Happy Patch Day!

I might not be particularly positive about the future of WoW, but I was looking forward to today's patch. While I've barely seen half of it so far (I haven't even looked at the new Darkmoon Faire), I don't feel disappointed so far.

The first thing I did after the game had patched itself up was log onto my main and start putting stuff into void storage. You can tell for how long some of my gear had been rotting away in the bank untouched because I had to repair most of it before being able to store it away... all because of a change to armour durability that happened what feels like aeons ago. I nearly filled up my new storage space completely, but it was nice to finally have some bank space again, even if the transfer cost me a lot of gold. I seems that they really wanted to make this another gold sink and as far as I'm concerned they succeeded at that. Too bad I didn't end up freeing up any more space in my bags, but that's really my own fault for carrying so much junk around. But hey, you never know when you'll need that MiniZep Controller or a Brazier of Dancing Flames!

Next I got started on transmogrifying. My priest's set was all prepared and easily done. My druid slipped into full tier four for feral spec and I spontaneously bought her the old merciless gear for resto, because I remember wearing that when I really got into PvP healing with her back in Burning Crusade. My death knight was also easy because I simply mogged her blue starter set on top of her current gear. However, after I was done with those three I was left staring at the rest of my characters a bit blankly. I already started collecting a few pieces for my shaman, but for most of the others I'm simply stumped for ideas right now. That's okay though, not everyone's gear has to be modified this way - if I'm happy enough with their current outfit, that's fine too. I also enjoyed wandering around Orgrimmar and actually taking a closer look at the people around me again and inspecting their cosmetic sets. It sure made the population look more diverse.

In the evening I put together a guild group for the new heroics. They were advertised as similar to the ICC heroics and from a technical point of view they followed the same pattern of being a sequence of stories that require unlocking the first time. Like the ICC heroics, I also found them pretty enjoyable, at least this first time around. I think it was a good move by Blizzard to give us something to do in the Caverns of Time again, because that setting allows for the telling of some great stories, plus they can let you get up to all kinds of silly hijinks because it's time travel and time travel be crazy, right?

We did the first one, End Time, twice because we had to swap group members out after the first run and their replacements needed "attuning" as well. This wasn't a bad thing though, as I got to see all the bosses that way - I hadn't been aware that you could get two out of four different ones each run. A few people died on Tyrande and we wiped once on Sylvanas because we didn't know what to do with the ghouls, but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing. Jaina's Echo struck me as kind of tragic because she was still nice even in a dystopian version of the future in which she had already died! Oh, and the rewind mechanic on Murozond was incredibly fun. Overall I felt that this was a great instance.

Up next: The Well of Eternity. Wait, what? I'm a night elf? Bwah! For extra hilarity I also underwent a sex change during the second half of the dungeon, though I suspect that that was unintended. It was an instance full of laughs either way, as there's something comically endearing about Illidan and his grumpy no-nonsense attitude. (My favourite bit was him playing "traffic warden" to allow the group to get past the legion of demons.) At the end he also provided us with some fun as we had a quest to hand in to him but he kept running away, which caused our entire party to chase him around in circles for several minutes in a Benny Hill-esque fashion.

My only slight concern was that it felt like there was almost a bit too much going on in terms of lore and NPC action. I'm perfectly happy to play second fiddle to important lore characters in an instance like this, but I felt like I could barely keep up with what was going on towards the end; demons attacking left and right; Tyrande needs help, where's Malfurion, Illidan is yelling something... and all that while we're actually trying to complete a boss fight. Maybe it becomes a bit clearer on repeat playthroughs - or more annoying.

Finally, the Hour of Twilight felt like the weakest of the three dungeons. You're supposed to escort Thrall to Wyrmrest Temple, but especially during the first and last third of the instance he kind of acts like the classic escort NPC, always moving a bit more slowly than you'd like and forcing you to run back to fight some "ambushers" whom you wouldn't have to deal with in the first place if he'd just hurried up already.

The voice acting on the first boss is also quite over the top and I mentally nicknamed him Asthmarion for the way he sounds as if he's about to breathe his last breath with every sentence. His insistence on referring to Thrall as "the shaman" was also a bit amusing because didn't they consider that there might be player shamans in the group as well? As ours put it, "I'm going to go where I damn well please... he is talking about me, right?

The fights were all pretty tank and spank, and the big "reveal" at the end wasn't that exciting as not even Thrall sounded surprised by the guy's sudden and inevitable betrayal. Still, it was a fun little romp that left me curious about how the story continues in the Dragon Soul raid. I'm not sure when/if I'm going to see that though, as my initial curiosity about the raid finder has been replaced by pure dread and I simply don't want to deal with it right now. Which is funny, considering that all the reports that I've heard so far actually make it sound a lot better than anyone expected. A guildie from our rated battlegrounds used it to go on his first raid ever today and told me afterwards that they cleared it. One has to wonder just how much the devs lowered the difficulty in there, considering that our raid group killed the first boss on normal mode on their first attempt as well. Oh well, not something I can really comment on anymore.


How's the guild finder working out for you?

This is something I've been meaning to write about for a while. I was quite excited about the introduction of the guild finder in 4.1. Of course it was never going to replace the full application process for a raiding guild, but at least people would be able to see that we were out there, right in the game, without us having to do any special advertising!

Right after the introduction of the thing, we actually managed to find a discipline priest who was kind enough to sign up for our guild website and ended up joining us as a somewhat infrequent but loyal raider. Then there were two or three people who applied to be social members and were invited straight away; they usually chatted for a few days and then left again or simply never logged in again.

Since then however, ninety percent of the applications we've received either contain no text at all or something like "i need a gild". I reject them with no comment, but it gets tedious. The other ten percent actually do write a line or two but then never seem to log in again either, as you can tell from the guy who applies at level 15 and says something like: "I'm a really fast leveller and will be able to join you guys at the cap in no time!" Twenty days later he's still 15 and inactive. It kind of makes you wonder just how serious the churn in this game is, or whether there are really that many people who keep rolling up new characters just to abandon them again after 5-10 levels.

I originally volunteered to take care of in-game applications, but I've been finding the task increasingly depressing. I've written so many in-game letters to people, telling them that they are welcome to join us and to just whisper any guildie next time they're online... and yet the recipients are never heard from again. It wouldn't be so bad if we still got some serious applicants every now and then, but I just haven't seen any in months. It feels as if all the energy that I'm putting into these attempts at being welcoming and friendly is being poured down a bottomless hole; it shouldn't be surprising that this gets draining after a while.

I don't know if that's just my guild, my server or what. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the guild finder is at the end of the day too much like a dungeon finder for guilds. Press button to queue apply, later press "accept" to join the group. No talking required. I would imagine that if you're running the kind of guild which only exists for the perks and to collect some money from Cash Flow, this could work very well. However, the "classic" guild is a purely social construct with no inherent gameplay elements, and you can't be social by just pressing a button and not interacting with people.

I could see it working much better if guilds could set up some simple filtering mechanisms for applicants, such as a mandatory "why do you want to join us" field to keep out the pure button pushers. On the other hand the tools for prospective applicants could use improving too - I can't imagine any half-serious raider (or PvPer... or roleplayer... or anyone who genuinely cares about what kind of guild he's going to join) trying to apply purely via the guild finder right now, where they'd struggle to find out anything about any guild beyond the little paragraph that the guild master can fill with information.


Pilgrim's Bounty and Cooking

Cynwise said something funny in his guide to this year's Pilgrim's Bounty: "doing those first 350 points any other way is just silly". I have to admit that at first that comment actually stung me a little. Why is it silly? I love cooking (in game; in real life I'm terrible at it), and have done so pretty much for as long as I can remember. I remember being a level six noob with barely half a clue about anything in the game and eagerly cooking up Herb Baked Eggs and Kaldorei Spider Kabobs. At around level thirty or so, my friend who was wisely levelling her cooking and fishing in sync gifted me a stack of Sagefish Delights one day and I was like, OMG, eating these gives me an mp5 buff? Crazy! I also have fond memories of winning the recipe for Runn Tum Tuber Surprise in Dire Maul East and being told that I was extremely lucky.

I've always loved cooking for how it was a profession that benefited from almost everything I enjoyed doing in the game anyway. Explore and find a vendor in a remote location who sells an interesting recipe, hoard anything that might look useful to find out later that you can turn it into a tasty meal with the right recipe, quest to raise your cooking skill beyond 225, and so on and so forth. It always felt very engaging to me, and to this day I've maintained one to two tabs in my private guild banks that are devoted to nothing but raw cooking materials, gathered in one place to redistribute them to alts for later use.

However, looking at it honestly, I had to admit that I've really been struggling to level cooking on my new alts whenever I tried. With the new levelling system, you zoom from one place to the next and past many zones so quickly that you might never even see many recipe vendors, and you end up killing fewer mobs that might provide you with raw materials as well. Having alts "help each other out" seemed to have a very limited effect too, as I found it hard to keep track of who needed which recipes (Altoholic is supposed to track that in principle, but for me at least its profession tracking has been buggy for ages), and somehow pretty much every character seemed to run into the same skill point humps, needing stacks upon stacks of the exact same raw foods and I never had enough. As much as I used to love it, it had become annoying in its current incarnation. It worked when levelling was slow and had you traipsing all over Azeroth, but in this brave new world... not so much.

So I thought what the hell, might as well get it done, and so I've been spending a good chunk of the past two evenings cooking up Pilgrim's Bounty foods on various alts. (I still have a couple left, but we'll see whether I get around to them tomorrow.) I didn't just level my cooking either; basically I did the following things on all of my characters:

- I did the quest line that sends you back and forth between the cities to deliver different foods to different places.
- I ate at a Bountiful Table to complete the Share a Bountiful Feast quest and did Sharing is Caring while I was at it.
- I completed each of the dailies at least once, which was easy enough since I was cooking up lots of food to level my skill anyway, and got the Pilgrim's Progress achievement on the side.

If there were other people at the table with me, I threw food at them for "FOOD FIGHT!", but I didn't hang around to wait if nobody else was eating. Fun fact: even though I've been participating in this holiday in some form or another ever since its inception, it took me until this year to figure out how this achievement actually works. I used to think that it was just a random chance whenever you hit the button to share food. D'oh.

I also got The Turkinator on lots of characters, though not all, as I didn't fret about it if I had a streak of bad luck. As long as I got enough turkeys to do my cooking I was happy.

I only did Pilgrim's Pouch on one or two characters as I considered getting to the Exodar too much of a hassle in addition to the repeated back and forth for the quest line (most of the alts that needed skilling up were Alliance). This rang particularly true after I tried to take the portal to the Exodar from Darnassus one time and accidentally sent myself to the Blasted Lands with my hearthstone on cooldown. Arrrgh.

However, even without such mishaps these little adventures turned out to be quite a time-intensive endeavour, with each character needing about an hour to complete the whole tour, mostly due to travel time and the time it took to gather sufficient amounts of turkeys. It was all pretty relaxed though, and I watched some tv on the side and went AFK while on flight paths. Missing the boat over and over again also gave me happy flashbacks to my newbie days, though I never fell into the water.

The only thing that really got on my nerves was, funnily enough... people standing in the fire. Seriously, you don't need to stand in the cooking fire to use it! I noticed that it was mostly max-level characters in raid gear who were doing that, which then made me wonder whether it's some kind of subconscious way of being rebellious? An "I have to move out of the fire all the damn time, this one's not hurting me so I'll stand in it all day long" kind of thing? The thing is, I don't really care whether they stand in the fire in their raids or not, but being audio-spammed with incessant "oof oof oof" sounds gets annoying really quickly. This then got me thinking whether bad stuff on the ground wouldn't be easier to avoid if it always made your character make that sound... you might find yourself moving out of sheer annoyance, or else your guildies would at least yell at you for the same reason. (I vaguely recall a bug in DBM during ICC I think it was, where it kept making a warning noise on Blood Princes even if other people were moving with the shadow prison debuff... you bet that had me shouting at them!)


Battleground tidbits

I still have a couple of different post ideas floating around, but right now it would feel weird to work on any of them because none of it actually relates to what I've been doing in the game this past week... which is pretty much nothing but running battlegrounds, both rateds and randoms.

Just for laughs I decided to pick up my paladin whom I've neglected in the past couple of months, reactivate her holy spec and throw myself into random battlegrounds with zero resilience. I think it says a lot about just how powerful holy pallies are right now that I still had a pretty good success rate. Of course, if someone really zeroed in on me I died quite quickly, but most of the time just being a paladin seemed to be enough of a deterrent that people didn't even bother attacking me, which I found quite amusing. Compare that to my druid who gets harassed by the enemy non-stop even though she's in full PvP gear.

I'm now maxing out both honour and justice points on several characters in order to be able to buy them as much of the new gear as possible once the new season starts. Saving up justice points to convert into honour later feels quite bizarre to me, considering that PvE always used to be my top priority. But the thought of running random dungeons doesn't excite me at all anymore, while the idea of gathering PvP gear now does.

The other night four of my team mates and I ran a couple of randoms after our rated matches, or rather we did Battle of Gilneas over and over again since it was Gilneas bonus weekend. At one point we got matched up against a nine-man Alliance premade, to much groaning, but at least we didn't go down easily. While they had an elemental shaman with the Arena Master title in their group, they weren't actually very good at battleground strategy and spent a lot of time simply zerging in circles. We fought them as well as we could and even managed to score a few points by continually assaulting whichever base their zerg had just left. In the end they overwhelmed us however and we got three-based. We shrugged it off and queued again.

Next match, the same premade again. Okay, this time we did groan. My damage dealing friends decided that if we were going to lose again, at the very least they were going to get some revenge on that Arena Master and annoy him with some focus fire and crowd control spam. Again we were getting dominated quite hard, but at least people seemed to be having fun annoying that shaman. But then, I don't know how it happened... suddenly we had two bases and they had only one. Everyone banded together and to everyone's surprise we actually managed to squeeze out a win! That was a true fist-pumping moment for everyone in the group, friends and puggers alike.

Next match, we met the Arena Master again, this time on his own. I guess he decided that premades that couldn't actually win weren't really worth the effort.


In which I come to a nice but surprising realisation

I frequently waffle on and on about how all the best times I've had in WoW happened during the Burning Crusade. If I had to pick one specific event or achievement during that time that had a bigger impact on me than anything else, it would without a doubt be the original Zul'Aman bear run. Mind you, I have a lot of happy memories from the BC days, but working on beating that timer week in, week out, failing over and over again until we finally had those ten Amani War Bears for everyone in the team definitely stood out.

(Incidentally, looking back at that picture of our "Team Bear" makes me kind of sad, as not one of the other nine people still plays with me anymore. They all either left the guild for one reason or another or simply quit the game entirely. I'm still in loose contact with most of them, but at least one guy has pretty much vanished off the face of the earth as far as I know. If you read this, Kordac, I still miss hearing your Irish accent on Teamspeak!)

Obviously I've had other good times in the game since then, but nothing that really lived up to those bear runs... until...

The other night I was thinking about how PvP season ten is ending soon and pondering our rated battleground team's performance over the last couple of months. And it suddenly hit me just how much of a good time I've been having and that I really, really care, in a way that I haven't cared about anything in the game in three and a half years. We've had our problems, sure, and for a while we had a couple of players that didn't really mesh with the rest of the team and who made things awkward sometimes, but looking at our regulars right now, there isn't a single person there that I don't like.

I don't exactly await every rated battleground evening with baited breath, but once we get started I tend to completely forget about the time (which is quite a feat, considering that I'm usually one of those people who look at their watch every five minutes) until someone says "well, that's it for the night I guess" and I realise that it's three hours later. I get completely immersed in exciting matches, and I laugh out loud at the silly banter that goes on during breaks between games. Who'd have thought that Cataclysm managed to bring back a little piece of my favourite expansion after all? That feeling of playing in a team, kicking butt and just having oodles of fun is back. I was honestly kind of shocked by this realisation.

The funny and slightly confusing thing is that I can't even really explain what makes these rated battlegrounds so different from everything else that I've done in the game since those infamous bear runs. The first things that come to mind that I enjoy about rated battlegrounds, other than the company, are the challenge and the pacing. Due to the matchmaking system almost every victory and loss push us to our limits in one way or another, but there's also plenty of time to chill out and be silly - between matches, at the start and towards the end of a game, as well as when you're simply waiting to resurrect at a graveyard.

As a bit of a side note, I've been thinking about challenge in games lately. Whenever WoW's difficulty is discussed anywhere, I tend to side with those who say that it needs to be harder, but at the same time I'm the kind of person who sets all her single player games to "easy", so am I being hypocritical? After a bit of soul searching I came to the conclusion that I don't really need challenge in my single player content (though I don't necessarily mind it either if I have to face it), but I absolutely do need it in group content because otherwise... it doesn't really feel like group content to me.

I mean, if I did a heroic Grim Batol through the dungeon finder right now, it wouldn't even matter whether I did it with friends or random strangers in terms of gameplay; just running along and AoEing everything down is boring. There is no interaction. I mean, I could chat with my friends while doing this I guess, but for that I don't really need to have the game running; we might as well go for a walk. For group content to be satisfying for me, it has to be at least difficult enough to require the assistance of another human being that can think for themselves, so that our goal is only achievable by working together. That is the true joy of having other people to play with, for me at least. And PvPing with a fixed group of people is like that all the time.

However, none of these things make rated battlegrounds truly special. Raids still have challenge and cooperation too! It's an interesting conundrum. Then again, maybe I just like riding around with a group of people who are all using the same mount as me. Vicious War Wolves, hoo!


Surprise zone reviews!

In my last post about the new low-level areas I said that I would look at a bunch of zones in central Kalimdor next. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but something else came up first: my undead mage! He's yet another character that I've been playing on and off; I just never had much to say about his adventures. I mean, "cleared the new Badlands for the third time, it's the same on Horde side"? Not very interesting. However, as I made it through his last couple of levels to sixty, I encountered some things that gave me reason to pause.

Burning Steppes

I briefly wrote about levelling through the Burning Steppes as Alliance in this post. On Horde side the story is exactly the same, and I still liked it. However, I was kind of surprised by the way the parallelism was handled. When I did the zone as Alliance, I already had a hunch that Horde might be going through the same motions, but I wasn't sure how they were doing it. I only saw one Horde base in the entire zone, and no equivalent to Flamestar Post where Corporal Keeshan hangs out.

Turns out that Flamestar Post serves as both an Alliance and a Horde outpost at the same time, not by being a neutral base per se, but by phasing pretending to you that only your respective faction is present. So as Horde, I didn't even see Keshan, but instead there was Ariok the orc. I thought that was an interesting approach... it makes no logical sense to me from an immersion point of view, but it still struck me as clever in its own way.

Speaking of Ariok, he made me feel really lore-dumb.

Wait, Eitrigg has a son? (Where are all the daughters?)
Wait, Eitrigg is a former Blackrock orc? (I guess the grey skin should have given it away; I used to think he was just really old...)
Wait, Eitrigg serves in the Argent Crusade now?
What the hell? When did this happen?

This was not a bad thing by the way; I thought it was rather amusing.

Also, I ran into some mobs that even in Cataclysm's simplified levelling game turned out to be real mage killers: the various types of Obsidian Elementals. They have a chance to spell reflect, which is all the deadlier the more powerful you are. Nothing like giving yourself a pyroblast to the face! Good fun, that.

Swamp of Sorrows

Swamp of Sorrows was once again largely what I expected it to be: several neutral quest chains and then the Horde/Alliance conflict from the other side, with the quests being exactly the same only for different mobs.

However, I was once again confused by whether one side was actually supposed to win, and if so, who did. On Alliance side you get to assault Stonard and then the quest giver gives you a pat on the back afterwards, which I always interpreted as "we won, well done". However, apparently Stonard actually reverts back to its original state afterwards (I have to admit I never checked), and on Horde side I was given the impression that the assault was successfully repelled. Which is it? It would be rather odd for the Alliance to just lose with no explanation or even acknowledgement after they had the Horde on the run for the longest time. Though to be honest, I also found the experience a bit unsatisfying from Horde side because I was apparently super successful at all these quests to kick Alliance butt but somehow we were still losing the entire time, until the very end at least. It just made me scratch my head.

At the end of the zone, there was a quest that surprised me by how it was basically a clone of an Alliance quest but still ended up with a totally different feel. On Alliance side you help a draenei who's trying to heal his sick friend, but he dies anyway. This is sad, but in the end Velen himself makes an appearance to provide some comfort, which is pretty cool.

On Horde side, you help an orc lady whose husband was mortally wounded and he dies anyway... and nothing happens. Most depressing quest in the game? I remember standing on top of the watchtower afterwards, looking out across the swamp and suddenly hating the zone - not for having bad quests or anything, but for being a place where good orcs die in the dirt (after I had done no less than four quests to save him, too) and nobody gives a damn.

Blasted Lands

The Blasted Lands were a bit more samey than I would have liked, though each faction had at least a couple of unique quests. And I still like the storyline about the demon hunter regardless, as well as the way I kept finding junk that I could exchange for greens every now and then. And saving tadpoles of course.


A Gnome's Life

Every now and then the WoW blogosphere is good for some in-game laughs. First there was Single Abstract Noun, the bloggers' guild (is that still going?), then there were the Real ID heroics (which I didn't write a separate post about, but I did participate), and now the latest craze are gnome clones, originally inspired by a nostalgic post by Alas.

Since I had yet to try out the new gnome starter area anyway, I decided to join in the fun as a gnome clone "impostor" (copying the look but rolling up a warrior, so I won't be able to be a fully armoured clone). While I've been playing a lot of alts this expansion, I mostly used already existing characters that had simply been sitting around at level twenty or so pre-Cataclysm; I haven't actually done a lot of levelling from one to ten. But holy crap, Nils wasn't kidding when he said that those first ten levels were hardcore!

I started off being confused by what was only the second or third quest in the gnome starter area. After I'd just made my way out of a gnome refugee camp, I was told to save some more survivors that couldn't make it on their own. "Okay, that makes sense!" I thought and went back to save all those injured gnomes that were lying on the floor. Nope, couldn't target them or they came up as "invalid target". Turns out that I was supposed to "save" some perfectly healthy and only slightly scared gnomes that were standing around outside. O-kay?

Not much later I was told to ask for a teleport to the surface. Why teleport when there's a perfectly serviceable elevator right next to me? Fortunately a vague memory reasserted itself to tell me that taking the lift would not be a good idea before I could do anything foolish.

At level three a warrior quest rewarded me with a Very Light Sabre. Yes, I know... cheap joke. But I really loved it!

In a cave full of troggs I had my first death as early as level... was it four or five? A rogue in full heirlooms had just mowed everything down in front of me, and then all the mobs respawned at once and I was buried under a pile of troggs. It's as if the game wanted to teach me early on that the presence of other players was only going to cause me headaches.

Getting Victory Rush at level five increased my survivability a lot, though I learned quickly that its use is limited when it comes to casters. Nothing like dying at the feet of the second Frostmane Seer that's attacking you a mere second before you manage to run over and hit it. That was death number two. On a side note, I'm impressed that the Frostmane trolls have survived as long as they have, considering that they appear to live on nothing but weed and fight by throwing snowballs at you.

Then there was the cave with the wendigos. I managed to overlook one of the quest NPCs near the entrance and (unnecessarily) went all the way to the back of the cave in search of him. However, I found something else there, a rare! Acutely aware of my vulnerability, I made sure to clear the mobs around him before attacking, but once I charged him I found to my dismay that he still had quite a lot of health relative to my puny damage output. So I died, again.

Since it had been quite a close affair, I immediately ran back in to try again, and this time managed to get him down with literally one hitpoint left on my own character. More exciting than any raid boss kill these days if you ask me!

I had one more death when I was asked to kill a yeti called Vagash. Non-elite, no adds... no biggie, right? Well, maybe if you have heirlooms, but as a warrior in whites he kicked my arse, and in a very thorough fashion. I went back to my trainer to pick up Thunder Clap, which I hadn't done yet, in hopes that this would help - though I'm not sure it would have, considering how I hadn't even come close to killing him before. Fortunately I was saved from any further embarrassment as I ran into a random gnome priest upon my return to the cave, who tentatively threw a heal on me and looked at me in what I interpreted as a hopeful manner. We grouped up and it was easy peasy. I couldn't help but wonder whether he hadn't got his arse kicked before as well.

Then I hit level ten, picked up prot spec, and the next cave I went into seemed to hold no threat to me at all. I also dinged eleven before I even knew it. I guess the really exciting levels are over. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing where the project as a whole goes.

On the whole, this starter zone was amazingly fun! The only thing that marred the experience ever so slightly for me was the how-to-use-the-flight-master quest line, which still told me that I couldn't fly anywhere where I hadn't been before (flat out not true anymore), and the quest text couldn't seem to decide on what exactly it was that I was transporting for the dwarves, as it alternated between cleavers and mining picks every other sentence. Okay, it's kind of fun to joke about dwarves cooking with mining picks, but really? That's one of those things that I would have expected them to have fixed nearly a year after release.


Random Karazhan Memories

I just noticed that I didn't even have a Karazhan tag yet before writing this post. The humanity! Like pretty much everyone who started raiding in Burning Crusade, I spent a lot of time in that place and it was a crucial part of my formative months of becoming a raider. I even remember one time, admittedly already towards the end of the expansion, where I did two full clears of the instance in a single day. Some guildies called me crazy for it, and I do remember feeling slightly dizzy afterwards.

But it wasn't always like that, breezing through the entire raid in a few hours. I remember repeatedly wiping on the trash to Attumen and being completely unable to get even the first boss down. I also remember learning to be sensible about aggro, because the last thing you wanted to happen when Attumen spawned or mounted up and the aggro reset was for you to stand out as the noob who couldn't wait for the tanks to get a solid grip on the boss (again).

I remember huddling on the stairs leading up to the ballroom, and having to trust the tanks blindly to pull the trash correctly because you literally couldn't even see what was going on up there. Most of the time it was fine, but sometimes there would be an exclamation of "uh oh" and we'd get more than we could handle. I also remember standing on those stairs when we first noticed that Blizzard had added music to the instance, and discussing our opinions on it.

I remember wiping a lot on Moroes as well, and learning how to kite, crowd control and use a focus macro. I'd position myself in a far corner and as soon as the tank pulled, I'd grab my CC target's attention with a Shadow Word: Death and then shackle it a safe distance away from any AoE. I was very proud of that at the time.

I remember Maiden of Virtue forcing me to fiddle with my UI and keybindings for the first time in order to be able to dispel her Holy Fire quickly enough so that people wouldn't die from it. Up until then the old point and click had always been good enough, but not anymore.

Everyone always seemed to love the Opera Event, especially the Big Bad Wolf - his "Run away, little girl!" was DBM's default warning for any bad effect that needed avoiding for a long time. Myself, I was never a big fan, and I vaguely remember never being very good at kiting him. My favourite was always Oz, because I loved how it gave different people different things to do, such as someone who did fire damage having to tank the strawman. I get the impression that a lot of people hated the idea of fights requiring specific classes though.

I remember the Curator and being exempt from flare duty as a shadow priest because we had absolutely no burst back in the day and switching targets actually harmed my main utility of regenerating other people's mana. I remember the trash afterwards that was immune to magic and all the casters meleeing with their staves and daggers.

I remember Illhoof's sacrifice always making me nervous and me reminding people to make macros to target the chains. Deaths remained frequent for a long time. I also remember what an extreme novelty it was to have a paladin tank the imps. Hah!

I don't actually remember anyone ever blowing up the raid by moving in the Flame Wreath in the Shade of Aran fight. Instead it was always people dying to the Blizzard, or the Arcane Explosion or what have you. He forced people to dance even back then.

I loved Netherspite because shadow priests were the best tanks for the blue beam after warlocks, and I enjoyed the way this enhanced my special class abilities. I became so fond of this boss that I was frequently happy to do the beam assignments for everyone during later runs, even if I wasn't the raid leader.

Wait, didn't I forget another dragon? Of course, Nightbane! I remember being so proud of getting my own Blackened Urn to summon him myself, and I felt my heart break when Blizzard turned it into a useless grey item in Wrath and encouraged me to vendor it. And yet another extremely gimmicky fight! Blizzard would never make a boss like that again, with a deadly cleave and an AoE fear on a short cooldown. I mean, you can't require a ten-man raid to have multiple fear breakers just like that! Outrageous!

The Chess Event: a fun little distraction, including the shame of "wiping on chess" (which we did, more than once).

And finally Prince Malchezaar and his infernal infernals. I remember wiping on him so many times simply due to bad infernal placement, and always people chucked it up to bad luck, though I could never quite shake the feeling that maybe we were just doing something wrong?

It's really kind of funny to remember all these little things. Karazhan is often cited as a "raid done right", and I actually agree, but at the same time it was chock-full of gameplay that Blizzard and many players would consider awful these days: Watching your aggro? How terribly un-fun! Crowd control? Boring and just slows things down. Having boss fights that heavily favoured or even required at least one of a certain class? Way too limiting! The thing is... while I understand why many of these things were changed, I don't think that their replacements are necessarily that much better. I mean, is needing a ranged dps with healing dual spec really that different from needing a certain class? And is it really that big a deal if your spec does kind of poorly on one fight due to its limitations, as long as there's another one where your strengths really get to shine?

Anyway, you might wonder why I'm feeling nostalgic about Karazhan in the first place. Before my boyfriend cancelled his subscription, we ran the place a few times for transmogrification gear, and after he stopped playing I wasn't in the mood to go back for a long time. However, I finally decided to go back to complete my druid's transmogrification outfit the other week, and it's been... interesting.

Opera still nearly kicked my butt on my own. Nothing like being little red riding hood on the Big Bad Wolf all the time, only having a chance to attack him for three seconds every thirty seconds or so. You'd think that he wouldn't hit that hard on a level 85 character, but it still adds up when you can't do anything to fight back or defend yourself for ages and ages. I was also terribly fail at interrupting Julienne's heals, but got there in the end.

But oh, the biggest problem when soloing Karazhan is definitely the Chess Event, that former joke. While Medivh moves his units all over the place and cheats left and right, you can only use one unit at a time, and you get a debuff that forces you to wait ten seconds before controlling another unit. And without your control, your pieces are dumb as rock, willing to auto-attack whatever's in front of them but nothing else - so if they get mutilated from the side, they'll be happy to just stand there and stare off into space until they die.

On my first run, it took me about four hours until I finally beat the game, and I was close to bursting into tears out of sheer frustration by that point. I had looked up a variety of guides online but nothing quite seemed to work. Yesterday I went back and beat it on the first try, though Blackhand only had 6k health left at the end. The sad thing is, I can't even tell whether I got better at it or whether it was just sheer dumb luck, as Medivh's moves can be quite random and screw you over big time at the worst moments.

The only things I've learned for sure are that the fire cheat always happens at roughly the same time, and you have to be ready to move your king (and/or possibly one other important unit) out of the fire patches as soon as they spawn, and that the castles are good pieces to push forward and then leave alone, as their main attack is a non-directional AoE and thus useful even if they refuse to focus on the "right" enemies. Otherwise it's largely about flying by the seat of your pants and hoping that your king and queen can kill the enemy king off before it's too late.

It's really funny how these things can work out, with the former joke boss becoming a soloers nightmare two expansions later.