Sunday, January 31, 2010

Going back to the roots of WoW (part 3)

In the final part of my little series about the roots of the different raiding instances of WoW, we've come to the Wrath of the Lich King, the latest expansion of WoW. It offers an old raid, a raid where we get to fight madness itself (also an old concept as we'll see) and of course a raid where we'll fight the Lich King himself.

Released already in Vanilla WoW it was unfortunately missed by he biggest part of the players. The Burning Crusade expansion was released just shortly after (some months) and left the loot of Naxxramas in the dust. There was no longer any need to do Naxxramas, which was further disencouraged by the raid instance's difficulty level. Some fights were extremely hard, like Patchwerk or Four Horsemen to name a few. Blizzard of course thought this was ultimately a waste of a nice raiding instance, and it is. So they decided to re-release it as the first raiding instance of Wotlk.

Naxxramas serves as the seat of some of Lich Kings most powerful officers, like the lich Kel'Thuzad. The instance is divided into four wings, with Sapphiron and Kel'Thuzad as the two final bosses. The fights are greatly varying and most of them great fun. Some of my personal favorites are Loatheb, which has a healing reducing aura which means you can only heal for 3 seconds or so every 17 seconds. Another fun boss is Heigan "the dancer". He spouts lava from different areas of the floor which means you have to constantly move around to stay alive. The Kel'Thuzad fight is also quite fun, since he ice blocks people which need to be instantly healed to survive. Patchwerk is basically just a spamming of both heals and dmg. Taking aggro from the tanks is nearly impossible so the fight is mostly a race against his enrage timer and the healers manapool emptying.

The wings have different themes and are called the Arachnid Quarter (where you fight spiders and bugs), the Plague Quarter (where you fight some disease spreading masterminds), the Military Quarter (where you fight the military masterminds, those who command the armies of the dead in the name of the Lich King) and the Construct Quarter (where you get to fight different abominations created to serve the Lich King).

The diversity of the instance makes it last for a long time, and eventhough most people greatly outgear the fights by now, some fights still need coordination to make them through. This is also a raid I'd recommend anyone to experience at least once in full.

The idea of the undead and their lords trying to conquering the world has been a theme of WoW
s since the beginning. It's a version of the apocalypse and bosses like "The Four Horsemen" imply this as well. There is nothing new about it really, but Blizzard implements it well in the game and makes it a fun and interesting aspect of their lore.

As far as I've understood it there are two major forces who wish do destroy the world (Azeroth) and everything in it. Actually one force is mostly after azeroth and the other force is after anything living in the universe. The second one is what Ulduar is all about. Housed by Yogg-Saron the old god of Death, who is a sort of remake of C'thun (final boss in Ahn'Qiraj) and inspired by the same source namely the books of Lovecraft, and Algalon the Observer. Ulduar is actually a prison for Yogg-Saron, who has succeeded into corrupting the minds of several guardians, who then become part of the boss arsenal. Algalon however needs to be destroyed for another reason. Being a Observer, he travels around the galaxy and decides whether a world has been corrupted beyond saving or not. Watching the corruption of the inhabitants of Ulduar (and other places of Azeroth) he decides its not worth saving and that it needs to be destroyed. It is this the player needs to prevent by killing im. Well you can't really kill Algalon, but you can fight him hard enough to make him change his mind.

The first part of the instance is about fighting different security systems of the prison and corrupted members of the guard. Some of the bosses, like Thorim and Freya, can be found outside of the instance too, non-hostile and often part of quest chains. The four guardian, Mimiron, Thorim, Freya and Hodir, use different elements which greatly vary the fights. Mimiron is mechanical, Thorim the god of Thunder, Freya the god of Life and Nature and Hodir the god of Ice. Some of the fights in Ulduar are among the most fun I've had. My personal favorites are Freya and Yogg-Saron himself.

There were some new concepts introduced with the Ulduar raid instance. The first thing was making some of the bosses optional to fight. That means you didn't have to kill them to be able to make it to the end of the instance. This includes Ignis the Furnace Master and Razorscale. Iron Council was optional too once you'd gotten the quest from killing them. Another new thing about Ulduar was the concept of "hardmodes". It was the same boss, but fought in a more difficult way. For instance one could fight Freya either with or without her keepers. You could fight Yogg-Saron with or without the extra help from the bosses you had just released from his maddening grip. Not all bosses had this option, but most of them. It was a way for Blizzard to make the same instance easy for beginners and hard for veterans. You had to succeed with all the hard modes (except the Yogg-Saron one I think) to make it to Algalon however.

The Yogg-saron fight is in many things a copy of the fight with C'thun. Having to fight his tentacles (albeit in slightly different ways) and jumping into his brain to destroy his maddening effect was part of it. I've never fought C'thun however and greatly enjoyed the Yogg-Saron fight. It is tricky and needs you to stay on your toes for the entire fight, using three different phases that varies things a little. There are many things to keep in mind, and people get different "missions" during the fight, except the usual ones like heal that, tank that and kill that. Some need to jump into his brain, some need to destroy tentacles and so on. I usually like that kind of fights the most, where a little more is expected from everyone except the usual.

Like mentioned in former posts, the idea of Yogg-Saron and the Old Gods is borrowed from H.P Lovecrafts fictional (?!) universe. This is likely something Blizzard will use again, since the Old Gods are a hardwired part of their own lore by now.

Trial of the Crusader
ToC starts out like a sort of inbetween raid, cut off from the lore parts of WoW. It isn't until the very last fight (spoiler alert) that you'll notice Arthas has a hand in everything that happens in Azeroth.
ToC is actually just an arena tournament, where you're pitted against different beings in a fight to the death. These beings are everything from huge worms to demons from the nether. Most of the fights are entertaining and Blizzard reused the concept of a pvp fight in pve, like in old Magisters Terrace, for one of the encounters. This means the bosses are programmed to act more like players (not being tankable, using cc and such) and more unpredictable.

When succeeding with the last encounter (spoiler alert again) Arthas enters and pits you against Anub'arak, the king of Azjol Nerub and defeated once already in the same instance. He is reawakened as an undead by the Lich King to do his bidding. ToC too uses the idea of hardmodes introduced in Ulduar.

ToC is a fairly short instance, and can easily be done within the hour with a good group. The idea of a tournament is of course borrowed from the old knightly tournaments, and the design is much like it. The entire raid is a big arena, and you won't venture anywhere else (except underneath it for the final fight). It has no trash mobs but only boss fights one after another. Blizzard wanted a quick and easy accessible raid instances, trying to listen to the complaints about some raid instances having so much travel time between bosses which used up time for no good reason. The result was ToC, the essence of boss fighting.

Icecrown Citadel
The question is of course how much I could write about this raid instance since not all of it has been released yet. No one has seen all of it yet, and there are probaly some weeks, maybe months until we get to fight the Lich King Arthas himself. Most of it has been released however, and like in Naxxramas it used different wings. First one has to fight through the Lower Spire to get to the wings, which are called The Plagueworks, the Crimson Halls and the Frostwing Halls (not yet released). Succeeding in getting through all these will probably get you to The Frozen Throne, which is on top of the instance and where Arthas resides (?).

The only boss my own guild hasn't downed yet is Blood Queen Lana'thel, one of two bosses (strictly counting four bosses but two encounters, since one encounter is about fighting three bosses at once) in the Crimson Halls. In the Crimson Halls we get to fight some bosses we've already defeated in different places of Northrend. All the bosses in Crimson Halls are vampires, and the fights also revolve around this theme to some part. Vampires haven't been seen much in WoW before and are, as far as I know, a new concept with Wotlk. Based on old folklore, vampires just like dragons is something most people have believed to exist or have had myths about. That they'd show up in WoW eventually isn't suprising.
The Plagueworks are yet again (like in Naxxramas Plague Quarter) about a mad scientist and his creations, in league with the Lich King. Most of the fights are so far really entertaining, and most of all quite challenging. Bosses like Rotface, Putricide and Lana'thel actually need some teamwork and skill to defeat, at least for now. There will be hardmodes in this instance too eventually, I think.

Overall ICC feels like a remake of Naxxramas. The bosses and the design is fairly similar, the whole idea is recognized at once. This doesn't have to be a bad thing though, like I said Naxxramas is a really well designed instance with many fun boss encounters. There are some bosses of ICC that haven't been released yet that feel promising as well, like a huge dragon which needs to be healed somehow. And of course the fight with Arthas will prove interesting as well.

These are all the raid instances there are in the game so far, and I don't think they'll implement new ones until the next expansion, Cataclysm. Since Cataclysm is about remaking the whole original world, maybe we'll see more re-releases like Naxxramas and Onyxia ahead.

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