Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Heroics Roundup

Well, it's been a while? What have I been doing, besides breaking hearts and promises, you ask? Actually enjoying WoW. See, the Cataclysm expansion should have come with a note like "New Game Feature: Actual Immersion!", because the Cata zones have so much more of it than before. And immersion is fun, but to write these posts I deconstruct, and nothing breaks immersion faster than deconstructing something. So I had to choose between by loyal fan's (both of them!) and enjoying myself. I choose wisely.

Anyway, getting back to things, here's a list of all heroics, the best and the worst and why.

AVERAGE - Lost City of the Tol'vir
Yeah, bleh. Bosses are all right, especially the first one, pacing is good, but I dunno, it just seems so mundane. And why the fuck is it called lost? It looks damn well found to be, bustling with an oddly disproportionate number of necromancers to normal civilians, but maybe cat people just roll that way. It hits all the points on the checklist, but feels flat and dull, like Japanese engineering.

UNDER AVERAGE - The Deadmines
Let's get one thing straight: I like the final dream sequence. It's fun and new and you don't lose progress on a wipe so it's hard to get really frustrated. The lightning sticks should probably two-shot instead of one-shot, but whatever. No, the bosses are fun and interesting, although Ripsnarl seems a little, I don't want to say buggy so... sketchy. No, my problem is the damned thing is just way too long! And for what? Cookie's a pushover and so is Vanessa herself. It's a shaggy dog of a dungeon, takes forever and goes no where.

ABOVE AVERAGE - Blackrock Caverns
Now shit is starting to take off. All of the bosses are tough, and give a real challenge, the atmosphere is nicely dark, and you even get a cool NPC that occasionally murders packs for you. Fun! On the downside it's a bit over-tuned, and especially considering Beauty and the adds on Obsidius make this dungeon more composition-dependent that a 5-man really should be. I absolutely love Corla (beams bosses) for bringing back just a bit of Kara night to all the young'uns. It's a little bland visually (RED ROCKS DARK IRON) but that's better than being implausible, and the bosses are nicely designed.

BAD - Throne of Tides
There's a lot interesting about Throne. It's great to look at, though a little gaudy; I guess Naga are underwater Persians or something. Horrible Cthulhoid monsters are the antagonists for most of the dungeon, with Giblins and Naga making odd showings here and there. It's all a little schizophrenic, and I would have liked Naga and Dark One bosses to be more mixed, to reflect their alliance shown in a particularly amazing quest chain in Vashj'ir. My main beef is various bitchy, annoying mechanics, like the suppression room, the mind control squid popping one's cooldowns making them at times impossible to kill, tornadoes being bigger than they are, and basically all of Neptulon. Void zone boss is cool though.

GOOD - Shadowfang Keep
Now THIS was a dungeon to bring back! It's shorter, sweeter, and now with fun NPC sub-plot. There are multiple paths, interesting trash, and it really feels like a real place in the world, both geometrically and narratively. Too many instances exist only in weird TARDIS dimensions. I know it's easier, but it's so much cooler to fly over aplace and actually believe the dungeon there exists. It would probably be higher, but all the bosses with the exception of Springvale are too easy, with Ashbury being the only other credible threat (and crybabies stop crying, he's damned easy if you have a brain and a interrupt. Can't believe he's getting nerfed). Most of the bosses here are laughably easy, and for that, third place.

WORSE - Vortex Pinnacle
Why the fuck does anyone care about this place? I totally missed that, who built a magical floating city in the clouds (not Titans, their architecture is totally different). And why is there a dickbutt dragon living here? And what are they threatening? Apart from these story problems, VP is the worst-balanced heroic of the bunch, with the first and third bosses being novelty punching bags and the second WOULD be fun and tough if not for the chain-tornado-to-instant-kill-ring-out. Seriously, ring outs have never been a cool mechanic in any game, ever. Invisible wall that shit and get back to me. At least it looks cool.

BETTER - The Stonecore
Now we're talking. Great visuals, fun bosses, with a good story (did you notice the gnome in the beginning is from a Deepholme quest chain? So good!). I don't think Corborus is all that tough once you get the fight down, but again it's difficulty varies too much by group comp (only ranged good at AoE need apply). After that the rest is pretty cake, with Ozruk pretty much just irritating the shit out of melee with near-constant running and ranged with stuns galore, even if you dot yourself correctly. The second and last bosses do seem too easy, but their fights are interesting enough, so it's a wash for me. Maybe Slabhide should have a tail whip or something to spice that fight up. Overall though very entertaining and original.

WORST - Halls of Origination
This expansion's "Halls" dungeon tops my no 1 shit counter, because of sheer boredom. First of all the magical Egypt theme is an abrupt tonal shift from the robo-Scandinavia of Ulduar, also built by the Titans, so it already feels weird to me, like Hitchcock directing a romantic comedy. I was enthused about the high boss count, but every boss feels utterly dull and unfinished, like they had five bosses worth of mechanics, but damnit, they promised seven! Nothing feels dangerous or complex or sometimes necessary (the camels serve what real point exactly?). Still 100 times better than the last "Halls of X" though.

BEST - Grim Batol
FUCK YES. Everything about this dungeon is awesome. Tough bosses, check. No abusive mechanics, check. Dwarven architecture, check. Unique fun-yet-non-critical mechanic, check. I basically see the dragons in here as making up for that Malygos horseshit they pulled two years back. Here you have injured, captured dragons who lend a hand before needing to bounce to tend their wounds. And if you do the dragon segment well, dungeon goes super quick with free rep. If it goes poorly, you're fine, you just need to take longer. My one gripe would be the general lack of CC for dragonkin and elementals given the number of them here means some pulls might substitute cooldowns for CC, but I guess they're all doable, so it's not a huge deal. Oh, and dragon kills should give you rep; right now you're punished in opportunity cost for being really good at dragons. That is, I think, against the spirit of things. But yeah, really really good stuff, I'm sad to see it nerfed.

There you go then! I am biased of course, I like the harder bosses (bosses should at least SEEM like they're trying their best to kill you), and a dungeon being interesting is worth slightly more to me than encounter balance. I'd rather do something spectacular and janky over bland and functional. As should you too; we all too often get concerned more with easy gear and points, and forget the true purpose of WoW: to entertain. And I'd take an entertaining wipe-a-thon over a dull success any day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Zone Review: Ashenvale (H)

OK so yes, I didn't post yesterday. Very busy day, close friend got married, blah blah. As penance, I'm writing two posts today, one of which will hit the moment Cata launches. I'm sure you'll ALL come to read that right away. Anywho.

Ashenvale was a pretty strong zone in the classic days, so I feared it would be left relatively unmolested. Not true! Quest hubs have been added, a very fun introductory chain has been added in, and while the green and purple forest is mostly the same visually, there is a large volcanic lava flow mixing it up in the middle.

The zone seems like a sort of tribute to the Ashenvale of old, in ways. Veterans will likely recognize several locales, like the Dor'Danil Barrow Den, Grom Hellscream's gravesite and the surrounding demons, and Zoram'Gar Outpost, are largely the same. Though the latter got a facelift by the Orcish TV show "This Old Hub", hosted by Bob "Warsong Hold" Villa. Not the most dramatic zone change by far, but don't fix what ain't broke.

Don't think that this is your Guild Master's Ashenvale though; fresh questing abounds with the signature better flow and varied mechanics. The quests mostly take you to familiar places, but for new reasons or with renewed purpose. The premise behind Felfire Hill is not to kill demons just because, well, fuck them, but to gain a dubious source of fuel in the form of green flames. I was saddened this didn't end with me riding in a demolisher spreading Legion Flames among the NPCs (for a change!) but maybe that's asking too much.

I do have to get something off my chest, if we can speak under the Seal of the Confessional for a moment. I didn't finish Ashenvale. Not even close; I did all the quests coming out of Splintertree, and my next stop were the breadcrumbs into Stonetalon. I tried to complete Zoram'Gar, oh I really did. But I was 24 already, and the beefiest quests they had were 22. And I had skipped an entire other quest hub on the way there! The one flaw I can see with Ashenvale is that it might be too big for its own good. Even without heirloom gear I would have easily breezed through it too fast to see much of the western side of things.

Maybe this is just MY design philosophy, but the ideal flow for leveling isn't hard to figure out. If someone with no heirlooms does every quest in the zone, having come in at the appropriate level, they should gain precisely enough XP, including required kills, to get 5 levels and go to the next zone (or whatever the next zone assumes). Naturally, things like rest state, dungeoning, and non-required kills will get the player farther than this, or give them the option of skipping a few quests without breaking flow, but you get the idea.

It's then a little bit of a bummer that Ashenvale was so filled with content that will get passed up in the natural course of leveling. Maybe it should have been made five levels higher, or maybe it should have been split in two like the barrens. But this isn't really a complaint; it's always better to leave food at the table than leave the table hungry. It's not elegant, but it's fun, a little dangerous, and leads into Stonetalon Mountains (more on that later!)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dungeon Review: Deadmines and Ragefire Chasm

Before they nerfed dungeon XP, it was very easy to get a level or more in even a short run, so I ended up kinda out-leveling the Northern Barrens. I'm not complaining, NB was a fairly bland zone with not enough changed for me to really be gripped by it. Now that dungeon xp has been nerfed to garbage, there's even less reason to subject one's sanity to the rampant bigotry and impatience that comprise the vocal minority of the LfG system. Still, if you have a premade group, or are desperate for human contact, however abrasive, here's some words on the two lowbie dungeons.

Deadmines has the same layout, but totally retooled bosses and mechanics. It actually felt like a real instance, with bosses actually having distinct mechanics and interesting flavor. It also uses the new ability for quests to resolve in the field, which I quite like. It also works a Worgen in as the penultimate boss encounter, incorporating their existence into the early lore and helping to make them feel like a proper part of the world. Something the last Alliance race could have used, to be sure.

RFC is by contrast largely unchanged. The same bosses, same trash, and even the same end spot for the LFG tool, one boss short. The mobs have been moved around a bit, and in some places thinned, but every encounter is more or less a tank and spank. Though Oggleflint's cleave served a rude introduction to THAT particular mechanic for all DPS involved in my run.

I want to stop and say a brief word about group pulls in these early dungeons. To DPS, please realize that tanks don't have all their abilities to generate AoE threat yet, and if a skull gets put over something, it's probably for good reason. That said, holy shit druid is fucked up in this regard. These two dungeons both have unavoidable three and four mob pulls, and while Paladins get Avenger's Shield for being prot and warriors have had Thunder Clap for a good six levels, druids have NOTHING to generate AoE threat at all until swipe at 36. Thirty freaking six! How are we supposed to keep four mobs off a healer? Demoralizing Roar? I know mobs deal little enough damage at this level that one can go stray and it's no big, but it's profoundly frustrating as someone who's tanked big kid content to have a half-empty toolbox for doing this low level shit.

SO ANYWAY, both dungeons are fine, with a nod to Deadmines for interesting boss fights. Well, as interesting as level 15 can get anyway. The dungeon XP nerf went way overboard and now dungeoning is vastly inferior to soloing, so I can't really recommend doing any dungeon more than once. It's very disappointing that Blizzard effectively eliminated dungeoning as a viable alternative to questing in this way; even with a premade, it would be faster (and far less repetitive) to do solo quests. I know Blizzard wants to show off the new zones and quest flow, but come on, the option would have been nice.