3.3: The Fall of the Lich King… So Far

3.3 has been out for over a week. It’s time I gave my thoughts on the patch, so far.

Be warned: Spoilers ahead!

The Looking for Dungeon System

The looking for dungeon pane.The new dungeon system (which I call “LFD,” because of the /lfd command), is quite good. When people in your guild have lost interest in running heroics, or when they are saved to the dungeons you need, you can easily use this system to get a group, instead of trolling trade or the LFG channel as before. While it can take several minutes for a pure DPSer to find a group, if you’re a tank or a healer, it is typically instant. This trend may vary, however, as it adheres to supply and demand.

Obviously, there are some annoyances you’ll come across. But that’s going to happen whenever you’re dealing with people, regardless of the system. These minor thorns are insignificant when you consider the fact that most groups using the LFD system are successful. I’ve only had two extremely poor experiences, thus far; one was a Halls of Reflection, and the other was an Old Kingdom. We still finished, but not until after rotating of a couple players.

In general, the system is awesome. You get two frost badges for the first random heroic you do. And two triumph badges for subsequent random heroics. It’s a great way to establish your gear, and to gear up alts. I also find myself far less bored during downtime, which is a huge plus, considering Lunacy is no longer raiding hardcore and I’ve gone casual myself. If I don’t have a whole lot of time, I can log in, look for a dungeon, run it quickly, get my badges, and log off.

The Frozen Halls (the New 5-Mans)

The new five-man dungeons are some of the best Blizzard has produced thus far. The lore is rather rich. The artwork is superb. And most of the encounters are interesting. They are also somewhat challenging on heroic, but not overly complex nor impossible.

I do have my criticisms; however, they are minor.

I think Bronjahm, the Godfather of Souls, goes too far in terms of Blizzard’s humorous intentions. I get it; he’s supposed to be a representation of James Brown. But “godfather” is not the right title for someone who is supposed to oversee the separation and grinding of people’s souls. The music that plays while you’re fighting him makes me /palmface. And the sounds he makes while fighting him are ridiculous. I understand WoW has always had elements of humor, and I usually appreciate them, but there has to at least be a small amount of believability somewhere. Obviously I mean “believability” in the context of a fantastical storyline that has serious elements. For example, you wouldn’t see Arthas wearing a pink tabard just because it’s funny.

Also, the Forge of Souls doesn’t have an in-game explanation as to its purpose. You can guess, however, given the dungeon’s title. So perhaps it’s not needed. The Halls of Reflection is the linchpin of the dungeon trio’s lore, anyway. And the Pit of Saron also has some great lore development. But at least a little background concerning the Forge could have been included in the actual game. All they had to do was add one sentence to the introductions given by Jaina and Sylvannas. “Here, you will face two of the Lich King’s lieutenants, those who grind and devour souls of the innocent and righteous. Be wary, heroes!” Instead, you have to read the patch development notes to get an idea of what it’s all about. And you’ll probably have to read a manga and a book later on. But I like the Devourer of Souls. And Jaina’s presence. And the artwork involved. So I’m not disappointed.

There are a couple other issues, including the obligatory one about the add phases of the first encounter in Halls of Reflection. But, overall, the dungeons are great! The Pit of Saron and Halls of Reflection (HoR) have some awesome lore development (particularly HoR). The art direction is fantastic. Most of the music meets my approval. And the last encounter in the Halls of Reflection is great all-around, completing the all-around satisfaction of clearing all three.

If you want to get an idea of what the dungeons have to offer in terms of lore, just watch Kinaesthesia’s video (be warned, it contains lots of spoilers).

Quel’Delar Questline

I had the opportunity of doing the Quel’Delar questline. I’m a little mixed on this one. Overall, the questline is very good. But the quality of presentation is somewhat mixed. There are a couple instances of voice acting, but there are parts without voiceovers that warrant the practice (particularly the scene at the Sunwell). For what it’s worth, I really love the fact that they’ve actually gone and changed (or, rather, phased) parts of the game to match the progressing lore. Seeing the Sunwell with blood elf leaders and pilgrims surrounding it was quite different from seeing it before and after doing Kil’jaeden.

This is a step in the right direction for quests in general. More of this and the questing game will achieve a higher level of enjoyability.

Icecrown Citadel (the Raid)

I’ve had the chance of running the 10-man version of Icecrown Citadel (ICC), thus far. I probably won’t be running the 25-man until after the holidays, however.

The Art, Graphics and Music

I’m impressed with the art and music of ICC, thus far. Blizzard has begun using terrain blending with this patch, and you can really see the difference it makes when employed. An example of this is the blending between the citadel’s floor and the ice that comprises the spire Arthas ascended at the end of The Frozen Throne.

The Spire in Icecrown.

I do note Icecrown uses spell effects that cause my computer to come to a crawl, even when I turn particle effects all the way down. These are included in the mist that comes off the spire, and the mist that hangs around the floor leading up to the first boss. After I leave these areas, I’m fine. Before then, however, my FPS tends to drop into the single digits. This is perhaps unique only to those of us who’ve been slow to upgrade our 7 series GeForce cards, however, so I’ll just have to cave and finally buy one (the downside of being a poor student).

The music in ICC is good, but not as good as past entries from WoW’s soundtrack. The highlight, so far, has been the music that plays during the gunship battle. But given what I’ve heard from the MPQ files, I’m not sure I expect anything that lives up to the music from Black Temple, Grizzly Hills, or Storm Peaks. To be fair, however, those three zones would be difficult to outdo.

The Lore (so Far)

The lore for ICC seems as though it will outdo its predecessors. Lord Marrowgar and Lady Deathwhisper could perhaps have used a tad more fleshing out, but they’re not major characters, so I guess that’s okay. The opening dialog that occurs while you’re clearing the first trash packs is quite good. It’ll be interesting to see how the twist involving Bolvar plays out. As a player, your investment in the story is heightened by the fact that Arthas plays a large role in the world outside the dungeon, as well.

The scene that occurs after you defeat Deathbringer Saurfang is amazing, especially considering Blizzard actually created animations to portray what is going on in the scene. That the older Saurfang actually lifts up the body of his son and carries it off makes it a whole lot more interesting. In the past, Blizzard would have just despawned the body or had Saurfang cast a spell causing the younger’s spirit to ascend to that great orc encampment in the sky. The development efforts involved in this scene makes it much more touching.

Saurfang Carrying the Younger

The Encounters (so Far)

I can’t say I was a huge fan of the 10-man version of Marrowgar before they changed the damage he did to the tanks. Without a paladin to heal both tanks with beacon, it was a bit rough at times. But that’s more of a class balancing issue than anything else. Disregarding that issue, it’s a simple, but interesting fight. It does recycle some mechanics, notably from Supremus and Leotheras, but that’s okay given that it’s the first boss in the dungeon. I can see this encounter potentially being devestating to tanks on heroic.

Lady Deathwhisper reminds me of Akama, in a sense. You have a stationary target (like the channelers on Akama) and then adds that spawn periodically (some casters, some melee). The adds here are a bit more complicated, however. Some can only be DPSed by casters. Some reflect spells. Once you get through the first phase, you have a phase that goes downhill from there. It’s difficult to tell how this would play out on heroic.

I really love the gunship battle. Absolutely, positively. From rocket packing in bear form while people set up, to actually doing the encounter, it’s all-around great. Even if it is amazingly easy on normal mode, it’s still great fun! My only complaint is the fact that using the rockey pack shifts you out of moonkin and tree form. Everytime you rocket over, you have to re-shift. Which sucks, because using the rocket pack also does damage, making it a useful component to DPS when you’re going form add to add.

In terms of encounter design, I generally like Deathbringer Saurfang. However, it strikes me as the type of encounter that will work very much like Teron Gorefiend, in the sense that you want to stack as much DPS as possible to minimize how chaotic the damage becomes. The faster you kill him, the less damage Saurfang does, the less healing is needed. So might as well just stack 1 healer (so long as they can handle it), 2 tanks, and 7 DPS. I can imagine guilds doing this in the future on normal mode with nothing but enhance shamans healing with instant chain heals. Another awkward thing about the encounter is the fact that melee are somewhat of a liability on DPSing the adds that spawn. It’s fine on 25-man, but on 10-man, you’re not always guaranteed to have three or even two ranged DPSers.

I can’t really get a decent feel for the encounters until I see the entire instance. Encounters are always a hit-and-miss affair. Some are great. Some are poor. Some are okay. So far, my impression is that we have two okay encounters, one great one, and one encounter that is good (but with minor issues).

Gating

Someone asked me in a comment from my previous entry what I thought about gating within dungeons. Gating is the concept that only certain wings of an instance will be open upon the dungeon’s initial release, while others unlock over time. This concept was originally introduced in Sunwell Plateau (SWP), and also found its place in ToC.

Gating

Personally, I’m not at all a fan of the system. I would rather play a dungeon from start to finish, while my sense of wonderment and interest in the dungeon as a whole is at its peak. The same goes for any material from other media. I would rather play an RPG in one week, rather than in fragments over a few months. A movie is far more engrossing if I don’t take breaks every 15 minutes to answer the phone, get a drink, make some dinner, etc. And a book is easier to follow if I’m not putting it down for a week before I pick it up again.

Gating hinders your ability to experience content while it’s still fresh. And so I dislike it. I realize it heightens competition, by giving others a chance to catch up, but if someone wants the take the extra time to move forward after they kill a boss, I say let them. It cheapens other parts of the gameplay experience, otherwise. And, for the most part, the truly skilled guilds will catch up to those who put in the extra time anyway. This happened on Proudmoore with the normal version of Yogg-Saron, where a guild got to him first by raiding 7 days a week, but then placed 11th on their Yogg kill after people burnt out.

So long as the story is meant to play out from the beginning of the dungeon to its end, it should be open from its beginning to its end. We shouldn’t cheapen content in the name of competition or even “getting it out there.” We can use achievements or other mechanics for that (see my previous entry for examples).

Limited Attempts

I already had my rant about limited attempts in my previous entry. I don’t really need to retread what I think about the concept. But to summarize for people who don’t want to read: I think it’s terrible.

Loot

I’m actually a fan of the way loot works in T10 content. T9 was awkward, because waiting for a token to drop before buying T9 was far more efficient than buying the 232 gear and upgrading to 245. With T10, you’re required to buy the lower version before you can purchase the upgrades, ensuring that going for the intermediate upgrade is not detrimental to your badge expenditure. This system is more logical.

As far how the loot is designed, I’m a bit mixed. Restoration druids still have the issue where haste is useless past the cap (except in the rare situation where rapid rejuvenation is a huge boon), and crit is useful only for nourish and regrowth (once you drop 4PT9). Our 4PT10 is really strange. On a basic level, it’s not as good as 4PT9, because it’s not likely to be controlled in regards to who it jumps to. But the extra stats on T10 will likely push it slightly over if you’re looking purely at HPS numbers. In 10-mans, however, I’m thinking T9 might still be better, due simply to the fact that T10 will be overwriting rejuvenations in situations where you’re spamming it.

Moonkin-wise, I’m very happy.

Overall

Get rid of gating and limited attempts, and I think ICC could be the best raid instance Blizzard has yet produced. So far, in terms of lore, art and music, it’s already there. But gameplay-wise, it’s left to be seen where it stands amongst the likes of (in my opinion) Sunwell, TK and heroic Ulduar.

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