really not too bad at all.

On a more personal note: remember that 4T10 bonus that I said I’d never use except in 25man when shield spamming? Guess what, 10k shields are kinda useful here too, probably more than a more powerful PoM (admittedly, our having a holy priest helped me choose to go for stronger shields, because we already did have another strong PoM jumping). So yay for boring changed set bonuses that actually help 🙂

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