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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?

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In Defense of Tirion Fordring (Part II)

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” – Joseph Campbell

When I think of a hero, I think of Tirion Fordring.  Really, that’s all I have to say.  Because in the end, that is what sets him apart from every other element in the World of Warcraft.  Warcraft has always been epitomized to me as an exploration in the idea that there is no true good, and no true evil.  A fallen good guy becomes a bad guy, a redeemed bad guy becomes a good guy, and orcs are not the monsters they appear to be and humans can be more monstrous than you would think.  It has always felt to me that the World of Warcraft existed in an honest view that there was no black and white in the world.  Tirion Fordring is one of the exceptions to that.  Tirion always put his values before his life, his family and anything else.  He believed that honor and justice were more important than power and wealth.  He sacrificed everything he had to preserve his honor and save the life of an orc that any other would see put to death before hearing a word it had to say.  In a world of grays, Tirion Fordring is the white.

I struggled to write this post for ages.  Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I wanted to do it right.  I wanted to do my best to show the world why I think Tirion Fordring is one of the greatest characters in Warcraft.  I had originally contemplated writing it like I did part 1, a long and winding narrative that exemplified what was best in the story of Fordring, and showed him for the true hero I feel he is.  Then I remembered that wasn’t what I set out to do months ago when I first decided to write this.  I didn’t want to tell the tale of Tirion, I wanted to defend him.  There have many questions raised about this character, one’s that I think have been a great injustice to what my views were.  So I wanted to stand up and address all this.  Granted, it hardly seems relevant an entire expansion later.  Tirion rests quietly in his home in Hearthglen now, as his Crusade seeks to purify and redeem the fallen lands of Lordaeron from the destruction wrought by the now beaten scourge.  I still want to write this.  I still want people to read it.  So I have settled on finding the biggest arguments I could think of against Tirion, and write my counter argument in favor of the Ashbringer.  I would suggest refreshing yourself on part one, as I will be referring to the events discussed in it.

How did Tirion purify the Ashbringer?

Chronologically, this is the first time we get to see Tirion Fordring following the death of his son, Taelan, and swearing his oath over his child’s lifeless body.  So it seems right to start with this point.  During the Battle of Light’s Hope, Tirion Fordring commits his first act of outrage to the players by purifying the Ashbringer and driving back the Lich King with it.  Why was this an outrage?  Well, that has a lot to do with the history of the Ashbringer.  For the longest time, the Ashbringer was essentially one of WoW’s own urban legends.  There were hints of its existence – it was data mined, the Shendralar seemed to know of its existence as well as the ever unlikely Nat Pagle, developers hinted at it, and with the introduction of Naxxramas the world finally learned what happened to the blade through a strange scene that played out when a player that had pried to blade from Highlord Mograine’s hands and took it to the Scarlet Monastary.  It was there it was hinted that the Highlord had another son, hidden away in Outland, that would be able to forge a new Ashbringer.

The idea was always that the players themselves would be able to purify the blade and wield it.  You would find the lost son of Mograine and build the Ashbringer anew.  But there was no lost son in Outland, despite the multitude of theories about which random NPCs that could be the one to help rebuild this ancient and powerful weapon.  Then, after all that, it gets purified by Tirion Fordring.  A character that a good chunk of people either didn’t remember or never got to meet in the Plaguelands. It was – to quote the forums – a slap in the face.

However, narratively it worked.  Tirion was a man that had a connection to the Holy Light powerful enough to survive excommunication, he was a founding member of the Order of the Silver Hand and one of the first paladins.  To say he was powerful in the ways of the Light would be putting it lightly.  The lost son of Mograine turned out to be Darion, who fulfilled his destiny by breaking away from the Lich King’s chains and threw the cursed blade to Tirion.  So why didn’t the players get to do this?  Perhaps it was for the purpose of story.  A powerful paladin to purify and wield a legendary blade of good, to lead the war against the powerful fallen paladin who wielded a legendary blade of evil.  However it was no ‘out of the blue’ moment.  Tirion’s astonishing connection to the Light was established as early as 2001 with the book ‘Of Blood and Honor’.  In many ways, this was the catalyst for the entirety of the expansion, because without Tirion’s Argent Crusade, it is debatable if the assault on the Northrend would have ended in success at all.

What was the point of the Argent Tournament?

Ah yes, the Tournament.  That point during Wrath of the Lich King when players who weren’t already angry at Tirion for stealing ‘their’ Ashbringer began to despise the man.  After all, what could be dumber than establishing a big fancy jousting tournament in the middle of a war?  It was sheer stupidity! Wasn’t it?  I’d be lying if the introduction of the Tournament didn’t have me scratching my head for a moment.  It seemed like a weird choice, but as I continue to play through it and listen to the NPCs that wandered the tournament grounds, it began to make sense to me.  There were many reasons for the tournament.

The events of the Wrathgate had bitterly divided the war effort.  The Horde and Alliance were at each others throats and it only got worse as the assault on Icecrown began.  The Horde and Alliance forces were almost completely devoted to doing nothing but fighting between each other across the darkened glaciers.  Most of the quests you receive that actually further the goal of reaching the Citadel are given to you by each factions’ ambassador with the Knigths of the Ebon Blade – the epic bro duo of Thassarian and Koltira – where as the quests that the Horde and Alliance captains give are mostly directed at preparing for and attacking the enemy faction’s forces in the region.  Meanwhile, every dead soldier was strengthening the Scourge.  Necromancers would wander the battlefields and resurrect fallen Horde and Alliance fighters so they could defend what once was their enemy.  The Tournament was a neutral ground that both served to unite the two factions and use their aggression against each other to further the Crusade’s goals.  By pitting the Alliance and Horde against each other in non-lethal combat, Tirion and his forces were able to ignite the passions of both sides of the conflict and find some of the best fighters available, they then would induct them into their ranks as a Crusader in their own right.  No longer taking orders from their faction, you would go the Argent Crusade’s tent to pick up your daily assignments (Death Knights would report to their superiors in the Ebon Blade, who had joined up with Crusade back the Light’s Hope.)

The tournament was designed to draw in fighters from every walk of life as well.  Those who wanted to defeat the opposite faction, those who wanted glory, and those who were just trying to fill out their wallets.  No matter what, each person who fought through the tournament were recruited to the cause in some fashion.  Those who wished to prove their worth to join the assault on Icecrown were invited to take the Trial of the Crusader, were you would face the most powerful and dangerous enemies that the Crusade could find.  This is where there are a number of complaints.  People have often asked me if the point was to make sure that no life was wasted and turned to the Scourge, then why have a giant tournament where people get killed constantly in massive raid fights?  This is a distinct division of gameplay and story.  For the sake of engaging gameplay, one must risk death.  You can wipe, you can die, and you can just run back in and try again.  However, in story that doesn’t happen.  It’s assumed for the sake of plot, that you essentially “one shot” the entire raid.  Those who aren’t up to par and drug off the arena floor and healed up by the Crusade’s healers.

However, you might be thinking that using a lavish tournament to try to overcome the bitter rivalry of the factions is a bit naive.  I think Darion Mograine would agree with you.  Tirion is an archetypal paladin through and through, he believes in second chances, that good will prevail over evil, lawful good alignment – all that jazz.  It’s something Darion had been annoyed with since arriving in Icecrown (which may be the reason that while the Ebon Blade is represented at the tournament, Darion himself never shows up.)  Tirion’s devotion to doing things the “right way” and not following Darion’s suggestions to sink to the Lich King’s level and play dirty is a good hint towards the mentality behind the tournament.  It’s part of Tirion’s “right way.”  The forces of Azeroth will unite together and tear down the walls of Icecrown, and good defeat evil.  Naive, no?  Damn inspiring too, if you ask me.

Why build a Tournament at the Lich King’s doorstep in Icecrown?

While outside of the narrative, we know that the Argent Tournament was originally meant to be held in the Crystalsong Forest but due to the immense lag in the area from Dalaran it was moved to Icecrown.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t a perfectly good reason for it to be held there.  The most important of which would have to be that the Tournament is a powerful symbol to those who come that the Lich King is not all powerful.  You see, the reason the Horde and the Alliance have been sitting in airships the entire time is not because they like the view.  Neither faction has been able to make a lasting dent in the Lich King’s forces to establish a permanent base in Icecrown.  In fact, only two groups can claim to have made such an accomplishment: The Ebon Blade – who know how to exploit Icecrown’s weaknesses – and the Argent Crusade.  In fact, the Crusade has established two bases on the glacier.  So the fact that the Tournament stands on that unholy ground shows to members of any faction that arrives that, Yes, the Lich King’s power is not absolute.  And despite the attempts by the Cult of the Damned to interfere and sabotage the Tournament, through the unity of those it has drawn in it continued to stand.  Tirion’s “right way” is working.

Why didn’t Tirion interfere when the Lich King crashed the Tournament?

So the Tournament was working, people were coming around the Tirion’s side, and then at the end of it all, the Lich King shows his face.  And what does Tirion do?  He offers him a chance to give up.  Then the Lich King plunges Fordring’s newfound champions into the depths of Azjol-Nerub to face Arthas’ own champion – Anub’Arak.  Why the heck did Tirion not just jump down and kill Arthas?  Why did he offer him a chance to surrender? How the heck could Vry admire such a moron of a human being?!  Well, I’ll tell you.

The most important thing to remember is that Tirion cannot defeat the Lick King.  Not in Icecrown.  Not alone.  His victory at Light’s Hope was only possible due to the fact that they battled on holy ground.  Icecrown is the opposite – unholy ground.  Tirion knew this when he decided to build the Tournament in Icecrown, and it’s the reason he won’t engage Arthas in combat like this.  The Lich King has the upper hand due to terrain, power and the element of surprise.  It would be downright foolish to try to engage him.  As for the offer to surrender?  Well, I did say he was an archetypal paladin.  I can’t fault him for that.

But why did he build the Tournament over Azjol-Nerub?  How stupid was that?  Not very.  Azjol-Nerub runs under a good chunk of Northrend, mostly where you can find a good amount of scourge activity.  I’d wager to say it runs underneath through most of the central part of the continent: the Dragonblight, Crystalsong Forest, and Icecrown.  So unless you had somehow mapped out the entire expanse of both the upper and lower kingdom, I’d think the odds of building over it are pretty good.

How come Tirion gets all the credit?

I killed the Lich King, and yet Tirion gets a statue?  What the heck is up with that?  Well, I always likened it to a famous general.  You always remember the general for what they accomplished, but you don’t remember each and every troop that served under them.  Oh, sure. If you were one of those troops you remember the others like they were your brothers and sisters.  You fought and shed blood together on the battlefield, but in the grand scheme of history?  Well, Washington has a monument, but not his troops.  Tirion Fordring, the last living founding member of the Silver Hand, the Ashbringer, and the leader of the Argent Crusade.  Commander of the forces that united together paladins, death knights, Horde and Alliance to defeat the Lich King, enemy of all of Azeroth.  Tirion, who upon losing everything, devoted his existence to the destruction of evil on the face of Azeroth, purified the Ashbringer and used it to shatter the cursed blade Frostmourne.  He didn’t deserve a statue?  A statue surrounded by statues of orcs and humans – the ‘iconic’ races of both the Horde and Alliance that united under his banner.

I think that after all of the things I’ve written about here, I would hope that some would see some merit in why Tirion was instrumental in the defeat of the Lich King.  This wasn’t something that the Horde would have accomplished, or the Alliance.  They couldn’t even get a base set up in Icecrown, and they spent more time fighting each other than enemy.  Without Tirion’s Argent Crusade, there would have been no victory to be found in the cold recesses of Northrend, only death.  That is why Tirion is at the center of the statue.  Because he was at the center of this victory.  He is surrounded by statues of the Horde and Alliance because through them, victory was won.

Tirion isn’t a glory whore.  He’s a man that devoted his life to seeing Arthas brought to justice.  He rallied people to his cause.  He led them to victory.  And in the end, he had no second thoughts that it would be his fate to take Arthas’ place on the Frozen Throne and become the Jailer of the Damned.  It was only though his old friend Bolvar, that his fate was spared. Tirion Fordring is Wrath of the Lich King’s Aragorn.  He’s the reason I rolled a paladin.  He is a good man, and someone that brings out the good in all of us.

That is why I will defend Tirion Fordring.

(…Oh by the titans, I just made a Tirion speech didn’t I?  Well, I guess that’s fitting.  This post is also dedicated to a batch of burnt cookies.  Their sacrifice towards the cause will not be forgotten.)

Telling the Tale: Reflecting on Wrath

Running from the Robot

Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.

In case you didn’t know, Loremaster is the end goal for every max level toon I’ve ever had.  To date, I have three toons with the uber-nerd-tasti-fied title, and each time is more enjoyable than the last.  Considering I did it the first time Pre-Cata before there were add ons to tell you what quests you’ve missed, ‘more enjoyable’ is easy to accomplish.  This last trip around the wide world of Azeroth, I decided to finish with Northrend.  I have fond memories of this expansion.  If you asked me a month ago why, I probably would have simply chuckled and said it was pointless nostalgia.  But it isn’t.  There is something different in the cold winds of Northrend.  Something that has helped me close in on the very issue with Cataclysm that has been banging around in the back of my head since I first got to 85.

Wrath of the Lich King excelled in one magnificent thing above all others in my book.  My book of course being the one that says a good story trounces over balance issues, bad design, and buggy gameplay.  I’ve been known the overlook some nasty problems with games in my day for the sake of story.  In this age of “We’ll release the game and patch it later”, it has proven to be a necessary ability.  I’m willing to work around the Silverite Mine bug in Dragon Age that deletes your inventory because I want to see what happens.  I don’t care if every cave in Dragon Age 2 is identical because I’m not there to explore caves, I’m there for the plot… and Merrill.  You get my point.  And if there was one thing that I will defend Wrath of the Lich King it was its story.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Cataclysm’s storylines.  Becoming the Herald of the Ancients and ushering in their return to save the World Tree from the forces of Ragnaros and Twilight’s Hammer.  Aiding the Earthen Ring in repairing the World Pillar and confronting all the various factions that operate in the Plane of Earth.  Though I must say helping throw a dwarven wedding beats out enlisting the Dragonmaw into the Horde.  Cataclysm had well told storylines.  The problem was they really didn’t have anything to do with each other.  Nothing that happens in Hyjal has any significance to the events in Uldum.  No one in the Twilight Highlands seems to care about what occurred in the depths of Vash’jir.  In fact, the only consistent threads through the five zones are strictly thematic in nature: the elements, the end of the world, etc.  That has been my biggest issue in Cataclysm, that the major plot seems thematic instead of narrative.  By which I mean there is no ‘overarching story’ to the expansion, just an ‘overarching theme’.  It’s like the Final Fantasy series.  Each game has its own plot, and each game tends to touch on the same general themes, but aside from the rare occasion (X & X-2, Tactics & XII), there is nothing story-wise connecting the games.

In Wrath of the Lich King however, the story was structured so that some plot threads resolved in the zone, and others built throughout the continent.  For instance, Yogg-Saron is first hinted at in the gorge in the Howling Fjords, it is not given a name until the Grizzly Hills, we are given glimpses of its influence and power in Storm Peaks and Icecrown, and we finally face off with the beast in the Ulduar raid.  Same with Loken and his meddling behind the war behind the giants and the iron dwarves.  There are many more: The development of the New Plague, the plight of the Taunka, the Nexus War, discovering the ancestry of the Gnomes,and  the various misadventures of the Brothers Bronzebeard.  These are on top of the normal zone specific plot lines that are going on.

Everything seems so connected in Northrend.  The same spirit has been extended to many plotlines in the revised 1-60 experience as well (In Ashenvale, you help design and build the bomb you drop on the druids in Stonetalon).  But not in the 80-85 part of Cataclysm.  The strongest narrative tie is probably that the Molten Front serves as a ‘sequel’ to what happened in Hyjal, but that is more or less the same zone.  Burning Crusade had a similar issue, but even then there were a small handful of plotlines that would pop up here and there, like Pathaleon the Calculator’s experiments for his master, the Blood Elf dependence on finding a new power source, etc. But in the end, because of this strong narrative thread, Northrend is much more enjoyable for me to level through than Burning Crusade and Cataclysm.

In summary: Yes, thus far Wrath was my favorite expansion.  No, it didn’t have anything to do with anything being “easy mode”. Yes, Merrill is adorable. No, I am not wearing lederhosen for Brewfest.

Flightmaster vs. The Zombies Redux

Or is a remake?  A retrospective?  I wouldn’t call it a comeback. It’s definitely one of the Re- things that Hollywood loves to do these days.  Anyway, a long time ago, in the distant year of Two-Thousand-and-Eight (It looks so much more epic spelt out like that!), when I was just starting this blog and it had a much longer name (Tales from Oddcraft), I had the fortunate happen-stance of flying over Shattrath City and the exact right time and captured this lovely footage.

During the Wrath of the Lich King event (Zombies! Zombies! ZOMBIES!), there was mass hysteria and much QQ about the death and destruction unleashed over five days of the Zombie Apocalypse before Putress decided to gather up his Royal Apothecary buddies and cure it (and keep a few notes about it for himself).  Early on in the event, zombies were able to turn several high priority NPCs into hideous monstrosities to wreak untold havoc on their fellow players.  This included Flightmasters.

Here in this Archival Footage provided by Gnomeregan Gnews, is a small glimpse of what happens when a Flightmaster butts heads with the Scourge War Machine (Spoiler: The Skyguard do not lift a finger to help.)

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!?)

Villainy 101 (with Arthas & Friends)

Back before Wrath of the Lich King had even hit store shelves, Blizzard made a lot of talk about how it wanted to correct certain mistakes from The Burning Crusade.  Blizzard, the ever evolving, was learning! This was something I’ve always admired in their dedication to the magnum opus of a MMO.  Granted, not everyone enjoys every single change (Insert: Catering to the casuals! DKs are OP!) but the fact that they try is more than some companies can say (I’m still waiting for my Ultimate Doom on Xbox 360 to get patched to NOT crash at the end of Episode 2.) but one of their most boastful changes to WotLK from BC was fixing the issue with Illidan (who I’ll probably get around to talking about at some point) and make sure that Arthas is an upfront villain from the get-go.  That Arthas would be a constant presence as we went through Northrend.  However, at some point during this Arthas became a mustache-twirling evil-overlord-list-breaking villain that Snively Whiplash would frown at.

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Whats In a Last Name?

Location: Dalaran, Crystalsong Forest

Faction: Neutral

If there has ever been a point to envy the NPCs of Azeroth, it’s the fact they can have last names.  Sylvannus Windrunner, Muradin Bronzebeard, Cairne Bloodhoof…  even the random people in the inns can have last names.  But the players? Nope.  Never.  Closest we get is Titles, and as much as I enjoy being called Loremaster Exil or Bloodsail Admiral Vrykerion, it’s not exactly the same thing as Exil Williams or Vrykerion Thoriallus.

So it strikes me as interesting when an NPC doesn’t have a last name.  Sometimes it can be a cultural thing.  But when a well known figure who does have a last name chooses to not show it…  I kinda start getting curious.  Such is the nature of one Rhonin of the Kirin Tor.  He sits in Dalaran, saying next to nothing. He gives out one quest for a dungeon, and sends a box of potions for dinging 80.  All the while, the sole name RHONIN hanging over his head.

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Braaaaains…

Location: Shattrath City, Terrokar Forest

Faction: Neutral (Yet unrepeatable)

I was lucky enough to be passing by to catch this lovely video demonstrating a hilarious example of how to make the life of a zombie a bit more interesting.  I don’t believe you can do this, it was hotpatched or something to that like. But watch this video, as the Flight master reacts to the Shattrath Zombies, along with some WoW Economic curiosities.

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