But I like the Sons of Hodir!

One small tidbit of news from Blizzcon that really caught my attention was this: While explaining the new Path of the Titans feature that's planned for Cataclysm, it was specifically mentioned that this addition wouldn't be "grindy" like the Sons of Hodir. This surprised me in so far as it implies that people think working for the Sons of Hodir isn't fun. I'm currently making my way to exalted with them for the fourth time and thoroughly enjoying it.

Maybe I'm strange but I actually quite like doing dailies. Not for gold, mind you... but then I haven't been short on cash since I bought epic flying for the third time back in BC. However, as a general rule I like the comforting sense of routine that dailies provide, and as a means to gain reputation they feel more natural than anything else.

For example I like the championing system as it was introduced in WOTLK, but in all honesty I don't think it makes much sense. Do the Kirin Tor really care that much if I smack around some random vyrkul in Utgarde Keep just because I wear their tabard while I'm doing it? Sorry, but I'm not quite buying it. Levelling reputation by killing hostile mobs à la Timbermaw makes more sense, but it's still kind of dull - surely killing things can't be the only thing those furbolgs care about? Finally, doing nothing but item hand-ins like you had to do to get exalted with the Aldor and Scryers just reduces reputation to another thing that can be bought with gold.

Now, daily quests - I think those make perfect sense. I can easily picture King Jokkum thinking: "Man, that little tauren has come to polish Hodir's helm again? She really seems to be devoted to helping us out, I'm growing more fond of her every day!"

My problem with most of the Northrend daily quests has been that they are all over the place. I'm not sure why Blizzard decided to go that way; after all the Isle of Quel'Danas showed how hugely popular a centralised quest hub with lots of convenient dailies nearby can be. And yet if you want to raise your reputation with the Wyrmrest Accord for example, all you can do is get two dailies in Coldarra and then fly across half the continent for one more at Wyrmrest temple. The Argent Tournament has been a bit better in that regard, but it still requires you to fly all over Icecrown and the sword-fetching quest in one of the more southern zones of Northrend is a major pain in the arse.

So for all the daily quests that Blizzard implemented in WOTLK, the Sons of Hodir offer the only daily quest hub as I think it should be: By the point where you're revered with them you can get a total of six dailies from them which are all very conveniently close together and never require you to travel very far. They are also varied enough and don't require you to kill too many mobs to feel hugely "grindy", not to me anyway.

Plus, I think the Sons as a faction are just plain fun. Call me juvenile, but I giggled when I first noticed just how much cheap innuendo they've got going on in their daily quest titles. It's almost as if the whole thing is a parody of a reputation grind - I mean, there isn't even any pretense that you're doing anything relevant or important. It's pure sucking-up, be it by polishing their furniture or showing off your manliness (/giggle) by single-handedly slaying a wild wyrm. I'm not saying all factions should be silly like that, but as it is I consider it a pleasant change of pace from saving the world in three different ways before breakfast.

Finally, I wrote in the past about how I miss attunements in WOTLK, and the Sons of Hodir provide the closest thing to an attunement that I could find in Northrend: A pretty long and epic quest chain that changes the world around you and allows for some personal progress for your character. It's just a shame that this personal progress doesn't consist of anything truly impressive, like access to a new raid instance - instead you just get permission to buy a bunch of shoulder enchants which you wouldn't have otherwise (unless you're an inscriber). Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but yeah... shoulder enchants? I find it funny that getting my shoulders enchanted requires more effort than getting into Ulduar.

Speaking of Ulduar, I think it's a huge shame that the Sons of Hodir weren't used for some kind of Ulduar attunenement or even just a quest, as the setup was pretty much perfect. At the end of their regular quests as it is - SPOILER - you get Thorim to challenge Loken, but he loses the fight and gets captured and dragged into Ulduar. The Sons then ask you to kill Loken and cut out his filthy tongue, but once you've done that it just stops. I always found that odd, don't they care about where Thorim has gone? Or their "father" Hodir for that matter? It would have made perfect sense to continue this story with a quest that asks you to go to Ulduar and find both Thorim and Hodir. What a wasted opportunity. If anything I want more content along the lines of the Sons of Hodir, not less!


Of hunters and helmets

Is it me or are there a lot more people that hide their character's helmets than there are people who show them? Especially if it's a "pretty" character? (Think female, elf, female elf.) Now, part of me understands that, especially when it comes to head pieces that completely hide your face and hair, therefore making everyone who wears them look exactly the same. Some helms are also just plain hideous. I displayed my Forgotten Shadow Hood on my priest for quite a while, but eventually even I got tired of all the S&M jokes.

Still, as a general rule I like to see my characters' heads covered in armour, because it simply makes sense. As a tank my paladin gets hit on the head so much, it would be downright silly for her to show off her flowing tresses instead of focusing on preventing major brain injuries. I'm not much of a roleplayer, but this is just something that tickles me. I also always make sure to cover any bare midriffs on my ladies with a tabard (unless they are casters, then that thin layer of cloth isn't going to make much of a difference anyway).

Over time, my favourite character to get new helms for has become my hunter. While levelling she wore a wide variety of hats, ranging from mail circlets to rogue-ish leather masks to furry wolf hats, but nothing particularly memorable. Once she hit seventy she soon settled for a nice blue quality helmet that looked like it was made of feathers, which didn't make much sense but I liked the look of it anyway.

I think it might have been the Earthwarden's Coif from the Steamvault quest, but I'm not entirely sure. I believe there was another blue helm that used the same model, I just can't remember what it was.

Then, it might even have been on my very first Karazhan run with this character, I got lucky and ended up getting the tier four helm from Prince Malchezaar. I was so excited! Looking at it from a profile view it looked really sleek...

... but looking at it from the front it looked really dorky.

Either way I was very happy with my new metal bucket with horns, it felt like a great status symbol for a character that was only an alt, as well as adding something sufficiently fierce to my tauren hunter's look. In raids people told me to please hide my helm more than once, complaining that its ugliness offended their eyeballs. I laughed at them and was only reassured in my conviction that an ugly helmet was something cool to show off.

My tier four lasted me for quite a while, until one day I happened to be present when the Coif of the Jungle Stalker dropped off Hex Lord Malacrass in Zul'Aman. I had seen it drop before while on my priest and had more than once declared it the ugliest helm that I had ever seen. This wasn't helped by the fact that for the longest time I couldn't actually make out what it was supposed to look like. I used to call it the "face mask", based on my perception that it looked like some troll had torn off someone else's face and then pasted it onto a mask.

But... it had great stats! What to do? Of course I rolled need and won. Funnily enough it turned out that this was actually the first helm that I had ever seen that actually looked better on a female tauren than on anyone else. Flat blood elf and orc faces distorted the image way too much, but placed on my hunter's long snout I could finally make out what it was supposed to be: a bird's beak! I displayed it quite proudly from then on and it lasted me all the way to eighty.

Some time after I hit eighty I got a new blue helm of utterly nondescript shape. I mean... it really just looked like a helm made of leather! How boring! I felt seriously uncomfortable with my hunter being reduced to running around with something that unexciting, considering the standards she had become used to.

Imagine my delight when I started to grind reputation with the Oracles and discovered that one of their reputation rewards was the so-called Toothslice helm. It had horns! And randomly pasted-on jaws! Finally I got comments from other people about my odd choice of helm again, which eventually led to it being dubbed the "goat helm". I consider it fortunate that I didn't run into any boring-looking upgrades for a long time.

When the looks of the tier eight armour models were first discovered, a video was posted on youtube that showed a selection of different characters walking around wearing the full sets. For some reason female tauren hunter was one of the combinations of choice, and I remember looking at it and thinking how awesome yet hilarious the helm in particular looked, what with the ginormous horns on top of the already existing ones. Too bad my hunter was unlikely to ever get any tier eight, what with being a relatively rarely played alt...

Enter the emblem changes. Hurrah! And while I still run a lot less instances on my hunter than on my other characters (simply because as a dps she's not in that much demand), I finally managed to accumulate the fifty-eight emblems of conquest to buy her a Conqueror's Scourgestalker Headpiece today. I cannot express how good it feels to be wearing a metal bucket with horns again. The fact that this also means having a meta gem again for the first time since Karazhan is only a nice bonus.

Bucketheads of WoW, unite!


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.


On healing the Loken fight

Loken used to be one of my least favourite heroic bosses in WOTLK, right up there with Ley-Guardian Eregos of Oculus infamy. Even though I ran heroics as soon as I hit eighty on my first character, I was one of the last people in my guild to get the Timely Death achievement. Somehow this fight just turned every Halls of Lightning run into a nightmare. To this day I've never seen the "proper" strategy of running out of the lightning nova seen executed efficiently. Eventually I'd always be pressured into just healing through the damage as everyone stayed in (because "it's much easier that way" - yeah right, for everyone but me), people would die left and right, and only with some luck the tank and I would eventually finish the guy off after kiting him around the room for five minutes.

Lately however I've managed to overcome my fear of Halls of Lightning in general and Loken in specific. Today the instance was a "double daily" on my server and I ended up healing through it three times, once on my priest, once on my paladin and once on my druid. We never wiped, but it was certainly insightful.

On my priest, the main thing that struck me was what an immense difference good gear makes on this fight. I remember when we did this with the whole party wearing mostly blue-quality items, the dps doing maybe one thousand damage per second each (if we were lucky) and me being expected to heal through three, four, five lightning novas without running out of mana (which I never really managed). These days, in Ulduar gear, everybody does two or three times that much damage, so Loken dies much more quickly, and my heals also hit for a ton more. I never had trouble topping everyone off after each nova, even though we never tried to avoid it.

The lesson I learned on my paladin was that the class of your healer doesn't really matter on this fight. I've noticed that holy paladins have a tendency to moan about their lack of a big aoe healing spell as if it was something hugely crippling. I've always had my doubts about this, considering that whenever we raid it's a holy paladin who tops the healing meters on nearly every fight. The experimental instance runs and Naxx raids that I did as holy myself only confirmed my suspicions that the class's aoe healing is really powerful anyway. Sure, every now and then there was an occasion where I thought that having something like circle of healing would be handy, but that's no different than me sometimes wishing that my priest had more heal-over-time spells or that my druid had prayer of mending. It's situational. Overall I did fine.

Especially in small group content like a five-man instance, beacon of light and the glyph of holy light are extremely powerful group healing tools. In the end I actually found healing the Loken fight on my paladin much easier than on any of my other characters, because you don't even have to do much thinking. On my priest I have to decide whether to cast prayer of healing first, or prayer of mending, or put a renew on myself first... whatever. On my paladin I just have to make sure that beacon of light stays on the tank and then I spam holy light bombs on whoever is lowest on health until the boss is dead. It's a no-brainer and it works, because if I get my self-buffs up at the start, a holy light only takes as long to cast as one of my priest's flash heals, while healing for much more than a priesty greater heal would do in a hundred years. Paladins lacking group healing power? Bah I say.

Finally on my druid, the lesson that got driven home was that gear really matters on this fight. Wait, didn't I say that already? Let's change it slightly to stamina matters. My druid's healing gear is actually pretty nice for someone who hit eighty only quite recently, but several pieces of it are cloth and thus low on stamina. We only managed to one-shot Loken due to the paladin tank's skill and burning of cooldowns, as I actually died on a nova early on. With buffs my little tree has about 17k health. That's fine for surviving a nova of 14.5k damage. It's not fine when you immediately get hit by arc lightning right afterwards for 2.5k damage. Splat. In hindsight I suspect that this was the reason for a lot of the wipes I experienced early on when both healer and dps only had about 16k health max. People would always go "oh, that's fine, his nova only hits for 14k" without taking into consideration any damage that could follow immediately afterwards. I don't think you can consider yourself safe to survive the nova with less than 18k health really, only if you get lucky with whom he targets with his random attacks.

In summary: Any healing class has the tools to heal through the aoe damage of the lightning nova. However, good gear makes a huge difference in the difficulty of this endeavour, and a healthy amount of stamina is pretty much required - I'd recommend at least 18k health buffed for everyone. Also, if anyone ever figures out a way to make a whole party of people run out of the nova properly, let me know. I'm still kind of intrigued by the idea.


So... Cataclysm is official.

I was quite excited already when so many details about the new expansion were leaked about a week ago, but I didn't really want to blog about it then and there because if it had all turned out to be a load of hogwash I would have felt quite silly for making a big deal out of it. And I did have my doubts, not so much because the leaked information sounded unbelievable, but because I didn't really want a lot of it to be true. I mean, Thrall abandoning the Horde? I'm glad that this one hasn't been confirmed as of yet as far as I'm aware. But also the destruction and revamping of so many low-level zones: I know they really show their age by now, but at the end of the day it's those very same zones that drew me into the World of Warcraft to begin with, you know? I don't want them to go away.

However, very much to Blizzard's credit, I have to say that the newly released trailer completely sold me on the concept. Seeing someone soar over the Barrens on a drake? Oooh. The bleak plains of Desolace turned into lush grassland? Beautiful. And the bits about the land being torn asunder actually look more like the creation of new mountains and canyons than turning every other zone into fire and brimstone as I had feared. Anyway, before I continue to ramble on too incoherently about random things that I liked about the trailer and the official website, let's break it down point by point as listed on Blizzard's site:

Two New Playable Races

The new races are the feature that has been semi-official for longer than any of the others and I loved it from moment I heard about it, even more so now that I found out that it was a conscious decision to include new races instead of another hero class. As I wrote only a few days ago, I never got into death knights and consider their high starting level a huge turn-off. Compare that to Burning Crusade, where the addition of draenei and blood elves made me level at least five (might have been more) characters of those races through the new starting zones. I like alts, I like diversity and I like the levelling experience. Thus: new races = win, at least for me.

As far as the races themselves go, I was actually pretty neutral towards both of them at first. Worgen sounded slightly cooler maybe, but I have a bit of a soft spot for goblins as well. After seeing the trailer however, I want to roll a goblin girl right now, they just look so cute! Worgen in dresses on the other hand look quite silly, no comparison to their feral NPC counterparts. Not that this will prevent me from making one just to check out their starting zone...

Level Cap Increased to 85

This one still has me a bit confused to be honest. Why only five new levels this time instead of ten? I think MMO-champion posted something about how Blizzard wants to make these five levels last longer to make each one feel more meaningful. Which, you know, would be a 180° turnaround from everything they've been doing in the past two years, where they've been striving to make levelling as quick as possible - because only the level cap matters. I wonder if that means that they'll also slow down the lower levels again? Personally I'd quite like that, especially if they are working on making all the levelling content more fun with the revamp anyway. Though the likely backlash from the player base for being "forced" to stay in low-level zones longer again makes this something that's unlikely to happen for real.

I'm also a bit confused about the implications for gear when there'll only be five new levels. As it was, ten levels seemed like a sensible time span to replace a full set of gear, even if it had been really good in the previous endgame. However, the thought of already ditching all my Icecrown epics after only five levels doesn't sit quite right with me. We'll see how that one works out.

I'm also intrigued by the new "path system" for character progression. We already have levels, we have talents, we have achievements... what could this be about? How else can you progress your character?

Classic Zones Remade

This is the big one for me. As I said above, initially I really didn't like the idea of losing some of my old favourite levelling zones. It's still a scary thought to be honest, though what was shown in the trailer has given me hope. The question remains just how much each zone will be changed in terms of quests and the like. Auberdine getting destroyed for example definitely opens up a lot of new quest options, but does it automatically make all the old ones irrelevant? Surely the night elves would still be concerned with corrupted wildlife and furbolgs, maybe even more so - are they affected by the same ancient evil that caused the cataclysm? I guess in my ideal world they'd add new quests while also incorporating some of the old ones in the new setting, maybe streamlining them somewhat in the process. The question would be how viable that would be, especially if we assume that the base levelling speed won't be changed - do people really need more quests that they'll just outlevel way too quickly anyway?

Another thing to consider is that it's unlikely that all zones will be affected by the destructive forces. Will Blizzard cop out and just leave them as they are, with NPCs appearing to be completely oblivious to what's going on around them? I hope not.

New High-Level Zones & More Raid Content than Ever Before

I feel a bit spoiled saying this, but this is a bit of a "duh", isn't it? That's kind of what you expect from an expansion! The confirmation that more difficult versions of raid encounters will be optional again doesn't have me particularly excited as I'm not a fan of achievement raiding at all, but it's clearly something that works so I didn't really expect it to go away.

New Race and Class Combinations

I actually don't have huge issues with any of them. Things like tauren paladins will certainly take some getting used to, but I think it makes perfect sense for the people of Azeroth to evolve some and learn new things over the course of several years. And none of the new combinations are completely "out there" as far as I'm concerned.

I'm definitely looking forward to trying out many of these new options, though the limited amount of character slots per realm will definitely end up being an issue for me. I can only hope that Blizzard will also add an option to get more than ten of those, even if it's a paid feature. I hate deleting alts that I invested time in.

Guild Advancement

Making guilds more meaningful is one of those things that I've seen people suggest quite often, but it never seemed to be a priority for Blizzard, plus there are a load of potential issues to consider: For example if someone joins a new guild, do they immediately benefit from guild "levels" (whatever they turn out to be exactly) or not? If guild-changing suddenly has more meaningful effects than losing a chat channel and the tag over your name that could be the source of a lot of new drama... but I'm confident in Blizzard's ability to avoid the worst pitfalls that are bound to crop up with such a new system.

New PvP Zone & Rated Battlegrounds

I don't PvP much these days so I can't claim to care much about these features, however the mention of "new battlegrounds with rated team play" in the trailer has me intrigued. Could they actually be doing something to encourage team play in battlegrounds instead of mindless HK farming? A revolutionary idea!


Nobody really seems to know yet what exactly this will be about, but I have to say I really like the idea of a new secondary profession, simply because that means everyone will be able to get it - and, like the other secondary professions, it would most likely be somewhat optional. So nobody will have to worry about dropping any of their current professions just to pick up a new and insanely powerful primary profession like it happened with jewelcrafting and inscription.

Flying Mounts in Azeroth

Awesome. Not much more to say about that. Though, to quote the official FAQ: "We’re still determining whether there will be any restrictions on where you will be able to fly, at what level flying will become available, or whether you’ll need to do anything to unlock it." I do hope they come up with sensible restrictions for this, I don't think anyone would be impressed if we saw level ten characters soaring all over Kalimdor on their epic flyers.


A rogue quest

Having done maybe a bit too much badge farming on my level eighties in the past two weeks, I decided to just mess around on a really low-level alt today for a change. My choice eventually fell on a blood elf rogue in his early twenties, whom I hadn't played in many, many months, except to log on briefly and fiddle with his enchanting occasionally.

The first thing I did was go out and buy him a mount. I knew that they had made mount and riding training cheaper in the last patch but was still baffled when it ended up costing me less than five gold altogether. I'm not complaining though, while I find money-making easy these days, I still vividly remember my first character hitting forty, me being very much not able to afford my training at the time and being quite frustrated by that. Speed boosts for everyone, I say!

Also, no matter if it's black (a nice rogue-ish colour), a hawkstrider is still a supremely silly battle chicken and my rogue looks really naff riding it. Whatever gets the job done, I guess.

Anyway, I looked at my quest log and found a rogue quest called Deep Cover that sends you to the northern Barrens. I vaguely remembered attempting it before but then being forced to abandon and restart it for some reason after the elite mob at the end had kicked my leather-clad little arse. As I quickly found out, the quest does indeed lead on to Mission: Possible But Not Probable, which requires you to steal some stuff and kill a bunch of mobs including a named elite. I wasn't worried about that this time around however, because while I hadn't actually played my rogue in months, he had received a constant stream of random bind-on-equip gear that I had picked up while playing other characters and had as such become pretty well-geared for his level.

And indeed, I had no trouble taking down even multiple mobs at once, including the named elite. As I looted the quest item at the top of the tower I noticed that I got debuffed with something called Touch of Zanzil. "Cannot stealth or turn invisible"? Ouch, that's a pretty cruel debuff to put on a rogue. Considering that it comes from a class-specific quest however, I assumed that they specifically put that in to make a point and force players to hurry up and/or play in a way they aren't used to.

I fought my way out of the tower again to hand in the finished quest but had to realise that one of the objectives was still greyed out, namely the one to get "Silixiz's tower key". I re-read the quest description and targeted Foreman Silixiz. He was a corpse on the ground behind me. Wait, if I had just killed this guy, why didn't I have his key? Ah I get it, since it's a rogue quest I have to use pickpocket... fine, I'll just wait for him to respawn and then...

No. Hang on. Touch of Zanzil. Cannot stealth. I guess I'll have to wait for that to run out first. What was the duration of it again?

Seven. Days. I kid you not.

I think I spent a good minute just sitting there and staring at my screen in astonishment. Would Blizzard, who's made so much wonderful and well thought-out content for this game, really implement a quest with a mechanic this stupid? Because, you know, I can't finish it without stealthing, and I can't stealth without (presumeably) getting rid of the debuff by finishing the quest first. And the only alternative seems to be to spend seven days waiting for the debuff to run out before trying again. At level twenty-three.

Incredulous and convinced that I couldn't have been the first person to run into this problem and that there must be a better solution, I checked the wowhead comments for this quest and was delighted to be informed that the debuff was just an ordinary poison. A highlighted comment specifically pointed out that it could also be removed by the low-level first aid item called anti-venom.

Anti-venom? You mean that stuff that I used to create en masse when I was new because it seemed really useful and then I never used it? The same stuff that I stopped making because I never used it and I couldn't even sell it on the auction house? The very same stuff for which I don't have the materials lying around on any of my alts, despite of my exessive hoarding? /sigh

Still, I tried to look at it as a challenge. Creating three pieces of anti-venom only requires a single small venom sac, an item that drops quite commonly from low-level spiders. Well, usually anyway. So I made my way over to Stonetalon Mountains, suddenly feeling that I was on an epic quest to save my rogue's life from being ended (or at least ruined) by a deadly poison. As it goes with usually common drops they suddenly become increasingly rare when you need them, so I had to clear out Sishir Canyon three times before I got my first venom sac. Excitedly I crafted the anti-venom, used the first charge... but except for a sparkly little animation nothing happened. I was still indecently touched by Zanzil. Maybe anti-venom could be resisted or something? I tried again; still nothing. Hoping against hope that the third time would be the charm I used the last charge but it was also in vain. Only as I went back to wowhead to complain about the useless advice I had been given I noticed that there were already comments about this not working anymore, they just hadn't been highlighted yet. D'oh.

Anyway, at this point I finished a couple more easy quests in the area and then hearthed back to Orgrimmar. The first paladin I saw emerging from the auction house received a polite whisper from me, asking him to please remove the poison on me, which he did. But now that I finally could have gone back to finish the quest I didn't feel like it anymore.

I'm always wary when people talk about how much the old world needs a revamp because it's not streamlined enough - I do like having to take a bit of a detour now and then, it keeps things interesting. But unfinishable quests with seven-day-long debuffs that take away your class's defining abilities? Crap like that really does need to be fixed, man.

Ninja invites

Pugging etiquette is a fickle beast and I've seen many a discussion about it over the years. One of the subjects I've seen brought up reasonably often is that of "ninja invites", that is to say, inviting someone to your party without whispering them about it first. I never had particularly strong feelings on the matter but I agreed that it was kind of on the rude side and always made sure to talk to people first before actually sending a group invite their way.

Lately however I noticed that I stopped doing that and have become a ninja inviter myself. Why is that? I think there are mainly two reasons for it:

First and foremost, the current level of sophistication of the LFG tool. Back in BC you were only required to specify which instance you wanted to go to, not which role you wanted to play. You could add that information in a public note, but most people didn't. So randomly inviting that paladin on LFG to your party without even knowing whether he was a tank, healer or dps (and thus whether your party actually had a use for him) was not just a bit rude but also stupid.

Nowadays you can't select an instance on LFG without defining your role first, so all the information you could possibly need is already out there. And frankly, when I see that a healer is looking for a group for Utgarde Pinnacle, then whispering him first to ask whether he would like to heal that very same instance feels very redundant. Of course he'd like to do that, that's what it says right here!

Of course there can be exceptional cases where someone might end up sitting in LFG without actually wanting to go places; I know it has happened to me in the past: I enter the channel, quest for a bit while I wait for an invite, nothing happens and it gets late, and just as I want to log off someone suddenly wants to group with me. However, that's not them being rude for not asking whether I still fancy a party, that's me being oblivious to the time, and it's my responsibility to say: "Sorry, I forgot that I was still in LFG, I'm too tired to run an instance now."

The second reason I can't be bothered to whisper people anymore is simply how fast groups form these days, what with the renewed popularity of heroics. What I mean is, if I get lucky enough to spot a tank looking for a group for the same instance as me, I better grab them now. If I take the time to type out something along the lines of "Why hello there, dear chap, would you fancy tanking the heroic version of The Violet Hold for my party?" (I'm not a fan of people who'd sum up the same message in nothing but "VH?"), three other groups will likely have already thrown an invite his way.

If someone doesn't accept my group invite I'll still whisper them to ask what's up, but most of the time it's just a case of them being AFK for a minute. I think I have yet to encounter someone who actually rejects invites if they aren't preceded by a whisper about the matter, even though I remember hearing about this behaviour plenty of times in the past. I wonder if more people have changed their minds about the issue?


I will never tank for dickheads again

The other day Tamarind made a post about how, simply put, he ran heroic Utgarde Keep with a bunch of raiders who considered themself so "uber leet" that they were beyond things like caring about their healer or how much mana he has, and how this made the whole thing a very miserable experience. As someone who mostly plays healers herself, I commiserated.

Today I actually had a similar experience... except that I was the tank and the dickhead was the healer. Huh. I have to admit that threw even me a little.

Nexus was the heroic daily and upon checking the LFG channel I noticed that there were plenty of people of all persuasions looking for a group for it, they were all just too lazy to actually build the group. Me being on my paladin at the time, I decided to bite the bullet and put a party together myself - not that it was difficult or anything, considering the sheer amount of people. I just invited a nice mix of different classes and we were off.

Everybody was a good little pugger and made their way to the instance, except for the resto druid, who was busy capturing the flag in Warsong Gulch. As we all stood around the summoning stone I pointed out politely that we were only waiting for him... he did leave us hanging a little longer but eventually deigned us worthy of summoning him.

As he appeared next to the summoning stone I noticed that he wore the guild tag of one of the top raiding guilds on my server. I was momentarily torn between whether to consider that a good thing or not: The other day I had pugged with three people from the top raiding guild on the server and they had been perfectly nice, even (mostly) watching their aggro against my little undergeared druid tank. On the other hand Tamarind's post was still freshly on my mind, and this was a different guild.

Unfortunately it turned out that the wary part of me was right. We had barely entered the instance and buffed up when the druid instructed me to "pull lots" to make it a fast run. Sorry, but for someone who just made the whole group wait to finish his WSG match that's a pretty daft first thing to say. Not to mention that I don't appreciate backseat drivers, especially not when I'm already doing them a favour by putting the group together and providing my tanking services (which are pretty hard to find on my server at the moment).

Still, in my eternal desire to please everyone I tried to go along with his wishes as we made our way to Ormorok the Tree-Shaper, especially as the high density of mobs in there and the aura of regeneration made it easy to pull two packs at once without getting anyone into serious trouble. For a while we were okay, though I noticed that our healer had an alarming tendency to run ahead and moonfire mobs to then "bring" them to me. I really wanted to say "You want to tank then? Fine!" and let him die, but the problem is that while you can do this with annoying dpsers no problem, letting your healer die is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot, even if you are well-geared.

When we got to the section of the instance that contains Grand Magus Telestra our tree started to get more impatient again. "Pull more!" he urged constantly. I said no, since these trash mobs silence a lot, which is really annoying for a paladin tank and makes it hard to keep aggro properly. He was convinced that I should just be able to hit consecrate once and be done. Just before the boss he got so impatient that he pulled an extra pack despite of my warnings. I tried to taunt them off him, but since the paladin "mass" taunt only hits up to three targets that wasn't all of them. Add to that me getting silenced again right after and you won't be surprised to hear that both our tree and the warlock died. The remaining two dps and I managed to finish off the rest of the mobs just fine with me popping a few survival cooldowns. I resisted the urge to say something smug as I resurrected the druid, but quietly hoped that he had learned his lesson.

This was of course not so. He immediately reprimanded our warlock for sitting down to drink after having just been resed. "Just life tap, it's faster." God help us if a warlock doesn't want to drain himself to one hit point to fill up a completely empty mana bar! Then, as soon as we had killed the Magus, he started to emote /sleep on every other trash pack to express his boredom, only interrupting to press his "pull more" macro occasionally. Just to make things clear, I'm not one of those tanks who does a ready check for every trash pull and then waits ten seconds afterwards. I tend to pull quite speedily, but I don't like rushing for the sake of rushing.

Unlike our druid, who started moonfiring things again. I was so fed up with him by that time, all I really wanted to do was say "Look, there is no shortage of healers at the moment, if you insist on being an idiot you can find yourself another group" and kick him. But we were so close to finishing and finding another healer would have taken some time at least that I decided to keep my mouth shut for a few more minutes and get on with it. But I definitely won't group with this guy again.


Pug like a pro

This morning I logged onto my paladin to do the jewelcrafting daily as usual. While riding around Dalaran I decided to also check out the daily heroic quest and it turned out to be Azjol-Nerub. "Ooh," I thought to myself, "I only have a couple of hours before I have to go to work, but AN is nice and short; I'll be able to do that, no problem." So I hopped on LFG while I did my jewelcrafting daily. Shortly after I had finished it I got recruited into a party as a tank. The group filled up quickly, we got to the instance in no time and then breezed right through it with no deaths and amazing dps.

Feeling satisfied, I hearthed back to Dalaran, handed in and logged off to take care of a couple of other things. When I was done I logged back in, looked at the time and decided that I had more than enough time left to run the daily with my priest as well. Especially considering that I might not get to play in the evening, it seemed sensible to make sure that also I got my daily dose of emblems of triumph for my main.

Again I joined the LFG channel and got snatched up within a couple of minutes. Another few minutes later the party was full and at the instance. Another smooth run followed, though this one had a couple of deaths as people died from things like pulling aggro off a crusher or standing in Anub'arak's pound. Not much I can do about that as a healer.

As I handed in my second copy of the idle crown of Anub'arak I looked at the time again and saw that I had about an hour of play time left. Each run so far had taken about thirty minutes, including things like assembling the group. I had two level eighties left that hadn't done the instance yet. Should work, right?

And it did. Yes, I completed heroic Azjol-Nerub two more times in the following hour, once tanking it on my druid (who only dinged 80 two days ago, crafted gear rocks so much) and once providing dps on my hunter.

As much as I love running instances, I think pugging the daily heroic no less than four times before going to work has to be some kind of record even for me. I feel kind of dorky for doing it, but at the same time - it only took about two hours! Just goes to show how fast you can actually achieve things in WoW when you're focused.

Also, I think it speaks for the quality of my server that not a single one of the four pugs I joined contained anyone who played badly or acted like an idiot. Though I'm wondering if it wasn't also related to the time of day: at the risk of sounding ageist, all the kids are at school in the late morning hours...

Either way, I can heartily recommend heroic Azjol-Nerub for some quick and painless daily heroic fun, and as my example shows pugging really isn't always a bad option for it either!


Why I don't like death knights

No, this is not about how overpowered, underpowered or whatever else death knights are. Nor is it about bad death knight players in pugs. This is about why I, personally, just can't seem to get into playing a death knight.

I did create one of course, some time after WOTLK release. After all the new class was supposed to be a big new feature of the expansion; got to at least try it out, right? I got through the starter zone relatively quickly and thought that it was a pretty enjoyable experience, but once I made it to Orgimmar and was accepted back into the Horde, I felt... lost. I went around exploring the world, picking flowers to level herbalism and inscription, and once both skills were high enough I went to Outland. I did a couple of quests in Hellfire and my boyfriend ran me through the low-level instances in the area, but the feeling just wasn't there.

And after thinking about it, I think that the problem lies in the fact that the class starts out at level 55. Yes, the very same feature that everyone else praises about it.

The thing is: I like levelling. I haven't done a whole lot of it lately as my high-level alts have kept me very busy, but when I do play lower-level alts I enjoy it. It's rare that I feel like I'm just grinding to get to the next level; I enjoy the journey.

As such I also like that my character is a complete nobody in ragged clothes and with dull weapons when I first see them at level one. Where they go from there is up to me. Of course many people will go down the same path, just following their starter quests, but there is choice. You can also run your new alt over to another race's starting zone and be a stranger in a strange land. Or try to level without killing things; the world is your oyster.

Compare that to the death knight starting area, which is heavily phased and scripted. Don't get me wrong, it's nice in its own way, but it's really more of an interactive movie. You can't run away and decide that you don't want to fight the scarlet guys. You've got to follow the premade plot. Said plot also provides you with both a predetermined past and a future: You were a hero of your faction - though nobody really tells you what you did that was so heroic - and in the future you will do everything to fight the Lich King! And then you suddenly find yourself in Orgrimmar, kitted out in awesome gear for your level, supposedly with a great backstory, but in reality no more developed than a freshly rolled level one. It just feels wrong, as if I suddenly ended up playing someone else's character. I don't want to play someone else's characters though, I want to level my own!

There is a practical aspect to it as well. I often see people who hate levelling make the argument that you should just be allowed to create new characters at the level cap. One argument that I've frequently seen brought up against this is that it would throw players into the game with no knowledge of their class and they'd be terrible at it. To which the no-levelling supporters say: "What? It's really easy to learn how to play any class really quickly, you're just stupid if you can't!" Well, maybe I'm stupid but I simply don't like being thrown into the game as a new class and start out with a full spell book. I don't like having to sit down to read and figure out twenty different spell descriptions when I only just rolled this character. I want to go out into the world and play. At level one that's easy, no matter the class, because you usually only have like three skills. You actually look forward to gaining new abilities one at a time and then testing them out in your environment as you level. It's a gradual process and it's learning by doing.

This applies to talents as well. I don't know how other people do it, but when I roll a new alt I don't usually have their spec all planned out. I may have a general idea, like "this will be my BM hunter", but I don't go around looking for optimised specs of any kind. I just look at my talent trees every time I gain a new talent point and then decide what looks the most interesting. Doing this one point at a time also allows you to really see the difference each point makes. Imagine my horror when I was assaulted by 46 death knight talent points that needed spending at once. I actually pictured how much more fun this would be for me if my little death knight was only level ten, having to decide whether to spend her first talent point in improved icy touch or butchery (as little sense as that makes lore-wise - nobody decides to be a death knight, they are made). But 46 points? God knows! I do like reading up on optimised specs and the like once I have figured out the basics myself, but I don't think I should need a manual for my new character the moment they leave the starter zone.

In summary, I don't like playing my death knight because she doesn't feel like "my" character, but like someone else's premade. And while I have no trouble running around and killing mobs, I still feel slightly lost in terms of which abilities I should use - and since I don't care about the character to begin with, I can't be arsed to do more research. A vicious circle.

I can't help feeling a certain admiration for people who have a death knight as their main. How did they ever manage to get into it? I have no idea. All I know is that I'm glad that for all the rumours about the new expansion that have been making the rounds lately, none of them have been talking about a new hero class. I really don't fancy any more premades.


I hate replenishment

In the past week I've been getting back into some ten-man fun: We killed the first two bosses in the new raid instance and finally downed Yogg-Saron in Ulduar. It was great fun all around, but it also served as a reminder of just how much I hate replenishment, or rather not having it when it's so badly needed.

Despite of Blizzard's assurances that it's considered mandatory for all raiding and should be easy to come by now that five different classes can potentially provide it, I'm finding myself without it all too often. In fact I've done all the ten-mans mostly without it. So far I've managed, but it's been really painful in many respects.

The thing about replenishment is that it's not really a buff, it's a binary state of being: either you have it and it will be virtually impossible to deplete your mana bar, or you don't have it and will barely be able to make it to the end of a boss fight if you're sufficiently overgeared, pull every trick in the book to squeeze some extra mana out of various sources, and then hope that the raid gets lucky during the last thirty seconds of the boss fight as you stand in the back, completely out of mana and cooldowns, and just shoot at the big bad with your wand.

Unfortunately I can't find a quote on it right now, but I distinctly seem to remember that when the developers decided to get rid of Blessing of Salvation, a blue poster said something along the lines of not wanting any class or spec to be absolutely manadatory for raiding just because of some buff they have. This affected shadow priests too, and even though I was shadow myself at the time and enjoying it, I could still see the logic behind it. I mean, people were nearly getting into fights over who would get to be in a party with me. So normalising shadow's damage output while nerfing vampiric touch and its mana regeneration aspect seemed sensible.

I don't know when and how that turned into: "Actually, let's keep it, give a mass mana regen ability to five different classes and make it required for every raid." And I really wish it hadn't, because it's stupid.

I don't know the actual mp5 values for the old vampiric touch and replenishment as it is now, it might have been somewhat reduced in power actually, but in many respects it's only become more powerful than ever. At least in BC the buff was only party-wide, and depended on the shadow priest actually dps-ing and doing it well. If they got stunned, feared or otherwise incapacitated by a boss there was no mana regen, or very little if they played badly. Now a retribution paladin just has to auto-attack and judge whenever it's on cooldown, and ten people in the whole raid get fifteen seconds of guaranteed mana regen.

You'd think that with how many classes can now provide replenishment there really shouldn't be a problem getting it anyway, but that's not true either. Retri paladins are pretty much the only reliable replenishers I've seen. Shadow priests try it as well, but due to the effect only triggering from a vampiric touch and mind blast combo, there are situations where they simply won't get much of a chance to make it happen (think of things like Thorim's arena). I also thought that hunters could be relied on to provide replenishment since survival is everyone's favourite raiding spec at the moment, but only last night our hunter leader showed up to our raid as survival without replen, simply because he preferred to put those particular talent points into talents that boost his personal damage output. Warlocks come in all kinds of flavours so getting one that provides the buff is very hit-or-miss. And frost mages? Are you kidding me? That's no help at all, considering all raiding mages these days are fire or arcane.

When I complained about having to raid without replen yet again last night everybody just mocked me. "Oh look, Shintar's whining about mana regen again." They know that I'll keep them alive somehow. But I don't think any of them, even the dps warrior with the windfury addiction, appreciates just how extremely frustrating it is to rely so completely on another class's buffs to be able to do your job properly.

Now just to clarify, I don't actually want endless mana. I do think that having to watch cooldowns and conserving mana is part of a healer's job. But when I use my shadow fiend twice during a fight, pop inner focus and my regen trinket whenever they are on cooldown, use a mana potion, get innervated, and still people die at the end of the fight because I was out of mana, even though I'm fully kitted out with gear from one tier up on the raid ladder, and it's all because I'm missing a single buff, something is seriously wrong in my book.

In my ideal world the developers would just admit that replenishment was a bad idea, scrap it, and then buff everyone's mana regeneration ever so slightly to enable them to play without it again while not giving anyone endless mana pools. A woman can dream.


Instance Review: Trial of the Champion

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:

1. Accessability

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?

2. Atmosphere

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.

4. Length

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.

5. Layout

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.

6. Trash

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.

7. Bosses

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.

8. Loot

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.


What makes an instance good?

I have quite a few thoughts on the new five-man instance, but I figured that before I start rambling about what I do and don't like about it and why, it might be useful to create a point of reference for what I consider positive and negative qualities in an instance. So, without further ado, eight factors that play a role in whether I like or dislike a dungeon:

1. Accessability

Accessability means something different for levelling and for endgame instances. For a levelling instance it basically means "how hard is it to get there at the appropriate level". For example Ragefire Chasm is very accessible to Horde characters (in the middle of a capital city where even lowbies will usually spend a lot of time) and virtually inaccessible to Alliance - can you imagine a group of players between level 10 and 15 even trying to get to the heart of an enemy city?

A less extreme example of an instance with low accessability is Maraudon. It's located in a zone that's pretty unpopular and annoying to get to initially, as it's far away from any major settlements. If you actually do end up questing in the area at the right levels (that is to say in your thirties), you'll still be too low to run Maraudon since it's tuned for characters in their high forties. Thus running it would require you to go back to Desolace long after you've outlevelled the rest of the zone and are glad to be gone. This is very counter-intuitive and definitely adds to Maraudon's unpopularity.

At level cap the question of travel times and the like becomes a lot less important, as nearly all the endgame content is limited to one continent these days, and within that area people are used to travelling a lot anyway (plus they have access to flying). What matters more is whether the instance requires a key and/or some kind of attunement. Obviously dungeons that don't are going to be much more popular since anybody can enter at any time, but since I'm quite fond of attunements personally, I definitely wouldn't consider some kind of requirement for entering a negative point.

2. Atmosphere

Whether you think that an instance has a good atmosphere or not is obviously something very subjective, but for me personally it could probably be summed up like this: Is this the kind of place you could see Indiana Harrison Jones exploring? There's a reason we also refer to them as dungeons - there's a certain expectation for the place to be dark, somewhat hidden away perhaps, and officially abandoned except for a big baddie and his lackeys.

Many low-level instances have a great atmosphere: Wailing Caverns, Shadowfang Keep, Blackfathom Depths, Zul'Farrak... to name just a few. On the other hand I always felt that the Tempest Keep instances for example were a bit lacking in that regard - they definitely have a personality of their own, but something feels off about wandering over transparent floors and past walls that glow pink.

3. Story & Quests

I'm not really a lore nerd, but I do like the World in World of Warcraft, with all its little quests and stories. As such I really appreciate it when there are multiple quests related to an instance; it makes me feel like I'm going in there not just to get experience and better gear, but also to make a difference (even if I know that all the mobs will respawn afterwards). Fortunately most instances have quests associated to them. However, if there aren't any or they are at the end of long chains that are easy to miss, I always feel that something's lacking.

4. Length

I think it's quite obvious that an instance can be too long. Some people may praise Black Rock Depths for its great atmosphere and due to fond memories they have of it, but most likely not even they would like to run it on a daily or even weekly basis. Having to spend several hours in an instance to get from the beginning to the end is simply not practical.

From a purely practical point of view you'd think that the shorter the better, but personally I think that there's also something like "too short" for an instance. This wasn't an issue for me pre-Wrath, but in WOTLK both Azjol-Nerub and the new Trial of the Champion introduced me to the sensation of: "What, that's it already?" In part that may just be related to atmosphere (if the boss had so few obstacles to throw in our way he can't have been all that), in part I think it's related to practicality again. Sure, anyone can run an instance that only takes fifteen minutes, but if it also took you fifteen minutes to assemble the group it doesn't really feel like a good investment of your time in terms of effort and reward.

5. Layout

This one is relatively simple: Don't make it too bloody confusing! I still largely avoid Wailing Caverns purely because of it's confusing layout with all the criss-crossing tunnels that make it easy to run in circles. Even maps can be deceiving and set you on a wrong track since they are only two-dimensional. BRD is another prime offender in this category. I'll admit that I might feel less strongly about that point if they actually implemented in-game maps for those low-level dungeons, but as long as there aren't any it's way too easy to get lost.

Also, completely linear instances where you just run through a long, straight tunnel lose some points in the atmosphere department. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Shattered Halls.)

I thought Blackfathom Depths is an example of an instance that does it just about right in that regard, lots of winding tunnels to make it feel like a natural system of caves, some nooks and crannies with hidden bosses that make it more exciting to explore, but you'll never run in a circle so there's no way of getting backwards and forwards mixed up.

6. Trash

This is strongly related to the overall length of an instance. We can all agree that too much trash is boring, but if there's too little it feels lacking in a way.

There's also the question of what kind of trash it is. Instances can gain fun points for offering a wide variety of opponents with different abilities - beasts, humanoids, elementals - and lose some if you're just killing the same kind of mob from beginning to end.

Finally, it should also be balanced to not be too difficult - BC had some heroic trash pulls that were harder than any bosses, which seemed a bit wrong.

7. Bosses

Boss encounters should be memorable, preferably in a positive way. Obviously wiping a lot on a particular boss will also make him memorable, but it also makes it less likely that you'll want to run the instance again. It's quite possible for bosses to memorable in different ways, for example by having unique fight mechanics (like the stairs event in Zul'Farrak) or simply by including good dialogue and voice acting - who could forget the "demon couple" from Arcatraz?

8. Loot

As much as people like to claim that they don't play for the loot, in the end upgrading your gear is definitely a major part of developing your character - that's simply the nature of the game. People will most likely run any instance once or twice just to see it, but if it wasn't for the loot they wouldn't be coming back repeatedly. Thus, a good instance should offer good quality loot for a wide variety of classes and specs. At level cap it also needs to offer incentives to come back once you've progressed past the available loot, such as emblem drops or daily quests.

You might notice that I didn't list "difficulty" as a factor of it's own, but that's simply because it's more or less included in some of the points I already mentioned: an instance shouldn't be too long, trash shouldn't hit too hard, bosses shouldn't wipe you a gazillion times.

In summary, in my eyes a good instance should
  • be easy to get to
  • feel like a proper dungeon
  • have a story and quests associated with it
  • be neither too long nor too short
  • be impossible to get utterly lost in but still be fun to discover
  • have a reasonable amount of trash
  • have memorable (if not necessarily hard) bosses
  • contain good loot
We'll get to which ones live up to these requirements and which ones don't!


Three more reasons to like patch day

The first reason to like patch day should be obvious: new content! However, for me personally the real reasons for enjoying patch day don't actually lie in the new content itself, but in some of its side effects.

1. Dead places come back to life.

Now, calling my guild "dead" before the patch would be doing it a great injustice, but it's a simple truth that things quiet down as people have less and less reason to play, to explore new things and to achieve new goals. They log on to raid and do dailies, without talking much or doing a lot of other things in between. Some might not log on for whole weeks.

Not so on patch day! Suddenly everyone and their grandmother is back online and guild chat is overflowing with excited chatter about new patch features. For a social player like me that's great!

2. For a brief amount of time you get to feel like a newbie again.

I think most players still remember the first time they entered the WoW capital of their choice and went "whoa". I'll definitely never forget the first time I walked through the gates of Stormwind. It was an amazing experience, and I felt like I had a whole world laid out in front of me, just waiting for me to discover it. Which I did! The only sad thing about that kind of experience is that you can't really repeat it (not in the same game anyway) - once you know the game inside out, you can't just go and forget it all again.

The moment you log in on patch day however, you're flooded with so much new information it can be hard to keep track. Where's the entrance to that new raid? Cool pet, where did you get that? What's that new achievement that just popped up in guild chat? Personally I find that it's very much comparable to the newbie experience (So much cool new stuff, what the hell am I supposed to look at first?), even if it doesn't last for a very long time. As an added advantage everybody else is new to the content as well, so it's not at all embarrassing to to ask questions or, say, go into a new dungeon without having a clue about the boss encounters.

3. The little things.

New raids, new battlegrounds and new daily quests are very nice and all, but in all honesty I think that the many small, sometimes even undocumented, new features are usually the best ones. They likely cost relatively little effort but can still bring you quite a lot of joy.

For example I tried out the new raid on ten-man with a couple of guildies and we all sat down to eat a fish feast at the start. Lo and behold, the new cat form for druids actually has a proper eating animation! So we all just sat there and stared at our feral druid munching, it was quite mesmerising.

Or take the achievements for emblems: I remember reading multiple times that the old "get so-and-so-many emblems" achievements for heroism and valor would be converted to feats of strength and more or less be replaced by new achievements for conquest and triumph. As it turns out, Blizzard decided to merge them all into one big "dungeon emblems" achievement instead, which is great because it means no part of your old badge count is lost and all of it can count towards the new achievement. With the originally proposed setup, someone with, say, 900 emblems of heroism would have got the "500 emblems" feat of strength, but 400 more badges would have been lost in space, so to speak. As it is now, I'm almost at 1000 Dungeon & Raid Emblems on my main and pretty pleased with that. Small things...

I also squeed with delight when I opened the in-game mail from the orphan matron and it contained images. I really like the new music at the Argent Tournament. I giggled at the cute things the wolvar orphan said. And I could go on and on, even though I've only got a glimpse of all the new stuff so far!

I hope everybody else is having a good patch day as well and not being plagued by too much lag.


Looking at the priest Q&A

... I can't help feeling somewhat underwhelmed and definitely not enlightened. I know, I know, that's what people have been saying about all the previous Q&As too. I guess I was holding out an irrational hope that this one would be different somehow because it's about my class.

Nonetheless there are quite a few things I would like to comment on:

First off, I immediately have to disagree somewhat with Ghostcrawler's description of the "unmatched versatility" of the healing priest. I mean, have you looked at resto druids lately? A quick look at wowhead tells me that a fully talented resto druid has eight different healing spells at their disposal, with only one of them being of somewhat questionable usefulness (Healing Touch). A holy priest has ten different healing spells, two of which are utter rubbish for doing any actual healing (Holy Nova and Lightwell), leaving us at eight as well. That really doesn't strike me as having considerably more options. And the claim that priests have "strong heal-over-time spells" is simply untrue. Priest have one HoT, Renew, and it's only reasonably strong if you glyph for it and invest six talent points solely into making that one spell better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying priests suck and nerf resto druids. I'm saying that with the way Blizzard has buffed the other healing classes since the end of BC, they are actually pretty on par with priests in what they can do, including the amount of spells they have. Priests have versatility in so far as they can choose to spec so they can either compete with paladins at single-target healing, or with druids and shamans at raid healing. But once you've picked your spec you're locked into a very specific role as well and don't really have considerably more ways to fulfill it than other classes.

Up next, shadow priests seem to get relatively little love from the developers. I can't really comment on everything in that section of the Q&A since I abandoned shadow for holy at the start of WOTLK because I didn't find being a "pure" dpser as fun as playing an utility role and thus didn't like the changes they made to Vampiric Touch and shadow priest damage.

The bit about Dispersion made me raise my eyebrow though, because the most common complaint I hear about it is that it simply doesn't work in PvE when it would be the most useful, that is to say in situations where a boss suddenly decides to target you with an extra damage ability like Ignis' slag pot. This wasn't even brought up.

And the argument that Dispersion must be good because "nearly all shadow priests take it" is simply rubbish. The reason nearly all shadow priests take it is that there aren't any other options. You could take every single talent in the shadow tree, even the ones you'll never get any use out of, and you'll still have talent points left over at 80. Then you look at the other two talent trees and they are all about healing and thus don't improve your damage either (with the exception of a couple of talents in the first two tiers of discipline). So what else should you do with those points? Dispersion is not a bad talent, it's just very lackluster for a 51-pointer considering that most other classes get something in that spot that's worth casting every time its cooldown is up.

Regarding Vampiric Embrace, I have to admit the notion that it creates too much threat these days is new to me as well. Just thinking about that spell is kind of weird now though, I remember how many times they nerfed it because its group healing was perceived as too powerful... and yet these days we have ret pallies healing the whole raid with judgement of light. Go figure.

I'm not sure I like the idea of priests getting a frost spell; it just seems to... un-priesty. I think allowing easier shifting to holy spells if necessary might be the way to go there, it's not as if that will suddenly turn shadow priests into amazing healers or anything.

Shifting gear to talk about the healing side of priest-dom, Ghostcrawler goes on to talk about how Greater Heal doesn't get a lot of use these days. And then... it just gets confusing. He basically says that Greater Heal is a bit rubbish and they know it because it's too slow and too big, but they want us to use it more, so they are considering giving us another small heal. Eh, what? I hope I'm not the only one who was wondering what he was actually trying to say there. That said, I'd definitely like them to make Greater Heal more viable again. I miss it and I still use Flash Heal a lot less than my fellow raiding priests. Old habits die hard.

The question about Divine Hymn was actually my favourite because it was the one thing that made me a little happy. I agree that it's a great spell and probably shouldn't be available more than once per encounter, but it can easily happen that you wipe and then can't use it on the next attempt simply because your raid is reasonably fast at regrouping for the next try. So preventing it from being recast only because of a debuff à la "sated" (which you lose if you die) would be great.

Every mention of Lightwell just makes me sigh. I can't believe how stubbornly the developers are clinging to the idea, no matter how many times people repeat that it's not working. Yes, there's always the odd one out who goes "Oh yes, I use Lightwell all the time in raids and it's great because our dpsers are smart", but in most cases it will simply go unused. Dps characters will focus on their dps more than their survival, and I think to a certain extent that's actually quite okay. That's why we have healers in groups. If everybody was expected to run to the back and grab a Lightwell charge, you might as well not bring a healer and just tell everybody to bandage. Just let it go already and replace that talent with something that actually affects the way I heal instead of expecting people to create wannabe soulwells.

The section that annoyed me the most was the one about combining Dispel Magic and Dispel Disease into one spell. To be honest this wasn't even something that ever occurred to me, so it's not like Ghostcrawler just rejected my favourite idea ever, but the way in which he did it was just... baffling. "We think that pushes dispels too far into easy mode." You realise that both paladins and resto shamans already have spells to dispel not two, but three debuffs at once? Are those classes easy mode then? And why is it okay for them but not for priests? That's just no logical argument.

Finally, the argument about Inner Fire was one I could actually understand somewhat, though the charges are still hugely annoying in PvP or any other kind of situation where you are on the receiving end of a lot of small hits in rapid succession. I'd actually really like the idea of providing priests with alternate armour buffs if that made them get rid of the charges, but unfortunately I don't think he was quite serious about that suggestion. Oh well.

This might have come off as a bit ranty, but for the record I'd like to state that I actually think that priests are in a pretty good place right now. There are always minor things that could be improved, but overall we are fine - all three of our specs are viable. It's just that when you read something that goes into that much detail about your class, you'd hope they'd be able to avoid silly mistakes like claiming that priests have strong HoTs.

Link to the Q&A itself on the European website



Ahn'kahet: The Old Kingdom is one of the less popular WOTLK heroics as far as I can tell. I'm not entirely sure why that is. Do people consider it too long? Is it because of the spell flingers and their shadow blasts of doom? Personally I'm quite fond of it for various reasons; about the biggest gripe I have with the instance is its name. An'kahet? Ank'ahet? I always have to double-check the spelling.

The same is true for the last boss. Harold Voljaz? Herold Volazj? Seriously, which randomiser produces spelling atrocities like that? However - odd consonant combinations aside, I freaking love this boss.

I'll never forget the first time I killed him. It was during the first weeks after WOTLK's release and my friends and I were levelling through Northrend at a comfortable pace, taking our time to look at all the dungeons together. Since everything was new to everyone anyway, we never bothered to check guides or anything of the like to learn about boss abilities, we'd just "wing it" as one of our raid leaders likes to say.

So we engage this squidiphant called (/check wowhead) Herald Volazj and at first it's pretty much just tank and spank. Then he casts something called "insanity" and suddenly all the other party members appear to turn hostile. "Aha!" I thought, feeling smart, "it's Blackheart the Inciter v.2, mind-controlling everyone!" Except... I was still in control of my character. What was going on with everyone else? People were shouting things over vent that made no sense to me. I healed myself, waiting for the perceived mind control to end, but it just kept going on and on! Eventually some of my friends managed to break their illusions and started killing mine, so now I suddenly saw double, friendly and hostile clones of the same characters! It was horribly, horribly confusing and utterly hilarious at the same time. We pretty much all agreed that it was a brilliant fight, intentionally designed to confuse everybody who had run Shadow Labyrinth one too many times back in BC.

When I came back to the boss on heroic mode, I soon came to another interesting realisation, namely that it's one of the rare bits of content where being a healer or a tank is much easier than being a damage dealer. I had more than one group where most or even all of the dps didn't even survive the first insanity phase and originally I had serious trouble understanding why.

As a healer, the insanity phase is ridiculously easy. Just heal yourself as needed and wait for someone else to break free and kill your adds, their damage output shouldn't be enough to put you in any serious danger. If you've got the mana pool for it you can also dps them down yourself, if somewhat slowly. On my priest I usually prefer to conserve my mana since the untalented dps spells are quite expensive, but on my paladin I'll gleefully consecrate and spam judgements and holy shocks on my foes. My damage output is still pitiful, but my health and mana never really go down.

Trying to survive the insanity in the role of a paladin tank I found things even easier. Just go for the healer first, whack them with a quick stun the moment they try to heal, use your aoe abilities and watch all the evil clones die within a couple of seconds without hurting you at all. Easy peasy!

Until... the fateful day I decided to run heroic Old Kingdom on my hunter. Oh my.

It was a very embarrassing experience. As soon as insanity hit, my first instinct was to go and kill the healer, except I quickly had to realise that as a survival-spec hunter without scatter shot I didn't actually have any ways of interrupting their spell-casting. No matter how much I shot, the heals just kept on coming and I couldn't get anything down. Eventually I just ended up running in circles like a headless chicken, unintentionally getting the Ultimate Triage achievement as I desperately clung to what was left of my life with a single bandage tick... and I survived, thanks to my guildies being much more competent than me, but I sure felt stupid.

I immediately consulted Google for help on how to survive this particular encounter as a hunter. Despite of all the hunter blogs out there I didn't really find a proper guide to the fight, but I did end up discovering a couple of helpful hints. The key to the fight, they said, was to crowd-control the healer and save them for last. You can trap things, remember? Even if you haven't had to do that since level 70...

Tonight I ended up braving Old Kingdom on my hunter again and I was excited. Would I manage to pull it off this time or get shamed again?

On the first insanity I managed to trap the healer and burn down two of the evil clones before they broke free again, but then I ended up breaking my second trap by accident and help arrived before I could get the situation back under control myself. Still, I didn't take a lot of damage.

On the second insanity I finally got back into the groove of trapping and managed to keep the healer under control until all the other adds were dead. Then I nuked the healer. They healed. I nuked. They healed. I nuked. The mage in the party went down, cursing resto druids. I was starting to feel an additional kind of insanity as I watched the evil tree without a mana bar keep itself topped up with nourish spam no matter what I did. Just as I was about to break into a mad cackle a lucky crit or something must have finished them off, because suddenly I could see the other survivors fighting their illusions. The spell was broken.

I can now happily return to mocking any dps that dies on this fight while I do the "easy" job of tanking or healing. And I still freaking love this boss.