30/07/2009

The ten-man dilemma

Blizzard's decision to make all raids available in both ten-man and twenty-five man modes in WOTLK has been very popular. Apparently it's enabled a lot of small guilds to see content that they previously wouldn't have been able to access due to lack of numbers. Good for them.

However, for me personally this change has largely killed ten-man raiding.

As a member of a twenty-five-man raiding guild the way these things were handled in BC was pretty much perfect for me. We'd have three twenty-five-man raids each week, and on what were officially non-raiding days I was free to goof off with some friends in a ten-man, be it Karazhan or Zul'Aman. It was fun because they were completely different instances, so it was a change of pace in more than just numbers. As an added bonus a lot of the loot in ZA was just as good - if not better - than many drops from Mount Hyjal and Black Temple, so it also served as a nice source of extra gear. And once you had all the drops you needed, there were still the badges. Awesomeness!

When the expansion hit, my guild decided to give people plenty of time to level to eighty and the first official twenty-five-man raid wasn't scheduled until January. Of course many people were eager to have a peek at Naxxramas before that anyway, so we started off by doing the ten-man version as a sort of preparation. So far, so good - but then we started to raid the place on "heroic" mode and suddenly the incentive was gone. Where's the fun in spending three days a week raiding a certain content, and then doing it all over again with only slightly smaller numbers and without getting useful loot or emblems that you can actually use to buy upgrades? I suppose we could have used the ten-man to get achievements that were too hard for us on twenty-five man, but I feel a bit "meh" about achievement raiding, so... the ten-man raids just died. Recently we've been trying to get ten-man Ulduar going again, but it's hard to motivate ourselves.

Also, in an interesting turn of events it's now starting to look like the ten-man raids might also start to hurt our twenty-five-mans. The raid force has been feeling the pain of the summer doldrums, with raids being cancelled due to lack of available warm bodies and progress grinding to a halt. However, there's a small group of people who are really into running Ulduar on ten-man... and interestingly enough they are available to run ten-man several days a week, while being mysteriously N/A for the main raids. Gosh, I wonder if they just don't feel like doing the same instance twice a week?

It seems that there's no way to win really, if you focus on "heroic" mode, normal will feel redundant and if you focus on ten-man, twenty-five-man will feel repetetive. I really liked being able to do both and it feeling different enough to be fun either way.

29/07/2009

Praising Chillmaw

"TFA anyone?"

If that phrase doesn't sound familiar to you, you probably don't spend a lot of time in Icecrown. TFA stands for Threat From Above, a daily quest given out by the guys from the Argent Tournament once you reach champion level and defeat the Black Knight.

When I first found out about this quest I thought that it was a bit stupid. A daily group quest? Aren't normal group quests annoying enough? Who'd want to do them every day?

However, I soon had to realise that the reason group quests are usually annoying isn't because they require a group, but simply because considering the sheer amount of quests in Azeroth and the fact that many of them consist of long chains, it can be hard to find someone who is online at the same time as you, not doing anything else and just happens to be on the same quest as you.

Now a daily group quest with good rewards, that's something else! People can and will do it over and over again, every day, for weeks and months. I don't know how it is on other servers, but on Earthen Ring groups just for this quest are forming in general chat roughly every five to ten minutes, unless you're online at a particularly quiet time.

In many ways, it's a pugger's dream. Not only are there groups available to join at any time, but group composition doesn't really matter. You need a group, but you can team up with anyone. A tank and a healer can easily take down Chillmaw on their own, if slowly. However since he doesn't hit very hard, a dpser (even in cloth) can tank him just as well with a dedicated healer. A tank with a good dps at his side should be able to survive long enough to kill him even without healing. And a group of nothing but dps can just nuke him down really quickly.

Basically you get all the good points of a pug without the downsides. You can meet a lot of different people, but since the quest is so easy you don't have to worry if they play terribly or act like jerks, you don't have to hang around. Annoying druid trying to kill-steal the bombadiers from the group in front of you? Make note to avoid him in the future. Nice rogue offering to help the healer with the scourge killing daily afterwards? A good addition to your friends list.

I really have to hand it to Blizzard, implementing a quest like this was a great idea. If you're a player who runs solo a lot of the time but would like to meet other nice players without risking too much frustration, joining for "TFA" is simply an opportunity unlike any other.

26/07/2009

On heroic trash

Most people seem to agree that heroics in WOTLK are considerably easier than they were in BC. My comparison of WOTLK and BC heroic bosses seems to support that idea, though the most notable difference definitely lies in the way we handle trash. In BC nearly every pull required people to carefully follow a kill order and liberal use of crowd control. In WOTLK you just charge in and aoe everything down.

Why is that? Did Blizzard just fail completely while tuning instance trash, making all the mobs no more threatening than a wet towel? I don't think so.

Actually I only see two things that Blizzard has changed about heroic trash pulls. First off, they seem to have abandoned the concept of very large (six to seven mobs) elite trash pulls that contain multiple mobs with disruptive abilities. Think of Blackheart the Inciter's room in Shadow Labyrinth or a large portion of Magister's Terrace. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

On the other end of the scale, they also stopped adding single or paired mobs that can't be crowd-controlled but hit like a bunch of trucks. BC had a lot of those: the Coilfang defenders in Slave Pens, the bog lords in the Steamvault, the talon guards in Sethekk Halls... the list could go on. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is debatable.

However, if you compare an average WOTLK heroic to a BC one, most trash pulls are actually pretty similar in their setup: three to four mobs, and usually at least one of them has some kind of mildly annoying ability like a fear, stun, knockback, silence etc. So what's different?

Why did we use crowd control back in the day? Why didn't we just aoe things down like we do now? The way I see it it was due to three reasons:

1. The tank didn't have a sufficient amount of aoe aggro abilities to tank all of the mobs at once. Paladins were really the only ones who could get away with taking on four or five mobs at the same time, druids were limited by swipe hitting only up to three targets and warriors had to tab through all of the mobs to sunder each one individually. Often that barely created enough aggro to keep them all off the healer, but starting to aoe after two seconds would have been unthinkable. If you tried to tank too many mobs at once, even a well-geared tank would struggle quickly, since he was too limited by the global cooldown on his single-target threat attacks.

2. There simply wasn't as much aoe. It's easy to forget that every class having a spammable aoe ability is actually a very recent development. I remember when you could only use volley on every other pull, and when shadow priests, cat druids and rogues had no aoe whatsoever. Often you simply didn't have any options other than to take down every mob one by one.

3. Sometimes you CC-ed a mob because it had a particularly disruptive ability, but this usually happened only in conjunction with point 1 (since you had to crowd-control something anyway).

I actually had a couple of heroic dungeon runs in BC that were very much like Northrend heroics are now, with all the trash just being aoed down. The reason is that it didn't happen that often was that you needed a decently geared paladin tank (and they weren't quite as popular yet back then), and at least one mage or warlock for continuous aoe. Now that any tank can easily produce lots of threat on multiple mobs at once and every damage-dealing class has the ability to aoe, it's only logical that every instance turned into "that kind of run". And it's got little to nothing to do with the mobs themselves.

I remember when druid and warrior tanks were complaining that people preferred paladins for heroic runs because of their superior aoe tanking. I also remember dpsers of various specs clamouring for more aoe abilities so mages and warlocks wouldn't dominate so utterly in aoe situations. Both got their wishes and now people bemoan "the lost art of CC" and that everything is "aoelol". Just shows that you've got to be careful what you wish for.

24/07/2009

Save the island shoveltusks!

Generally I like it when Blizzard does little things that make the world (of Warcraft) seem more alive. Friendly NPCs having conversations, hostile NPCs fighting each other, that kind of thing. Anything to give us the impression that all these characters have a bigger purpose than standing around until we kill them or need them to buy our vendor trash.

However, there's such a thing as taking it too far. Case in point: Feeding the Survivors in Howling Fjord. The other day I did this quest on my Alliance priest and unfortunately it has become no less annoying since the first did it on my troll.

The premise is simple enough: Bring us six pieces of island shoveltusk meat. There are plenty of island shoveltusks around this village. Go!

Except... there aren't really. Now, Blizzard creating too few mob spawns for a quest that requires a certain minimum amount of kills isn't something new. The heinous twist in this case is that there should be plenty of shoveltusks around, theoretically, it's just that they keep getting killed by an omnipresent army of worgs.

Okay, worgs eat shoveltusks too, I get it. It's only natural, right? Well, not to this extent, in my opinion at least. Seriously, a shoveltusk barely has time to enjoy its new-found life for a few seconds after it's spawned before it will be attacked by a worg. Travelling in herds doesn't seem to help either, as the worgs will just systematically take them down one by one. It's frightening and frustrating. It's bad enough when you have to compete with other players for the few spawns, but to be in constant competition with NPCs even when you're the only player on the whole island is depressing.

It's not that I don't like a challenge, but the way this works is simply unfair. Most of the time you can't even run in to "save" the shoveltusks (so you can then kill them yourself, ahem), as their fighting is scripted and they'll often die after two or three hits from the worg no matter what. I'm a healer, I should be able to save people (and animals)! In practice I just spend a lot of time running in circles, crying out as I see yet another shoveltusk die only a few yards away from me, and then aggroing the worgs that just killed it. Woohoo. The whole quest just feels wrong. Surely it should have been about saving the shoveltusks from extinction by an unnaturally high number of predators? I don't know.

There was only one quest in BC that filled me with a comparable amount of frustration: I Was A Lot Of Things... You had a better chance at saving the boars in that case, but on the other hand they were only useful to you if they just happened to stand in the right spot (which they often didn't). Shoveltusks, the new shadowmoon tubers? It seems the answer is yes.

The Violet Hold pug of fail

I suppose I had it coming: After all the smooth and pleasant heroic pugs I've had lately, I was bound to come across a doozy sooner or later. I just didn't expect it to be Violet Hold: it's probably one of the most-pugged instances on my server due to how easy it is - and yet we ended up wiping three times before the group disbanded because we just couldn't stand the thought of having to clear all the way to the second boss yet again (VH is really cruel that way).

I was on my hunter by the way. As soon as we got started I noticed that both our tank's gear and our overall dps was definitely on the low end of what's acceptable, but I still figured it should be fine for what we aimed to do. Our first boss ended up being Erekem, and he took forever to die because people were randomly dpsing the adds instead of the boss, but fortunately our healer didn't run out of mana and we made it in the end.

The run continued relatively smoothly until it became apparent that our second boss would turn out to be Xevozz. There's a reason I described this guy as having a "medium to high" wipe factor. As soon as the Azure Saboteur ran towards Xevozz's cell, our healer started to spam party chat with "KITE" in all caps, only occasionally interrupting it with attempts to be a bit clearer like "you've got to kite him". Our tank just stood there. And took damage. And we wiped. (Though I survived through a cunning alteration of kiting and using deterrence until feign death was off cooldown again.) When asked whether he had done this fight before while people did the collective corpse run, our tank replied with "no".

And... he really couldn't have mentioned that beforehand? I realise that Violet Hold isn't an instance that lends itself to stopping and sitting down for a calm discussion of boss strategies, but he could have reacted to our healer's attempts to tell him what to do in some way. "Kite him? Where? I haven't done this before!" Or anything. I know if I'm new to an instance I want to know how things work and will ask about it. Our tank however just quietly stood in the same spot until he died. Have people become so used to easy tank and spank fights that the mere idea of having to do something else is beyond them? It's a depressing thought.

Anyway, everybody decided to be gracious and accept that even tanks need to learn somehow, so we decided to give it another go. The healer made a point of repeating again that the boss needed to be kited, visually illustrating this by running up and down the supposed kite path. I helpfully added that it was important to avoid the purple spheres... seeing how they are the whole reason for the kiting tactic after all.

We cleared up to the second boss yet again at our tediously slow low-dps speed. Spheres were summoned, the tank started to kite. Things seemed to go alright until one of the orbs got a teleport spell off. Confused by the sudden and unexpected change of location our tank just stood there and died. Wipe number two.

Our healer rolled his eyes and left, but through some miracle we managed to find a replacement right away. Our tank seemed genuinely confused about what had just happened to him, so I explained, emphasising yet again that staying away from those spheres was vital, and to be ready to run if they should get a teleport off.

We gave it yet another go. After another twelve portals we got ready to face Xevozz for the third time. The tank kites. No teleports, good. The tank kites some more. Where is he going anyway, we're getting quite far away from those spheres? Oh no, they are going to cut us off... I wish I could have shouted "nooo" or something, but pugs don't generally use voice chat, so I just had to watch in quiet horror (though I typed out some frantic warnings in party chat which were of course ignored) as our tank continued to "kite" the boss in a wide circle right into the two spheres, and we wiped for the third and last time. Then one of the other dpsers got bored and left, the tank resigned and the healer expressed frustration about having been saved to a heroic run that was just a waste of time and left.

Usually I try to stick it out to the bitter end, especially on my hunter (as I had only actually died on one of the three wipes), but having to re-clear all that trash every time had worn even my spirit down by then. Plus I was starting to get a little frustrated by the tank's repeated failures as well, though I also couldn't help feeling sorry for him as he was clearly making an effort. I left with the impression that the first healer's emphasis on kiting without actually explaining why had led to some miscommunication, which was why that last attempt ended with the tank running the boss in merry circles, completely oblivious of the orbs he was supposed to be running from.

Does this kind of experience leave me wary of pugging? Not really, but it does leave me wary of people who can't communicate, both the knowledgeable and the ignorant ones.

19/07/2009

Reviewing WOTLK heroic dungeon bosses

Yesterday I took a look at Burning Crusade's heroic dungeon bosses, today I would like to do the same for Wrath of the Lich King's big bads. Then we can make some comparisons.

Utgarde Keep

Utgarde Keep

First boss: Prince Keleseth
Wipe factor: low to medium
The summoned skeletons can pose a problem if they aren't picked up properly, and dps suffering from tunnel vision can let people die to frost tombs.

Second boss: Skarvald & Dalronn
Wipe factor: low
The randomness of the attacks has the potential to cause minor issues, otherwise the fight a straightforward tank and spank.

Third boss: Ingvar the Plunderer
Wipe factor: low to medium
Tanks need to learn to avoid his smash, people mustn't stand near spinning axes and your healer has to be careful not to get locked out of his healing spell school. Since the boss's overall damage output is fairly low however, there is a bit of room for error.

Utgarde Pinnacle

First boss: Svala Sorrowgrave
Wipe factor: low
The only real danger consists of people not killing the channelers quickly enough, but this part of the fight isn't on a very tight timer.

Second boss: Gortok Palehoof
Wipe factor: low
The sheer length of the event with the four sub-bosses can put a strain on your healer's mana if they aren't very well geared, otherwise there isn't much to be worried about.

Third boss: Skadi the Ruthless
Wipe factor: medium
The gauntlet is reasonably challenging since you have to keep fighting for quite a while to acquire the necessary amount of harpoons. Skadi's whirlwinds can also be deadly.

Fourth boss: King Ymiron
Wipe factor: medium
Most of the fight isn't too troublesome, but a badly timed combination of a spirit fountain spawn in the wrong place and a stun can quickly wipe the whole party.

The Nexus

The Nexus

First boss: Ormorok the Tree-Shaper
Wipe factor: low to medium
People have to remember to not stand on the spikes. Little adds can molest the healer. He also hits quite hard once he enrages.

Second boss: Anomalus
Wipe factor: low to medium
The aoe damage is considerable and the frequent target changing something that some parties struggle with.

Third boss: Grand Magus Telestra
Wipe factor: medium to high
This fight is very chaotic, and if your dps doesn't have the focus to quickly take down her split personalities, all the random effects can quickly overwhelm people.

Fourth boss: Commander Stoutbeard / Commander Kolurg
Wipe factor: medium
His whirlwinds are devastating and the fear can easily cause line of sight issues or pull adds.

Fifth boss: Keristrasza
Wipe factor: low to medium
This one basically comes down to whether people remember to keep moving or not.

The Oculus

First boss: Drakos the Interrogator
Wipe factor: low
Keep an eye on the bombs. That's it.

Second boss: Varos Cloudstrider
Wipe factor: medium
The conical lightning strikes can be hard to predict correctly for some people.

Third boss: Mage-Lord Urom
Wipe factor: medium to high
The final bit of the fight where you have to kite him around the ring is quite tough, as it's all too easy to get caught in a frost bomb and then be too slow to move out of his aoe.

Fourth boss: Ley-Guardian Eregos
Wipe factor: high
People are forced to use vehicles that they don't really necessarily "get". A recipe for disaster.

Azjol-Nerub

Azjol-Nerub

First boss: Krik'thir the Gate Watcher
Wipe factor: medium to high
If you make it to the boss himself you're golden, but the packs of mobs linked to him are quite tough, especially the skirmishers with their random aggro table.

Second boss: Hadronox
Wipe factor: low to medium
As long as people don't stand in the poison for too long and do decent dps, this fight is very straightforward.

Third boss: Anub'Arak
Wipe factor: medium
People need to be quick at taking out the adds and avoid being pounded at all costs. The latter has zero margin for error if you're not the tank.

Ahn'kahet: The Old Kingdom

First boss: Elder Nakox
Wipe factor: low to medium
Switching between dpsing the elder and his guardian add shouldn't be too hard, but the small bugs can easily kill your healer if not taken care of.

Second boss: Prince Taldaram
Wipe factor: low to medium
You need sufficient dps to get him to let go of whoever's blood he's trying to drink and the victim can't be healed. The aoe damage from the floating orbs of fire can be a nuisance as well.

Third boss: Jedoga Shadowseeker
Wipe factor: medium
A dps check similar to the previous fight, not killing the worshippers will likely result in tank death unless you vastly overgear the instance.

Fourth boss: Amanitar
Wipe factor: low to medium
The deal with the mushrooms can be a bit confusing and cause issues for people who use aoe attacks by default.

Fifth boss: Herald Volazj
Wipe factor: medium
The difficulty of the insanity phase differs considerably depending on the classes in your party. Some dps classes are likely to die, but as long as your tank and healer survive they will find the rest of the fight all the easier for it and should still be able to finish him off.

Zul'Drak

Drak'Tharon Keep

First boss: Trollgore
Wipe factor: low
Tank and spank with a bit of aoe damage.

Second boss: Novos the Summoner
Wipe factor: nil
I'm not sure how one could wipe on this fight unless your tank or healer was afk.

Third boss: King Dred
Wipe factor: medium to high
His damage output is quite high even on a well-geared tank, which, combined with a fear, can quickly lead to a wipe.

Fourth boss: The Prophet Tharon'ja
Wipe factor: nil
I don't think anybody understands what this fight is really about, but considering that you spend a lot of time in the form of a self-healing skeleton there isn't much that could possibly go wrong.

Gundrak

First boss: Slad'ran
Wipe factor: medium to high
His poison aoe has to be avoided at all costs. Snake adds spawn quickly and can take down the healer quickly if not taken care of.

Second boss: Drakkari Colossus / Elemental
Wipe factor: low to medium
The constant need to keep moving can pose a challenge. Aggro resets are dangerous.

Third boss: Moorabi
Wipe factor: low
People only hate this guy because of the difficult achievement linked to him.

Fourth boss: Eck the Ferocious
Wipe factor: nil
This guy isn't ferocious at all.

Fifth boss: Gal'darah
Wipe factor: low to medium
He hits quite hard and his whirlwinds will often kill melee. The rest of the party shouldn't have much trouble though.

Dalaran

The Violet Hold

Random boss: Erekem
Wipe factor: low
Easy as long as your dps remembers not to kill the adds first.

Random boss: Ichoron
Wipe factor: low
Using the crystals to kill off the small elementals makes the fight completely trivial.

Random boss: Lavanthor
Wipe factor: nil
Tank and spank the doggie. Nothing more to it.

Random boss: Moragg
Wipe factor: nil
Another tank and spank with a small amount of random damage on the party.

Random boss: Xevozz
Wipe factor: medium to high
Everybody needs to be aware of the need to kite and avoid the spheres. Still there's a considerable chance of having line of sight issues.

Random boss: Zuramat the Obliterator
Wipe factor: medium to high
Early in the expansion people would just give up if they got this boss, due to the massive amounts of shadow damage he puts out as time goes by. With everybody being better geared and doing more dps it's not quite as bad anymore.

Third boss: Cyanigosa
Wipe factor: low
Unless someone pulls aggro after the reset or stands in a Blizzard, nobody should die on this fight.

Ulduar

Halls of Stone

First boss: Krystallus
Wipe factor: low
People standing too close to the tank might die, but even a tank and healer alone can finish him off quite easily.

Second boss: Maiden of Grief
Wipe factor: low to medium
Shock of sorrow can cause issues if the tank gets stunned.

Third boss: Tribunal of Ages
Wipe factor: medium to high
Towards the end the constant stream of adds becomes quite overwhelming, the random damage on the party doesn't help either.

Fourth boss: Sjonnir the Ironshaper
Wipe factor: medium
Tank and melee have to remember to run out of his aoe, adds will go for the healer.

Halls of Lightning

First boss: General Bjarngrim
Wipe factor: low to medium
He hits quite hard but doesn't have much in the way of annoying abilities. Pulling him with adds can cause trouble if your group isn't highly geared.

Second boss: Volkhan
Wipe factor: low to medium
People standing near to golems when they get shattered can lead to troublesome deaths.

Third boss: Ionar
Wipe factor: medium
Running from the boss when he disperses is usually manageable, but people also have to watch out for static overload.

Fourth boss: Loken
Wipe factor: high
Similar to the Murmur fight, running in and out of the lightning nova can pose considerable difficulties. There's also a lot of extra damage in addition to it.

Caverns of Time

The Culling of Stratholme

First boss: Meathook
Wipe factor: low
The person getting constricted by the chains needs healing up quickly, but otherwise there are no special abilites to watch out for.

Second boss: Salramm the Fleshcrafter
Wipe factor: low
The summoned ghouls can be a nuisance, especially if they explode.

Third boss: Chrono-Lord Epoch
Wipe factor: low
He does something not completely unlike Warchief Bladefist's blade dance, but it does a lot less damage.

Fourth boss: Infinite Corrupter
Wipe factor: nil
If you are fast enough to engage him, you can kill him easily.

Fifth boss: Mal'Ganis
Wipe factor: low
He has a few random spells that he casts on people, but they do very little.

Total number of Northrend heroic instances: 12
Total number of Northrend heroic bosses: 53
Average number of heroic bosses in a Northrend instance: 4

Total wipe ratings for bosses:
low: 14
low to medium: 14
medium: 9
medium to high: 8
high: 2

Compared to the BC heroics, there seems to have been a strong shift towards making the bosses easier, with only half as many bosses in the medium to high and high categories and only two rated as truly fearsome.

Looking at the BC list, most bosses that were rated as highly wipe-inducing were so because of massive damage output and sometimes the ability to summon multiple adds that couldn't be easily taken down with some aoe. For some reason these appear to be mechanics that Blizzard seems to want to move away from in five-mans. Whether that's a good thing or not is debateable - a challenge is nice, countless wipes due to the smallest mistake snowballing into something big are not.

18/07/2009

Reviewing BC heroic dungeon bosses

Continuing to ride the wave of nostalgia caused by me doing BC attunement chains with my paladin, I'd like to take a look at the difficulty of the bosses in Burning Crusade's heroic dungeons (if you did them at level, that is, now you could obviously go in at eighty and pwn them no matter what). I intend to follow this up with musings about WOTLK bosses and comparisons of the two expansions, but this should be a good starting point and will hopefully be interesting on its own as well.

I shall rate a boss's difficulty by "wipe factor", which is entirely subjective and based on my personal experience in countless dungeon runs. I prefer this terminology over simply rating them as easy or difficult, since fights like heroic Murmur aren't necessarily based on a difficult concept, but can still be hard to execute for your average group, which led to a lot of wipes back in the day.

The instances:

Hellfire Citadel

Hellfire Ramparts

First boss: Watchkeeper Galgomar
Wipe factor: low
Pretty much a tank and spank fight once you took out or controlled the two squishy healer adds. The only thing that could cause a problem was the pull itself. Since he patrols, it was quite possible to get him as an add while you were still clearing off trash.

Second boss: Omor the Unscarred
Wipe factor: low to medium
If you burned him down fast he was easy, but the mana-burning felhounds could become a serious problem for a caster-heavy party. The curse that damages nearby friendly players could also be deadly if it got cast on a player in melee who wasn't on the ball.

Third boss: Nazan & Vazruden
Wipe factor: medium to high
His fire damage was nerfed after a while, but not standing a fire was still a considerable challenge for some people. The pickup of the dragon also had the potential to go hideously wrong.

The Blood Furnace

First boss: The Maker
Wipe factor: low
If he mind-controlled the tank you could get in trouble, otherwise he was a simple tank and spank.

Second boss: Broggok
Wipe factor: medium to high
Broggok himself was never difficult (even if his poison clouds claimed the occasional rogue), but the "cage event" triggered right before you get to engage him required a skilled and well-geared tank as well as healer with a lot of endurance.

Third boss: Keli'dan the Breaker
Wipe factor: low
People getting one-shot by his burning nova were the most common problem here, but rarely did this lead to a wipe.

The Shattered Halls

First boss: Grand Warlock Nethekurse
Wipe factor: low
The big problem with this boss was actually wading through all the annoying trash leading up to him. The boss encounter itself was pretty straightforward and the void zones not too hard to avoid.

Second boss: Blood Guard Porung
Wipe factor: low to medium
While Porung himself didn't do much, the infamous gauntlet leading up to him was somewhat of a challenge.

Third boss: Warbringer O'mrogg
Wipe factor: medium
The random aggro changes were the most dangerous thing about this boss, especially in a party with lots of clothies.

Fourth boss: Warchief Kargath Bladefist
Wipe factor: high
The ideal positioning to minimise damage from the blade dance was always highly debated, and no matter which strategy was eventually chosen, people would die to it a lot. The adds also needed skilled dps to be kept under control.

Coilfang Reservoir

The Slave Pens

First boss: Mennu the Betrayer
Wipe factor: low
The only moderately dangerous thing about this guy was his fire nova totem. Still, I remember an instance where our healer died to that right away and we still muddled through with me keeping the tank alive as shadow spec.

Second boss: Rokmar the Crackler
Wipe factor: low
Another fairly simple tank and spank. The only thing that could cause problems was the healer not being aware of the urgency of the bleed debuff.

Third boss: Quagmirran
Wipe factor: low
His poison aoe could be annoying, but hardly devastating.

The Underbog

First boss: Hungarfen
Wipe factor: low
People would occasionally die to poisonous mushrooms, but as long as you kept moving he went down pretty quickly.

Second boss: Ghaz'an
Wipe factor: low
Tank or healer getting punted into the water could cause problems but people usually knew where to stand.

Third boss: Swamplord Musel'ek
Wipe factor: medium
Having to deal with both the boss and his bear pet at the same time could become difficult, if you had someone to kite the bear away it became pretty trivial though.

Fourth boss: The Black Stalker
Wipe factor: medium
The adds could become pretty overwhelming if your dps wasn't high enough, and static charge on an unaware victim could cause a lot of damage as well.

The Steamvault

First boss: Hydromancer Thespia
Wipe factor: high
Often referred to as the hardest boss in the instance, this lady's aoe damage and constant need for movement could overwhelm most parties pretty quickly.

Second boss: Mekgineer Steamrigger
Wipe factor: low
People not killing the adds could become taxing on the healer, but mostly you'd make it through anyway.

Third boss: Warlord Kalithresh
Wipe factor: medium
Either your dps was sufficient and smart enough to change targets to the water tanks when needed or it wasn't. Sometimes it would be a close call.

Auchindoun

Mana-Tombs

First boss: Pandemonius
Wipe factor: medium to high
Insane amounts of shadow damage going around plus a shell that reflected damage on over-eager dps could easily create a recipe for endless wipes.

Second boss: Tavarok
Wipe factor: low
Neither his stomping nor his crystal prison ever caused huge amounts of problems.

Third boss: Nexus-Prince Shaffar
Wipe factor: high
This fight was so hard to survive that it was even a commonly accepted strategy to attempt to nuke him to death and then just accept to die to all the adds that had spawned in the meantime.

Fourth boss: Yor
Wipe factor: nil
This optional boss was just a simple tank and spank for an extra badge.

Auchenai Crypts

First boss: Shirrak the Dead Watcher
Wipe factor: medium
The slowing aura made this fight every caster's nightmare, and avoiding the fires didn't always work for everyone either.

Second boss: Exarch Maladaar
Wipe factor: low to medium
The stolen souls could be quite the nuisance and if you didn't burn him down quickly the avatar could become a problem as well.

Sethekk Halls

First boss: Darkweaver Syth
Wipe factor: medium to high
This fight was all about controlling the spawned adds - if you knew how to do that it wasn't too bad, but many people didn't.

Second boss: Talon King Ikiss
Wipe factor: high
The arcane damage going around in this fight was extremely high, and a badly timed sheep or slow could often cost you a party member no matter what.

Third boss: Anzu
Wipe factor: low to medium
While he has some interesting abilities, they are all relatively easy to handle. Maybe he just seems easier because anyone who got to summon him likely had already a decent idea of boss fight mechanics in general.

Shadow Labyrinth

First boss: Ambassador Hellmaw
Wipe factor: low
Mostly a tank and spank with the occasional fear thrown in.

Second boss: Blackheart the Inciter
Wipe factor: high
You either loved or hated this infamous boss. The loss of control during the repeated mass-mind controls and the following aggro reset often had disasterous consequences.

Third boss: Grandmaster Vorpil
Wipe factor: medium to high
With enough dps it was possible even at seventy to burn him down before he even teleported once, though this was in very late BC. With average dps it could be challenging to do enough damage to him while also keeping the voidwalkers under control.

Fourth boss: Murmur
Wipe factor: high
The change in mechanics from normal mode confused many people, and the constant running in and out was easy to mess up. Murmur's touch could also screw with people big time, and reliably avoiding the sonic boom as a tank was a serious challenge.

Caverns of Time

Old Hillsbrad Foothills

First boss: Lieutenant Drake
Wipe factor: low to medium
Another boss where the bigger challenge was to even get this far. Still, he hit very hard and the fear plus aggro reset was dangerous.

Second boss: Captain Skarloc
Wipe factor: medium
The boss fight itself wasn't that hard, but being pushed into it right after the exhausting run with Thrall could pose problems.

Third boss: Epoch Hunter
Wipe factor: medium to high
Again the boss himself wasn't as much of a problem as the hard-hitting adds he spawns beforehand.

The Black Morass

First boss: Chrono Lord Deja
Wipe factor: low
More or less a tank and spank with some aoe damage, which shouldn't have been a problem unless you were already behind on portals.

Second boss: Temporus
Wipe factor: high
Many tanks found it hard to avoid getting multiple stacks of his mortal strike-type debuff, which often lead to them being near immune to healing towards the end and many a wipe.

Third boss: Aeonus
Wipe factor: medium
His time stop could be problematic if your tank wasn't geared enough and your healer didn't have heal-over-time spells.

Tempest Keep

The Mechanar

First boss: Gatewatcher Iron-Hand & Gatewatcher Gyro-Kill
Wipe factor: low
Sometimes people in melee would die to Iron-Hand's hammer if they weren't careful, but that was about the worst that could happen (provided you didn't pull a watcher as an accidental add into a trash fight).

Second boss: Mechano-Lord Capacitus
Wipe factor: low to medium
Some groups had trouble positioning him correctly to avoid the bombs while not losing line of sight of the tank. The positive and negative charges weren't usually much of a problem, even if they were quite different from the fight's normal mode.

Third boss: Nethermancer Sepethrea
Wipe factor: high
Many groups decided to just skip this boss since she was generally considered too much of a hassle. Kiting her fire elemental adds all over the room while also trying to stay in taunt and healing range was more than many people could handle.

Fourth boss: Panthaleon the Calculator
Wipe factor: medium
The boss fight itself could cause issues if the adds weren't sufficiently controlled. The gauntlet leading up to the actual boss encounter probably caused more wipes though.

The Botanica

First boss: Commander Sarannis
Wipe factor: low
Another patrolling boss that could be pulled by accident. Her adds could be a nuisance as well, but otherwise she was very easy.

Second boss: High Botanist Freywinn
Wipe factor: low to medium
The fact that he healed up a lot if you didn't control and kill his flower adds in time could put a lot of strain on your healer's mana.

Third boss: Thorngrin the Tender
Wipe factor: medium to high
Another boss that people sometimes preferred to skip, due to his high-damage hellfire aoe and the nasty sacrifice.

Fourth boss: Laj
Wipe factor: low
The adds could be a bit of a nuisance if not controlled properly, otherwise another simple tank and spank.

Fifth boss: Warp Splinter
Wipe factor: low to medium
Similar to Freywinn he did a lot of healing if adds weren't killed in a timely manner.

The Arcatraz

First boss: Zereketh the Unbound
Wipe factor: high
His shadow damage was so insane that many people just skipped him. If your tank had the full shadow resist set on the other hand, the fight became trivial. Few people had that though.

Second boss: Dalliah the Doomsayer
Wipe factor: low to medium
Her damage on the tank was pretty negligible even at seventy, but her whirlwinds could easily kill people. If you lacked someone to interrupt her heals you were in for a looong fight.

Third boss: Wrath-Scryer Soccothrates
Wipe factor: medium
A lot of fire damage going around. Enough said.

Fourth boss: Harbinger Skyriss
Wipe factor: medium to high
The sheer length of the encounter and its many random elements were quite taxing on any healer. Mind rend used to be so powerful that an off-healer was pretty much required but got nerfed eventually.

Isle of Quel'Danas

Magister's Terrace

First boss: Selin Fireheart
Wipe factor: low
His aoe damage was considerable, but not terribly hard to heal through.

Second boss: Vexallus
Wipe factor: high
A requirement for highly focused add control and huge amounts of aoe damage did not make for a pleasant experience for many parties.

Third boss: Priestess Delrissa
Wipe factor: high
This fight was a bit luck-dependent, as it could be easier with the right combination of random mobs, but the inability to tank everything and pvp-like craziness made many parties eat dust (especially if they contained a lot of clothies).

Fourth boss: Kael'thas Sunstrider
Wipe factor: medium to high
Easier than the previous two bosses, this guy was still no pushover. The phoenixes could do very bad things to melee-heavy groups, and gravity lapse could get quite chaotic as well.

Total number of Outland heroic instances: 16
Total number of Outland heroic bosses: 56
Average number of heroic bosses in an Outland instance: 3.5

Total wipe ratings for bosses:
low: 17
low to medium: 9
medium: 9
medium to high: 9
high: 11

Overall one could say that BC's heroics left an impression of pretty balanced difficulty in terms of boss fights, though there were slightly more easy ones than hard ones.

17/07/2009

I miss attunements

Just for fun I decided to get the key to the Arcatraz for my paladin today. She was only in her low sixties when WOTLK came out, so I never got to do anything related to BC's engame with her. Now she's eighty and working her way towards Champion of the Frozen Wastes, but I still enjoy going back and working on some BC stuff with her as well. She's also halfway through her Karazhan attunement, for example.

I'm actually kind of sad that there are practically no attunements in WOTLK and to be honest I'm a bit surprised that nobody else seems to feel that way. Any time I've seen someone comment on the lack of attunements in Wrath, their comment could usually be summed up as "good riddance".

To me, attunements are a wonderful and unique way to still advance your character once you've hit the level cap - beyond just upgrading your gear over and over again, that is. What better way to get a sense of progression than to actually work your way from one place to the next? Run normal Magister's Terrace and you'll be qualified to enter the place on heroic! Do a couple of five-man dungeons to prove that you're experienced enough to handle the ten-man Karazhan!

I believe that it's actually quite similar to the levelling experience: Kill enough mobs/do enough quests in Duskwood and you'll be able to cross the border to Stranglethorn Vale (without being instantly mauled to death by some tigers). Now, I know that some people don't like levelling and would prefer to start every new character at eighty right away, but I always figured that those were a small minority. Yet nobody seems to miss the "instance-levelling" provided by attunements. I don't get it.

I suppose one could argue that some attunements in BC were too lengthy and convoluted. If you wanted to get an new raiding character attuned to Mount Hyjal, you would have had to drag him through four different twenty-five-man raids first, among other things. However, Blizzard realised this and gradually loosened the requirements to access the various BC raids anyway. I didn't really mind that as it was done one step at a time, not unlike the way they've increased levelling speed for lower levels. Also, they didn't actually remove the attunement quest chains from the game, so you could still do them for your personal little achievements.

In WOTLK on the other hand, there's been nothing right from the start. Everybody can pretty much go anywhere as soon as they hit eighty. In practice this means that people will simply gravitate towards where they can get the most loot in the shortest amount of time, which is why there seem to be about a dozen Naxx pugs on my server every day, but heroics are mostly abandoned. Of course you can still do things "in order" if you want, but good luck trying to find heroic groups when everybody just skips them to go straight into the easy raids.

There also don't seem to be any quests connected to instances anymore. I fondly remember all the things the Violet Eye asked of me, or how the Keepers of Time wanted me to fetch those vials from Vashj and Kael. Not anymore! I still remember how incredulous I felt when I found out that there wasn't a single quest connected to the new Naxx. Seriously, nobody wants Kel'Thuzad dead and would pay for his head? The same in Ulduar: To be fair, we got a cool video on the official website, but again I was disappointed to not see any kind of follow-up in the game. Rhonin could have asked us to go there and join the good fight or something. How hard would that have been?

I don't really care for being able to go anywhere, at any time, in any gear. I want to feel like my character actually has a clear path ahead of her - because the journey is the reward.

12/07/2009

Four reasons why I like pugs

It seems to be a common "WoW-ism" that Pugs Are Bad. People with a solid and reliable pool of friends to draw from will likely avoid them altogether. Others may treat them as a means to an end and accept that grouping with strangers is necessary sometimes because there is no other way of achieving what they want - but they will always assure you that pugging is only a last resort and that they really don't like it.

Well, let me tell you something: I like pugs.

That's not to say that I feel like pugging 24/7, or that I've never had bad experiences that made me shy away from it for a while, but on the whole I rather enjoy running the occasional pug. Here's why:

1. The unknown keeps you on your toes.

While it's fun to run instances with your friends, it can also become repetitive. After so-and-so many runs with the same people you'll know exactly how all of them will react in any given situation. Eventually it will feel as if you could run the dungeon in your sleep.

Now, in a group of strangers, you never know! They might be very good players, but you don't really know their play style and have to pay close attention to what they are doing to keep up. Maybe the tank pulls faster than you're used to. Maybe that moonkin likes to pull extras with stray moonfires. It keeps you on your toes. If some people's play is below the standards you're accustomed to, that can even add an extra challenge for you to ramp up your own performance to make up for it (as long as they're not too bad, then it just becomes annoying).

The point is: running instances with different people, different group setups and in different roles is a major part of what keeps them interesting, as no two dungeon runs will be exactly the same this way.

2. Meeting new people is always good.

While you won't necessarily find a new star healer for your raid force in a heroic Halls of Lightning pug (though I'm sure it could happen, theoretically), it's always useful to learn more about the people on your server. If you notice someone playing particularly well, you can add them to your friends list and call on them again for later dungeon runs. Though even minor observations like "she does decent dps" or "people from this guild always seem to do quite poorly" can be useful in the long run. If you like engaging in activities that require multiple people, it's good to know many people. Pretty simple really.

3. You can treat your alts as mains.

My main is a holy priest and while I enjoy healing, I also have some alts that perform other roles. Ideally, I'd like to get into groups with them as well, but with my guild that can sometimes be hard. Yeah, they might have invited my hunter to their Naxx alt run, but now they are missing healers and it looks like the run won't get off the ground at all... even if nobody says it, there's this unspoken pressure for someone with a healer main to help out - and there goes another opportunity to gear up my alt.

When I join Looking For Group for a pug on the other hand, I am a hunter. Nothing else. None of the other people in the channel know that I have a holy priest in Ulduar gear or a paladin with a prot/holy dual spec. I can do dps, they can take it or leave it, and I don't feel like I owe them anything else. Sometimes that can be quite a relief.

4. Worst case, it usually makes for a good story.

Ever noticed how there are very few stories about great pugs? I'm pretty sure it's not because good pugs don't exist, but they simply aren't very exciting to talk about. "Yeah, I was in this pug, and we one-shot everything!" Good for you, but who cares? Bad pug stories on the other hand are often interesting and funny, so even if things do go bad, at least it will give you something to talk about in guild chat.

Some thoughts on heroic Oculus

I ran heroic Oculus twice today, once in the role of healer on my paladin, and once on my hunter. Both groups were pugs. Do I deserve a medal or what?

Though I have to say, in all honesty... it wasn't actually that bad.

Oculus is an interesting instance in so far as I don't think I've ever seen another dungeon in WoW that was as universally hated by everyone. Sure, people didn't like running heroic Shattered Halls back in BC either, but if you needed it for your Nightbane urn quest or whatever, you'd usually manage to find a couple of helpful guildies to assist you. Not so with Oculus - no matter how nicely you ask if anyone would be interested in joining you for a run, guild chat will instantly go eerily quiet as soon as you mention the o-word; that's how much people hate that place.

I was in the same camp for the longest time. I remember running the instance twice or so on my priest and really, really disliking it, like I had never disliked an instance before. It was all the more pronounced since all the other WOTLK dungeons I had run up to that point had been amazingly beautiful and fun, with massive improvements compared to what we had in BC. And then this? Are you kidding me?

(Just for completeness sake it has to be mentioned that there is also a small minority who absolutely loves the Oculus. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ferâthü. However, I've never met anyone who simply felt neutral about the instance. I think that says a lot about the place too.)

Recently I decided that I wanted to work on getting the Champion of the Frozen Wastes title for my two level 80 alts, so I'm currently focusing on running five-mans with them more often. Today Oculus was both the normal and the heroic daily and since I knew I wouldn't stand a chance to get a guild group going I decided to pug it.

I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, we had a few wipes in both groups, but on the whole things went smoothly. My hunter's party even managed to one-shot Eregos, which is something that I'd never seen before. To be fair, my server is quite old and the average player's skill more than decent, but I was still pleasantly surprised. Was this really the same place that I despised so much on my first attempts that I vowed to never go there again?

Some players have theorised that the reason that Oculus is so universally hated is that people just don't like vehicle fights and want to control their own character all the time. I have my doubts about that theory, especially with the way people fight over who gets to control the spiders on Mimiron trash...

I think that, at least for me personally, the main reason I disliked Oculus were the many, many wipes I had on Eregos early on without understanding what was really going on due to the vehicles. After almost three years of playing WoW I generally have a pretty good idea of all classes' core abilities and their roles and when something goes wrong in a five-man it's usually not that hard to tell what went wrong: tank didn't taunt, dps didn't interrupt a spell, healer was out of range etc. Conversely, I still don't know what exactly a ruby drake does, other than "tank, sort of", and I'm pretty sure that very few people (even if they are good players otherwise) know all the different abilities of all three drakes and when exactly they should be used. Not that the whole thing is extremely complicated or anything, but if you've never done it before it can still take some getting used to. So you wipe. And wipe again. And nobody really knows what's going wrong because they aren't exactly sure what should be happening either. And you wipe some more. Oh god, the memories... It's like learning the whole game all over again just for one dungeon.

But in both of my pugs today, everybody knew the instance. They knew what the dragon's abilities were all about and discussed the strategies accordingly. ("Make sure to always use time stop when he enrages.") And wham, bam, things died while we didn't. Mostly. And if something didn't work, we at least knew why.

So, next time someone asks for more people to join their Oculus run, I'll at least consider it. Though I still could do without all that clunky mounting up and dismounting again. Maybe in the next expansion.

About the author

I originally created this blog because I liked World of Warcraft a lot, and I seem to have a hard time not talking about the things I like. At the same time I've always hated to bore people with stories that don't interest them, which is why the WoW-related posts on my personal blog quickly started to feel out of place. The obvious solution: a new blog, dedicated to WoW only.

My posts mostly consist of a mix of stories about experiences I've had in the game and more general ponderings about its development. I try to maintain a balance between using this as my personal in-game diary and just looking at the game as something abstract. I generally don't write guides - they are useful, but in a blog format they are not something I personally care to read or write.

As far as WoW credentials go, I started playing in late Vanilla, with my first character hitting level sixty a few weeks before the release of the Burning Crusade. I switched from Alliance to Horde pretty early on, though I still played characters on both sides of the fence throughout the next two expansions. I also raided on what I'd consider a medium progression level for years but gave up on it about halfway through Cataclysm due to dissatisfaction with the raiding game. I eventually quit the game in early 2012, but information about the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion has piqued my interest again and I returned for a brief stint of dabbling in Mists of Pandaria.

Mainly I play and write about other games these days though, most notably Star Wars: The Old Republic and Neverwinter Online.

In real life I'm a 31-year-old Austrian living in England. I moved in order to live with my now ex-boyfriend, whom I met through WoW, but stayed because I met... other nice people.

I read all the comments people leave, but I'm not always very good at replying to them since I hate to artificially increase my comment count by saying things like "oh yes, I agree". Do know that if you do decide to leave a message, it does get read and appreciated. You can also email me at _Irish_ at sms.at if you want to contact me.

-Shintar