Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Crimes of the Illidari

Hey, remember when the Illidari were the bad guys?

While the focus of the expansion eventually shifted to the Burning Legion and its third and ultimately most underwhelming invasion of Azeroth (unless you count the Battle of Undercity as its fourth,) the Burning Crusade was primarily concerned with Illidan's forces and their domination of Outland.

Legion as an expansion has done a lot to rehabilitate Illidan as more of an anti-hero than true villain, but he is a character who has really straddled that line.

I've remarked before that the irony of WoW's "Hero Classes" is that they would be more accurately called "Villain Classes." There are standard classes that deal with unsavory methods (Warlocks in particular, though Rogues probably count too,) but both hero classes are members, or former members, of organizations we have actively fought in the past.

Death Knights, at least until Legion, had a bit more of a black-and-white switch between good and evil. Upon their raising, they served the Lich King directly and slaughtered civilians - there are quests where you actually get sent to kill fleeing humans who are about twenty levels below you (one of the rare times when character level is actually lore-based.) You are a straight up bad-guy, a monster. But at the Battle of Light's Hope Chapel, it's not exactly explicit, but it's pretty clear that your free will is restored, and from that point on, the Ebon Blade fight for the living.

(Yes, things have gotten muddier in Legion, but let's set that aside for now.) The Ebon Blade even attempts to make amends by allying with and bolstering the Argent Crusade, and it's their combined efforts that allow the heroic adventurers to secure victory over Arthas. The Ebon Blade is aware of its sins, and at least at first they were interested in paying their debts.

The Illidari, though, are tougher.

Part of the problem is that the Illidari never questioned that they were the good guys. The Scourge was pretty aware of their own evil. There's actually a really fascinating lore book in Acherus that you only get to read during the starting experience, but it's kind of a political manifesto by Kel'thuzad, who talks about how the Scourge considers itself to be more amoral than evil, but that they use the imagery of "evil" as an intimidation tactic.

But the Illidari have always considered themselves to be the ones who sacrifice everything, including their reputations, for the greater good. Their goal is to keep Azeroth safe from the Legion. It's not about their goals - it's their methods.

But let's talk about those methods.

First off, there's the use of fel magic. Now, most Demon Hunters do really seem to use this power for good - fighting demons. But we've seen multiple cases of Demon Hunters going over to the dark side - Varedis and Calia Felsoul, and that one in Azsuna. It's surprisingly easy for a Demon Hunter to just flip and join the Legion. On top of that, every Demon Hunter (with the exception of Illidan, who's kind of his own thing) actually has a demonic soul bonded to them, and if they ever let go of their vigilant control over that demon, they will be taken over and, you know, just become a demon.

In the long run, that seems kind of inevitable. Granted, if a Demon Hunter can kill a bunch of demons before they lose control, it might be worth it as a sort of net effect, but only if they can really, truly kill the demon, not just kill their physical bodies.

We've also got to go back to BC and look at what they did in Outland. Now here, there is a little leeway we can give them, as the Illidari were a somewhat fractured faction, with Kael'thas' forces allying with the Legion in secret. Likewise, Vashj may have been pursuing her own goals on the orders of Azshara.

But Illidan himself did some pretty nasty things. For one thing, he created a whole new Fel Horde, installing Kargath Bladefist as their Warchief. The Orcs, who had on Azeroth finally escaped the Blood Curse, were on Outland being pushed back into this old habit. And it's clear that a lot of Orcs were being forcibly infused with Magtheridon's blood.

The Orcs in turn enslaved the Netherwing dragonflight - the off-shoot of the Black flight that seems to have escaped the Old God corruption the rest of Neltharion's brood had been afflicted with (and the Orcs sold many of those Nether Drakes back to Sinestra, which led to the Twilight Dragonflight.)

The Draenei had managed to retake the ruins of Shattrath City, but Illidan sent his forces to attack them. Why? Just so he could consolidate power on Outland.

Now, yes, Illidan was working on a plan to invade Mardum and then Argus, and killing him might have had seriously bad longterm consequences (which we're in the process of correcting by fighting to his body in the Nighthold) but the thing is that he never told anyone what he was doing, or even that he was actively trying to fight the Legion.

There was no reason for any of us in Burning Crusade to think Illidan was anything other than a tyrant who needed toppling.

And player Demon Hunters were totally complicit in this.

The Demon Hunters were locked up in the Vault of the Wardens for ten years, but they've never really owned up to any of the bad things they or their boss did. Or even if they've owned up to them, there's never been any sense of remorse. Much like Illidan, the Illidari are basically entirely self-centered and self-righteous.

But they're a really fun class to play!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Journey to Un'Goro is the New Hearthstone Expansion

Blizzard announced the new Hearthstone expansion, which will be Journey to Un'Goro. Apparently they'll be breaking the pattern a bit and having two expansions in a row (unless my card count is off and there are way more that come with an adventure than I thought.)

Un'goro Crater will have a couple major themes. One is that Elementals will now be a creature type, which will apply retroactively to other elementals.

There will also be plenty of dinosaur creatures, and many of these will have the "Adapt" keyword. Adapt gives your minion three options for an upgrade that will include gaining things like Taunt or Windfury or getting boosts to its stats. The three adaptations you get to choose from will be random, so these will be highly variable minions.

Finally, there will be a new card type called quests. These will always cost 1 mana and will create an effect (tracked similarly to secrets) that requires you to do things over the course of a game to potentially get a very powerful effect. For instance, there is one priest quests that requires you to summon seven deathrattle minions. If you succeed, you get an 8/8 minion that has a battlecry that sets your health to 40.

It seems like Mean Streets of Gadgetzan just came out, so it's pretty impressive to see this announcement so soon.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Home Plane

What do Elementals, Demons, and Wild Gods have in common?

They can often come back to life if you kill them. There's a reason for this - all of these beings have a "home plane" to which their spirits return if you slay them in the physical world. We've seen Ragnaros come back. We've seen Archimonde come back. And we've seen Cenarius come back (this one in response to Ragnaros coming back in Cataclysm.)

We haven't had a huge amount of explanation for all of these, but we know most about Demons:

When a demon is summoned into the physical world from the Twisting Nether, it takes more power to summon more powerful demons. That's why a single warlock can trivially summon a whole pack of imps with a single spell, but to get someone like Archimonde to Azeroth required the resources of Dalaran, and to get Sargeras there (it's unclear if he's technically a demon, but if a Titan can be converted in the same way that humanoids like the Eredar or Night Elves can, he definitely qualifies) they needed the Well of Eternity.

The reason for this, I suspect, is that summoning a demon is not about bringing them in from the Twisting Nether. Instead, it's about constructing a body that the demon can use, remotely. Demons are thus like drone pilots (not trying to make a political point here - just an analogy) and the "demons" we fight are actually just remote drones. What this means is that slaying one of these demonic avatars does exact a cost from the Legion, but doesn't reduce their troop numbers.

This actually explains the Avatar of Sargeras. When Aegwynn fought the Avatar in Northrend, she was fighting Sargeras himself - but how was he able to be summoned to Azeroth when the whole War of the Ancients was fought to control the one place where that might be achieved? Because Sargeras was using a lower-powered avatar. The Avatar of Sargeras was a cheaper, more disposable model. While it's powerful enough to be a raid boss (coming in Tomb of Sargeras in 7.2) it's not the insanely powerful being that the full might of Sargeras would represent.

In fact, we know that these Avatars are not the demons themselves because, as mentioned in the parenthetical in the last paragraph, that old Avatar will be reanimated, but without the essence of Sargeras within. Which means that it's little more than a dumb golem - still raid-boss powerful, but not nearly the threat it was when Sargeras was holding the controls.

In the Mannoroth fight in Hellfire Citadel, Gul'dan is reanimating the demon that was slain by Grommash in the cinematic. Mannoroth actually protests him doing this, presumably because rather than getting hooked up to this old, broken avatar again, Mannoroth would rather just have a new one.

This actually also kind of explains how the Legion can march across all parallel universes at the same time - demons might actually be great at multitasking, which would allow a single, say, Detheroc, to control a different dreadlord avatar in different universes. Ironically, while the Legion could theoretically field an infinitely huge force to invade a world, the actual number of Demons (capitalizing to mean the souls in the Nether) could actually be shockingly small.

It appears that Elementals and Wild Gods do something similar. The Elementals reside on the Elemental Planes (go figure,) and this is why Ragnaros A: had to be summoned by Majordomo Executus in Molten Core and B: died permanently in the Firelands. In a sense, he was always in the Firelands.

Now, on the other hand, it might actually work a little differently. The Elementals originally resided in the physical realm (the way that the far more cooperative and ironically named Furies do on Draenor) so in this case it might actually be a case of back-and-forth movement rather than remote avatars.

We've seen that Wild Gods go through something similar with the Emerald Dream. This is actually what was so insidious about the Emerald Nightmare - corrupting the physical world would not harm the Emerald Dream, and thus the Wild Gods could always return, but if you corrupt the Dream, it doesn't leave them anywhere to retreat. Still, even though some did truly die in the Dream, they do seem to remain as spirits within it - Ursoc and the Dragons Formerly of the Nightmare live on in a sense, but only as ghosts in the Dream.

Speaking of ghosts!

So here's the mad theory that this is all building to:

We players are like this too.

In a meta-sense, the actual real world is like our Twisting Nether from which we control these avatars, but to go in-universe, we have to look at a different realm: The Shadowlands.

When you die, you wind up in a ghost world where Spirit Healers help you get back to your body (even if you don't take their rez, your ghost starts off at the graveyard with the Spirit Healer.) This ghost world is almost explicitly the Shadowlands, and there's a bit in Chronicle that explains the Spirit Healers are actually Val'kyr who refused to work for Odyn or Helya.

Now, the Shadowlands are generally associated with the undead and all that nastiness, but really it's just the realm of the dead. And anyone who is a mortal (which, let's remember, literally just means "can die") is ultimately tied to the Shadowlands.

And that means that our characters have their own "home plane." The Shadowlands. Demons and Elementals and any of the nasty threats we face might be able to come back time and again, but so can we. It's right there in the game mechanics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

N'zoth's Plan

So the other day I officially predicted that the next expansion will focus on N'zoth, presumably as a nautical-based expansion involving Azshara and her Naga (and I'll throw in here that it should include Jaina Proudmoore's homeland of Kul Tiras and possibly the Zandalari with their sinking homeland, King Rakhastan, and mysterious prophet "Zul" - whom I've always suspected was some sort of Old God (or related thing) in humanoid form like Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep.)

So what do we know about N'Zoth? If this guy is really a master manipulator - to the extent that he could be manipulating the freaking Burning Legion - what is his bio?

Ok, first things first:

The Old Gods were created by the Void Lords, who themselves are paradoxical malevolent intelligences that exist within the Void. As Star Augur Etraeus refers, presumably, to them: "avatars of non-existence." Much like Sithis in the Elder Scrolls games, the Void Lords seem to want to eradicate existence. The Legion wants the universe to burn, but at least that would leave flames. The Void Lords want everything annihilated into pure darkness.

To do this, they want to create a Dark Titan (or Void Titan if you want to distinguish them better from Sargeras.) They want to take a Titan world-soul and corrupt it to their particularly pure form of evil, allowing said Titan to set about obliterating existence.

But because they are so utterly alien to our universe that they can't really exist within it, they sent the Old Gods. The Old Gods are basically darkness made manifest as matter. They sent the Old Gods into the Great Dark Beyond (the Warcraft name for just plain old Outer Space) to infect worlds.

There are presumably countless Old Gods out there - or at least there were before Sargeras started destroying worlds. But, unless Blizzard does a big retcon (and with this stuff made canon in Chronicle, I doubt they're eager to retcon this) Azeroth got hit with precisely four.

These were N'zoth, C'thun, Yogg-Saron, and Y'Shaarj. Their purpose was to function as a parasite on the planet, delving through the crust of the planet until they could pump the world-soul full of void magic. In the meantime, however, the Old Gods also created a number of races - or maybe not so much created as spawned. These were the N'raqi, Aqir, and C'thraxxi (possibly others.) The N'raqi are known as faceless ones, the C'Thraxxi are "faceless generals" like General Vezax in Ulduar, and the Aqir split into the Qiraji, Mantid, and Nerubians. (Ironically, you get quests from friendly Nerubians in Azjol-Nerub to fight against N'raqi, which either means that even races spawned directly from the Old Gods can resist them or it just means that this is an example of the established in-fighting between Old God-affiliated races.)

After subduing the Elemental Lords, the Old Gods had a kind of established pecking order. Y'Shaarj was the largest and most powerful, and Yogg-Saron and C'thun both submitted to its will. N'Zoth, on the other hand, was at the bottom of the heap. His armies clashed with those of Yogg-Saron and C'thun - and to be fair, some of this was just chaos for chaos' sake, but it really seems N'Zoth was kind of the pariah among the horrifying continent-sized shadow parasites.

When the Pantheon came to Azeroth, Aman'thul literally just leaned down and plucked Y'Shaarj from the surface of the planet - in terms of raw power, an Old God has nothing on a fully-fledged Titan. The major takeaway from that story is that the Titans realized simply doing the same with the other three could kill Azeroth, and with the exception of Sargeras, the Pantheon preferred keeping the patient alive over eradicating the disease.

But the other takeaway is that the biggest hinderance to N'zoth's power was taken off the board in a practically literal manner. Yes, C'thun and Yogg-Saron would both be threats to N'zoth, but they didn't have the kind of total domination advantage that they had with Y'Shaarj in charge.

And of course they were all put in Titan-made prisons (or really more containment, as it's not like the Titans could move the Old Gods.

But maybe that suited N'zoth just fine - perhaps some time away from its... siblings (?) would give it time to lay down some big plans.

After their imprisonment, the Old God who seemed to be hardest at work was Yogg-Saron. The death of the Pantheon saw the Keepers of Azeroth assaulted with incomprehensible new information - the last spark of the Titans' minds and souls were distributed to the Keepers. Loken took this particularly hard (in fact, only Ra actually understood that this meant the Pantheon had been killed, but everyone was kind of freaking out.) Yogg-Saron used this to goad Loken into an affair and then murder, which he then basically used to blackmail the Keeper into doing a number of things including implementing the Curse of Flesh. Yogg-Saron would also eventually use the reckless druidic works of Fandral Staghelm to infect the Emerald Dream with the Nightmare.

C'thun didn't do much other than send his Qiraji out to make war. But N'zoth also made a few plays. Some of these we don't explicitly know, but are merely strongly implied.

First off, N'zoth seems to be the one who corrupted Deathwing. While it's Yogg-Saron who shows us the vision of the creation of the Dragon Soul (which Deathwing would use to nearly wipe out the Blue Dragonflight among other things,) it seems more likely that it was N'zoth who did the corrupting. First off, Deathwing's home was in the Broken Isles, which is sort of around the border between Yogg-Saron's and N'zoth's territories (it's hard to tell given that the map in Chronicle that shows those territories is on a pre-Sundering Ancient Kalimdor.) But given that when Deathwing assaults Wyrmrest Temple, it's N'zoth's minons who are backing him up, it seems likely that the whole Deathwing plot was N'zoth's idea.

N'zoth is also probably the Old God who transformed Azshara and her closest highborne allies into Naga. While Yogg-Saron is up in the mountains of Northrend and C'thun is in the deserts of Kalimdor, N'zoth seems to be underwater in a place called Ny'alotha (which is presumably as bizarre and terrible a place as Lovecraft's Rl'yeh, the home of Cthulhu.) This suggests that he may have had another presence in Cataclysm as the benefactor to the Naga in Vashj'ir (providing them with his faceless minions.) In fact, we see a few utterly massive tentacles assaulting and corrupting L'ghorek toward the end of that zone's quests. It seems like it's got to be N'zoth doing that, which also suggests that his containment is seriously compromised.

One thing I don't totally understand but is definitely in the lore is the way that N'zoth took over the Emerald Nightmare from Yogg-Saron. Yogg-Saron explicitly introduced the corruption into the Dream, but for some reason N'zoth has been the one really implementing the Nightmare corruption. And with Xavius slain, according to Xal'atath (the sentient dagger that Shadow Priests use in Legion) N'zoth has now awoken.

But let's take another step back and really think about the situation we're in.

N'zoth warred against the other Old Gods. But Y'shaarj is long, long gone. And you know who else are? C'thun and Yogg-Saron. Ok, yes, granted, there's a lot of implication that when we "slew" those two Old Gods, we really just put them into comas/regeneration cycles.

But C'thun and Yogg-Saron must at least be at lower power levels than they were before we smashed their guts and brain respectively.

And that means that just as we're about to potentially unlock the gates on the prisons of the Old Gods (if my theories on the Pillars of Creation are right) it's going to be N'zoth and N'zoth alone who gets to take full advantage.

While the thoughts of the Old Gods are probably too bizarre and horrific to analyze their intentions, it does strike me if that if all this goes forward the way it looks like it will, N'zoth will emerge as the most powerful of the Old Gods, and perhaps as the most powerful being on the planet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nighthold Wing 3: The Nightspire (Tank Perspective)

Yes, I know I skipped Royal Atheneum (a great example of Orphaned Etymology) but let's just go ahead to talk about this far superior raid wing. Really, the Atheneum seems to be where they put their dullest fight (I don't mind Etraeus) while this is a lot cooler, and has the added benefit of being entirely composed of characters we've seen before.

The biggest challenge, though, is going to be finding the bosses. Nighthold is a seriously non-linear raid, and these guys are not in an obvious order. I do think there is a set order, so I'll go with the one we used.


Tichondrius, the leader of the Nathrezim whom we last saw during the Third War getting slaughtered by Illidan (in a way that I really thought was permanent...) is in a building to the right as you start the raid (opposite the one where Star Augur Etraeus was.) There's some nasty trash here.

Tichondrius has there phases with transitions between them. The basic gist is this: he has an aura that gives adds a super-powered Leech effect, so tanks need to pull them away. The tank-swap debuff actually has adds spawn fixated on the tank, so you need to run the adds away to kill them. During the first phase, those are the only adds you get.

The other effect to watch for is that he'll do this void burst ability that hits everyone in line of sight. Conveniently he also summons fel spires that can break line of sight. So just get behind those.

When transitioning between phases, he'll disappear and summon a ton of bat adds that need to be scooped up and AoE'd. Tichondrius will also shoot beam attacks across the room during this phase, which you'll want to dodge.

One phase two, Tichondrius starts to summon in Nightborne adds roughly each time the tank gets debuffed. At least in LFR these guys go down fairly easy, but just try to round them up if you're out with the blood adds.

One phase three, he also summons in a demon with the Nightborne. Same basic deal.


Getting to Krosus means going to the southeast corner that points to the Tomb of Sargeras.

Krosus is a damage race fight. You're on a bridge that has three sections. Krosus will slam on the bridge and I believe every three times he slams, he'll destroy that section.

Tanks have a standard tank debuff, but they'll also need to absorb his slams. You'll see two brown circles where his fists are going to come down. If you take the hit, you'll get a moderate amount of damage and prevent the raid from taking a large amount of damage.

If there aren't any brown circles, that means that the part of the bridge you're on is about to collapse. So get the hell out of there and run back to the next segment.

Krosus will also occasionally fire a Fel Beam, which damages everyone standing on one side of the bridge or the other. He telegraphs this, so be sure to move when you seem him starting to cast it (unless you're on the safe side already.)

He'll also call down fire that hurts anyone it hits, but will hurt the whole raid if it doesn't hit anyone. This is the sort of thing where individual characters should step in and absorb them.

He'll also target random raid members with an Orb of Annihilation (not tanks) which deals a bunch of damage to them and deals damage to the raid based on how far each player is from the target. So if you have this, run to the back (of course, over the fight you have less room to run back.)


Now, the two obvious doors to the Nightspire are still closed. So go back to Tichondrius' room and you'll find a door that leads to a little walkway with some trash. Take the glowing teleporter-orb up to Elisande's room. There's a bit of trash there and then you get to fight the Grand Magistrix.

Elisande does some funky time stuff here. There are three phases - when you get her down to 10%, she'll rewind time and go back to full health. She does this twice. Some effects (though I don't totally recall which ones) will persist through the rewinds.

One phase one, you'll have a simple tank-swap debuff and some adds that spawn. The adds will leave bubbles of accelerated or decelerated time when they die. These become useful when rings of arcane magic move in from the edges of the room. The little balls of arcane will slow down or speed up in the bubbles, and that gives you an opening to avoid them (though in LFR the damage is pretty low.)

One phase two, the tank-swap debuff becomes something where the tank explodes with arcane damage after a few seconds, so you'll want to get away from the raid when the other tank taunts. There will also be these orbs that fall toward the ground that players have to catch so that they don't hurt the whole raid.

One phase three, there is a new tank-debuff that will now persist for the entire fight, but the attack can be interrupted. Try to interrupt this as much as possible to reduce the stacking debuff on the tank (and swap if one tank gets too many stacks.)

Interestingly, once Elisande is killed, her echo will concede that she was wrong - there is a possibility for survival that doesn't involve allying with the Legion. She then promises to do what she can to aid you in your fight with Gul'dan, as you are now her peoples' best hopes. Nice to see a villain who is genuinely just trying to do what she thinks she has to.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Where To Next?

So I realize that I've written several posts about future expansions, and ultimately Blizzard has managed, in the past, to pull the rug out from under me (while I predicted a Deathwing-centric one, I definitely did not predict Mists or Warlords, and Legion was one that I always knew they'd eventually have to do, but always put that in the "eventually" category.)

With Legion, there is a real question of where we go from here. After Wrath of the Lich King, a lot of players were talking about how it seemed like there was nowhere to go after Arthas, but those of us who knew a bit more about the lore knew that there would have to be figures like Deathwing, Cho'gall, Xavius, Azshara, and of course Sargeras for us to face.

Three of those are checked off already (Cho'gall twice!) And Sargeras is probably going to be the final boss of Legion - in one form or another (my money's on "while trapped in an Illidan Stormrage-shaped prison.")

Given that Sargeras is the Big Bad of the Warcraft universe, those questions that people were asking about a post-Arthas world are starting to feel like they've got more traction.

Now, all this being said, the Warcraft universe is a diverse one - unlike Diablo, where everything ultimately boils down to either angels or demons, Warcraft is a lot more like the real world in that there are unrelated cultures and threats that don't depend on each other to exist. Beating the Scourge did nothing to harm the Legion, Old Gods, Deathwing, or any other major threat. And when we got to Pandaria, it turned out there were people like the Mogu to worry about that we had never heard of before.

And on top of that, just because a leader dies does not mean that the whole organization is gone. That's something we've learned pretty painfully in the real world time and time again. We had to install Bolvar Fordragon as the new Lich King lest the Scourge just go rampant, but there are strong hints that while he might not be trying to take over the world right now, this Lich King is not exactly the same lawful good paladin he used to be. Demons existed long before the Burning Legion came to be, and without Sargeras to threaten them with annihilation should they stray from his leadership, demons could be a whole new thing - we might not encounter the kind of concerted effort to invade and conquer, but we'll probably be dealing with a million different factions of unpredictable demonic gangs - and let us not forget that the Dreadlords might go back to serving the Old Gods...

So now we move into prediction time:

Rather than speculate on the myriad possibilities for expansions, I'm going to make my guess at the next one. It's no guarantee, but Blizzard has really laid out some serious groundwork.

For an expansion about the Burning Legion, Legion is filled with references to the Old Gods. I won't go into every bit, but I seriously think that we are being manipulated into using the Pillars of Creation. While these may indeed do their stated goal - closing the portal to Argus - I am about 99% convinced that they are also going to serve as the keys to the locks on the prisons of the Old Gods. C'thun and Yogg-Saron might be dead (or they might be regenerating after we beat them) but N'Zoth is, as far as we know, in perfect health. N'Zoth also just awoke from the Emerald Nightmare, meaning that he's likely to start taking bolder steps in the physical world.

We have also seen a larger presence of Naga in Legion than we have recently. The Naga are of course remnants of Azshara's inner circle, and Azshara herself appears in Azsuna. The Naga are ostensibly helping the Legion - it's less explicit in Azsuna, but we know some will be fighting for them in the Tomb of Sargeras.

And on the surface, this makes sense. Azshara was on team green in the War of the Ancients, and perhaps she never abandoned her plans to marry Sargeras (however impractical that might be.)

But that was ten thousand years ago. And all that time, the Naga have been, well, Naga. Transformed by the Old Gods after the Sundering flooded Ancient Kalimdor, the Naga have been allied with the Old Gods for far longer than they were actively engaged with the Legion. We know that they fight alongside each other thanks to the events in Vashj'ir.

N'Zoth in particular is the Old God associated with the deep sea, and thus is probably the one who played the biggest role in the transformation of the Naga. He's also the Old God who stands to gain the most (because he's unambiguously still alive) by manipulating us into freeing him (using the Legion to provoke us into doing so.)

Ok, so we've got a main villain (N'Zoth) and a major raid boss (Azshara - who could be the final boss of the first or second raid tier.) We have a setting (the South Seas - islands surrounding Ny'alotha, which is presumably where N'Zoth is imprisoned.)

And we potentially have a new playable race in the Naga. I know there are lots of mechanical issues to work through with Naga (like pants and shoes and mounts) but lore-wise, Blizzard has explicitly said that while most Naga are loyal to their queen, they are still individuals with their own ideologies and factions. Thus it is not impossible that a group of Naga would break away from Azshara and potentially join the player factions. I don't know if they'd make it a Pandaren-style neutral race or if they'd come up with a different race for the other faction to play, but playable Naga are something Blizzard has talked about.

We're still many months from Blizzcon, but I really think we could see this or an expansion like it as the next one after Legion.

Is Switching Specs Too Hard in Legion?

I'll come out and say that I think that Legion is one of the best expansions World of Warcraft has ever had. After the supreme disappointment of Warlords of Draenor, Legion has felt not only like a return to form, but an expansion that has contained a kind of ambition that I wasn't sure Blizzard still had for the game. Legion competes with Wrath in my mind for best expansion (and of course there are plenty of system changes over the years that have solidly improved things over time, such that if we were simply dumped into Wrath as it was in 2008, I probably wouldn't like things as much mechanically.)

One of the interesting changes to come in Legion was the expansion of the dual-spec idea. Rather than having too "modes" for your character - something that was primarily useful for those of us who like to do group content as a tank or healer but prefer to solo as DPS - they now let us change between all three specs any time we're outside of combat. It really equates to the old idea of "tri-spec" (or quad spec for Druids.)

So on the surface, this means that switching specs is easier than it ever has been in Legion. And to be fair, if you're playing a character who is below level 100, that's true.

But once you get into the current expansion's content, you get somewhat locked in.

Two factors are at play here:

The first is Artifact Weapons. This is particularly noticeable for classes like Mages or Warlocks, who could use identical gear for all three specs. Now, if you want to switch specs, you need to really invest a lot of time in leveling up a different artifact weapon.

They do provide a kind of built-in catch up. Between the steady progress of artifact knowledge and the fact that traits become more expensive on an exponential rate, it will probably take you far less time to get twenty traits in a second artifact unlocked than it did to get them in your first.

Still, especially now that we're getting to a point where some players have their full 54 traits unlocked (that's including the 20 "prestige" traits that I think Blizzard expected almost no one to complete,) it means a really massive investment of time and effort into fully powering-up your artifact weapon.

And with no more artifact knowledge coming at least until 7.2, we can't expect it to be easy to catch up on these prestige traits.

The second factor is legendary gear.

Legendaries in Legion are a very different beast than they've been in prior expansions. In fact, these pieces of gear now work almost exactly as they do in Diablo III - each has a special effect that often interacts with your class' specific spells or abilities.

In Diablo III, once you get to the level cap, you basically try to get a full set of legendary items (along with an armor set - the set bonuses in Diablo are far, far more powerful, increasing damage done by like 20,000% depending on your build.) In Legion, you can get some very powerful legendaries, but the droprates on these are such that you're really not expecting to have access to all of them.

But because the droprate has bad-luck protection - which, glass half-full side, means that you're more likely to get one if you haven't yet but glass half-empty side means you're less likely to get one if you already have one - it means that getting a legendary for one spec means you're less likely to get one for a different spec. For example, my Mage just got his first legendary while doing an LFR wing in Frost spec after having played as Arcane for much of the expansion. The good news is that I think 7.1.5 fixed most of the problems I had with Frost this expansion, so I'm ok with playing that spec again. But for example, my Demon Hunter has been lucky enough to get two legendaries, both of which are for the Vegeance spec. Nowadays he's primarily Havoc, meaning that the only benefit he gets from those pieces are the admittedly great stats.

Ultimately, these might not be such a bad thing. Back before 3.1, you chose a spec and you stuck with it. Changing spec (or even just redistributing your talents) was a pretty costly endeavor, costing up to 50 gold back when that was a significant chunk of change. We lived with that system - and that was before they really made it easy to solo in any spec.

Still, dual-spec was one of the most popular features they ever added to the game, so you could argue that reverting to that "choose a spec and stick with it" system isn't really a good move.

I'll be curious to see how things work out going forward. They say we'll be leaving our artifacts behind in the next expansion (but keeping the appearances for transmog, I believe) and I imagine that they'll come up with a different system for legendaries (perhaps going back to the Mists/Warlords model.) So maybe these issues will simply evaporate.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Warcraft Chronicle Volume Two

Warcraft Chronicle Volume One was a really interesting book for any lore aficionados. While many of its revelations have since made it in-game, the book really laid down some firm information about the primary setting of the Warcraft games. We learned, for example, the fate of the Titans, why Sargeras went evil, what the Old Gods want, and what it is that really makes Azeroth so special.

Volume One focused entirely on the world of Azeroth and its pre-First War history. The opening of the Dark Portal is really the moment that the Warcraft calendar is built around, and thus Chronicle Volume One is all about "BDP," starting with the absolute beginning of Azeroth's history - when it was a planet whose powerful Titan World Soul was drawing too much of the Spirit element from the surface, thus leaving the indigenous elementals to war with each other without given the lack of that harmony-building essence. We go from that state all the way to the state of things prior to the First War.

Volume Two seems to be less linear. It appears to tell the stories of the First and Second Wars (the Third I'd bet they're saving for Volume Three) but it also leaves Azeroth to start examining the history of Draenor. (I'm hoping we'll see some stuff about Argus as well, but I don't know that we will.)

Draenor is of course the clear second-most important planet in the Warcraft games, as it is home to the Orcs, whose actions really define a great deal of the games' recent history.

In the sample pages previewed by IGN, we actually learn some interesting facts about Draenor.

Spoilers to follow.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Grimtotem Conundrum

One of the engines that a game and story like World of Warcraft can use to perpetuate its conflict (and given that it functions in a comic-book-like world of infinite continuity, that's what you want) is the judicious use of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" with the addendum: "for now."

The Alliance and Horde do this all the time. While there's some seriously bad blood (and we really might have to consider leaving the Forsaken out) the general moral of Warcraft is that if people (specifically the mortal races, though to be fair we are kind of excluding non-playable ones) could just get over themselves and their grievances, they could all get along. Hell, the Orcs and the Humans, who have the most conflict-per-years-they've-known-the-other-existed, are actually pretty much the equivalents of one another for their own worlds (this is a weird tangent, but I think technically Draenor's elves are the Arrakoa and their dwarves are the ogres. Moving on!)

But while that's a theme we've seen over and over, I'm thinking about it on a more individual level.

Some mild 7.2 spoilers here.

In 7.2 we're all getting new class hall champions (and I think we'll also be able to have one more active as well.) While a lot are pretty straightforward (Thisalee Crow, for example) one that was pretty surprising is Magatha Grimtotem.

Now, Magatha's one of those characters who has been around since Vanilla but her story hasn't really gone anywhere since Cataclysm. The Tauren are almost entirely good people - one of the most benevolent playable races. But Magatha represents the exception to that rule.

Magatha was always a rival to Cairne back in the day, and even though she was allowed to live in Thunder Bluff, many of her tribe were openly hostile to Horde and Alliance alike even then.

When Garrosh became Warchief, Cairne challenged him to Mak'gora - a duel to the death to challenge him for the position. I don't think Cairne expected to win, but he was resolved to make Garrosh earn the position and, hopefully, teach Garrosh to respect the power that was handed to him.

But Magatha, who had always sought to undermine Cairne as the leader of the Tauren, had Garrosh's weapons poisoned. This did two things: it ensured that Cairne died (even though it was only a superficial wound) and it also robbed Garrosh of legitimacy. People were already concerned about this brash, inexperienced and bullheaded new Warchief who had come into a leadership position with a seriously simplistic and outdated understanding of the very system he was now supposed to run, and now doubts were cast on his ability to even live up to his claims of personal skill and strength. The Mak'gora, though brutal, was meant to be fair. Not only did the poison suggest that the new Warchief was a murderer with no respect for the traditions he claimed to represent, but it also raised the question of whether he even would have won had the fight been fair.

This was a master plan, and even though Magatha's machinations were discovered, it still left Garrosh with the Horde in an uproar and with Cairne, her old nemesis, dead.

After Cataclysm came out, Magatha was understandably no longer in Thunder Bluff - and would presumably be killed on sight if she returned. But players encounter her in Thousand Needles, where she guides you in dismantling the Twilight Cult's operations there, but in doing so, also has you grant her an artifact of incredible power.

Magatha is a master manipulator and also a very powerful shaman. And she's going to be working for us!

Incidentally, my Shaman is a Tauren who has an all-consuming hatred for the Old Gods, the Twilight's Hammer, and very very much Magatha Grimtotem, so this will be interesting.

Given that we are fighting the Burning Legion, this is a time for strange bedfellows. Already Death Knights have allied with the Lich King (on one hand, Bolvar's a very different sort of Lich King than Arthas, but on the other hand, he is still absolutely the Lich King.)

Given that the Legion was founded to defeat the Old Gods and the Void Lords, it makes sense that, among the people aiding us in the fight against the Legion are members of Twilight's Hammer.

Members plural.

Magatha Grimtotem did help us defeat Twilight's Hammer in Thousand Needles, but she's also a member herself. It's implied that she wishes to take over the cult. And with Cho'gall and Benedictus dead, she's probably in a decent position to do just that.

Milhouse Manastorm is already a class champion, but remember that he was also affiliated with Twilight's Hammer, working for them in Deepholme. One gets the sense that Milhouse is less ideological and more just maniacal. He did fight against a minion of the (other, non-Azerothian) Old Gods in the Arcatraz, but there isn't really anything he's done to suggest that he isn't still very much in the "let's blow up the world" camp.

I don't know that there are any other class champions who are members of Twilight's Hammer, but then, we didn't know that Benedictus was for a long time.

Given the theories about the Old Gods manipulating the Legion into invading in order to get us to use the Pillars of Creation to unwittingly set them free, it would actually make a huge amount of sense that our class orders are being infiltrated by people in Twilight's Hammer.

In the face of the Legion, though, we have to take any help that we can get. But I think we should keep our eyes open. Once the Legion is defeated, we're going to have to watch our backs.

Because someone might be getting ready to stick a dagger in it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Royal Atheneum, Nighthold LFR Wing 2 Opens

I've now run the second wing of Nighthold in LFR, or at least part of it. Unfortunately I got in having read up on the wrong fights - of the three I read up on, the two that were still up when I got there were both ones I did not realize I'd be facing. So let's make this clear:

Royal Atheneum is Spellblade Auriel, Star Augur Etraeus, and High Botanist Tel'arn.

I'm not going to go into my usual guide mode, as I'm still kind of processing the fights (when I run it on other characters, I'll try to get that out there.)

This has the players emerge out from the sewers and take the fight to Elisande's main forces. I suspect that Etraeus and possibly Tel'arn are both optional fights when you do this on Normal or above. Notably, Star Augur Etraeus has the tier 19 gloves (something I got the LFR version of, which are 860 item level.)

While certainly not as mind-bending visually than the Emerald Nightmare, Nighthold really seems to be a continuation of the Suramar aesthetic, something that I think they've really pulled off well this expansion. In fact, when the raid was announced, I was pretty disappointed that the Emerald Nightmare wasn't even going to be the headliner of its own raid tier, but while I still think they could have done that (I'm glad there will be three raid tiers after Warlords' disappointing two, but I honestly think they could have held Emerald Nightmare back as tier 20 and then done Tomb of Sargeras as 21 and Argus as 22, matching Wrath with four raid tiers) I'm actually finding myself way more invested in the Nightfallen/Suramar storyline than I expected myself to be.

We're also in a pretty interesting position gear-wise, given that Nighthold LFR is now giving gear that's on par (or even exceeding, I think) Return to Karazhan gear and Emerald Nightmare Normal. I still haven't gotten very far in RtK (I think we may have gotten Attumen down once...?) but I'm hoping we can get a little farther before the far easier, queueable heroic modes come out.

I have to wonder what the plan is for mythic dungeons. Yes, I realize mythic plus allows them to scale sort of indefinitely, but I'd rather that mythic plus worked more like standard difficulties - without time limits so that if someone has to go to the bathroom or something they aren't penalizing the team. The point is that at this point, with LFR giving gear that's 15-20 item levels higher than mythic dungeons, dungeons are in danger of falling back into Mists/Warlords-era irrelevance.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Fractious Legion

The Burning Legion is terrifying.

Let's break it down. First and foremost, we have beings of chaos who are tied to the Twisting Nether. The Nether is a realm of unending disparity, a borderland between the Light and the Void, with limitless potential that tears itself apart. It might be shocking to realize that the source of Fel magic contains both Void (which we all think of as pretty pure evil) and Light (which we think of as pure good) but I think that the nature of Fel magic and demons is not one that is necessarily consciously evil - it's consciously destructive. Allowing things to remain Void would not sate the Fel's desire for rapid, unpredictable change.

Which means that demons, in the Warcraft universe, are more than anything interested in tearing things down, and never being satisfied with what has been built up in its place.

Keep that in mind.

Demons don't really exist within our universe. Even when we fight them, even when they kill our people, it isn't really "them" there. They have bodies, but their demonic souls are at the very most temporarily housed in those bodies, and it's more likely the souls never leave the Twisting Nether at all, their demonic bodies are controlled remotely. This is why you can kill a demon over and over again at they will keep coming.

Demons are mostly, or possibly all, corrupted versions of races that once were humanoids, beasts, or possibly elementals. We've seen Eredar and Night Elves who have become demons (Man'ari Eredar and Satyrs, respectively,) and we've seen other races approach total demonic corruption, such as Orcs and Blood Elves.

In the Paladin class hall campaign, players encounter and wind up recruiting Lothraxion, an officer of the Army of the Light who appears to be a holy Nathrezim (aka Dreadlord.) Lothraxion has the cloven hooves and wings of the Nathrezim, but he does not have horns and he radiates a pure holy light.

We know next to nothing about Lothraxion. Some have speculated that he was once a demon but has now been redeemed. I have a different take: The Army of the Light is said to be formed by the survivors of worlds that the Legion conquered or destroyed, who have banded together to fight back. Given that the Legion appears to recruit from its conquered worlds, I suspect that if we were to encounter the main force of the Army of the Light, we would actually find many familiar races - races that we would normally consider demonic. For all we know, the good guys on Argus are composed of Eredruin, Mo'arg, Shivarra, Anihilans, and other creatures who would appear demonic at first, but turn out to be anything but - much as the Draenei first appeared to those who first encountered them on Azeroth.

In fact, the very founder of the Burning Legion was once a different sort of entity. Sargeras was a Titan - a being of Order. The Titans had spent eons fighting the demons before the Legion was created, and it never seemed to be that much of a challenge for them. It took the corruption of Sargeras in order to bring the demons together enough to vanquish the other Titans, and in fact, Sargeras was so unimpressed even in victory that he sought out the Eredar to serve as officers for his demonic army.

Sargeras' stated purpose for the Legion is to purge the universe of anything that could be corrupted by the Void. While it seems pretty hypocritical to fight void corruption with fel corruption, in his eyes, the goal is not to leave behind a corrupted universe but rather to leave behind no universe at all. He wants everything to burn so that the Void Lords have nothing but ashes to corrupt. It's the kind of grand, uncompromising vision that you'd expect a Titan to have, but there are a couple problems with it:

First is that even Sargeras seems to be straying from this vision. In the lore for the Scepter of Sargeras, you find that the eye motif in the center is actually meant to be the Eye of Azeroth. Sargeras had a vision in which the Titan World Soul of Azeroth looked back at him, and his desire seems to be not to destroy Azeroth, but to recruit her to his side (there might even be a romance angle, but these are planet-sized gods, so I wouldn't get hung up on that.) I don't know what he expects Azeroth to do once birthed, but I doubt he has good intentions.

But let's say that Sargeras is removed from the picture - in fact, I think that at least temporarily (but seriously) defeating him has to happen at the end of this expansion. That leaves Archimonde (assuming his defeat in Tanaan Jungle wasn't a permanent one - Mythic raiders beat him in the Twisting Nether, but he corpse falls in the Jungle, so I'm not counting him out) and Kil'Jaeden (likewise him in Tomb of Sargeras, but we don't have the details on that yet) left in charge of the Legion.

Do these two want total destruction? The Eredar were offered infinite knowledge to join the Legion, and while in a way the promise was "once everything's destroyed, there will be nothing left to know" I would guess that these two are pretty happy with their positions of power and would probably be ok with setting up a universe-spanning empire.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the Nathrezim - who were the ones that led Sargeras to the Old Gods and thus proved the unfathomable evil that existed within the universe that made him snap - were in service to the Void at first. While their leader, Ulthalesh, is gone (like a lot of lore figures, he's stuck in an artifact weapon, in this case the Affliction Warlock one,) who's to say that they would remain loyal to the Legion after the death of Sargeras.

Bear in mind that the main reason the demons serve Sargeras is because he knows how to permanently kill them.

We even start to hear some rumblings from Caria Felsoul in the Demon Hunter class campaign that they're already looking at other potential alliances and alignments as paths to power.

And let's return to the core nature of demons - they are beings of chaos. They tear things down.

And over the last several thousand years, what is the most powerful institution in the universe?

The Burning Legion.

If we take out the Dark Titan, I suspect we're going to see the biggest cosmological upheaval in 25,000 years. The Legion is not going to quietly fade away in the absence of its master. It's going to go supernova.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Orphan of Kos One-Shot

If you'll forgive a bit of bragging:

The Orphan of Kos is probably the hardest video game boss I've ever fought (though to be fair, it was Dark Souls' Ornstein and Smough who prevented me from progressing further in that game.) The massive health pool, devastating and hard to dodge attacks, and relentless pace of the fight all combine to make this a huge challenge.

On my first character, it took me at least twenty, maybe thirty attempts to take him down.

On my Arcane character (who is technically my third but has overtaken the Skill one by one boss) I took him down on my first attempt.

Now to be fair, I've probably leveled up more on this character, though I don't think my a huge amount (the Strength character was at like 45 strength while the Arcane one was at 50 arcane, though I'll also note that I have some underwhelming fire gems.)

Still, while the fight left me with zero Blood Vials, I managed to vanquish this foe in a single attempt.

This actually makes me question a bit whether my initial assessment of Orphan of Kos as the hardest boss in the game (or potentially gaming) was accurate. On the same character, Laurence, the First Vicar, took me several attempts (like the Orphan, I beat him with zero blood vials left.)

Anyway, difficulty aside, at some point I want to lay out my theories about the Orphan of Kos, Maria, and the reason the Hunter's Nightmare exists. I haven't totally nailed down what I believe, but I suspect that the death of Kos is a kind of "original sin" of the Hunters, and that perhaps the entire Curse of the Beast may be the retribution of those in the Fishing Hamlet.

So this also leaves me at a kind of "clean-up" stage with my Arcane character. I think I'm going to wind up doing the three cords ending again, as I want to see how well the Burial Blade works for Arcane. Still need to get the Rakuyo, a couple of the Hunter's Tools, and I think the Gravewarden set in the Forbidden Woods (which I imagine I'll be able to tear through.)

I really want to like the Kos Parasite weapon, given that I'm on an Arcane character, but perhaps given its lack of appropriate gems (it's a default Arcane weapon, meaning elemental gems of other types can't fit it) I'm finding it sadly weak.