I've decided to pick up playing my troll druid again, the one that I created right after the Shattering patch, to continue my project of levelling through the revamped old world dungeons to see how they've been changed. In my last installment I had made it up to Uldaman, which means that I was about to reach the stretch of levels where Blizzard has now placed the five-mans that used to be endgame back in vanilla: Scholomance, Stratholme and Dire Maul.
On the whole I have to say that I really like this change. These places are good dungeons and it was a shame to let them rot in a level bracket where nobody ever ran them anymore, especially while other, lower level brackets had so few instances in them that you ended up running the same ones over and over again if you were using the dungeon finder a lot. Revitalising old content and increasing variety are good things.
I do have to say that it's not without problems though. Thing is, these places were designed to be endgame, meaning that they included all kinds of fiddly bits and pieces that were there to keep you entertained throughout repeated reruns, such as the postbox keys in Stratholme. However, Blizzard hasn't always made sensible adjustments here and some mechanics just plain don't work in a levelling dungeon environment. Klep wrote about the silliness of splitting the postbox keys between the two Stratholme wings before, but there are others.
For example you still get only one ogre tannin per instance in Dire Maul North, so only one person in the entire group can actually complete the associated instance quest. Now, I hesitate to say that making that item drop only for a single person each run was ever a good idea, but while Dire Maul was endgame it at least didn't matter as much. With everyone running the instance over and over again at the level cap you were bound to have a shot at the tannin eventually (even if other people wanted spares to craft more ogre suits). But in a levelling instance? You're only going to run that two or three times, tops, and thanks to the random dungeon finder probably with different people every time. How do the devs expect the majority of players to complete this quest?
But enough of that. I found it interesting that while queuing as both dps and healer, the dungeon finder actually made me alternate between the two roles reasonably often, showing that healers are not that much rarer than damage dealers in levelling instances. When I was healing however, I was pleased to see that Blizzard swapped Nourish and Healing Touch around in the druid levelling progression, so the problem of only having expensive and way too large heals as a levelling druid healer has been addressed since I originally complained about it.
The overall quality of my pug groups was so-so. I was disappointed that I only met very few people with whom I would have been happy to group again, and way too many that were simply clueless, rude or both. There was also a depressing amount of player rotation each run - which I guess isn't all that different from pugs at max level, but somehow I find it even sadder while levelling. At the level cap, the "daily" dungeon has been established as something that is very routine and I understand why someone might not be very invested in it and quick to drop from a group. But levelling is so fast, you're unlikely to see the same instance many times, and every time you drop from a run you might be forfeiting your chance to ever complete that dungeon at level (on this character). For many players it's also clearly the first time. Is there no curiosity left in them to find out what the dungeon is about, even if it means wiping a couple of times?
I love Dire Maul. I have very fond memories of my first forays into it, and it's got what I consider a "classic dungeon atmosphere". It feels like a proper place that's not just there for you to come and kill stuff in it, while still offering interesting challenges to the budding adventurer.
That said, I felt that it doesn't flow very well as a levelling instance. The Warpwood Quarter and Capital Gardens are a little non-linear, which can easily confuse groups these days and cause them to miss out on bosses and quests if you don't have at least one person who knows what they are doing. Basically these are still dungeons that were clearly meant to be played through with a group that actually cares, and little has been changed to make them less so. That's a good thing if you like this kind of design, but a bit of a pain if you're stuck trying to explain to a pug how to free Immol'thar and why - after all it's only mentioned in a quest and there are no markers on the map to show where the crystals are, so how could anyone be expected to know what to do? [/sarcasm]
I also thought it was funny that while almost all the old dungeon quests for Dire Maul have been moved into the instance with minor adjustments for convenience, the old quest to kill Prince Tortheldrin is still given in the most inconvenient place possible and requires you to run back and forth across the instance multiple times if you want to get your reward.
Gordok Commons felt quite a bit harder than the other two wings, though that might have been because I had some pretty poor players in that dungeon. Either way the ogres hit quite hard if you're not the tank. And of course there's the silly issue with the ogre tannin mentioned above.
Another instance of which I have fairly fond memories, even if it was never one of my favourites. This one really felt a lot like old times to me, even if AoE tanking and greater average character power still made things easier than they used to be. (The tank in my run chewed me out for running out of mana while he was tanking the entirety of Lorekeeper Polkelt's exploding trash at once, because supposedly he does this all the time and it never caused any of his healers problems.) Still, things like wiping in the first room because the patrols and trash pulls are way too easy to chain-aggro felt very old school.
Even better, anyone remember that bug that caused warlock AoE to aggro mobs through the floor? Yep, that seems to have made a comeback in some form as well, or at least the Ravenian and his entire trash bore down on us right as we were fighting Instructor Malicia in the room above and wiped us. The tank rage-quit after that because he was convinced that someone had wiped us on purpose (how did he think anyone could intentionally pull through the floor?), but I just had to chuckle at the silliness of it all.
I still remember the first time I ever fought Darkmaster Gandling and the sheer WTF-ness of the moment when he teleports everyone into different rooms. It was nice to re-experience that at least at level, even if it's never going to be as good as the first time.
This instance confused me a little. Either they changed the layout a bit, or I just never noticed it properly before the low-level dungeon maps were introduced. Otherwise it largely seemed the same as before the Shattering, almost too much so. I mean, I can't believe they still didn't fix Belnistrasz's stupid escort quest to make it easier to do as a group. As it is, it still has the silly pre-quest that just requires you to talk to the NPC and say that yes, you will help him, so whoever inevitably starts the actual escort before everyone else is ready will lock at least some people out, as the quest can't be shared if people didn't get the chance to complete the redundant prequest. Of course this happened during my latest run as well and nobody but the impatient rogue actually got to do the quest. /sigh. The funny thing is that he claimed that it was his first time - you wouldn't necessarily expect someone who's never seen the quest before to click through it even faster than those who've done it many times on different characters.
Also, when you fight Amnennar at the end, a random red dragon (not Belnistrasz) now comes flying past, breathes some fire on the boss and then flies away again. Everyone in my group just stared in wide-eyed wonder and confusion. Since when does this instance have random dragons? And why? Who knows?
The Night the Lights Went Out in Norrath
14 hours ago