Monday, July 31, 2017

The Continuing Hunt for Hidden Artifact Appearances

Artifact appearances are not that easy to unlock. The initial ones and then the "heroic" versions you get for finishing your class campaign are obtainable by practically anyone, but unlocking others requires either some dedicated non-LFR raiding, extensive PvP, or completing very difficult artifact challenges (to be fair, I haven't actually attempted any of the challenges yet, as I'm told that the one I most want, the Protection Paladin one, which is also for my main character, has a recommended item level of 915, which I'm 9 points short of.)

However, each artifact has a hidden appearance, and this can sometimes be the easiest to acquire. That being said, it's also sometimes infuriatingly difficult.

One of the major reasons for this is that almost every hidden appearance involves getting an item or items with an extremely low droprate.

Only two that I know of can be acquired with no real preparation or really luck. Beast Mastery Hunters simply buy it from a vendor, while Havoc Demon Hunters must fight a somewhat challenging enemy over Felsoul Hold in Suramar. Technically, Demon Hunters are supposed to acquire an item that has a low droprate within the Hold to give to an NPC who will fling you up to the flying enemy, but you can actually jump down from Obsidian Overlook in Highmountain and glide into the felbat's pocket of air.

A number require reputation, or a reputation in conjunction with a drop.

And some are either just a rare drop or an entire quasi-quest series that are all about rare drops.

The Corrupted Ashbringer look is the one I've done that was the most infuriating, requiring a number of rare drops (some but not all of which could be acquired on the Auction House) and then waiting for an extremely rare enemy to pop up in Western Plaguelands, and then having to fish potentially a thousand times out of the Throndoril River between WPL and EPL.

At the moment, I have the following hidden appearances acquired. Note that if you unlock alternate colors for one hidden appearance you actually get them for your other specs as well, meaning that only the "base" color truly requires you to get that hidden appearance item. I'm only listing the ones for which I have the base color.

Paladin: Protection, Retribution
Death Knight: Blood, Frost, Unholy
Warrior: Arms
Hunter: Beast Mastery
Shaman: Enhancement
Demon Hunter: Havoc
Rogue: Subtlety (just got this the other day.)
Druid: Restoration (likewise)
Monk: Brewmaster
Mage: Frost

As of yet, I don't have any for Priests or Warlocks, though for Warlocks I'm 2/6 skulls found for the Demonology appearance and I have the initial quest item for the Affliction item (obtained while farming Eredar skulls.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Archdruid "Mount" and Reflections on the Broken Shore

All right! That's all of them.

Druids don't get a mount, exactly, but instead get an altered Flight Form, which is a sort of horned owl. If you like the old form better (and I might, to be honest) you can talk to an NPC near the Shrine of Aviana in the Dreamgrove to swap back. It appears that the color scheme of this is based on race, not class, as my Night Elf shifted from Balance to Feral and had the same color. I also imagine that it won't apply to low-level alts as it's not really a mount in your collection like the other ones are.

The quest chain involves attempting to defend her Shrine on Mount Hyjal and then going to Azsuna with Thisalee Crow in order to recover the idol a Dreadlord steals.

Like the 7.0 class campaigns, the mount quests are a bit of a mixed bag. Some, like the Death Knight one, feel totally in-tune with the class identity and are really a lot of fun, while others feel a bit generic (the Priest quests for example could have been for any class.) They also vary widely in difficulty. The Shaman one is extremely quick and easy whereas the Rogue one is genuinely difficult in a way that will never get easier, as it'll always require you to (eventually) have to sneak into the enemy faction's most popular auction house.

Some classes have mounts that change based on your spec, while other classes get a baseline mount and then alternate color schemes that can be purchased with order resources only once you unlock Concordance of the Legionfall on the spec's artifact (so far I've unlocked the Protection and Retribution Paladin mounts and the Subtlety Rogue one.) And some classes simply get one mount that always looks the same and that's it.

Of course, getting all these mounts means I also had to do the Legionfall campaign twelve times. I have to say that compared with the Suramar quests or what I've seen of what we're getting in 7.3, the Legionfall "campaign" really feels a lot more like the kind of guided-tour quests that we got on the Timeless Isle - not really any plot, but rather a series of quests to introduce you to the features of a zone with several different weird little systems going on.

I'm hesitant to say that the Broken Shore lacked plot - after all, the expansion's introduction took place there, and that was maybe the most exciting way they've ever launched an expansion. Alliance players also get a nice character moment through quests surrounding Anduin and his grief over his father (made more poignant to me due to my going through a similar situation.)

Still, the Broken Shore felt light on revelations, and the campaign felt a little more chore-like than a grand adventure to quest through. Also, they really should have had us kill the rare elites before having us do the Sentinax quest, as those guys consistently drop beacons.

I haven't even attempted any of the artifact challenges yet (I'm sort of waiting to overgear them) but I hope that after people head to Argus that the building rotation doesn't slow too much.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What to Keep From Legion

"Best" expansions are obviously a matter of opinion. There are some people I'm sure who absolutely adored Warlords of Draenor. But the general consensus in the past has been that Wrath of the Lich King, or for some people, Burning Crusade, was WoW's best expansion. I lean more toward Wrath, given its introduction of the Death Knight, the iconic Scourge antagonist (not to mention the glory that was Ulduar) and the general way in which raiding was accessible to casual guilds so that normal players could really experience endgame content.

Legion is the first expansion since Wrath that rivals it, and could take its place.

Legion brought a ton of cool new features with it, and has generally been pretty exciting for long-term players, introducing a ton of elements that we've been waiting to see for a long time. I think (normal +) raiding is more accessible that it has been since Wrath, and generally there's just a lot of stuff to do.

Obviously not all features that came with Legion can come with us. And some, like Demon Hunters as a playable class, are a feature that will obviously continue to be a part of the game for the rest of its lifespan.

But let's take the less obvious stuff that I'd like to see in future expansions.

Level Scaling:

Now, first, a caveat: one of the downsides of level scaling is that leveling zones don't have a real story flow. In Draenor, Alliance players at least got to see Y'rel go from a prisoner forced to work in mines for the Shadowmoon clan to rising as the Draenei's greatest hero and eventually becoming an Exarch. When zones can be done in any order, there's not really room for continuity between them.

That beings said: having the entire Broken Isles available for top-level content has really made open-world questing at the level cap a far more interesting and diverse experience. I think that if Blizzard wanted to have each new "continent" scale up to its expansion's level cap, I'd be fine with it.

On the other hand:

Top-Level Quest Zones:

Historically, when a zone was meant for players of at the level cap, it tended to have very little in the way of story. Now, Broken Shore kind of falls into that pattern. But Suramar and what I've seen on the PTR for the three Argus zones is much more what I've been wanting ever since they started talking about Vale of Eternal Blossoms when Mists was announced.

The joy of questing is about playing through an interesting story, and Suramar's Dusk Lily resistance was a fantastic story. Having a questing zone where you can make use of your raid gear to show off just how much of a badass you've become is a lot of fun, and something I hope they do more of this kind of thing.

Class Order Content:

I'm a little worried to see that there's nothing as of yet in the 7.3 PTR about class-specific content. While designing 12 different experiences can sometimes dilute the creative resources (and certainly some class campaigns were a lot more interesting than others) I think that keeping class orders and their order halls relevant would be a really fantastic thing for the game.

So often one can feel a little out of place - my Undead Rogue sometimes feels strange in the spikes and animal hides of the Horde's typically Orcish environments, but the Hall of Shadows is much more his kind of place (especially the treasure room.) Order halls are a great way to remind you of your class identity and feel at home, and quests surrounding those orders is a great way to reinforce the idea of your class.

Mainhand/Offhand coming as one:

This is really a consequence of the artifact system, but not having to worry about getting a sword to go with my shield is a real relief. I could imagine future weapons coming in sets. This one's minor.

Many Artifact Traits:

I know artifacts are a Legion-only feature, but a lot of the traits introduced with them would be great additions to the baseline specs or as talents.

World Quests:

World quests are a really far superior version of Daily Quests. Not having to pick them up at a hub and only having to do four of a larger number to get your "big reward" of the day makes it feel a lot less like a chore. Plus, having voice-acted introductions instead of quest text is a good way to get you into the questing quickly.

Legion has brought a bunch of cool new features, and while some are destined to wind up left behind on the Broken Isles, I think that many have earned their places in future WoW content to come.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Battlelord, Huntmaster, Grandmaster, and High Priest Mount Quests

Oh right, I was doing a quick rundown of these quests.

With only the Druid to go (waiting on world quests now) I have, over the past few weeks, gotten the mounts for Warriors, Hunters, Monks, and Priests. Let's take a look!


This is one of the simpler ones, though like the Mage, it involves a couple of somewhat tricky combat encounters. You need to make ample use of mobility and survival abilities (and interrupts!) to make it through yet another trial that Odyn is putting you through (seriously Odyn, you're like an emotionally distant father for whom nothing is ever good enough.)

The mount itself is a much more up-to-date Proto-drake model that changes colors based on your spec. Arms gets red, Fury black, and Protection purple (not sure why they chose those. I'd think Red was the obvious fury color, and given that Arms has a partially Old-God-corrupted sword and Protection has a shield made from a scale of Deathwings, it seems really obvious that they should get purple and black, respectively. But oh well.)


This actually involves Odyn as well, and sends you to the Fields of the Eternal Hunt, where you track down various beasts of legend (using your Beast hunter tracking you can easily find tracks or leavings of various kinds.) Ultimately in culminates in the discovery of the ancient Wolfhawk spirit, and you get a mount of that kind.

The Wolfhawk mount comes in various colors that, like the Paladin mounts, require you to fill out the upgraded artifact tree to get. However, Beastmasters don't get a recolor but instead get the ability to tame a wolfhawk pet (I'm not sure yet where to find these guys, but I'm a ways from finishing the artifact.)


Monks get a relatively lengthy quest chain taking you through a fair amount of Kun Lai Summit at the behest of Master Bu as you attempt to track down Ban-Lu, a son of Xuen's who has served many Grandmasters through the past.

Ban-Lu does not change appearance and there are not variants on that appearance, but the baseline's very pretty. Additionally, Ban-Lu will speak with you occasionally as you ride him, which is kind of fun.

High Priest:

Brann and Magni contact you when you start the mount quest, taking you to a long-lost Titan vault that contains the last three remnants of the Seekers, a kind of Owl/Gryphon hybrid that apparently once served the Titans. As often happens, you presence activates some sort of defense protocol, and so you have to fight off waves of Titanforged (Watchers, Golems, and Earthen) before you take the Seekers into your custody.

There's one seeker for each spec, with the "void-corrupted" one going to Shadow Priests. Like the Warrior, Death Knight, Shaman, and Mage mounts, this changes automatically based on spec.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Unexpected on Argus

Much of the experience of coming to Argus is what you'd expect: this planet has served as the capital world of the Burning Legion for 25,000 years. That means a lot of it is fel-blasted and swarming with demons. Many of those demons are the eredar - it's their homeworld, after all. And given that the Legion's creator/leader/god is a Titan, there is actually a slow-build to a reveal of Titan influence. I don't yet know how much the Titans' stuff (like what we saw in Northrend) is visible on Argus, but even though he's evil, Sargeras is undeniably a Titan, and thus brings with him the crazy magi-tek trappings.

But there are other elements at play that I think bear talking about. Are these hints of what is to come? Potentially. The Warcraft cosmos will need to move onto other subjects with the Legion taken care of, and I think we're seeing some of that now.

Spoilers to follow.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Potential Horror of a N'Zoth Expansion

We're in the middle of Legion - the second raid tier is open, with half the LFR wings available, and a third coming on Tuesday. This is the biggest expansion in terms of lore and stakes that we've had (though the stakes are generally pretty high.) Given that the expansion has built up to the ultimate confrontation with the Burning Legion, with the spoilers coming out of the PTR's version of Antorus, the final raid of the expansion, suggesting a truly significant dynamic shift will occur within the Warcraft cosmos.

I don't know what will come in the expansion after next, but I have a strong feeling that we're going to be dealing with N'zoth, the last remaining undefeated Old God in Azeroth's surface.

First off, the game has not definitively said that C'thun or Yogg-Saron are not simply dead. There are hints that their presences linger, such as C'thun's ability to mutate Cho'gall in Cataclysm and the appearance of Faceless creatures in Ulduar during the Legion launch quests.

But N'zoth is certainly still around.

Datamining has suggested that Kul Tiras might be a future zone in expansion seven, or even possibly a continent (though while I think Blizzard is wary of having a true archipelago lest zones feel totally disconnected like in Cataclysm - which explains why the Broken Isles is really more like the Broken Isle - I still think it makes more sense for an expansion containing Kul Tiras to have other famous islands in the South Seas.) We can extrapolate a lot of potential elements to an expansion that would contain Kul Tiras: It's likely that Azshara and her Naga will play a significant role, given their dominance of Azeroth's oceans (also, the Naga presence in Tomb of Sargeras and Azsuna seems like a good reminder of their threat to prepare us for a more heavily Naga-themed expansion.) Now, Azshara is linked to two major evil factions. The first is the Burning Legion, but we will obviously have dealt with that and will be sick to death of fel green stuff. The other major evil faction she associates with is that of the Old Gods, and particularly N'zoth.

N'zoth is the most aquatically-themed Old God, and its appearance in Hearthstone suggests that it's the basis for the look of Kraken. We also know that N'zoth had been kind of the custodian of the Emerald Nightmare (even though Yogg-Saron was its creator - given N'zoth's predilection for fighting Yogg-Saron and C'thun, I wouldn't be surprised if N'zoth usurped the Nightmare from Yogg-Saron.) If we ended the Nightmare by slaying Xavius, that could mean that N'zoth, who had been occupied with "dreaming" up the Nightmare, might now have awoken (I also think that the Pillars of Creation probably did something to unlock the prisons of the Old Gods, but that's like a couple other articles I've already written.)

We also, (SPOILERS,) see a group of Ethereals practicing void magic on Argus - sort of a shocking thing, given that Argus is the Legion's headquarters and they're theoretically all anti-Void. I don't know what we'll discover about the Void in 7.3, but this seems like a very standard "set it up to pay it off" kind of thing in a late expansion patch.

Now, while void magic of Ner'zhul's and these ethereals' style looks very different than Old God stuff, the truth is that the Old Gods were created by beings in the Void, and that they're really one and the same.

An Old God-centric expansion would have to deal with void magic, and the link between the gross, tentacles-and-goo feel of Old Gods with the cold and cosmic Void could be explored in an expansion that focused on them.

Personally, what I would love to see is at least one zone that leans heavily into Lovecraftian horror.

Blizzard is actually quite good at making gothic settings. Gilneas, Tirisfal, and most recently Black Rook Hold have all demonstrated a great sense of the macabre (I also love the aesthetic of Helheim, though that's not exactly gothic, but certainly spooky.)

Lovecraft built on the foundation of Poe-style gothic horror, but added super-creepy aliens (and if you're not familiar, no, not little green men, but more writhing masses of tentacles and stuff like that.) The Old Gods are obvious homages to Lovecraft, but while Blizzard has gotten the weird, ancient and hidden civilization feel and certainly the creepy tentacle stuff, they've only rarely ever linked the Old Gods with the kind of madness it instills in populations. I would love to have us arrive in Kul Tiras and discover that there's some kind of creepy oligarchy that has developed in the absence of Jaina or any other Proudmoores that have the island on lockdown, and that there's a scared populace who are being dominated by a terrible cult (those same oligarchs.) The zone could then have you investigating this oppressive oligarchy and discover that they've actually sworn themselves to N'zoth, and he is slowly transforming them into aquatic beings - not unlike how he did this to the Night Elves to create the Naga or how Dagon turned the population of Innsmouth into weird hybrid fish-people in Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

World of Warcraft is generally a pretty bright and cartoony game, but I think that this makes the moments of creepiness hit that much harder. Diablo is kind of wall-to-wall gross monsters, and thus they don't really have much of an impact. But given that I imagine a South Seas expansion (if indeed that is what we are getting) will mostly be familiar Naga, maybe Zandalari Trolls, and other less horrifying stuff, it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have one zone really delve into just how horrific the Old Gods and the Void truly are.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Questions About Weapons After Legion

Artifact weapons are one of the key features of Legion. So much of character power has been focused on improving artifact weapons. The artifact trait trees are similar to the old talent trees in that there are a lot of flat bonuses to various abilities, and that allows relics to be more interesting than a simple item level upgrade.

Leaving artifacts behind at the end of Legion is going to be very strange.

I don't know the exact calculation, and I'm sure it varies based on the strength of various bonuses, but I would bet that if we were suddenly to use ordinary weapons at the same item level of our current artifacts, the result would be a very significant drop in damage output, healing, or survivability. There are the obvious 20ish% bonuses to every major ability, but also rotation-smoothing abilities and passives (I remember my friend who plays a Balance Druid was considering changing specs after eight years until he got the Scythe of Elune and thus access to the New Moon/Half Moon/Full Moon spells.)

In a game where everything needs to be balanced and scale, Blizzard is forced to sort of break things in order for the cool solutions they've come up with to have problems to solve. But this also means that following Legion, they'll either need to fully integrate the artifact traits (with a bit of culling and adjusting of course) or they'll need to seriously rebuild a lot of abilities to compensate for the lack of these traits.

A number of active traits could easily be reimagined as talents. For instance, Frost Death Knights' Sindragosa's Fury is a seriously iconic ability (borrowed from Arthas in Heroes of the Storm) that I could very easily see becoming a high-level talent, and that could probably go for a lot of these artifact abilities (and a number of them are either lore-specific enough or less centrally related to the spec that losing them wouldn't be such a problem.) Some, like Unholy's Apocalypse ability, or the Balance Druid's moon cycle, seem like they ought to become baseline for the spec.

This isn't even touching on passives, which could similarly be baseline or talents.

Another thing to consider about weapons is weapon sets. If you have a shield, off-hand item, or off-hand weapon, in Legion the set comes together as a single item that simply fills in both slots on your character panel. Now, everyone has the pain/pleasure of mismatches thanks to relics, but relics are perfectly cumulative. In the past, an Enhancement Shaman would generally want to put the better weapon in the main hand, but this meant Lava Lash could lag behind based on disparity between weapons.

Personally I wouldn't mind seeing weapon sets come in pairs in the future - if I get a good shield, it comes with a good axe/sword/mace. You would obviously preserve them as separate items for transmog purposes, but it could simplify loot tables and make it less penalizing for dual-wielders to gear up.

The last big question is about Warglaives. With Demon Hunters they introduced a whole new weapon type that is only accessible to that class. In an expansion where Demon Hunters' weapon progression is pretty strict (you basically get three sets of weapons not counting your off-spec artifact,) that's pretty easy. But are raid bosses going to be dropping Warglaives in the next expansion? And is it ok that that's a weapon only one class can use?

Now, to be fair, bosses already (well, not this expansion, but in prior ones) drop bows, guns, and crossbows, which as of Mists of Pandaria can only really be used by Hunters. So perhaps Warglaives will be in a similar spot. The only difference is that Demon Hunters can technically just use Swords and Axes, meaning that while Hunters are forced to use those class-exclusive weapons, having Warglaives in the future would simply mean that Demon Hunters get additional options that other classes don't.

In Warlords, at least in Hellfire Citadel, Blizzard was playing with the idea of having a lot of these weapons and items be sort of spec-agnostic, complementing the changes they made to armor. For instance, shields all had both Strength and Intellect on them so that they could be used by tanks as well as casters. Artifact weapons don't need to worry about that, but I wonder if we'll see an expansion of this idea in expansion seven.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Set Investigation with Diablo 3's Necromancer

Diablo 3 works a bit like a snowball: you start off having to really watch yourself when you encounter an elite enemy, and your abilities are a mix of what seems cool at the time. However, once you get to level 70 and hope and pray to Rathma (or whomever) for set pieces, and those prayers start getting answered, things get kicked into high gear.

At this point, I have full sets of Trag'oul and Inarius armor for my Necromancer, and I'm close to complete on the Rathma set, and the Plaguebringer set I actually have six pieces, but need to farm Death's Breath in order to transform pieces until I get all six individual parts.

While I'd like to get a Rathma-based set going, I haven't quite figured out the survival game for that playstyle (using Icy Veins as my guide - I don't like that their build doesn't use Army of the Dead, which, unless I'm missing some Legendary that causes it to go off automatically, seems like you wouldn't want to bother with a six-piece bonus.)

The easiest one I've been able to work with is an Inarius build that uses Corpse Lance and of course, based on the set, Bone Armor. The Inarius set greatly increases the damage done by Bone Armor's activation, and also ups the defensive bonus from the set as well. At 6 pieces, it causes the bones to whirl around you, dealing a fair amount of damage to anyone nearby and I think just generally buffing your damage.

The build is very bursty - using Land of the Dead to fuel Corpse Lance and of course waiting for Bone Armor's cooldown, you'll utterly annihilate rares and elites if you can burn your cooldowns, but until then you're just going to be running through with your swirling bones and Grim Scythe-ing enemies. This is a close-quarters build.

Trag'oul also uses Corpse Lance, but this is a build that has absurd damage potential and can very easily kill you even if you aren't getting hit, as it's all about your life-spending abilities. Still, if played with finesse, it has a ton of potential, but the funny thing is that you will definitely be using Blood Rush all the time to give you a corpse to start the process going.

While leveling up I used lots of minions and Corpse Explosion as a major source of damage, and I'd like to find a build that incorporates those elements, but for now I'm very much still farming non-set pieces.

Friday, July 14, 2017

7.3 Nerfs Coming to Breath of Sindragosa Build, Buffs to Frost to Compensate

I have a complicated relationship with Frost Death Knights. I started playing Blood DPS when that was a thing, but when Blood became a dedicated tank spec and the other two specs became dedicated DPS, I went two-handed Frost. I still main-specced as a tank in Cataclysm, but through Mists, Warlords, and Legion, I've been primarily Frost.

Now, I really prefered two-handed frost, with its massive Obliterates. So when they made it dual-wield only, I actually started Legion as Unholy, then went Blood, but then went back to Frost. The thing is, my favorite color is blue. I know that seems really minor, but I've gotten so used to my Draenei (blue skin) wearing blue-tinged dark armor, wielding a weapon with a blue glow, and having all my attacks cause bursts of blue death, that it's really hard to get back to thinking of Death Knights as having another dominant color palate.

And given that look and feel are basically the main appeal to video games for me, that's a big deal.

It is a difficult trade-off, wielding two dinky swords versus wielding a much more impressive runeblade. Basically the only real saving grace of the Blades of the Fallen Prince as an artifact weapon is that they literally used to be Frostmourne. Given the option to actually wield, somehow, Frostmourne itself in its intact form (and seeing variants on it the way that the other artifact weapons have,) I'd really prefer it, but I'll have to content myself with the swords made from it. Sadly, Blizzard feels that at least one DK spec should be a dual-wielding one, and with Blood as the tank spec and Unholy already having the whole "summoning undead" schtick, it's not terribly surprising that Frost got stuck with it. I only hope that in a post-artifact world, we can go back to using two-handed weapons (and maybe if we all beseech the Lich King like good little Knights we'll someday get a Frostmourne transmog piece. A DK can dream, can't he?)

Anyway, in the last few patches, the love-it-or-hate-it Breath of Sindragosa talent has been dominant - basically if you want competitive DPS as a Frost DK, you have to pick it and all the talents that allow you to sustain it as long as possible.

Thus Frost winds up being a kind of two-phase spec. You have the Breath phase where you desperately need to generate as much runic power as you can and get seriously penalized if you screw up or if you need to stop whacking the boss for a couple seconds, and the waiting phase where you just do the baseline Frost rotation while you wait for Breath to come off cooldown.

I'll be honest and say I've started to get used to this build, but the panicked resource generation required from the build isn't always what I want, especially given that I feel Frost, flavor-wise, should be more about being slow and steady (the "fight" against Arthas in Halls of Reflection is a great example of what I think a Frost Death Knight should feel like.) In fact, I could imagine a whole redesign of the spec that would have you build up Runic Power and unleash it in a massive single swing, but the point is that I don't know that Breath of Sindragosa fulfills my particular image of the spec's fantasy.

The changes they're making are fairly extensive - I believe the Hungering Rune Weapon talent is getting a bit of a redesign, and many talents are swapping around. The goal is not to nerf Frost in general (as far as I know they're not really exceptional these days) but to allow for greater build diversity, which is something I'm right on board with.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fall of the Legion and Demonic Anarchy

When the Undead Scourge was defeated nearly definitively at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, this did not mean the end to the threat of the undead. Not only did the Scourge remain an entity, albeit one more or less under control of a Lich King who so far does not seem interested in global domination (though the tactics he uses and encourages within the Knights of the Ebon Blade are questionable at best,) but ghosts and other necromantic horrors have always existed outside of the specific domain of the Scourge. Both the Legion and the servants of the Void have employed necromancy in the past.

While the Scourge was perhaps the most iconic and intimidating terrestrial threat (ok, Old Gods probably take precedence, though I think the Scourge's actions in Icecrown suggest that they had a certain immunity to the power of the Old Gods and thus might have given them a run for their money,) the Legion has, historically, been the greatest cosmic threat (though again, the Void that spawned the Old Gods is likely the greater danger.)

However, under Sargeras, the Legion seemed in a position to really dominate every demon in the cosmos. Demons existed before the Legion, but vast numbers of new ranks were added - we know at the very least that the Man'ari Eredar and the Satyrs were originally members of mortal races (playable ones, in fact) and we could probably assume that a lot of existing demonic races were similarly corrupted specifically by the Burning Legion.

So while we don't seem to be fighting Sargeras directly in Legion (I think he doesn't have a corporeal body to fight,) the datamined dialogue does suggest that the leadership of the Legion will truly be eliminated in one way or another. Kil'jaeden is, I believe, permanently dead at the end of the Tomb of Sargeras raid, and it's possible that Archimonde truly died at the end of Hellfire Citadel (that's tricky, as only mythic kills him within the Twisting Nether, and the cutscene implies that he's back on Draenor when he dies.)

With Sargeras and his two Eredar lieutenants gone, it really does not seem like anyone is in a good position to take up leadership of the Legion. And here's the thing: many of the demons of the Legion were only doing Sargeras' will under threat. I imagine the Eredar and the other "newer" demonic races were devoted to him in a religious way, and would seek to carry on with his Burning Crusade, but beings like the Nathrezim are unlikely to hold any true loyalty to him.

When Sargeras first discovered the Nathrezim, they were serving the Old Gods on a different planet. Given that they are so gifted in duplicity, it would not shock me in the least to discover that the Nathrezim were in fact playing all sides all along. And in the wake of Sargeras' fall, they may eagerly go back to serving the Void.

While Sargeras aligned his demonic forces in opposition to the Void (by way of all of creation,) there's nothing inherently anti-Void in demons.

So basically, after Legion, don't expect demons as a creature type to vanish all together (though they'll certainly take a backseat to things like Aberrations if we're doing Old God stuff next.)

Argus Further Impressions: Mac'Aree

Yes, I know we have a new raid finder wing, but I can't help but feel a bit focused on the upcoming patch.

Since Burning Crusade I believe introduced the world of Argus as a concept (I can't remember if those Argus Wake guys in Alterac Mountains existed already) we've more or less known only one geographical feature of the world from which the Eredar who would come to be known as the Draenei fled, and that was the capital city of Mac'aree.

Your adventures on Argus will begin in what is called at least for now "Argus Wastes," and this area will feel pretty familiar given the Legion's MO. There is some interesting new wildlife, and I think they get the feeling of a desolate, ruined, but at least somewhat still intact world in this area. Unlike, for example, Niskara, not everything is burned black with green flame, but it is still a place where there's almost no non-demonic life there.

After completing the first leg of the Argus quest chain, you'll eventually travel to Mac'aree. You can see the capital floating above the Argus Wastes in the skybox (cleverly, they tend to point you in the direction of Azeroth as you adventure across its new twin world, and you also see Mac'aree in the skybox.) Traveling to the capital, you'll be able to access a fragment of the city, the rest of which is drawn into the skybox behind, to really give you a sense of how enormous this place was.

And Mac'aree is broken, but not utterly ruined. And it certainly does not have the stereotypical Legion look. Mac'aree calls to mind much more the Warlords iteration of Shattrath, with the Draenei (well, Eredar) style of spire-like buildings. (In fact, I think they took assets created for Warlords and adjusted them only a bit to build up Mac'aree.) Far from Black and Green, Mac'aree is awash in golden grass with spots of purple vegetation and buildings of yellow, grey, and some blue. The impression this suggests is one of the city as the seat of a society that was once near-utopian. At least in the first few quests, the NPCs are largely ghost-like echoes of the ancient Eredar. You'll even go to the academy where Archimonde (and his teacher Thal'kiel) once studied and researched.

I really have to say that if you have any kind of roleplaying sensibilities and you play a Draenei character, Mac'aree perhaps even more than the Argus Wastes will feel like coming home.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Kul Tiras: Zone or Continent? Assuming We're Understanding the Leak, That Is

Much as people discovered an "Iron Horde" texture in Mists of Pandaria's 5.3 Insurrection (or whatever the pre-Siege patch was) patch, which gave us our first obscure hint of the Warlords of Draenor, much buzz is coming up around a few textures and icons that are labeled Kul Tiras, with what looks like an armor set that incorporates a lot of nautical-themed elements like ropes and anchors, as well as a rough in-game (as opposed to UI-based) map.

Given how Kul Tiras has nothing to do with Argus and that even more than the Iron Horde texture (which was just kind of a grey square) these are very clearly referring to stuff that don't seem linked to Legion, it seems very hard to come up with any explanation other than that Kul Tiras will play a role in the expansion that follows Legion.

Let's talk Kul Tiras lore:

Kul Tiras was one of the seven human kingdoms, along with Stromgarde, Lordaeron, Gilneas, Alterac, Dalaran, and Stormwind. Kul Tiras was the major naval power among the kingdoms, as it was situated on an island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms (not far from Tol Barad.) The monarch of Kul Tiras is called the Grand Admiral, which gives you a sense of how important sailing is to their culture. The previous Grand Admiral was Daelin Proudmoore, father of Jaina.

As Jaina was establishing Theramore down the coast from Orgrimmar, she had worked to secure a lasting peace with the newly-situated Horde. Her father, unwilling to make peace with the Alliance's old enemy, led his fleet in an attack on Orgrimmar. Jaina ultimately allowed Rexxar to lead Horde forces into Theramore to defeat and kill her own father in exchange for a lasting peace - which is why the notion that Jaina is overreacting in her current antipathy to the Horde is total absurdity. She literally sacrificed her father for peace, and was paid with the destruction of her city in return.

Since Cataclysm, Kul Tiras has been missing. While it never appeared in-game, the notion was that it was still where it had always been. However, as Tol Barad was added in that expansion, the fate of Kul Tiras remained a mystery, and devs suggested that it had been moved by the massive tectonic shifts that came with Deathwing's emergence from Deepholme.

While not officially confirmed until we get a real announcement, I strongly believe that Kul Tiras will be a location in the next expansion. The question, then, is what form it will take: A zone, or the whole expansion-spanning continent.

I'm leaning toward the former, as I think that a sea-based expansion would benefit from having other island cultures, such as a visit to Zandalar, perhaps a return to Kezan, and perhaps a journey to Nazj'atar.

To return to lore for a moment: in the apocryphal WoW tabletop RPG, Jaina had brothers, one of whom could now lead as the Grand Admiral of Kul Tiras. If these brothers are not, in fact, canonical, it would mean that technically Jaina should be the Grand Admiral and Queen of her people. Jaina has been notably absent from Legion, and it seems that trouble at home would be the only reasonable explanation.

Now, I could actually imagine Kul Tiras as a continent, even if I think it would work better as a zone. Taking the Broken Isles as an example, in ancient times, the zones of Suramar, Azsuna, the Broken Shore, and Val'sharah were all considered sort of "the Greater Suramar metropolitan area." We see this with Lordaeron and Stormwind as well, each kingdom being represented by a cluster of zones rather than a single one.

Still, given the nautical theme of Kul Tiras, I would find it very hard to imagine an ocean-faring-based expansion that does not include the aforementioned zones - particularly Nazj'atar, as I can't imagine a sea-based expansion that does not put the Naga at the forefront.

I wonder if they'll keep the level-scaling of Legion. I think it worked out well, with the one flaw being that the story couldn't really develop zone-to-zone as you leveled up, and that if you picked your zones in the wrong order, you could feel handicapped (like if you got a class quest sending you to Azsuna right after you'd chosen Stormheim as the zone you were heading to next.) Certainly it helped provide max-level content - I'm happy to have now six zones to do world quests in instead of being stuck with only Suramar and Broken Shore (even if Suramar might be my favorite zone in the expansion.)

We don't have a trademark for an expansion title, which I think will give us a much clearer idea of what the expansion will be, but we can infer a huge amount of information from the presence of Kul Tiras items. If you're feeling skeptical about this, I would consider that the quality of these textures is really way too much to dismiss them as meaningless. Aside from an epilogue-patch trip to Kul Tiras (which again, seems to have utterly nothing to do with Argus and the Legion) that seems incredibly unlikely (I don't think we've ever gotten a whole new zone after the final raid tier; the biggest thing we ever got as an "epilogue" patch was a one-boss raid in the Ruby Sanctum,) the only other explanation I could give you for this is a setting for a new expansion.

Gamescom, which is where they announced Legion two years ago, runs August 22nd-26th, and Blizzcon runs November 3rd-4th. I wouldn't be shocked if they announced the next expansion at Gamescom to keep up the sense that there's something coming, though 7.3 is unlikely to go live until the end of summer or the beginning of fall. Before Mists, new expansions were always announced before the final patch of the current one came out, and while I can tell you I'm happy to focus on Argus right now (holy crap am I excited for Argus) I also think it's wise for Blizzard to always keep players aware of what is coming next with WoW. The Siege of Orgrimmar and even more Hellfire Citadel patches seemed to go on for an eternity largely because for a big stretch of both, we had no idea what was coming next. Giving players something to speculate about and await with eager anticipation is never a bad idea.

Argus PTR Impressions

It's kind of crazy that in this expansion we've been able to see not only the Emerald Nightmare but are now going to Argus. It's like three expansions in one.

Getting to Argus is relatively simple. Players will get quests that give them a direct boat ride to the Exodar (Horde included, of course.) The Draenei have managed to piece together a smaller vessel from the wreckage of the Exodar, this one called the Vindicaar, and this ship will serve as the hub for your assault on Argus.

Above Argus, the gleaming blue world of Azeroth is a vision of beauty on a treacherous and shattered world. Argus is a ruin, and at least in the first areas feels shadowy as you are constrained to demon-filled canyons. However, it appears that Argus is a bit like Vashj'ir, with three large sub-zones to explore. So far, the quests seem to end before getting out of the initial zone, but clearly there's more to come as we head to Mac'Aree (the ancient Eredar capital) and the zone that holds Antorus, the Burning Throne (the final raid.)

As someone who loves the Draenei and their science-fantasy feel, Argus does not disappoint. Rather than flight points you have teleportation beacons that all link back to the Vindicaar, and there's a lot in the way of crystals and space-based laser cannons.

I don't want to get too plot-spoilery, but fairly early you encounter two allied factions to aid you in your fight, the first being the Army of the Light, which appears to be composed mostly of uncorrupted Eredar (so, Draenei, but technically not) though it also has Turalyon, Alleria, and Lothraxion, the Nathrezim paladin (one of the class champions that Paladins have had since 7.0.) The other is the Krokul, who are like the Broken introduced in Burning Crusade, but these Broken have been on Argus all along, and seem to have been mutilated independently from folks like Nobundo and Akama.

It seems that as one progresses through the main questline, areas will open up for World Quests. As of yet I'm not seeing an Army of the Light quartermaster, but I suspect that that will be the new faction.

So far, it seems highly likely that Argus is going to follow more of the Suramar path than the Broken Shore path as a top-level zone. There's a ton of plot to get through and a ton of ground to cover. Indeed, I imagine that there are plenty of characters we have yet to encounter. But if you've been wanting a massive war on an alien landscape, boy howdy does this deliver.

This is one of the earliest builds of the patch on the PTR, so expect a ton of changes and a ton of additions.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Argus and the Next Expansion

Legion has been an enormous expansion in terms of stakes, content, and lore. The Legion has loomed over the World of Warcraft really since Warcraft 1, and the notion that the Legion could ever truly be defeated and ended seems hard to imagine, and yet here we stand in the best position the game will ever get to ending it.

What comes next?

Well, Blizzard has put a lot of effort into expanding the cosmos of Warcraft, and one aspect is the Old Gods and more importantly, the Void that they serve. While the status of Old God bosses C'Thun and Yogg-Saron is somewhat ambiguous (we killed them, but did we really kill them to a point where they can't come back? That which is dead may never die, and in strange aeons even death may die,) it's plausible to consider N'Zoth to be the last one standing (or flomphing or whatever a continent-sized-tentacle-monster does.)

Speculation purely based on lore existing even prior to... like Mists... has suggested that an expansion set in the South Seas that sees the return of Kul Tiras and a fight against Azshara and possibly N'Zoth would make perfect sense. We might be seeing more evidence for this based on information from the 7.3 PTR.

Spoilers to follow.