Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Breath of the Wild - Open World Zelda: Is That a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Breath of the Wild famously breaks the Zelda formula that has arguably been in place since a Link to the Past. Zelda games have generally had a pretty clear linear progression, with a formula of doing a build up of quest-like tasks that would lead you into a new dungeon, after which you would defeat a boss and then, using the new weapon or tool found in that dungeon, be able to go onto the next.

In Breath of the Wild, you start in a sort of kiddie-pool area (though combat is legitimately tougher than most Zelda games have been, so it's not like it's super-easy) where you get access to the puzzle-solving tools you'll need for the rest of the journey almost immediately.

Once you get access to the parasail, you'll be able to go pretty much anywhere in the world, and while I do feel pretty strongly that you're pushed to go to the eastern part of the map first, there's nothing stopping you from going in other directions.

There are four major dungeon-like structures, but they don't really work totally like dungeons. Combat and puzzles are somewhat more segregated - with shrines found throughout the world that serve both as teleportation nodes (along with Assassin's Creed-style map-revealing towers) and also serve as explicit "there are puzzles here" locations that award Spirit Orbs - which work mostly like Heart Pieces did in prior games (though you can also trade them in for more stamina to let you climb and run and glide longer.)

The world of Breath of the Wild is desolate. There are people - in fact, beyond the many towns you find you'll also come across little stables that serve as country inns - but the plot is all about how things basically fell apart a hundred years ago. Link - explicitly named Link in this entry, rather than that just being the default name - actually has a history, but his 100-year slumber (an emergency procedure after he took an otherwise fatal wound) has left him an amnesiac.

So you actually wind up with a few checklist items pretty early on that you can work on for the rest of the game - recovering important memories and restoring the massive Divine Beasts to bring the fight against Ganon (and give you some very useful combat powers.)

There's incredible freedom - a lot of games tout the ability to go anywhere, but in this game, with the generous (but stamina-limited) climbing, you really can get to just about anywhere you see. And also, the draw-distance more or less makes the entire game world visible (admirably without making it seem small.)

This is a game about survival, and as such a lot of the things you used to be able to count on in a Zelda game are no longer true. Simply smashing pots and cutting down grass won't get you hearts to recover your health. Instead, you'll find tons of fruits, vegetables, and meats in the world that you can cook into food. Cooking is pretty fun (you can experiment with different ingredients, though eventually you'll figure out a relatively straightforward formula) but you'll need to do a lot of it if you want to really stock up on health-replenishing items before going into a tough fight or area. As funky as the little cooking music is, this can get a little tedious.

Likewise, your weapons are not built to last. Granted, we tend to expect way more from video game weapons than their real-world counterparts (there's no way that an actual broadsword would be able to take the punishment your average WoW weapon does without breaking after like three fights,) but in Breath of the Wild, until you get the Master Sword (which itself will power-down if you use it against anything but the most obviously corrupted stuff after a while, giving it a recharge period) you'll be churning through weapons. You can strategically use weaker weapons when facing easier opponents, but just remember that nothing lasts, so don't be precious.

The open-world nature of Breath of the Wild does give you incredible freedom, but I do think you pay a bit of a price. The dungeons and shrines wind up feeling somewhat same-y. There's a lot of stuff in the open world that feels pretty unique (when you find the Lost Woods it definitely feels different) but the nonlinear nature of the progression means that a lot of the bokoblin and moblin camps kind of feel interchangeable.

There's also the fact that you have so much freedom in when you take things to Ganon that the pacing gets odd. For example, in my first play through I've found myself gravitating toward the Divine Beasts, and I left home in the middle of my fourth (the camel one in the desert.) I know there's a ton more to the game, but because everything has to be doable in any order, it means that you can burn through a lot of the "main event" stuff and then find yourself with a ton of side-missions (even if they're interesting side missions. I haven't even begun to explore Faron, for example) and a kind of nagging question of where it's time to just go and fight Ganon.

I really like the game, but I think I might have liked a more curated, guided tour of this iteration of Hyrule. The open-world aspects are arguably the fulfillment of the genre that Zelda spawned, but in embracing this freedom, the game also feels a bit more like other open-world games in ways that are perhaps not terrible, but not inspiring either.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

7.2 Tomb of Sargeras Drops March 28th

While those of us who raid LFR are probably still working on filling out tier sets in the Nighthold, this coming Tuesday we're going to be getting 7.2, the first big patch (not that 7.1 was small) and with it, eventually, the second official raid tier of Legion.

And we got a pretty kick-ass patch trailer too!

It looks like Kil'jaeden is not so happy about the repeated failures of the Legion to conquer Azeroth, and even gets into a little tiff with...

Oh crap, that's freaking Sargeras.

So if there were any doubts that Sargeras was running the show, here we see Kil'jaeden expressing a surprising amount of frustration with the Dark Titan. And we even get a glimpse of Argus, cracked by fel magic but still somewhat intact - the price that Kil'jaeden paid for the power Sargeras gave him.

So let's go over the major features of the 7.2 patch:

New Zone: The Broken Shore:

Technically you can already go to this zone in-game, but there's not really anything here (maybe some of the Kosuth the Hungering quests.) But with the Legion amping up their invasion, this place is the major battlefront.

The Broken Shore will see the various class orders allying as the Armies of Legionfall (the Ebon Blade/Silver Hand alliance might be a little awkward...) with new world quests and bringing back the Nethershard currency. Servers will be able to build up various structures that give bonuses to those questing on the isles.

New Raid: Tomb of Sargeras:

The second major raid tier and fourth raid of Legion (yep, already past Warlords) will see us delving into the Tomb, fighting demons and some allied Naga, as well as the construct that once served as the Avatar of Sargeras, as well as Kil'jaeden the Deceiver himself.

The raid will have nine bosses and has the tier 20 sets. These sets are based on the tier 6 (Black Temple/Hyjal Summit) sets, with the obvious exceptions for Death Knights, Monks, and Demon Hunters, who get new designs.

New Dungeon: Cathedral of Eternal Night:

This 4-boss dungeon will see us accompanying Illidan and Maiev to the top of the old Temple of Elune (under which is the Tomb of Sargeras) as we attempt to unlock the temple using the Aegis of Aggramar and fight the dreadlord Mephistroph.

CoEN will have a Heroic and Mythic mode, as well as a Mythic Plus mode. Additionally, heroic versions of Arcway, Court of Stars, and Return to Karazhan (divided into two wings) will be added, which means all the dungeons will be queue-able. CoEN's mythic mode should also have higher-quality gear (I think comparable to Nighthold LFR.)

New Class Content:

Each class gets a second part to their campaigns, culminating in a quest that rewards flying class mounts. Many of these mounts come in various colors - either duplicates that are available for purchase once the first one is attained or colors that shift as you change specs.

New Artifact Traits and Knowledge:

AK will go up so that we can get more AP to fill up new artifact traits. There will be a relatively short quest chain that players get after doing the initial Broken Shore stuff - one chain for each artifact, though you'll need to get the 35th trait to unlock the chain. In addition to a number of all-new traits, all 3-point traits will get a third rank for you to invest in.

Challenge Artifact Appearances:

Continuing, I believe, the chains that unlock the new traits, you'll be able to do a very challenging scenario to unlock a new artifact appearance. The first attempt will be free, but subsequent attempts will cost Nethershards, so this is something players might want to gear up for (it's being compared to the Green Fire quest from Mists of Pandaria, that was quite the challenge.)


Broken Isles Pathfinder part two will be achievable this patch, which will allow your characters (account wide) to fly around the Broken Isles. This involves getting revered with the Armies of Legionfall, finishing the new class campaign, and some other things (I believe getting a certain number of Nethershards, for example.)

Legion Invasions:

Invasions will be hitting the Broken Isles - attacking all five of the main zones. These don't work quite like the pre-expansion event. Instead, it appears that you'll have world-quest-like objectives to fight off the invading demonic forces. Then, a quick series of quests will lead to you boarding the demonic assault ship and defeat the leader of the invasion, which takes the form of a three-player scenario. These will reward gear and, I believe, Nethershards.

This should be a nice and big patch, adding to an expansion that I already find quite excellent.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Breath of the Wild: "Dungeons" and Resources

Traditionally, in a Zelda game, you smash pots or cut grass to replenish your health and supplies. Zelda never had a rebounding health meter the way some games did, but healing up didn't take a lot of effort, and getting things like arrows after you ran out was not the most difficult task.

In Breath of the Wild, you need to conserve like crazy. Even the important weapons that you get from beating major bosses will break after a bit of use. Link is constantly picking up new stuff, and if you go into a dungeon, you're going to want to have supplies - not just arrows and a full arsenal of weapons, but also good food to heal up with.

Cooking takes time, and sometimes you find that all the standard ingredients - apples, mushrooms, etc. - are out and all you have is the makings for some kind of buff elixir - which are fine, but not what you want to see when you're looking at a very small number of hearts left.

Breath of the Wild is not linear. I've been following what seems like the natural path - I went to the Zora and helped them get the Elephant Divine Beast online again and then headed north to Death Mountain to help out the Gorons and their Salamander thing. For all I know, the game steers you in this direction, or it's possible that I could have just gone west after Kakariko Village and done entirely different things.

The Ancient Beasts serve, I assume, as Breath of the Wild's main dungeons. These massive constructs (the open world of BotW recalls Shadow of the Colossus, and these beasts certainly seem of a similar style to the Colossi) must first be neutralized, which seems to be a unique quest chain for each, and then you go inside and solve puzzles.

While there are little bits of corruption to fight inside the Beasts, dungeons in Breath of the Wild are really puzzle-focused. Fighting is for the outdoors, and you'll get plenty of combat against Bokoblins and Moblins (and other things, though it's mostly, at least so far, those guys) as you explore.

While the Divine Beasts are almost entirely puzzle-based, they each end with a boss fight. Strategies are actually a bit less obvious in this game, given that you have all the "tool" abilities pretty much from the moment you leave the starting area.

Restoring a Divine Beast to order will not only bring its aid against Ganon, but you'll also get a passive effect based on the champion who piloted it a century ago. These seem like pretty powerful bonuses, which really incentivizes you to get those beasts, even though technically I think you can actually go straight to Ganon pretty early in the game.

I do have a little worry that I'm focusing too much on the main quest. In open-world games (and to an extent Zelda games have always been open-world games. You could argue they were the first major example of the genre) I am often driven to see the plot and not get overwhelmed by the many, many side activities one can do. With two major bosses down after having the game for only a day and a half, I do want to stop and smell the roses a bit. I guess the question is which roses first.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

First Impressions of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

So I got it for the Wii U. Don't get me wrong: I really want the Switch to succeed. But right now it's hard for me to justify getting a console for which there's really just one game I want. And my Wii U library's pretty thin as it is, so it's nice to get another entry there.

Moving on to the actual game:

Breath of the Wild is and isn't Zelda as you know it. The plot and art style is totally in keeping with Nintendo's traditions. But Breath of the Wild is somewhat more like an RPG than previous Zelda games have been. Weapons have stats and you'll burn through them really quickly. I imagine at some point you'll get the Master Sword and perhaps that one will either never break or be repairable, but for now, any given weapon lasts for a few fights at most. Thankfully, the enemies you fight often drop their own weapons (at least in these early hours, about four out of five things you fight are Bokoblins, who carry a variety of weapons.) So you're basically going to cycle through these things.

Rupees and Hearts are also tougher to come by. Recovering health is all about gathering food and cooking it. Cooking has plenty of benefits. In the kiddie-pool area (something I clearly did not explore fully because when my friend was playing it he found a named boss enemy in the wilds there) you'll find one snowy area where you take cold damage from the environment, but you also have a number of hot peppers that you can find there which, when cooked with other ingredients (actually, maybe by themselves as well) you can get food that gives you a couple minutes of cold resistance, which is just about enough to get you where you need to go.

One of the other breaks with tradition is that this Link is already a hero of legend. 100 years ago, Link (and it's explicitly Link, not "insert your name here") was Princess Zelda's chosen knight, and after being fatally wounded by Calamity Ganon (which seems like a much more elemental force than an individual) he was sealed away in a kind of stasis chamber. When he wakes up at the very start of the game, Link has no memories - only the voice of Zelda in his head.

I'm only a few hours in, but I believe that Breath of the Wild doesn't technically have dungeons. There are four Ancient Beasts that I suspect will serve as the major bosses, but the world is really wide open pretty early on. This game stresses survival and exploration. And the world is freaking enormous.

While much of the game actually has the open spaces that might remind you of Shadow of the Colossus, you're not actually alone here. There are a few towns and NPCs scattered about, and you'll actually have an honest-to-Hylia quest log.

But while there are waypoints that will tell you the general direction of where to go, you're going to need to do some exploring and strategizing to get there.

I think I'd still be playing now if my Wii U controller hadn't run out of batteries. I'm certain I'll post more about this game as I play through it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Nintendo Loyalist's Conundrum - Zelda: Breath of the Wild

We waited a long time for Twilight Princess.

During the Gamecube era, Nintendo announced there would be a new Zelda game after Wind Waker. I did eventually play Wind Waker, which actually deserves a little more credit than teenager me wanted to give it (this was an era when Pokemon was exploding in popularity and Nintendo was being seen as the "little kid" video game company, which as a teenager was something I resented - you know, like how teenagers suck? Anyway, the graphic style of Wind Waker was not the for-the-time high-rez Zelda game that the tech demos for the Gamecube seemed to have promised.)

Twilight Princess wound up being a launch title for the Wii, but it was also released on the Gamecube (actually later I think,) and sort of left those with Gamecubes in a conundrum of whether they wanted to invest in the new system or play it on the old one.

Personally, Twilight Princess is up there in maybe my top three Zelda games (Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past being in the top two spots, though I vacillate on which order to put them in.) I love the style and dungeon design, and I find it pretty ironic in retrospect that it got such underwhelming reviews while Skyward Sword was given sweeping 10/10s.

I wound up getting a Wii and Twilight Princess as my first game for it.

Now, we wound up getting a truly Wii-centric Zelda game in Skyward Sword, which I didn't actually wind up liking as much.

Now we're in a kind of similar state with the Wii U and the Switch.

The Wii U seemed like a great idea at the time, and Nintendo came out with some cool concepts for it. But ultimately, it feels like half a system. I realize it's been almost five years since it came out, which is kind of average for a console generation (the fact that it seems short must mean I'm getting older) but there was just never a big library for it. Even Nintendo didn't really seem to fully believe in it, with first and second party games from big franchises never appearing. Unless I'm really missing something we never got a Metroid game for the Wii U.

But while Nintendo will put out tons of Mario games, Zelda is something that is typically once or twice in a console generation - but it's always there.

Breath of the Wild was supposed to be a Wii U game (I think you even get a tablet in-game that is kind of a proxy for the Wii U controller,) but now it's basically the reason to get a Switch.

I have such fond feelings for Nintendo, and if the reviews are to be believed, the company can still come out with utterly amazing games. They are a seriously quality over quantity company, which I respect (to be honest, I think that these days I'm much happier to have one game I play for a long time than a bunch of games I can cycle through. Like a certain MMORPG that dominates this blog.)

But I also feel a little burned by the Wii U. The Wii U concept was much less gimicky in my opinion than the Wii (ok, it had more gimicks, but it was still giving you something recognizable as a video game controller) but a system is nothing without a good library.

So right now, they want people to roll the dice on the Switch, and for the record, I really, really hope the console is a huge success for them. But this early on, I'm hesitant to plunk down for a new console (especially since I just got a PS4 last year) with only one game I'm super excited to play.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Fate of Class Halls

Class Orders are something that I think players had always been interested in. There's been something kind of like them from the start, but only for a few classes. Druids had an entire zone to themselves, Moonglade. Rogues had Ravenholdt, and there were a few organizations that were mostly affiliated with certain classes, like the Argent Dawn for Paladins.

When Death Knights were introduced, they got a very clear class identity, thanks in large part to their special introductory quest chain (it wouldn't have made sense to have them show up at the standard racial kiddie pools with a bunch of level 1 characters.) Death Knights actually introduced with them the real prototype for the class hall: Acherus, the Ebon Hold.

Not only was this where Death Knights began their adventures, but it became a home-away-from-home. While Druids would go to Moonglade on occasion for specific quests, Acherus gave you a reason to keep going back, namely Runeforges. It struck a very similar balance to how class halls work in Legion - you wouldn't spend all your time there, but you'd want to visit any time you got a new weapon or wanted a few smacks at a target dummy without having to go back to one of the old capitals.

And its design was such that it was just big enough to feel like a real, significant location without feeling so vast that it was a pain to get around.

Monks, the only non-hero class introduced after the game came out, got something very similar with the Peak of Serenity in Kun-Lai Summit. This not only allowed Monks to get to Pandaria long before level 85, but also gave them their own little area to chill and be Monks. Without the Runeforging mechanic, Monk players instead got a class quest every 10 levels that sent them there and granted a nice blue item, as well as a daily quest that would give them a little XP boost.

If we count Peak of Serenity, Ravenholdt, and Moonglade as class halls before that was an official thing, it's kind of interesting that Acherus is the only one to have carried over into Legion. Druids have the Dreamgrove now, Rogues have the Hall of Shadows (which is, ironically, an area of the Underbelly that was open to all players in Wrath,) and Monks have, for very clear story reasons, a new home on the Wandering Isle (which also has the added benefit of actually letting players return to that zone. Wonder if they'll do something like that for Kezan or the Lost Isles at some point?)

Blizzard often talks about features for expansions versus evergreen features. They've made it clear that artifact weapons are of the former category - we're going to have to check our Ashbringers, Doomhammers, and Scepters of Sargeras before we move on to expansion seven. But class orders, and potentially their halls, seem like the sort of thing that ought to be evergreen content.

To be sure: while the Horde and Alliance are largely sitting this fight out (we'll be charitable and say that they're overwhelmed by invasions at home,) I expect us to get our teams blue and red back in working order next expansion.

But unless we manage to seriously disgrace ourselves somehow, our Paladins will presumably still be Highlord of the Silver Hand, and our Hunters will presumably still be Huntmasters of the Unseen Path.

The key, I think, to whether class halls remain evergreen is what we'll actually have there.

The artifact altars will be pretty irrelevant when we're back to wielding relatively anonymous weapons. The scouting maps could still be relevant if Blizzard wants to keep doing these champion mission things, though I wouldn't be too upset if they didn't.

And that kind of leaves little other than aesthetics. Death Knights will still need their runeforges (ironically, this expansion they've been collecting dust given that you only have three sets of weapons that you can runeforge once and then never have to worry about again.) But beyond that, there's really nothing else to really make you go there other than hanging out in a very class-appropriate area.

Blizzard could find new ways to use class halls - I'd be happy to see them continue the theme of class campaigns as an evergreen feature - but if they don't, I think this could actually be a kind of backdoor into some of the player housing features people have wanted for ages.

One thing that's kind of fun is that you can actually collect armor appearances for stands in your class hall (Demon Hunters being the exception, as so far they've only had one tier set.) Collecting every piece of a tier set will, assuming it isn't bugged (I've definitely got every piece of Death Knight tier 10 in all three colors,) show it hanging on a little armor stand in your class hall. This kind of trophy system is something I had really hoped for in Warlords with the garrison.

But garrisons were so closely tied with Draenor - a world that we're unlikely to every make any significant return to.

Class halls, on the other hand, aren't so obviously tied to the Legion expansion. Yes, several are at the Broken Isles, but most of these feel pretty justified - the Dreamgrove is where Malfurion learned to Druid, so that's pretty important to the class. Having Mages in Dalaran makes perfect sense. And Acherus has moved once - it could move again.

And then a ton of the class halls are in areas that have little to do with the Broken Isles. Paladins' Sanctum of Light is just an expansion of Light's Hope Chapel (and a place that was referred to in the Death Knight starting quests.) The Heart of Azeroth is tied more to Cataclysm than Legion. And Dreadscar and Mardum are both other worlds.

So it would not be hard to just open new portals to these places in the new capital city area of expansion seven. It's really just a question of whether Blizzard can come up with mechanical reasons to keep them relevant.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Aftermath of the Nighthold

With Betrayer's Rise now easily accessible to anyone through LFR, I think we can take the spoiler tags off of what happens at the end of it.

I know I've heard some people hoping that Gul'dan (and to be clear, this is Gul'dan B we're talking about) would survive to plague us some more, but this doppelganger Gul'dan is now just as dead as his main-universe counterpart, dying actually across a narrow strait from each other.

What we have accomplished in finishing the Nighthold raid is actually quite a few things. First, with the defeat of Elisande, the Dusk Lily rebellion has succeeded. While for gameplay reasons Suramar's always going to have hostile Duskwatch and demons, lore-wise Thalyssra and her followers have taken the city.

With the removal of the Eye of Aman'thul from the city, the Nightwell will die. The good news is that with the Arcan'dor, the Nightborne should be able to escape the addiction that would have turned them into withered - something that the Blood Elves actually never pulled off (though given that the Sunwell is now half Arcane and half Holy, they're in pretty good shape.)

This does probably mean that we won't be seeing much of the Nightfallen crew anymore - they have to rebuild their society amid a continuing Legion invasion. I liked these characters, and would not mind seeing them again in the future, but I'm skeptical that we will.

Gul'dan is dead. Frankly I expected him to be the final boss of Warlords of Draenor, but I think it's actually kind of interesting how they used him to bridge the gap between expansions (much like Garrosh did previously.) And while I was never a huge Varian fan, getting justice for what happened to him on the Broken Shore felt pretty good.

But let's also talk about the biggest thing to come out of this:

Gul'dan was trying to use the Eye of Aman'thul to turn Illidan's corpse into a vessel for Sargeras. He tore a rift into a very red part of the Twisting Nether, but upon his defeat, the rift collapsed. And in doing so, the crystal that held Illidan was broken, and with his body free, his soul was able to return to it.

Illidan does actually steal our kill, incinerating Gul'dan from the inside just as the latter had done to Varian. And he crushes his skull for good measure (actually, thanks, Illidan. The last time Gul'dan's skull was left lying around it caused all sorts of problems.)

The big point, though, is Illidan is back from the dead. And as Demon Hunters would know from their campaign, while he has been dead, he has still been able to see what's happening, and it looks like he's ready to get the old plan to destroy the Legion back on track.

It's actually pretty exciting to see a cutscene after a first-tier raid boss. I'm hoping that Blizzard will start doing this for all the major raids, given how since Wrath it has only been for expansion-bosses.

We have to wait for 7.2, but at this point we have Illidan back, Suramar has been liberated, and we now have all five Pillars of Creation. Now we're heading to the Broken Shore to take the Tomb of Sargeras and use those pillars like we planned.

And nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Betrayer's Rise LFR - Tank Perspective

Here's the good news: if your co-tank dies and cannot be battle-rezed in phase 3, it's ok! You can solo tank it.

This LFR wing is short and sweet - there's no trash, so you just readycheck and go.

Gul'dan has three phases. He's using the Nightwell in an attempt to use Illidan's body as a vessel for Sargeras, but thankfully the Nightwell (presumably thanks to Elisande's ghost/echo helping you out) will grant players abilities that help with the fight.

Tanks get a couple-second total immunity that takes something like a minute to recharge. You'll want to save this for key abilities.

I believe DPS gets a damage buff that will remain as long as you don't take fire damage.

On phase one, Gul'dan is unattackable, but he'll summon three mini-bosses.

One is a felguard that has a nasty attack that will kill you if you're not using your extra action button (though on LFR you might be able to just use a 50% damage reduction cooldown.)

One is an Inquisitor that doesn't need to be tanked.

One is a Jailor that will throw down soul prisons that all raid members need to run from.

With all the minibosses dead, you move on to phase 2.

During this phase, there will be eye adds that don't need to be tanked. The tanks should stack right on top of each other to prevent his Fel Scythe from powering up. Occasionally the current tank will be knocked back and hit with a snare. You need to run far enough away from your impact point to break the snare, but doing so also does a ton of damage to you - so you use your extra action button.

The other tank should taunt when this happens and then you should stack up again.

On phase 3, you want to pull Gul'dan to one end of the platform. He'll do some nasty damage to you (I think he still does Fel Scythe, but at least on LFR I was able to solo-tank him.) The eyes will keep coming, but as a tank you don't need to worry too much about that.

The key thing is that Gul'dan will occasionally cast a massive AoE that radiates out from him. You want to run as fast as you can to the other side of the platform to avoid getting hit by it (it's centered on him, which is why you always want him close to the edge in this phase.

And for a tank in LFR, that seems to be about it. It's a fun fight that will actually see your health bar dropping.

Now, here's a big tip: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE: when you turn in the quest to Khadgar (assuming you did the 7.1 Suramar quests) he'll ask you to help teleport the eyes of Aman'thul to Dalaran. DO THIS BEFORE YOU LEAVE.

(EDIT: A note on Fel Scythe:

Because the first week I didn't have a co-tank for much of the fight, I didn't have a great sense of this ability.

Gul'dan gradually builds up energy. If there's a player within 2 yards of the tank, he'll expend all of it and do Fel Scythe, hitting both of them. This also stacks up a buff that increases the damage of Fel Scythe. This stacks up to 10 and hits very hard at that level (probably fatal damage if you're not on LFR.) If he hits full energy, I believe he instantly hits 10 stacks.

So what you do is that while you're not tanking the boss, you step in and let him Fel Scythe once, then step away from the other tank and let his buff fall off (it only lasts a few seconds.) As soon as it falls of, you step in again to make him Fel Scythe. This way he's always casting it at minimum energy and never getting more than one stack of the buff (and if it falls off without getting refreshed, the buff is moot.) So tanks are going to be doing a little hokey-pokey dance with each other over the course of the fight.)

Also, despite only being the first raid tier's boss, Gul'dan gets a cinematic. Spoilers to follow:

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Void, the Naaru, and the Old Gods

The Void is really the wellspring of all problems in the Warcraft universe, but it's also necessary for there to be existence in the first place. Even with six primal forces at work, it seems there was originally just Light, and when that receded from certain parts of the cosmos, it left Void (and the clashing of Light and Void then created the other aspects of the universe, like the Twisting Nether and the Great Dark Beyond.)

Star Augur Etraeus takes us on a tour of the cosmos in his fight - first to the mundane but cold Great Dark Beyond, then the chaotic Twisting Nether, and finally into the horrific Void. Etraeus describes the "true horror of our reality" as "avatars of non-existence, knowing only hunger."

That seems to confirm the notion that the Void is truly a kind of paradox - a place defined by its not being a place, with beings in it defined by not existing.

There's a kind of irony here, which is that the Void has seen two major representatives in-game. There are the disgusting, fleshy, goopy Old Gods and their related corruption, and the sterile and cold Voidwalkers.

Voidwalkers are often classified as demons, especially as they are used by Warlocks. But Voidwalkers (and related Void beings) are fundamentally different from Imps, Felguards, and the like. While their origins seem to range from humanoids to beasts to elementals that were corrupted with Fel magic, the thing that seems to tie demons together is that their souls are bound to the Twisting Nether.

Almost all demons found themselves conscripted into the Burning Legion, which is a handy way of keeping track of them, and to be sure, Voidwalkers are employed by the Legion. Even though its purpose is theoretically to defeat the Void (by destroying any universe that the Void could corrupt,) the Legion is perfectly willing to employ Shadow Magic. We can't really call this out as hypocrisy though given that the heroes of Azeroth count Demon Hunters, Warlocks, Death Knights, and Shadow Priests among themselves. Indeed, the Legion's use of Shadow magic could easily be explained the same way we explain using it - it's powerful can can be turned to one's own purposes.

But that still means the Voidwalkers aren't exactly demons.

Or perhaps they are.

Here's the thing: in Warlords of Draenor, we saw Nerzhul-B using Shadow magic derived from K'ara, the injured and corrupted Naaru that hovered above Shadowmoon Valley (I wonder if this was how the valley and its clan got its name.) In addition to using necromancy (which is theoretically its own separate branch of magic but also seems to be accessible via Fel or Shadow magic,) Ner'zhul has Void beings that work for him.

The odd thing is that these void beings are classified as Aberrations, rather than demons.

But that makes sense - generally in WoW, Aberration (a creature type introduced in Mists of Pandaria's 5.2) refer either to oozes or to things associated with the Old Gods (including the Old Gods themselves.)

But if we are to assume that most if not all demons were originally some other kind of being, and that those types can extend from humanoids (e.g. Felguards) to beasts (e.g. Dreadstalkers) to elementals (e.g. Infernals) then perhaps it isn't impossible to imagine that an Aberration could also be converted. If all it takes to be classified as a demon is that their soul is bound to the Twisting Nether, perhaps that's what the demon-type Voidwalkers are.

There does seem to be an opposite number to the standard Voidwalker, which is the Lightspawn. Priests actually get to recruit a champion named Sol who is an entity of pure light.

But we've also seen a connection between more powerful void beings and Naaru. Namely, that when Naaru go dark, they seem to become Void Gods. We saw this happen with M'uru's transformation into Entropius, as well as with K'ure-B in Oshugun-B.

Now is this what the Void Lords are? It seems unlikely, given that the Void Lords created the Old Gods, who seem way more powerful than a single Naaru or anti-Naaru.

But there's also an interesting question here, which is why the Old Gods seem so very different from the Void beings we've encountered. The Old Gods are heavily associated with madness - both eliciting it and embodying it. The Void beings are horrific, and certainly we've seen things like the Pale arise in their presence, but the void beings themselves seem far less chaotic in nature.

And then we have to take a look at the fleshiness. The Void is, as we said earlier, a realm of nothingness. But the Old Gods and their associated eldritch monsters are decidedly fleshy. They're disgusting in a way that only organic material could ever be. And not only that, but they programmed in the Curse of Flesh to the formerly metal-and-stone-based Titan creations (though there seem to be more hints coming that the Curse of Flesh is not entirely original to the Old Gods.)

The Void Lords created the Old Gods to infect World-Souls because they couldn't do so directly. But given that the Void Lords are, as Etraeus said, "avatars of non-existence" and inhabit a realm of nothingness, how could they create the Old Gods in the first place?

Now, sure, you could simply say that the lack of explanation there just lends more to the creepy, Lovecraftian vibe of them. But perhaps there's a different explanation: Perhaps the Old Gods are something that existed, in some form, before being used by the Void.

What they were prior to becoming what they are is something I could only guess at - they could be biomass corrupted by the Void not entirely unlike the way that demons are corrupted by the Fel, or they could be things that were once Naaru-like beings. Or perhaps they were just some really odd alien life out there in the Great Dark Beyond.

It just seems odd that the Void - a primordial force that is about purity just as much as the Light - would manifest as beings that are the embodiment of impurity and, well, messiness.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Taking the Broken Shore in 7.2

Legion began with a catastrophic defeat. It was actually a really good move on Blizzard's part to sell the stakes of the expansion. There was really no benefit to our actions in that first invasion - except perhaps to demonstrate to us how ill-prepared we were.

Given the losses there - Varian, Vol'jin, and Tirion Fordring - the expansion has been building up to this new assault. No longer the two factions working only kind of together, instead we have the Armies of the Legionfall - a faction composed of all twelve class orders, who are working with far better integration, each class playing to its own strengths.

When 7.2 hits, you'll get a quest to go to Krasus' Landing in Dalaran and begin a scenario that has you assault the Shore again. You wind up taking the southwest corner of the island, and after a fight with Mephistroph (who retreats to the Cathedral of Eternal Night - the new 5-player dungeon) you claim your beachhead.

You get a number of quests sending you out into the zone - one basically has you get all the flight points while another has you travel to the lost temple area where Ret Paladins and Vengeance Demon Hunters got their artifacts (I think that's all...) This quest unlocks new levels of artifact knowledge, giving you a freebie that, assuming you're at 25 now, will boost you from 24,900% increased AP to 100,000%. And you'll be able to research more that will eventually let you hit either knowledge level 40 or 50 (can't remember what the latest build had.)

Of course, with some people at 54 traits now, you can probably imagine that they need to give you more traits to work with.

After doing a couple more quests in the Broken Shore, you'll get new quests for each specialization for which you have unlocked the first "prestige" trait in the corresponding artifact. These overlap, but no single class will have the same quest chain to do twice (there's only one tank chain, I believe, but because Priests have two healing classes, I believe there are two chains for healing.)

These quests very much feel like set-ups for later chains (perhaps these are the new artifact model quests?) as all of them seem to end with an anticlimax, but completing the chain will unlock the new artifact traits for that particular weapon (you'll need to do the quests for every artifact you intend to keep upgrading.) In addition to four new traits (one of which is a golden trait) you'll also unlock a fourth rank in all of the previously-three-rank traits. Yeah, they really want to give us reasons to keep grinding AP.

The Broken Shore zone is not small, and has plenty of world quests to keep you busy. The world quests here reward a new resource in addition to traditional world quest stuff, which is used to build the various structures on the base - this seems to be server-based, so the more people who contribute, the faster those buildings get built. The buildings have various effects that can help you out as you adventure there.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Look at 7.2's Invasions

Playing on the PTR, I got to experience most of an invasion of Azsuna.

The pre-Legion launch event, which saw invasions of Azshara, Northern Barrens, Tanaris, Hillsbrad, Dun Morogh, and Westfall, was a very popular event that got players of all stripes together fighting demons.

In 7.2, similar invasions will occur in the zones of the Broken Isles, though these will work a little differently.

The launch events had four clear phases - fighting a mini-invasion usually in a major town, then a boss in that town, then demons across the whole zone, ending with a tougher boss in town.

It looks like 7.2's will function a bit more like world quests.

When an invasion hits your zone, the current world quests will be put on hold, but new ones will pop up that deal with the invading demons. It appears that these count toward emissary quests, so there's no real downside to an invasion hitting in the middle of your world questing.

Once you clear four of these invasion quests, you'll get a quest to meet with a representative of the zone (in my case, Prince Farondis.) In Azsuna, I was sent to the Temple of a Thousand Lights (near Shackle's Den) to fight my way through the demonic hordes until I defeated some of the demons leading the invasion. I then got a bombing-run quest to destroy a fel conduit. Finally, I was given a quest to do a scenario dealing with the general who led the assault, but it was here that PTR issues were PTR issues, and things got cut short.

The invasion world quests seem to have comparable rewards with normal world quests, though they might be higher quality (I got a pair of 855 - well, 860 warforged - shoulders) but it might simply be that world quest rewards are getting buffed in 7.2 (which would make sense.)

I'm actually a little disappointed that it's not the total free-for-all that it was in the launch event, but given that A: people won't be able to unlock flying for a bit and B: there will be other stuff to do, I guess they can't really model things on the idea that hundreds of players will be swarming the zones to fight the bad guys (though if they wanted to do something similar to the Legion invasions for next expansion's launch, I would not complain.)

I don't know if there's any kind of scaling with gear going on, but the demons invading are rather tough. My Death Knight had Flaskataur-provided Normal tier 19 gear and two legendaries and while I wouldn't say he was ever really in danger of going down, he was definitely not carving up these demons as quickly as he might do with regular Azsuna mobs.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Crimes of the Ebon Blade

So in the last post, I talked about the many objectively bad things the Illidari have done. A fair amount of that post was how they differed from the Knights of the Ebon Blade - the organization for the other hero (I say villain) class.

The Death Knights are a little different. In their bad days, there was no "ends justify the means" kind of rationalization of what they were doing, because their ends were literally the end of all life on the planet, converting everyone into undead under the domination of the Lich King. And their switch from villains to heroes was a very conscious choice at a key moment.

The motivations for this change are actually, I think, a bit open to interpretation. I've always been under the impression that the power of Light's Hope Chapel (the many righteous dead buried there, whose tombs you can now visit if you're a Paladin) broke the connection the Lich King had with the Death Knights' wills - a bit like how Illidan cracking the Frozen Throne allowed the Forsaken to break away.

But there's another element to it, which is that the Lich King used the Death Knights as fodder - he didn't expect them to survive the battle. The key was to draw out Tirion Fordring and hopefully kill him before he could lead the effort against the Scourge in Northrend.

After this point, the Ebon Blade made the Scourge target number one.

Death Knights, by their nature, have disturbing methods. But if we are to judge by Thassarian's example (who granted, is kind of the moral paragon of the Ebon Blade,) the Death Knights are now basically the same people they used to be, only now with a consuming addiction to causing pain.

Thankfully for the Death Knights, Azeroth is a world that is constantly beset by demons and elementals and aberrations who can be fought without remorse. And so for the past few expansions, Death Knights have more or less blended in with the rest of the Alliance and Horde forces.

In Legion, though, thanks to the fact that there are actually class-specific stories again, the Ebon Blade has been up to some really shady stuff.

The 7.0 class hall campaign for Death Knights has you assemble a new Four Horsemen to serve as champions for the Ebon Blade.

First off: the reason you're doing this is because the Lich King told you to. While it's Bolvar, and not Arthas, who you're dealing with, it has become very clear that the Lich King itself is the real dominant personality regardless of who is wearing the crown. Bolvar isn't trying to sweep over the entire planet with undeath, but he's definitely not turning Icecrown into a friendly ski resort town either. There's a definite question of whether the Lich King is truly trying to keep the undead under control or if the Scourge will arise as a threat once more in the future. And if that happens, it has become surprisingly unclear what side the Ebon Blade will be on.

While raising anyone as a death knight without their prior consent (so, basically all death knights except I guess Baron Rivendare?) is of course horrifyingly immoral, the campaign ends with the most brazen and villainous thing any of the classes do during their campaigns.

Seeking the fourth horseman, the Lich King sends you to retrieve the body of Tirion Fordring. Not only would turning this great paragon of the Light who very specifically fought against the Scourge into a Death Knight be a cruel fate to impose on one of Azeroth's greatest heroes, doing so also requires you to attack another order's class hall.

It's also a pretty terrible plan, given how the last attack on Light's Hope Chapel went for the Ebon Blade, but that's neither here nor there.

Death Knights fight their way into the Sanctum of Light, slaying paladins who are guarding the order hall. Ultimately, as they attempt to get to Fordring's resting place, Lady Liadrin shows up and lays the smackdown on them, leaving Darion Mograine dead. However, for a Death Knight that's more of an inconvenience, and he is raised in Tirion's place to lead the horsemen, taking on the role that his father had way back in the original Naxxramas raid.

As of yet, the Ebon Blade has not had to pay any real price for attacking their allies.

But they're not even done.

Spoilers for something in 7.2, just to warn you:

Death Knights will be sent to Icecrown to raise an ancient dragon corpse, but in order to discover its true location, they have to go to the Ruby Sanctum and access their archives.

Now, a normal person would, you know, ask. And given their intentions, they'd lie about what they were going to do with this corpse. But rather than that, you actually go into the Sanctum and kill a bunch of red dragons (and remember, dragons are sterile after the Hour of Twilight, so you're basically killing members of an endangered species.)

After slaying Silver Hand paladins and red dragons, you really have to wonder when the Ebon Blade is going to pay a price for all of this. In fact, unlike pretty much all of the other class campaigns (I think it's them and Shamans,) you don't actually do anything to fight the Legion. If anything, the damage you've done has hindered the war effort.

Death Knights aren't going to be nice, sure, but one would think they couldn't go around doing stuff like this without some consequences.