Friday, December 30, 2016

Renewal and Stasis in Dark Souls

The original Dark Souls had two endings. If you look at the game from a long distance, with only a rudimentary understanding of the lore, it looks like one is the "good" ending and one is the "bad" one. In the seemingly good one, you Link the Fire. As we find out in the third game (maybe the second, though aside from Demon Souls this is the entry in the series I know the least about,) Linking the Fire has actually become a tradition.

Gwyn, who was basically the King of the Gods, was the first to link the fire, sacrificing himself to burn for ages within the Kiln of the First Flame to prevent it from burning out. The first Dark Souls takes place during an era that you could sort of think of as a second near-apocalypse. There was the earliest Age of Dragons, where things were in a gray stasis, and then the Age of Fire, and then this kind of second Age of Fire after Gwyn sacrificed himself. But with the time bought by that sacrifice running out, you, the player, have the option to Link the Fire and extend the Age of Fire into a third epoch, though it will mean you spend the rest of your existence burning and losing your mind as you go Hollow - not from a lack of purpose, but because whatever you have that can burn (likely your Humanity, though I don't know what exactly Gwyn had to burn) will eventually run out.

What we see in DSIII is that the player character, if they choose this ending, becomes the first (or really second, as we should probably count Gwyn) Lord of Cinder - the name given to individuals (or groups, in at least one case) who link the fire at the end of their epochs and extend the Age of Fire.

The "bad" or more specifically "evil" ending, at least if you look at it without much nuance, is the one in which you abandon the fire. In this case, you allow the fire to fade and walk out into an Age of Dark.

Dark of course has mostly negative connotations in most culture (we're not really nocturnal animals, at least we weren't until electric light made it easier to be) but in Dark Souls it's far more complicated than that.

Darkness is associated with the Abyss, a corruption that seems to spread through the world and turn people into monsters and places into nightmares, but it's also the thing that defines Humanity. Of the four Lord Souls discovered at the beginning of the Age of Fire, the Dark Soul was the one that was found by the Furtive Pygmy, who was either the creator or the literal father of humanity.

As I understand it, the Humanity sprites that we use in DSI are all fragments of this Dark Soul, which the Pygmy gave to his people. Absent humanity, humans would revert to mindless Hollows, which means that the Dark Soul seems to be necessary for humans to have minds and thoughts.

So is an Age of Dark one that is fated to see the spread of the nightmarish Abyss? Or is it one in which humans will gain better self-awareness and power to forge their own destinies? Or both?

There's a kind of sneaky question that pops up in the first Dark Souls game. Gwyn and his fellow Lords rose to power in order to bring about an age of disparity and change. They rebelled against the Everlasting Dragons, who had been happy with the cold stasis of their Age. But Gwyn's efforts have been to prolong his own Age.

In the period of Dark Souls 1, this doesn't seem that unreasonable. Lordran is certainly in a state of ruin and decay, but the world itself doesn't seem totally unhealthy. Refreshing the world and bringing things back to a state of order (closer to what Anor Londo is like) seems like a pretty good idea.

But in Dark Souls III, it's less obvious that the world is worth saving. Pretty much every place in the world is in decay - not just the urban centers of civilization, but also the countryside. Perhaps some of this can be blamed on Prince Lothric's decision not to Link the Fire and the ensuing delay in this renewal, but there's also the possibility that the Fire is just not in a state to be renewed. It's like the difference between giving a 20-year-old a kidney transplant versus a 90-year-old. That young adult will make great use of it and probably be back to normal in a short amount of time, but even with a life-saving surgery, the old person is still not expected to bounce back to their physical prime (apologies to any 90-year-olds who are reading this.)

As Unkindled Ash, it's your job to get the reluctant Lords of Cinder or would-be Lords of Cinder (in the case of Lothric) to do the duties they abandoned, namely to once again Link the Fire. Linking the Fire is in a sense a renewal of the world at the cost of a grand sacrifice (I think we can assume that all the Lords were important people in their day - the Undead Legion of Farron was like a global superpower and Aldritch was almost like an anti-messiah,) preserving the Age but ending the epoch.

So in a sense, it's about sacrificing the familiar world to preserve the world in one form or another, and you could thus make the argument that refusing to Link the Fire is kind of an act of cowardice, preserving your epoch at the cost of the Age.

But maybe that's BS?

After all, this cycle of renewal is actually a cycle of stasis. And we can, under some interpretations, consider this ritual of stasis to be the cause of very unhealthy stagnation. Linking the Fire seems on the surface to be good, partially because it entails something that we in both Western and Eastern societies consider virtuous - an act of self-sacrifice.

But this act also seems to be interrupting a natural order that could, in fact, lead to something preferable.

One thing I wonder about is whether the Refuse to Link ending at the end of Dark Souls 1 is equally canon with the Link the Fire ending. If we abandon the Kiln, does this truly begin an Age of Dark? Does the First Flame die? And if it does, does that mean that the Flames that have been linked by the other Lords of Cinder from Dark Souls III are not actually the same that Gwyn originally discovered? The fact that the Soul of Cinder appears to contain Gwyn as well as previous player characters (not to mention the persistence of some characters like Andre of Astora) make it hard to believe that there's been a totally transformative Age of Dark.

And maybe that simultaneously means that the rebellious act of refusing to Link the Fire as well as the noble sacrifice of doing so are both kind of meaningless. The world does, it seems, always have the ability to bounce back and return to the Age of Fire.

I'm inclined to think that the most interesting ending to Dark Souls III is the "Usurp the Fire" ending, which is the most complicated to achieve and also the most apparently transformative.

Here, we neither allow the flame to burn out nor do we simply preserve the status quo. But if the white appearance of the Sun/Darksign is important (I'd guess yes) then it implies that the fire has truly turned into something different.

What does this new age really look like? We become the "Lord of Hollows," bearing the "True face of man," but that face is, it seems, a Hollow, undead one like how we look with Hollowing (so default) in Dark Souls 1. This is an embrace of the Curse of Undeath. So does this ending imply that the entire world will just be filled with the Undead, but that they will all serve the Lord of Hollows, this kwisatz haderach of the Sable Church? And as hollows, will they be mindless? Or, by taking the flame, does the Lord of Hollows basically grant all the benefits of being Undead while preventing the mindlessness of the Hollow state?

In Ashes of Ariandel, we get a microcosm of all these problems, with a lot of similar imagery. The Painted World, which was meant as an escape from the main world, has been painted over and over, never really getting rid of the old world (interestingly, we see Priscilla's little tower in a valley when it was once high up in the world of Ariamis, not unlike how Anor Londo, which was the highest point in Lordran, is now sunk into the Boreal Valley.) The world is meant to burn, lest it give way to rot, and right now the creator of that world, Ariandel, has been convinced by Elfriede to prevent the burn and preserve that world, despite the rot. Just as in the "real" world, you represent this potential to take part in a cycle of sacrifice and renewal, also involving fire.

But which is really the act of rebellion here? Should the Painted World be subjected to this endless cycle of burning and renewal, or would that lead to a kind of stagnation? Is refusing to participate in the cycle (like Lothric does) actually the truly brave act?

Consider the fact that Elfriede is one of the founders of the Sable Church, which intends to create something new in the "real" world by transforming the fire-linking cycle. What exactly does she have planned for the Painted World? Do we interrupt her before we can discover her true motives?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Imagining Bloodborne 2

I have not yet played Dark Souls III. I think I'm waiting for a later edition that will contain its DLC (the second DLC hasn't even been announced beyond the fact of its existence as far as I know.) But while I got Dark Souls first, I think the game that really drew me to this series and the one that I've gotten nearly 100% completion on (only one playthrough) is Bloodborne.

I'm an avid fantasy fan, but I also find myself drawn to fantasy that moves past the standard Tolkien-esque medievalism. Obviously, Dark Souls is very, very, very, very, very, very different from Tolkien-style fantasy, but the same fixation on medieval knights in armor is certainly part of its aesthetic.

Bloodborne is a blend of genres - while you get hints from the start, it doesn't become really clear until nearly halfway through that the basis of all the Gothic Horror going on in Yharnam (which is obvious from the get-go) is really a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror backstory to the world. Horror, I would argue, is in a way (if it involve the supernatural or paranormal) a subgenre of fantasy (I think that if there's a line between horror and dark fantasy it's a very blurry one.)

Dark Souls has been the backbone of the meta-series, with only Demon Souls and Bloodborne existing outside of its vague and mysterious continuity. I know very little about Demon Souls, though I think there are some elements that could link it to Bloodborne (the existence of an "Old One," for example,) but I suspect that they are meant to be independent.

However, it seems that Dark Souls III is really meant as a finale for the Dark Souls series (or at least a huge turning point.) So what comes next?

Granted, there's a possibility that there is nothing to come next, and that From and Miyazaki (not the Princess Mononoke Miyazaki - different guy) might simply move on and make totally different kinds of game. It's also possible that the Soulsborne series as it has come to be called will have a totally different IP for its next installment while retaining its gameplay elements and style of storytelling.

But as someone who now counts Bloodborne as one of his favorite games of all time, I really think there's still meat on that bone, as it were.

One question is what themes would carry over.

Perhaps the first theme that one encounters is the cycle of beasthood. Violence begets violence, and so every generation of Hunters seems to become the beasts that the next generation has to hunt. The origin of the beast curse is also kind of vague, but it does seem to derive from the blood of the Old Ones. When humanity is touched by this eldritch power, we devolve rather than evolve. Perhaps all Bloodborne games would have to involve the Curse of the Beast in one way or another.

Another major theme is dreaming. It's possible that everything that occurs within the game is a dream, though given its Lovecraftian inspiration, that does not mean that what happens is not real. Dreams function as different levels of reality. We must travel into the Nightmare of Mensis in order to silence Mergo, and the Old Hunters are imprisoned within the Hunter's Nightmare perhaps as a punishment for the death of Kos (maybe.)

Less obvious is the theme of rationalism and the unfortunate side effect of pseudoscience. In a sense, the Old Blood is a kind of cure-all panacea like you'd expect a 19th Century snake-oil salesman to sell. Like a lot of those old "cures," the effect of the medicine could be harmful (there was no FDA regulation back then.) Nothing ever went quite as wrong as it did in Yharnam as it did in the real world, but there's clearly this kind of cautionary tale going on in the game about seeking to exploit discoveries that we do not yet understand.

To be honest, having played the game I still don't know if I could tell you who, if anyone, is really good or bad. Ok, the Chapel Dweller is almost certainly a good guy (but even he might be getting manipulated by Oedon.) The Healing Church clearly brought down calamity upon their town, but while the School of Mensis is almost certainly evil (see: all the people kidnapped and fused together in Yahar'gul) I'm still not sure what exactly the role of the Choir was in this, or whether the Hunters were a positive or negative force in all this.

It's pretty clear to me that there are figures that remain on the periphery enough that I could see their roles expanded. Much like how in Dark Souls the goddess Velka is referred to a lot but her role is an utter mystery (though she also seems totally central,) in Bloodborne, we have Oedon, who is not Mergo or Kos (the latter of whom is, I assume, the corpse on the beach in the Fishing Village and whose death is some kind of Original Sin for the Hunters) but might be central to everything that's going on.

By the end of Bloodborne, it seems like there are no sane people left in Yharnam, but did our actions end the insanity? Or, even if the city is lost, we also know that there's an outside world (that our character was originally from.)

I really have to wonder how the lore could be expanded and how some of the deep mysteries of the original game might be illuminated in a sequel.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nighthold Coming on January 17th

I don't know how most guilds are doing - in fact, I'm not even sure that most players really experience the WoW through guilds anymore - but my guild has, with the help of some former members who are mostly running heroic Emerald Nightmare, made decent progress through Emerald Nightmare. We're 4/7 at this point (Normal mode) and just have Ilgynoth, Cenarius, and Xavius left before we can officially declare the raid beaten.

We haven't actually touched any of those three bosses yet - scheduling can be hard for a guild that's mostly adults - but there's definitely a high ceiling on content to do. The Trial of Valor raid is a big step up from Emerald Nightmare, but I think its timing was really good - guilds that had exhausted the Nightmare on higher difficulties (it is actually a pretty good difficulty for the first raid of an expansion, but that means that more hardcore guilds might find it too easy) got a new raid to work on, and for those of us who are willing to do an half-hour-to-hour-long PUG for a mythic dungeon but are less inclined to do that with a raid, it gave us an LFR raid with worthwhile rewards.

But it's sort of funny to think that, months into this expansion, we still haven't technically gotten our first raid tier.

The Nighthold is the headlining raid for 7.0, despite the fact that it's already 7.1 (shush!) Nighthold will complete the first real raiding tier of Legion, with its real tier set and everything. Thankfully, we already know about the second tier, which I'd expect to launch some time in mid-to-late 2017. That second tier will be the Tomb of Sargeras, but right now that's pretty far off on the horizon.

Nighthold will consist of ten bosses, culminating with our ultimate confrontations against both Suramar tyrant and Legion collaborator Grand Magistrix Elisande (who I believe will be the second-to-last boss) and Gul'dan, who we have been trying to take down ever since we released him from the Dark Portal at the very start of Warlords of Draenor.

The raid will also finish the storyline of Suramar, with the Dusk Lily rebellion finally liberating the city from the reign of terror. It also leaves nothing but the Legion proper for us to fight (which is what we'll be doing in the Tomb of Sargeras raid.)

There is not yet a total schedule for the release of all the raid's various parts and difficulties, but we do know that Normal and Heroic modes will be coming out on January 17th. I think we can assume that Mythic will come out a week later, as well as, potentially, the first wing of LFR.

LFR should be divided into four wings, with three bosses each in the first three wings and then just the Gul'dan fight for the last wing (these are already in the LFR UI in-game.)

I don't know that there's any content outside the raid that will be launching with it, though in a sense we already got that with the 7.1 content. We will be getting 7.1.5 some time around then, likely a week or two beforehand. 7.1.5 does bring with it a few pieces of world content, including an updated Brawler's Guild, but the patch is primarily focused on class balance, reworking talents and legendaries that are either so weak that no one uses them or so strong that people feel they have to choose them.

We'll also be getting Mists of Pandaria timewalker dungeons, which includes all six of the original-to-Mists dungeons (no Scarlet Halls/Monastery or Scholomance.)

All in all, lots to look forward to in the new year for WoW.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Um... is PvP Fun Now?

I've been playing WoW for a little over ten years now. There have been two times when I played anything like a significant amount of PvP. I did some on my Rogue in Burning Crusade to get the "welfare epic" daggers (this was a time when it was considered a lot easier to gear up through PvP than PvE) and then for a time during Wrath when Isle of Conquest came out and I wanted to try it out on my Death Knight.

Beyond that though, I really haven't done much.

Now partly that's philosophical - I enjoy cooperative efforts more than competitive ones. When you beat a tough raid boss, everyone's celebrating. There's no one behind the computer on Ilgynoth who's feeling disappointed that he got trounced.

But a big part of it was also that it seemed like you needed to be really into PvP in order to get anywhere in it - it wasn't something you could just hop in. There was separate gear you needed and a whole different set of skills you'd need to figure out.

In Legion, the new Honor system has really transformed things.

With your regular talents all geared toward PvE, the more utility-based PvP talents simply get activated when you're in PvP combat. And it doesn't take a terribly long time to get at least the first column of them unlocked.

Player power is flattened - there is a standard set of stats for all classes, and your gear can simply raise that by a very small percentage - like 5% at my current gear level.

Also, because that first column of talents is not terribly hard to attain (a lot of PvP World Quests don't actually require you to fight other players, so you can do those to get "leveled" up) and subsequent talents simply become new options in existing rows, you can pretty quickly get yourself to a point where other players aren't really strictly better off than you.

I also think that damage-&-healing-to-health ratio has been balanced in a decently fair way. Players aren't going to one-shot you, and in a one-on-one fight, both players will have opportunities to try out some moves. On my Demon Hunter, I try to hit fast and hard, getting a bleed on them and slowing them with Bloodlet (a PvE talent) and using mobility to frustrate fellow melee attackers. On my Paladin (he got his corrupted ashbringer skin finally and so I figure his longstanding aversion to fighting the Horde is breaking down as he becomes a little more consumed with a desire for righteous vengeance) I'm basically an implacable angel of death, making heavy use of Justicar's Vengeance and the 5-HP-generating Wake of Ashes to hit hard and heal myself up. And if a group tries to swarm me, I pop Shield of Vengeance and usually at least one or two of them really regrets it.

I imagine some people will complain that their gear is not providing them with the boost that they used to have, and to be sure, PvPers aren't getting the most amazing gear - the Gladiator sets this time around are 840 by default, which is on par with Mythic Dungeons.

But I think any sort of player-versus-player gameplay really benefits from having an equal playing field. Certainly more experienced PvPers will have the advantage of knowing better ways to counter their opponents, and in fact, the stat-flattening will prevent some mythic raider from waltzing in and squashing people who play mostly PvP.

Now, I'm sure that there are also reasons beyond what I've thought of that veteran PvP players might not like the new system, but as someone who kind of hated PvP for the last decade, I've got to say that I feel like I can actually participate and even contribute now. And I'd call that more fun.

Making Sense of Death Stranding

Perhaps the most enigmatic upcoming game in the industry is Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding. Kojima famously broke off with Konami, the company that had produced his decades-spanning Metal Gear series (starting in the 80s and going up to the recent Metal Gear Solid V) in what looks like a pretty ugly divorce.

Kojima has created his own production studio, and the company's first game will be Death Stranding.

Hideo Kojima has always had a very cinematic style when it comes to game-making. In fact, his Metal Gear Solid games tend to have very long and complicated cutscenes (I think there's a 45-minute one in MGS.)

Kojima is one of the clear examples of an auteur game director - there are certainly other hugely important game creators from his generation (Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario, Zelda, and a lot of other famous games, is the Walt Disney of video games.) He has always attempted to deal with big, important themes in the medium - usually without a lot in the way of subtlety - and I think has been one of the major forces in exploring games as a serious art form.

So I'm extremely curious about Death Stranding.

Right now, we know nothing whatsoever about gameplay. I don't even really want to speculate on what it might be.

What we do have is a cast and a bit about a setting. There have been two trailers, each with CGI game-versions of characters who are played by famous actors (well, two actors and one director.)

In the first trailer, we see what appears to be a beach covered in dead marine life (Death Stranding is, I believe, a phenomenon documented in marine biology) and there seems to be black oil just about everywhere.

On this beach, we see a naked Norman Reedus (Reedus was going to be in Kojima's Silent Hills, a project that Konami cancelled, which I think precipitated their break.) Reedus' character has some sort of strange umbilical cord that extends to an infant lying near him. He also has a cross-shaped scar on his abdomen. Reedus picks up the infant and holds him, and we actually see a number of light handprints on his shoulders. Suddenly, the infant disappears, and Reedus looks around, horrified, until he sees five human-like figures approaching in the air toward him.

The second trailer I'd say has more content to it, but is still a bizarre mystery.

We see a muddy riverbed that, similarly, has dead marine life all over it (particularly crabs.) However, rather than on an isolated beach, we actually see that we're in a large city that seems to be a war zone.

Walking through this area is Guillermo del Toro, who is holding some strange mechanical capsule. He wears a suit and has a pin saying "Bridges" and "United Cities of America," which almost seems to suggest he's a member of this organization - the symbol on the pin is the 48 contiguous states with a kind of spiderweb radiating out from where Washington is. He also seems to have a scar running in a line along his forehead.

Del Toro shuffles his way under a bridge, but he backs up to see that there are warplanes flying overhead, each with things streaming off the back of them. There is also a rainbow overhead, but it's strangely inverted - the curve seems to be pointing downward rather than up.

Del Toro watches as a tank covered in very organic-looking objects makes its way across the bridge followed by creepy skeletal soldiers.

Del Toro then attaches some kind of umbilical cord - it's not clear if it's attached to him or some piece of technology he's got - to the capsule, and an infant appears inside. The infant then winks at us.

The water rises, and we see a doll drift under the bridge and into some kind of sewer. It briefly glows red, and then the camera moves past it to reveal five soldiers - four are skeletons wearing WWII-era gear while the middle one wears modern combat gear. The middle one gives commands to the skeletons, and they march forward, electrical umbilical cords breaking off and returning to a pack the commander is wearing on his belt.

The commander lifts his night-vision goggles and his helmet completely disappears, revealing him to be Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen looks just as creepy as he did playing Hannibal Lecter in the recent tv show (which holy crap, go see it - just don't eat anything while you're watching.) He sees the little doll drift forward and pump into his foot, and then he smiles.


What the hell is going on here?

In terms of plot, I'd guess that we've got a world consumed by war. We're probably in America given Del Toro's pin, but the "United Cities" rather than States suggests that perhaps the countryside has become too dangerous for civilization to persist. In fact, the label saying "Bridges" almost suggests that they might need alternate means of getting form one city to another, perhaps even teleportation, like how the infant appears within his capsule.

The image of dead animals and oil everywhere really seems to imply that there has been some kind of environmental catastrophe brought on by rampant industrial activity. The skeletal soldiers and grossly biological weapons of war are kind of like the nightmarish extreme of the military industrial complex. Indeed, Mikkelsen is directing soldiers that sure look like they're already dead - the biological has been transformed into tools for the powerful and malicious.

Mikkelsen is presumably looking for Del Toro, or at least the capsule that he is carrying.

There's definitely a motif here of umbilical cords, but the three (living) characters we see are all men. In fact, Reedus' character has that scar on his abdomen that almost looks like a more extreme version of a C-section scar (though that's typically just one horizontal incision.) In Reedus' case, it's clearly organic or at least implanted into his body to have this connection. Del Toro's is more ambigous, while Mikkelsen's umbilicus is purely technological, and rather than connecting with infants, it's connected to the opposite - corpses.

Anyway, I'm super curious, but I think we're going to have to wait a while to find out what this game is actually going to be like.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Murozond's Gambit

You never know when you've dealt with a time-traveler.

In most portrayals of time-travel in fiction (whether it is even metaphysically possible is something that is still up for debate) a time-traveler experiences their own life in a linear progression like anyone else - their sojourns into the past or the future are almost like simply traveling to another place. The key difference is that an outside observer will perceive that person as not going through linear time, but rather popping into existence at one moment and then blinking out in another, even potentially arriving at the same general place at the same time - in a case like this, the time traveler will perceive this as two separate events, while an outside observer will witness one event with two versions of the traveler.

While we've done a little bit of time-traveling in WoW (we'll have to address Warlords a little further down) we generally experience time as a steady progression, always moving forward at a rate of one day per day. Events happen in order, and while there's a big old Warlords-sized caveat to this, we more or less see history moving forward into the future in the same way you'd typically experience it.

The Bronze Dragonflight is far more comfortable with jumping around in time. In the early quests you thankfully don't have to do anymore to get attuned to the original Caverns of Time dungeons, one of the bronze dragons (in high elf form) directs you to speak to a younger version of himself as if this were the most normal thing in the world. We can assume that this guy might remember talking to us when he was younger, and that somewhere in there he traveled back in time, aged a little, found himself in the same place and time he had been before, saw us show up, and directed us to take part in the conversation that, from his perspective, was years in the past and not like a minute into the future.

The biggest villains to the Bronze Dragonflight are the Infinite Dragons, and we got confirmation in Cataclysm that the Infinite Dragons are, in fact, those very same Bronze Dragons. The Infinites are future versions of the Bronze dragons - ones who have been, allegedly, corrupted.

That means that the very bronze dragons who we aid in defending the timeways will, one day, become the very menace that they have enlisted us to oppose. The only individual for whom we have seen both versions is in fact the Bronze Dragon Aspect, Nozdormu, who at some point will become Murozond. With Cataclysm timewalker dungeons this week, you might actually be fighting him around now.

Upon witnessing his own death in the End Time dungeon, Nozdormu reveals that this is the fate that was shown to him when Aman'thul imbued him with his powers. The intention, supposedly, was to humble him. Even with his power over time, he would eventually die.

Yet in a sense, I wonder if it was exactly mortality that he was being warned about or if it was something else entirely. Murozond represents the opposite of Nozdormu's purpose. The Infinites are all about changing the past. We get a clue from Murozond why they might be doing this - he claims that allowing Deathwing to destroy all life on the surface of the world could prevent the "True End Time," which is so horrific he doesn't even want to describe it.

What is this "True End Time?" My best guess would be a world in which the Old Gods succeed in corrupting Azeroth's World Soul and birth their Dark Titan. One would think that allowing Deathwing to succeed would hasten this plan, rather than preventing it, which makes Murozond's claims ring false. On the other hand, one could imagine that Murozond has been fooled - the Old Gods are master manipulators, after all.

Still, what if Murozond's intentions were not what they seemed?

At the time, the story went that Murozond was preventing the Bronzes from accessing other Timeways, intent on preventing the plan to retrieve the Dragon Soul before it was corrupted into the Demon Soul. Basically, Murozond forced all time travel to route through the End Time, and in order to get anywhere else, we would have to go through him. We wind up doing this, which then allows us to go back to the War of the Ancients, where we successfully retrieve the Dragon Soul and then aid Thrall in taking it to Wyrmrest Temple. It would seem that Murozond failed.

But what if he didn't?

Consider this: Murozond dies in the End Time. That is the death that Nozdormu already knew was going to happen - it's fate.

But what that really means is that the personal future - the vision granted to Nozdormu by the Titans - has been fulfilled. And as far as we know, that means that Nozdormu no longer knows any more about the rest of his fate than we do.

Yes, we know Murozond will die. But we don't know how much older Murozond was than the Nozdormu that we interacted with in Cataclysm. He - in both forms - is a time-traveler, and also, as a dragon, doesn't seem to age (or at least ages at a far slower rate - we do know that Senegos is seriously affected by his extreme age, but certainly the Aspects would be older than him, as there weren't any true dragons before them.) So Nozdormu could live another ten thousand years before he even becomes Murozond, and then Murozond could live another ten thousand years before he dies in the End Time.

Without knowing the entirety of Murozond's personal history, killing him has done nothing to actually prevent the acts that he had, from his perspective, already done. For all we know, Murozond had already spread the Infinite corruption throughout his flight and sent his agents all over the timeline to manipulate causality and by the time he got to End Time, he was already satisfied with his victory, and was simply accepting this fate because, well, he'd won.

There's another possibility:

While the Bronze dragons were charged with protecting the one true timeline, that implies that there are multiple timelines. We've already seen the War of the Ancients changed - with people like Rhonin, Broxigar, and Krasus showing up back then (there are even hidden quests in the Black Rook Hold scenario during the Light's Heart quest chain where you find them back then.)

The End Time does not actually wind up happening, because our actions within it allow us to travel back, retrieve the Dragon Soul, and kill Deathwing before he can pull it off.

When you kill Murozond, he does not leave a corpse. His body fades away. Why is that?

Well, by killing him, we open up the timeways he had blocked and are thus able to take the actions that prevent the timeline in which he died from ever happening.

So is he even dead?

Again, even if he is, our killing him at some unknown point in his personal future (it would be the end, but we don't know how far that is from Nozdormu's current age) doesn't really prevent him from doing any of the things he would have already done. But this might mean that even this death is something he managed to escape.

And then, there's another possibility:

What if Murozond isn't Nozdormu?

The time-travel in WoW was the messy kind - each action overwriting previous history, allowing for complex paradoxes to occur.

But when we traveled to a version of Draenor 35 years in the past, we had none of those problems. Why? Because that Draenor was a wholly separate Draenor.

And it wasn't a branching timeline, because the changes that Garrosh made to that timeline could not account for other changes - like the fact that there had never been any Garrosh B, the fact that Rulkan was alive, or other subtle differences that could not be accounted for.

What this tells us is that there are actually myriad, potentially infinite universes out there, and that each has its own version of reality. Presumably many are very, very similar, but have slight differences.

In fact, it's even possible that we didn't truly travel through time at all when we went to Draenor - time might have been moving at a just slightly different speed there (this would probably happen in a universe with a slightly different speed of light, for example) and thus our universe and that one were 35 years out of sync (a pretty tiny amount of time given how old planets and universes are.)

But regardless, the fact that there are all these universes was actually a big part of Kairoz' plan. Kairoz, a Bronze Dragon who helped break Garrosh out of prison and was aided by members of the Infinite Dragonflight, had a very different vision than Garrosh's Iron Horde.

Kairoz instead imagined that Draenor B would only be the first stop on their trip - that they would go to a Draenor C and then a Draenor D and so on and so forth, each time recruiting the same orcs to form an ever-larger, every more unstoppable Horde. An Infinite Horde, as it were.

And Infinite was literal - they would keep traveling to other universes and adding to their forces, creating a force that could rival just about anything in the universe - even the Burning Legion.

Kairoz supposedly had this idea on his own, but given his allies (sadly not seen in-game. I would have loved to see Infinite Dragons doing stuff on Draenor) and even his choice of words (he claims that he would become Infinite just before Garrosh kills him) it really seems like this is part of something larger.

So what if, then, the Infinite Dragonflight is not the Bronze flight's future? What if, instead, the Infinite Dragonflight is actually something very similar to what Kairoz planned, only rather than Orcs, Murozond goes around recruiting dragons?

Nozdormu believes that the vision he received from Aman'thul was meant to humble him - to remind him of his own mortality. But what if the real message was "this is your enemy."

Without the ability to look throughout all of time - an ability that the Bronze Dragons lost when they poured their power into the Dragon Soul to kill Deathwing - we have no way of knowing just how far the damage wrought by the Infinites extends. Our greatest victory against them has been killing their leader presumably after a very long life of doing exactly what he planned, and in a future that either no longer exists or is part of a separate universe from our own.

We have our Bronze Aspect now de-powered and resigned to a fate of corruption and eventual death.

And for all the damage they have done, the Infinite Dragonflight has literally not even started.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Suramar's Last 10,000 Years

Ah, fantasy timelines. When you consider how powerful the United States has become in only 240 years, and how much stuff has happened in the last 100 (or even the last 25,) it does sometimes make you wonder why fantasy writers tend to make such broad, sweeping periods of time the norm.

I'm totally guilty of this in my own writing and setting-creation. For example, in my D&D setting, one of the shorter-lived empires in its history lasted three thousand years. Three thousand years ago, the Roman Empire didn't even exist yet.

Anyway, one reason for these extended time periods is that fantasy often has races that live longer than humans. You figure that if everything - maturation process, when they start having kids, and how long they live - is longer, that a civilization will develop slower. I'm not sure I actually believe that (if people live longer, they have more time to learn about their society and then take action to change it - notice how after the industrial revolution our culture has changed at a far quicker rate?) But there's a certain logic to it - we can attribute these longer-lived races as more culturally patient and bound by tradition.

In the Warcraft setting, the Night Elves are some of the longest-living people (the Eredar/Draenei are clearly the longest-lived) and as such, the huge event that happened ten thousand years ago - the War of the Ancients - is remembered personally by some of its most important figures. We hang out with Malfurion, Tyrande, Jerrod Shadowsong, and we've recently interacted with Azshara and Illidan.

Now, we don't actually know exactly what a normal lifespan was for Night Elves before the War of the Ancients. Until the Third War, the Night Elves were granted immortality by the blessings of the World Tree Nordrassil (and I could be wrong, but I think that the tree's gradual recovery has restored this gift - though strictly speaking it's more agelessness than real immortality.)

The story of Suramar, and specifically Suramar City, is a little different. We know that Grand Magistrix Elisande was in charge there during the War of the Ancients, and she remains in control of the city now.

What's interesting is that back then, she was vehemently opposed to the Burning Legion. She knew that Azshara and her demonic allies would strike against them if they opposed her, so she basically turned the city into one of those crazy underground fallout shelter bunkers. The shield that locked Suramar away was meant to be, and was mostly, impenetrable. Until Gul'dan managed to project himself through and threaten them into submission, the barrier let absolutely nothing through - not even light.

The lack of starlight and moonlight (and I guess sunlight...) was obviously a spiritual problem for the Night Elves, but it was also a serious practical one. There weren't really any farms inside the city - not any that produced real food, anyway. So the residents of Suramar used the Nightwell to fuel themselves. And elves have a tendency to become dependent on arcane magic.

Which actually makes sense, given that the very thing that turned the Dark Trolls into the first Night Elves was the blood of a titan - the Well of Eternity. Titans are beings of the Arcane, and thus, so are elves, really.

What I really wonder about, though, is what those ten thousand years were like.

As with anything in WoW, we can assume that what we see in game is a kind of representation of something that's probably supposed to be larger. The Eastern Kingdoms are supposed to be a massive continent, presumably the size of South America or Africa, but in-game it is represented by something closer to the size of Manhattan.

So that's to say that Suramar City is probably a lot bigger, lore-wise, than what we see in the game.

Still, even if we assume that it's the size of New York, imagine being trapped there for ten thousand years.

Now, I know plenty of people who wouldn't mind staying specifically in New York for that long (it is a pretty amazing city, and this is coming from a proud Bostonian) but imagine also that there's no sky - no day and night cycle. And there is, practically speaking, no outside world. One of the things that makes NYC so great is how people from everywhere in the world come and contribute to its big melting pot of culture. One gets the impression that Suramar was a similar cultural nexus for the Night Elf civilization.

We know that when Gul'dan showed up to threaten Elisande with the wrath of the Legion, she dropped the shields and capitulated to him. That's an interesting about-face.

Now it could be that she decided she didn't have the right hand to play. The shield had worked ten thousand years earlier, but that clearly wasn't going to help now that the Legion had found a way to at least communicate with them inside.

But I also wonder if there was something else going on.

The Night Elf society our player characters come from is a pretty egalitarian one. There aren't really socioeconomic classes. But one of the reasons for this is that they literally exiled the upper class. The Highborne who had not been killed or turned into Naga or Satyrs - the ones that joined the rebellion or at least surrendered - basically threw a big tantrum when Malfurion outlawed the use of Arcane magic, nearly destroying Ashenvale. So they were sent off, either to Feralas or to form Quel'thalas and actually physically change into the new High Elf (much later Blood Elf) race.

The point is, the classes really kind of just separated, and the High Elves and Night Elves were both in single socio-economic class societies.

Suramar bubbled itself away before that social change.

In Suramar, we get a very clear sense that there's a nice part of town and a less nice part of town (granted, the "less nice" side is still freaking gorgeous.) There are social elites who are more concerned with politics than the plight of the people on the west side who are under constant threat of withering due to the limited rations of arcwine.

Now, obviously, there's a clear reason why things in the city have gotten worse in the last few months - the Legion patrols the streets, with massive demons walking alongside Duskwatch officers.

But are we to believe that Elisande was this ideal leader beforehand, and that she has just made this sudden turn into evil?

Suramar is a city under occupation, and Thalyssra and the player character have been putting together an underground resistance. But while there are certainly demons to kill in Suramar, the main rank-and-file that the resistance is forced to fight are the collaborators.

To be sure, a lot of people become collaborators not out of some deep evil, but from a desire to maintain order, fearful that open opposition would lead to chaos that would just make things worse. But you also have to wonder - Elisande and her city's leadership chose to lock away the city rather than fight against Azshara and the Legion. I'd bet that not everyone was happy with that.

So how long has Suramar been under this authoritarian regime? Was this all such a recent development, or did the infrastructure of this occupation exist long before Gul'dan showed up?

The Home Front During Legion

From a game mechanics perspective, it makes total sense that you aren't seeing Legion invasions in every zone on Azeroth at all times right now. These areas are sort of "set in the past" and have to be for a player who is leveling up through them.

In the pre-expansion event, we saw several familiar zones getting hit with demonic invasions, and lorewise, we can assume that these attacks are continuing - in fact, they're probably having a harder time dealing with it given that the greatest heroes of Azeroth are all focusing on the Broken Isles situation.

Legion has really put the Horde/Alliance conflict on the back burner, which is actually a pretty big relief - the Legion's a big enough threat to deal with. But what I find interesting is how the two factions both lost their main leaders, and we're only getting glimpses of the resulting dynamics.

Let's start with the Horde.

We actually get a bunch of Sylvanas in Stormheim, but what is odd is that she doesn't even act like the leader of the Forsaken, much less the Horde entire. She has given herself a secret mission - so secret that she doesn't even tell us about it. So even after Greymane attacks her and her forces in the area, she compounds the fact that she left Orgrimmar (which probably needs someone handling the Horde's main strategy) but also abandons her own guard to strike a deal with Helya (we don't really know what the deal is - like what she agreed to in order to get that evil magic lantern thing.) She's the leader of this enormous coalition of powerful nations that really needs someone to lead them in war against the demonic onslaught (you know, like, a Warchief) but all we have seen her do is engage in her own schemes.

Basically, it's not looking like a good start for Warchief Sylvanas.

There are also a number of crises within the Horde leadership beyond her. Right now it seems like Saurfang is serving as the main representative for the Orcs. Thrall, much like his creator/voice actor Chris Metzen, is retired, and presumably is not interested in returning to any sort of leadership position. Indeed, Thrall seems to have lost some of his connection to the elements after using magic during a Mak'gora with Garrosh. My Tauren is fighting using the Doomhammer, so... do I get to claim that I'm a better shaman than Thrall? Cool!

The Darkspear Trolls have been on a freaking roller coaster. First they're accepted into the Horde, their leader is best buds with the Warchief. Then Garrosh comes to power and suddenly they're the pariahs. Then Vol'jin leads his rebellion and becomes Warchief, and the Darkspear find their fortunes reversed as they have a sudden position of great influence. Then Vol'jin dies.

Here's the thing: while there are people like Saurfang or Eitrigg who are in positions to lead the Orcs even after someone like Garrosh is deposed, can you name someone who can lead the Darkspear? As far as we know, the tribe is totally leaderless. Vol'jin inherited his position from his father, but Vol'jin wasn't a dad, so...

Basically, things must be chaos in Orgrimmar right now.

The Alliance is not quite as fractured, but it does have its issues.

Varian had earned a lot of respect from the other Alliance leaders, but Anduin has been a pretty popular figure as well, and he has provided continuity for the leadership of Stormwind.

Anduin is not exactly inexperienced, but he is certainly young. Still, at least he's staying in the capital and delegating. That said, it's not entirely clear that he has control over the Alliance (in fact, we don't know that he is technically High King yet.)

Greymane's actions in Stormheim clearly had support of the Alliance military (Admiral Rodgers was just as eager to strike against Sylvanas as Greymane) but one wonders if Anduin knew that Greymane was certain to attack Sylvanas when given the opportunity.

If Greymane's actions were contrary to Anduin's wishes, we haven't seen him suffer any consequences for it. While he gets away with it, I doubt that there will be much tension between the old wolf and the young lion, but if Anduin starts exercising his authority (again, an authority we're not entirely sure he has) there could be some big tensions inside the Alliance.

With Malfurion safe and having triumphed against the Nightmare, Tyrande is now leading the Alliance forces to assist the Nightfallen in liberating Suramar. The Horde sent (I believe - only on these quests on one character yet) Lor'themar Theron, who has shown himself to be pretty capable of working with the Alliance, and so far the tensions have been minor on that front.

The real Alliance leader to watch, though, is Velen. Velen underwent a horrific trauma pretty recently - being forced to watch his own son die at our hands during the invasion of the Exodar. (Given that his son became a demon, we don't know how permanent that death was, but either way it was a pretty bad day for Velen.)

We know that he's having the Exodar repaired with the intention of returning to Argus, and now that we know that we're going to Argus in 7.3, I imagine that Velen will be there with us (we might even take the Exodar to get there.)

Velen is the oldest leader of any of the playable races - in fact, there's some artifact lore about the Skull of the Man'ari that implies that he and Kil'jaeden were leading the Eredar for a very long time before Sargeras even showed up.

Velen has embodied the idea of having the patience of a saint - he basically acts with total benevolence, the way you'd hope a holy man would. His convictions do make him scary, though, like in Bloodmyst Isle (when's the last time you did those quests? Pro-tip: don't. Quest design has come a long, long way since Burning Crusade) when he commands you to basically kill every Blood Elf on the island.

But even when he has ordered some pretty extreme actions, he's always been calm and practical and wise.

Now? Now he's angry. And I think that we're going to see a very different Velen moving forward from here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

So, About the "Tier 3" Artifact Appearances

Unless the fix for Withered J'im came in before the weekly reset, if you have been downing world bosses every week, you should be able to get the Unleashed Monstrosities achievement today, with the Soultakers popping up in Stormheim (note that if you're a Death Knight, you can also get the Frost DK hidden appearance off them. I believe it's a guaranteed drop. I ran the bosses as Frost just in case that mattered. You need to loot it off their bodies.)

Now, if you, like I did, sprinted back to your Order Hall, eager to try out the new artifact appearance that you just theoretically unlocked thanks to that achievement, I've got bad news for you.

These "third tier" artifact appearances are all locked behind the Balance of Power quest chain (which can't be completed yet, as it apparently requires you to do some Nighthold as well.)

Personally I'm a little upset about this: the artifact appearances are pretty limited already, and putting not just one appearance/tint but a whole row of four behind this chain is pretty frustrating. The worst part of it is definitely that there's nothing in the game's UI to warn you about this. On the artifact altar thingie (whatever your class uses) it simply says that you unlock that square by getting this achievement.

Again, it wouldn't be such a big deal if there were more looks you could unlock in simpler ways.

I'd still recommend getting the achievement - world bosses drop very nice gear and you might get that achievement eventually. Still, regardless of whether Blizzard posted about this before (as some on the forums say they did,) I think making it clear within the game would have been smart.

Finally Saw the Warcraft Movie

So, video game movie adaptations are basically guaranteed not to be good movies. There was a lot of hope for Warcraft to change this trend, employing a popular up-and-coming director and adapting a series that I'd wager is a bit more popular than, say, Silent Hill.

Sadly, I don't think that this really changes the trend - but not for lack of trying.

Warcraft, the film, roughly adapts the events of the First War. A lot of the elements we're familiar with are in play, along with some adjustments that came to the lore after the first game.

One of the challenges to the film of course is that they need to condense a ton of lore into something that can be digested as a film. So we have, for example, Grom Hellscream show up in a bunch of battles, but we never hear him say a word because frankly there isn't enough room for him as a character. We also see the Draenor-side of the Dark Portal being opened using the life energy of caged Draenei, but the Draenei are never identified by name and the movie doesn't spend any time on them - and that's for the best. World building is all well and good (I'd consider it one of the main appeals to fantasy) but movies have a very limited time to tell their stories.

Visually, it's a mixed bag. I think the Orcs wind up looking pretty decent, though one wonders what a fully-animated film might have been like. The fact that CGI Orcs are interacting with live-action actors really draws attention to the CGI nature, which is a shame because I do think they put in a lot of effort to make the orcs look good.

The art design goes a bit too shiny for the Human stuff if you as me - I get that it's trying to represent the look of the game world, but I think we were all expecting more of a Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings movies feel. This is a bit, well, Disneyland.

Most of this stuff I'd forgive, but the biggest problem the movie has is that the characters don't really do much with what they've got. There's one big exception: Ben Foster as Medivh plays him not only as the powerful wizard who is secretly corrupted by demons, but also brings a kind of world-weary sarcasm to it. He is introduced wearing not his classic raven-feather robes, but shirtless and working on a giant golem. He seems more like an eccentric artist guy you might know who has a history of drug problems and has probably been through a lot more bad stuff than he's told you about.

But unfortunately, no one else really finds much to do with their characters. Anduin Lothar is the dutiful hero, Llane the calm and reasonable king. Khadgar is given some weird backstory about having been given to the Kirin Tor as a child and then running away but still practicing magic. Durotan is the One Sane Man in the Horde, though he only ever seems to convince Orgrim (sort of.) Gul'dan is just nasty and evil, but that's appropriate.

Still, I'd say that if you just want to eat some popcorn and have fun spotting the more obscure references (some people ride past a dungeon meeting stone at one point,) the movie is perfectly adequate. This isn't going to be getting a Criterion edition any time soon (then again, Armageddon did) but if you just want to see some crazy fantasy action, it's worth a watch.

My advice for lore-sticklers though - don't worry too much about specifics. With one exception, most of the significant developments from the First War are accounted for. I do wonder, if they were to make more movies, if they could even get to the Third War. I personally think the story of Arthas is one of the most compelling things they've done in Warcraft and I'd really enjoy seeing it on screen (even flawed like this movie was,) but I don't know how likely that is, as there's still a lot of ground to cover and I don't know how eager they are to make more of these.

Monday, November 21, 2016

What Happened to the Inhabitants of the Pantheon?

This is going to be even more speculation-heavy than most of my lore posts, because even with Chronicle, we really don't get a lot of detail on what the Titans were like before they were, well, Titans.

One of, if not the biggest reveal in Chronicle was that all of the Titans in the Warcraft universe were once something called World Souls, and that Azeroth is one of these future Titans. These World Souls develop over a long period of time and, until relatively recently (in the cosmic timeline,) they had help.

According to Chronicle, Aman'thul was the leader of the Pantheon partially because he was also the first Titan to emerge. He traveled the universe and eventually discovered another planet that had a similar World Soul within it. He cultivated life on that planet and prepared the world for its metamorphosis into a Titan.

Over time, the Titans grew in number, with Aman'thul joined by Eonar, Khaz'goroth, Golganneth, Aggramar, Norgannon, and good old Sargeras.

The seven Titans went around to every world and did the same basic thing - they would cultivate life and ensure that the planet was healthy and in good order, and then they would wait and see if the planet ever became a Titan. Not every planet did so - most planets were just your normal hunks of rock floating in space, but the Titans were fine with creating or cultivating life on these worlds - they were happy to see the world filled with life. It's likely that Draenor was such a world, and also Argus.

In fact, there's an interesting thing to note about Draenor. While the world is considered, generally, to be more "savage" than Azeroth, the elementals are far more harmonious and cooperative. The reason for this is that there is a fifth element called Spirit (or Chi if you're Pandaren) that kind of catalyzes friendly interactions between the elements. However, this is also apparently used by Titans to grow, and because Azeroth is destined to be such a powerful Titan, she drew in the vast majority of the Spirit, thus leaving the elementals in total chaos. The lack of spirit may actually be the only reason the Titans even knew there was a World Soul inside of the planet - in usual cases, they just sort of act as if there is one just in case.

So here's what I wonder about:

The Titans created sapient life on these planets - certainly in the case of Azeroth, but also probably on other worlds (the Gronn and Botani on Draenor are probably both Titan creations.) It stands to reason that there were intelligent creatures living on the planets that the Titans emerged from.

So what happened to those planets? And what happened to those people?

We generally see the Titans as humanoid, even though they are so vast that a humanoid shape doesn't even really make sense (consider that we have feet and legs because we generally have a ground to stand on - that's harder when you're so big that outer space is basically the only place you can fit.) It's possible that this is really a kind of visual metaphor - we think of the Titans as looking humanoid because it makes it easier to think of them as intelligent beings that way.

So when Aman'thul reached down and plucked Y'shaarj out of the surface of Azeroth, was there really a human-looking hand, or was it something a lot harder to comprehend?

It wouldn't shock me to find out that the Titans actually sort of stay planets - that we're really talking about these big spherical balls that are going around in space. But I'm also not sure if that's what they're really going for.

Really, the question is: is each World Soul a planet, or is it simply inside a planet? When Aman'thul emerged, did the planet he had been in change shape, turning into a massive humanoid? Did that planet experience a massive apocalyptic destruction as the Titan climbed out? Or is there still a planet Aman'thul out there that just happens to be empty of its World Soul but is otherwise fine (setting aside the likely possibility that such a planet would be one of Sargeras' first stops on the Burning Crusade.)

And if there were people on that planet, what happens to them?

The revelation that Azeroth is a Titan does really raise the stakes in an interesting way. We certainly want to prevent her from being destroyed by Sargeras (assuming that's actually what he wants to do, and there's some serious reason to doubt that) or corrupted by the Old Gods. But what about the Titans' plan? Is that something that we would actually want to happen?

Azeroth is either going to emerge very soon, or it will be some event that is referred to but doesn't happen as long as the game is still around. But when it does happen (if it does happen,) are the people on Azeroth going to be ok?

There are two scenarios - one is that the planet cracks like an egg and the Titan steps out, leaving everyone on the planet either dead or living in an Outland-like ruin of a world. The other is that the Titan sort of spiritually leaves the planet - there's still a physical world there that is unharmed, but her power has completely left it. That is probably the best one could wish for, but it does raise some interesting questions about just what Azeroth would be like without the Titan inside it.

Of course, I suppose there's a third option - that Titans never really leave their planets, and that instead the planets just become Titans. There is a description of Sargeras in which his skin is described as being something like a landscape (that is now erupting with Fel Volcanos.)

So will we instead start to see maps of Azeroth where the Eastern Kingdoms are just below the collarbone? Will sailors need to be careful to navigate around her arms? This absurdity is a big reason why I suspect the humanoid shapes are more metaphorical.

But the other question this raises is: what happened to the people living on the other Titans? If we assume that the birth of a Titan is not a horrifying apocalypse for anyone living on that world, does that mean that while Aggramar was visiting Sargeras to try and talk him into listening to him about Azeroth, there were a huge number of people witnessing that event and were also snuffed out when Sargeras killed Aggramar?

I honestly don't think we'll see this for ourselves - I would guess that while Azeroth might be conscious and intelligent even before she "hatches" (a lot like Wrathion was,) she probably has a remaining gestation period in the millions of years range.

But given that there are all these world Sargeras is destroying, with vast populations upon them, perhaps his turn against the Pantheon was more than the death of several god-like beings, but also entire species, cultures, and histories.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

When to Work Hard on Other Alts

So: Title of the Blog, meaning that even in this relatively early part of the expansion, I'm pretty focused on getting a lot of characters geared up and making sure they're doing well.

In Legion, more than any expansion before, I've felt compelled to get many characters up to the level cap as quickly as possible. In fact, having dinged 110 on my Druid last night, I only have my Priest left at this point (and I'm eager to level him as I find Shadow a lot more fun now than it used to be - he's done Val'sharah and is level 102.)

One thing I will say though is that after finishing their class campaigns (which is sort of the new level cap - not having a third relic slot in your artifact is a pretty big loss of power, and obviously the class campaigns are pretty exciting to complete) a lot of my characters are sitting somewhat idle. In fact, my Monk just hit 10 artifact knowledge and aside from world bosses, he's basically run one timewalker since finishing his class campaign.

My Paladin, Death Knight, Demon Hunter, and Shaman (the latter being over on the Horde side) have been getting a decent amount of attention, while the other classes (even my Rogue, who has jockeyed for "Horde main" with my Shaman for years) are mostly sitting in their order halls, maybe heading out to do world quests if they run out of resources to pay for artifact knowledge.

There is a big advantage to this approach - once you break an alt out and start playing it again, you'll be able to unlock artifact traits at a really fast rate. While I'm still mostly a Frost Mage stalwart, I'm considering plunking some power into Felo'melorn to see what all the fuss is about - and I just got a nice Fire relic for him.

But there's definitely a lot of remaining motivation to play one's main (or in my case, my top clique of alts.) One big reason is artifact power - while my Paladin is actually only six traits away from getting all 34 regular ones, the fact that there's this constant progression in power really gets you motivated to keep plunking away.

One thing I do wonder about is whether I'll feel motivated to level up same-class alts. My Tauren Paladin, for instance, is mainspecced Ret. But at this point, it would probably be way easier to simply use my rather vast artifact knowledge on my main to fill in the Ashbringer with traits (in fact, I've already gotten two major traits from tossing low-AP "scraps" to this other artifact.

In prior expansions, there tended to be a kind of plateau of power that you hit - if you weren't in some powerful raiding guild going into Mythics or some such thing, you basically got to a point where you had everything you could get out of LFR, or whatever profitable world content there was (like getting those empowered apexis crystal things in Tanaan Jungle) and then you'd sort of be at this point where there wasn't really all that much to do to empower you character.

In Legion, first you've got artifact power, which you can basically always use more of (after unlocking all 34 traits, there's a kind of paragon trait that will very gradually increase your power further and has I think 20 ranks,) but there's also warforged and titanforged gear to consider. And that's not to mention legendary items.

All of this is a good problem to have - one of WoW's biggest issues in the past has been "content lulls," but here there's a lot of motivation to keep working on all of this (though we're still only two and a half months in.) It does mean that some of your alts might be hanging out in their class halls for a while. If your main has more Blood of Sargeras than they know what to do with, you can at least send boxes of order resources to them! And they're account wide, so you can send them cross-realm and cross-faction!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Emerald Nightmare: Normal Mode!

I sometimes (affectionately) refer to my guild as the World of Warcraft clean-up crew. We are not a cutting-edge guild and we don't tend to hit the newest raids until they've been out for a while.

Our first night in Emerald Nightmare was tonight - we had to bring in some former guildies and their friends who had done a bit more in the raid, but both tanks (including myself) and two of the three healers were ours, so I think we can count this as a real guild run.

We one-shot Nythendra and two-shot both Dragons of Nightmare and Ursoc.


The only real change from LFR to Normal here is that her breath will now leave rot stains. As long as you have people putting the rot neatly away, it's pretty smooth. This was a one-shot, which felt pretty darn good.

Dragons of Nightmare:

As a tank, I got to ignore most of the mechanics. And having tanked Four Horsemen during Wrath more times than I can recall, the tank-swap on this was pretty easy to pull off. The only wipe we had was due to an enrage timer - we had the mechanics down pretty much from the beginning.


This fight is such a tank-and-spank on LFR that it took us a bit to get into the rhythm. Basically, as a tank, you just have to literally taunt after anything is done to your co-tank. Ursoc still hits pretty hard and I was forced to use cooldowns pretty frequently, but once we got into it, it was no problem (apparently some guilds cheese this by having three tanks going in a round-robin, but we were able to two-tank it and beat it on the second attempt.

Unfortunately, we discovered that Master Looter is now only available if the run is a guild run, and that means that bringing in the four non-guildies we did put us over the edge to be forced to use Personal loot.

Still, it feels great to get new raid bosses down, and it's especially encouraging that we got three down on our first night.

Elune, the Light, and Religion on Azeroth

We've heard the Night Elves talking about Elune since Warcraft III, but she has always been a kind of odd figure in Warcraft lore. Generally speaking, the good gods or god-like beings are the Titans - but the Titans aren't really directly worshipped on Azeroth. We found out the main reason for this in Chronicle and Legion - the Titan Pantheon has been dead for ages. The Keepers - beings created by the Titans - have also had godlike status for some, though again, the machinations of Loken led to many of the mortal races (who had been transformed by the Curse of Flesh thanks again to Loken) sort of forgetting these figures as well.

Humans do retain the legend of Tyr - a legend that actually dated back to before they were humans, when instead they were Vrykul. The Curse of Flesh had affected them (most Vrykul we see are fleshy) but they had not fully shrunk in size to become humans. There are actually two overlapping narratives of why humans wound up in the part of Old Kalimdor that would become Lordaeron - one in which vrykul whose pygmy children were threatened with infanticide by King Ymiron fled south to save their offspring, and one in which some Vrykul (as well as Earthen and Mechagnomes - the EK members of the Alliance are old, old allies) followed the Keeper Tyr after Loken seized control of Lordaeron.

Tyr is remembered - vaguely - as the exemplar of honor and courage, and his silver hand became the sigil of the first human (and dwarf) order of Paladins. But he's not really worshipped like a god. The Church of the Holy Light has a lot of the trappings of real-world western religion, but the focus is almost entirely on philosophy rather than theology. The Light in this sense bears a much stronger resemblance to the Light Side of the Force from Star Wars than an Abrahamic deity.

What's also interesting is that in Chronicle, there is a passage that say human spiritual leaders started having visions of thrumming, geometric embodiments of the Light, and built the Church around these figures. While not explicit, it seems pretty obvious that they were visited by the Naaru - meaning that there were Naaru on Azeroth, or at least communicating with those on Azeroth, long before the Draenei showed up.

In a sense, Draenei have the most straightforward and practical religious beliefs. They see the Naaru as saviors because the Naaru literally saved them from Argus. And it's not like the Naaru just mysteriously vanished into the aether after this miracle - the Naaru stuck around, and have been hanging out with the Draenei for thousands of years. Even if they had left, we're not talking about generations going by with only legends passed on. Many if not most Draenei alive today were born on Argus and have absolutely no reason to doubt the power of the light or the benevolence of the Naaru.

The Tauren only recently developed a form of Light worship, and this is bound up in a reverence for the sun, which they call An'she. Tauren belief is largely based around the monotheistic worship of The Earth Mother. Now that we know that Azeroth is itself a nascent Titan, I have to imagine a lot of Tauren are feeling that their beliefs have been fully vindicated. Azeroth, the Titan, is the Earth Mother. Granted, for a Titan she's basically still an embryo or a fetus, but she's been around long enough (and is apparently already intelligent and able to communicate, if we think Magni's story is true) that she can still claim a sort of Gaia-like mother-ness to the living creatures of Azeroth.

What's curious is that the Tauren consider the moon and the sun to be the "Eyes of the Earth Mother." They refer to Azeroth's big, white moon as Mu'sha, while they call the sun An'she. Oddly, there's no mention of Azeroth's second, smaller and bluer moon, but then, there's actually not a lot of stuff that refers to that anyway.

Mu'sha is basically just the Tauren name for what the Night Elves call Elune.

Clearly An'she grants them power - he has allowed them to have Paladins and Priests. One could argue that their belief in An'she as a godlike entity doesn't necessarily need to be true if it gives them the faith to call on the Holy Light, but I do think it's something worth considering.

But then we have to come to Elune. Elune does not obviously fit into easy categories, and the more we learn about her, the more confusing it gets.

First off: she's not exactly hidden. Elune is literally Azeroth's bigger moon. Maybe. It's possible she is an entity that inhabits this moon, or even simply uses the moon as a kind of avatar or a way to manifest her power.

There are hints that she might be a Titan, but also a lot of evidence that suggests she isn't.

On the pro side: One of the five Pillars of Creation is called the Tears of Elune. The other four are all named after known Titans, and so if she's not a Titan, this Pillar would definitely be the odd one out.

She is also associated with a celestial body. A moon is a lot smaller than a planet, and also, there's a question to ask about whether Elune should be old enough to no longer be kept within a body like that. But still, given that we now know that Titans are basically living planets, or at least beings that emerged from planets, having Elune reside within the moon is more or less consistent with this idea about Titans.

She is clearly incredibly powerful.

And here's a subtle one: Titans are associated with the Arcane. While Malfurion and Tyrande's Night Elf society was one that, until Cataclysm, rejected Arcane magic, one should consider that a Druid's lunar-themed spells are Arcane, and that the very water that transformed them from Dark Trolls into Night Elves was the blood of a Titan. They might not like the recklessness of Mages, but the Arcane is woven deeply into their culture, and a lot of it comes from Elune.

But on the other hand: We know about the Titan Pantheon, and she wasn't in it. And it sure doesn't seem like Elune suffered from Sargeras' massacre of said Pantheon.

There's also the fact that she almost seems to pre-date the Titans. Aman'thul was the first to emerge from his planet, and he went around cultivating other Titans and safeguarding their worlds. But Elune seems to have been hard at work really at the moment the cosmos began to take form. The huge revelation we got in Legion is that Elune is the one who created the Naaru.

Now, that's also pretty interesting. The Naaru are embodiments of pure light, and while the Titans are generally considered good guys, they were more associated with the Arcane than the Light. There were some examples - Tyr seems to have used the Light to fight against Loken and Yogg-Saron, and we also see Norushen (a Watcher - kind of one rung down from the Keepers, also found in the Halls of Origination) use the Light to purges us of Sha corruption in the Siege of Orgrimmar raid. So this doesn't really rule it out, but it does make you wonder.

And here's maybe the weirdest question about Elune:

If she's so important, why is it that only the Night Elves seem to worship her?

You could argue that the Tauren have some beliefs associated with her, but why is it that the descendants of the Titanforged races don't?

Elune could be a Titan, but if she is, she's a very unusual one.

But perhaps it's more likely she's something else entirely. She created the Naaru, but the only culture that we know knew about the Naaru before very recently are the Draenei, who were rescued presumably light years upon light years away (we don't know how far all of this extends into the Great Dark Beyond, which is Warcraft's name for just normal Outer Space, so for all we know Argus, Draenor, and Azeroth could be in different galaxies.)

We know that the Void has beings known as Void Lords who are even more powerful than the Old Gods (they're the creators of the Old Gods,) and so it seems only fitting that there could be beings that are a Light-based counterpart. Perhaps, in fact, the Naaru serve a similar purpose to the Old Gods, only to save rather than corrupt (though their light-dark cycle demands its own whole post.) Maybe Elune is actually a "Light Lord" ("Light Lady?")

But then, if Elune is so cosmically powerful, why is she associated only with Azeroth's moon? Yes, Azeroth is special, thanks to the extra-powerful World Soul within it, but if Elune is literally the substance, not just the embodiment of the Holy Light (or at least one piece of it,) how could she be contained by something as small as Azeroth's moon?

Friday, November 18, 2016

2.5 Months In: Demon Hunters

Legion is a great expansion. In fact, as I've been saying for a while, if they keep things up, we might finally see Wrath of the Lich King dethroned as it were (I know that "best" is a very subjective term, but personally I think the amount of content, accessibility, new gameplay and story were all precedent-setting in Wrath.)

Obviously one of, if not the biggest feature in Legion, and the one that is likely to have the biggest longterm effects (PvPers might cite the new Honor system instead) is the new class, the Demon Hunter.

Having now gotten to a point where players might actually have well-geared Demon Hunter mains, or at least high-priority alts (mine has more or less become a solid number 3 behind my Main Paladin and Chief Alt/Vice Main Death Knight) I think we can talk a bit about how well they're working out.

Story, Flavor, and Lore:

Obviously as a Hero Class, Demon Hunters have a lot going for them. While Death Knights had a very big presence in Wrath (though they shared center stage with Paladins and arguably Mages,) the Illidari are a big presence, but not a ubiquitous one. They've managed to feel important without really hogging the spotlight, but I think that's more about the wonderful focus on class content: in effect, every class feels important in Legion. Demon Hunters just get a few areas to help establish important Demon Hunter characters.

So, speaking of characters: There are a lot of DH characters who pop up as recurring names and faces. Demon Hunters of course have these as class champions. That being said, I don't know if they've done a great job of really introducing them.

Death Knights basically had three NPCs that everyone knew and interacted with. Darion Mograine was the Death Knight counterpart to Tirion Fordring and was the public face of the Ebon Blade as a force for good in the world. Then you had Thassarian - a man of honor with a family to protect and loyalty to his friends who was somehow kind of a good guy even when he was part of the Scourge (he saw undeath as an escape from racism and prejudice, sending you to rescue Koltira.) And of course you then have Koltira, who represented a somewhat colder and callous attitude, but backed it up with great competence and knowledge.

I can't really say that any of the Demon Hunter NPCs have made such an impression. We have yet to find out what the consequence of choosing Kayn or Altruis at the end of the starting experience will mean, and most of the characters are kind of generically broody. I'd like to see more of Korvas, the woman whom you fight alongside on Faronaar and who is the subject of the Illidan Harbinger video.

Really, I think this is one of those situations where they had to create a number of characters to give you enough champions, but a lot of them aren't terribly fleshed out.

There's also a big question, which is what will happen if and when Illidan makes his return. Demon Hunters are part of the Illidari, and so one imagines they'll be working closely with him if he returns to the world of the living. But I also wonder if that will then make the Illidari story really just the Illidan (and some friends) story.

Gameplay: Havoc

Havoc feels very different from any melee spec that has existed before, largely due to the power of Fel Rush. An ability that you'd expect to be a kind of utility spell, this instead is a serious part of your DPS - though I don't know if that's true for all talent builds.

See, the thing about Havoc is that the talents you choose make such a big difference that I don't know whether there's a lot of flexibility. For example, while I've gotten used to it now, I wasn't really crazy about Bloodlet - a talent that makes your Throw Glaive ability apply a very strong bleed. But combining Bloodlet and Momentum (which gives you a damage boost for a couple seconds after Fel Rush or Vengeful Retreat) has such incredible synergy (Bloodlet's damage is based on that of Throw Glaive, so the short-duration Momentum damage boost gets effectively extended over the course of the whole bleed) that I don't know that you can choose any other talents in either row. Then you get Fel Mastery and Prepared to further boost the use of these Momentum-activating abilities, and it starts to feel cookie-cutter.

Synergy is pretty cool with talents, but when it's too strong, or there isn't a competing synergy, you might wind up stuck with one "right" way to play the spec.

Now, I haven't done a bunch of theorycrafting research recently, so maybe there are other options out there, but for now, it seems as if there is one good way to spec Havoc.

Of course, thankfully, it's a lot of fun.

I guess the only other problem is on-demand AoE. You can have nearly unlimited cleave thanks to Bloodlet, but for true AoE, basically everything is a cooldown - Fel Rush, Blade Dance, Eye Beam, Fury of the Illidari - all of these are tied to cooldowns.

Still, they're so powerful that it's not really that much of a problem.

Overall, Havoc is tons of fun, and these are only nitpicks.

Gameplay: Vengeance

I remember people worrying that Vengeance wasn't tough enough, but I'm not finding that to be much of an issue. Being used to playing my Paladin and Death Knight, I do notice the lack of a stun, but it's not that much of a problem.

Vengeance does a lot more self-healing that I figured the DH tanking spec would. It's probably not quite up at the level of Blood Death Knights (where self-healing is basically their primary tanking strategy,) but it's very high.

One thing that can sometimes be frustrating is that the amount of self-healing varies significantly. You're really at the mercy of Soul Fragments - getting a couple of those elevates a Soul Cleave from a significant, but really just moderate heal into something almost like a rotational Lay on Hands.

Sigils are cool, but honestly, the one that I'm least happy about is Sigil of Flame. It's not quite like Death and Decay, which creates this nice persistent AoE that is great at catching streaming adds (though nothing beats Consecration for that!) and one could make a pretty solid argument that between Infernal Strike and Immolation Aura (and Throw Glaive for cleave situations,) Vengeance doesn't really need Sigil of Flame. I have the talent that causes Infernal Strike to create Sigils of Flame, meaning that a lot of the time I don't have to manually cast it.

I suppose the one other issue is that sometimes, the rotation kind of falls into a section of "spam Shear." Both DH specs are GCD-locked, with a no-cooldown generator ability. But Havoc can really break up its Demon Bite spams with things like Fel Rush - in fact, I sometimes forget to use Demon Bite given how much Fury I can generate with Fel Rush and Prepared-talented Vengeful Retreat.

Still, while there are other sources of Pain, sometimes you want to spam Shear anyway to get some Soul Fragments.

Still, in terms of tanking capabilities, I'm pretty happy with Vengeance. You have a very reliable (long duration, relatively short recharge and low cost) active mitigation ability. There's plenty of threat coming from your Immolation Aura and Soul Cleave is not bad for snap-threat. Throw Glaive is practically always available to get distant adds, as is Infernal Strike.

There aren't a ton of big damage-reduction cooldowns, though I honestly don't find myself hitting Metamorphosis that often (I do have a talent that sets it off automatically if I'd otherwise die, and of course there's an artifact trait that gives it to you for short durations periodically in combat.)

As someone who plays a Paladin and a Death Knight tank, Vengeance's mobility is really exciting, though I wonder if people who play more with the other tanks feel that as much. Vengeance doesn't zip around the battlefield as much as Havoc, but that's probably for the best, as melee DPS would hate you.


Demon Hunters make my Death Knight jealous. DKs, mind you, were unprecedented in having things that distinguished it from other members of that same race. You got glowing blue eyes (less impressive on my Draenei,) your voice got pitched down (making the clattering sound effects in that one male Draenei joke sound super weird) and you got some special rotten-looking skin and face options (unless your race is Undead, who, well, already look like that.)

Demon Hunters are practically a different race (well, two.) Not only to you get horns, a blindfold, glowing green eyes (if you don't go with a blindfold - but this glow goes way beyond the standard Blood Elf glow) as well as scaly or fel-lesion-pocked skin, but you also get a somewhat different face (Night Elf males all get a kind of sneer) and even a bonus hair color (I don't think other Night Elves can get totally black hair.)

But the biggest thing is the voice acting. Demon Hunters have totally different voice acting, along with their own jokes and flirts

We have yet to really see a ton of Demon Hunter armor. So far, we've got basically two questing sets from the starting experience, then the class hall set and the first tier set.

But then we also have a totally new weapon type. This is something I really wonder about going forward. With artifact weapons, it's no problem at all to give DHs Warglaives without worrying about if other classes should get to use them. But in the next expansion, are Demon Hunters going to be forced to use simple swords and axes? Warglaives are a huge part of the aesthetic, but when weapons aren't designed specifically for the class, will Demon Hunters who want to use their glaives be forced to transmog to the few models introduced in Legion?

Into the Future:

I'd really have liked to see more races made available as Demon Hunters. The question is whether that can really ever happen. Basically, unless Naga, Broken, or Shivarra (somehow) get added as a playable race, there's no one else who would appropriately be at the Black Temple to start the Demon Hunter experience at the appropriate time.

I doubt we're going to see a third spec added to the class. In fact, I even suspect that future classes will probably have just one spec per group role (I also highly doubt we'll see any new pure DPS classes.) While I think a ranged dps spec for Demon Hunters could have worked (and would have been the first ranged spec added since vanilla) I think having just the two has actually worked out just fine for the class.

Most classes have undergone huge changes over the years, and so I certainly won't count Demon Hunters out on that count. But for now, things seem to be going well.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Exiled No Longer - A Return to Argus

We're still probably over six months away from 7.2's Tomb of Sargeras patch, so I'll admit it's a bit early to speculate on this. Still, going to Argus is one of the huge "checklist items" in World of Warcraft - something that we have been wanting and expecting for ages.

A little history of the Draenei: in Warcraft III's Frozen Throne expansion, you actually spend one campaign (ironically the "Alliance" campaign) playing as Kael'thas and then Illidan. Interestingly, Kael'thas is pretty much unmistakably heroic and motivate by good reasons, making his eventual transformation into a totally evil villain in Burning Crusade pretty shocking.

Anyway, you travel to Outland to escape the Scourge and the Alliance forces who wanted to jail you for cooperating with the Naga, and it's there that you meet the Draenei, led by Akama.

The Draenei in that era were depicted as A: having Lost One models, which we now think of as basically Broken-squared and B: as, well, what we now think of as Broken. Akama's probably the most prominent Broken character (him or Nobundo,) and there's no indication of the healthy Draenei and where they came from.

Of course, in Burning Crusade we had a big retcon (actually, it was an accidental retcon apparently, as Chris Metzen had forgotten the lore he wrote - I bet they're more careful about that stuff these days.) The Draenei originally had nothing to do with the Eredar, and in fact, in the original lore, it was the Eredar who corrupted Sargeras. Post-BC, the canon (that we have to this day) is that the Eredar were originally a highly advanced race living on the planet Argus, most of whom were seduced by Sargeras' power and transformed into Demons, while a portion of them instead fled, becoming the "Exiled Ones," or Draenei.

The Draenei are profoundly long-lived - in fact, they are the longest-living playable race in the game. The Draenei left Argus either 25,000 years ago or 13,000 years ago (the latter value seems like the more recent retcon,) and many Draenei, including playable characters (definitely all Death Knights) were born on Argus.

Draenei have spent ages - literally ages, because we're talking about having left three thousand years before the Sundering on Azeroth - fleeing the Burning Legion. And that is about to end.

Leveling up in Legion, there's an event that I'd argue is sort of this expansion's Battle of Undercity (though thanks to scenarios, it should survive even if Azuremyst Isle winds up getting revamped.) You bring Light's Heart to the Exodar, only to find the ship-city under attack. You eventually discover that the leader of the assault is actually Velen's son - a son that was stolen from him by Kil'jaeden after Velen rejected the Legion's offer. After he is forced to watch as his own son destroy a Naaru and then get killed by us, Velen declares his new intention: they will have the Exodar repaired and they will return to Argus. (If you haven't seen this dialogue, when you do the scenario on a subsequent character, click the teleporter item Velen gives you at the end but then cancel the cast to see a little extra scene.)

For a Draenei, this is what you have been waiting thousands of years to do.

So, looking forward to 7.3, here's what I'm expecting and wondering about:

Everyone On Board the Exodar:

Given that we'll be presumably closing the portal at the Tomb of Sargeras when we do that raid, it's not like we're going to be using that portal to get to Argus. Thankfully, we have a dimensional ship that we're about to get in working order. I wonder, then, if the Exodar will serve as a sort of hub on Argus. Would it simply become a new neutral city? Or does the Horde have some alternative means of conveyance? Come to think of it, what about the Botanica, Arcatraz, and Mechanar? I mean, we cleared those out years ago, and they never crashed.

What Remains of Mac'Aree:

Argus was apparently a nearly utopian society before Sargeras came - the only thing he could offer the people there was knowledge. But it has been, you know, thirteen or twenty-five thousand years since the Legion took over there. Hell, a lot of the Legion's "look" may have been pioneered by the Man'ari Eredar (the demons sure use plenty of crystals.)

On the other hand, wouldn't it be ironic if, while the Legion spreads fel flame and corruption around the universe, Argus might be preserved.

Frankly, given that the Tomb of Sargeras is likely to be the most straight-forwardly "Felfire and Brimstone" looking raid, it would be pretty interesting to see if Argus looks nothing like what we'd expect.

In fact, given that Sargeras is a Titan, you could imagine that Argus looks less like the Broken Shore and more like Ulduar.

You Can Go Home Again, But Can You Stay?

Here's the really big question for the Draenei: They have spent all this time hoping that they can prevail against the Legion and finally reclaim their homeworld. But after so many thousands of years of demonic corruption, is that completely insane? Is Argus a world that can support life of the non-demonic variety? And is anything that the Draenei left behind still really there?

Obviously player characters are going to stay on Azeroth for the long run, but if there is an Argus left to salvage, wouldn't a lot of Draenei seek to return home and start the process of healing their world?

Our World or Theirs:

Ok, the next part has some spoilers from the Illidan novel (I haven't read it, but I've found out about these spoilers.) We know that demons can only be killed in the Twisting Nether - in a sense, that's where they always are, simply projecting themselves into physical reality. But apparently, if a world is so saturated in Fel energy, these worlds sort of count for that. And Illidan managed to travel to the Dreadlord homeworld, Xorroth (home of the Dreadsteed mounts that Warlocks get) and destroy it. Those Dreadlords who were on the world were, I believe, truly destroyed.

The Dreadlords have been a pretty key part to the Legion, and losing Xorroth must have been a huge blow to them. But if the Legion has a capital world, it's probably Argus.

The Draenei might be looking forward to returning to Argus and healing the planet, cleansing it of the Fel corruption. But Illidan might have a very different plan.

If we wind up destroying Argus, it could cripple the Legion in a very permanent way, or even destroy it. In fact, destroying a planet might be the only way we can truly kill Sargeras.

Could that be our ultimate goal? Are we going to save Azeroth by destroying Argus?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Return to Karazhan - A Night at the Opera

After a concerted effort to get players in my guild attuned for Return to Karazhan, tonight we finally stepped inside.

The rewards of RtK are significantly higher than those of ordinary Mythic dungeons, and there's a good reason for this: Return to Karazhan is less of a dungeon than a 5-player raid.

While Mythics can be unforgiving (Cordana Felsong, one of the prerequisite bosses to gain entrance to RtK, is a good example,) RtK is the kind of place that you're going to have to progress through. Obviously, part of the reason for this is that there is no lower difficulty for the instance - much like the original, there's just one version, and you either beat the bosses or they beat you.

I will be very curious to see how things work out when there is a Heroic, queueable version of the dungeon, but for now, you're going to have to be careful on each trash pull and really strategize on every boss.

Opera Hall - Wikket

This week's Opera boss was Wikket, in which you fight Galindra and Elfyra along with the latter's flying Hozen. We managed to one-shot this (despite losing our hunter rather early on,) but I also suspect that this one is the easiest of the three Opera bosses.

The two bosses share a health pool and mostly cast spells at the tank. As a Paladin I could frequently use Avenger's Shield and thus was able to move the bosses around when needed.

Elfyra (the Troll) will periodically cast Defy Gravity on the ground, making a purple swirling vortex. You want to avoid stepping in these (for now.) Galindra will cast these arcane runes underneath you that you want to step away from.

Periodically, Elfyra will summon her flying Hozen. While these guys do have an aggro table, I don't believe they will do anything except throw "stuff" at random players, so as a tank you don't have to worry about them too much (still, tossing some damage their way isn't a bad idea.)

DPS will want to kill the flying monkeys, as more will keep coming over the course of the fight and you don't want to get overwhelmed.

The main event, as it were, is that Galindra will cast something called (I believe) Magical Magnificence, which does nearly 2 million damage to anyone on the ground when it goes off. At this point, you'll want to hop onto the vortexes created through Defy Gravity, lifting off the ground for a couple seconds and taking a much more modest (around 300k) damage instead.

Any DPS that can should try to multi-dot both witches, as it all contributes to the win.

After the Opera event, you'll be able to go in a few different directions.

We initially went for the Maiden of Virtue. This boss is very unforgiving, and after three attempts, we decided to explore a bit more.

The other two bosses (assuming it's only two) that are accessible at that point are Attumen the Huntsman and Moroes.

Unfortunately, we were running out of time, and we had accidentally left up some trash near Attumen when we pulled, causing a very swift wipe.

I'll make updates while we progress through the dungeon. Also, look out for my Trial of Valor raid finder impressions as soon as I've run it.