Archive for the ‘Questing’ Category

In my guild, one guy got a Battered Hilt on patch night, and that’s been it. No more hilts for anyone so far, and most of us (me included) have never actually seen one drop.

As I wrote earlier in the week, my group called it on patch night after we’d spent almost an hour zoning in to Forge of Souls, another 20 minutes or so zoning into Pit of Saron, and even more time trying to zone in to Halls of Reflection. So I ran two dungeons and logged off because there simply wasn’t time to do a third, especially if it was going to take us up to an hour just to get in.

Apparently Blizzard slipped in a hotfix sometime after patch night that significantly nerfed drop rates for the Battered Hilt.

There are reports of Hilts dropping like soap in prison showers, netting great weapons for the folks who had inordinate amounts of free time on patch night. I’ve even heard — from some reliable sources — reports of patch-night runs that saw two or three Hilts drop per run.

We’re five days into Patch 3.3, and I’ve run the new five-mans a total of 12 times, so I’m probably on the extreme low-end compared to some players. Maybe the fact that I haven’t seen one drop is attributable to that.

Quel'delar

Quel'delar

But in quite a few QQ threads on this issue, players are saying they expect to see one Hilt drop per week. With a one-in-five chance of winning the role, that means it could take as many as five weeks to get a Hilt. Ouch.

The hotfix seems to have pissed off quite a few players. As one Paladin on the official forums puts it:

What bugs me is all the people that took advantage of this benefit while I was sitting outside the instance trying to get in and failing. And now I get the decreased chance of getting it. Blizzard screwed up and now they should keep the drop rate the same instead of making those that didn’t take advantage of Blizz’s screw up suffer.

But not to worry — Patch 3.3 just continues the fine tradition of rewarding people who have inhuman amounts of free time. So whether you’ve got the time to run four versions of a single raid each week, or dedicate a six-hour block to running five-mans on patch night, rest assured the rewards will be sweet!

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Let them come. Frostmourne hungers! – The Lich King


The trailer gets me psyched to get into Icecrown Citadel and kick some ass for a shot at the Lich King, even if it doesn’t exactly give the impression that Tauren (or anyone other than humans, for that matter) are going to be the ones taking him down.

I’d also like to point out here that the trailer looks pretty damn good — and shockingly cinematic — despite the use of the in-game engine and what looks like actual gameplay footage during boss encounters.

But what really strikes me is how much better of a job Blizzard has done this time around. In The Burning Crusade, there were players who didn’t know — or care — who Illidan Stormrage was. To a lot of players, especially casuals, that was territory that belonged to the hard-core raiders and elite guilds, who were privileged to be able to see the inside of places like Black Temple.

Not so in Wrath of the Lich King — Arthas and his deeds pervade everything, and every player feels them, from the Lich King’s influence in questlines large and small, to cameo appearances in dungeons like Drak’tharon Keep and Trial of the Champion. Upon landing in Northrend, there’s a very real sense that both factions, and their leaders, are really gearing up for something. And even when things began to border on the ridiculous, as they did on the Argent Tournament grounds, the designers kept reminding us of our ultimate goal for this expansion.

Fall of the Lich King

"Can you feel it, my son, closing in all around you? The Light's justice has been awakened. The sins of the past have finally caught up to you. You will be called to account for all the atrocities you've committed, the unspeakable horrors you've let loose upon this world, and the dark, ancient powers you've enslaved."

The Burning Crusade’s story sounded an awful lot like an L. Ron Hubbard mythos — this guy was corrupted, and stole the souls of these people, who in turn seek vengeance for wrongs done to them by space aliens, and in the mean time here’s a parade of lesser evil creatures, who work for increasingly more evil dudes, and…you get it. I spent the better part of two years playing through the damn thing and I’m still confused on how it all ties together.

But not Wrath. In Arthas, Blizzard created a real boogeyman for Azeroth. Players will enjoy killing him.

The question is, in this era of universally accessible raid content and varying tiers of difficulty, how easy will it be? If ‘normal mode’ Arthas is a pushover, the entire story feels a little cheap, especially since killing Arthas on normal difficulty is the only route to the heroic Arthas.

It just won’t feel right unless Arthas is the most badass encounter players have seen to date. He should be powerful. Ridiculously powerful. And none of this relying on adds or cheap gimmicks — as the Lich King, Arthas should radiate real, overwhelming force. The story doesn’t demand “OMG nerf it i wantz epicz,” it demands an epic battle and a memorable challenge. Here’s to hoping we all bang our heads against this particular raid boss.

Related posts from Stormstrike:

The Frozen Halls: Enhancement Shaman Gear

Forge of Souls: Finally got in!

The Forge of Additional Instances Cannot Be Launched

Shamans: “Terrified of moving”

I think this is an important change. Sure, we can make jokes about “noobs” but a lot of people who try WoW out for the first time have no experience with MMOs, and let’s not forget this game has a wide-ranging demographic.

Off the top of my head, I know a 67-year-old grandmother who plays a Resto Shaman, another grandmother who plays a Blood Elf Hunter, an ER doctor in his 50s who uses the game as  means of spending time with his kids. And I’m always surprised when a random, well-played pug member turns out to be a grade school kid. (Which is why it’s a good idea to watch your language in PUGs, even if you assume most kids that age would have their language filter turned on.)

Speaking from personal experience, I began playing WoW in early 2007, when the game basics had long been second-nature to most seasoned players. I had experience in online gaming, but WoW was my first MMO. I’d played lots of RTS games before (Age of Empires, Battle for Middle Earth II), lots of FPS games (Quake, Unreal Tournament) and quite a few role-playing games, going all the way back to the original Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES.

But I had no concept of talent specializations, instancing group dynamics, the mechanics of aggro and the difference between soulbound and non-soulbound items. When I began playing WoW, I was so clueless it took me a couple of days to figure out that in-game currency was returned to the player through the mail after they lost an Auction House bid. So I spent way too much time grindng the Harpies outside of Thunder Bluff to get my first overpriced greens, which I’m sure looked hilarious: “Why is this level 15 Shaman spending hours slaughtering Harpies three levels below him?”

We keep the noobs fenced in, for their own safety.

"We keep the noobs fenced in, for their own safety."

Along the way, I met some extremely helpful players, starting with the Druid who led me to the stashes of Ambercorn beneath Mulgore’s tree groves — back then, we didn’t have sparkly graphics to clearly mark quest items, drinks only cost 10 cents, and we had to walk uphill both ways to Thunder Bluff. None of that Purified Draenic Water for us, thanks.

But on a more serious note, griefers who invite noobs en masse to raid groups for the sole purpose of stranding them in their starting zones without quests or any direction on what to do have undoubtedly ruined the early game experience for more than a few players, and who can say how many people let their 14-day trials expire out of frustration because of incidents like that?

They’re not idiots, they’re noobs, and all of us were new to this game at some point. I’m glad Blizzard is taking steps to make it easier for those folks in Patch 3.3 — not only is it beneficial to everyone to have new blood in the game, it also signals a belief by Blizzard that, five years into WoW’s lifespan, the developers still expect significant numbers of new players joining in on the fun. And that’s a good sign for all of us.

Not really.

But I have returned to write this blog, after a long (and much needed) respite from the game.

If you’re like me and you’ve played World of Warcraft for any number of years, burnout may be a familiar sensation. I started playing the game in the early stages of the Burning Crusade, and this was my second bout of full-fledged burnout, accompanied by all the symptoms — disinterest in raiding, a renewed focus on PvP followed by a feeling of disgust with arena, and then finally the slow realization that I really should be doing something else with my time.

For me, that point comes when I’ve realized I’m no longer using the game as a means to unwind — if I hate a particular heroic, but I’m running it for those last two badges needed for a new item; if I can’t stand a certain raid instance, but I want those elusive shoulders to drop; if I’m getting tired of unbalanced PvP, but I stay to grind out 20 extra matches to reach a higher bracket. All these things are signs of burnout.

WotLK started out auspiciously enough — upon touching down in Vengeance Landing, that feeling of whole new realms to explore and new adventures to be had was strong. I remember rushing to the Dragonblight after dinging 76, glad to be back on my flying mount and eager to circle around the gorgeous Wyrmrest Temple a few times for some screen shots.

Leveling up was fun — I was worried I’d be deterred by the perpetual wintery atmosphere in Northrend, but the quest were more immersive, the new enemy models were engaging, the music (especially in Storm Peaks) was epic, and hey, there’s always Sholazar Basin. I zoomed around Scholazar, taking in the verdant sights on my flying mount first from high up in the air, then in low swooping dives, speeder-bike-on-Endor style.

And there’s something about that limbo between leveling up and the first stages of end-game that makes everyone a lot friendlier and willing to cooperate. At level 75, when people are wearing a mix of WotLK dungeon blues and last expansion’s epics, people don’t seem to feel the need to flaunt their e-peens. They just want to level up, and if the damage meters don’t exactly show parity, well hey, we’re all within a level or two of each other and will replace this gear in two weeks anyway.

From there it was heroics, then Naxxramas and Sartharion, and finally Malygos. I joined a new guild and I loved it. We had a couple small squads for heroics, which were a lot of fun with the folks in the guild, and our 25-man raiding efforts were largely successful, if a bit sloppy at times. We downed Sartharion with his three drakes on 25-man hard mode and came damn close to getting the 10-man achievement before I took a break from the game.

Ultimately, it was a series of unfortunate in-guild drama episodes that killed the fun for me. As one of two main officers under our guild’s GM, I was the guy tasked with holding our guild together during a rough patch, while our GM took his own sabbatical to care for his wife, who had just had surgery.

With one crisis barely averted, and various egos reassured, one particular rogue  — whose attacks should be based on a drama bar instead of an energy bar — started sowing seeds of discontent, alleging loot favoritism while promising more epics and more success as he whispered into the ears of a few key raiders.

In my guild, I had a reputation as an extremely fair officer and an all-around nice guy. I’d mediated disputes, I’d been thanked countless times for staying above such disputes, and during loot council I tried to be an advocate for parity and fairness.

So it was that when a fourth of our guild /gquit after a particularly animated tantrum by the rogue in question, I was bombarded with tells from those key players, many of them like this: “You’re a great officer, and we want to continue raiding with YOU, but we can’t stay in this guild…”

I didn’t have it in me to lead the rebuilding efforts, and after two weeks our GM was still MIA. The slow trickle of /gquits that comes after a mass exodus was threatening to turn into a torrent, and suddenly my in-game stresses were beginning to feel a lot like the stress of real life.

Bottom line: It wasn’t fun anymore. I had to take a break.

So why did I come back? When 3.2 dropped, the idea of raiding and participating in PvP once again started to appeal to me, and I couldn’t resist the call of an entire tier of raiding sans trash. I love Trial of the Crusader. Plus, some old friends offered me an invite to their casual-but-skilled raiding core, and I knew I’d be running with people I like, people who are fun to raid with and know how to get the job done.

Now that I’ve been back for a few weeks and I feel like I’m a bit more in the loop, it felt like a natural step to return to writing this blog. Here’s to hoping more than a few Enhancement Shaman — and WoW players in general — will find some interesting posts and useful information here on Stormstrike.

Cheers to Blizzard.

While I really enjoy the lore of WoW, I don’t think Blizzard has always done such a great job of projecting the overarching storyline throughout the game’s quests. Leveling up in The Burning Crusade, it was easy to remain oblivious to major characters like Illidan Stormrage or Kael’Thas Sunstrider.  Quests that literally ask you to pick up piles of shit in Nagrand don’t help the situation, and like most other quests, little light is shed on the struggle between good and evil.

Much of that has changed in Wrath of the Lich King, and it’s obvious early on, from being thrust into the heat of a raging battle at Vengeance Landing, to watching the Lich King make an appearance at the very end of Drak’Theron Keep. There’s an evil badass in Northrend, and his presence is felt everywhere.

There are some 22 pre-requisite quests leading up to the opening of the Wrathgate, making it one of the longest questlines in the game. Along the way, lore is revealed piece by piece, culminating in a joint Horde-Alliance offensive at the Lich King’s doorstep. It’s here that the major drama unfolds, and we get to watch from the center of the action as the unified forces are betrayed by a rogue element of the Forsaken. Both Saurfang the younger, and Bolvar, the Alliance captain, are killed by the Forsaken traitors.

Alexstrasza at the Wrath Gate

Alexstrasza at the Wrath Gate

After the betrayal — and the death of Saurfang the younger — you’re tasked with delivering the grim news to High Overlord Saurfang at Warsong Hold.

Delivering bad news to High Overlord Saurfang

Delivering bad news to High Overlord Saurfang

The High Overlord tells you his son should not be mourned — he died in battle, serving the Horde. After a brief conversation with the younger Hellscream, Saurfang sends you to Orgimmar to deliver the news of the Wrathgate events to the Warchief.

This is where I got a bit confused.  I thought I was having a UI error — there were no vendors in Orgrimmar, the city was quiet, Forsaken refugees had taken up camp in the public areas, and the city guards were saying the capital was on lockdown.

It wasn’t until I reached Thrall that I realized the quest was ongoing, and the cutscene at the Wrathgate had been only the beginning.

The Warchief, with Sylvanas Windrunner.

The Warchief, with Sylvanas Windrunner.

It seems the situation is extremely grim. Varimathras, majordomo of Sylvanas Windrunner, had joined with Grand Apothecary Putress in orchestrating the betrayal at the Wrathgate — and now Undercity has been lost to the Horde, overrun by demons.

In terms of lore, this is pretty major. Varimathras was a fixture in Undercity, a brooding and unfriendly Horde leader, but a Horde leader nonetheless. Thrall decides on an immediate course of action — the Horde will muster its forces and take back Undercity by force, and you will accompany those forces, fighting side-by-side with the Warchief and Sylvanas.

The Battle for Undercity

Warchief Thrall, Sylvanas Windrunner, me (haha!) and Vol'jin prepare to attack Undercity.

Heroes of the Horde: Warchief Thrall, Sylvanas Windrunner, me (haha!) and Vol'jin prepare to attack Undercity.

After taking a portal to the outskirts of old Lordearon, the Horde’s faction leaders are lined up outside the city, surrounded by Warsong battleguards and siege engines raining fire down on the city’s walls.

With a rallying cry, Thrall readies his forces and warns the battle is about to begin. This is where things get really epic — fighting alongside the Warchief and Sylvanas as you cut your way through the outer courtyard, then into the heart of the underground city. And the cool thing is you don’t have to feel underpowered — Thrall blesses his war band with an aura, granting huge HP and damage bonuses. My shaman suddenly became a beast with more than 40,000 hit points and Stormstrikes that landed for tens of thousands of points in damage. He’d need it for the onslaught of elite demons coming from all angles.

Horde forces preparing for the Battle of Undercity

Horde forces preparing for the Battle of Undercity

Making our way toward the heart of Undercity

Making our way toward the heart of Undercity

Battling Khanok the Impassable en route to Verimathras.

Battling Khanok the Impassable en route to Verimathras.

For the Horde!

For the Horde!

After wave upon wave of demons, finally we arrive at the Royal Quarter and the confrontation with Varimathras.

Battling Varimathras.

Battling Varimathras.

Thrall, Saurfang and...a Tauren Shaman? Heroes of the Horde take a breather after retaking Undercity.

Thrall, Saurfang and...a Tauren Shaman? Heroes of the Horde take a breather after retaking Undercity.

A great job by Blizzard, placing the player in the middle of an epic battle and a series of events that have a real impact on the game world. From this point on, the Forsaken Betrayal has real consequences on how WotLK plays out, and unlike lesser quests where NPCs or baddies respawn minutes (or seconds) after they’re killed, Varimathras is gone for good. There’s also some real insight here into the tenuous, short-lived peace between the Horde and the Alliance, and the impact of the rekindled animosity between the two factions as they look ahead to a confrontation with the Lich King.

The coolest new title in Wrath of the Lich King?

“…of the Nightfall.”

But since my guild’s still got people leveling up and others gearing for raiding, implementing advanced strategies in a 10-man Sartharion fight is at least a couple weeks off.

In the meantime, I decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and go for the Explorer title.

Upon dinging 77, I hit Astral Recall and dropped my 1k gold on Cold Weather Flying. Ah, sweet freedom! I could finally take my time and enjoy Northrend’s views from up high while exploring every sub-zone en route to becoming an Explorer.

The great thing about WotLK is that at about 2,100 to 2,200 XP per discovered zone, discovery alone can net upwards of 400,000 XP. At 77, I had explored the Howling Fjord in its entirety, most of the Dragonblight save a tiny sliver on the northern section of the map, most of the Borean Tundra, and the majority of Grizzly Hills. Still, exploring the rest of Northrend via flying mount got me just over 350,ooo XP without doing a single quest in that span. Not bad.

An Elite giant looks out from his ledge on Maker's Terrace in the Storm Peaks.

An Elite giant looks out from his ledge on Maker's Terrace in the Storm Peaks.

When I was finished racking up the Northrend zones, I headed back to Kalimdor. Aside from Mulgore, the Thousand Needles, the Barrens, Silithus and Un’Goro Crater, my map was peppered with tiny patches of unexplored territory amid mostly-explored zones. I was annoyed with myself.

I headed over to Azuremyst Isle, then on to Bloodmist, learning quickly that the most efficient way to knock out zones is to have screen captures of each area pulled up in the browser. Not only does it make it easier to identify specific map points that’ll grant a discovery, it also helps with those pain-in-the-ass areas that aren’t actually linked to a map graphic. If you don’t have a copy of a fully explored map handy, it’s easy to look at a map and think you’ve got every sub-zone covered. That’s a time-waster when you have to double back and grab a tiny tract of land on a ground mount, and I learned the hard way.

Darnassus - the city of NPCs.

Darnassus - the city of NPCs.

After the Draenei starting areas, I was off to Teldrassil. Since you’ve got to run through Darnassus to get to the rest of the island, I knew this would be a bit of a challenge. Arriving at the dock of the small village at the southern edge of the isle, I attracted the attention of too many level 75 guards and couldn’t keep up as they spawned on top of me and earned myself a grave yard run.

Upon rezzing, I realized I could sneak below the dock, regain my health and mount up without getting aggro from the guards again.

From there, it was one quick, surprisingly easy dash through the center of Darnassus and out the other side. When I rode out of the city, I had two guards on my back who dismounted and dazed me. I led them a few dozen yards from the gate and killed them just in time to notice a level 74 human Death Knight riding up towards me, with half my mana gone and my health at 75%. As the Death Knight dismounted, I summoned my Spirit Wolves and proceeded to administer a deeply-satisfying ass beating. Deeply satisfying because the Death Knight clearly expected an easy kill, and ass-beating because when it was over I was at 98% health and he was face-down in the dirt. Viva la Spirit Wolves!

The rest of Teldrassil was a breeze. I hearthed out, plotted a good flight path route and logged, then came back and knocked out bits of the unexplored zones tonight — small patches of land in Dustwallow Marsh, the off-shore islands in Feralas, the far eastern centaur lands in Desolace — finally ending with the Kalimdor meta-achievement as I finished up in Azshara.

The Kalimdor exploration Achievement.

The Kalimdor exploration Achievement.

Next up: The Eastern Kingdoms. Pathetically, the only two Eastern Kingdoms zones I have fully explored are Deadwind Pass and Sunwell Isle. I’ve got a lot of exploring to do, but luckily a guildie going after the same title will join me tomorrow. After all, two is better than one when it comes to skulking around hostile territory.

Shamans have always been considered a traditionally weak solo class.

In fact, I’m sure if I had leveled a Hunter or a Warlock before my Shaman, I would never have had the patience to level the class. With the pet classes, you can pull two or three mobs three levels above you and dispatch all of them with little effort. Usually, the only limitations are mana and aggro management.

But with a Shaman, there’s no such luck. Particularly in the early levels, if you pull too many mobs, you’re dead. Stoneclaw and underpowered self-heals simply don’t cut it, which was probably part of the motivation behind Reincarnation.

It’s a problem that extended into the late levels — at level 70, I remember having to bug a guildie to help me go back to Hellfire Peninsula to kill a level 61 elite, so I could get Bladefist’s Breadth. (As a fresh 70, but a 70 nonetheless.)

All that has changed in WotLK. Although probably not the best barometer of soloing power, the Mighty Magnataur/Reclusive Runemaster/Wanton Warlord quest line ranges from two suggested players to three as it progresses, and in total requires you to kill five elites.

The first two elites (there is a third, non-elite named mob in the first stage) are easy enough: They have some special abilities and one even summons a trio of minions, but they don’t hit very hard. Most classes could probably dispatch them solo with varying amounts of effort.

The next phase of the quest takes the difficulty up a notch, which is when I found myself really appreciating my Spirit Wolves as I fought a magnataur runemaster in front of his mountainside cave in eastern Dragonblight. This is a fight where the small heals from the wolves really make a difference, chipping in between Maelstrom proc heals to keep the battle going. Twin Howl is especially useful — if you combine it with the odd Wind Shock, you can really pour on the DPS for a few seconds without having to worry about getting hit. Less aggro means more hits, which in turn means more Maelstrom procs and more insta-Lightning Bolts, taking advantage of Stormstrike’s nature buff damage along with Earth Shock.

The final phase of the questline pits you against Grom’Thar, a magnataur who hits especially hard.  Short of going into instances and trying to down groups of elites, this is about as good a test of soloing ability as exists in the first four or five levels of WotLK. The wowhead comments confirm what I already know — the usual suspects, like Prot Paladins and Warlocks, were able to solo the quest at level 75 or so, but others were having trouble without bringing friends along. Here again, the wolves are huge — with Twin Howl and Wind Shock to distract the Magnataur for a bit and soak up a few of his heavy blows, I was able to do quite a bit of damage before he turned around and started clobbering me. Another Wind Shock and a Maelstrom insta-heal (or two) kept me up as the fight progressed.

With a shield on — and my Earth Elemental ready in case the wolves died (they didn’t) — I relied on big Windfuries and spell damage to whittle away at the elite’s HP until finally he dropped to the ground. Questline finished.

What a difference the wolves make!