Friday, December 21, 2012

5.2 and the Thunder King

Is it weird that I like to say "Thunder King" in a troll accent, despite the fact that he's a Mogu? Guess it's those Zandalari folks to blame.

Well, following the release of the teaser screenshot for 5.2, I had a whole bunch of speculation I just deleted because there's now a lot more info to be had.

The new raid, Throne of Thunder, will have 12 bosses, but like Ulduar and Bastion of Twilight, it will have a bonus boss for defeating the final boss on heroic mode. We know that Lei Shen, the Thunder King, is going to be the final boss (not the Algalon-type one, that is.) There are a whole lot of new models for various Mogu and Troll adversaries, so yes, there's going to be a big Zandalari presence here. Actually, some of the models on MMO-Champion look quite cool. Nice to see Trolls with beards (when the player models are updated, I need to give my Troll Mage a kick-ass white wizard's beard.)

There will be three new factions added as well. The Kirin Tor Offensive and the Sunreaver Onslaught will be the Alliance and Horde equivalents of each other (and given the events during Operation Shieldwall/Dominance Offensive, it'll be nice for Horde to play the good guys and the Alliance to play the not-so-good guys - well, we'll see.) These will likely play out just as the other Mists factions have, though I hope they skew more Shieldwall-style than, say, Golden Lotus. Interestingly, the intent is for there to be an option between more PvP-oriented quests (including fighting the other faction) and more PvE-oriented ones. It would actually be pretty cool to allow you to make an in-character choice to either oppose the other side or focus on taking down the Mogu.

The third faction will be the Shado-Pan Assault, and is actually a new raid reputation, which frankly, I think they should do for every raid (we're going to be in those things a whole lot anyway, might as well get some rep.) This means that, if you raid regularly, you'll be able to get Valor rewards without doing dailies. I hope that they allow you to gain this rep in Raid Finder as well.

Wrathion will, of course, also be getting more quests (still don't have the Sigils I need for him yet,) involving an investigation into how the Mogu were able to create the things they did (presumably going beyond "they used Titan stuff!")

Likewise, Warlocks will finally get their Green Fire quest chain, though I do not know how one gets the item that begins the quest. I hope that it is not terribly uncommon, as I'm not a big fan of the "only if you get super lucky do you ever get to see this thing" stuff like the Battered Hilt quests. (Never got to see those, and I ran those dungeons A LOT.)

The Zandalari will be invading in many parts of the continent, allowing people to team up to take down elites for various rewards. Likewise, there are going to be two new world bosses. It would see World Bosses are the new VoA. Actually, there's a cool change here in that as long as you're on the same faction that tagged the boss, as long as you participate, you'll get credit and a chance at loot (as if lag wasn't bad enough with 40 people!)

There are new scenarios planned (though I don't know much of the details about them,) but as of yet I see nothing about new 5-man content. I know there were concerns about awesome rewards in late-expansion 5-mans allowing people to skip raids, but frankly, I think that with the Raid Finder, anyone who's putting any effort into gearing up and wants to see the raids is still going to be able to see them. They might gear up more easily through the 5-mans, but they will still have plenty of opportunity to see the raids.

I expect we'll not see this patch for at least a couple months, but so far, it looks pretty exciting. They're clearly trying to hit it big with Throne of Thunder, and whether it hits Ulduar-level or not (or hell, exceeds it, because they've got to shoot for that after all) it sounds pretty cool.

From there, I really don't know what to expect next. I imagine we'll at least have another 5.1-style patch before we take Garrosh down (we've also got to see the Horde resistance grow) but for now, I'll be watching the 5.2 news eagerly.

PS: Druid tier 15 looks AMAZING. Serious Emerald Nightmare vibe there.

The RPG Element

Despite the name, which implies that the key feature of an role-playing game is the ability to embody a fictional character, in practice, the most distinctive legacy of this genre is the notion that a character will grow more powerful the more one plays.

As a game mechanic, character progression is an extremely attractive thing. It ties directly into the cultural mythos of the hero's journey. We begin with hardly any skill, and must learn to fight by confronting relatively weak adversaries while we flee more powerful ones, just as, say, Luke Skywalker has to run from Stormtroopers on Tatooine when we know that in the future, he'd be able to mow those guys down with ease.

So, the idea of RPG-style character progression, where the player character grows more powerful as the game goes on, is a very attractive thing to aid in the immersion of the story.

In terms of gameplay, it has two huge benefits. One is fairly simple: by playing, we have our expectation of improvement paid off by actual improvement. Rather than the question of "how many times do I have to swing at a baseball before I get good enough to hit the thing?" which, of course, has no exact answer, with an RPG you can say: "I only need to slaughter twenty more trolls and I'll hit level 12!" We like getting predictable rewards, as they serve both to motivate us and satisfy us after the fact.

It also makes it a whole lot easier for designers to tune the difficulty curve.

Fun story: apparently, during the making of Space Invaders, Tomohiro Nishikado's game had trouble displaying all 55 invaders, thus slowing down the speed of the game due to lag. Yet, as each alien was blasted away, the game had fewer things to process, and thus it was able to speed up. Nishikado noticed this and encoded the increasing speed into the game, thus creating a difficulty curve - the farther along one got, the more difficult the game got. The idea was that the more aliens you had managed to shoot, the better you ought to be to shoot more.

Not every game is set up in such a way that you can simply speed things up as time goes on. For one thing, the days-long epics we tend to expect for our 60 bucks are usually too complex to rely on such a simple tuning knob that worked for a game that lasted only a minute or two (and then repeated, of course.)

RPG player progression puts a numerical value on player power, and thus, creating a smooth curve is not terribly difficult. It actually allows  you to let players fine-tune the difficulty - how many times have you been confronted with a boss in Final Fantasy that is just wiping the floor with you, so you wander around for a bit, kill a few non-boss enemies and gain a couple levels before you try again?

There is an argument that could be made about the RPG character progression, which is that it takes a lot of the challenge out of a game. By allowing people to grind levels to clear hurdles, every encounter is something that can be effectively cheated out of.

It's not really something that I agree with, but I can understand where those who say so are coming from.

There's an other interesting issue that I think bears examination, which is the place of RPG elements in a linear game. Let's take Mass Effect, for example. Mass Effect is more of an RPG than most games with "RPG elements," in that I would argue the central gameplay mechanic is the crafting of your character and story through decisions made in conversations. The shooting segments are a lot like the action sequences in a good sci-fi film: they're fun and exciting, but they're not the focus.

However, it is that fact that makes the leveling system in that game somewhat puzzling. From start to finish, I did not feel particularly more powerful in combat. In Mass Effect 3, in fact, I felt somewhat less powerful, as I found myself put up against very powerful opponents like Banshees (I can't tell you how many times I died in that one section in London where  you get like three Banshees and Harbinger is constantly shooting you.)

Oddly, the one place in Mass Effect where the sense of real character progression feels significant is in the conversations where one has a "Charm/Intimidate" option. If you've been a good little Shepherd and done all your side missions and made your opinions known, you'd be able to do such amazing things as talking Saren (or the Illusive Man... um, spoilers, I guess) into killing himself, rather than fighting you.

The thing is, the inflation of player power in a numerical way only really feels significant if you can go back and smack things that used to be a real threat - to feel that growth of power, and see adversaries that were once brutal challenges fall in scores to your awesome might. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion made a weird misstep when they made the entire world scale up to your level. Because none of the low-level enemies stuck around, you'd actually feel weaker, because everything else was leveling up more efficiently. Yet I can understand their motivations, even if the implementation was flawed. They wanted an open world for you to explore in any order, which meant they could not simply make one area low level and another high level. They managed to fix this for the most part in Skyrim by still populating the world with low-level adversaries, so even if you had to struggle to take down that Hagraven, the raving Forsaken guarding her would get vaporized by your Lightning Storm before they could get a word in edgewise.

In the case of World of Warcraft, or other MMOs (I assume,) leveling actually serves as a way to keep the playing field even, rather than really make you insanely powerful. Each iteration of the game that has existed has had a higher level cap than the last. First it was 60, then 70, then 80, then 85 and is currently 90. Yet in WoW, hitting the level cap is not a grand accomplishment that's going to get people lining up to pat you on the back. Hitting the level cap is almost considered the "first step." There's an adage among players that "the game begins at..." and then the current level cap. Players who hit the level cap will then run dungeons or fight other players, earning them more and more powerful gear - armor and weapons - that will increase their power.

Yet as soon as the next expansion comes out, and the players climb to the new level cap, even the very most powerful pieces from the previous expansion will be insufficient. This serves to level the playing field, allowing the new players to catch up with the veterans.

This is even reflected story-wise. After a certain point (level 60, pretty much,) it's an accepted fact that your player is a stone-cold badass. You're an explorer and an adventurer, so you'll come across many people who do not yet know just how awesome you are, but short of some future expansion where you become a god or something, the levels are just to hit the reset button on everyone's gear and to give you a reason to quest through the new zones with their new story.

So it is quite interesting to see how this RPG element is working its way into other genres, to the point where it seems harder to find a game that does not involve this increased player power. It's not as if we've forgotten how to do it. Nintendo's Mario games, whether they are 3D or the "New Super Mario Bros." sidescrolling throwbacks (which, incidentally, I love, because just because we can do 3D games doesn't mean we shouldn't keep making side-scrollers) are really all about player skill. Sure, you can get access to new power-ups, but these items are not exactly long-term upgrades to your power. You're still going to have to land on Bowser nine (or whatever) times to beat him, and chances are, by the time you do, you'll have lost any of those power-ups.

As I've said, the RPG element is an incredibly compelling gameplay mechanic. It's true that generally, people consider video games nowadays to be easier than they were in the past. While I'm not convinced that's such a terrible thing, I do think we can look to this trend as part of the reason.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Rise of the High King and the Future of the Alliance

Ironically, while the Horde has always been under the direct command of a single executive (the Warchief,) and the Alliance has let most of the various people within it live with a degree of autonomy, it is the Alliance that feels like a much more cohesive group. Night Elves chill out with Dwarves in the Human capital, and generally speaking, people get along.

Long before the Alliance formed, Humans were getting along with Dwarves, Gnomes, and High Elves in the Eastern Kingdoms, and had already fought side-by-side to fend off the threat of the various Troll tribes. They have a longstanding shared history. The only Horde races who have a history with each other prior to the First War are the Forsaken and Blood Elves, who were, after all, both originally members of the Alliance. (In fairness, the Forsaken and Blood Elves also knew the Trolls, but only as enemies. This is actually why the Amani did not join up with the Horde - Zul'jin hated the Blood Elves.)

The schism in High Elf society (between Blood Elves and still-calling-ourselves-High Elves) has left the Alliance with far fewer of their more slender and blonde allies from the north, and newer members like the Night Elves and the Draenei are somewhat less integrated into the Alliance society, but it can be a comfort to members of the Alliance that they are far more unified than their rivals in their efforts to deal with the various problems that arise in the world.

The Alliance is actually in for big changes, and for the time being, they look positive, though I'm sure there will be some conflict inherent in the transition. Until now, the Alliance did not have a single leader. The Humans were given a degree of deference, given that the Alliance was founded by humans, but ultimately, Ironforge, Darnassus, and the Exodar were independent. Yet now, Varian is on the path to becoming the High King - a leader with the same kind of scope of command as the Horde's Warchief. So how is this going to effect the various people of the Alliance?


Stormwind and the Humans in general are probably not going to feel much of a change. Varian's been in charge since he returned at the beginning of Wrath, and especially given that he's listening to his son's advice a lot more now, he's grown into a worthy leader. The one danger I could see for Humans is falling into the trap that the Orcs did. With Varian in command of the entire Alliance, the other races could be seen as subservient. The humans would do well to foster a culture of equality and respect, lest they find themselves alienating their allies.


The Dwarves have a lot of internal problems now that the Dark Irons have been brought into the fold. There was, after all, a foiled coup in Ironforge, and Moira's presence there is a big swirling ball of issues. The Dark Irons, though, are the exception rather than the rule. The Bronzebeards have, of course, always been loyal and reliable members of the Alliance, and the Wildhammers have integrated with great success. All that said, the Wildhammers might not be terribly happy about having to officially recognize a non-Dwarf as their leader, and the Dark Irons are sure to cause some issues. If there's any potential for inner conflict within the Alliance, I'd bet the Dark Irons would be at the center of it.


The Gnomes are not ones to worry much about politics and such. Especially now that most of Gnomeregan has been re-taken, the Gnomes are unlikely to raise any issue with Varian. Like the Dwarves, they've been part of the Alliance for a long time, and it's worked out well.

Night Elves:

Tyrande is a very forceful personality. She's led her people for millennia and while she's made some rash decisions, she's a passionate leader who is fully committed protecting her homeland. The Night Elves have been fighting tooth-and-nail against the main bulk of the Horde for a long time. She's watched Azshara turned into a Goblin amusement park, and seen half of Ashenvale cut down for lumber. The Night Elves are certainly glad for Alliance assistance, but I could imagine a thousands-of-years-old leader like Tyrande feeling a bit unhappy giving the reins of the Alliance to a short-lived human. Still, she's seen the guy at work (in the "A Little Patience" scenario,) and while I'm sure she's still going to give him more advice than he asks for, I think she'll be willing to see Varian lead.

The Draenei:

While the Night Elves are also very old, they have lived in Azeroth all their lives. To the Draenei, they have only just arrived. Still, what an eventful few years it has been! The Draenei do feel a bond with the Alliance, sharing their faith in the Light, and welcome having allies to bolster their safety after the horrible betrayal they experienced in Draenor. Still, the Draenei, and particularly Velen, have their eyes on the big picture. The Legion is still out there, and every day, the prophet watches worlds burn away to nothingness in Sargeras' crusade. Not only that, but unbeknownst to the rest of the Alliance, the Exodar has been repaired, and the Draenei could leave if they so chose. While I doubt the Draenei mind giving Varian and the humans military control, they are probably itching to bring the fight to the Legion finally.


The people of Gilneas are in a strange position. They spurned the Alliance, shutting themselves off from the world after the Second War. Yet after the ravages of the Worgen curse and the invasion by the Forsaken, they were not only forced, but glad to accept aid from the Alliance, particularly the Night Elf druids who understood the nature of the curse. Genn Graymane has likely been humbled by the death of his son, the invasion of his homeland, and his own transformation, yet I can imagine that he would not be terribly excited about putting Varian in a position higher than his own. The two are both kings of human nations, after all. The Worgen also remain a somewhat marginalized part of the Alliance - human and yet not at the same time, and while I doubt many non-Worgen Gilneans are likely to pull a Godfrey, there is already a major inevitable schism in Gilnean society before one factors in the other races of the Alliance. Still, if the people of Gilneas are ever to return to their country, they will need the help of the Alliance.

Tushui Pandaren:

Like the Huojin, the Tushui Pandaren don't get a huge amount of attention. Unlike their red-themed friends, the Tushui have probably had a better time with the Alliance, comparing histories with the Night Elves and getting drunk with the Dwarves.

The Alliance has had a tough time of it ever since Deathwing broke the world. Their victory in Northrend cost them dearly, and Garrosh's opportunistic mobilization coupled with Sylvanas' increasingly depraved methods have had the Alliance falling back and losing ground, the ultimate culmination of which was the destruction of Theramore. And yet, the events in Pandaria see the balance beginning to return to normal. Despite the bravado the Horde displays, the Alliance is resilient, and only grows more determined when the pressure is put on them.

And let us not forget as well that, despite the sad miscommunication that may have resulted in an even greater prize, Dalaran is now (plot-wise - I doubt that they're going to make it so Horde players can't go there) fully dedicated to the Alliance. Expect the Kirin Tor to bring some serious heat down on Garrosh in the coming months.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Leadership in a Post-Garrosh Horde

While I have not finished the Dominance Offensive reputation grind, and have only seen those events from the Alliance side, I do think I've got an accurate impression that it's becoming clear to the various faction leaders in the Horde that Garrosh is reckless, self-centered, and frankly, going nuts. Not only that, but he's made it clear that under his rule, not all races are created equal. He's happy to throw Blood Elves to the fire, for example, in the single-minded interest of getting what he wants.

When Thrall stepped down as Warchief to help deal with the Cataclysm, he decided that his people would need a strong leader to look up to as an example. Thrall was only an infant during the Second War, and the only Horde he's really seen has been one of underdogs. His impression of the Old Horde was largely understood through the filter of legends told by the veterans of those wars. Thrall was, perhaps, under the naive impression that in the absence of demon blood, the Orcs would be a strong and noble warrior race, and not fall into the lust for conquest.

Garrosh had made a name for himself in Northrend (though we players knew things went well there in spite of him, rather than because of him) and so it seemed that putting a strong, confident warrior in charge would inspire the Orcs, as well as the rest of the Horde, to come together and rebuild after the Cataclysm.

Yet Garrosh took his appointment as a license to redesign Thrall's Horde. No longer a variety of disparate groups who swore allegiance to the Warchief out of friendship and respect (or, to be fair, in Sylvanas' case convenience,) Garrosh has basically taken the attitude that the other races should join the Horde or be "crushed beneath it." There's no give and take with Garrosh - what he says goes, and if you don't like it, he'll straight-up murder you.

The thing is, any non-Orcs in the Horde (save the Huojin Pandaren) joined with an understanding that Thrall would be in charge. The Darkspear and the Tauren bonded with Thrall over their shared shamanistic traditions. The Forsaken saw an ally who would let them be. The Blood Elves found a worthy ally against the Scourge who would not attempt to keep them on lockdown for their magic addiction. Even the Goblins joined thanks to Thrall, who admittedly made an equally baffling decision in keeping Gallywix in charge of the cartel.

Garrosh is not what these people signed up for, and the fact that Garrosh is taking his appointment to the position as license to do whatever he wants with seven different races demonstrates a myopic view of the world.

And now, with Garrosh attempting to use the power of the Sha just as his father used demon blood, we know that the guy is in for a downfall. Yet with no Mannoroth to slay, it would seem that Hellscream the lesser is not going to have any way to redeem himself. I had thought, for a time, that it would be interesting for us to not kill Garrosh, but simply take him down. Yet considering the way things are going, I think the dude needs to take a dirt nap.

So what's in store for the Horde in a post-Garrosh world? Who will lead, and how will the dynamic of the Horde be changed?


With the Cataclysm over, one might have thought that Thrall could tell Garrosh thanks for keeping his seat warm, but get the hell out of it. Yet as I see it, Thrall is basically retired. He's got a kid now, and frankly if I were Thrall I might want to take that excuse to live a quiet, peaceful life if I could get it. At the same time, Thrall clearly bears some responsibility for putting Garrosh in charge in the first place. I do think the Orcs would be better off with the shamans in charge again, but Thrall has certainly lowered his stock. On the other hand, there's another option for Orcish leadership - a veteran who remembers the bad times well enough to learn from the mistakes. Saurfang might be too old to lead, but at the very least he would be a strong leader who would nevertheless know when things were going too far. Another question, then, is whether the next Warchief should be an Orc. All the previous ones were, but if the Orcs really want to commit to a future where every race is equal, they might consider letting go of a little power.


Vol'jin is the most staunchly anti-Garrosh leader in the Horde, and from what I've seen in the Dominance Offensive, he's the one who's pushing for Hellscream's removal most. Vol'jin has been a member of the Horde for a long time - his people were the first to join Thrall in the voyage to Kalimdor.  Considering his efforts to take down Garrosh, I actually think Vol'jin's a strong candidate for Warchief. It would certainly be a hell of a turnaround for the Trolls.


Baine obviously has no love for Garrosh either. The guy killed his father. The Tauren are not a very aggressive people, and probably would never aspire to lead the Horde. It is interesting that Garrosh has always favored the Tauren more than the other non-Orc races - either out of guilt or a respect for their physical strength. Still, I doubt Baine will stand in anyone's way if the Horde rises up against Garrosh. It'd actually be kind of cool to see Garrosh realize that the Tauren are not all that impressed with his so-called respect.


The Forsaken are the closest thing to a third faction the game has. While Sylvanas' forces are reinforced by the Horde, she operates with a degree of autonomy. I think it's not too hard to imagine that Sylvanas is preparing to do something, and just waiting for the right moment. At the moment, her city is filled with Kor'kron guards, rather than the old Abominations. With Garrosh gone, and probably a big purge of the Kor'kron (under Garrosh they've become less like the Warchief's secret service and more like the Gestapo,) I could see Sylvanas taking the opportunity to get Orcish eyes and ears the hell out of her city. Sylvanas is a hell of a wild card, and I think we're all waiting to see what happens with her.

Blood Elves:

Well, the Blood Elves are clearly not at all happy with where they are in the Horde. At best, they're treated as a ridiculed minority, and at worst, they're cannon fodder. Despite all their expertise in the arcane, the Horde takes what they need and gives nothing back in return. For this reason, Lor'themar Theron actually entertained the idea of coming back into the Alliance. Sure, the Alliance has its issues, but they're nowhere near as bad as the Horde is under Garrosh. Yet all of these talks go to hell when Jaina kicks the Sunreavers out of Dalaran. The Blood Elves are in a tough place. With re-joining the Alliance hit with a massive setback, they are stuck with the Horde. Sure, with Garrosh gone they might fare better, but I imagine the Blood Elves are going to be a lot more wary of their allies after the way Garrosh has treated them.


Who the hell knows where Gallywix is? He's not at the pleasure palace, as far as I can tell. The Goblins are actually willing to put up with a whole lot of crap as long as they're getting paid. I expect that with or without Garrosh, they're going to be fine providing services to the Horde. Once the big oaf is gone, they might be willing to make jokes about him without fear of retribution.

Huojin Pandaren:

There's actually nearly no story at all about the playable Pandaren after the wandering isle quests. The Huojin seemed shocked to discover how Garrosh's Horde worked, so they might feel a sense of relief when he's ousted and something more like Thrall's Horde is re-established.

Garrosh represents the great internal threat to the Horde. As he descends into madness, the Alliance watches Varian become a more enlightened and thoughtful leader. In the future, I'll talk about what the Alliance is going to look like after Garrosh, and what may be in store for these two groups of people.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Operation Shieldwall - Bringing a little, if not much, darkness to the Alliance

One of the tricky things about making us take a darker view of a group of people who tend to be good guys is to strike a balance. In many darker works of fiction, we see good people put up against an extremely brutal antagonist and, in an effort to hold things together under such an assault, we see the good guys turn in on themselves out of fear and paranoia.

The situation in World of Warcraft is a bit different, though. The Horde as antagonists are a bit more complicated than some ominous, inscrutable evil. Half the game's players (theoretically if not in fact) see things from the Horde side of things, and they aren't just mindless monsters bent on destruction.

The potential in WoW is to set up two sides who are on equal ethical footing, but despite their shared goal of a world that is safe to live in and free from the threat of demons, undead, and Lovecraftian beasts, their shared history of conflict prevents them from achieving a lasting peace. There's a lot of potential for moral complexity (which is really what I'm talking about when I mean darkness) on both sides.

The problem is that the two sides are not, in fact, on equal ethical footing. The Horde - specifically the Orcs and Forsaken - continue to push forward aggressively. The Alliance has, in nearly every case, simply been acting in self-defense. The only exception I can think of here is the Southern Barrens, but given that this is just one front in a larger war, it's hard to say the Alliance is unjustified. In fact, the Alliance commander on that front was a principled professional who attempted to keep casualties to a minimum (sadly, due to a miscalculation, his actions led to a massacre of Tauren at the hands of the Quillboar, thus earning him an ill-deserved reputation as a butcher.)

Even the "original sin" of the Alliance, the internment of Orcs following the second war, was the better alternative. With Draenor in ruins, they could not simply send the Orcs home, and obviously they could not simply set them loose to regroup and begin the war again.

The thing is, every time that the Alliance has the potential to go into darker territory, the Horde beats them to the punch. The introduction of the Worgen is a prime example. The prospect of the Worgen joining the Alliance made me expect we were going to see a far more reckless and bloodthirsty side to the Alliance, yet the only time the Worgen were really able to stand in the spotlight was during their starting experience, and they were put up against a more-Scourge-like-than-ever Forsaken. A little animal ferocity does not really seem like an overreaction against a legion of undead marching into your homeland and massacring your people.

With a Warchief like Garrosh, it's hard to feel ambiguous about fighting off the Horde. Apparently, in Tides of War, Garrosh has decided that his goal is to wipe out the races of the Alliance, to literally commit mass genocide. Anyone following a guy like that is going to be hard to sympathize with, which I find a bit frustrating when playing Horde toons (that said, what little of the Dominance Offensive I've seen has helped a lot with those feelings - we've finally got a chance to oppose Hellscream from the inside.)

So the key here is to distinguish between the people of the Horde and the Garrosh loyalists. And it is there that Shieldwall gets to make us feel a little uncomfortable with what we're doing. Much of the plotline has you spying on Garrosh and attempting to prevent him from acquiring the Divine Bell, a Mogu artifact that could cause some serious trouble. You finally manage to discover its location, using the Horde's own resources, and you manage to beat the Horde to the punch, delivering the Bell to Darnassus for safe keeping.

However, not long after (due to the Grand Commendation and possibly my human racial, it was the same day) the Horde manages to infiltrate Darnassus (I assume you do this yourself on Horde side) and steal the Bell. When investigating Darnassus, you meet Jaina there, who determines that the Horde traveled through Dalaran.

Having spent years and years giving the Horde the benefit of the doubt, only to see her city destroyed at their hands (the same city in which she allowed the Horde to kill her own father in the name of peace) and now being betrayed by the very people she had held up as an example of how the two sides could, in fact, get along, she decides it's time to kick the Horde out of Dalaran.

And that's when you are tasked with taking down any Sunreavers who resist arrest. You actually wind up killing like 30 Sunreavers, clearing out every part of the city. Aethas Sunreaver protests, insisting that the Sunreavers are loyal to the Kirin Tor, and that if anyone in the city was helping the Horde fight the Alliance, they were acting alone. The protests fall on deaf ears - Jaina is done giving the Horde the benefit of the doubt.

With the purge complete, and the surviving Sunreavers locked up in the Violet Hold, you return to Lion's Landing. Yet when Varian greets you there, he's horrified.

Because guess what? Varian had been in talks to bring the Blood Elves back into the Alliance. It would have meant a massive blow to the Horde, yet also could have really started the ball rolling, setting a precedent to reach out to other Horde races and dismantle Garrosh's war. Yet with this rash action, the whole thing is a lost cause.

Jaina's still not convinced it was the wrong thing to do, and that's what makes me happy. We know that there are many in the Horde who would honor a peace with the Alliance, yet as long as they keep propping up people like Garrosh, trust is nearly impossible.

There's an interesting note, though. Agent Connelly sends you a letter that says the Sunreavers are just as pissed off at Garrosh as they are at Jaina. Sure, she was the one who locked them up, but if it had not been for Garrosh, they would still be welcome members of the Kirin Tor.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 5.2 Raid, Zul, and the Legion's Obsession with Wells

With 5.1 out, a lot of attention has been turned to 5.2 (I like this faster pace of patches, even if we didn't get new dungeons or raids this time around. I hope they can keep it up.) 5.2 will be bringing the tier 15 raid, and unlike 14, this appears to be a single raid, but also a gigantic raid, in the tradition of Ulduar and ICC.

We know it can't be the Siege of Orgrimmar already (no expansion has had fewer than three tiers, even if Cataclysm's later two were somewhat thin.) What seems the obvious direction for 5.2's raid to take is that it will be the raid in which we take down the Thunder King. For those of you who did not do the Lorewalker Cho quests in Kun-Lai Summit, here's a spoiler: While investigating the ancient tombs up in the mountains, we arrive just in time to witness the Zandalari show up and abscond with Lei Shi's corpse. The Thunder King was not the first Mogu emperor or the last, but it sure sounds like he was the greatest and most powerful. Basically, if you ever hear about a seriously badass Mogu Emperor, it's probably the Thunder King. And given how easily the Mogu can transfer souls from body to body, we can assume that his reign was freaking long.

The Zandalari seem very happy to renew their ancient alliance with the Mogu, and even rose Lei Shi from the dead as a show of good will. The Mogu have proven quite powerful,  and the Zandalari aren't exactly slouches themselves.

There are two figures of prominence in Zandalari society that we know of. King Rakastahn is the leader of the tribe, and certainly considers himself the king of all the trolls in Azeroth, given the Zandalari goal of reuniting the tribes. Yet, only a few years ago the Zandalari were peaceful, looking back at their violent past with a historian's distance, and enlisted the aid of adventurers like us to avert the disastrous actions of the Gurubashi and Drakkari tribes (the Amani we merely plundered out of greed.) Yet the Zandalari would make a 180 and suddenly embrace these violent tribes to help build their empire. The reason for the change in heart? A prophet named Zul.

We know nothing about Zul except that he's rallying the Zandalari to reunite the trolls into a world-dominating empire. Here's the thing: in a world like Azeroth, prophets can be a bit of a crap shoot. Sure, you occasionally get those like Velen or Medivh (during the Third War,) but then you also get people who call themselves prophets and are actually the mouthpiece for Old Gods, the Scourge, the Burning Legion, or some other malevolent ancient evil.

Given the bloody methods of the Zandalari and their dramatic transformation, I'm not exactly convinced that Zul's on the level.

It stands to reason that the 5.2 raid is going to have us confronting the Mogu at their strongest. Sure, we've had Mogu'shan Vaults, but this was more of a dusty ruin (the only Mogu we find there are either ghosts or soulless constructs) than a functioning base of operations. I expect the Thunder King will be the final boss of the instance, but given the alliance between the Zandalari and the Mogu, I would not be shocked if we also got a good number of trolls in there as well.

The Zandalari claim their home was destroyed by the Cataclysm. To what extent, we're not sure. If the Zandalari have fully moved to Pandaria, then I would think we would also have to confront Zul and Rakastahn as well. Still, I almost hope that we don't. While I don't think the game really lacks for troll instances or enemies, I think developing the mystery around Zul could be interesting.

For a while now, the Old Gods have been center-stage as the bad guys in WoW. Wrath was, of course, primarily about the Scourge, but Yogg-Saron's machinations in Ulduar were the next biggest threat there (the Blue Dragonflight kept up the rear - very happy we're friends again.) Cataclysm was, of course, very Old God-themed. Even though we did not fight one directly, you had Twilight's Hammer and Faceless Ones all over the place, not to mention the fact that Deathwing felt less like a dragon and more like an eldritch mutant. Finally, we get to Pandaria, and we have what appears to be a totally new villain in the form of the Sha, until we discover that they are actually the residue of a dead Old God.

So Zul turning out to be some kind of Nyarlathotep-type Old God in humanoid form would not be terribly unreasonable, but it also seems that there's been another group of bad guys we've not seen for a good while who are due for a comeback: the Burning Legion. Like the Old Gods, the demons are known for working both boldly and subtly. Sometimes, we get something like the Third War, where demons and undead poured through the forests of Kalimdor to destroy the World Tree, but sometimes we get things like the Scarlet Crusade, an organization that seems to oppose anything unholy, yet goes about their mission with such reckless fervor that they actually wind up causing more evil in the world - all by design.

If the Zandalari are being spurred on by the Burning Legion, what purpose might they be serving? Well, there's a couple ways to look at it, but here's my tin-foil-hat theory:

Notice how just as the Alliance and Horde are landing in Pandaria, so are the Zandalari? We don't know quite how much they've got in terms of resources, but the Gurubashi, Amani, Drakkari, and Farrakashi all seem to be supporting them, which is not something to sneeze at. Now, sure, it might seem like they're going to Pandaria to hook up with their ancient Mogu allies after the whupping we gave them at Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub, but what if that isn't why they're there?

The Vale of Eternal Blossoms is home to an incredible source of power. Wrathion and his people are well aware of this fact. If you hang around the lake in front of Mogu'shan Palace, you'll occasionally see a two-person surveying team looking at the water and discussing how the Pandaren must not know what they've got there. To me, the answer seems to present itself that this is the last remnant of the Well of Eternity - not the copy made by Illidan on Mount Hyjal, or the one the High Elves created in a similar way and called the Sunwell. We're talking about the original, Titan-built Well of Eternity. Now, we don't see the ruins of Azshara's palace anywhere in the Vale, of course, but perhaps the Vale's Well was something like another part of the system, or a back-up. The point is, we're looking at possibly the most potent source of power in all of Azeroth.

Now, let's think about something. The Burning Legion has invaded Azeroth in full force three times. The first was the War of the Ancients, where they attempted to use the Well of Eternity to summon Sargeras to Azeroth. The Well was destroyed, ending the war and causing the Sundering, which is why Kalimdor, Eastern Kingdoms, and Northrend are not just one big continent at this point. The second time was the Third War. The Legion marched through Kalimdor, having used the Scourge to cripple most of humanity and serve as an ever-growing and implacable army. Archimonde was killed when the magic of the World Tree was detonated, draining the tree of its power (and thus ending Night Elf immortality) but also stopping the Legion dead in their tracks. The third time was the invasion of Sunwell Plateau. While we were distracted off in Outland, Kil'jaeden rallied the Legion to attack Quel'danas and attempted to use the Sunwell to get in and start wrecking the place up. Ultimately, Kil'jaeden was beaten back, and the Sunwell, rather than being destroyed, was imbued with Holy Energy by Velen. The Sunwell may still be a font of incredible power, but most of that power is directly harmful to demons.

The point is, the Legion is running out of Wells to use for their purposes.

Perhaps Kil'jaeden's defeat at the Sunwell was actually a greater victory than we realized. Maybe we had finally closed the last door that the Legion could get in through? Now, sure, Mal'ganis (sad that the demon Arthas sold his soul to kill managed to come back nonetheless. Stupid rune blade!) and Varimathras were still able to cause some havoc, but it seems that the more powerful a demon, the more power is needed to bring them to Azeroth. Without a Well of Eternity-like power source, the Legion either couldn't get here, or couldn't do what they wanted to do when they did get here.

Yet when the Mists parted, suddenly we realized that - oh ho, we've got another one! And it's the best-preserved of the bunch. So while we adventurers are taken by this cool new land with all its new people and assholes like Garrosh are obsessed with using the Sha to create super-soldiers, Wrathion's the only one who seems to feel that this sudden access to Pandaria is about to land us in a whole lot of trouble, and he's going to want us to get ready.

So how to the Zandalari fit into all of this? Well, let's take a leap and suggest that Zul is actually a demon, or is possessed by a demon. Suddenly, it makes perfect sense that he's rallying the trolls to Pandaria. Like the Scarlet Crusade, the Zandalari are given understandable motivations - they are provided with an Empire to protect their various civilizations that had been falling into ruin. Yet just as the Horde was bound together as a way to protect the Orcs against a perceived threat (when in fact they were used to commit genocide against said threat and then set loose on Azeroth as a precursor to an eventual Legion invasion,) the Trolls will probably only realize when it is too late that the Legion is using them to get to the Vale. We just need to be there to stop them.

In the future, I'll talk a bit more about the Mogu. Are they far less or far more sophisticated than they let on?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Terrace of Eternal Spring

So that was fast. It seems the more hardcore players like to hit the raids as quick as they can, so I've generally had more luck hitting up the raids on Tuesday or Wednesday. This time, Terrace went very smoothly, and not coincidentally, I had to struggle on the dps meters, only hitting 6th place while last time I was hovering around 1st. This was good, because it meant we got the bosses and the adds down very quickly, making everyone's life easier. I did suffer some annoying lag (particularly on bosses one and two,) but overall the run was pretty smooth.

The Terrace is actually the kind of raid I wish they would make less often - basically it's one giant open-air room. You even fight the first two bosses in the exact same area. Just like Trial of the Crusader or to a lesser extent Blackwing Descent (despite the layout, I did like the aesthetic of that one,) it's a little small for a raid, but given that we've also been able to delve into Mogu'shan Vaults or fight our way up the Heart of Fear this tier (and the fact that they are really hyping 5.2's raid to be an enormous one like Ulduar or ICC,) I'm willing to forgive them this.

The other reason I'm willing to forgive them is that the bosses are pretty cool.

Protectors of the Endless is probably the least innovative of the fights. It functions somewhat like the Iron Council in Ulduar, growing more difficult depending on the order in which you kill the bosses. There's not a huge amount of very compelling stuff here, just some dispels, a bit of boss movement, and of course the challenge of keeping up the tank who's got to take two of the guys at once. The only mechanic that I felt I hadn't really seen before was Lighting Storm, which one of the bosses gains after the first goes down. Basically it is a progression of concentric rings that go outward, causing AoE damage where they are at the time. One interesting aspect of this fight is that, like another fight later in the raid, you have no incentive whatsoever to try to multi-dot or cleave or in any other way AoE. Once one boss is down, the other heals to full. This should be good news for those classes who fall behind in such situations, even if the damage meters will still reflect the advantages those cleave-happy specs enjoy. The point is, if your raid's dps is all single-target wonders, you'll be fine on this fight.

Tsulong is actually fought in exactly the same place as the Protectors, but it is a much cooler fight, and probably the most innovative of the instance, if not the tier (ok, to be fair, Elegon's giant disappearing floor of death is cool too.) Tsulong alternates between two radically different phases: Night and Day. At Night, there's only him there, and you'll need to dps him down while managing a stacking debuff that hits the whole raid as well as some AoE fears (that make managing said debuff trickier.) A lot of LFR raids will simply stack in the Sunbeam that gets rid of the debuff, but this means that everyone will get hit by those AoE fears, so I recommend only running into the Sunbeam when your stacks start to get high (eight or nine.) After a certain amount of time, things shift to Day and the fight becomes radically, radically different. Tsulong during the day is now friendly, and his health flips around, so if you had dps'd him down to 75%, he'll now be at 25%. During this phase, healers will need to heal Tsulong while tanks and dps get rid of adds that threaten him. It's not quite like Valithria Dreamwalker in ICC, but the principle is similar, even adding a mana-regen buff in the form of his breath attack. Tsulong will alternate between these two phases, getting the inverse of his previous health level on every phase switch.

With Tsulong down (or up?) you finally get to move on to a new location, which is another circular platform between the one you'd been in and the one with the Sha of Fear. Here, after defeating some trash, Lei Shi will spawn.

Lei Shi is a scared little (well, not little) water spirit who is terrified of all the heavily-armed men and women looking at her with loot-crazed eyes. The fight really only has four elements. She will cast Spray at the current target, putting a stacking debuff (or maybe it's a DoT) on them and anyone nearby (tanks should not stack up, and she should be faced away from the raid.) At certain health percentages, she'll summon three, or later four guardian elementals who give her a damage immunity shield. As soon as one of these guys is down, the others despawn and you'll be able to attack her again, so much like the Protectors, this is a place where cleave or incidental AoE is irrelevant. Lei Shi will also hide periodically, becoming both invisible and untargetable. At this point everyone should spam target-less AoE if you have it. If you are near her, you will see a little splash of water (and numbers when you damage her.) After she suffers a set number of attacks, she'll become visible again. Finally, she'll also sometime create a current pulling you away from her. If you do not fight this current, you take more damage, so you'll want to try to run toward her while she does this. Not a terribly difficult fight, the main challenge is in making sure that the tanks are able to make their swaps before the elementals show up, so that one is not stuck with a high stack while the other is working on adds.

Finally, a de-corrupted Lei Shi will open the way for you to confront the Sha of Fear, also known as "the Sha that has colors." Once again, this is a pretty cool, if not terribly complex fight. The tank stands at the center of the room on a bright spot. This creates a wedge-shaped area called "Wall of Light" that prevents the Sha's main powerful attack, Breath of Fear, from affecting anyone inside. Lest you think it was ok to just sit inside the Wall, adds pop up outside the safe zone to bombard you with attacks. These guys have a frontal deflector shield, so melee (or ranged, I suppose) will have to go out of the safe zone to kill them. Breath of Fear happens at regular intervals, so those who venture out of the safe zone will know when they've got to high-tail it back. If they do not, they take massive damage and get feared (or maybe just die, I don't know. I never got hit with it.) The extra wrinkle to the fight is that on occasion, five random raid members (presumably fewer in 10-man) will get sent to one of the three surrounding platforms (I got picked three times!) The group is always a 5-man team: tank, heals, and three dps. The group has to defeat a mini-boss. This fight is relatively easy, with a short-duration fear and a slight self-healing mechanic, but also globes you can pick up to help regenerate your primary resource quicker. Defeating the mini-bosses will allow you to go back to the main platform with a buff called "Fearless," which grants 20% crit and haste (and maybe damage as well) in addition to providing immunity to Breath of Fear. This, of course, helps gets the adds as well as the boss down. The buff is not permanent, though, so you will have to run back to the Wall of Light when it runs out.

So that's it, the final boss of tier 14. If Terrace had been one of only two raids, I'd have probably been disappointed, but I think 16 is a very healthy boss count for a raid tier (hell, it's twice what tier 13 was.)

Having now seen the whole raid tier (admittedly, in LFR,) I think they did a good job with it. Some mechanics work better than others (I'm sure there are some who love Devastating Combo on Will of the Emperor, but I am not one of those people.) Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the smaller, quicker raids, having cut my teeth on Karazhan and Naxxramas, and logging the most boss kills in ICC. However, tier 14 does this kind of raid tier right - having enough raids to actually provide serious variety and enough bosses for sufficient boss loot tables (cough, cough, Dragon Soul) as well as having a clear progression path.

If we get three or four tiers of this caliber in Mists, I think we can all consider the expansion's raiding design a success.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Heart of Fear

I actually completed LFR Heart of Fear nearly a week ago, but forgot to talk about it. I just had my first (sadly incomplete, as the raid descended into the kind of LFR crap we all dread) go at Terrace of Endless Spring, which I'll talk about once I've seen/gotten down the Sha of Fear.

Heart of Fear is pretty cool if you like the Mantid aesthetic. As you'd expect, it's somewhat dark and similar in architecture to the various tree interiors you'll find throughout the Dread Wastes. You're also going to find a lot of Mantid here. Really, with the exception of a couple of Yaungol, Kunchongs, and I believe a couple crocolisks, basically everything here is a Mantid. Makes sense, though one could argue it could use a bit more visual variety.

From an LFR perspective, most of the fights are pretty straightforward. There are a lot of add fights n this raid. Of the six fights, three of them revolve around add management, though in fairness, Amber Shaper Unsok (no idea if I'm going to get all the names right here) has a pretty cool twist on the formula, and one that I've always thought would be cool.

In LFR, the raid's divided in two, just like MSV, and the place is a fairly linear progression up to Empress Shek'zeer. The first half is called the Dread Approach, while the second is called the Madness of Shek'zeer.

Boss one is Imperial Vizier Zor'lok. The Vizier will fill the room with damaging and pacifying gas, which requires you to fight him on various platforms, where he will do different abilities. Each of these is pretty easily countered. One aoe ability has him create little shielded areas for you to stand in. There's also an ability that sends out little rings of sound waves, much like Atramedes in BWD, which can be avoided if you're light on your feet. He does do a Mind Control, but damaging the affected players to 50% of their health will break them out of it. Once he's down to a certain percentage, he'll inhale all the gas and go to the center of the room, now able to do all three of these abilities. His "inhale/exhale" mechanic" appears to be pretty negligible on LFR.

The second boss is Blade Lord Ta'yak, which is a pretty cool but also very easily frustrating boss. The first phase is pretty simple: there's a tank swap mechanic and he'll single out random raid members for an attack, so you'll want to spread out when he does that. The second phase, however, is kind of interesting (and frustrating.) He'll take you to one side of the room and fly to the other, then start sending tornados in your way to try to stop you. If a tornado hits you, you get taken all the way back to where you started, so dodging them in order to get some dps on the boss is a top priority. The thing that's frustrating here is that when you get to the end of the path, almost to him, often you will not have enough time between when he spawns a new tornado and it becomes active, so you'll very frequently get to the end of the path only for him to spawn one right beneath your feet. Luckily, at this point he no longer needs to be tanked, and as long as enough people make it to him, you'll get him down. He will do this twice, actually, flying back and changing the direction of the winds.

Garalon, the third boss, is probably the most unusual in the instance. He's an enormous Kunchong. Each of his legs is considered a separate target, and those standing near them will do double damage against them. Killing a leg will cripple him, making him move slower. This is good, because he can't be tanked. Instead, he'll follow a particular player who has a debuff called Pheromones. You basically need two people (preferably mobile ranged dps) to trade off the debuff much as tanks would with a tank-swap debuff. The debuff causes more and more damage to them as time goes on, but can be passed to someone else just by running into them. Meanwhile, the tanks still need to stay in front of him, because if fewer than two people get hit by his cone aoe attack, he gets a stacking damage buff. It's an interesting experience for a tank because you have to worry about positioning without having any control over how the boss is positioned. Dps who aren't kiting him have to keep working on crippling the guy and then dpsing him down while he's slowed enough. The legs will regenerate, so it's a constant struggle. He also has a tendency to crush those directly beneath him, but luckily there is a red circle to warn you.

Once the Dread Approach is done, you'll have unlocked the Madness of Shek'zeer.

The first boss is Wind Lord Mel'jarak. He has what appears to be a bunch of trash in front of him, but is actually a group of nine adds that you have to crowd-control during the fight. This is, of course, a pain in the ass for LFR groups where trolls or simple idiots will not be paying attention and do it wrong. There are three types of adds - Battle-menders, Amber-Trappers, and Blademasters. Each type shares a health pool with its fellows, which is good, because you can CC, for example, two of the Menders and only worry about interrupting one, but not have to worry about the others once the first is down. They also provide Impaling Spears to up to four players, in case your raid is short on CC. The Spears work just like normal crowd control - they've got a short cast time, and any damage will break the CC, but you can use them as much as you want.

The trick, though, is that Mel'jarak only lets you CC a limited number of adds. With all three groups (so nine adds) up, you can CC four of them. Once one of the groups go down (again, shared health pools, so the whole trio will go down at once) you will only be able to CC two. I'm sure there are different philosophies and strategies, but it seems that CCing two healers and one of each of the other groups is the way to go, then CCing two Blademasters once the Menders are down. When all the adds are down, it's time to burn the boss, and deal with some relatively heavy raid damage.

Basically, this is a chaotic fight until your raid learns how to CC.

The next boss here is Amber-Shaper Un'sok. This could be called an add fight, but the twist is that the adds are actually your own raid members, and they still have control of themselves. Periodically, the current tank will be transformed into an Amber monstrosity. The transformed player gets new abilities and has to do a couple things - first they need to make sure their Willpower does not run out or they'll die. Second, they need to use an ability to interrupt an automatically-cast AoE spell on the raid. Then they have to try stacking a debuff on the boss (or the giant add in phase 2,) and finally, they need to break free once the raid has put their health down to 20%. There are three phases, one in which you're hitting the boss, another where you're hitting a non-player Amber Monstrosity, and a third in which Un'sok will target anyone in the raid with his transformation, so you'll wind up with a whole bunch of Amber guys desperately trying to burn the boss before their willpower runs out.

Finally, you come to Shek'zeer herself. Honestly, it's a pretty simple fight. There are two phases, based only on time, that alternate for most of the fight. When Shek'zeer is out, you dps her and the tanks have to swap so that they do not get mind-controlled. There's a bunch of other stuff, but basically after two minutes, she'll retreat and a bunch of adds come in. They have a whole lot of abilities that you can basically ignore on LFR and just AoE them down. Once these guys are dead (or if you take too long,) she'll come back and the fight begins anew. At some point, phase 3 starts and she begins to do cone-AoE fears and such, but overall it's surprisingly simple.

When Shek'zeer is dead, the Sha of Fear flees to the Terrace of Eternal Spring. The Mantid threat (at least the current one) seems to be dealt with, but the Sha is still out there.

While I would have liked some kind of Lorewalker Cho - style narration through Heart of Fear, it's also nice to be fighting toward someone who you've heard about. Heart of Fear isn't the most amazing raid we've ever seen, but it's not bad either.

Hopefully in the next week or so I'll have done Terrace and be able to talk about that. I've actually seen three of the four fights in it, but I figure I'll wait to try to give the complete picture.

The Betrayer Betrayed: Why Illidan Needs a Second Shot

Burning Crusade was a very good expansion. While it retained some of the unfortunate relics of an earlier era (such as designing raid fights around having specific classes in your raid or making certain specs essentially unplayable) it introduced a very different sort of environment, two new races (one of which is awesome while the other I've grown to grudgingly accept now that Tauren can be Paladins and the Horde looks like the Horde again) that effectively introduced a new class to each faction. Also, the gear in BC (despite complaints about "clown suits") was very cool. Tier 6 may still be the most consistently awesome-looking set of gear they've ever made (I did not raid at that time, but my guild has done many old-school raids and I am the proud owner of a full set of tier 6 Paladin armor for transmog purposes.)

However, one place that things fell quite short was story. We had heard from the beginning that Illidan was the big bad of the expansion. We were going to Outland to deal with him. The problem, of course, was that the motivations were not terribly clear. Much as Wrath and Cataclysm began with a pre-expansion invasion event, BC began with demons pouring out of the Dark Portal and Doom Lord Kazzak attacking the major cities (I remember trying to get out of Ironforge on my level 14 paladin and instantly dying over a pile of skeletons.)

It was pretty unclear to someone like me, who had only started playing a few months earlier, what Illidan's deal was. When I saw the cinematic, I figured this guy was the head of the Burning Legion or something - the big bad of Warcraft. How wrong I was!

The thing is that BC was largely about the Burning Legion. But Illidan was not a member of the Burning Legion. He'd had dealings with them, for sure, but after his failure to kill Arthas and the Lich King, Illidan was basically just trying to hold on to Outland as his kingdom in exile. Now, sure, he did have the Fel Horde at his command, trapping Magtheridon in Hellfire Citadel as a source of demon blood to corrupt the orcs. The Horde had plenty of reason to be pissed about this, especially considering that some of their own heroes (like Kargath Bladefist, who was granted the title of Warchief) were corrupted in this way.

The thing is, Illidan is barely in control of things. Sure, he's got Lady Vashj's forces in Zangarmarsh (though they are probably really working for Azshara) and Kael'thas in Netherstorm (though as we find out, Kael is working for Kil'jaeden) but other than that, he's basically just trying desperately to hold of the Burning Legion from storming the Black Temple and gutting him like a fish.

The biggest problem in all of this is that we never freaking see him at all. There's very little menace to a guy who is hiding out on his roof. The demonic invasion was the work of the Legion Proper.

Not only that, but there was also the difficulty in figuring out a good patch rhythm. As of Wrath, Blizzard realized that the right way to do WoW was release one tier's worth of raiding at a time. The expansion will ship with the first tier, then a few months later you'll get the next tier, and then a bit later you'll do the next.

In BC, they tried to get it all out there as quick as possible. Tiers four and five shipped with the expansion, and Black Temple, which was meant to be the final raid of the expansion, shipped with 2.1 - the very first content patch.

The result was that by the time BT was out, practically no one was even near the point where they could get in there, as they were all still working on tier 5 (or tier 4, for that matter.) But worse, once they did get to Illidan, many raiding guilds had the guy on farm for like a year, with no new content to look forward to (Zul'Aman was introduced in 2.3, though for those decked in tier 6, this was a step down in difficulty and rewards.)

The entire existence of Sunwell Plateau was the result of this miscalculation. They'd jumped the gun, and so they introduced a new raid as the "real end" of the expansion.

The problem is that from a story stand-point, this only served to sweep Illidan under the rug even further.

Illidan's an interesting character (even if he is a bit emo,) and I actually think it's been cool to see his character rehabilitated since his death. If you do the quests for the Demon Hunter in Felwood, for example, you can see that most of Illidan's initial motivations were for the benefit of his people - it is only his exile that really led to his being a bad guy. We even get to see the end of the War of the Ancients from his perspective and, yeah, you know what? The guy kind of saved the world.

A lot of people seemed to complain that you ran into the Lich King too many times in Northrend, and he seemed to let you live the way a cackling cartoon villain would. I think that's a valid complaint, even though his decision to let you live does get paid off big-time at the end of the fight in ICC. Still, I would far prefer that to an absent antagonist. There was a serious emotional payoff when I killed Arthas finally. Just like good screenwriting is all about setting up things and paying them off later, the more we get to know an antagonist, the more satisfying it is to finally confront them.

Now, admittedly, Mists is doing something a little different (though Garrosh is in the process of becoming that main antagonist,) but I wonder what things would be like if we'd actually had a chance to see what Illidan was up to while we were fighting our way across Outland.

The good news is that this is a fantasy world. Bringing folks back from the dead is a time-honored tradition. But rather than having Illidan yell "Black Temple was only a setback!" the intention seems to be to redeem him in some way. That's quite the breath of fresh air, if you ask me. The story of Warcraft is so often the story of corruption. Sargeras, Deathwing, Arthas, Kael'thas - it is so often about good people whose minds are broken by the evils they face, only to become even greater evils. So the notion that someone might, finally, get to come back from that edge, well, it's a nice twist on the formula.

Also, if Illidan comes back, can we get Demon Hunters? I want to make a Worgen Demon Hunter. Please? Pretty please?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Reputation Quest Chain and what I like about Operation Shieldwall/Dominance Offensive

If you've been doing dailies for either (or both) of the new factions with 5.1, you'll probably have noticed that about every two or three days, once you finish your dailies, you will see a nice yellow exclamation point back at Dominance Point or Lion's Landing. This is how the story of the faction gets progressed, though arguably it's less the story of the faction and more the story of the continuing war between the Alliance and the Horde.

After discovering that the Operation Shieldwall grand commendation would apply to Dominance Offensive as well, I've decided to focus on the former and wait until I hit revered to start up with DO again, so as a result I've mostly seen the Alliance side of things.

I've often thought that I'd like to, with new patches, simply get new quest chains with a nice reward at the end, rather than an enormous daily grind. The Thrall quests in 4.2 were pretty good (though a bit of the same thing four times in a row,) but what I had always imagined was something more akin to a full zone's worth of quests. I don't know how feasible this is for them to do, though. For one thing, they don't want you to just clear the whole thing in a day and sit around demanding more.

The way I see Operation Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive is that they are essentially gated quest chains. You get a little snippet of it, and then you have to wait for dailies to reset once or twice, and then you get the next bit.

Your battles in Krasarang are simply there to reinforce the notion that the Alliance and Horde are struggling to keep a foothold in Pandaria while attempting to push the other out. The daily quests are the background, while the one-shot quests are where the story really is.

So far, the Alliance quests have been a very slow build, but I have faith (and remember some of the MMO-Champion leaks) that things will grow more dramatic. So far, I've recruited a retired SI:7 spy, then infiltrated Garrosh's camp in Kun-Lai to set surveillance devices and steal research notes. I then traveled to Dalaran with Anduin to try to negotiate with Jaina to retract Dalaran's neutrality. It was actually somewhat odd to see Anduin arguing in favor of this. One thing I enjoyed was that I got to make my opinion known. As my Paladin's very much a proponent of peace with the Horde (though he recognizes that will never happen while Garrosh remains in charge) I basically agreed with Jaina, who, despite the horrible trauma of Theramore's destruction (and knowing that her predecessor, Rhonin, was killed in that attack) considers the Sunreavers to have earned the trust of the Kirin Tor. Dalaran, up to this point, has been a beacon of hope, showing that Alliance and Horde can get along (we see a nice little cutscene where Sunreavers and Silver Covenant guys seem to be getting along great) and so she feels a need to provide that example. Anduin, being Anduin, can't blame her, and so you leave the city the way it is. A few days later (what I did today,) you are sent to Mogujia (that place in Kun-Lai with all the statues that come to life or go back to stone periodically) and discover that the Reliquary is hard at work attempting to find something. Not only that, you discover it has something to do with the Mogu's ability to use Sha energy. This is a Really Bad Thing.

The one-shot quests are cool, though I do think it would be nice to get a little more meat to them. Most of the time it's one or two short, simple tasks. I realize they've got to spread out the chain as much as they can, and I would rather get a small quest every two days than a huge quest only when I hit the reputation levels.

Quests seem to be the best way for WoW to tell its story, which is why I'm glad they're pushing for this idea of constantly adding quests to the game. I would love to see more quests added to the raids as well - most raids have not had any quests to give you background on what you're fighting. Karazhan had a cool quest chain, but other than the now-defunct attunement quests or Legendary chains, I don't know if there are any raids that use quests (other than those items off the final boss you can turn in.)

Admittedly, Garrosh is not a villain who needs much more build-up. The Horde has been interacting with him since Burning Crusade, and the Alliance probably notices that the Horde got a lot more aggressive when he took over.

As I've said, I have not done much of the Dominance Offensive chain, but one thing I'd like to see is a closer examination of Garrosh's descent. Sure, he's always been somewhat simple-minded - either wallowing in despair in Garadar or flailing wildly in Northrend (despite the way Garrosh's supporters spun it, the Warsong Offensive succeeded in spite of him, not because of him) - but we've also seen moments where he's shown admirable qualities, such as his condemnation of the Forsaken Plague and the use of Val'kyr to raise the dead. If you do Stonetalon Mountains, Garrosh reacts in enraged disgust when Krom'gar destroys the druid school. The guy has shown that he has principles in the past, yet those seem to have faded away. I'd like to know why.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why We Alt

I created my first alt about a week after starting the game. My friend Brian, who had shown it to me, convinced me to try the 10-day free trial. I had wanted to play a human paladin (Paladins being the closest thing to a Battlemage I could see in the game,) but he was on the Horde side and at the time there were no Paladin options on that faction (and it wasn't until Cataclysm that you could be anything other than a Blood Elf) so instead I created a Tauren Shaman, which I figured also combined the spell-casting and melee hybrid-ness that I was looking for. After a week or so, I had hit level 18 (leveling took a lot longer back then) and I figured I'd start up that Paladin.

To me, the motivation to play alts has nothing to do with having "run out" of stuff to do in the game. Creating these characters lets me experience the game and the game world from a different perspective. Not only do you get to try out the mechanics of different specs, but you also get to feel like a different kind of hero. A Paladin can be a thoughtful protector of the innocent who might be troubled by some of the darker elements of the world, but has faith that they can make it right. A Rogue, on the other hand, can be an opportunistic gun for hire, setting aside ethical implications in the name of making the big bucks. A Death Knight can be a tragic hero, desperate to seek redemption even as they are confronted every day by the abomination they have become.

Even members of the same class but of different races can have extremely different feels. Between the two Horde Paladin races, Tauren are tied much more to the natural world and could be considered an off-shoot of druidism, while Blood Elves (at least at first) use their powers just as a Mage or Warlock would (admittedly, post-Sunwell they're a bit more similar to Alliance Paladins.)

One of the major goals of Mists was to provide people with enough to keep them occupied - to make it harder to hit a point of "well, there's literally nothing for me left to do here." Sure, there's a cynical reason for this - they don't want us unsubscribing - but I think Blizzard is aware of the fact that people like to have that goal to pursue, and the more goals they create, the more people will enjoy the game.

The weird consequence of this is that they've made playing alts a far less attractive option. There are a lot of factions to play with, and while they've said time and again that they are really optional, the truth is that Valor Points are a very significant part of the gearing process. Without something to spend those on, characters are locked out of a significant progression tool.

I actually think that the daily grinds as they were in 5.0 (and 5.1) are perfectly fine for someone who has one character. If I spend literally all my game time just playing Jarsus, I'm sure he'd be exalted with all the 5.0 factions and probably be nearly done with collecting Sigils for Wrathion. But I don't like to just play one character. Frankly, I liked where I was in Wrath and Cataclysm, with at least one character of each class at the level cap (minus Priests - I just barely got the Priest up to 85 before Mists came out.) Sure, not all of them were geared to the teeth, but if I ever felt the urge to be a badass Rogue or fling spells around on my Mage, there wasn't a huge barrier to entry.

So now, to add some caveats to this: We're still really, really early in the expansion. Each expansion has lasted roughly two years, and we're only about two and a half months in. We're still on the first raiding tier and we've only got the original dungeons as of yet.

Each expansion causes a big reset on all of our characters. The gear that was awesome at level 85 is now crap at level 90. You might take a character who was poorly geared at level 85 and simply by taking them first and running more dungeons on them, they could become your best-geared toon. This of course happened to me when Wrath came out. My Death Knight quickly became my second-best geared character. Likewise, when Cataclysm came out, I knew that I would need to have a high-priority Worgen alt (they are my favorite playable race - too bad they can't be Paladins or I'd probably race-change,) and as such, I leveled a Warrior (a class I had not spent much time with at 80) and he quickly took a spot sharing priority with the Death Knight.

If 5.1 is any indication, Blizzard does want to keep up the pace of content this time around. Let's be clear: this is a good thing. I've been playing this game for six years now, and more is good. The question, then, becomes what will happen with our alts? It seems unlikely we won't at some point have a period where there's a lull in content. Blizzard might also come up with more ideas like the Grand Commendations to make the second or third time around easier.

And, perhaps, Blizzard is stuck in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. If that is the case, perhaps we simply need to accept that we're not going to get all of our alts fully epic'd. Or, those who really want that will have to work quite hard and play a whole lot.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Medivh's Tower and Yogg-Saron's Prison

Karazhan was one of the most popular raids in WoW's eight-year history. In any poll I've ever seen, it's always fighting with Ulduar for the top spot among the greatest raids in the history of the game. It's interesting that the two would share that spot, because they are in some ways very similar and in some ways very different.

Both raids are pretty large. Karazhan has eleven bosses (counting the Chess Event, but not the Servant Quarter mini-bosses) and Ulduar had thirteen (fourteen if you count Algalon.) Both were dripping with atmosphere. In Karazhan you got a wonderful haunted house vibe that transitioned into a "magic gone wrong" feel the higher you climbed. Ulduar was the most well-maintained Titan facility we had ever seen, with a great feel of the Titan's magitech along with a descent into the Lovecraftian alienness of Yogg-Saron.

In terms of difficulty, however, the two were really going in opposite directions. Karazhan was the starter raid for Burning Crusade, and not only that, it was the first designed for ten players, giving a lot of smaller guild an opportunity to finally get in on the raiding scene (remember that before this, the major raids were all 40-man.) Ulduar, on the other hand, was a big jump in difficulty from tier 7's Naxxramas, which some complained was too easy (I think it was just about right, especially for a starting raid.) Karazhan suffered a little from overexposure, as many guilds could not really make the jump from 10-man to 25-man raids. Despite all of tier 5 coming with the launch of the expansion, a lot of guilds just hung out in Karazhan for most of BC. Ulduar had the opposite problem. It did not come out until 3.1 (which also introduced dual-specs. What an awesome patch!) However, due to the difficulty, most people were still definitely working on the place by the time 3.2 arrived, giving us the far inferior Trial of the Crusader. Because TotC had better loot, people were incentivized to go there instead of Ulduar, which was a shame because Ulduar was such a cool instance. (While not as popular as Ulduar, I am of the opinion that Icecrown Citadel was far closer in quality to Ulduar, which allowed Wrath to end on a high note. In fact, I'd put ICC in the top 5 raids of all time definitely.)

Anyway, I think it's interesting to look at these raids and think about what made them so good. I certainly imagine that the designers do the same, to try to create new raids that will be remembered as fondly (the 5.2 raid, whatever it is going to be, is certainly getting hyped up in a way that suggests they're shooting for this. I certainly hope they accomplish this goal.)

One of the obvious similarities between a lot of the most popular raids is that they tend to be big. Sure, you occasionally get a Sunwell Plateau, but Karazhan, Ulduar, ICC, Black Temple, Blackwing Lair - all of these are big raids (admittedly BT is more of a medium-sized raid with nine bosses.) Later bosses in a large raid have an inherent difficulty to them in that you must first make your way through the earlier ones. I also think that a large instance allows you to make a clear distinction in difficulty within the raid. Gatekeeper bosses like Attumen the Huntsman, Lord Marrowgar, and XT are all pretty simple fights to warm you up for the rest of the raid. This is a great thing for less skilled guilds, as it means you can at least be downing one or two bosses and getting a bit of gear progression to help you with the next few. In a four-boss raid, there's not enough room for that variation, so you basically have to tune all the bosses at a high difficulty.

These raids also tend to have a decent amount of variation in environment. Admittedly this is also a benefit of having a larger raid, but one of the big sources of fun in an open-world RPG is the possibility of discovery. I remember feeling very disappointed when we first got down both Magmaw and the Omnitron Council down in BWD, because the rest of the raid was still just ruins and lava. (Ok, in fairness, I actually kind of liked the feel of BWD, I just wish there had been a better layout.)

Another thing that needs to be carefully considered is the placement of the raid in the appropriate tier. Obviously, the final raid of an expansion is going to have the big bad (The Big Bad of Mists is the Alliance/Horde war, but Garrosh kind of embodies that war, so he works,) but the earlier raids have a bit more flexibility in what they can do. Karazhan is kind of fun because you don't really know what you're going to find in there. Mogu'shan Vaults is actually a bit like that as well. These "mystery raids" work best early in an expansion. There is a kind of flow to each expansion. Usually we have some idea of who the bad guy is, but we're also finding ourselves in a new environment. In BC the notion of the Twisting Nether and other worlds came to the forefront of our minds, so it made sense for us to check out a location in Azeroth where that kind of thing was a real presence. Essentially, things can start out as archaeology and end as a military campaign.

I still have not run any of the Mists raids on normal mode, but I have done MSV and just over half of Heart of Fear (got in on Shek'zeer in my queue.) Tier 14 is, as I said in my previous article, an interesting attempt to have the advantages of a large raid, but also the advantages of small raids. For all the issues surrounding the Daily/VP grind, I'm very glad that they're pushing bigger tiers again. While none of the raids in Cataclysm really stands out as something I'll remember all that fondly, I have high hopes that we'll be looking back at some of Mists raids as an example of raiding done right.

In Praise of Tier 14

One of the big disappointments in Cataclysm was the fairly anemic raiding scene. After a health 12-boss tier 11, we only got a grand total of 13 more bosses in the whole expansion (not counting Baradin Hold.) If you count absolutely everything, including bonus bosses and BH, Cataclysm had a total of 29 raid bosses, which is considerably fewer than the previous expansions.

So it is quite heartening to see Mists come out of the gate with a 16-boss tier, before you even count the world bosses.

Tier 14 has a clear progression to it as well. While my guild had to debate whether to hit up BoT or BWD in tier 11, tier 14 gets the best of both worlds. It has the small, doable in a single night quality of smaller raids, but also has the clear direction of a bigger raid.

While Karazhan was the first raid I ever stepped into, I really cut my teeth as a raider in Naxxramas, which was an enormous, 15-boss raid. The thing that was awesome about this was that even when you had a lot of bosses on farm, it still took you a long time to work your way through it completely.

The only downside of a huge raid is that, because it's all one enormous instance, you find yourself having to clear the entire place out every time if you want to work on later bosses. You might have great dps and know the fights backwards and forwards, but the sheer time it took to complete enough of the place to get to Sapphiron and Kel'thuzad would be very long, regardless.

So I think tier 14's divided tier has worked out quite well. You start with MSV, head to HoF, and then go to ToES. But if you've got MSV on farm, you don't have the clear the whole thing to get into Heart of Fear.

In the future, I actually think this would be a great way to bring back the old enormous instances of the past, like the very popular Ulduar or Karazhan. These places were pretty huge, but the size reinforced the epic feel. While attunements are a relic of the past that I think most people would be hesitant to return to (for one, they are awful for alts or new guild members,) you could do a kind of "soft attunement," giving everyone who beats the first wing of a raid some item or simply an attunement buff that would open access to the rest of the raid for everyone to come along.

Tier 14, I feel, has really helped deal with the inherent issues of the multi-raid tier, not to mention the fact that it has some very cool fight mechanics (which I've only scratched the surface of, as I've only been able to do LFR so far.)

I'll be very curious to see what kind of raiding we see in 5.2 (presumably the Thunder King raid) and 5.3 or 5.4, which I assume will be the Garrosh raid.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Operation Shieldwall, Dominance Offensive, and Dagger in the Dark

I've been working on the new factions and getting a better sense of them. So far, at least, I'm finding them more enjoyable than Golden Lotus or the other 5.0 rep grinds. Whether this is because of the novelty of it or just good design, I can't say.

Well, as a caveat to that, the design is not really much better, and some of the less conventional rep grinds, like Tillers, were probably more inspired design. The main thing that I'm absolutely loving with these new factions is the in-between quests.

With Mists, Blizzard seemed to realize that they could make one-shot quests that used not only the normal break-points of Friendly, Honored, Revered, and Exalted, but also points in between. For example, you'll make new friends in the Tillers grind, or you'll be able to take new Shado-Pan buddies along.

While I'm not terribly far into the Shieldwall/Dominance grind on either side, so far there's been a welcome number of these plot-development quests. I expect that I will hit exalted with these guys before I do with any of the four 5.0 VP-gear reputations, just to see the story.

I'm a bit farther with the Alliance side of things. After a couple days, you'll be sent to Stormwind to get a dwarf SI:7 agent out of retirement. There's a fun little quest where you learn the very basics of spycraft before meeting with the guy and convincing him to come to Pandaria. The fact that this takes place in Bizmo's Brawlpub is a bonus. While I'm still very skeptical of the implementation of the Brawler's Guild, I love the actual location under the Deeprun Tram.

A couple days after that, I was sent to infiltrate Garrosh Hellscream's camp in Kun-Lai (formerly the tiny Yaungol camp where you burn the guy's banner and he comes at you.) You and the dwarf are disguised as grummles, and you have to plant surveillance devices in the camp as well as steal some archaeological notes literally behind Hellscream's back. So far, that's all I've done, but I expect things will get quite dramatic, given what I heard about Jaina's takeover of Dalaran, and the troubling goals Garrosh seems to have.

After doing the very first quests to get the Dominance Offensive up and running for the Horde, Vol'jin shows up, criticizing Garrosh for taking the war to yet another land. Garrosh sends Vol'jin to investigate what the Mogu have been up to, and sends some Kor'kron along with him. This leads into the scenario Dagger in the Dark, which plot-wise, you should do right after you do those first quests.

You and Vol'jin fight your way into that Saurok cave that leads to Kun-Lai, eventually discovering that the Saurok were built by the Mogu as custom-made monster soldiers. Vol'jin is obviously troubled by this, but the Kor'kron come in and basically tell him the whole reason he was sent there is because Garrosh wants to use this power to make super-soldiers for the Horde. Vol'jin basically tells them they are nuts, and the Kor'kron leader stabs him in the gut. Looks like this was a set-up! The Kor'kron guy wants there to be no witnesses, which means he wants you dead, so you have to fight him off.

This is it: finally, the turning point where Garrosh's downfall at your hands begins. We've been waiting for this since the guy first became Warchief. After killing off the Kor'kron commander and his goons, Vol'jin, who is nearly dead from the poisoned dagger, asks you to swear a blood oath to help him save the Horde from Garrosh's madness. Vol'jin goes into hiding as he tries to recover, and sends you back to be his mole in Garrosh' organization.

So whatever your attitude toward the Alliance, it's still pretty reasonable that you would join in the Dominance Offensive to act as Vol'jin's man or woman inside. I've done fewer days of these dailies. One nice thing about them is that even though they take place in the same locations as the Alliance ones, the goals are often different. For example, defending Dominance Keep, you will eventually be sent to kill the captains of two attacking ships (something my Rogue is especially well equipped to do.)

After a few days of this (having hit friendly) I got my first one-shot quest. You meet with Garrosh and... Lor'themar Theron! Holy shit, are they actually giving him something to do? And they gave him a new voice that sounds less like Adam West and more like Cam Clarke (though ironically, I do not think it is actually Cam Clarke, despite the fact that he voices a ton of things in WoW, most notably of course, the male blood elf player character.) Anyway, the Reliquary is in town, and you go to help them investigate an area in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. After fighting off a stone quillen, you recover a tablet describing the Divine Bell, an extremely powerful Mogu artifact that seems to have been built using the remains of a Titan. It's actually the text of this tablet that Alliance players find at Garrosh's camp, so I think we can be confident that this thing's going to be important.

The Mogu have been portrayed as a kind of foreshadowing for Garrosh throughout this expansion. We see their reign of brutality, and heard about how it was overthrown by the oppressed after they realized that all they needed to do was to stand up to them. So it's not very surprising that Garrosh seems to find these people fascinating. Garrosh wants to learn as much as he can about their magics and methods, apparently wanting to emulate them. The guy has clearly lost sight of the big picture, and doesn't seem to know, or at least care, that the Mogu are reviled by the rest of the Pandarian people and that they were ultimately taken down. We all know that the same thing is going to happen to him by the end of all of this. The question, then, is simply how much damage is he going to do before we can stop him?

The fact that we are now able to resist against Garrosh and not merely tow his line makes it a lot more fun to play Horde again. The strength of the Horde as a part of the story, I've always thought, is the subversion of the typical "bad guy" faction. Much as the Klingons were redeemed by fleshing out their culture and seeing what it was that brought them into conflict with the Federation, it's quite interesting to see the Horde as a group of normal people who were pushed into a destructive way of life. The thing that's been annoying playing Horde recently is that Garrosh is very much a return to the old days of the Horde. It feels as if you were living in Germany and all of a sudden people started wearing jackboots and talking about how western Poland really ought to be part of Germany. Until now, there's been very little one can do to fight back against the Horde's descent into fascism (well, Garrosh's form of fantasy-world fascism,) but with the direction Mists is going, it looks like Horde players will be able to be more like Rommel - serving their people as best they can while at the same time working to undermine the disastrously evil regime that has taken hold.

While the Alliance and Horde are shown to be evenly matched, it's also feeling a bit better to play Alliance. Cataclysm was kind of a series of defeats and retreats. While finishing the Gilneas zone had a bit of a "Dunkirk spirit" feel to it, it was still very much a defeat (like Dunkirk, actually) and we never really got an opportunity to strike back and make the Horde pay. Theramore's destruction was the cherry on top of the shit-sundae that the Horde was serving to the Alliance, but it also provided the Alliance with motivation to really get their act together. Doing "A Little Patience" shows you how effective the Alliance can be when they're working at peak efficiency, and Varian, who seemed so belligerent during Wrath, has grown more thoughtful. Operation Shieldwall might be messy, but its goal really does seem to be to protect Pandaria from being conquered in the name of the Horde.

As I've said before, I don't really RP in-game, but I do have basic personalities to my characters, with backstory. My human Paladin and undead Rogue I consider brothers. Jarsus, the paladin, I've always thought of as being extremely hopeful for a reconciliation with the Horde, and has tried to avoid conflict with them as much as possible. Darsino, the rogue, has no qualms about killing those he is paid to kill, but at the same time he recognizes that war with the Alliance is ultimately a distraction, and that the Horde would be a lot better off if they tried to end the conflict peacefully. The thing is, Jarsus is sworn to protect the innocent. While Thrall was Warchief, the Horde were a potential ally in that cause. But with Garrosh in control, and especially the destruction of Theramore, Jarsus has realized that Garrosh's Horde poses just as much of a threat to the helpless and innocent as any of the other, more supernatural threats he's come across. So, reluctantly, he's taken up arms against them. Darsino actually took the Pandaria assignment to get away from Garrosh (along with Sylvanas' even greater spiral into tyranny,) but now that the fleets have arrived, he's forced to do what he came to do. He's been planning to turn on Garrosh as soon as the time is right, and with the attack against Vol'jin, he realizes that the time is coming soon, so for now he is biding his time.