My little troll druid's adventures in the old yet revamped instances continue.
You probably already knew that Stratholme has been split into two parts now, called Main Gate and Service Entrance. Considering that the instance always had those two entrances and already consisted of two distinctly different halves as it was (undead and living side), this split feels reasonably natural, though it's not without issues. There's the problem with the postbox keys for example (no, I don't think I'll ever get tired of linking to that post of Klep's), but the street that used to connect the two parts (I think it's called Market Row) also feels a bit pointless now. It's considered part of the Main Gate half of the instance now, but it's basically just a dead end with a quest mob in it. I considered myself lucky for being able to convince my party to go there and kill it.
The instance has also received some updates in terms of lore besides the quest givers at the entrance, though I have to admit that they felt a bit half-arsed to me. I mean, the living side used to be a Bastion of the Scarlet Crusaders, led by the demon Balnazzar disguised as Grand Crusader Dathroan. Now Balnazzar has dropped the disguise, and all the Scarlets have died and risen as undead. To be honest I didn't even notice that change until we made it to Balnazzar's room and I was startled by the fact that he was already in his demon form. The undead side is similar - everything is more or less the same, except that Baron Rivendare is gone because he's in Naxx now, and in his place we fight his long lost twin brother Lord Aurius Rivendare.
I don't want to be too cynical, but this really felt to me as if Blizzard wanted to drive Stratholme's story forward but couldn't be bothered to give it a full revamp à la Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep. The end result is just a particularly bad example of the inconsistent way in which Blizzard approached the Cataclysm, where even within the same instance some characters have moved forward in time while others are still in exactly the same position they were in back in vanilla. It just makes my head hurt.
The quality of my pug groups in Stratholme was below average as well, which rather soured the experience for me. In my Main Gate run nobody was particularly rude or terrible, but for some reason people kept dropping every other pull and for no apparent reason; we must have rotated through about five different tanks alone, which was simply annoying.
The first time I zoned in at the Service Entrance I got a paladin tank who immediately pulled everything in sight and then kept going, not giving anyone time to pick up the instance quests in the chapel or loot. Since I did those things anyway, we eventually wiped and he started telling me off for being too slow and that me wanting to get quests or loot wasn't his problem. I dropped group and didn't feel like pugging for about a week.
When I tried again, I got another paladin tank like that, though fortunately I already had all the quests in my log this time. We also didn't die, though the pally complained about "having to use LoH" when my grand total of three different healing spells were unable to keep him up while tanking about ten mobs at once. Seriously, what is it with cocky paladin tanks? I noticed that they seem to make up the vast majority of my low-level tanks and it's getting quite annoying. Fortunately this particular specimen wasn't totally unreasonable and after a bit of grumbling from my side we moved on and completed the instance.
Fortunately the gods of pugging eventually seemed to have mercy with me and my group for Zul'Farrak was nothing short of lovely: a sweet druid tank, a fun warrior, and two playful newbie hunters, all of whom I would have happily run with again if it hadn't been so late already. I'm glad that one of my favourite instances didn't get tainted by a bad pug experience at least.
With the dungeon always having been one of the better ones, I wasn't surprised to find that Blizzard didn't feel the need to make any noticeable changes to it, other than the fact that it was moved up a couple of levels and also has all its quests on the inside now. It felt kind of weird to only be given four quests for it though, as I remember this instance having loads back in vanilla - seven or eight maybe - even if some of them were a bit obscure to get (like the one to learn the name of the spider god). No more Carrot on a Stick, no more Troll Tempers, no more Uncracked Scarab Shells and no more Divino-Matic Rod. Woe. Interestingly you can still fight and kill Sergeant Bly and his party, despite of the Divino-Matic Rod quest being gone. I only got a brief glimpse of the dialogue to trigger this, but it seems that you just attack him out of random annoyance now? For all the killing we do in WoW, I find this display of unprovoked violence towards an ally oddly disturbing...
Other than that I have to admit that the instance felt somewhat undertuned to me, but I don't know if my party was just that good or what. I really don't know what to think of the tuning in low-level instances post-Cataclysm in general. The very first ones, like Ragefire Chasm or Deadmines, felt like they were reasonably challenging for their level now, with both bosses and trash pulls actually posing a real threat at times, but as you go up in levels the runs quickly turn into mindless AoE fests again - except when you suddenly get a random run where everything seems to hit crushingly hard again (like it felt in my Dire Maul North run). I don't know if the tuning is really that out of whack or if gear and spec simply make that huge a difference these days. It's just puzzling to me.