To start off, let me say that I wasn't looking forward to the release of this instance at all. Some people were getting excited as if we were going to see a new Magister's Terrace, but I already knew that this wasn't going to be the case. From all the information we had been given it was clear from the start that it was basically going to be an instanced version of Ring of Blood. And the fun thing about Ring of Blood was always that it was fairly unique; you did it once while levelling to get some great rewards for your level and then moved on. You didn't repeat it three times a day.
Unsurprisingly I felt quite unsatisfied when I finished Trial of the Champion for the first time. This was it? This was Blizzard's excuse for an instance these days? However, I have to admit that the more often I've run it since then, the more I've come to appreciate its good points. Only today I joined a pug for the heroic version with my hunter, and while we managed to wipe at least once on every boss, we still had fun. I think the key here is to be open to experiences different from what we're used to.
Let's go into greater detail:
This an area where the new instance shines. The Argent Tournament grounds are only a two-minute flight away from Dalaran, if you've never been there before a friendly NPC will send you off for free so you don't even have to search for the local flight path, and if you're already a veteran crusader you can even teleport straight to the tournament. There's also a summoning stone. The only way to make it more convenient for people to get there would be to place an NPC in the Dalaran inn that teleports you straight into the instance. Seriously.
As far as I'm aware there are also no prerequisites for being allowed to enter. For a while I thought that being champion of at least one faction would be a requirement, what with the name of the instance and all, but as it turned out that's not the case. Trial of any old guy who just happens to come by, anyone?
I said in my previous post that I like dungeons to live up to their name by being... dungeon-like. Dark caves, abandoned ruins, lairs of evil masterminds, that kind of thing. Trial of the Crusader on the other hand throws you into an arena where you're actually pitted against (mostly) friendly opponents by the "good" guys. That could hardly be any more different from my usual expectations, but let's run with it.
To be fair, Blizzard did make an effort to evoke some tournament atmosphere in the instance, but I find it a bit lackluster. I have some friends who never seem to get tired of Jaeren Sunsworn's speeches about their greatness, but personally I find the whole introduction too long and tedious. Other instances, like Culling of Stratholme, have long intros too, but at least something's actually happening there. In the Trial you just wait for lots of red text to scroll past, which is really not that interesting. Blizzard can do better than that.
3. Story & Quests
There are no quests connected to this instance. Woe. Story-wise... well. There is a story to the Argent Tournament as a whole, namely that the Argent Crusade is trying to select the most capable fighters for their final assault on Icecrown, to ensure that said fighters don't die too easily and end up returning as ghouls that are fighting for the enemy. The basic idea makes sense, but the logic of the actual implementation is debatable. 2fps summed it up much better than I ever could. Personally I cringe every time the Black Knight shows up to force-choke poor Jaeren Sunsworn, and all those important leader figures just stand there and do nothing.
Trial of the Champion is hands down the shortest instance Blizzard has made to date. In a way that's both a blessing and a curse. As I said, initially it felt like quite a letdown, like the instance didn't provide me with enough sense of adventure. But once you get past that stage of wanting to explore and mostly come back to farm for certain drops it becomes a blessing. When your main concern is to find out whether boss X will refuse to drop that one item you want yet again, not having to fight your way through endless tunnels and tons of trash packs is something to be grateful for. It's a lot less immersive than it could be, but also more practical.
I'd like to see anyone get lost in this instance. It's a single, circular room! Unfortunately that also means that you're literally not going anywhere. The first couple of times I ran the instance, I had the instinctive urge to run onwards towards the next boss... except there was nowhere to go.
There is little trash in this instance: nine weakling opponents during the mass jousting event at the start and three packs of three before the second boss. I've said before that ideally the amount of trash in an instance should be a happy medium, not too much but not too little either. Considering that, I guess I should be glad that there are any trash mobs at all, yet at the same time... they make no sense. It makes sense for underground caverns to contain miscellaneous wildlife, it makes sense for the lair of some kind of big bad guy to contain some lackeys, but it does not make sense that if we're meant to face off against some powerful but benevolent boss to test our skills, we first have to beat up a couple of his assistants who don't even stand a chance. They are supposed to be our friends as well! And yet they don't get to walk out after being defeated like the bosses, we clearly kill them and then take their stuff. How wrong is that?
It very much feels like these mobs were inserted as an afterthought so people would get a bit more rep from the instance and actually have a chance at some green drops as well.
As far as the boss encounters themselves go, I have little to complain about. They strike me as pretty well-tuned, easy if you overgear the place, but challenging if you don't. They are also reasonably unique: Whether you like jousting or not, it's not something that you get to do in any other dungeon. The Argent Confessor has a wide variety of memories to summon. Eadric the Pure is a bit of a pushover, but he introduces a mechanic that was only used during the Yogg-Saron encounter before (having to look away from the boss at certain times) into a five-man and the gimmick with the hammer sounds like fun, though I have yet to see it in action. The Black Knight has a whole story of his own as well as providing an interesting multi-phase fight. About the worst I can say about the bosses is that they all seem to challenge the healer more than anyone else, the tank has some things to watch out for, but if you're dps all you do is stand in one place and nuke a single target all the time. But that's really only a very minor complaint.
Ah loot, the Trial's big selling point. Finally the term "epic quality" has lost even the last of its splendour. In this instance every single boss drops nothing but epics, and the saying that "if everyone is special, no one is" applies to loot as well. The more loot with purple letters we get, the less people care about it. I've been in pugs without disenchanters where people simply left any items that nobody could use to rot, as they couldn't even be bothered to pick them up for vendoring. Epics, the new Shiny Fish Scales? I can't help being a bit saddened by that development.
Sad philosophical ponderings about loot colours aside, Trial of the Champion is simply the place to be these days if you're not a raider that's already kitted out in full best-in-slot gear. Normal and heroic mode combined drop a plethora of amazing items for pretty much any class and spec. If you care about making your character better at all, this is an opportunity you shouldn't miss out on.
In summary, Trial of the Champion is very different from the instances we're used to. It has very little going for it in terms of story and immersion, instead it's all about being able to farm for epic loot all day long. I say, enjoy it while it lasts. Loot aside, you can still go in there with some friends or even a good pug and have a blast. Do it while you can, because once everyone got all the drops they want, the instance's popularity will decrease drastically, and after the next gear reset I can't really see anyone going back to it, ever, simply because it's got little else going for it. I sure hope that's not the direction Blizzard intends to take with all or even most future instances, but for now I'm willing to look on the bright side and make the most of it.