Friday, February 27, 2015

Streamlining Ensmashment

When Warlords was announced, Blizzard talked a lot about cutting down a lot of abilities to make the game a bit more manageable - slicing through the dreaded "button bloat." We saw a lot of specs stripped down to their bare essentials, and in the case of Arms Warriors, way past that to the point where the spec didn't have anything interesting going on and...


With all this cutting - not just from Arms, but from tons of specs across the board, the shocking exception was Enhancement. Enhancement Shamans have a huge number of abilities to juggle, and in this grand 6.0 cull, they lost... basically nothing. A few cooldowns were cut out - we lost Storm Lash Totem, as they really want to make Bloodlust/Heroism and its imitators the only real raid-wide damage cooldown - but rotationally, Enhancement has everything it had in Mists - plus Liquid Magma, if you take that talent. (Ok, technically we lost Earth Shock, but we just put Frost Shock in its place, so it's a wash.)

Enhancement has a special place in my heart, as it's the spec of the first character I really played in WoW - back when Shaman were a Horde-only class. But I'll confess that the old Tauren has slipped a few rungs down on my alt-priority ladder, and so if I get something wrong here, well, this is my disclaimer that something like that might happen.

Also, just a quick note before we get into this - a lot of people love Enhancement because of the craziness of it. And intelligent people can disagree that the spec needs changes. But that said - let's see how we could change it.

Enhancement has a big slew of abilities that could be considered rotational.

You have Stormstrike and Lava Lash as your melee attacks - with Lava Lash getting a reset-cooldown from Flame Shock. And Lava Lash spreads the Flame Shock DoT to additional targets. You have Flame Shock and Frost Shock - the former being mainly used for its DoT, and the latter being a filler when you have next to nothing else to do. You have Unleash Elements (or whatever it's called now) that you need to use to buff Flame Shock) You have Fire Nova, which you use once your Lava Lash has spread your Flame Shock to multiple targets so that they all damage each other (and anyone else in range.) Then of course you have Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightining - to be used on Maelstrom Weapon charges. And finally, of course, you have Searing Totem and Magma Totem, for single-target and AoE, respectively. (And that's not counting Greater Fire Elemental Totem, which is a cooldown, rather than a rotational ability.)

That's 10 abilities to juggle, or 8 for strictly single-target situations. And that's not counting cooldowns or the many utility spells (mostly Totems.)

Compare this to another spec that I'd consider complex - Demonology. Demo has Corruption/Doom, Hand of Gul'dan, Shadow Bolt, Soul Fire, and Hellfire/Immolation Aura. Or if that's cheating because some of the spells do double-duty, consider Feral, which has Shred, Rake, Rip, Savage Roar, and Ferocious Bite (and maybe Tiger's Fury, depending on whether you call that rotational or a cooldown.)

And while it might not seem that big a deal that Enhancement has a couple more abilities to watch for, the other issue is that they're really all used constantly. You almost never hit the same ability twice in a row, and while the effects of the various abilities interact sometimes, their use is rarely governed by the others (except perhaps the Lava Lash/Flame Shock proc.)

Before we talk cuts, let's talk about what the core identity of the Enhancement Shaman is:

In my mind, the main thematic concept of Enhancement is that they are Melee Casters - sort of the opposite of the Ranged Physical hunters who share a lot of their gear.

There are melee classes with magic damage - indeed, every melee class has some source of non-physical damage. But Enhancement Shamans stand out, even in front of Paladins and Death Knights, who are also certainly magic-based melee classes, as really casting-while-smashing. The fact that they use the same "bolt" spell as their ranged brethren really makes them unique (though considering they are one of only two classes that can be both Melee and Ranged DPS, and the other one basically changes classes to perform the Melee role, it's not hard.)

I think the embodiment of this flavor is best represented in Maelstrom Weapon. Yet MW has one downside, which is that it is totally at the whim of RNG. I'd propose making MW something more predictable, or at least easier to manage. To do so, I'd have Stormstrike guarantee at least one stack of the buff.

MW doesn't have to be a clone of Combo Points or Holy Power, so I'd still keep the proc, but allow the Shaman to push things forward a bit.

So far we're keeping MW (and thus Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning,) and Stormstrike. What do we cut?

Thematically, there ought to be some fire damage in there as well. But in what form?

My radical suggestion here would be that we keep Lava Lash, but we get rid of Flame Shock - making it an Elemental-only ability. Lava Lash would keep its proc, but rather than occurring due to Flame Shock ticks, we could make it the result of either melee attacks or Fire Totem hits.

You could sort of merge Lava Lash with Fire Nova - a burst of fire damage that hits anything near the target (with a cool animation to boot - something like a volcanic eruption maybe.) Alternatively, you could make Fire Nova the AoE-equivalent of Lava Lash, sharing a cooldown like a Paladin's Crusader Strike and Hammer of the Righteous.

Unleash Elements is dull, so I'd just mercy-kill it.

This would cut the Enhancement Rotation to Stormstrike, Lava Lash, Searing Totem, Frost Shock, and Lightining Bolt, with Chain Lightning and Magma Totem swapping in for AoE/Cleave situations.

Does this go too far? Possibly. Maintaining Flame Shock while tossing in Frost Shocks does demand a certain degree of attention (it's basically the equivalent of Rupture/Eviscerate for Rogues) without being absurd, but I wonder if it's nearly as exciting gameplay as Maelstrom Weapon. I'll also admit that there's some satisfaction to the feedback-loop nature of Flame Shock, Lava Lash, Fire Nova, and more Lava Lashes because of all those new Flame Shocks up on your enemies.

But I think there's room for a design of Enhancement that doesn't make us track 10 different durations, cooldowns, and procs that nevertheless has a compelling degree of complexity.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hero Classes in the Age of the Level Boost

One of the most controversial, but in the long run probably successful, features of Warlords of Draenor was the introduction of a boost that would get any character to level 90 instantly - free with the expansion, or available for a fee for subsequent characters (they didn't want people starting new accounts to transfer characters to their regular one.)

Now, I think leveling is an important part of any RPG, and there's a huge amount of game that you'll miss if you boost a character all the way up.

But most WoW players have been playing for a long time, and for those of us with alts, we've even seen that early content a whole lot.

The thing is, this isn't the first time we've seen a level-boost for characters.

When Wrath of the Lich King launched, pretty much hands-down the biggest new feature was the first new class - the Death Knight. Blizzard decided that Death Knights would start at level 55, only requiring that you already have some other character who was at that level - and that remains true today.

Now, the official justification for this was that it would feel weird for level 6 Death Knights to go traipsing through the Jangolode Mine, and that's valid. The Scourge isn't big on advancement - and someone who's only fit for some very light adventuring would most likely become a mindless ghoul, a zombie, or part of a bone construct.

However, the other thing was that they wanted to make it easier for Death Knights to get into the mix. In Burning Crusade, they effectively added a new class to each faction by allowing Draenei Shamans and Blood Elf Paladins, but these characters had a lot of catching up to do to join things at the endgame.

With another ten levels added (though they had already started to reduce the amount of XP required to get through the old world, and they added heirlooms in Wrath,) they basically allowed Death Knights to skip the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor completely, sending them immediately to Outland upon finishing their intro quests. And that might not sound so great now, but remember that before Cataclysm, the Old World's questing made Outland look amazingly well-designed and enjoyable. And to top it off, the blue gear granted by the DK starting experience was incredibly good compared to what someone who had just finished leveling up in the Old World would be wearing.

Today, with another forty levels of expansions (and with the 80-90 stretch encompassing two expansions, making it more the equivalent of fifty levels,) Outland is not the "almost there" head start that it used to be. Certainly, going 1-58 isn't instant now, but it's a lot easier and faster, such that you'll spend a lot more time going from 60-100 than you did going 1-60.

So here's our conundrum:

It seems that the level 90 boost was a huge factor in making Warlords such a success - subscriptions rocketed back up, perhaps not to peak numbers, but by millions. And for that reason, I expect that every expansion that follows will have a similar one-time boost to the previous expansion's cap.

And if a new expansion launches with a new class, you can bet that most people are going to use their boost on the new class.

This means that something like the Death Knight starting experience might have been a one-time thing. Monks were created simply as a new class, and not a Hero class. But in a way, that worked with the flavor (and also because they correctly expected that most people who made Monks would also play Pandaren, which gave the Wandering Isle a decent amount of traffic.)

Yet if we got another class with a strong flavor like the Death Knight, how could we justify creating a unique experience in which to get them started?

Well, the solution is pretty simple, I think:

Just make them play through it before they boost.

You could have another class start at 55 - just like the Death Knight - but before one uses a character boost, one would have to finish the intro story. The Death Knight starting quests showed that questing could be very enjoyable and very story-driven and actually a lot more exciting when tailored specifically to your class. Death Knights are a dark class, and you do some pretty nasty stuff in that quest-chain.

And given that it's all doable in an hour or so (and Blizzard has gotten better at preventing bottlenecks, so it'd be even more reliably quick,) I don't think many people would complain (though some would, because of course they would.)

Then, players would have the option of leveling up the rest of the way or taking a boost - but this would ensure that they're at least somewhat familiar with core class mechanics before they do so.

A class-specific starting experience would likely be better-tailored to teaching players how to play a new class, and so they might be given a wider suite of abilities if they boost than other classes, assuming there's something else like the Tanaan Jungle intro.

The far more radical option, though, would be to have a new hero class begin at 95 or 97 (for the sake of argument, let's say that this class comes in the next expansion.) They would have an intense 3 or 5-level experience, and acquire new abilities throughout the quests - not only when leveling. This would make it function similarly to the original version of the Death Knight intro, where quests would reward talent points for the old trees in addition to experience, gold, and gear.

I'd love to see more Hero classes - with all the bells and whistles and unique intros that Death Knights were afforded. Hopefully it'll still be a thing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Black Forge: BRF Wing 2: Tank Perspective

The Black Forge is the second wing of Blackrock Foundry. Here, you'll face the twins Hanz'gar and Franzok, as well as Flamebender Ka'graz and Kromog.

Much like the Slagworks, the wing is fairly nonlinear, but it's likely that on LFR there will be a set order in which to do the bosses.

Trash before Hanz'gar and Franzok:

You'll start at the very beginning of the raid, like with slagworks. but this time you'll head left, taking an elevator way down (past the Blast Furnace) to where the forge is.

Trash is fairly simple here. Just clear forward and you'll eventually get to the room with the twins. There's a bit of trash in the room, and once it's cleared the bosses will be available.

Hanz'gar and Franzok:

Hanz and Franz are going to pump *clap* you up!

This fight is actually pretty simple. Though I'm sure some of the mechanics are more tricky on Normal, on LFR you basically pick a boss, the other tank picks the other, and you more or less tank-and-spank them. There's no switching required (at least on LFR.) The whole fight takes place on conveyer belts, and while they sometimes stop, you'll need to be on your toes the whole time (I'll be curious to see how this is on a ranged class.)

The main challenge is that over the course of the fight, one of the twins will jump away and start operating either the burning plates or the stamps. The plates will scoot down on the conveyer belts and you'll simply have to make sure you dodge them.

When you get the stamp-presses, you'll see little yellow rectangles on certain sections of the floor. Get out of these before the stamps come down or you'll take a lot of damage (though not automatically lethal.)

The two share a health pool, so just go to town and stack them for cleaves.

Trash before Ka'graz:

You'll come into a room filled with conveyer belts. Watch out for a disorient effect, but otherwise it's just a zerg.

Flamebender Ka'graz:

So here's the thing - on LFR, with a bunch of day-one people, this was an utter zerg. The other tank dc'd right at the beginning, and I went down at about 50%, and was not rezzed until 25%. We still managed it.

Basically, kill Arknor Steelbender (though apparently if you don't kill him on Normal or above you get him as a follower.) There's a tank-swap debuff and some fire wolves who pop out, one of which needs to be tanked (and they're both supposed to die at the same time.)

But we just kind of tank-and-spanked it. And then for a bit just the spanking.

Trash before Kromog:

Nothing serious, just head back into the conveyer belt room and head north to get to this massive Magnaron with a double-chin.


Other than a tank swap, there are only a couple things tanks need to worry about. He'll telegraph a big slam attack that you'll need to dodge. Also, the tanks need to stand next to each other to absorb some ability. If there's not a tank in melee range, he'll continually do a nasty raid-wide AOE.

Why would you be out of range? Here's why:

Occasionally, he'll start to channel a spell that creates orange runes on the ground. Each individual player needs to stand on these runes until a hand grasps them. Try to damage the hand - but ONLY A LITTLE BIT. The hand is there to prevent you from flying in the air when he starts pounding the ground. If you aren't grasped, you'll take massive fall damage. When the pounding is done, tanks need to get out first and pick up the boss while the DPS breaks the rest of the raid out.

For the ranged/heals, there are also red runes that will pop up. I believe you just have to dodge the clapping earth-hands before they can hit you.

And with Kromog dead, you're done with wing 2.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Fourth Spec Conundrum

In Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard gave Druids a fourth spec - Guardian. But that sentence is a little misleading. Guardian Druids really already existed. The way talent trees used to work, a Feral Druid would just assign some of his or her points in different things depending on whether they wanted to tank more or DPS more. But with the simplification of specializations, and the total overhaul of just what a "talent" really meant, there was no obvious way to distinguish between a Feral Druid who preferred to go Cat DPS, and one who preferred to go Bear Tank.

In a sense, Druids always had four specs, but the overlap between the two varieties of Feral was too great to make sense in the new talent system, and thus the Gordian Knot was cut and Druids were given a fourth spec.

But this raises an interesting question: Are there not some classes that could also use a fourth spec?

I'd argue that there are plenty of archetypes that existing classes could fit, but only if they were given a fourth spec. A ranged DPS Paladin, for example, is something that used to be quasi-viable way back in the day (the "Shockadin,") and it's actually a bit funny that there's no ranged Rogue spec, given that in most games, the Rogue is the archer, killing victims from afar (plus it would give us another class to use ranged weapons.)

The game is ten years old, though, and I can understand a certain hesitance to mess with what exists.

But let's look at some of the other weird things that have happened with specs and roles in the past.

For one glorious expansion, Death Knights were capable of tanking and DPSing in all three specs. Now, this was, admittedly, a bit of a nightmare to balance. In the end, Blood and Frost were the more popular of the two tanking specs while Unholy and Frost were the more popular DPS specs (though I loved Blood DPS, especially as a leveling spec.) Ultimately, Blizzard figured the self-healing theme of Blood made a lot of sense as a tanking spec, and so they rejiggered the class to turn it into a more standard T/D/D spread, like Warriors (thankfully they committed to making Frost viable for both Dual-wield and Two-handed play so that those of us who like two-handed weapons and not having to split our damage with a ghoul can have a DPS spec.)

Hybrid specs seemed to be out, with Cataclysm narrowing the three DK specs and Mists separating out the two Feral variations.

But since then, we've seen two experiments in hybridizing specs. One of these has been an utter failure and since removed, while the other had been a pretty resounding success.

In Mists, Demonology Warlocks got a glyph called "Glyph of Demon Hunting," which, in addition to trolling anyone who's been hoping for playable Demon Hunters, gave the Warlocks a transformation called Dark Apotheosis that, much like Metamorphosis, changed many of their existing abilities. The difference, however, was that these abilities were designed to allow the Warlock to tank.

Ultimately, though, Blizzard never committed to making Warlocks into real tanks. They clearly put some real work into transforming Demonology abilities, but it still wasn't a total tank toolkit. And because Warlocks couldn't really tank, they ultimately decided to get rid of the glyph in Warlords.

However, in Warlords, they went the other way with Protection Warriors. Now, while I'm a staunch Paladin supporter and I think Warriors - by virtue of lore and flavor - make more sense as DPS, I'll admit that, in WoW, Warriors are the standard by which other tanks are designed. (Hell, Warriors have the actual ability "Taunt," which is shorthand for what Reckoning, Growl, Dark Command, and Provoke do.) So in a sense it's almost heretical to turn Protection into a DPS spec.

Yet Gladiator's Resolve does that, and it actually works out quite well. Gladiators might even be the top DPS "spec" for Warriors right now, and if they're not, they're quite close to Fury and Arms - close enough that most people would be willing to play it if they prefer the style.

So why does this work while Dark Apotheosis did not? Why is ok when the DK specs were re-focused on individual roles?

My theory is that, primarily, it's a lot easier to make a new DPS spec than to make a new Tanking spec.

The thing is, DPS can come in all sorts of styles. As long as, over a long period of time (like the course of several minutes,) the damage output is relatively the same, it doesn't matter (at least in PvE) what kind of rhythm that output has. If there's a spec that does 70 damage in the first ten seconds of a minute and 10 damage every ten seconds for the rest of that minute, there can be another spec that does a flat 20 damage every ten seconds, and ultimately they're ok - because over the course of a minute, they're both putting out 120 damage.

But tanks and healers don't get the luxury of being able to burst and then slack off for the better part of a minute. If player health pools were enormous, they might, but even after the doubling that occurred post-item squish, the toolkit of every tank and every healer needs to be roughly similar to deal with certain situations that every tank or healer will need to deal with.

And that's why design space within these roles is narrower - you really need to be able to find a new way to do very similar things.

But I do think this means that granting more diverse DPS options is not as difficult. Certainly it's not trivial, but I don't think there's much standing in the way of trying out new ways to let players play the damage role. Gladiator really just took the existing tanking rotation and shifted around some of the passive buffs while transforming really just Shield Block. Tank DPS is already something they try to keep balanced anyway, so it's more or less just adding a coefficient to boost DPS and remove some of the survival bonuses to keep them from being unstoppable.

Now, we should also note here that the idea behind Gladiator's Resolve was to give us an archetype that never existed in game - the Sword-and-Board DPS. So it might not be necessary to give all of our wildest dreams new representations in-game if there's already something that exists like that.

Still, I think a Plate DPS caster would be wonderful (either a Shockadin or some kind of ranged-necromancer version of Unholy Death Knights - or both, of course), and a Rogue that uses a Bow (or Crossbow or Gun) is something we could absolutely look for. On the flip-side, we never got our Melee Hunter. And given that it used to be a thing, I'd love to see Blood DPS once more.

There are probably a ton of other ideas that would be great to see, but the key to remember is that all of this would require a huge commitment of development time. Gladiator's Resolve is really cool, but it cheats because of the relative simplicity of adapting an existing tanking spec to only focus on damage output.

If we want to see something like a Shockadin, it's probably going to need to focus on adapting existing Holy Paladin spells to function, like Denounce and Holy Shock.

If Blizzard were to really commit to creating entirely new specs for existing classes, it would probably mean we're far less likely to see a brand-new class. And it's likely that it wouldn't be fair, either. Many classes are thematically tied to three variations, like Mages, with its three schools of magic, or Death Knights, with their three runes and sources of dark power.

But perhaps with a more liberal use of things like Gladiator's Resolve, we could see some real variation in play from existing specs.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Advocating for the Villain Who Just Won't Leave Us Alone

I'm not really that excited about fighting Grommash Hellscream. I'm sure the fight will have interesting mechanics, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the gameplay of fighting through a raid to get to him, but as far as a character, I'm not really invested.

And that's kind of weird. Hellscream, and all the Warlords of Draenor, are characters who have existed now for twenty years (or close - I don't know how many specific names were mentioned in WC1.)

Hellscream was really kind of a supporting player in the story of the Horde until Warcraft III. He was basically the most vicious and bloodthirsty Orc of the Old Horde, and he threatened to take his people down that path a second time during the Third War, only to be rescued by Thrall and to immediately thereafter earn a kind of redemption through death.

That is, I think, enough story to build on to make him into a compelling threat - even if we're talking about an alternate-universe version of him.

But I think Blizzard has made an error in communicating the story of Draenor. The expectation, I think, is that we're all invested in these old figures of the Old Horde, but given that most people came in with either WCIII or WoW, we were never really that into those characters in the first place. What these guys need is screen time.

The problem, though, is that they haven't gotten much. Most of the Warlords are dead. Other than the Tanaan Jungle intro, only a couple of them have shown up more than a couple times. It's a little shocking, for example, to have only seen Kargath twice - once in Tanaan and once in Arak - before we kill him in Highmaul.

Now of course, part of the issue is that there are a lot of Warlords to go through. By splitting them up, they naturally have to split some of their importance to the story. At the risk of addicting readers to TVTropes, this calls to mind the Conservation of Ninjutsu - which, to adapt the principle a little, essentially says that the more villains you focus on, the less each of them feels like an individual threat. The Iron Horde is easily divided and conquered, because it's not really a Horde. We've been able to pick of individual clans piecemeal.

The solution to all of this, I think, would be to focus on Hellscream. The other clan leaders can be important, but we've got to get a sense of what is going on with Grommash. If he's our main villain of the expansion, it's got to be clear that this is the Warchief. He's absolutely in charge and all the other clans are serving him.

Is it more realistic to see that he's delegated things to the other Warlords? Certainly. But for drama, there's just not enough hinting at his constant threat.

For Mists, whatever problems you might have with that expansion, the fight against Garrosh felt important and personal. And a huge part of that was that we got to interact with him a lot (particularly the Horde.) There was a sense that this was a huge reckoning - a part of a story that was bigger than just that expansion.

But let's rewind a bit and look at a different final boss. And if you know me and my personal preferences, it should be pretty obvious who I'm going to talk about:

The Lich King.

There was no boss I've ever been more excited to fight as Arthas Menethil. That guy had it freaking coming.

The Lich King of course had the benefit of being a central figure in Warcraft III, and his influence on the world could be felt through the histories of the Forsaken and the Blood Elves, and any player Death Knights. But of course, the leaders of the Old Horde have had an even bigger influence on literally every player character in the game.

The thing is, throughout the experience of Wrath of the Lich King, the Lich King was everywhere. He made personal appearances in Borean Tundra, Howling Fjord, Dragonblight, Zul'drak, and obviously Icecrown. He even crashed the second-to-last raid, sending us to fight Anub'arak (which was partially due to the fact that people thought it bizarre that such an important figure was merely the boss of a 5-player dungeon.)

And yes, people complained. A lot of people thought that his constant "You have done exactly as I hoped you would. Now I will leave you alive for no good reason" (except in Howling Fjord, where he kills the crap out of you if he catches you) made him seem less threatening. Granted, I think that at the end of his fight in ICC, his behavior becomes somewhat justified, but the larger point is that the story kept hammering home one major message: The Lich King is here. He is waiting for you. He is way more powerful than you are, and you are (to borrow a phrase from Illidan) not prepared to face him.

Things didn't work out so well with Deathwing. Mind you, we did see Deathwing plenty before we killed him in Dragon Soul - he would fly around and torch huge swaths of entire zones before 4.3 came out. The problem is that Deathwing didn't have much of a personality. His actions were less those of a crafty manipulator (which had been his old MO in previous appearances,) and so there wasn't really any interaction - just fleeing until we were ready to kill him.

Sometimes a story can be good when you barely see the villain and you don't know much about their inner thoughts - something like Alien is a good example. But we know Grommash Hellscream. There's no reason to keep him hidden away, especially because we never see him succeed at anything. He's not victorious enough to seem like an implacable monster. But if the narrative is supposed to be that the Iron Horde is one of Paper Tigers, then we need to witness the panic that sets in and watch as Grom is forced to do desperate... maybe demon-blood-drinky things in order to fight us.

Story is crucial to an RPG, and you can't have story without characters. Let us see our villain more, or we won't feel anything when we go to face him.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

6.2 and Imagining Tanaan

One feature originally expected to be added to 6.1 was a quest chain in and around the Iron Docks (presumably the non-instanced version of it.) As it turns out, this chain is actually more of an intro to Tanaan Jungle, and so it was delayed until 6.2, which is when we'll be entering that zone.

My takeaway from this is that this has more or less confirmed that Tanaan Jungle will open up with 6.2. With 6.1 less than a week away, I thought I'd take a moment to speculate on what the subsequent patch might bring.

The confirmed part is Tanaan Jungle - the zone we all kind of figured was going to ship with the game at launch. Indeed, we do spend a bit of time in Tanaan, but only during the Dark Portal intro to the expansion.

But it should open up with 6.2. Tanaan is a large zone - much larger than other later additions like the Timeless Isle or Quel'danas. In fact, the thing that's exciting about Tanaan Jungle is that it's a later-addition zone that is a very clear, existing presence in the continent already. Not only that, but Tanaan has a lot of history we're already aware of, as it's the Draenor equivalent of the very first zone we experienced in Outland.

It seems inevitable that 6.2 will bring our second raid tier, though given its focus on Tanaan Jungle, it's hard to imagine that there would be a raid other than the Iron Horde's headquarters. That could mean one of two things - either Blizzard is sticking to the "two raid tier" model for Warlords (and as excited I am for the possibility of a new class or at least races in expansion six, I hope they don't) or we might see the Iron Horde dispatched, only for someone like Gul'dan to come in and become the biggest threat that we need to deal with.

If we take out Grommash in 6.2, and it's not the final raid tier, it'd be a perfect opportunity to introduce Farahlon and a Gul'dan raid (though I'd be a little annoyed that four raid tiers in a row have Orcs as final bosses.)

But beyond a raid, I think there's a lot of possibilities for the environment of Tanaan Jungle. Consider Hellfire Peninsula. Now, Hellfire's basically the opposite of a jungle - I don't know if there's any area with any kind of plant life there. But Hellfire was Tanaan, and that means that some of that stuff must be there. I'd guess that Zeth'gor is still a thing. We never got much backstory on the place in BC, but I'd assume it's the capital of the Bleeding Hollow clan. In fact, there's even that cave underneath that could be the eponymous Bleeding Hollow.

Obviously Thrallmar and Honor Hold would not have existed yet in this past-Tanaan, but there could be things in their place. It's also notable that the Iron Gates at the western edge of Tanaan are clearly built over an existing Draenei structure. Thus, the Temple of Telhamat could very well exist already at this point. Likewise, there could be a Draenei town called Sha'naar that becomes ruins in Outland. Additionally, the Arrakoa seem to have some presence there at the Den of Haal'esh, and we know they were in that area pre-Outland because of Kilrogg's Lords of War episode.

Hellfire Citadel is a big question mark, though my money's on its being the final Iron Horde raid, though obviously not called "Hellfire" Citadel.

Obviously, Blizzard has taken some license of shifting the geography of their old zones to accommodate Draenor. For example, Shattrath is far larger in Draenor than it was in Outland. Some of this is excused by the fact that the planet blew up, and there was bound to be some shifting and also some architectural damage, but then you have things like the fact that the Ruins of Baa'ri in Outland's Shadowmoon Valley are much farther east than Embaari Village in Draenor's Shadowmoon (not to mention their similar, yet different names.)

So it's possible that we'll see some big shifts in the layout of the zone. And it's certainly going to look different, filled with dense foliage. I'd expect to see some Botani there as well.

Once 6.1 is underway, I'd expect to start hearing rumblings and maybe even a PTR build going up in the coming weeks. The next real question is whether this will be it for Draenor, and if so, how quickly we'll hear about/get to experience the next expansion.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

6.1 Drops Next Week

Warlords of Draenor's first major patch arrives next Tuesday, along with the second Raid Finder wing of Blackrock Foundry.

6.1, while technically a major patch (any X.Y patch is,) this is going to be a little more in the vein of 2.2's Voice Chat (man, that didn't work out, did it?) or perhaps more like 5.1/5.3. We're not getting a new raid (though given the recent release of Blackrock Foundry, would we even want one?) And we're not getting a new zone or a whole lot in the way of story-content (though there will be a new leg added to the Legendary chain, though I'm not sure it's technically possible for anyone to have finished the BRF quests yet.)

While the eight vanilla races and the Draenei were given their new models at the launch of 6.0, Blood Elves have had to patiently wait, retaining their 2007-era looks (and given that they're Blood Elves, having to wait for months to look extra pretty is an insult that should be punished by DEATH,) while their blue, tentacle-faced/haired counterparts got all the loving (granted, it's Warlords of Draenor, so you can imagine that it made sense to prioritize new models for the Draenei.)

Anyway, the long(ish) wait is almost over, and soon Blood Elves will be able to talk without just flapping their jaws like a flap on a hinge (something our Worgen and Goblin friends could use... Any chance at a quick touch-up, Blizz?)

Heirlooms are getting their own Toy-like storage solution. You'll no longer have to mail these items to various alts, and it should also make things like dual-wielding Arcanite Reapers on a low-level Fury Warrior cheaper, as I believe you'll be able to generate multiple axes from the same space in the tab. The super-exciting thing about this is that there will now be a mount that is usable at level 1 that is awarded for getting I believe 35 heirlooms. (Some quick math - there are 4 pieces of armor times 7 variations (Cloth, Agi Leather, Int Leather, Agi Mail, Int Mail, DPS Plate and Tank Plate,) so that's 28. Then you've got five cloaks (healing, tanking, Str DPS, Agi DPS, Int DPS,) and a whole load of weapons... Well, if it's really 35 I might actually have it already!

After getting through the BRF quests, there will be another chapter in which you will break a certain minion of Gul'dan's away from his control and gain this person as a Legendary follower.

Anyway, there are a bunch of new features coming, even if this is definitely an "inbetween" kind of patch. I'm personally very excited to get the Jukebox and start collecting music for my garrison.

Slagworks Melee Perspective

After having run the new raid finder wing on my tank, I took the DK out for a spin. This went a bit less smoothly (I hope it doesn't sound arrogant, but I find things go better when I'm tanking, usually,) as we wiped on Gruul when the tanks tried to take Inferno Slice on their own, but overall things went ok - though I did die to Oregorger because I wasn't paying enough attention to where he was rolling.

So anything particular to note?


First off, I think Gruul might be locked until you get Oregorger down (likewise Blast Furnace, of course,) so this seems to be boss one, despite the fact that I think Gruul's the simpler fight.

As melee DPS, the two things you really need to look out for are the rock bombs he throws and the Blackrock Barrage that you need to interrupt. He does this I believe three times in a row, meaning you'll only be able to interrupt one of three. Given that it's not easy to coordinate LFR, I'd recommend picking 1, 2, or 3, and interrupting that spell, though if it becomes clear another player has chosen that number, try another the next time around. Be sure to get away from the little rock bomb things - they take a couple seconds to go off, giving you just enough time to get away (though it can be hard to see where they land when there's a bunch of melee.)

On phase two, learn from my mistake and be sure to be aware of where Oregorger is at all times - his roll-over and stun deal a bunch of damage, and that's on top of the wall-hits (which get more powerful the longer he's up) and the fact that you'll often be out of LOS of the healers. So be careful.


You're at the mercy of the tanks to an extent, but be sure to stack up in a big group to share the inferno slices. The main thing that you get that tanks don't is Petrifying Slam. When you get hit by this, spread the hell out before it goes off. If you do, I think you don't take any damage at all, whereas if you don't, it's going to hurt.

Blast Furnace:

On phase one, dead Engineers will drop bombs that you can voluntarily pick up in order to blow the Heat Regulators. Be sure to interrupt Engineers when they're repairing and kill the Bellows Operators - lots of AoE on this fight, particularly in this phase.

On phase two, I think the protection buff might not be a thing on LFR, so just go to town on those Primal Elementalists. Try to interrupt the Flamekeepers' Cauterize Wounds, as that heal will slow you considerably (and the healers are going to be gasping for mana.)

Phase three you want to burn as quick as you can - I'd actually recommend saving Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp/Ancient Hysteria for this phase, and if you have any long-cooldown abilities this is when to blow them - though given how long the fight can last, you might actually have been fighting a full ten minutes, so it's possible that you can re...30% haste buff thing and pop stuff like Army of the Dead and such a second time.

Elemental Runes:

If you're on the Legendary Chain (and somehow it feels like less of a pain than the Pandaria one - maybe it's the lack of PvP,) bosses in BRF will normally drop 9 Elemental Runes, but they have a chance to drop 27. You'll need a total of 900 (300 for each Elemental Tablet.) When all four wings are open, there will be ten bosses, meaning you will be able to get 90-270 per week (most likely somewhere in the middle.)

Blackrock Foundry - Slagworks LFR First impressions

What is it with Draenor and Slag? Isn't slag, like, the bad part of metal that you get rid of after you refine the ore?

The Slagworks is the first wing of Blackrock Foundry that you'll be able to do as of today on LFR. I would assume it's like Naxxramas' Spider Wing - the easiest wing. Anyway, it contains three bosses. In addition to choosing which wing you'd like to start at, you also get a choice of whether to do Gruul or Oregorger first. In fact, as far as I can tell, you might be able to go straight to the Blast Furnace, but where's the fun in that?

I actually wound up doing the bosses in kind of the reverse order of how I usually see them listed, as I got in on an in-progress run that was at the Blast Furnace and then went and re-queued, doing Oregorger and then Gruul (and then Blast Furnace again, because I don't want to be a dick to the next tank.)

But for the hell of it, let's go in the standard order - this will also be the order in which the difficulty seems to increase.

Initial Trash:

The first trash pull in the main hub (which I suspect we'll have to deal with in all of the wings) is pretty simple, but you'll want to be careful when you pull the Ogron that follows, as he has an AoE stun/debuff/big attack. Turn right when you get to the lower level and you'll be able to head into the Slagworks, where you'll find a catwalk with some Gronnlings that ends in a T-intersection and a path to your left that leads down to the Blast Furnace. Go right at the intersection to get to Gruul. There will be some Gronnlings and Orcs to deal with, but it's nothing too serious.


Gruul - another familiar face from Outland - has been enslaved by the Iron Horde and his hand has been replaced with a flaming hook. This fight is pretty simple, though its tank-swap mechanics are somewhat more complicated than the usual stacking debuff.

Essentially, one tank faces him away from the raid and physically dodges Overhead Smashes. The raid should group up with the other tank, and whenever he starts to cast Inferno Slice, the second tank should taunt, allowing the whole raid to get hit by the attack. This will split damage between them and apply a stacking DoT as well as a debuff on the tank. While on Normal this DoT requires the raid to split in two, I believe its duration is short enough that on LFR you can have a single group. However, with the Inferno Slice debuff stacking up on the off-tank, you'll need to switch after I believe three stacks. The only reason you don't have the Inferno Slice tank just tank him the whole time is that the Overhead Smashes would require the DPS and Heals to constantly dodge out of the way, which is less of a pain for a single tank.

Like the original Gruul, you'll get cave-ins that you'll need to not stand in, and various members of the raid will get hit by Petrifying Slam. Those affected need to spread out so that when they get shattered they will not damage nearby allies.

Periodically Gruul will go into a phase where he just does Overhead Smash over and over, so keep on your toes (this will thankfully probably allow the Inferno Slice DoT fall off the DPS and Heals.)

Trash before Oregorger:

Head back to the Catwalk and go the other direction. You'll encounter tons of Goren, many of whom spit acid everywhere. Try not to stand in it if you can, but at least on LFR the damage of the acid is healable.


The ease of LFR made this fight less of a pain to execute, but it's got an interesting variation of the usual tank-swap mechanic (actually, so did Gruul.) In the main phase, there are four things to watch out for. The off-tank needs to stand between the ranged and the boss to intercept his acid spit ability. This places a debuff on said tank, so after each spit, they should switch positions.

Oregorger will also spew Blackrock oil at the ranged group, requiring them to slowly move forward so as not to stand in it.

He also has an interruptible AoE spell that melee should keep under control. And finally, he'll toss these pillars down that will stun anyone near them - so avoid those if it's possible.

Once he's been up long enough (I believe there's a purple resource meter that lets you know) he'll get hungry. He'll then start rolling around the room, hitting walls (dealing damage to the raid) until he's eaten up all the Blackrock Ore in the various paths. The Ore is found in crates around the room that need to be DPS'd open. While on Normal you'll want a set path for the opening of crates, on LFR you can basically just kill any you see, as the damage of his wall-hits are not too bad. Once he's eaten all the ore in the room, he'll revert to phase one.

Trash before the Blast Furnace:

There's one major trash pull before the Blast Furnace, which is a Rhyolith-style elemental. The main thing is that he'll toss down these volcanic bombs that create rock spires and then cast an AoE that can be avoided by hiding behind said spires.

Blast Furnace:

This is a three-phase fight that requires a little personal responsibility, but it's not too bad.

Phase One:

You'll have Forgemaster Felspar, some Engineers, and some Security Guards, as well as a couple ogron Bellows Operators. Tanks will need to pick up everyone except the Bellows guys, but should tank the adds near them. You might consider having one tank focus on Security Guards and keep them a little away from the others, as they will sometimes channel a protection spell that prevents damage to those within their purple circles. When they do this, pull the adds away (the Guards will stand still while they do this) so your DPS can kill them.

Bellows Operators will increase the heat of the furnace, making it deal more damage when it does "Blast," a raid-wide AoE. More operators will spawn as the phase goes on, which is why they need to die.

Engineers will put bombs on random players. These players should run to the Pressure Regulators on either side of the furnace and either let the bomb go off or use their extra action button to set it off. Doing so will damage the regulators. Engineers can heal them, so be sure to interrupt them if they start to do so. I believe that on LFR you only need to destroy one regulator. When the required number (one or two) of regulators are down, phase two begins.

Phase Two:

The Bellows Operators will now attack the tanks, and you'll want to clear away the remaining adds. However, you'll also get new Security Guards and a new type of add, which I believe are called Flamekeepers, which should be tanked. The main goal now is to kill the four Primal Elementalists surrounding the Heart of the Mountain - a massive fire elemental that is the actual boss.

As a tank, I didn't get to see if this was true for LFR, but I believe the Primal Elementalists need to be made vulnerable by having raid members with a debuff let it go off next to them. If this is not the case, just DPS the Elementalists until they're all dead to get into phase 3.

Phase Three:

With the Elementalists dead, it's time to take on the Heart of the Mountain. This is more or less a DPS race at this point. There is a tank-swap debuff, but while you'll be able to clear the "Heat" DoT he stacks on you, you'll remain Tempered equal to the number of Heat spells you've received, which increases the damage of subsequent Heats. So pop Hero and go to town on the guy and be sure not to stand in the fire.

With the Heart of the Mountain down, you'll have cleared one wing of Blackrock Foundry.

I believe we get another next week, and then it'll be two weeks before we get Wing Three and another two before we get Blackhand himself.

Repetition in Villainy

Today I decided I was unsatisfied with my Death Knight's transmog set and decided to work on putting together a different one. I settled on the 25N/10H version of tier 10 (the blue one,) but with the helmet turned off - honestly, I've never really found a helmet that looks right on my DK (he's a Draenei,) except perhaps the third Wrath PvP one or the cowl you start with in Acherus.

Anyway, I was going up through Icecrown Citadel to collect Marks of Sanctification. Annoyingly, the only way to get this coloration of gear is to get the marks, because if you do the raid on normal 25, you get Warrior-style plate for both tanking and DPS pieces, and if you do it on heroic 10, you for some reason get the purple/green coloration. So I honestly don't think there's a way to get boots or a belt that share the look of this set, but oh well.

The point is: It got me all nostalgic about the Scourge.

The Scourge are hands-down my favorite villains from the Warcraft universe. The Scourge felt like a huge threat - partially because of the groundwork that had been laid in Warcraft III and Vanilla, but also just because the concept was so strong. An undead army made up of your own former allies. And all led by Arthas Menethil, a guy who, had it not been for the Scourge, probably would have grown up to be an immensely popular king who didn't have all the baggage Varian carries with him.

And while Ner'zhul was the original Lich King, the Scourge mostly felt independent of the whole Alliance/Horde conflict. The Scourge really felt like it could take on the whole of Azeroth and win, and it did up until the point that Tirion Fordring broke out of that pillar of ice. Given the recent rumors, I've been talking a lot about Azshara and how she's perhaps the most powerful person on Azeroth, but honestly I think that at his height, the Lich King may have been greater still. And Bolvar, as the new Lich King, could become just that, if it weren't for his restraint (which is of course why there's not a zombie apocalypse throughout Azeroth at the moment.)

The question is: Can we ever see a Scourge resurgent, and if so, should we?

The first part is easy to answer - Yes. This is fantasy, and while good fantasy will try to stick to its established rules, Warcraft's main rule is "If it's cool, it can happen." The folks at Blizzard wanted us to face down the original Warlords of the Horde, and they made it happen with a combination of time travel and parallel universes. And the entire finale of Wrath was clearly written to leave themselves a door that they could open again upon the Scourge.

There's no reason, narratively, that Arthas' death couldn't be followed by an epilogue of the Argent Crusade tearing the Frozen Throne down, and all the undead of the Scourge either regaining their souls, Forsaken-style, or dropping to the ground, inanimate.

But they chose to maintain that the Lich King had already become an intractable entity - something that must always be, to hold the reins of the massive Scourge forces. And while Bolvar proved himself quite resilient and possessed of great willpower over a full year of torture, there's always the possibility that he'll lose the struggle - either falling to evil or being deposed by some Scourgelord who wants the throne for him/her/itself. The Scourge is explicitly still a thing, and so it's not unthinkable that we'd encounter them once again.

So should we?

Well, that depends on what you think should ultimately happen with the Warcraft narrative. Is it a fantasy series, like a set of novels? Often when those go on for too long, they start to collapse under their own weight. On the other hand, one could think of it like a comic book universe. The Joker has been troubling Batman for 75 years now, but we've seen many very different variations on the character (compare Cesar Romero's portrayal to Heath Ledger's.) Do we want a Warcraft Universe where when we deal with a threat, they're dealt with permanently? Or do we want them sent to Arkham Asylum, as it were, to cool off a bit until we're ready for them to cause trouble again?

And I don't really have a definitive opinion on that. I do like the Scourge, though.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Wide-Eyed PvEer's First Impressions of Ashran

I think the timing of this post - a few months into the expansion - should give you an idea of how much of a PvPer I am. I am not. At most, I spent some time in BC PvPing to get the "welfare epics," specifically daggers for my Rogue and to get the Black War Wolf. During Wrath, I did a bit of PvP as well on my Death Knight, this time. And since then, I haven't done all that much. Oh! I did some PvP for the Legendary chain in Mists, so I do know a bit about Kotomogu and Silvershard Mines.

Warlords, of course, did not bring us any new battlegrounds. Instead, the focus on PvP environments was dedicated to the creation of Ashran - a new PvP zone.

This is something that has been attempted before. Wrath brought us Wintergrasp, and Cataclysm followed that up with Tol Barad - tying both into the small, quick PUG raid instances that in Mists were replaced with World Bosses (which had been a thing in Vanilla and BC.)

The major problem with both Wintergrasp and Tol Barad is that they really just wound up working like a normal Battleground, only non instanced. They did have the new interesting wrinkle that the winner of the previous battle would have to defend, while the losing faction would have to attack, but ultimately it was a single "game" that started and finished, just like instanced Battlegrounds.

Ashran, however, takes inspiration from the Timeless Isle. Rather than being focused entirely on a single goal and event, it is instead decentralized. The main road between Stormshield and Warspear functions somewhat like a more traditional BG - a bit of Alterac Valley or Isle of Conquest - but there are many off-shoots where there are hostile NPCs that can be fought for various rewards.

Artifact Fragments function as your Timeless Coin equivalent, but true to the PvP nature of it, you'll lose a sizable portion of said fragments if you get killed. And players who kill you will be able to get your fragments.

Rather than spend them on gear or what-have-you, the fragments can be given to various NPCs at your base, allowing you to send powerful NPCs into the field or creating portals and gateways to more easily traverse the island. At one point, I rode out of Stormshield only to be stopped in my tracks by a massive Frostwyrm that someone had summoned, rooting everyone and dealing a moderate amount of frost damage.

The central fight between the bases is probably where you're going to see the most action, though periodically there seem to be events in the side areas (of which I believe there are seven - mostly Ogres to the west with areas of Goren, Arrakoa and Sabreon to the east,) which are meant to move the focus of the battles.

But if you're interested in going off on your own, there's a lot of island to explore, and you can actually avoid other players if you want - though fair warning, sometimes big packs of players will circle through these areas and chop you down along with the Goren you're fighting.

I was involved in two big pushes against the Horde, both successfully killing High Warlord Volrath (which is a name from Magic: The Gathering, if I recall correctly.) Taking down the Troll the first time I got a box containing a set of PvP shoulders and gloves - the latter of which was part of the actual set. I imagine this is on a weekly cooldown, or something, as I only got a bit of Honor the next time I downed him. Still, as someone who has no PvP gear, getting those pieces was pretty nice (and they'll make for good future transmog if I can fill out the set.)

I've only just scratched the surface of the zone. They're doing something very interesting, though. One particular feature of note are these books that drop off of various rare mobs found on the island. You can get a class-specific book that will modify an ability or grant you a new one. As I was on my Warrior, I got a modified Spell Reflection, which causes it to last 5 seconds and bounce all harmful spells cast at me back at their casters for twice the effect.

If I recall correctly, Paladins get one that lets them send opposing players to their faction's jail, Hunters get one that extends their attack range to 100 yards (imagine that plus Marksmanship's mastery) and Priests, I believe, get the ability to fly.

I don't know what the hardcore PvPers think of the place, but I think it's pretty nifty.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Playable Naga Part Two: Justification in Lore

Getting right down to it - the Naga are bad guys. We've seen them allied with Twilight's Hammer and the Faceless Ones, and they're totally fine with slavery and exploitation. Their leader, Azshara, teamed up with the Burning Legion during the War of the Ancients, and they aided Deathwing during the Cataclysm.

So how could they be heroic enough to be playable?

Well, first let's point something out - the player characters in WoW generally act as heroes - they're generally interested in saving the world, and most quests have you doing fairly altruistic things (albeit to attain money, gold, or pants.) At worst, a player character is an amoral mercenary.

But if we're talking about whether a group of people - a race, to be specific - can be too evil to act as a hero, well, let's look at the Undead. Especially post-Lich King, the Forsaken have been pretty monstrous (and they weren't exactly nice people before.) Garrosh, in one of his few moments of ethical clarity, called out Sylvanas for acting just like the Lich King when she began to raise the bodies of dead humans in Silverpine to serve her. The Naga have done some rotten stuff, and I wouldn't put necromancy past them, at least on moral grounds, but the point is that at least so far, they haven't really done anything worse than that.

But it seems to me that if we do get this Azshara-centric expansion, we'd need to find a way to break off the playable Naga from the rest of the Empire, allowing them to turn on their Queen. I remember being very frustrated that there wasn't really a clear point at which Blood Elf characters were supposed to realize Kael'thas had gone bad - even after arriving in Outland, there are still Blood Elves talking about how their Prince has led them to the promised land.

But Blizzard has gotten way better at telling a story through their game, so I'm not too worried. The question is what that story should be.

The Naga are descended from (or some of them are old enough to have been born as) the Highborne - the upper class of Night Elf society before the War of the Ancients. The Highborne split into several different groups during and following the war. Some rebelled against Azshara after discovering what she had done, and some of them followed Dath'remar Sunstrider east across the new ocean to found Quel'thalas and become the High Elves. Some traveled south to Eldre'thalas, aka Dire Maul, where they continued to practice Arcane magic, and eventually returned to serve Tyrande and Malfurion during the Cataclysm. Some were transformed into demonic satyrs by the Burning Legion during the war. Finally, the ones who sank into the ocean with Azshara were transformed into the Naga.

Now, during the war, some of the Night Elves, particularly among the Highborne, saw that Azshara's palace had been overrun by the demons. They assumed that their Queen had been taken hostage by the Legion, and actually charged in to rescue her, unaware that she was among her true allies.

This, to me, is the perfect "in" to explain good Naga.

Consider that Azshara has had a 10,000 year reign as an absolute monarch over her people - a traumatized group of people who had undergone a horrific transformation and lost the very world they knew. It's believable that Azshara would be able to write her own narrative of the War of the Ancients - one that made her out to be on the winning side.

We dry-landers know very well that Azshara was in cahoots with the Legion, but the Naga might not. As far as they know, Azshara was responsible for repelling the invasion and it was only through the grace of the Old Gods that they were not drowned for her sacrifice. And now, the land-dwellers would seek to destroy the Queen of Azeroth - the person who saved the world. They would dismiss any rumors of Azshara's demonic allegiance as propaganda and slander.

Azshara could have created a version of history where Malfurion and Tyrande had betrayed her, in which the world above had been corrupted by all these mongrel races - none of them paying proper respect to the true Queen and Savior.

So the way I see it - playable Naga would begin in service to the Empire. They would fight off the various enemies of the Naga, but in their adventures, they would discover the truth about Azshara - that she had been lying to them, and far from savior, she had been their slaver and tyrant. Thus, the Naga we play as are a small breakaway faction - those who are willing to face the truth and stand up against the woman who had lied to them for ten thousand years.

And now, as a small group of rebels against a vast empire, they are forced to treat with those "mongrel" races on the surface, and join up with the Alliance and the Horde to finally redeem their people.

Imagining the Naga as a Playable Race - Part One: Models and Logistics

The grain-of-salt-advised discovery of a new Queen Azshara model on the PTR has a lot of people suspecting that we will, probably after Draenor, finally be heading off to deal with the Queen of Azeroth in a definitive, final manner.

Azshara was the queen of the Night Elves before she made a deal with Sargeras to bring the Burning Legion to Azeroth and start a little kerfuffle known as the War of the Ancients. After Illidan, Tyrande, and Malfurion destroyed the Well of Eternity, the vast majority of the old super-continent known as Kalimdor was flooded, leaving only the four continents we're familiar with as the relatively small remnants above the surface of the ocean (and of course, the western one shares the same name, which is not at all confusing.)

As the waters poured in and the Burning Legion's connection to Azeroth was severed, Azshara was contacted by another immensely powerful dark force - the Old Gods. The Old Gods transformed Azshara and those among the Highborne who were most closely devoted to her into the amphibious snake-like people known as the Naga. While Azshara's vast domain sank beneath the waves, she and her loyal followers lived on, and today there's a vast empire beneath the waves. The Naga have remained hidden from the rest of Azeroth, but make no mistake - the Naga Empire is a serious power on Azeroth. In all likelihood, they have greater territory than the Alliance and Horde combined, and possibly even a great population as well.

And unlike the Alliance or Horde, they are perfectly unified, politically. The Horde recently got out of a civil war, and the Alliance only just started recognizing Varian Wrynn as the official High King. But the Naga are devoted to Azshara, and they have been longer than they were even Naga at all.

Yet given their prominence, and hell, the fact that they're a non-player race that actually has female models, we've all kind of wondered how playable Naga would work, and if it could be a possibility.

So let's talk about how they would work mechanically, and how you'd fit them into the existing game. Part One will cover the mechanical nature of adding Naga to the game, whereas Part Two will cover how one could justify doing so in the lore. Also this is a long article, so here's a cut.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Azshara Pops Up on the PTR

Take this with an absolute boulder of rock salt, but apparently Azshara's model has been updated on the 6.1 PTR.

What does this mean?

Well, let's talk about Azshara. The Queen of the Kaldorei and later the Naga has shown up twice in-game. In Darkshore, we see her briefly taunting Malfurion (though she just uses the Lady Vashj model, which I'm sure will be updated at some point.) We then fought her as the second boss in Well of Eternity (of course, we couldn't actually damage her in any way, but we could interrupt her.)

Supposedly, the Well of Eternity model has been updated to have golden eyes (which she has in canon.) That's a pretty minor change, yes, but why is Blizzard going to the trouble of changing it?

I have no idea. Ok, not no idea - but I'm not stating this as an ironclad proof of what I'm about to propose. To me it seems like a possible indicator that we might see Azshara as next expansion's main villain.

Does that sound like a bit of a logical leap? Well, consider this: The first we ever heard of the Iron Horde was through a random graphical texture in a PTR build. The idea that Garrosh would survive Orgrimmar and go start his own Horde was already germinating before we got into Siege of Orgrimmar, which I'll remind you came out 14 months before Warlords of Draenor. So these small things can sometimes lead to big things.

And honestly, it's probably time we deal with her. Azshara is one of the oldest inhabitants of Azeroth, and she's arguably the most powerful quasi-mortal humanoid on the planet. This is a lady that Mannoroth couldn't even hurt - and that guy was basically the number 4 player in the whole Burning Legion (after Sargeras, Archimonde, and Kil'jaeden.)

The notion of a Naga-filled South Seas expansion that has us taking on Azshara is one of the perennial points of speculation in WoW. After dealing with Illidan, Arthas, and Deathwing, Azshara always stood out as a villain who could totally headline and expansion.

Then consider the fact that Azshara has connections to both the Burning Legion and the Old Gods. It's clear that we'll be dealing with the Legion in Draenor (I'm about 60% convinced Gul'dan will be the final boss,) and Blizzard has noted that they want to be a kind of thematic continuity between expansions. This time around, we saw Garrosh's radicalization of the Horde reach its logical conclusion - where he alters time and space to recreate the Horde in his own image. The Legion connection would be more than enough to lead us into conflict with Azshara back on Azeroth.

Here's where I start to get a bit wish-fulfillment fantasy - it'd also be a great time to resurrect Illidan, and with him, give us the Demon Hunter class. So far we've had a new class every second expansion, meaning that - if Blizzard is willing to keep adding them to the game - this would be a golden opportunity to bring them aboard. Illidan's connection to Azshara is strong, and while she's a bit more Team-Old Gods now than Team-Legion (though clearly Azshara has always been Team-Azshara,) just the idea of bringing back Illidan seems to necessitate bringing in Demon Hunters.

Am I totally jumping to conclusions here? Absolutely. This could be nothing.


If I'm right, I thought I'd have a little record of it here so I could brag.

And After Blackrock Foundry?

Highmaul came out on December 2nd, and Blackrock Foundry came out February 10th, giving us a little over two months between the releases of these two raids.

While I doubt anyone's utterly sick of Highmaul (indeed, I think only pretty intense guilds have everything farmed to exhaustion there,) it's pretty exciting that there's a new raid to go explore already. Blackrock Foundry is, of course, really the centerpiece to tier 17, with Highmaul as technically just the "small raid" leading up to it (hey, remember how Firelands was an entire raid tier? Never again, Blizzard, please.)

I have, at most, done a three-man pull of the first group of trash in Blackrock Foundry (and died spectacularly.) While my guild has started to push in a little deeper into Highmaul (we've got Kargath and the Butcher down, and are working on Brackenspore now,) I'm eagerly anticipating the release of the LFR version so that I can see the place, start getting a basic understanding of the fights, and of course get some nice 650 loot to supplement the 655 stuff I'm getting out of Highmaul Normal (most of my alts will likely stick to LFR, unless we wind up with a really long final raid tier, in which case I'll try to pug it on Normal with some of my more central toons.)

Anyway, what's interesting is that we're not really seeing a new raid tier. This is still, in a way, launch content. So it's not that surprising to see this big raid opening up this soon. Highmaul has had its brief time in the sun, but it's time for the Foundry.

The question, then, is how long will BRF last?

I think it should be obvious that it'll be longer than the two months plus Highmaul got. And this is for a number of reasons. The first is that it's just a bigger raid. BRF has ten bosses to Highmaul's seven, and while that's  of a "medium" sized raid (albeit probably the upper limit on a size you could call medium,) it's going to take people longer to work through. Also, take into account that a lot of people are still working on Highmaul. Granted, most serious raiding guilds are probably a lot farther into it than we are, I imagine quite a few people have not gotten Mar'gok down yet (I've tried that fight on Normal, and while it's doable, it ain't easy.) But with people still doing Highmaul, or at least still needing gear out of there, it's not unreasonable to think that we could give BRF a bit of extra time, especially as it really seems to be tuned for people who are mostly suited up in Highmaul garb (though I expect LFR will help close this gap.)

There's also the fact that this is still technically Warlords' first raid tier, meaning that whatever comes next has to be big. There's still some ambiguity on how many raid tiers Warlords is actually going to have, and it seems unlikely that we'll be jumping into the final tier a mere six months after the expansion launched - unless we already know when the next expansion is coming.

If Blizzard really wants to launch the next expansion a year after Warlords' release, they'll need to let us know very soon - this month or next, I'd say. But assuming that's not the case, and that there's another raid tier to be found there, I still think we're not going to see it in two months.

There's enough to digest with Blackrock Foundry - indeed, it'll be late March before the whole thing is on LFR - that I don't expect to see anything new for quite a while.

So let's talk predictions. Whatever raid follows BRF, whether it be the final tier (which I'm going to predict here will be the equivalent of Hellfire Citadel, though maybe it'll be called The Iron Citadel) or something else, will come some time in the middle of 2015. At the absolute earliest, it could be May, but more likely it will come some time in the summer (as has been the case with most "second tiers.") If it's the final raid tier, then it depends somewhat on when they expect to get the next expansion out.

If expansion six is announced within the next two months, and it goes into Beta this summer, then we could see it coming out this fall, and in that case, I'd expect to see the final raid tier in early summer. If we know about the next expansion but the next tier is not the final one, then I imagine they'll try to release it earlier rather than later, keeping up the pace of content, and that would push it even to late spring.

If we find ourselves stuck with a 2-year expansion cycle and the next tier is a middle tier, then I'd expect it to be late summer, with he final tier coming out either in early winter or some time next year. The reason for this is that they burned themselves releasing Siege of Orgrimmar so early. We had SoO before we even knew about Warlords of Draenor, and the subsequent 14 months with no new content really devastated WoW's subscription numbers.

If they find themselves running out of content to release, I think it would be far wiser to pace the whole expansion's patch cycle slower, rather than frontload a bunch of stuff and then suffer a drought.  Remember, everyone was very happy in the first half of Mists of Pandaria (ok, some people weren't crazy about the Pandas or the Dailies,) but I think we would have all preferred an extra month or two of tier 14 and Throne of Thunder instead of 14 straight months of Siege of Orgrimmar.

Anyway, only time will tell how these predictions turn out. There are some rumors that Expansion Six is "Feature Complete," whatever the hell that means. So perhaps we'll know more and be able to guess with better accuracy in the near future.

But now that you've read all that, don't worry too much about it. Go kill Blackhand and then we'll worry about what comes next.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Raid Tiers and the Threats of Draenor

Last week, Blackrock Foundry opened up on normal and heroic mode. This week it's Mythic, and next week we get the first Raid Finder wing. Tier 17 proper is here.

If one counts Highmaul as part of the tier, tier 17 is the largest raid tier we've had, tied with tier 7 (Naxxramas/Obsidian Sanctum/Eye of Eternity.) With it, we deal with the threat of the Ogres' Gorian Empire and we deal a massive blow to the Iron Horde.

So where do we go from there?

In the run-up to Warlords, Blizzard talked about possibly doing another expansion only a year later. If they managed to hit that goal, we would possibly see only two raiding tiers. Now, I'd much rather have two-year expansions with two years of content than one-year expansions with one year of content.

But Blizzard has got to make that decision rather soon.

We're now almost halfway through February. In the past, there's pretty much been a year between announcement and release, but if they want to get expansion six out in 2015, that's going to have to change. Still, given how long Alphas and Betas last, Blizzard will have to start the process soon if they want to keep to that timetable.

But let's think about the alternative: Warlords is proving to be more popular than anyone expected. Subscription numbers surged, almost matching WoW's end-of-Wrath watermark. Will this trend continue? I don't know. Every expansion sees a quick upswing in subscriptions, but given the scope of this one, it's possible that WoW will still see a significant lead over Cataclysm and Mists numbers.

And if the expansion is popular, they may not be in such a rush to get past it.

So here's another question: How rigid is Blizzard's plan, regarding WoW?

Raids are something that they need to plan for. The vast amount of art that needs to be created (unless it's Dragon Soul...) and the iteration on fight mechanics takes a long time to nail down. You also need to deal with the fact that, with higher item levels, some abilities will need rebalancing. It's a massive undertaking.

Blizzard claimed they might only do two raid tiers this expansion, which means that there's a very good chance that they only have two planned. It's clear to me that the final raid is going to have us definitively dismantling the Iron Horde, and likely taking down Grommash.

Earlier, I might have guessed that a middle tier could have us dealing with the Shadow Council. Yet as the expansion has played out, I'm beginning to feel that that's not really the way things are heading. In all honesty, even without a Horde under his control, Gul'dan really feels like the biggest threat of the expansion. I would not be at all surprised to find that Gul'dan, and not Grommash, is the final boss of Warlords of Draenor.

However, if that's the case, then that kind of eliminates the Shadow Council as the basis of the middle raid tier. And then it seems pretty unlikely that the Iron Horde and Grommash would be a middle tier either, given that they're the headlining villains of the expansion. That said, it happened to Illidan. Indeed, it would be kind of interesting and actually kind of nuanced and even relevant to current events if we went into a strange land and defeated a tyrant only for a worse threat to take advantage of the power vacuum and seize control.

But I wonder how much of a plan Blizzard has regarding inserting another raid tier. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

On the plus side, if they do want to get that fast cycle of expansion releases, we should be finding out about the next one in the next month or two. Fingers crossed for Demon Hunters!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Handling Highmaul - a Slowpoke Raider's Guide: Kargath and Butcher

My guild is sort of the clean-up crew. We go into raids that have been cleared by the hardcore, where the organized but perhaps not intense raiding guilds are working on the final bosses, and we start to work on the first few.

So it's very possible that this is all old, old information to you. But for those of you who have been sticking to LFR,  you might be curious, you know, how those fights are actually supposed to work, rather than the zerg-fest that Raid Finder difficulty has become (as it should - who wants to have wipefests like we had in Siege of Orgrimmar?)

This guide assumes you've tried the bosses out on LFR and have the general gist of the fights, but perhaps don't know what that one debuff or another is for.

Kargath Bladefist:

Like a lot of these fights, Kargath doesn't really do much that's actually new, but you will need to engage a bit with his mechanics. The only really new feature is the presence of Tiger Pits. If you fall into these pits, there's a good chance that the tiger who's waiting there will insta-kill you. I have seen people who fall in and get out in time, but it's something you'll need to really try to avoid.

The real defining ability here is Chain Hurl.

Adds in the audience will throw things at you during the fight. Iron Bombers (Orcs) will toss bombs that can't be avoided and potentially stack up DoTs on random raid members. Drunken Bileslingers (Ogres) will create green patches of nastiness on the ground that will make life a lot harder.

Before you start the fight, designate one of your tanks, three DPS who can do AoE on the move (so probably melee) and a healer as the Chain Hurl team. If you have a larger raid group, it's possible that you'll need more to go, but in all the sizes I've tried, it's been five people.

Tanks will then coordinate so that the designated one will always be the one tossed up. Have the tank who is not in the Chain Hurl group pull Kargath first. Every time he Impales the tank, the other tank will taunt. Impale is one of those self-buffing abilities - the debuff it puts on the tank will only affect them if they get Impaled twice in a row. What this means is that even if the tank in the arena get the debuff, they can still continue to tank Kargath until he's ready to use Impale again.

Kargath will use Chain Hurl after every other Impale. What this means is that you'll want the Chain Hurl tank to take the Impale that comes right before Chain Hurl so that he or she can harmlessly let the debuff tick down while up in the stands.

When Kargath begins to cast Chain Hurl, he'll knock everyone back a bit. Those who are in the Chain Hurl team should run back forward while the others should stay back, as he'll grab the five nearest players (again, I'm assuming this is regardless of raid size.)

While Kargath swings these players around, look around the arena for Iron Bombers (they'll be larger Orcs who have explosive barrels on their backs) and, after the first Chain Hurl, Drunken Bileslingers. You'll be thrown into the middle of the grandstand, with the option to run left or right. Pick whichever size has more of these important adds, and try to round up all of the ones on a given side and then AoE them down. The bombers will explode after their death, which can hurt your team but also will help clear away the unimportant Orcs. Bile slingers have a cone breath attack, so face them away from the group. When one side is down, run to the other side and pick up the rest of the important adds.

If you down all of them (there will be a counter at the top of the screen,) you can feel free to hop down from the stands (you might need to jump from the first or second step up, as the wall is a bit high.) If you're still up there after long enough, a big ogre will run through and knock everyone back into the arena.

Beyond this, the only other thing to remember is to run Kargath through one of the Fire Pillars if he fixates on you, and try to position yourself so that when the Chain Hurl knockback doesn't knock you into the fire or the Tiger Pits.

The Butcher:

The Butcher is simple, kind of. It's partially a healing check, but I like to call it "The Tank's Revenge." Essentially, the DPS now have to deal with something resembling a tank-swap.

Positioning is crucial here. Before you pull, create four marks. Three should be surrounding the boss in melee range. A fourth should be far away, opposite the tanks, which is where the healers will stand, plus a ranged DPS if you have an odd number. I believe that some people just have the healers stand with the DPS, but this is how we did it.

The tanks will stack on top of each other. It's a basic tank-swap here, but there are actually two debuffs to watch out for. The major one to worry about is the Tenderizer, but basically you'll just want to taunt when you're free of any debuffs.

Now, the DPS have the real challenge here. The two groups on either side of the Butcher will need to stack up and not move. These two groups must be of equal size.

The reason is that the Butcher will Cleave on the biggest group of players within reach, stacking up a bleed that will instantly kill anyone with 5 stacks. To manage this, you'll need to manage how big your groups are by having one of the ranged DPS (preferably a hunter, as they can shoot on the run and have Disengage to get out of there fast) move out of one group while the other moves back in.

For example: Say you have eight DPS. You'll have four of those guys stand to the Butcher's right and four to the left. You have, say, a Hunter in Group 1 and a Mage in Group 2. When the fight starts, you'll have everyone in Group 1 stack up together, and you'll have everyone in Group 2 except the Mage stack up on the other side. When Group 1's debuff gets high enough, the Mage will stack up in Group 2 and the Hunter will back off. This will cause Group 2 (which is now a full 4 stacked up instead of 3) to start getting the Cleaves while allowing Group 1's bleed to fall off.

It's not as complicated as it sounds.

When the Butcher does his Bounding Cleave, he'll knock everyone back and leap at the healer group. But this should be the only damage they take at all during the whole fight, so they'll be ok. Just get back into position and don't chase the boss. And if the healers are directly behind the boss, he'll run right back into position as long as the tanks go back to their marks.

One last note: at 30%, the Butcher enrages, so blow Time Warp/Heroism/Bloodlust/Ancient Hysteria when that happens and pop some defensive cooldowns. If you can get the Group-switching, this is really just a gear-check.

Next time on Handling Highmaul: Brackenspore, once we get him down!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Next Frontier in Transmog

There's a character class that I'm sure exists somewhere. I feel like there's a game somewhere out there that has this class, and it works exactly like I imagine it to work, but for some reason I can never seem to find it. That class is the Battlemage.

The idea is that a Battlemage uses Arcane magic - namely, the kind of Wizard-style magic like shooting bolts of ice and fire or, better yet, magic-missile sparkly-glowy stuff. But they're not wearing some robe and standing far back. Instead, they're coming in swinging a big war hammer that is glowing with magic lightning and creating massive shockwaves to blast away foes. Remember that scene in the prologue of Fellowship of the Ring where Sauron is smashing dozens of soldiers with each swing of his mace? Think that, but a good guy.

Anyway, such a class does not exist in WoW, and there's not really much of a precedent to introduce anything like it. Instead, Battlemages are really just Mages, and they fill that classic Wizard archetype, standing at the back lobbing blasts of magical energy at their foes, wearing what I imagine is comfortable clothing that does very little to protect them, despite the fact that the Paladin healer standing next to them is wearing plate that has just as much intellect on it as their thin cloth robes.

Now granted, my default Mage tranmog set is Normal-mode Time Lord's Regalia (I think I'm still missing the chest piece. Really ought to go back for that, as it should be pretty easy to get now.) But I've found an alternative that I'm really enjoying, and that is the Stormwind Guard set (minus the helmet - I have him wearing the monocle from Blackrock Depths.)

Most transmog pieces are limited to a particular armor type, but we've started getting a few that are labeled simply "Cosmetic," and that includes the very plate-looking Stormwind Guard set (the Orgrimmar Grunt one could work for either Plate or Mail, but I assume it is likewise available to all.)

And I think that's fantastic. I want more.

The transmog system has had a slow evolution since its introduction in 4.3, and we have seen some restrictions eased. For example, you can now make any weapon look like another weapon you could use, as long as it's the right basic category. This used to be based on animation, but now you can even transmogrify polearms with their other two-handed physical weapon kin. If you're a Warrior, and thus capable of using everything that's not a Wand, you can even transmog your axes to look like Staves (not sure if you can make one-handed swords look like daggers.)

So my hope is that we can see some of this extend to armor.

Before Cataclysm came out, Gnomechewer made a machinima called Gilnean Like Me. I'll embed it because I this is the song that introduced me to TV on the Radio, which is an awesome band.

Anyway, even with the old human model, there's something really badass about a dude in plate with an eyepatch. I would love for my Worgen character to have a similar look (though probably using the second-season Wrath PvP set,) but as it stands at the moment, you can't do so. Being able to do that, or perhaps give my Paladin a priestly hood (or my Death Knight) would be really awesome and allow for some great visual variation.

Transmog did wonders for the visual look of the game. There was a time during Wrath when basically everyone of any given class looked identical. Partially that was due to the relative ease of acquiring tier sets, but transmog would have fixed that. I think it's time to let player take the next step in defining the visuals of their characters. Let's have some cloth-clad Monks and plate-wearing Mages fighting alongside badass werewolf warriors with eyepatches!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

With Fan Help, WoW Insider will be Metamorphosing into Blizzard Watch

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes (well, in the process of converting ashes into an egg, really,) WoW Insider, one of the most popular WoW websites that sadly was axed by AOL, is now going independent!

What was once WoW Insider will now be Blizzard Watch (presumably the name is there to deflect all the complaints about reporting on other Blizzard games.) The new site was announced today, and a Patreon campaign was created to support it. Their initial goal is $8000 a month to pay for the bare-bones staff needed to run the site, of which at the time of this post they have about 5000 (and given that it's been up for only a couple hours, I believe, that's not bad!) Their "stretch goals" (I don't know if that counts for Patreon like it does for Kickstarter) include $9000, at which point they'll try to bring back the class columnists, and at 10k, they'll try to make them weekly features again.

In the time I've written this post, they've gotten up to 6k of their 8k goal, so I have high hopes that we'll be seeing our old favorite site with a new name returning to glory.

Check out that Patreon link (<---or the one right there) if you'd like to contribute and help get them back up and running.

UPDATE: This evening Blizzard Watch hit its initial $8000 goal, meaning that WoW Insider will truly be reborn. Here's hoping they hit their stretch goals so we can see class columns again.

UPDATE 2: As of the next morning, they've hit their $10k goal.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cho'gall, the Void, and the Old Gods

We've had Voidwalkers as creatures within the world of Warcraft since its inception. Warlocks use them as rather reliable tanks when soloing. They're creatures of pure darkness, and thus seem to be on the evil side of things, but we've always just generally considered them to be among the rogues gallery of demonic species that make up the Burning Legion.

And it certainly seems to be the case that the Legion employs Voidwalkers and their ilk.

However, at a Blizzcon (and sorry for not citing this, but I can't remember if it was the most recent one or the previous one,) we were informed that, technically, Void Walkers are not demons at all. Sure, Warlock minions are still going to classified that way to prevent weird bugginess (like whether rival Warlocks can banish them or not,) but lore-wise, they're not demons. What are they?

In-game, the answer seems to be Aberration, but to be clear, Aberration (which only came into the game in 5.2,) is more or less a catch-all for "damned if we know!" Thus Aberrations can apply to slimes or mutants or... Old Gods.

More on that later.

In the Burning Crusade, we were introduced to the Nauru - benevolent creatures that seemed to be made of pure Light who aided and were revered by the Draenei. The Naaru named M'uru was allowed to fall into the hands of the Blood Elves, who drained its powers to create their equivalent of Paladins. In fact, this was M'uru's intention, and the Blood Knights, despite their pretty messed up origins, actually led the charge on rejecting Kael'thas and fighting off the Burning Legion on Quel'danas. M'uru, however, was too far gone, and eventually collapsed into a being of shadow, as Naaru do when they are near death. When he/she did so, M'uru became a creature known as Entropius, who looks a whole lot like a Voidwalker.

So it stand to reason that the Voidwalkers might actually be more closely related to the Naaru than any real demon. Demons instead seem to be creatures of flesh (well, except Infernals and Abyssals, who are more like elementals) who are imbued with horrible amounts of arcane and Fel energy, whereas Voidwalkers are creatures of literal darkness.

In Draenor, we've seen that while the Iron Horde has rejected Gul'dan and his demons, they seem perfectly happy to allow the Shadowmoon Clan to use Void magic and summon Voidwalkers like Nhallish. These guys are classified in-game as Aberrations, but it's pretty clear they're the same basic thing as the Voidwalkers Warlocks learn to summon at... well it used to be level 10, I don't know what it is now.

The Void is wielded by Ner'zhul and the Shadowmoon Clan, but he's not the only one associated with its power. Off in Nagrand, Cho'gall discovered the ailing Naaru K'ure. In fact, a whole subspecies of Orcs were drawn to its power, becoming twisted and horrible creatures that seemed almost undead called the Pale. Cho'gall, already a Warlock of the Shadow Council, decided that this was his chosen source of power. He rejects Gul'dan and attempts to take the power for himself, potentially turning his back on the Shadow Council entirely, and he uses this power to assault Highmaul, his own people's capital.

But the Void and the Legion are distinct things, even if they sometimes seem to be in league.

K'ure's ailment is not unique to the alternate timeline. When we traveled into Oshu'gun in Burning Crusade, we found that the Naaru was being held within and was unwillingly absorbing the souls of the dead. It's perfectly imaginable that Cho'gall would have been drawn to Oshu'gun by K'ure in our timeline as well. But why would he then change his tune to march to the drums of the Old Gods, as he so famously did when he was on Azeroth?

It's possible that the Old Gods reached out to him as soon as he set foot on Azeroth. As a Warlock, it's not hard to imagine that he'd jump on the tentacle bandwagon as soon as he felt that he could get more power from them than from the Legion. But there's another possibility:

Perhaps he was already working for them.

The origins of the Old Gods are mysterious. We know that they showed up on Azeroth and started ruining the works of the Titans, and we know that they did all sorts of nasty things, spreading madness and chaos.

In fact, the Old Gods seem to be masters at manipulating minds. They have a penchant for getting in peoples' heads and turning them to evil. Neltharion was created to guard the deep places of Azeroth, presumably against the Old Gods. Yet he became their greatest tool, Deathwing.

Ready for another trip down the rabbit hole?

Consider Shadow Priests. Shadow Priests work with Shadow magic (duh,) but it's not in the form that Warlocks use. Warlocks send bolts of shadow energy at their opponents or assault their bodies with shadowy ailments like Corruption. Shadow Priests, on the other hand, assault their enemies minds. A Shadow Priest induces a horrific madness in their opponent and terrible psychic pain. They've also historically been able to take over their enemies minds entirely (I did a UBRS run earlier where a Shadow Priest marched those two big guys right before Zaela off the bridge to their deaths.)

That sounds like the Old Gods to me.

So what am I getting at here?

I think that the Void is not directly related to the demons of the Burning Legion. They have their own dimension, the Twisting Nether. No, the Void is not the home of demons. It's the home of the Old Gods. To go back into game mechanics, think about the Shadowfiends that Priests can summon or the Void Tendrils that can grip their enemies. Those are very clearly related to the Old Gods.

And that might enlighten us to what the Old Gods really are. They are creatures of shadow. They are monstrosities of flesh that come from a dimension where that should be impossible. The Old Gods are the denizens of the Void.

The Will of the Frostwolves

Generally speaking, the Frostwolves are the "good" Orc clan. Orc players could potentially come from just about any Orc clan (though not the Thunderlords, as they were apparently wiped out in our timeline, though given who their Warlord was, and their proximity, it wouldn't be too hard to imagine that the line between Thunderlord and Frostwolf is kind of fuzzy.)

When we arrive on Draenor, the Frostwolf Clan is one of the few that has not joined with the Iron Horde. Their divergence from the majority of the Orcs has put them in a desperate position, with a massive army threatening to overrun their homeland, and their chief, Garad, falling to what is revealed (Spoilers for Frostfire Ridge quests) to be his own son turned traitor. They have made a powerful enemy and are now outcasts from the greater Orcish civilization, the lone Orc clan that stands for real honor and a desire for peace.

The question is: Why?

Sure, we like the Frostwolves. Thrall's clan represented all that was good about the Orcs, and he worked very hard to instill a sense of pride in their roots while weeding out the brutality that had defined the Old Horde. But the thing one should remember is that in our timeline, the Frostwolves still fought for the Horde. They didn't drink the Blood of Mannoroth, though doing so was apparently really an optional thing (Orgrim Doomhammer, who of course was the second Warchief, also declined the blood.) They still participated in the slaughter of the Draenei - Durotan himself betrayed Restalaan by telling the Horde forces how to disrupt Leafshadow's cloak over Telmor (and yes, if you've quested through Talador, these things should sound familiar to you, though things go down very differently.)

The Frostwolves aided the Horde in the First War, and pushed up into Lordaeron during the Second War. It was there that Durotan and Draka were murdered by Gul'dan's minions, for finally turning their back on the Horde's corruption, but that's a pretty long time to be going along with the Old Horde, which, let's be clear, was worse than the Iron Horde is.

So this really raises the question: Why did the Frostwolves not join the Iron Horde when their Universe-A counterpart joined the original Horde? One would think that Fel magic would be far more objectionable to them than industrialization. The Iron Horde is free of the dominance of Gul'dan's Shadow Council (though Ner'zhul's Void Magic is potentially just as threatening - the Void might very well be a third powerful threat to compete with the Old Gods and the Burning Legion, assuming it's not connected to either or both.)

Well, there's a pretty reasonable answer to all of this: Garrosh.

Garrosh was able to guide the creation of the Iron Horde. It's for that reason alone that the Warsong Clan is the dominant one this time around. The Warsong of the original Horde were really just one clan among many. Garrosh saw to it that Gul'dan was unable to dominate the Horde this time, and he got a huge population to embrace a bunch of strange and dangerous technology, kicking the Orcs from Iron Age to Industrial in the space of a few months. Garrosh had a beef with - well, all of Azeroth - but I think that his biggest was with Thrall, who had admittedly given him some conflicting instructions on how to lead as Warchief - though I'd argue that Garrosh, being a grown adult, should have been able to understand some of the nuances of what Thrall was telling him, and was totally responsible for what he did. Still, Garrosh saw Thrall as the friend who had betrayed him, and so it seems likely that when he was telling his father about setting up the Iron Horde, he might have told Grommash to exclude the Frostwolf Clan in retribution for his perceived betrayal.

But what's interesting about this is that it implies that the position of the Frostwolves is not really based on their principles or their "goodness" as an ideal group of reasonable Orcs, but the arbitrary whim of a megalomaniac outside of their clan (and timeline, for that matter.)

Had Garrosh simply had a different mindset, would the Frostwolves be a part of the Iron Horde? An enemy to face? And if Garrosh wasn't the one to blackball the clan, then what does that imply? That the Frostwolves are more comfortable with Warlocks running things? It's good that the Frostwolves are on our side in Draenor (especially because it gives Horde players a place to set up their base,) but what do we really think of these Orcs? What was it that made them lose their nobility in our timeline, even if they regained it eventually?