Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Apocrypha" Short Story Explains Why Iskar Goes Bad

Blizzard posted a new short story called Apocrypha, which details some of the backstory of two important figures within Arrakoa society - High Sage Viryx and Shadow-Sage Iskar.

With 6.2 being tested out on the PTR, many an eyebrow was raised when we discovered that Iskar, the leader of the Arrakoa Outcasts, shows up as Shadow-Lord Iskar, one of the bosses to be fought within the Legion-controlled Hellfire Citadel. Why would the Outcasts betray us and join the legion? Is this the Klaaxi all over again?

Spoilers for the whole story to follow.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where Next in Tamriel?

I've gone back and started playing a lot of Skyrim lately. I've played through both sides of the Civil War quest chain, which is a very well-designed match of grey-and-gray morality. Both sides have excellent points, and both sides also have some serious problems - for example, either way the war turns out, either Markarth or Riften is going to wind up with a Jarl who's incredibly corrupt.

I haven't played the Elder Scrolls Online (though now that it's just a buy-once thing and it works on Macs, I might give it a shot,) but my understanding is that ESO bypasses the problem of just who won that civil war by setting it in the distant past, before even Tiber Septim rose up to unite Tamriel as part of his Empire.

Skyrim is one of my favorite games ever - it took nearly everything I didn't like about Oblivion out and it added in freaking Dragons, along with much better character models and much better voice acting (not to say perfect though - I don't know why brothers Vilkas and Farkas have totally different accents.)

So I'd love to see a new Elder Scrolls game in the main series, not only to see what new innovations they come up with, but also to see how the story progresses.

One thing that always struck me as unsatisfying in Skyrim was the Thalmor. I really, really want to fight the Thalmor, but you don't come across all too many of them that frequently. You deal with them in one of the earlier main story quests, and it's a Thalmor agent who you have to fight at the end of the College of Winterhold quests, but even if you side with Ulfric and kick the Empire out of Skyrim, there's never a really satisfying defeat you can hand to the Thalmor (though there is one fort in the northeast that's controlled by them, and I went full-on werewolf against those guys, which was tremendously satisfying.)

I know that most ES games focus primarily on a supernatural threat like a Daedric Prince or something around that level, but I the Thalmor are a great concept that I'd love to smash.

Most of the ES games have focused on one province or another. II was in High Rock, III was Morrowind, IV was in Cyrodiil, and V was Skyrim. As of Skyrim, the Thalmor have total control of the Summerset Isles, Valenwood, and Elsweyr, and I believe they control at least part of the southern half of Hammerfell. The nice thing about all of these settings is that I think they'd all be warm climates. Don't get me wrong - Skyrim was a beautiful environment, but I think it would be wise to go in the opposite direction next time. I'd love (love love) to play an Elder Scrolls game that takes us through a hot, arid climate.

I'm given to understand that Hammerfell and Elsweyr are both fairly desert-like, though given that Hammerfell is actually northwest of Cyrodiil, I'm not sure how that works (then again, magic.) Valenwood is, I think, more of a jungle environment.

Clearly I don't think we need to do a Civl War narrative in every game, but I think Hammerfell has a lot of potential for feeling very different as you pass through its different territories, with defiant hold-outs in the northeast and those suffering under Dominion rule farther south. On the other hand, both Valenwood and Elsweyr could have full-on revolutions, where you'd fight to free the entire country.

And on top of this, you always have the scheming of the various Daedric Princes and other supernatural forces at work. After all, while Alduin's return was the big threat that had to be dealt with immediately, in the long run, his impact on the world of Tamriel will be relatively small (well, except that there will be dragons flying around everywhere now.) So you could even put the mortals-vs-mortal story of fighting the Thalmor as a kind of background context that you can participate in, like the Stormcloak rebellion, while you deal with the supernatural crisis of, I don't know, Clavicus Vile bringing the Dwemer back to conquer the world.

Timewalking Will Group Players of All (Well, Many) Levels

When Timewalking Weekends are in effect, you'll be able to run dungeons from Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King (apparently not Vanilla, Cataclysm, or Mists for 6.2, and possibly just a select few dungeons from those expansions) as soon as you out-level the heroic equivalents, meaning that you'll be able to start Timewalking BC dungeons once you're 71, and doing so with Wrath dungeons at 81.

The Timewalking mechanic will scale players down, reducing their item level to a value equivalent to where they would be if they were just starting heroics when that content was relevant - such as 175 for Wrath dungeons. We'll still likely be a lot more powerful than we were - given all the talent and ability tunings, the removal of hit and expertise, and such - so they're going to try to balance the dungeons to pose a challenge despite the fact that the old balance is pretty much irrelevant in the modern environment.

Players will retain every ability they have at level 100, so there's no fear that you'll have to remember how to Brewmaster without Purifying Brew.

But the interesting thing is that this is not a level 100-only feature. As I said before, as soon as you outlevel an expansion, its dungeons become available to time walk. And because everyone's getting scaled down to the same place, that means that a fresh level 81 might find him or herself running Utgarde Pinnacle with a level 100 veteran.

There are some interesting consequences of this:

First off, this is the closest we've ever gotten to a "mentor" system - something that players have been talking about for a long time. Being able to temporarily de-level to help out a friend without making the content trivial could be a lot of fun.

Secondly, this means that not everyone is going to go in with the same toolbox. While most classes and specs have a pretty complete toolkit by the time they hit level 70, you'll still have some DKs who can offer utility like Remorseless Winter or Gorefiend's Grasp while others just won't have that available to them. Level 100 players with all their Draenor Perks will likely be significantly more powerful than players who haven't gotten theirs yet. Hopefully, the dungeons will be tuned so that having an actual 100 player in the group will be a bonus rather than a necessity.

I'm really eager to see how this feature turns out. I dearly miss running some of those old dungeons, and even when leveling up a new character, it's not really the same experience, given the way that player power across all levels has gone up significantly over time (to be fair, part of that is due to more players having more experience.) I'd love to have a fight against King Ymiron that isn't just brief bursts of carnage between his stunning everyone to invoke the spirit of some previous Vrykul king.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Pacing of Warlords

It was pretty smart of Blizzard to delay the release of Blackrock Foundry the way they did. Setting aside any question of how much content Warlords will actually have, Highmaul was always in danger of becoming irrelevant very quickly. Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry are technically part of the same raid tier (though Highmaul's really more the semi-traditional "intro raid," more like Mogu'shan Vaults, or Karazhan (though Kara did have tier tokens in it.) But by pushing BRF back by a few months, there was enough time for Highmaul to be the pinnacle of raiding, allowing serious raiding guilds to make decent progress and even clear the place before they had to worry about whether they were wasting their time there.

Blizzard's nightmare scenario is another Siege of Orgrimmar. Not that Siege wasn't an accomplishment in raid design - I actually think that it was pretty successful in terms of how it was constructed, and the variety of boss mechanics (though I wish we'd spent more time fighting through recognizable parts of the city - incidentally, what do you think Vol'jin's doing with the Underhold now? Clearly it's a really good strategic asset for the city.)

The only glaring problem with Siege of Orgrimmar was that it took us so long to get anything else. SoO came out two months before Warlords was even announced. Contrast that with Icecrown Citadel and Dragon Soul, which were both still being previewed at the Blizzcon where their next expansion was unveiled. Now, that wouldn't have been a problem, except that Warlords wound up taking just as long as every other expansion to come out, which led to 14 months without a single new thing in the game.

WoW is subscription-based, so we're constantly paying to play the game. Obviously a lot of that goes toward maintenance - the game's an enormous, unwieldy contraption, and they need a lot of people to keep the hamsters in the wheels fed. But another part of that expectation is that the money will go toward the creation of new content. Yes, we buy individual expansions for a quick burst of cash, but the main cost of WoW is that subscription. And when there isn't new stuff, people start to feel like they aren't getting their money's worth.

Blizzard certainly wants to put out as much content as possible, but if you've ever been part of any creative endeavor, you'll understand why that can be very difficult.

New expansions are a huge undertaking, given that it's everything you'd find in a raid patch, plus a huge amount of new artwork, new zones, tons of new quests, new abilities, sometimes new classes or new races (the racial revamp of Warlords balanced the fact that none of the races were new with the fact that they had to do ten of them instead of the traditional two - or one for Mists.)

Now, Blizzard has talked about wanting to get expansions out faster. I don't really know if I'm in favor of that even in theory. Part of what I like about WoW is hitting that point in the last tier where you're absurdly overpowered - I remember having over 50% crit on my Rogue at the end of Wrath. I also like expansions to feel like a complete arc. And while I really enjoy questing and leveling, what "faster expansions" translates to is "less content per expansion." On the other hand, it could mean "more content per time spent," which could be a good thing.

The problem, though, is that Blizzard has made me skeptical. They've talked about this "faster expansion" thing from the very beginning, and Warlords seemed like the perfect opportunity to succeed. Siege of Orgrimmar was finished two months before we even found out about Warlords, and we had an expansion with no low-level content, and no new races to give introductions to and no new class to fit into the roster of options. But Warlords wound up taking just as much time as the other expansions, even with all that taken into account. Blizzard claims that moving a bunch of people from the Titan team required a period of readjustment, which slowed them down, and that's totally plausible. But after living through five expansion launches, I can only sit in anticipation of whatever reason they'll have for why expansion six took so long.

We're almost certainly going to hear about expansion six at this year's Blizzcon, which isn't until November. By then, we'll have been in Tanaan Jungle and Hellfire Citadel for - I would guess - four months (I'm assuming that 6.2 will drop in June, though that might actually be pushing it a bit - it will most likely be some time in the summer.)

Now, the announcement timing is not necessarily indicative of their progress on the expansion. If Blizzard wants to have a fantastic PR coup, they'd announce the start of the Beta at Blizzcon. Granted, I think they'll need some time in Alpha post-announcement (because the Alpha always leaks) but if they could put a solid date on the Beta (and have it be early 2016,) we might be able to shave off a few months from the typical pattern, with a summer or late spring release.

But even if we get expansion six out in May, if there's still only two raid tiers, we'll have been running Hellfire Citadel for at least eight months, and if 6.2 comes out sooner, then maybe even ten or eleven.

See, even optimistically, I don't see this working out well.


Could we actually get a third raid tier this expansion?

Narratively, it seems like we're coming to the end. Gul'dan has taken over the Iron Horde and is bringing the Burning Legion to Draenor. We're fighting freaking Archimonde, and it's pretty hard to get higher-stakes than that.

Where could we even go from there?

First off - we don't fight Gul'dan as a raid boss, which seems like a major oversight. We also don't fight Grommash Hellscream, which could be an oversight, or it could be a twist (Grommash is certainly anti-demon, and might actually team up with us in 6.2.)

There's also another factor - Kairoz and Wrathion. Kairoz is clearly dead - Garrosh murdered him - but Kairoz had allies - the Infinite Dragonflight. Now, it's totally possible that Kairoz' story ended in the Time-Lost Glade, and Blizzard has seemingly gone out of their way to try to avoid Warlords feeling like a time-travel story.

But if there's any foe who, by their nature, could actually be a bigger threat than the Legion or the Old Gods, it's the infinite dragon flight. They have all of history at their disposal, and just because you kill them doesn't mean they cease being a threat. I mean, we've killed Murozond, but Nozdormu is still fated to become him (or is he...?) which means he literally hasn't even gotten started yet.

Remember that Kairoz dreamt of infinite Hordes to serve at his command. Grommash might turn against the Burning Legion, but that possibility - and the possibility of pulling his allies back as if from death - would be seriously tempting. Could there be an Infinite Horde to contend with?

Oh, I realize that it's a total mess of an idea. It opens up a huge can of worms of implications and also could elicit a certain "seriously, you want us to kill a third Kargath Bladefist" sort of complaint. But from timing alone, it really seems like Warlords has got to have something going on post-6.2.

Or maybe we're just screwed. Or maybe expansion six will be out this year! (Skeptical grumble.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Giving the Banshee Queen the Benefit of the Doubt

No faction leader is quite as villainous as Sylvanas Windrunner. Even at the height of Garrosh Hellscream's power and megalomania, he drew some philosophical lines on the ethics of being a dictator, though one could argue that his free use of the Heart of Y'shaarj really bent those rules. On the other hand, he clearly was actually in control of the heart's essence, and not the other way around.

Sylvanas seems to lean a lot more in the direction of just-plain-bad. Her use of the Val'kyr to raise the humans her forces had killed in Silverpine and elsewhere drew a damning comparison from Hellscream, asking what difference there was between the Forsaken and the Scourge if they were willing to do that to their enemies. Sylvanas, troublingly, said that the difference was simply that she served the Horde. In other words, she had no problem with the methods of the Scourge, only with their allegiance.

On the other hand, let's suppose that that was just talk - she got a kick out of freaking out the mighty Garrosh Hellscream. After all, it wasn't Sylvanas who ordered the attack on the Wrath Gate, and while she had been developing the Blight that was used there, she may have originally wanted it as a deterrent (though clearly she became more willing to use it in the invasion of Gilneas.) The Forsaken, more than any other racial faction, feels independent from their larger faction. Post Wrath-gate, Thrall sent the Kor'kron to keep a close eyes on the Undercity, but because the Kor'kron turned into Garrosh's secret police and political enforcement agency, it was abolished after he was de-throned, leaving the Forsaken to once again have full control of their territory.

Sylvanas was pushed by Hellscream to take over Gilneas in order to provide a Horde-controlled port in the Eastern Kingdoms (presumably one less out of the way than Quel'thalas or Revantusk Village.) But this turned into a new strategy - to take all of the sub-continent of Lordaeron to serve as a buffer zone.

In the aftermath of Arthas' death, the Scourge is in shambles. As a result, the biggest threat right in the Forsaken's front and back yards became little more than a nuisance. Unsurprisingly, though, a new threat came to fill the vacuum. Humans began to come back and try to settle the Plaguelands, reclaiming the former kingdom of Lordaeron. Given their history, it was never really likely that the humans would happily share their farm space with their more undead former countrymen.

You could blame humans for not treating the Forsaken like the practically human people they are, but Sylvanas' policies haven't exactly done much to reassure people that they're all that different from the Scourge (see above.) So naturally, she expects that a peaceful solution to the Plaguelands is unlikely, and worries - with good reason, I think - that if she allows humans to get a foothold, they will probably try to take back all of Lordaeron.

So, Sylvanas wants to create a buffer zone, keeping the Alliance far away so that the Forsaken can retain their independence and not get wiped out by another Scarlet Crusade. Sylvanas made some rash decisions early on that forever set the tone of the Forsaken's relationship with humanity (not that Garrithos didn't deserve it,) but at this point, her goal of controlling the subcontinent is a sound strategic move, and if we assume that she'd be willing to stop after Arathi Highlands, it downgrades her from super villain status.

But even if we give her the benefit of the doubt - that she's really just trying to establish a buffer to keep her people safe - at best, she's like the Soviet Union taking over Eastern Europe and setting up puppet states.

And meanwhile, one has to wonder just how much control she really has. Varimathras was able to pull off a nearly-successful coup, and while he was defeated, he's a Dread Lord, meaning that he could easily come back at some point. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Crusade is apparently not as dead as we had assumed, and while the Alliance hit a pretty major setback in the battle for Andorhal, it's clear that it's really the Argent Crusade, not the Forsaken, who have control of the Eastern Plaguelands.

Make no mistake, the Banshee Queen is egomaniacal, and does some pretty horrible things. But I'm skeptical that she's necessarily going to become a raid boss as so many people have said she will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Fate of Gul'dan

While Grommash Hellscream was the headlining villain at the expansion's launch, it seemed really clear that the actual threat was Gul'dan. Freeing Gul'dan was a strategic concession to close the Dark Portal, but it turns out that weakening the Iron Horde like that has created a bigger problem.

The thing is, the math on the Iron Horde never really made sense. The Iron Horde had two major things going for it - modern technology and a population that consisted of almost all the Orcs in a pre-Outland Draenor. That made them a threat to the existing denizens of Draenor, but it was never more of a threat than the original Horde had been. Still, the original Horde succeeded on our Draenor, so the tradeoff of Demon Blood for Modern Tech could be seen as a wash.

But a few factors arose as a result.

First off, with the rejection of Gul'dan's offer and the pact with the Burning Legion, the Iron Horde was fractured in comparison to the original. Even if the Legion Proper did not get very directly involved in the original Horde's affairs, there was still the Shadow Council. The Iron Horde created a second front in their war by rejecting Gul'dan (not that I blame them at all.) But then, of course, there's the Original Universe factor - something Grommash wildly underestimated.

The original Horde was able to defeat Stormwind in the First War through numbers and Fel Magic. But the Iron Horde attacked not just Stormwind, but the Alliance... and the original Horde.

Immediately the technological advantage disappeared because, well, it's our technology (or at least contemporary with ours.) The numbers advantage disappeared because not only does Stormwind have Ironforge, Gnomeregan, Darnassus, the Exodar, Gilneas, and the Tushui backing them up, but there's a whole other equally-populous coalition that, while far from being "allies" of Stormwind, are at least willing to fight alongside them to counter a mutual threat.

The Alliance also has over thirty years of experience fighting the Horde. The Horde has over thirty years of experience being the Horde.

Really, the only solid Pro in the Iron Horde's column was that the forces of Azeroth had only just recovered from a massive and costly war with one another. But the Iron Horde practically negated that by striking before they were able to secure Draenor itself, leaving the Draenei, Frostwolves, and the Shadow Council undermining them as they went.

The deck was stacked so far against the Iron Horde. And Gul'dan knew exactly how to exploit that. Just as the original Horde turned to the blood of Mannoroth when the assaults on Karabor and Shattrath lost momentum, the Iron Horde turned to the Legion when it became clear that they were on the verge of defeat.

And now, Archimonde, tied for the second most powerful member of the Burning Legion, has taken an interest, and Gul'dan has taken over the Iron Horde - through Kilrogg, if not Grommash, but it's all the same to him.

Yet we don't seem to be fighting Gul'dan in Hellfire Citadel. Not only is he not the final boss, as I had assumed he would be, but we don't seem to fight him at all within the raid. Yet with a figure like Archimonde as its final boss, it's hard to imagine that he is not the final boss of the expansion itself (though admittedly, he was fightable in BC without being the final boss, though his equally powerful colleague turned out to take that role - and we did fight him in a Caverns of Time instance, which sort of bends those rules.)

So if there is no third raid tier to Warlords of Draenor, what might become of Gul'dan?

Well, let's turn to extreme speculation mode.

While we've been totally wrong before (ok, many times. Basically every time since Cataclysm,) there seems to be a growing sense that the next expansion could finally have us face off against Azshara. That's hardly solid proof, but suppose it is the case:

One of the locations we'd be likely to see in a South Seas/Naga expansion would be the Broken Isles, where the Tomb of Sargeras is (if I remember correctly, it's really the tomb of his avatar, which is still pretty close.) It was this that Gul'dan abandoned the Horde to explore - plucking the location from Medivh's mind as he died - and it was here that Gul'dan was torn apart by demons - which, given his skill as a Warlock, means there must have been some dangerous freaking demons there. (Though there are some fan theories that they weren't demons, but rather Naga.)

The alternate Gul'dan might find out about this place, and just as his original-universe doppelgänger, he might be tempted to retrieve the artifacts there as well.

A Gul'dan on the loose would be a very strong motivator to head out to the South Seas to take him down.

But in doing so, we'd risk drawing the ire of Azshara. Not only that, but Azshara's probably the only "mortal" spell caster who could be plausibly more powerful than Gul'dan.

Anyway, I think we need to keep a close eye on that devious Orc. We might not be done with him as soon as we think. Or maybe we will. I'm not a fortune teller.

Details Appear about Timewalking Dungeons - And They're Not All Good...

6.2 will add Timewalker (or Timewalking...?) dungeons, opening up past expansions' dungeons for players to fight their way through. Characters will be drastically scaled down to an item level appropriate for the given dungeon (an example I saw as 175 for Wrath dungeons, which was roughly where one would be when one started in the 3.0 heroics.) The dungeons will drop the gear they did back in the day, but scaled up to 690 (at least during Warlords) and with the newer gear implementations (like all plate pieces having both Strength and Intellect.) You'll be able to run classic dungeons from yesteryear in a way that remains challenging and fun. Also, the feature will be available to lower-level players as well - as soon as you clear an expansion's level range (such as hitting 81 for Wrath) you'll be able to run them for level-appropriate gear.

Ok, that's the good news.

Here's the not so good news, or the bad news if you will:

Timewalker Dungeons will only be available on certain weekends from noon on Friday to noon on Monday. It appears that they won't be available every weekend - there will be seven different weekend events, two of which will be Timewalking events. (No word on what the other five are.)

It also appears that you'll queue for the dungeons randomly. No word on whether you can queue for specific dungeons.

At the moment, they are only testing certain Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King dungeons. Specifically:

Black Morass
Shattered Halls
Slave Pens
Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom
Halls of Lightning
The Nexus
Utgarde Pinnacle

Though before you get upset - that's just the ones that they're testing for now. It's possible that it's just an attempt to test the scaling tech and that we'll get everything from BC through Mists (some of the vanilla dungeons might be tougher.)

At this point, the only seriously upsetting aspect of this announcement is the limitation of when one can do it. Making it weekend-only is pretty mean to players who can't play on those days. Also, I worry that limiting it to only two out of seven weekends will make it a mad scramble to complete. Granted, this could be intentional, as it might help with queues, but I think you have to be careful about that sort of gating.

This is a feature people have wanted for a very long time, and I think this limitation could be very detrimental to the feature. However, this is the very first patch of the PTR, so it's subject to change. Likewise, I could imagine this feature, somewhat like transmog, evolving over time, so even if it goes live like this, we might get a different version later.

Legendary Rings - Names, but Procs are Not Final

The Legendary rings have been datamined, though Blizzard has said that the current description of the procs is not final. At the moment, all of the rings have a very interesting mechanic, which causes the power of the rings to be tossed around like a hot potato between each of the people with the same kind of ring.

Still, those procs are probably not going to be final, as I could imagine there being some frustrating issues with that (for one thing, even if the damage would even out over time, you'd have one player doing a whole lot more damage when they got the proc.

However, whatever the procs wind up being, we do have the names:

Tank: Sanctus, Sigil of the Unbroken
Strength DPS: Thorasus, the Stone Heart of Draenor
Agility DPS: Maalus, the Blood Drinker
Intellect DPS: Nithramus, the All-Seer
Healing: Etheralus, the Eternal Reward

The final part of the legendary chain will apparently involve two Naval Missions (something we still know very little about) to retrieve a Soaked Ogre Decoder and a Pearl of Farahlon. Additionally, you'll need to collect twelve "Tomes of Chaos" from Hellfire Citadel. Given the small number, I fear we might get back to a all-or-nothing droprate like we had in Mists, but on the other hand, if they want these rings to be available early in the tier, we might simply have to beat the first twelve bosses (or, more likely, something like the first wing two or three times and the second wing once or twice.)

We don't know what kind of visual aura these will create, though they did say (admittedly a long time ago) that there would be one in the vein of the "wings" created by the legendary cloak from Pandaria.

New Demon Models for Warlocks... Probably

Hellfire Citadel looks like it will be the most Burning Legion-filled raid we've ever had since Sunwell Plateau. With Archimonde as its final boss, and such folks as a stitched-back-together Mannoroth and a not-actually-dead Socrethar, plus what looks to be a serious black and green color scheme, this is one hell of a demon raid.

And of course, given that, we're getting updated versions of many of the classic demon models. I've seen datamined (care of MMO-Champion and Wowhead) versions of Doomguards, Felguards, Wrathguards (wow, lots of guards) and Imps. It appears that, at the moment, the temporary Doomguards summoned by Warlocks will use the new model, though for the moment the permanent Doomguard pets gained by Demonic Servitude do not (though I expect that's just waiting to be properly implemented.) I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of these new models integrated into the Warlock minions, as they seem to mostly keep the old character while just looking more modern (and remember, even the "new" Grimoire of Supremacy models still date back to Burning Crusade and 2007.)

I don't know if we can expect all of them to get updates - it depends on which kinds of demons they wind up using in Hellfire Citadel.

Possible Boss List for Hellfire Citadel

This is purely based on the Mythic Achievements discovered by MMO-Champion.

The names here are in alphabetical order.

Feel Lord Zakuun
Hellfire Assault (Encounter)
Hellfire High Council
Iron Reaver
Kilrogg Deadeye
Shadow-Lord Iskar
Socrethar the Eternal
Tyrant Velhari

Notably this is only twelve bosses listed, and the patch notes mention "The Gorefiend," (which, judging from the model image, is not your original-timeline-grandpa's Teron Gorefiend, but looks more like some hideous abomination.)


I think Archimonde has got to be the final boss here, because no one else is nearly as important or powerful. Mannoroth, even if he weren't a stitched-back-together version of himself, was still subservient to Archimonde and Kil'jaeden. The only person I could imagine outranking Archimonde would be Gul'dan (or KJ - we ain't going to see Sargeras here.)

Actually, Gul'dan's absence from the boss list is the most notable thing here. I could imagine a few scenarios. First is one that I think is plausible but also one I hope does not happen, which would be if Gul'dan were dealt with in a quest outside the raid. Alternatively, Gul'dan survives the expansion. Finally, we might actually get that third raid tier, with Gul'dan as the final boss (though if we're hitting the Legion proper, I doubt that.)

Ok, onto other bosses:

Achievements also divide the raid between the Bastion of Shadows (Shadow-Lord Iskar, Socrethar the Eternal, Tyrant Velhari,) Destructor's Rise (Fel Lord Zakuun, Xhul'horac, Mannoroth,) and The Black Gate (Archimonde - which confirms him as the final boss.) That leaves Hellfire Assault, High Council, and Kilrogg as another wing, which I assume will be the first.

In fact, based on this, I'm thinking (unless it's nonlinear,) we'll go Hellfire Assault, Hellfire High Council, Kilrogg Deadeye (and there's an achievement for rescuing Ariok here!,) which will be the orc-heavy part of the raid. Then we'll get Bastion of Shadows with Iskar (the leader of the Arrakoa Outcasts! Uh oh!) Socrethar (leader of the Sargerai, and apparently not dead despite our efforts) and Velhari (no precedent, but based on the name I could imagine maybe Draenei/Sargerai.) Likely we'd then get Destructor's Rise with Zakuun (no precedent, probably a demon,) Xhul'horac (ditto) and Mannoroth. And then Archimonde will come through the Black Gate, which appears to be standing in the ruins of the Dark Portal. So where Kormrok, the Iron Reaver, or the elusive Gorefiend fits in is the big question.

Update: There are two achievements for the Halls of Blood and Hellbreach (also, apparently Hellbreahch is a word my autocorrect thinks exists.) Hellbreach appears to be the first wing, composed of Hellfire Assault, Iron Reaver, and Kormrok. Halls of Blood will have Hellfire War Council, Kilrogg Deadeye, and Gorefiend.

So breaking it down, it looks like Hellbreach will be where we fight the main Hellfire Citadel defenses, ending with what I assume is a Fel-Corrupted Magnaron given the name. Then it's either Bastion of Shadows or Halls of Blood. Bastion of Shadows will, I think, be the "Sargerai" wing, especially if Velhari is some form of Eredar. Halls of Blood will be the "Orc" wing finishing with us facing off against the horrifying monster Gorefiend - who actually looks more Old-God-like than demon. Maybe some Pale stuff got in there? Destructor's Rise will be the demons-proper wing, and Black Gate will be the single-boss wing with the final fight against Archimonde.

Timewalker Dungeons Coming in 6.2 (Probably)

Well, contrary to my previous post, it appears that Timewalker dungeons will be implemented in 6.2, despite not being mentioned in the current patch notes.

It appears that you will be able to run random dungeons from particular expansions, and your item level will be scaled down to an appropriate level for the given content (presumably we'll retain all our level 100 abilities.) For instance, Lich King dungeons will scale you down to 175, given that the rewards in the Wrath heroics were item level 200.

What the rewards for running these scaled dungeons will be is not yet known, but I for one am super excited about this. One of the sad facts of an MMO that gets new expansions every other year is that if there's content you enjoy running time and again, you'll eventually hit a point where it's not just that there's not challenge, but that it doesn't even really work as a dungeon.

My recommendation for these would to have lots of cosmetic rewards associated with them (I'd love to see a full time walker transmog set for each armor type) but also some sort of gear currency - seriously Blizzard, bring back Valor Points. One should get better rewards from the new Mythic dungeons, but there needs to be some reward for running these other than the joyous burst of nostalgia.

(Also, presumably the 3.3 Frozen Halls dungeons and 3.1's Trial of the Champion will scale us down slightly less.)

UPDATE: It looks like there will be a daily quest or something like that that will reward 690 gear pieces, which is equivalent to Mythic Dungeon drops (other than the rarer 700 drops in Mythics.) That will certainly make these attractive, but let's get on the cosmetic rewards. At least let me get one of those awesome infinity-symbol Timewalker tabards.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

6.2 Patch Notes

Holy crap, here it is: Tanaan Jungle. And this strongly, strongly implies that Warlords of Draenor is wrapping up.

First: a link to the patch notes via MMO-Champion.

Details are extremely sketchy at this point - I'd expect that we're not going to see this go live for a few months - probably with the traditional summer second tier release.

Hellfire Citadel:

I called it! Hellfire Citadel will be the Tanaan Jungle raid, and likely the final raid of Warlord of Draenor. The raid will have a lucky 13 bosses. Confirmed on the list of bosses are Kilrogg Deadeye, Gorefiend, a reanimated Mannoroth and... Archimonde! Surprisingly no Gul'dan is mentioned, which makes my speculation-senses tingle. (Does that mean a third raid tier or Gul'dan as a recurring villain or perhaps we kill him outside of the raid... or maybe he's there anyway.)

Tanaan Jungle:

The zone is described as "open world questing," which I assume will be some blend of Timeless Isle and perhaps daily quests or a Garrison Campaign-type story series. We'll be trying to prevent the Legion from invading Azeroth.

Mythic Dungeons:

A new dungeon difficulty is being created explicitly to serve as an alternative form of progression to raiding. Mythic dungeons will be on a weekly lockout (but given that there are eight, you should still have stuff to do.) Sadly no word on actual new dungeons, but I think they might be working on the ones for the next expansion. Mythic Dungeons will reward 680 gear with the final boss having a chance to drop 700 level gear (presumably with the same Warforged/Sockets/Tertiaries as normal.)

Legendary Ring Completion:

The Legendary chain will reach its conclusion, which strongly implies that we're looking at the last raid tier (in fairness, we were able to complete the cloaks before Siege of Orgrimmar, but that was still in 5.4.)


We'll be building shipyards at our garrison to assault Tanaan Jungle. Again, details are thin, but we'll be building ships and sending them on Naval Missions, which I assume will function similarly to follower missions but presumably give more up-to-date rewards.

This is all very cool, but I wouldn't get too excited - my summary here is about as detailed as the patch notes themselves are (though without the numbers-tuning class stuff,) which likely means that it'll be a good long while before any of this hits live.

Still, news of new stuff on the horizon is pretty good. Warlords is an expansion that I think started off very, very strong, but petered out quickly when it became clear that there wasn't much to do outside of raiding and hanging around our garrisons. The zone design and quests were great (well, I wasn't crazy about Gorgrond) but at this point it's been Foundry Foundry Foundry (I actually liked the aesthetic of Highmaul a lot more. Foundry felt a bit like Siege of Orgrimmar's Underhold 2.0, though Blackhand's 3-story fight was pretty inspired.)

The concern I have, though, is that this looks very much like a final patch. Especially given the Legendary chain coming to an end, I really don't think we're going to see more out of Warlords after 6.2. And that means that Blizzard had better be chugging along on expansion six. Admittedly, I think Blackrock Foundry hasn't totally worn out its welcome yet (though I might feel that more strongly if the place had had a more varied aesthetic - Throne of Thunder was a fantastic and recent example of how to do this) but I think WoW really needs more stuff to do outside. The Apexis Dailies aren't really rewarding, or maybe engaging enough.

I'll be eager to hear more details about the new features. Mythic dungeons aren't quite as exciting as Timewalker dungeons or just plain new ones, but they're at least a way to keep 5-player content relevant. The shipyard has the potential to be really cool - but only if we actually get to take the ships around on the sea. If it's just a new follower system where we have to level up new ships, that's not that great (and also is almost exactly what Assassin's Creed did.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chapter III: The Foundry Falls

I'm sure anyone spending much time working on the Legendary quest chain is probably up to the point where they're getting elemental runes from bosses in Blackrock Foundry. However, upon finishing the collection, things get kicked into overdrive.

Runes and Tablets:

Upon capturing Garona, Khadgar tasks you with gathering a number of things from Blackrock Foundry. He needs a the Heart of the Heart of the Mountain - the Elemental Fury inside the Blast Furnace. He also needs the Flamebender's Tome off of Flamebender Ka'graz, the second boss in the Black Forge. The third piece is a Draenei Navigation Orb that is locked away in a chest that becomes available after defeating the Iron Maidens. Upon gathering these three items, he wants you to collect Blackhand's arm - the arm that was turned into elemental stone.

All of these things will be easy to get - just do the first three wings of BRF and you'll have them, and then you'll be able to get the quest for Blackhand. However, while you're working on this, you'll also need to collect Elemental Runes. You will need a total of 900 of these bastards. Every 300 you will then turn into an Elemental Tablet, as the quest is really just asking for three tablets.

Every boss in the instance is guaranteed to drop at least 9 runes, but if you're lucky, you'll get 27 off them instead. Blackhand, however, will always drop the full 27, meaning that a full clear each week will give you a minimum of 108, but a potential of 270 (expect it to be much closer to the 108 side.) Like the Abrogator Stones before them, you'll have a chance to get these in random work orders. Additionally, there's a weekly follower mission that will net you 18 runes, so if you have geared followers who can do it, that's a guaranteed 126 a week.

Point is: it'll still take you a long, long time, though I believe that subsequent characters will have a much higher chance for the 27-a-boss droprate.

Khadgar uses the tablets to upgrade your ring, and he kills you a little more thoroughly than usual (seriously, this is what, the third time he's killed us?) While dead-ish, you have a vision of Gul'dan pressing Grommash to drink the demon blood, pointing out that the Foundry has already fallen. Khadgar revives you with a set of goblin jumper cables.

Free Your Mind:

Using the tablets, Khadgar will upgrade your ring to 715. The ring also gains an upgraded version of the proc, now called Archmage's Greater Incandescence, which boosts your primary stat by 15% instead of 10%.

However, try as he might, Khadgar is unable to break Garona's mind control. Not to worry, though, as he sends you to a cave beneath Elodor (I'm not sure if there's a different area for Horde players.) Funny story: I actually stumbled upon this cave while leveling and one of the level 100 guards, rather than attacking level 91 me, just warned me that I should stay away. Anyway, you slaughter your way through the Shadow Council forces there (getting a kind of bonus quest to kill 15 of them) and get an Orb of Dominance off of an Ogre Warlock there.

Bringing it back to Zangarra, Khadgar uses the orb to break Garona's mind control. However, this involves "The Demon Within" breaking out, and you'll have to fight and kill it first. When it is dead, Garona thanks you and provides you with information on where Gul'dan is - at Bladefury's Command at the gates of Tanaan.

Iron Gear Solid:

You arrive at the gates of Tanaan and meet with Khadgar and Garona. You need to infiltrate the place without being seen with Garona's help.

This is the most challenging part of the chain outside the raids.

You get an extra action button that will call upon Garona to shadow step, assassinate a target, and then shadow step back. This is the only attack you'll be using, as anything else will raise the alarm.

The key here is that the rules of stealth are slightly different. The various guards are on "High Alert." What this means is that they've got a sort of cone of vision in front of them. If they see you or Garona (including when she's performing an assassination) they will cast "Raise the Alarm," which, if they finish, will alert everyone to your presence and you'll have to start from the beginning. Garona's ability has a six-second cool-down, and I believe that Raise the Alarm has a six-second cast time, meaning that if she's spotted while assassinating, you're almost guaranteed to fail and have to start over. If you set a guard off just by walking into the wrong place at the wrong time, however, there's a chance you can recover if you're quick.

So the key here is patience. Make sure you can single out guards that no one is currently looking at. After killing one guard, other nearby guards will look at the spot where that one died, which you can use to your advantage. You'll need to make your way up the nearest path and around a pit-arena to steal some Iron Horde intelligence. The initial path is actually the most guard-dense area, so until you get the hang of the mechanics, you'll be seeing that area a lot. Luckily, the blade master guards around the pit will be watching the fight, so you can eliminate them easily. They will turn if a nearby guard dies, though, so you'll want to take them out when there's a window.

Once you get the intel, you'll need to backtrack and head up the path up the hill. There are a few more tricky groups of guards, but you will likely have taken out some of them in the course of making your way to the intel. Once you get up the hill, there will be a box of crates you can hide behind, and that's when the biggest plot development in the expansion happens:

And this is finally non-spoiler, because I did this whole thing on LFR, meaning several wings delayed many weeks, so we can say that the "average" player should be able to get to this point by now.

Gul'dan comes to call on Grommash, asking once again for him to drink. Calling out Grommash's failure to make his people conquerors, he drops the bombshell that one of said followers was Grommash's own son. Grom's devastated, but he can't be turned. He charges Gul'dan, but the warlock counters with a powerful binding spell. The other orcs of the Iron Horde look around in confusion, but Kilrogg Deadeye sees an opportunity (or perhaps just his destiny) and walks forward to take the blood. Kilrogg drinks and is transformed, and with that Gul'dan has effectively taken over the Iron Horde.

Teleported back by Khadgar, you get the "wait for 6.2" quest, but you also get Garona as a legendary follower. Garona has standard rogue abilities, but she also has "Master Assassin," which greatly increases her effectiveness against all targets. This effectively gives her three abilities, the third being whichever threat might not have been countered yet. So yes, she's by far the best follower, which makes sense given that she's Legendary. I recommend quickly upgrading her to 675.