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Leave No Witnesses: The Lost Isles SI:7 Mystery

gobbies

If you’ve ever rolled a Goblin in the World of Warcraft and played through their starting area where Deathwing descends to erupt Mount Kezan after getting hit with a football (Or at least that is my interpretation of events) you’ll get a cutscene after boarding the ship to get the heck off the island where the goblin ship stumbles upon a fierce naval battle between the Horde and the Alliance.  Strangely enough its the Alliance who turns cannons on you first and blows the goblin shipped pack with you in the prison hold below due to being tricked into being sold as a slave.  Now of course this is a good reason for the goblins to want to join the Horde right?  That the Alliance are a bunch of jerks and the Gobbies were just sooooo innocent.  Of course the goblins had no way of knowing that it was the Alliance that shot them from below deck and even more interesting to me is the comment that the Alliance commander makes before they fire on you – No witnesses.  They want no witnesses to what they’re doing.

Why?

It’s no strange concept to anyone on Azeroth that the Horde and the Alliance have been at each others throats since the Wrathgate broke whatever hope there was for the vulnerable peace that was forged in the wake of the Third War and the Legion’s attack on the World Tree Nordrassil. So what were the Alliance doing that was so suspicious that they didn’t want any witnesses to their actions?  Well, we do get a few clues as we continue our quest to find a new home on the Lost Isles.  One is that the ship that attacked us was carrying a very important prisoner: Goel the World Shaman, Former Warchief Thrall or Green Jesus depending on how you want to view him. Thrall was on his way to the Maelstrom to help the rest of the Earthen Circle protect the churning hole in the center of the ocean from imploding the planet after Deathwing, that Old God driven mad dragon aspect of being a nuisance, destroyed the World Pillar in the Plane of Earth that held things together.  And wow wee does this sound like Chris Metzen’s D&D campaign notes when I write it all out like that.  I should steal some of this for my own campaign.

Back on topic, we also learn that the ship is being crewed and overseen by the SI:7, the Alliance’s black ops secret forces. Which would make sense if you wanted someone to go on a secret mission to capture the former warchief of the Horde and the current holder of the title ‘World Shaman’ that was made up just for him.  The real question comes in the form of WHY the SI:7 and in turn the Alliance would want to capture Thrall.  The Alliance leadership KNOWS he has stepped down from his position with the Horde and left Garrosh Hellscream to lead to rabble.  They KNOW that Thrall is on a diplomatic mission to aid the Earthen Circle to help stop the world – that place that they too live – from shaking itself apart. So why try and stop him?

I think the answer strangely enough comes 80 levels or so later on the opposite faction.  When doing the quest chain for the Alliance to head into the Twilight Highlands, you find yourself investigate some strange activity around Stormwind with the young Prince Anduin who has begun to take a more active interest in his people’s welfare.  Throughout the questline you make something of a disturbing discovery that the current head of SI:7, the man standing to the right hand side of the King himself, is a member of the Twilight’s Hammer – a cult devoted to the Elementals and Old Gods that seeks to bring about the End of the World.  You ultimate stop him and prevent an assassination plot on King Wrynn but this plot element may in fact be the missing piece to solving the question of the Goblin starter zone all the way back at the start of the game.

Allow me to speculate.  The SI:7, a powerful organization with little oversight that carries out secret missions for the safety of the Alliance and headed by a man who is secretly in a cult that wants to bring about the apocalypse, attacks and kidnaps the former leader of the Orcs who just so happens to be on a mission of peace to help stop the apocalypse.  They attack the Horde ships hoping to sink them and chock the whole thing up to inter-faction conflict while they secure their prisoner and inadvertently aid Deathwing in bringing about the Hour of Twilight (ie said apocalypse.) However, a group of goblins accidentally happens on the scene and knowing if the word got out that this was more than just two groups that hated each other attacking each other got out – especially by the hands of goblins who are by nature greedy, not above blackmail, and have had dealings with both factions previously –  well, you’d probably want to make sure that your secret activities of abusing your authority to help further the goals of an insane dragon would remain hush hush and thus give a simple order: No witnesses.

guns

 

I submit for your approval that the leader of the SI:7 ordered those ships to destroy any witnesses because they actively sought out Thrall’s ship and Thrall himself to stop him from ever reaching the Maelstrom.  Does my idea seem far fetched?  Perhaps, but remember this is the same expansion that required you to play an Undead to level 20 to find out what happened to the rest of the Worgen starting zone story as well. Or the truth behind the Tragedy of Camp Taurajo that required playing both the Alliance and Horde side of the story AND had additional information in the Jaina novel about what happened. The Cataclysm expansion is full of weird intersects in the story.  So is it that hard to believe that they planned this?  I would argue that no, it’s not.  In fact all the pieces fit together a bit too well for this to just be a coincidence in story telling.

Because I will say this: I don’t have a ton of love for the content of the Catalcysm expansion, but damn did it have some great story moments in there.

Food for Thought: The Rebirth of the Sin’dorei

Can You Even Talk about Blood Elves without posting a picture of Fabulor?

If there was anything that I could honestly say that Cataclysm did that I loved, it was advance the storyline for the entire world.  Well, the old world at least.  There’s still some timey wimey whatever stuff going on in Outland and Northrend – but this isn’t about that.  No, this post is about the blood elves.  More importantly the complete and utter lack of story involving them in Cataclysm.  The same could be said for the draenei, but I don’t know nearly enough about them. So I’ll leave that to other bloggers.

But there was a huge missed opportunity for the sin’dorei in my eyes.  They could have become a major player in the new Horde.  Especially with the Forsaken now dead set on conquest of the Eastern Kingdoms, it will only be a matter of time before they have to cross blades with the Argent Crusade who have firmly rooted themselves in the Plaguelands, and with an army backed by a new font of holy power lying just to the north, one has to wonder if Lady Sylvanas would reach out to old friends in order to complete her mission to claim all of Lordaeron for the Forsaken.

But that didn’t happen.  In fact, despite the successful reclamation of the Ghostlands by a unified force of Forsaken and Blood Elves, there is little to no mention of their ‘friends to the north’.  Perhaps they fear the Sunwell’s possible effects on the undead?  Or maybe there is underlying mistrust after the betrayal of Prince Kael’thas?  Who knows.  The real question for me is more so, if the timeline for WoW has indeed move forward…  what exactly is going on beyond the forests of Quel’thalas?

What We Have Here is a Failure to Conspire

The question is really based on a small insignificant piece of dialogue from Wrath of the Lich King, where there were hints of a frustration in the ranks of Blood Elf society.  Despite Regent Lord Lor’themar’s decision to stand with their new found allies in the Horde then with the corrupted Kael’thas and his fel-tainted elves during the battle for the Sunwell, Ranger General Halduron Brightwing urges Horde players to not get involved with Lor’themar’s political scheming with the Grand Magister Rommath during the quest to reforge the ancient blade Quel’delar.

Political scheming? What’s this?  Is there something going on here?  Not entirely surprising since much of blood elven culture has been one of duality.  There is the seen – a simple tailoring shop – and the unseen – that uses demons and slave labor.  Even the guards seem to be on duty to prevent anyone from seeing the tears in the seems of the blood elf society.  The protesters in the Bazaar are quickly silenced and brain washed into behaving, the constructs patrolling the city shout off things like “happiness is mandatory”, and I will remind you that these were all occurred after Lor’themar assumed the role of leader.

Could it be possible that the blood elves are trying to reclaim their former glory through dystopia?   Praise the glory of the sin’dorei or be silenced forever?  It would go a long way to explain why Halduron would go the distance to make contact with the high elves during the crisis in Zul’Aman (much to Lor’themar’s dissaproval) instead of seeking reinforcements from Silvermoon.  If the man in charge of Quel’thalas’ defense is becoming distrustful of Silvermoon’s leadership, then I think we may all have cause for worry.

The Sunwell: Best way to roast marshmallows EVER!

The Eternal Sun Shall Guide Us

And there in lies a great opportunity to advance the story of the sin’dorei!  The fact that the leadership is scheming, inept, and resort to such drastic measures as brainwashing problematic citizens could indeed be reason enough for a revolution in the ranks.  But who would rise up against Lor’themar?  The Farstriders?  They are now too few, and stretched too thin to be of any use.  It would take a powerful force to rise up and seize the reins of Silvermoon.  Someone who commands loyalty from their soldiers, is respected amongst a number of species, who has battled their demons and come out with a new found respect for the Light and what it means to uphold its ways.

Oh for Brann’s sake, I’m talking about Lady Liadrin!  Being the leader of the Blood Knights, she commands a large and powerful force that is now rekindled by the rebirth of the Sunwell.  She is on a mission to the see the blood elves returned to their former glory, and she is a reformed follower of the Holy Light.  I could easily see her leading her paladins to usurp the Regent-Lord and uniting the blood elves under her.

After all, if the blood elves quench their thirst now through the holy energies of the Sunwell, a Light-centric society would make sense. It would also introduce an interesting concept of a theocratic government, which really hasn’t been touched on before in Warcraft. The only possible exception being possibly the draenei since their spiritual leader is also their faction leader and their society has a strong affinity for the Light, but can you really say the draenei have a form of government? I always say them as refuges, not an entire civilization.  Either way, a Light based theocratic blood elf government would be a fascinating angle to explore.  It would also bolster the story of the Reliquary who are searching for ancient arcane artifacts for more power.  Why are the Reliquary bothering with this if the Sunwell now provides what they’ve needed since the Burning Crusade?  If they had rejected the Holy Light and decided to seek out purely arcane means to cure their cravings and redeem their society, well that’s suddenly a much more interesting reason.

It would also go a long way to explaining why the Forsaken would not want to get involved with the blood elves.  After all, the energies of the Holy Light are fairly painful to the undead, and their reverence for the Forgotten Shadow would put them at odds with their former allies, and would further drive the Forsaken into more isolationist tendencies of wanting to rely on their own instead of the orcs, blood elves or even the Horde in general.

I really think it would be an engaging and fascinating change up for the blood elves in Cataclysm.  Instead we got warrior trainers and Lor’themar got a few new lines.  Wonderful.  Fabulous. Great.  What wasted potential.  Well, maybe the next expansion will do SOMETHING with them?

The Cataclysm Time Warp

Back when The Shattering was just beginning to peek in the door, and people who never got a beta invite (Curse you, Blizz. CUUURSEEE YOOOUUU!) were getting their first look at what changes were about to hit the world, a very interesting discussion arose.  Amidst the chaos of “Fix this bug Blizz, U lAzy!” and “OMG my class is horrible nao!” many of the lore orientated players (and it never ceases to amaze me exactly how many are out there) took to the task of figuring out exactly how many years had passed since Wrath of the Lich King, or just from the original vanilla WoW (as opposed to Cataclysm Vanilla WoW…  Catanilla?)

Oh there were discussions upon discussions about it.  Anduin was this age and now he looks this age, how can Van Cleef have died five years ago instead of the three we thought had passed? I simply chopped it up to represent that each expansion was about one year and the original Vanilla WoW was probably 2-3 years from level 1-60.  Van Cleef died at level 18 or so, so he would have died as part of the earlier years of Vanilla, where as the assault on Ahn’Qiraj or the beheading of Nefarian would be later on.  That’s just me, and I don’t think there’s any official word on exactly how much time passed and in which expansion that extra time fell in.  Heck, maybe the Northrend campaign took a couple of years.  It’s not like the Lich King’s forces just let the Alliance and Horde walk in.

But after the Shattering and questing around some in the lower level zones I quickly forgot the question of how many years had passed leading up to the Shattering and became more interested in the time span of how much time had passed SINCE the Shattering.  There a number of instances that suggested that some manner of time had passed from the Shattering to start of the player experience at level 1.  I’m sure you’ll see me bring it up in my Adventures of Vrykerion series as I look at each of the zones but the two most immediate examples of this I can point to are the Goblin starter experience and the Tauren start zone at Camp Narache.

After the Shattering, Camp Narache has gone from a training ground for young tauren to the frontline defense against a potential quillboar invasion. So when did the quillboar decide to hop out of their little valley and began a full assault on Mulgore?  Why after the Shattering, of course!  But this isn’t a mere “The Shattering happened and now here comes an invasion”  oh no.  The invasion is over.  Most of Red Cloud Mesa is now under quillboar control and they’ve already raised several of their giant razorthorn plants and converted the region into their charred, grey territory.  They also killed the elder of Camp Narache, Unaya Hawkwind. So when exactly did all this happen?  How fast do the razorthorn plants grow?  Has it been weeks or months since the Shattering?

The Goblins probably would have put a nail into this entire mystery if it wasn’t for the fact that we don’t know how long it takes a raptor to reach adulthood.  Yes, I’m talking about Subject Nine.  She is really the heart of this entire thing.  We know that Subject Nine was a baby when the Shattering occurred, Deathwing appeared and Kezan was destroyed.  We know that she is a full-grown adult with children by the time we meet her in Azshara.  So how much time is that?  However long it was, it was also when the goblins were able to establish the Bilgewater Harbor and all the other buildings and structures in the region.

We also know that the Lost Isles takes place at some point after Thrall has returned from Outland but just before he has reached the Maelstrom.  So the goblins couldn’t have spent that much time on Gallywix’s slave ship/yacht (or the Earthen Ring took their sweet time in getting to the Maelstrom), so the time jump had to have either been on their way to Orgrimmar or after they arrived there.  Honestly, I don’t have a clue on this one.  If I had to take guess on the time span between the Shattering and the majority of the game play experience, I’d say it would be at least a couple of months if not more.  Maybe it ties in to how long it has been from the original vanilla to catanilla. (Vanillysm?)

Unless somehow time has been shaken loose and not operating in the sense of minutes or hours now that the world has moved on, this is probably going to a reoccurring WTF moment for me going forward from here.  Because until I figure this out, I’m going to be trying to piece it together with every little bit of information I can scrounge up while leveling.  So as I said, don’t be surprised if you hear me mention this again while writing, because honestly – this is driving me nuts.

Revenge is Best Served Cataclysmal

For those with the sheer patience and willpower to endure last night’s launch of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, I’m sure you were bustling about and grabbing new professions, hoofing it to Hyjal or to Vashj’ir or rushing your way to realm first something or other.  Seriously, no sooner than I was able to finally log in during the Great Login Server Door Squeeze of 2010 that I was seeing Realm First Herbalism and I know for certain someone must have hit cooking before that.  Cooking was the first to go for everyone I think.  But while everyone rushed off to see the new stuff, I decided to take the opportunity of old world flight to visit an old foe.

Someone who has mocked me since I first starting playing this game in October of 2006.  Someone whose constant ravaging of my dwarven brothers has been a constant source of anger boiling deep within my black heart…   So with Old World Flying trained, I set forth on a mission of revenge:

Fire in the Twilight: an Elemental Invasion Retrospective

The final phase has hit us, the invasion has begun.  The thunder cracks over Stormwind, and the flames engulf Orgrimmar. But in the end, after all is said and done, how will we be looking back at this event?  How will it be remembered by those of us who were there to witness it?  Will you be grasping on to those precious pieces of gear you pried from the dead hands of the elemental lieutenants?  Are you going to be telling all the new players that come in during the Cataclysm era about the valiant battles that were fought against the forces of Twilight’s Hammer? Well, I can only speak for myself, but the overall feeling was mixed for me.  Allow me to explain.

The Build Up Was Fascinating

The first few phases honestly were very intriguing to me.  The plot line surrounding the Twilight’s Hammer cult and their infiltration of the cities was probably the best part of the whole event honestly.  There was a sense of intrigue and instability.  I did the quests first on my horde alts, and I was honestly concerned that by the end of the whole thing, Garrosh was going to pull out martial law on the city.  He didn’t.  Why?  ‘Cause Garrosh is my boy!  But honestly, it was a fascinating trial that played out with much less intrigue on the Alliance side I’m sad to say.  It was the same thing but with none of the risk.  I mean, while there are people who don’t like Varian for one reason or another, but it’s nothing compared to the sheer animosity that people have for Garrosh (So much that I was shocked to find that I was not the only one who voted for him in the Warchief Election.)  So how this whole thing shook down on the Horde side could very well color a good deal of the Horde’s feelings in Cataclysm.  I mean, not everyone is going to forgive Garrosh.  Probably not ever.  Mostly because he is not real, and because, well, haters gonna hate.

The lead up quests did a magnificent job of setting the tone of both the fear and concern of the people of the Horde and Alliance.  When facing dire times, there will be those who panic, those who become outraged and those who search for solutions…  regardless of where they come from.  The people who joined the doomsday cults were not bad people.  They saw a way out and they took it.  The Twilight’s Hammer is no longer a faceless, nameless enemy.  They are us.  Well, most of us.  Try as I could, I didn’t find any gnomes wandering about in Doom & Gloom chic.

The quests also set a tone of inevitability.  You tried to stop the devices, they still got in.  You tried to stop the cultists at the gate, they still infiltrated the city walls.  You tried to stop the rituals, and the invasion still came.  Ultimately, try as you might, the Shattering is going to happen.  The world is going to be changed forever.  Deathwing IS coming.  These quests were a perfect summary of that kind of mentality.

The Invasion Was Epic

I remember noticing a sudden change in the weather while walking the streets of Stormwind.  Like a shadow cast across the cobblestone and yet there was an otherworldly brightness to this engulfing darkness.  It was followed by a crack of thunder and a peel of lightning and as the rain started to fall, panic engulfed the city.  The guards began to pile up sandbags and fortifications, the heroes of Azeroth gathered in the Trade District knowing that the very thing they had tried to stop had come to pass.  The Elemental Invasion had begun.  It was really exciting to see it all come together.  There was a real chill down the spine moment as you saw people rushing to evacuate the city and seeing dozens of players rushing about the city to repel the invaders is a pretty awesome sight and it really reminded me of the demon attacks that lead up to the Burning Crusade expansion, minus the piles and piles of dead low level players at the feet of Highlord Kruul.

There was a real sense of suspense in the invasion, especially after the first day when no one was sure exactly how often the invasion would occur.  A sense of unpredictability fell upon many players that didn’t know when the next attack would come.  However, this unpredictability fell quickly to the side as the pattern was figured out.  Which brings me to a big issue I had with the entire event.

Following The Script

I’ve long thought of the elements themselves as a strange duality of balance and chaos.  They make up everything and anything, and at the same time they are foreign, unknown and unpredictable. And if there is one word to describe this entire event, it certainly was not unpredictable.  Everything happened on a script.  The elementals spawned in zones on a set routine, almost on the hour every hour.  The invasion of the cities ran on its own clock and showed up every couple of hours reliably.  The quests were naturally scripted as all quests were, there was no random spawns or surprises beyond the initial introduction of a new phase.  The entire thing was the epitome of ‘see it once, don’t need to see it again.’

The reason for this is easy to guess.  Seriously.  Try it.  No, it’s not “Blizzard is lazy.” Try again.  That’s right.  The Zombie Apocalypse.  There was serious outrage at the whole thing.  People couldn’t use the cities for days, Shattrath was covered in nothing but zombies on my realm, and for a short period the dead ruled everything – the majority of people HATED it.  I know plenty of people who actually enjoyed it, but it seemed that at least at the time, the majority was against us in that regard.  I think a lot more have come around to thinking of the whole thing fondly, but its hard to say how much of that is hindsight and how much of that is nostalgia.  All I know is that the entire thing at the time was hated by a lot of people, and I loved it.  Not the people hating it, the actual event.  It was dynamic, it was unpredictable and it was player controlled.  The players could battle it, give in to it, and choose to die alone and zombified or carry out the call of the grave and spread the plague.  There were countermeasures, the Argent Healers for one, and the Necropolis attacks that followed were less dynamic and more farming, but for a glorious moment (to me) the players had full power of the course of the world.

That’s what I always wanted to see in the game.  Player choices and player actions deciding what was to happen. It doesn’t happen enough in my opinion.  Maybe that’s just because I don’t play on a RP realm where such things occur on a regular basis (maybe someone can suggest one.  I’ve seen so much back and forth on the matter of which RP realm is good or bad I’ve, thus far, washed my hands of the matter.  Though I do have an un-played character on Shadow Council) but it’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to the use of phasing in Cataclysm.  At least then our actions, albeit scripted and defined by quests, will have a noticeable impact on the world around us.  It was one of the subtle and yet most enjoyable additions in Wrath and I look forward to see it’s expanded use in the expansion.

The Afterword Was a Big Let Down

So the invasion is over, and the elementals beaten back from the city gates.  Now what?  Well, now we go and a few packs of trash and a boss.  Does the boss drop anything unique and interesting?  Eh, some raid quality epic gear that uses models from the ICC 5-mans.  And?  And nothing. That’s it.  It’s over. Here’s some loot pinatas with a dash of nostalgia, and we’re done.  If you weren’t still raiding and needed an upgrade or two, the entire thing was pointless except for a couple of points and some gold.  In my opinion, the entire post-invasion activity was a huge let down and I have a slight inkling that I’m not alone in thinking that this was the weakest part of the whole event.  There were no special drops, nothing to collect or farm, and just nothing to do once it had been done.  The Burning Crusade event had a tabard, the Wrath event had some meh gear but some really amazing flavor items (A Castlevania item, a tabard, an epic-in-more-than-just-color axe, and many other weird flavor bits) and this event had some good gear that will be useful for a few weeks.

Conclusion

After all is said in done, the event was fun and epic, the first time I went through it all.  But the fact is that the second verse is the same as the first, and watching the same reruns over and over can only be done so many times before it becomes tedious.  I got my feat of strength, I saw everything I needed to see, now I just want the world to blow up and the real fun to begin.  Am I alone on this?  I can’t imagine I am.  Maybe the minority, but surely not alone.  When a Warcraft-fan but not WoW-player friend asked me how the event was, the best I could offer was, “It was neat. Really neat.”  I think that sums up my experience with the whole thing pretty well.  Epic but repetitive, good build up but disappointing ending.  Still I can happily say that with minimal play time I experienced everything, and had my fun, and go forward without regret.  Maybe that is the point all along.  But even without regret, I was still wanting more.  Oh well.  See you all after the world ends.

Who Are Heroics For?

WARNING: This Post May Contain What Some People Might Consider SPOILERS for Cataclysm.  Mostly this is a discussion of game design, but there are a few faction names,  location names, and some of the current mechanics from the expansion mentioned here. Again, I’m not in the Beta, there’s nothing exactly ground breaking-ly new or shocking, but if you consider a few proper nouns without a lot of context to still be spoiler-ish, you have been warned.

So their been a bit of a buzz as of late revolving around the Heroic Dungeons in Cataclysm.  From what I can piece together from the various bits of Cataclysm news I actually look at (I try hard to avoid spoilers) it seems that the heroic dungeons are now available for testing in the beta and apparently they are quite hard.  Now of course, this is still the beta and that difficulty can be whittled away through the course of continous testing or even after launch via patches and what not (Helloooo Oculus), and it may stay just as hard or even increase in difficulty as more instances get added to the game in later patches.

The discussion has mostly been centered around the idea of whether ‘to nerf or not to nerf’ the heroic dungeons.  Some people really want to see us return to the days of the Burning Crusade in terms of Heroics, a focus on strategic pulls, crowd control, and those who don’t know what to do will have a hard time faking it. Others enjoy the model adopted by Wrath of the Lich King, in which heroics were an easy means to get some low level epics and badges to purchase even better epics.  Most conversations I’ve seen debating this make casual use of labels such as “casual” (ie “Casuals killed heroics”) or “hardcore” (ie “Heroics should be for the Hardcore players”) and excessive use of the terms “noob” and “bads” (which has apparently has become a noun right under my nose.  Hooray for an ever evolving language!  …and thank goodness for Urban Dictionary.)

Most of the time there is, in my opinion, a major component of the heroics discussion goes unmentioned.  Wait. Stop.  Don’t finish those eye rolls. I am NOT going to say that heroics were hard back at the beginning of WotLK.  In fact, you’ll never find me argue that the heroic dungeons of WotLK were very easy compared to their Burning Crusade cousins.  But note how I say cousins and not incarnations.  Because that’s what we need to be looking at, as well as how we look at the Heroics of Cataclysm.  These ‘variants’ of Heroics, in my eyes, are not an evolution of content but rather more like different flavors of ice cream.  Vanilla and chocolate are worlds apart, but are both technically ice creams.  The difference between these ‘flavors’ of heroics is not one of ‘difficulty’ but of purpose.  Allow me to look at the “history” (for lack of a better word) of Heroics in depth:

The Burning Crusade Design: Off Time for the Raiders

Way way waaay back in the savage age that was 2007, WoW’s first expansion – The Burning Crusade – was delivered unto a player base that was raised on grinds, super coordinated fights, massive dungeon crawls, and where only the best of the best would find themselves at the gates of raiding.  Burning Crusade, to say the least, did a fair job of cracking that world view into many little pieces that you’d have a hard time sweeping up and then would occasionally step on as you stumbled through the kitchen in the dark to drink milk from the carton even though your not supposed to and cause you to yell in pain, drop the milk, and then kick the cat because it sits there mocking you with its low light vision…  what was I talking about?  Oh yea, Burning Crusade.

Burning Crusade introduced smaller raids, shorter dungeons, and a token system that made getting your tier equipment much more bearable than taking it in the unmentionables from the RNG machine (I’ve run Molten Core dozens of times since starting to play, never seen Garr drop my warlock horns ONCE.  Thank the spirits for reskinned models.) This too was considered “catering to the casuals and the bads” at the time and was a sure sign that the game was dead (Spoiler: it didn’t die) but the one thing the game brought that was definitely not for the ‘casuals’ was the introduction of Heroic Dungeons.

Heroic Dungeons brought with them a massive leap in difficulty and access to epics outside of crafting and raiding. It also was the only way to get epic gems until Tier 6 was introduced.  But with the difficulty brought with it a hefty cost to enter.  The generalization usually given was that you had to raid to get the gear to do the heroics.  That idea is the key of figuring what Heroics were back in Burning Crusade.  They offered Badges of Justice to get raid level gear, they offered a variety of epics that could fit in those few slots you didn’t have the DKP or good enough rolls to score raid gear for yet (because as  D&D player, I understand the subtle art that is ‘getting better at rolling dice’…   I’m not lying…  nope…), and they dropped epic gems you could place in that slightly more permanent epic gear.

Heroic Dungeons were something for raiders to do when they weren’t raiding. Plain and simple.  It had a shorter lockout, it gave rewards that helped you out as a raider and it was more or less tuned to assume that you had some raiding experience.  It wasn’t designed to ‘prepare’ you for anything.  The entry costs for Lower Karazhan (that’s everything up to Curator in case you’ve never heard that term, which is likely because I’ve never heard it before and probably just made it up) could roughly be achieved by getting top end blues from normal dungeons, the better quest rewards from the long chains in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon, and crafted epics.

The Wrath of the Lich King Design: The Ladder to Raiding

Wrath brought a lot of changes to the game again (now beginning to establish the pattern of relearning the game every expansion).  Raids could be done as 10 man or 25 man (catering to casuals), Tier 6 was useful beyond the first quest rewards of Northrend (game is too easy lolz), that the game was dead (Spoiler: still didn’t die), and the biggest change, the one that has haunted WotLK through it’s entire life span was the purpose of heroics had changed.  Most people chopped this up to the previously mentioned ‘game is too easy’ and ‘catering to the casuals’ and that the once mighty heroics were nerfed to this.  But they weren’t nerfed.  Not in the least.  The concept was repurposed.  Kinda like building a target dummy so you can destroy it for easy fused wiring.  Heroic Dungeons were no longer a side activity for the raiders, it was a part of the progression.

I’m often shocked (shocked I say) at how many times this is overlooked by people who complained about the heroics in the current expansion.  I thought it was fairly obvious from the get go.  You get to 80 and do normal dungeons (Stage 1), then once you are geared to the point of doing heroics, you did those to start cobbling together your epics for raiding and your badges (Stage 2) and then your set to go off to the tier 7 raids and start reaping your rewards (Stage 3+).  Wait! Don’t start with the eye rolling again! I know just what your thinking.  Then why would they start giving frosty badges for running them if they were never designed to run once you were at Stage 3 or beyond?  Well, simple, there will still people at stage 2 waiting to get their stuff but there just wasn’t enough people to cobble together enough to run them.  So you had to be given treats to go back and help the stage 2 people in order to prevent the gear gap from solidifying and keep the content flowing.

This plan ultimately I think backfired.  While yes, those at Stage 2 were eventually able to graduate to stage 3 either by drops or by badges (the triumph badge change went a long way here.  The purpose of letting everyone get a chance to at least go into Icecrown Citadel was pretty obvious here I think, so I’m not going to get into it) but it created resentment of the stage 1-2 people by the stage 4-5 people.  They higher ups just wanted frosties, didn’t care about the stage 2 people, and saw them as an obstacle to their frosties.  Resentment leads to hate and hate leads some Yoda quote, yadda yadda yadda.  To be honest, if they had the Dungeon Finder ready to go at the beginning of WotLK instead of the end, I think the whole expansion may have played out much differently (Same thing with the Hardmode rewards, etc) but then again hindsight is always 20/20, right?

The Cataclysm Design: The Mystery On The Horizon

So what will Cataclysm bring in terms of heroics?  Well, the Developers have stated their intent to go back to a “Burning Crusade” style set up.  Not surprising considering the backlash from the ‘Progression Ladder’ style that Wrath gave us.  The question is how far will the pendulum swing in that direction?  Will DPS Warriors become moot once more without a solid form of crowd control?  Will mages and rogues be only ones not to kicked in random?  I doubt it.  Blizzard is too good about learning their lessons to do that again.  I think the real thing to look at with this news is that Heroics are once again going to be tuned for off-the-clock raiders and those of comparable gear level.  Ghostcrawler has made mention that he’d like level 85’s to once more have to turn to high level quest drops and crafted items to start to assemble a raiding set, not just Heroics.

As long as this thought process follows through and normal dungeon drops, quest items and crafted gear can actually get you prepped enough to enter the lowest tier of raids, and heroics don’t start taking on the trappings of the raid markings and CC-or-Wipe filled memories like Heroic Shattered Halls or Heroic Magister’s Terrace, I think Cataclysm could prove to be quite the rewarding experience.  I’m not without my worries though.  Namely in terms of reputation factions (what can I say, I’m a completionist and I like my bars to be full dangit), the tabards currently seem to only reward rep for heroic dungeon runs, and my limited gazings into Cataclysm haven’t revealed any confirmation of daily questions to increase rep like we had in WotLK (Okay, I know Tol Barad has some, but that’s the Isle of Quel’danas aspect of its design, what about the Earthern Ring?).  But these are minor things all in all, and for the most part, mechanically at least, I’m very much looking forward to Cataclysm, even if it means having to relearn everything (Wait… hunters stand behind their pets and shoot?!  WTF!?)

Back to Square One: The Expansion Shuffle

No worries, the Mayan Calendar predicts that Cataclysm will be delayed until Q4 2012.

You must unlearn what you have learned. – Some puppet in a movie

Like some untold horror from ages past, it looms over us as we bask in its ever darkening shadow as it approaches.  The excitement builds to an unappeasable boil and those who have glimpsed the madness to come eagerly prepare for its arrival.  The word lingers on the lips of everyone, ‘Cataclysm’.  The end of the world.  But it is not the first of it’s kind.  While Azeroth is scheduled to be sundered and shattered and all manner of other frightening verbs, the simple fact of the matter is that this is a cyclical terror that is doomed to menace us again and again.  While Deathwing’s return marks the proverbial end of the world as we know it for our characters, the fact of the matter is that we players face an ‘end of the world’ every time an expansion comes around.

Now that Patch 4.0 is on the PTR the excitement for Cataclysm is beginning to foam with unease and anxiety over what the game is set to bring.  Are holy paladins doomed to extinction?  Will death knights be just as overpowered as before?  Will there be something that hunters won’t want to roll on?!  How will mechanic X, Y or Z affect the way I play?  And do electric sheep dream of androids?  As the questions begin to flow, anxiety turns to frustation.  A sense of personal belonging becomes a sense of entitlement: Why did Blizzard break MY class?  I didn’t want healing to change this much!  I can’t believed they buffed THEM but not ME.  For someone like me, who long ago accepted the fact that I can’t expect anything to carry over, it becomes devastatingly entertaining to watch. (Devastating in the sense that you can really really really REALLY tick people off this way)

So, in my tradition of making grandiose lists that benefit no one but myself, here are a few of Oddcraft’s tips for surviving the inevitable “end of the world”:

STEP ONE: EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG

Just assume that everything you think and understand about how you play your character is completely wrong and you’ll need to pick it up from scratch.  If you want to give it a try, roll a class you’ve never played before, get it to level 15, and go into a dungeon with the most unfamiliar task possible for this class (Healing for tanks, tanking for heals, anything but dps if you’re normally a dps).  It’s weird right?  Like wearing a sweaty pair of someone else’s sneakers while sleeping in their house, in a room that their grandmother died in a year before.  That kinda weird.  It’s not unbearable, but it’s a damn awkward feeling.

Occasionally you’ll get that lovely moment where you can feel the heat of the blush spreading across your face as a small line of text points out that you’re doing something horrible wrong and they it should be done is ‘this’.  It can come in the form of helpful advice, annoyed scornful anger, or head to desk beating intolerance – but all the same, you’ve just learned that everything you knew was wrong.  That’s the feeling you should walk into Cataclysm (or any expansion with).  Maybe it’s a bit easier for me because I remember those horrendous n00b moments (Why? Because my personal mindset of always focusing on the negative in my life has me constantly remembering every single little screw up. I’m also a Sagittarius and my favorite colors are green and black. Nice to meet you.) and believe me, I’ve had them.  Like being a melee hunter until level 38 when someone in a Scarlet Monastary run was kind enough to explain why exactly Blizz saw fit to hand me a gun, or leveling 1-70 on a warlock using the rotation: Voidwalker goes in -> DoTs -> then wand until dead.  I’m not above saying that I need to relearn some things a lot of the time.

STEP 2: BACK IN MY DAY…

Now that you know that everything you know is wrong, the first inclination in your head will be that obviously, everything was better when I did understand it.  In Burning Crusade, Vanilla was the best.  In Wrath of the Lich King, Burning Crusade was the greatest achievement WoW had ever seen.  Who wants to wager that we’ll see people clamoring about how Cataclysm is not as epic as downing the Lich King, or way too easy with the point system tier gear, or that how you leveled your blacksmithing back when it was hard and no one got easy mode ‘multiple points’ for making an item.  How dare they be able to do what I did easier and quicker!

Since these is simply a micro version of the generational thinking that leads our parents to think that the world has gone to hell and young people have no respect, and the young people to think that they old people are outdated and do not merit being listened to, I will simply address the topic two fold and say this:  Shut. Up. Pretty. Pretty. Please.  If you would like to play a static game, in which the situation does not change on a dime, and your hard earned achievements mean the same now as when they first came out, I would like to point you towards your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.  They provide excellent methods of developing a proud, strong ePeen that are just as easy to wave around in people’s faces and the simple fact is beating the game on the hardest difficulty does not get any easier in a single player game.  There is your Valhalla, brave warrior.  Seek it out and drink heartily from your cup in the hall of your fathers.If you think the game is dead, go play something else.  There’s a variety of choices out there.  One’s that require you to build a strong team to tackle content that the pitiful casual players will never get to glimpse.  Just don’t sit here and belly ache about how the game you loved is “dead” in trade chat.  You’re not doing anything but a disservice to yourself.  (For the record, that’s the same speech I gave my grandparents when I turned 18.)

The alternative to the “please please please be quiet” technique, is to take a step back and look at it in the broader scheme.  The people from vanilla were complaining about Burning Crusade, Burning Crusaders were saying the same things about Wrath of the Lich King, and again and again and again.  Once you can see the whole thing for what it is, you’ll realize that there’s always something to complain about, that someone always has it easier than you did, and this transcends a single expansion or patch, so this is not a unique or individual event that can be pinpointed for all of this.  It’s constant, and ever present.  The only way to get past it is to decide that you’ve either had enough and leave or acknowledge the change and move on.  This is the same thing that happens every day in the real world between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and TV talk show hosts and their audience.  There is no ending it, so the route to go in my opinion is to accept and move on.

As for the reverse, new and youthful players, listen to the wisdom of the old players (when it actually is wisdom…  I must stress that.  Not everything an old schooler says is a nugget of golden truth, especially when the ‘old schooler’ is a 12 year old wearing a shirt with a NES controller that says ‘Represent’) because if the past two expansions are any indication, expect to see some old fight mechanics repeated and possibly mixed together (Anub’arak in Azjol-Nerub is the Lurker Below with bugs instead of fish people, and how many times have we’ve seen Baron Geddon’s living bomb come back to haunt us?)  So they may actually have some fun insights to share with you as to how you can combat the new fights.

STEP 3: ACCEPTANCE

If anything, all these changes be it changes to mana regeneration or making the game easier or harder, should not be looked at with disdain but with the joy of new exploration.  It’s the wild west again my friends and we’ve got a brand new world to explore, and all new tools to learn how to explore it with.  It’s the joy of learning a new class without having to start with nothing but your backpack and a full suit of vendor trash on your back.  Use this as a time to learn something new, and improve yourself with it.  What’s the worse that happens?  Some things are out of whack in 4.0 and they get tuned again and again until they are back in line.  Look at Death Knights from 3.0 to 3.3 – HUGE change.  What about the awesome might that was Retadins? – To the ground baby!  But also look at the issues with AoE threat, or making it easier to find groups with the dungeon finder.

CONCLUSION

So yes, 4.0 will be the end of the world as we know it.  Just like 3.0 was (Oh god, nerf Death Knights!), and 2.0 was as well (Oh god, nerf Felguards!).  Just grab yourself a towel full of supplies and soaked in resources, stick out your thumb for a ride to the next evolution of the game and no matter what, regardless of what you’ve read on forums, no matter what screams of fear echo in the hearts of blog comment sections:  DO. NOT. PANIC.  And I’ll see you all on the other side.

The Implications of Holy Power

Well, since I plan on rolling a paladin of the large cow variety when Cataclysm drops, I’ve actually been keeping an eye on what the developers have been doing with the paladin class.  Oddly enough, I have paid no attention to any of the classes that I actually play at the moment (Something about Death Knight’s being less OP and more OP at the same time? I think?  Maybe?), but what caught my attention was this weird little secondary resources that the paladins are getting called ‘Holy Power’ and it’s apparently the star of the masquerade. But between the velvet lies, there’s a truth that’s hard as steel. Paladin’s getting Holy Power has far ranging implications.

Namely, what the heck does this say about Priests?  You know, the original holy rollers?  Is this meant to be some kind of shun from the Holy Light for some of them choosing to dip their fingers in the pudding of shadow magic?  The simple fact is that the paladins, a militant class of light worshippers that have just as much of a tendency to smash your head with a hammer as bless you with a heal, (Lawful Good, my ass) are being given preference in the Church of the Holy Light.   What does that say about the Light’s preference in worshippers?

Not exactly shocking consider some of the speculation surrounding the naaru and their teachings about the Light in Shattrath.  How about the Light worshipping arrakoa that were “redeemed” by the naaru and spout stuff like “Those who have not given themselves over to the Light are mere servants of evil.” Meanwhile, the priests who choose to use holy magic to heal others and shadow magic to damage others are getting boned.  You would immediately think that obviously since they are using shadow magic and not the given blessings of the Holy Light, that must be why they are getting shafted, but what about the Tauren?  They don’t worship the Holy Light at all.  They are sun worshippers.  While you could surely argue a potato-potahto argument here about how they actually are worshipping the Holy Light and they just think it’s the sun, I would like to see you pull that point off and try to tell the night elves that Elune is also the Holy Light just under another name and then watch as Tyrande feeds you to her tiger (those backwards thinking kal’dorei).

If you want to take that line of thought further, the Naaru (physical embodiments of holy energy mind you) are big promoters of the idea of a duality of light and dark.  That as long as one exists, so must the other and that without each other, their opposite would cease to exist. Of course, this is utter semantic hogwash.  If there was no darkness, there would only be light. We just wouldn’t need words for them because they wouldn’t need to be differentiated as one didn’t exist. Confused? Think of the movie, ‘The Invention of Lying’ where everyone always tells the truth. They have no word for ‘lying’ or ‘truth’ because those concepts don’t exist.  Same idea.

So based on that line of thought, using Shadow magic is still promoting the dichotomy and thus reinforcing the existence of both light and dark and can still technically be viewed as worshiping the Holy Light in some fashion.  So why in the world are the paladins the one’s getting preferential treatment from their deity of choice?  Well, isn’t obvious?

Paladins are OP. Duh.

Dear Blizz: Attunements

Dear Blizzard Entertainment,

I recently saw that you plan to include attunements in the upcoming Cataclysm expansion.  What an amazing decision!  I know nothing is quite set in stone yet for Cataclysm, after all you’ve just started with all the testing and such, and I know you haven’t even said how you will use attunements or how hard/easy it will be to do.  Even so, allow me to offer to you, a hugely successful corporation whom I’m sure reads my blog, some advice:

Do not dare #%$# this up! You think we’ve forgotten Burning Crusade? Do you think we chuckled a bit at that insane Black Temple attunement April’s Fool joke because we knew it was silly?! WE KNEW IT WAS POSSIBLE! After all just to get into Mount Hyjal (To play through a flashback of the most tedious annoying climax in an RTS I’ve ever played through), you would have to drag yourself and twenty-four other schmucks through not one… Not Two… But THREE entire RAID attunements.

Yes, that’s the SSC attunement, the TK attunement, and the Karazhan attunement.  Each one entailing one or more death defying feats that, depending on your group, WERE HARDER THAN PARTS OF THE RAID.  My entire guild fell apart trying to get enough people to raid, and to ensure they were attuned, just to see tier 5 before I personally had even finished KARAZHAN.  If you’re thinking with a single brain cell that you are gonna to try and pull that $%#& off again just because people are whining about things being “not epic” enough, just drink until your stupid enough to lose a prototype.

But I’m sure that it will be fine.  After all, you’re Blizzard!  The one company that has shown that they actually can learn from their past mistakes and refine them.  You did drop those crazy attunements later on because you obviously came to same rational conclusion that I stated just now.

You did use a very good attunement for the Eye of Eternity.  Granted I’ve never been inside it – but I hear it’s a neat one! I am attuned for it though, and I thought that attunement worked just great.  You needed to clear the majority of Naxxramas to get the key, and when you did get it only one person in the raid needed it.  After all, why does everyone need a key to the door.  I don’t even have a key to my neighbors door, and that doesn’t stop me from raiding his fridge.

I also see that you want to bring back attunements for heroics.  Well that’s just dandy.  I’m sure it will work out fine.  But since you – Blizzard Entertainment, creator of some of the best selling video game series and the world’s top MMO – enjoy reading my blog, I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to find that I have a few tiny little thoughts to share:

I swear to the dark powers that I sacrifice the blood of the innocent to at night, if you require this $#%&ing @!%* to need a certain rep again and then not give us a way to gain rep outside of inane and constant dungeon runs over and over I will call upon the blood rain and screaming torments of the children I have sent to bowels of place that makes hell seem like a day spa in Honolulu.

Do you know how many reputations I got to exalted in Burning Crusade? Five. Do you know what they were? Skyguard, SSO, Scryers, Netherwing and Ogrila. #@*&ing Ogrila. I still got the taste of Ogre #@$ in my mouth from all the #@$ kissing I had to do for those damn ogres.  But what do all of those reps have in common?  Let’s fire those two neurons together and crunch those numbers. Oh wait! I didn’t run any dungeons for them.

Don’t give me that Dungeon Finder nonsense, you’re talking about pulling a random group of people who’ve never met each other into a dungeon and them telling them they have to cooperate and play smart CC and l2assist like in the Burning Crusade days.  They only time I’ve seen a group do anything past pull them all to a spot and AOE them down was on bosses.  So if my rep grinds are dependent on those people?  May the darkness of Lystrog the Fiend Caller descend upon you slowly and without mercy!

Anyway, I know that you guys are busy working on making Cataclysm the best thing to date. I’ve even sworn of looking at teasers because I want that launch to be filled with the awe and wonder that I’ve come to love and respect from a Blizzard Entertainment, a company that is so amazing they made millions in a just a few hours by selling that awesome horse (By the way, Geeeeenius! And I love my horsie too.) that I’m sure is reading this very post and thinking deeply about what I a blogger writing under a pseudonym on the internet thinks of what they are working on.  You keep up the amazing work, you rascals.

Your Biggest Fan Ever,

VRYKERION

P.S. I swear if you mess this up I will come for you and end you like the dark one shall end all days into an eternal night of suffering! And I totally know where you guys are too, so don’t think I’m joking.  It’s like in Washington… right?  Am I close?  On second thought, please use the contact form to send me your address so I may come and end you like the yadda yadda, you know the drill. Thanks!

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