Trial of the Champion: The Grand Champions

A lot has been said about the lack of a consistent and logical story for Trial of the Champion, but the actual fights in the instance haven't been talked about that much from what I've seen. This is something I'd like to do today, at least about the first boss. I think the fight has got some interesting things going for it, even if there are also aspects of it that are quite annoying.

The intro definitely falls on the "annoying" side. You can shorten it ever so slightly by running in, starting it and then running out again, but in the end it's still too long. Having a bit of NPC chatter in places to make things seem more lively is alright, but endless lines of scrolling text alone don't make for a good story, even less so when it's preventing us from doing what we really want to do: getting in on the action to progress the story ourselves.

A lot of people were originally put off by the idea of having yet another boss fight involving vehicles, but I have to say that Trial really isn't that bad in that regard. The jousting kind of works - unlike in the Oculus, which requires people to learn how to handle one of three different vehicles on the fly, without necessarily knowing what the others do, everybody knows how to joust these days. The other day I took a friend to the coliseum whom I hadn't seen online on WoW in months, and even he knew how to joust. It's a phenomenon, and it's difficult to have completely missed out on it. But even if you have it's not a big deal, as one individual's jousting performance doesn't really matter in this fight. There is no real strategy to it, everybody just runs around, charging mobs and throwing shield breakers as they come off cooldown and whenever the mobs end up at the right distance. You could even say that Blizzard has gone too far into the other direction here and made a vehicle fight that's too easy, but in all honesty I prefer that over endless Oculus wipes caused by people not understanding the role of their drake.

And still it's not as if I never see people die during the jousting segment. Few people seem to be aware that if you dismount voluntarily, the NPCs will actually drop aggro and leave you alone, so you can go and grab a fresh mount at your leasure. Instead most people seem to cling to their mount until the bitter end even if it's already very low on health, and will then often get mauled after they get dismounted, as the champions continue to attack you mercilessly in that case.

But fear not, even if you die you can simply run back in as the encounter's in progress - and not just this one, it applies to the whole instance. I guess that it makes sense in a way, as I can think of few five-mans where you'll be blocked from running back and re-joining a fight. Most of the time it's just not feasible since the boss is a fairly long way into the instance. However, Trial's layout and the very short corpse-run pretty much encourage zerg tactics, and in all honesty that's not something I like as it encourages sloppy play and discourages teamwork. To use myself as an example, if losing players on the jousting phase was actually a problem, I would probably have made a point of educating more people about the benefits of grabbing a new mount before your current one dies. As it is, why bother? It's not as if someone dying and running back poses a problem for the party in any way, it's only the hapless victim that gets to rack up extra repair bills. Unfortunately my time is better spent just continuing my charges and shield breakers instead of typing out advice.

The transition from the jousting phase to the tank-and-spank ground phase is probably the most interesting bit of the encounter. A smart party will try to down the three champions relatively close together to make it easier for the tank to pick them up, and the tank's ability to quickly produce sufficient amounts of threat on all three of them is a harsh skill check that really seems to separate the mediocre tanks from the excellent ones.

Unfortunately, as soon as the game faces people with a challenge, they'll always find ways to overcome circumvent it. In this case that means that most pugs I've run with insist on running out and resetting as soon as the mounted phase ends, as this will make the champions line up and wait for you on the ground for your convenience. I always hate it when a group does that as it just feels like cheating (and means that the tank is admitting that they fail at picking up loose mobs).

The one thing I can say in those tanks' defense is that as it is, the threat mechanics of the transition seem a bit wonky. The theory I've seen proposed for this is that you keep your threat from phase one, during which everyone - including the healer - does crazy amounts of damage with their lances. This certainly would explain my observation that it's very hard to get aggro off whoever gets it initially without taunting. I've seen misdirections and other big threat moves be ignored completely - obviously they wouldn't make up for a difference of many thousands of damage done during jousting. This poses a problem in so far as it means that the only way to get aggro reliably at the start of the ground phase is to taunt, and if say, one mob is just out of range of your aoe taunt as you cast it or whatever, you can basically wipe up and try again. I would very much like it if Blizzard implemented a proper aggro reset at this point and in turn made it impossible to run out and reset. Seems like a fair trade-off to me.

Once on the ground the fight becomes a "simple" tank-and-spank, though the NPC's group composition makes a big difference in terms of difficulty. There is only one type of mob that can heal, the shaman, and you can be glad if you get him because the alternative consists of three hard-hitting pure damage dealers. The other night I was in a pug where we wiped on this part about a dozen times before giving up because the tank would always die before we could burn down the first opponent. At first we thought that we had just ended up with a bad healer and we went through several different ones, but it just didn't work, even though the tank was sensibly and well-geared and claimed to have tanked the instance with no problems before. In hindsight I think it had very much to do with the fact that the three champions we were facing were the warrior, the rogue and the mage, all of whom hit very hard, plus the mage has the ability to sheep any non-druid healer, which will quickly result in a wipe if it happens during the first phase of the fight while you have all three enemies pounding on your tank at once.

To give a simple run-down of the NPCs' different abilities:

The hunter is relatively harmless in terms of damage as long as the tank keeps aggro at all times. This can be tricky though since she likes to disengage, and the other mobs' abilities may force you to run around a lot, not always making it possible to immediately get into melee range with her again. If she starts shooting other party members you're in trouble, otherwise it's pretty safe to kill her last.

The mage does a fair amount of damage and can also be somewhat tricky to keep in melee range of the tank. If you want to move him you need to be able to interrupt or silence him somehow or need another smart group member to do it for you. As a clothie he's relatively easy to burn down and should be high on your kill order, if not necessarily first. The most dangerous thing he can do is sheep your healer early into the fight, unless they are a tree and immune to polymorph. If someone else in the party can dispel magic they have to be quick at it, paladins can bubble out of it once, an off-healer might throw a few life-saving heals on the tank in the meantime etc. Quick thinking is required and people mustn't be afraid of burning their cooldowns.

The rogue is a medium-sized nuisance most of the time, though she can become a real issue if you don't have anybody in your party who can cleanse poisons. They can stack up to tick for several thousands of damage per second on the tank, which doesn't make life easy for the healer, let me assure you. In addition she throws poison bottles on the ground which damage everyone who stands in them. Even if your party is reasonably skilled at moving out of the green goo they'll usually get a tick of damage or two and thus distract the healer's attention from keeping the tank alive. I would rate the rogue as a medium-priority target.

The shaman is the only one who can heal and the golden rule of "kill the healer first" generally works reasonably well, though it's also possible to focus on someone else first and leave him up until later, as he doesn't have many other annoying abilities beside the occasional heal.

The warrior is a scary killing machine and getting him down should be a fairly high priority. He does all the annoying things you'd expect from an arms warrior in PvP, like mortal strike and bladestorm, as well as an annoying knockback which can make it harder to keep aggro on the mage and hunter.

If you get them all down you'll be cheered at, fireworks will be set off, and you'll be rewarded with an epic item of high quality. If you're unlucky the fight will also bug out, which means that one of the champions goes back to full health and keeps fighting, resetting whenever you get them down yet again. This is one case where you pretty much have to walk out and reset.

In summary I think that this is actually one of the more interesting five-man boss fights currently in the game, though various bugs and the fact that graveyard zerging is encouraged detract somewhat from the fun.

1 comment:

  1. I will say that my groups *have* taken to just running out of the instance upon getting dismounted. Yes, it feels like cheating, but we have also not have ONE SINGLE occurrence of "champion pops back to life and starts wailing on you while you're looting" since doing so. It does seem to fix that problem, which we'd had 3 days in a row, and have so far prevented for a week. FWIW.

    As a priest, it's also frankly easier on the buffing front...I no longer have to pester the early arrivals to get off their mounts so that I can buff them pre-jousting.