The final phase has hit us, the invasion has begun. The thunder cracks over Stormwind, and the flames engulf Orgrimmar. But in the end, after all is said and done, how will we be looking back at this event? How will it be remembered by those of us who were there to witness it? Will you be grasping on to those precious pieces of gear you pried from the dead hands of the elemental lieutenants? Are you going to be telling all the new players that come in during the Cataclysm era about the valiant battles that were fought against the forces of Twilight’s Hammer? Well, I can only speak for myself, but the overall feeling was mixed for me. Allow me to explain.
The Build Up Was Fascinating
The first few phases honestly were very intriguing to me. The plot line surrounding the Twilight’s Hammer cult and their infiltration of the cities was probably the best part of the whole event honestly. There was a sense of intrigue and instability. I did the quests first on my horde alts, and I was honestly concerned that by the end of the whole thing, Garrosh was going to pull out martial law on the city. He didn’t. Why? ’Cause Garrosh is my boy! But honestly, it was a fascinating trial that played out with much less intrigue on the Alliance side I’m sad to say. It was the same thing but with none of the risk. I mean, while there are people who don’t like Varian for one reason or another, but it’s nothing compared to the sheer animosity that people have for Garrosh (So much that I was shocked to find that I was not the only one who voted for him in the Warchief Election.) So how this whole thing shook down on the Horde side could very well color a good deal of the Horde’s feelings in Cataclysm. I mean, not everyone is going to forgive Garrosh. Probably not ever. Mostly because he is not real, and because, well, haters gonna hate.
The lead up quests did a magnificent job of setting the tone of both the fear and concern of the people of the Horde and Alliance. When facing dire times, there will be those who panic, those who become outraged and those who search for solutions… regardless of where they come from. The people who joined the doomsday cults were not bad people. They saw a way out and they took it. The Twilight’s Hammer is no longer a faceless, nameless enemy. They are us. Well, most of us. Try as I could, I didn’t find any gnomes wandering about in Doom & Gloom chic.
The quests also set a tone of inevitability. You tried to stop the devices, they still got in. You tried to stop the cultists at the gate, they still infiltrated the city walls. You tried to stop the rituals, and the invasion still came. Ultimately, try as you might, the Shattering is going to happen. The world is going to be changed forever. Deathwing IS coming. These quests were a perfect summary of that kind of mentality.
The Invasion Was Epic
I remember noticing a sudden change in the weather while walking the streets of Stormwind. Like a shadow cast across the cobblestone and yet there was an otherworldly brightness to this engulfing darkness. It was followed by a crack of thunder and a peel of lightning and as the rain started to fall, panic engulfed the city. The guards began to pile up sandbags and fortifications, the heroes of Azeroth gathered in the Trade District knowing that the very thing they had tried to stop had come to pass. The Elemental Invasion had begun. It was really exciting to see it all come together. There was a real chill down the spine moment as you saw people rushing to evacuate the city and seeing dozens of players rushing about the city to repel the invaders is a pretty awesome sight and it really reminded me of the demon attacks that lead up to the Burning Crusade expansion, minus the piles and piles of dead low level players at the feet of Highlord Kruul.
There was a real sense of suspense in the invasion, especially after the first day when no one was sure exactly how often the invasion would occur. A sense of unpredictability fell upon many players that didn’t know when the next attack would come. However, this unpredictability fell quickly to the side as the pattern was figured out. Which brings me to a big issue I had with the entire event.
Following The Script
I’ve long thought of the elements themselves as a strange duality of balance and chaos. They make up everything and anything, and at the same time they are foreign, unknown and unpredictable. And if there is one word to describe this entire event, it certainly was not unpredictable. Everything happened on a script. The elementals spawned in zones on a set routine, almost on the hour every hour. The invasion of the cities ran on its own clock and showed up every couple of hours reliably. The quests were naturally scripted as all quests were, there was no random spawns or surprises beyond the initial introduction of a new phase. The entire thing was the epitome of ‘see it once, don’t need to see it again.’
The reason for this is easy to guess. Seriously. Try it. No, it’s not “Blizzard is lazy.” Try again. That’s right. The Zombie Apocalypse. There was serious outrage at the whole thing. People couldn’t use the cities for days, Shattrath was covered in nothing but zombies on my realm, and for a short period the dead ruled everything – the majority of people HATED it. I know plenty of people who actually enjoyed it, but it seemed that at least at the time, the majority was against us in that regard. I think a lot more have come around to thinking of the whole thing fondly, but its hard to say how much of that is hindsight and how much of that is nostalgia. All I know is that the entire thing at the time was hated by a lot of people, and I loved it. Not the people hating it, the actual event. It was dynamic, it was unpredictable and it was player controlled. The players could battle it, give in to it, and choose to die alone and zombified or carry out the call of the grave and spread the plague. There were countermeasures, the Argent Healers for one, and the Necropolis attacks that followed were less dynamic and more farming, but for a glorious moment (to me) the players had full power of the course of the world.
That’s what I always wanted to see in the game. Player choices and player actions deciding what was to happen. It doesn’t happen enough in my opinion. Maybe that’s just because I don’t play on a RP realm where such things occur on a regular basis (maybe someone can suggest one. I’ve seen so much back and forth on the matter of which RP realm is good or bad I’ve, thus far, washed my hands of the matter. Though I do have an un-played character on Shadow Council) but it’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to the use of phasing in Cataclysm. At least then our actions, albeit scripted and defined by quests, will have a noticeable impact on the world around us. It was one of the subtle and yet most enjoyable additions in Wrath and I look forward to see it’s expanded use in the expansion.
The Afterword Was a Big Let Down
So the invasion is over, and the elementals beaten back from the city gates. Now what? Well, now we go and a few packs of trash and a boss. Does the boss drop anything unique and interesting? Eh, some raid quality epic gear that uses models from the ICC 5-mans. And? And nothing. That’s it. It’s over. Here’s some loot pinatas with a dash of nostalgia, and we’re done. If you weren’t still raiding and needed an upgrade or two, the entire thing was pointless except for a couple of points and some gold. In my opinion, the entire post-invasion activity was a huge let down and I have a slight inkling that I’m not alone in thinking that this was the weakest part of the whole event. There were no special drops, nothing to collect or farm, and just nothing to do once it had been done. The Burning Crusade event had a tabard, the Wrath event had some meh gear but some really amazing flavor items (A Castlevania item, a tabard, an epic-in-more-than-just-color axe, and many other weird flavor bits) and this event had some good gear that will be useful for a few weeks.
After all is said in done, the event was fun and epic, the first time I went through it all. But the fact is that the second verse is the same as the first, and watching the same reruns over and over can only be done so many times before it becomes tedious. I got my feat of strength, I saw everything I needed to see, now I just want the world to blow up and the real fun to begin. Am I alone on this? I can’t imagine I am. Maybe the minority, but surely not alone. When a Warcraft-fan but not WoW-player friend asked me how the event was, the best I could offer was, “It was neat. Really neat.” I think that sums up my experience with the whole thing pretty well. Epic but repetitive, good build up but disappointing ending. Still I can happily say that with minimal play time I experienced everything, and had my fun, and go forward without regret. Maybe that is the point all along. But even without regret, I was still wanting more. Oh well. See you all after the world ends.
So their been a bit of a buzz as of late revolving around the Heroic Dungeons in Cataclysm. From what I can piece together from the various bits of Cataclysm news I actually look at (I try hard to avoid spoilers) it seems that the heroic dungeons are now available for testing in the beta and apparently they are quite hard. Now of course, this is still the beta and that difficulty can be whittled away through the course of continous testing or even after launch via patches and what not (Helloooo Oculus), and it may stay just as hard or even increase in difficulty as more instances get added to the game in later patches.
The discussion has mostly been centered around the idea of whether ‘to nerf or not to nerf’ the heroic dungeons. Some people really want to see us return to the days of the Burning Crusade in terms of Heroics, a focus on strategic pulls, crowd control, and those who don’t know what to do will have a hard time faking it. Others enjoy the model adopted by Wrath of the Lich King, in which heroics were an easy means to get some low level epics and badges to purchase even better epics. Most conversations I’ve seen debating this make casual use of labels such as “casual” (ie “Casuals killed heroics”) or “hardcore” (ie “Heroics should be for the Hardcore players”) and excessive use of the terms “noob” and “bads” (which has apparently has become a noun right under my nose. Hooray for an ever evolving language! …and thank goodness for Urban Dictionary.)
Most of the time there is, in my opinion, a major component of the heroics discussion goes unmentioned. Wait. Stop. Don’t finish those eye rolls. I am NOT going to say that heroics were hard back at the beginning of WotLK. In fact, you’ll never find me argue that the heroic dungeons of WotLK were very easy compared to their Burning Crusade cousins. But note how I say cousins and not incarnations. Because that’s what we need to be looking at, as well as how we look at the Heroics of Cataclysm. These ‘variants’ of Heroics, in my eyes, are not an evolution of content but rather more like different flavors of ice cream. Vanilla and chocolate are worlds apart, but are both technically ice creams. The difference between these ‘flavors’ of heroics is not one of ‘difficulty’ but of purpose. Allow me to look at the “history” (for lack of a better word) of Heroics in depth:
The Burning Crusade Design: Off Time for the Raiders
Way way waaay back in the savage age that was 2007, WoW’s first expansion – The Burning Crusade – was delivered unto a player base that was raised on grinds, super coordinated fights, massive dungeon crawls, and where only the best of the best would find themselves at the gates of raiding. Burning Crusade, to say the least, did a fair job of cracking that world view into many little pieces that you’d have a hard time sweeping up and then would occasionally step on as you stumbled through the kitchen in the dark to drink milk from the carton even though your not supposed to and cause you to yell in pain, drop the milk, and then kick the cat because it sits there mocking you with its low light vision… what was I talking about? Oh yea, Burning Crusade.
Burning Crusade introduced smaller raids, shorter dungeons, and a token system that made getting your tier equipment much more bearable than taking it in the unmentionables from the RNG machine (I’ve run Molten Core dozens of times since starting to play, never seen Garr drop my warlock horns ONCE. Thank the spirits for reskinned models.) This too was considered “catering to the casuals and the bads” at the time and was a sure sign that the game was dead (Spoiler: it didn’t die) but the one thing the game brought that was definitely not for the ‘casuals’ was the introduction of Heroic Dungeons.
Heroic Dungeons brought with them a massive leap in difficulty and access to epics outside of crafting and raiding. It also was the only way to get epic gems until Tier 6 was introduced. But with the difficulty brought with it a hefty cost to enter. The generalization usually given was that you had to raid to get the gear to do the heroics. That idea is the key of figuring what Heroics were back in Burning Crusade. They offered Badges of Justice to get raid level gear, they offered a variety of epics that could fit in those few slots you didn’t have the DKP or good enough rolls to score raid gear for yet (because as D&D player, I understand the subtle art that is ‘getting better at rolling dice’… I’m not lying… nope…), and they dropped epic gems you could place in that slightly more permanent epic gear.
Heroic Dungeons were something for raiders to do when they weren’t raiding. Plain and simple. It had a shorter lockout, it gave rewards that helped you out as a raider and it was more or less tuned to assume that you had some raiding experience. It wasn’t designed to ‘prepare’ you for anything. The entry costs for Lower Karazhan (that’s everything up to Curator in case you’ve never heard that term, which is likely because I’ve never heard it before and probably just made it up) could roughly be achieved by getting top end blues from normal dungeons, the better quest rewards from the long chains in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon, and crafted epics.
The Wrath of the Lich King Design: The Ladder to Raiding
Wrath brought a lot of changes to the game again (now beginning to establish the pattern of relearning the game every expansion). Raids could be done as 10 man or 25 man (catering to casuals), Tier 6 was useful beyond the first quest rewards of Northrend (game is too easy lolz), that the game was dead (Spoiler: still didn’t die), and the biggest change, the one that has haunted WotLK through it’s entire life span was the purpose of heroics had changed. Most people chopped this up to the previously mentioned ‘game is too easy’ and ‘catering to the casuals’ and that the once mighty heroics were nerfed to this. But they weren’t nerfed. Not in the least. The concept was repurposed. Kinda like building a target dummy so you can destroy it for easy fused wiring. Heroic Dungeons were no longer a side activity for the raiders, it was a part of the progression.
I’m often shocked (shocked I say) at how many times this is overlooked by people who complained about the heroics in the current expansion. I thought it was fairly obvious from the get go. You get to 80 and do normal dungeons (Stage 1), then once you are geared to the point of doing heroics, you did those to start cobbling together your epics for raiding and your badges (Stage 2) and then your set to go off to the tier 7 raids and start reaping your rewards (Stage 3+). Wait! Don’t start with the eye rolling again! I know just what your thinking. Then why would they start giving frosty badges for running them if they were never designed to run once you were at Stage 3 or beyond? Well, simple, there will still people at stage 2 waiting to get their stuff but there just wasn’t enough people to cobble together enough to run them. So you had to be given treats to go back and help the stage 2 people in order to prevent the gear gap from solidifying and keep the content flowing.
This plan ultimately I think backfired. While yes, those at Stage 2 were eventually able to graduate to stage 3 either by drops or by badges (the triumph badge change went a long way here. The purpose of letting everyone get a chance to at least go into Icecrown Citadel was pretty obvious here I think, so I’m not going to get into it) but it created resentment of the stage 1-2 people by the stage 4-5 people. They higher ups just wanted frosties, didn’t care about the stage 2 people, and saw them as an obstacle to their frosties. Resentment leads to hate and hate leads some Yoda quote, yadda yadda yadda. To be honest, if they had the Dungeon Finder ready to go at the beginning of WotLK instead of the end, I think the whole expansion may have played out much differently (Same thing with the Hardmode rewards, etc) but then again hindsight is always 20/20, right?
The Cataclysm Design: The Mystery On The Horizon
So what will Cataclysm bring in terms of heroics? Well, the Developers have stated their intent to go back to a “Burning Crusade” style set up. Not surprising considering the backlash from the ‘Progression Ladder’ style that Wrath gave us. The question is how far will the pendulum swing in that direction? Will DPS Warriors become moot once more without a solid form of crowd control? Will mages and rogues be only ones not to kicked in random? I doubt it. Blizzard is too good about learning their lessons to do that again. I think the real thing to look at with this news is that Heroics are once again going to be tuned for off-the-clock raiders and those of comparable gear level. Ghostcrawler has made mention that he’d like level 85′s to once more have to turn to high level quest drops and crafted items to start to assemble a raiding set, not just Heroics.
As long as this thought process follows through and normal dungeon drops, quest items and crafted gear can actually get you prepped enough to enter the lowest tier of raids, and heroics don’t start taking on the trappings of the raid markings and CC-or-Wipe filled memories like Heroic Shattered Halls or Heroic Magister’s Terrace, I think Cataclysm could prove to be quite the rewarding experience. I’m not without my worries though. Namely in terms of reputation factions (what can I say, I’m a completionist and I like my bars to be full dangit), the tabards currently seem to only reward rep for heroic dungeon runs, and my limited gazings into Cataclysm haven’t revealed any confirmation of daily questions to increase rep like we had in WotLK (Okay, I know Tol Barad has some, but that’s the Isle of Quel’danas aspect of its design, what about the Earthern Ring?). But these are minor things all in all, and for the most part, mechanically at least, I’m very much looking forward to Cataclysm, even if it means having to relearn everything (Wait… hunters stand behind their pets and shoot?! WTF!?)
You must unlearn what you have learned. – Some puppet in a movie
Like some untold horror from ages past, it looms over us as we bask in its ever darkening shadow as it approaches. The excitement builds to an unappeasable boil and those who have glimpsed the madness to come eagerly prepare for its arrival. The word lingers on the lips of everyone, ‘Cataclysm’. The end of the world. But it is not the first of it’s kind. While Azeroth is scheduled to be sundered and shattered and all manner of other frightening verbs, the simple fact of the matter is that this is a cyclical terror that is doomed to menace us again and again. While Deathwing’s return marks the proverbial end of the world as we know it for our characters, the fact of the matter is that we players face an ‘end of the world’ every time an expansion comes around.
Now that Patch 4.0 is on the PTR the excitement for Cataclysm is beginning to foam with unease and anxiety over what the game is set to bring. Are holy paladins doomed to extinction? Will death knights be just as overpowered as before? Will there be something that hunters won’t want to roll on?! How will mechanic X, Y or Z affect the way I play? And do electric sheep dream of androids? As the questions begin to flow, anxiety turns to frustation. A sense of personal belonging becomes a sense of entitlement: Why did Blizzard break MY class? I didn’t want healing to change this much! I can’t believed they buffed THEM but not ME. For someone like me, who long ago accepted the fact that I can’t expect anything to carry over, it becomes devastatingly entertaining to watch. (Devastating in the sense that you can really really really REALLY tick people off this way)
So, in my tradition of making grandiose lists that benefit no one but myself, here are a few of Oddcraft’s tips for surviving the inevitable “end of the world”:
STEP ONE: EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG
Just assume that everything you think and understand about how you play your character is completely wrong and you’ll need to pick it up from scratch. If you want to give it a try, roll a class you’ve never played before, get it to level 15, and go into a dungeon with the most unfamiliar task possible for this class (Healing for tanks, tanking for heals, anything but dps if you’re normally a dps). It’s weird right? Like wearing a sweaty pair of someone else’s sneakers while sleeping in their house, in a room that their grandmother died in a year before. That kinda weird. It’s not unbearable, but it’s a damn awkward feeling.
Occasionally you’ll get that lovely moment where you can feel the heat of the blush spreading across your face as a small line of text points out that you’re doing something horrible wrong and they it should be done is ‘this’. It can come in the form of helpful advice, annoyed scornful anger, or head to desk beating intolerance – but all the same, you’ve just learned that everything you knew was wrong. That’s the feeling you should walk into Cataclysm (or any expansion with). Maybe it’s a bit easier for me because I remember those horrendous n00b moments (Why? Because my personal mindset of always focusing on the negative in my life has me constantly remembering every single little screw up. I’m also a Sagittarius and my favorite colors are green and black. Nice to meet you.) and believe me, I’ve had them. Like being a melee hunter until level 38 when someone in a Scarlet Monastary run was kind enough to explain why exactly Blizz saw fit to hand me a gun, or leveling 1-70 on a warlock using the rotation: Voidwalker goes in -> DoTs -> then wand until dead. I’m not above saying that I need to relearn some things a lot of the time.
STEP 2: BACK IN MY DAY…
Now that you know that everything you know is wrong, the first inclination in your head will be that obviously, everything was better when I did understand it. In Burning Crusade, Vanilla was the best. In Wrath of the Lich King, Burning Crusade was the greatest achievement WoW had ever seen. Who wants to wager that we’ll see people clamoring about how Cataclysm is not as epic as downing the Lich King, or way too easy with the point system tier gear, or that how you leveled your blacksmithing back when it was hard and no one got easy mode ‘multiple points’ for making an item. How dare they be able to do what I did easier and quicker!
Since these is simply a micro version of the generational thinking that leads our parents to think that the world has gone to hell and young people have no respect, and the young people to think that they old people are outdated and do not merit being listened to, I will simply address the topic two fold and say this: Shut. Up. Pretty. Pretty. Please. If you would like to play a static game, in which the situation does not change on a dime, and your hard earned achievements mean the same now as when they first came out, I would like to point you towards your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. They provide excellent methods of developing a proud, strong ePeen that are just as easy to wave around in people’s faces and the simple fact is beating the game on the hardest difficulty does not get any easier in a single player game. There is your Valhalla, brave warrior. Seek it out and drink heartily from your cup in the hall of your fathers.If you think the game is dead, go play something else. There’s a variety of choices out there. One’s that require you to build a strong team to tackle content that the pitiful casual players will never get to glimpse. Just don’t sit here and belly ache about how the game you loved is “dead” in trade chat. You’re not doing anything but a disservice to yourself. (For the record, that’s the same speech I gave my grandparents when I turned 18.)
The alternative to the “please please please be quiet” technique, is to take a step back and look at it in the broader scheme. The people from vanilla were complaining about Burning Crusade, Burning Crusaders were saying the same things about Wrath of the Lich King, and again and again and again. Once you can see the whole thing for what it is, you’ll realize that there’s always something to complain about, that someone always has it easier than you did, and this transcends a single expansion or patch, so this is not a unique or individual event that can be pinpointed for all of this. It’s constant, and ever present. The only way to get past it is to decide that you’ve either had enough and leave or acknowledge the change and move on. This is the same thing that happens every day in the real world between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and TV talk show hosts and their audience. There is no ending it, so the route to go in my opinion is to accept and move on.
As for the reverse, new and youthful players, listen to the wisdom of the old players (when it actually is wisdom… I must stress that. Not everything an old schooler says is a nugget of golden truth, especially when the ‘old schooler’ is a 12 year old wearing a shirt with a NES controller that says ‘Represent’) because if the past two expansions are any indication, expect to see some old fight mechanics repeated and possibly mixed together (Anub’arak in Azjol-Nerub is the Lurker Below with bugs instead of fish people, and how many times have we’ve seen Baron Geddon’s living bomb come back to haunt us?) So they may actually have some fun insights to share with you as to how you can combat the new fights.
STEP 3: ACCEPTANCE
If anything, all these changes be it changes to mana regeneration or making the game easier or harder, should not be looked at with disdain but with the joy of new exploration. It’s the wild west again my friends and we’ve got a brand new world to explore, and all new tools to learn how to explore it with. It’s the joy of learning a new class without having to start with nothing but your backpack and a full suit of vendor trash on your back. Use this as a time to learn something new, and improve yourself with it. What’s the worse that happens? Some things are out of whack in 4.0 and they get tuned again and again until they are back in line. Look at Death Knights from 3.0 to 3.3 – HUGE change. What about the awesome might that was Retadins? – To the ground baby! But also look at the issues with AoE threat, or making it easier to find groups with the dungeon finder.
So yes, 4.0 will be the end of the world as we know it. Just like 3.0 was (Oh god, nerf Death Knights!), and 2.0 was as well (Oh god, nerf Felguards!). Just grab yourself a towel full of supplies and soaked in resources, stick out your thumb for a ride to the next evolution of the game and no matter what, regardless of what you’ve read on forums, no matter what screams of fear echo in the hearts of blog comment sections: DO. NOT. PANIC. And I’ll see you all on the other side.