Cataclysm post-mortem part 2, or “deathwing’s chin confirmed for tanking legendary!”

Boy wouldn’t that have been great.

Yep, before I continue rambling about the MoP beta, it’s time to finish rambling about Cataclysm!  Yaaaaay.

WARNING: This is going to be a long post.  Very long.  Because I just want to finish talking about Cata so I can talk about more interesting things!

Patch 4.0.3a, Cataclysm dungeons, or “vortex pinnacle again?  fffffffffuck”

As many will tell you, and as I said before in my introduction post, the Cata dungeons and heroics were initially overtuned.  Relative to how people had gotten used to running dungeons at the end of Wrath, anyway.  In full ICC-level epics, your daily random heroic would take ten, fifteen minutes at most.  When people got into Cata, they were shocked that they had to go much slower.  Trash could only be handled one pack at a time (unless everyone was incredible with CC and the tank was the best, and even then it was hard enough not to want to do it), the bosses were challenging, and the gear upgrades were often barely felt.  I know I’m not the only one who stopped trying to do random dungeons while leveling.

It only got worse with the heroics.  On the one hand, people learned quickly not to stand in the fire.  On the other, the entire dungeons were far, far too overtuned.  Some praised this decision by Blizzard as “a return to the hardcore days of old,” ignoring the fact that comparatively, WoW has always been casual.  I was one of the more annoyed by this.

See, I have never been a healer; I’ve always had a resto spec sitting in the back of my character, only to say “well I do HAVE a resto spec, just no gear or experience.”  Healing frightens me, and nothing frightened me more than the horror stories of healing in Cata heroics.  Frequently going OOM in a fight, retarded DPS failing to avoid damage when possible, tanks that were far too squishy, and more.  So I never attempted it.  Still haven’t, because I have no idea where to begin.

However, by not doing this, I was subjecting myself to horrendous 40 minute queues to get into the dungeon, then top it off with another hour spent completing it, and that was IF I managed to complete it, depending on how competent my group was.  My guild always formed groups before I could get in, so I always had to run solo.  I bore the weight of this as best I could, but in the end, I just lost all drive to do them anymore.  Luckily, I was barely sufficiently geared to start raiding at that point, but I feel my spot would’ve been kept around longer had I gone back and done more.

Those were not good days, I have to say.  Probably my worst time in WoW.  But what about the dungeons?

Well, as the header says, I hated Vortex Pinnacle with a passion.  This was when they still had the daily heroic, and for some reason, mine was almost always Vortex Pinnacle.  Which I had no upgrades from.  Yet it was either run it, or suffer a deserter debuff.  I chose to run it all the time.  What choice did I have?

The dungeons themselves weren’t all that bad.  Some memorable encounters in there, to be sure; the encounters are memorable, the bosses…well, I’d be hard-pressed to remember most them.  I mean, they pretty much all only show up once.  And their characters are all just “rar I’m a bad guy I’ma get you rascals!” for the most part.  Because of this, I’ll only write the names of ones I remember.

I liked fights with positioning; the drakonid general in Blackrock Caverns that you had to kite through the lava, the Altairus fight in Vortex Pinnacle (I hate the instance, like that fight), and the Corla encounter also in BRC were good.  The fight against Ozumat stands out just because of the buff that makes it impossible to see what’s going on, you just wail in one direction and hope for the best.  The redone SFK and DM were also very well done, although I could never get a group to finish heroic DM until several patches later.

Overall, though overtuned, the dungeons were fun if you had a good group to run them with.  The environments were great (particularly VP; again, hate the instance, but I love the art direction), the bosses were fun, and overall they weren’t too bad.  A good deal longer than I think they should have been, but alright.

One thing I disagreed with when it came to Cata heroics was the removal of the single epic from the final boss.  I still don’t understand why they did that.  Heroic dungeons dating back to the beginning of BC (I think) had one heroic item from the last boss; heroics added later in the expansion (MgT in BC, TotC and the ICC heroics in Wrath) dropped nothing but epics equivalent to earlier tiers.  It was a great way to get that last little bump to be wholly raid-ready, and ensured a small, but steady supply of the expansion’s enchanting crystals to keep prices from being astronomical early on.

But then Cata came out, and with it the announcement of “no epics from heroics!”  The “hardcore” crowd cheered that “epics will be epic again!” and proceeded to /dance in the streets (note:  there are no indications of hardcores /dancing in the streets).

And then Maelstrom Crystals hit well over 1000g apiece.

Why?  Because the only way to get them was to either make an epic item and disenchant it (which assumes you have a crafting profession and enchanting or don’t mind dropping one of your professions for enchanting), or disenchant your leftovers from raiding (which usually went straight to the guild bank).  The first was prohibitively expensive for most, the second wouldn’t happen until most content was on farm.

The problem was, the best enchants required Maelstrom Crystals.  As a dual-wielding spec, I would need Landslide on both weapons to bring viable DPS; that would be 10 crystals, or 10,000g just to enchant both my weapons.  Which was money I didn’t have at the start of the expansion.  So I had to settle for the lackluster Avalanche, opting to save my cash until I at least was wielding epic weapons.

That, however, wouldn’t be my lot, thanks to…

Patch 4.0.3a, Cataclysm raids, or “quit getting hit by the fucking soundwaves”

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My only screenshot from raiding T11, recovering from a wipe apparently.  Look at my horrible keybindings and despaaaaair.  I am still not much better at it.

As I mentioned, our guild used to be a 25-man raiding guild.  Keyword, used.  Tier 11 saw to that.

The first patch of Cata seemed to be nothing but overtuned, crazy-difficult content, and that applied to raids as well.  Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight, and Throne of the Four Winds all conspired to tear apart many a 25-man guild, with their numerous roadblocks and encounters that often depended more on luck than skill.

Before I continue with my personal experiences, a bit about the raids.  First, Blackwing Descent (which to this day I have not completed, still at 3 or 4/6 normal; I don’t remember if I killed Atramedes or not).  BWD offered up what was essentially a followup to Blackwing Lair; in fact, the entrance portal is a doorway located on the terrace where you fought Nefarian at the end of BWL.  The story is basically that Nefarian has been brought back to life (BWL was merely a setback) and has been concocting all sorts of cuh-ray-zee experiments for the Twilight’s Hammer cult.  Your job as a roving band of adventurers is to find out what he’s doing and put a stop to it.  Visually-speaking, the raid is a definite callback to BWL, with similar architecture throughout:  stout lines, orange and black color pallete, and lots of lava and fire.

The encounters are fairly interesting, with the raid set up in a 2-3-1 fashion (kill these two bosses in any order, then kill these three in any order, finally the last one).  I enjoy a little non-linearity in my raids from time to time, gives a party a choice of what to attempt next; it also allows progression by tackling easier bosses before harder ones.  Magmaw was a good intro boss, effectively being a Patchwerk fight with a few burst phases; ranged has to move around a bit more.  Omnotron Defense Council…not as good.  There was so much going on, so many things to tank, so many abilities to watch out for…it’s a fight that I’m pretty sure is impossible to do without boss mods of some sort.  Maloriak was interesting in terms of mechanics; determining when to let out more mobs to kill or save them for later proved challenging at first.  Atramedes offered up a very interesting mechanic, one of the first fights we encountered in the tier with an additional thing popping up on screen to keep track of; in this case, the sound meter.  Added on another thing to juggle.  Chimaeron…ugh.  Hated it.  Healers burned out on mana so easily in that fight, and the berserk phase was just awful.  I never even got to see Nefarian (still haven’t because PUGs are dead on my realm), but from what I can see it was brutal.  Zombie Onyxia, yaaaaaay!

Next, Bastion of Twilight (the only T11 raid I finished (on normal (in patch 4.1!)!).  A four-boss linear raid, with a fifth heroic-only boss, BoT has a simple premise.  It’s time to take out the head of the Twilight’s Hammer, dealing a major blow to the power structure of the cult.  That means storming the castle and taking down Cho’gall himself.  If done on heroic, the floor gives way to reveal the true final boss, Sinestra, the last (zombified; what is it with zombie dragons) broodmother of the black dragonflight.  Destroying her and her clutch will cripple the black flight, preventing them from gaining enough strength to serve Deathwing to their fullest.  The architecture is very foreboding, with spikes and purple and fire everywhere.  It feels like it’s pressing down on you at times, even when the halls are gigantic.

The fights were fairly good, though the raid suffered again from the lack of a good intro boss.  Halfus Wyrmbreaker was too complex a fight to be considered an intro boss; I’ve beaten him multiple times and I STILL don’t know how the fight works.  Which drakes do you kill first, and when?  What happens when you kill them?  What about that proto-drake in the background?  Why don’t I know?  Valiona and Theralion made for a good challenge I think.  It was actually a pretty fun fight, so long as everyone remembered when to stack and when to spread.  The Ascendant Council was challenging, involving numerous buffs and debuffs that needed to be gained or canceled when appropriate, and tons of movement.  And Cho’gall wasn’t too complex either, just had to be quick on the interrupts.  Again, never got to see Sinestra, though given how long it took to down her for most guilds, I’ll bet she’s still a challenge today.

Lastly, Throne of the Four Winds.  T4W had a pretty simple story as well:  Al’Akir, the Elemental Lord of Air decided to side with Deathwing when he reemerged from Deepholm.  He’s been terrorizing the races of Uldum from his palace in the skies, and it’s time he was brought down to earth (harharhar).  Visually, T4W is beautiful.  You get a sense of being aloft in the clouds, with breathtaking vistas surrounding you, not to mention some fairly beautiful architecture as well (what little there is).

T4W only had two bosses.  The Conclave of Wind is T11’s third council-based fight, and the only one I’ve downed to this day.  A little complex, it involved a lot of platform hopping, debuff management, and careful timing.  Two bosses would need to be taken out, and a third whittled away at; the two bosses would have to go down at about the same time, then the third had to be bursted down until dead.  Fairly fun.  I never saw Al’Akir, but I heard it was very painful.  Some regarded his heroic as being the hardest encounter next to Sinestra.  I wouldn’t doubt it.

So overall, the raids weren’t bad, per se.  I think they were overly challenging for the FIRST tier in Cata, and much too hard compared to expectations at the end of Wrath.  Like it or not, a lot of guilds forgot what progression was like at the end of Wrath, with 11 or 12/12H on farm.  Actually having to progress again, and with raids much more difficult mechanics-wise and numbers-wise, hurt many guilds, causing them to splinter or dissolve entirely.

The shared lockout between 10- and 25-man was also a difficult issue.  Many guilds were used to running 25-man main runs, then running 10-man alt runs, even taking their mains to these for fun.  10-man was easier, offered fairly good gear, and could be done in the same week.  With Cata, Blizz decided to combine lockouts for 10- and 25-man raids (including all Wrath raids, a big gaffe in my opinion), limiting players to one kill per boss per week.  Not only did this lock players out of a second, optional chance at loot, it also prevented them from just relaxing with an easier-tuned raid, something many of them liked to do.

I’m not saying that 25-man raids will die out because of this.  I am saying that a good number of them have had severe problems for this reason.  More on this later, in my personal anecdote.

Patch 4.1, Rise of the Zandalari, or “why does everyone fail at Jin’do”

Ah, 4.1.  Probably the most hated patch of Cata, because it introduced the most reviled heroics since the Cata heroics.  ZA and ZG weren’t bad heroics per se.  They were just awful choices to remake as dungeons.

The story of the patch was setting up a larger plot to be expanded upon in future patches/expansions (looks to be more expansions, since we’ve heard nothing since then).  The Zandalari, who you may remember as the nice group of trolls who had you kill Hakkar in the original Zul’Gurub, have decided that the end of the world is the perfect time to start a new troll empire.  To do that, they’ve enlisted the help of the Gurubashi and Amani tribes, empowering them to begin expanding their territories once again after their defeat at the hands of adventurers in Classic and BC.  Most every troll tribe has signed up to be a part of this new Zandalari empire.  Notably, however, Vol’jin of the Darkspears wants no part of this, and enlists the help of Horde and even Alliance adventurers to stop these plans before they get out of control.

The new heroics maintain the feel of the old raids, with most all the architecture and environments the same.  Some parts are cut out, but for the most part, it’s the same dungeons you’ve seen before.  They also maintain a very similar layout; ZA is still a six-boss dungeon organized in a 4-1-1 pattern, and ZG got knocked down to five bosses, with a sixth optional boss and numerous minibosses, all of which can be tackled in any order save the final boss, much like it was before.

First, it was nice to see these old raids return in some form, though I wish they hadn’t been removed in the first place.  I’m still annoyed I never got my Swift Zulian Tiger (though the Swift Razzashi Raptor is a nice consolation prize), and I miss that there are some old weapon models that are unobtainable anymore.  Also I’m annoyed I never realized that there were engineering schematics from the Zandalar Tribe reputation vendor and I never bought them before Cata.  My completionist side will never be sated!

However, I believe that they were just too big to be regular 5-man dungeons.  The solution to having nine hour-long heroics was…two more hour-long heroics?  And that was bare minimum.  It was even easier to wipe to things like Venoxis’s venom, or Kilnara’s panthers, or Zanzil’s various attacks, or the dragonhawk guy’s fire, or so many other things.  Wipes were so common, they were expected.

4.1 also offered the first of many times the Valor Points limits were changed.  In 4.0, the cap was 1250 points, with raiding being the only way for a player to hit that cap; daily heroics could only get you just under halfway there.  Valor was seen as something that a raider could easily attain with little additional effort outside of raiding, but a casual player could not reach the cap.  In 4.1, the Zandalari heroics offered a whopping 140 Valor for completion.  They allowed casual players to get much closer to the cap than before, albeit not quite the cap.  Older heroics, however, still didn’t get you far.  4.1 also introduced a flexible Valor system, removing the daily requirement for dungeon rewards.  Instead, the first seven completions were rewarded, allowing players to choose when they would run their dungeons.  One a day?  Easy.  Seven in a row?  No problem.

The other good thing thing was that ZA/ZG awarded nothing but ilvl 353 epics, which helped two things:  it made it easier to make the leap from dungeons to raids, and it increased the supply of Maelstrom Crystals substantially, eventually dropping their price to a comfortable 100-200g.  On the flipside, the lack of interest in running the original heroics made Heavenly Shards rarer than Maelstroms, eventually reaching the point where crystals were cheaper and more plentiful than shards.  The mistake came from not having all these heroics in one queue, I believe.  Ah well.

4.1 was also the introduction of Call to Arms, the solution for those dreadful 40 minute DPS queue times.  To make up for the shortage of healers and tanks for Cata heroics, Blizzard introduced rewards for those who stepped in to correct the shortage by queuing for the needed role.  If a call was issued to tanks or healers (or, impossibly rarely, DPS), a player could queue for a random heroic under that role, and be rewarded upon completion with a Satchel of Exotic Mysteries, an account-bound bag filled with gold, flasks, gems, or rare pets or mounts.

Did it work?  It took a little while, but yes, it eventually did.  40 minute queues became 30, then 20, then 10.  Healers and tanks continued to enjoy their near-instant or instant queues respectively, and took home extra bags of stuff for their troubles.  Most of all, it encouraged players to learn these roles, permanently increasing the supply.

For enhance, it was our first patch fix, this one trying to help our AoE damage, something we severely lacked.  Before 4.1, our two choices for AoE were Magma Totem (lasting for 21 seconds, meaning constant redropping) or Fire Nova (which couldn’t be used with Searing Totem, our default totem).  So we would have to take a DPS hit with Searing Flames in order to use any sort of AoE damage.  Not worthwhile.  4.1 decoupled Fire Nova from our fire totems, instead attaching it to any target affected by Flame Shock.  In theory, not a bad move.  In practice, clunky and miserable.  Fire Nova affected all targets around a Flame Shocked target, except the target itself.  In order to hit everything, we’d need to manually cast FS on at least two targets, then cast Fire Nova.  Bare minimum, this would mean 11 seconds to get that FN out, and by then one of the shocks would be approaching the end of its duration.  It wasn’t a fix so much as a bandaid, and I’m sure most enhancement shaman just forgot about AoE until later.  I know I did.

All in all, a pretty lackluster patch, content-wise and shaman-wise.

Patch 4.2, Rage of the Firelands, or “how much orange before a man goes insane”

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I took this screenshot with Far Sight the day before Cata launched.  Note the purple portal and barred gates.  I liked this shot so much it was my desktop background for a while.

4.2 brought with it Tier 12, a tier composed of only one raid, the Firelands.  Ragnaros is making one more assault on Nordrassil, and it’s up to YOU BRAVE ADVENTURERS to go into the Firelands and kill him there, defeating him once and for all.  Along the way, you tackle his toughest lieutenants, including Fandral Staghelm, who Ragnaros has designated his new Majordomo after the failure of Executus in Molten Core.

Design-wise…in the words of another, I’m still convinced Firelands was an experiment in how long one could be surrounded by orange before going insane.  The answer is not very long, I’m sure.  Even though it’s the elemental plane of fire itself, I feel like maybe the fire could’ve been toned down a bit?  I mean, fire has all manner of colors and lights it can create.  Does it really have to all be molten orange?

As a whole, I think no raid before or since has topped Firelands at the sheer number of mechanics in its fights.  Hell, trash mobs had more tactics than raid bosses in MC!  Each fight was different, and required the whole raid to know what to do, with little room for error.  There was no Patchwerk fight, no intro boss, just seven brutal encounters.  Without going in-depth, I’ll say that my favorite was probably Ragnaros himself.  The fight took a good deal of coordination even on normal, and when executed perfectly, it was a thing of beauty.  I’m sad I never got to down him on heroic to really seal the deal, but eh.  At least I finished the tier!

Cata’s first legendary was also implemented in this patch:  Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest.  The first caster legendary since Atiesh, Dragonwrath was and still is a sight to behold.  It’s a beautiful weapon with a great set of effects.  Its legendary proc allows for any harmful spell to have a chance to be duplicated, which vaulted casters with it to the top of every meter, annoying melee DPS who were still far behind most casters damage-wise.  It also allows the wielder to transform into Tarecgosa’s Visage, turning them into an image of Tarecgosa herself, and granting them master-level flying (I think, I could be wrong there).  It’s a legendary I hope one day to complete; for now, I’ll hold onto the few parts I have and wait for my chance.

The Dungeon Journal was included with this patch, a way for players to learn about dungeons and raids before stepping foot in them, and without having to resort to external sites.  The Dungeon Journal allows players to view boss abilities and phases, learning about what to avoid and be aware of.  It even includes a loot list so you know which bosses can give you upgrades!  It doesn’t spell things out entirely, but enough to give you an idea of what to expect your first time.  I’ve found myself using it quite a bit since it was added.  It was well worth the sacrifice of the key ring (may you rest in peace ;_;).

The first additional questing zone was added with 4.2 as well, the Molten Front.  The Guardians of Hyjal are ready to take the fight to the Firelord, and need your help to repel the attacks and set up a base right outside his fortress.  Over the course of a month of dailies, you unlock various rewards as you recruit allies to your cause, set up the base, and strike at the heart of Ragnaros’s forces.

Overall, a good addition, I think.  Most of the dailies were selected from a pool, and you could choose to do some of them one day, some on another (the Shadow Wardens or the Druids of the Talon).  The dailies were pretty fun throughout, and when there wasn’t rampant ganking from those damned Alliance ferals and rogues, it was pretty easy to be in and out in under a half hour.  The rewards were various ilvl 365 epics, along with flavor items, pets, and even a mount for completing the entire zone.  A set of achievements awarded the Flamebreaker title, which I wore proudly for a couple days before swapping back to Salty.  A nice content addition for those who didn’t enjoy raiding.

The other major addition was the Elemental Bonds questline.  Thrall’s got brain problems, and thanks to an ambush by the Twilight’s Hammer, it’s up to you to play psychologist!  Of course, WoW psychology involves killing a ton of elementals.  It’s only natural.  The questline was short but fun, even though all the quests were basically exactly the same:  kill a bunch of elementals until a little progress bar fills, watch the cutscene, get teleported to the next area, repeat until it’s over.  Still, a good lore nugget with a 365 cape reward.

Dungeon-wise, 4.2 saw another rework to Valor.  The cap was lowered to 980, meaning that 7 Zandalari heroics were enough to hit cap, marking the first time raiding had no benefits in this regard exclusively; raiders could still hit cap much quicker through raiding, however.  For most players, however, multiple runs of ZA/ZG in a week were not uncommon.  And these dungeons had long since lost their novelty.  If there were any mistake in 4.2, it was not releasing additional dungeons.  Hell, even one added dungeon would have made a world of difference.

Enhance got another rework to our AoE, this one being slightly better (but still pretty awful).  Taking the Call of Flame talent would cause Fire Nova to increase the duration of all Flame Shocked targets by 6 seconds, allowing us to cast Fire Nova without needing to re-shock our targets.  This was a nice bonus, but unfortunately left us with a still-clunky AoE.  The setup was the same, we just didn’t have to keep checking the FS dots on our enemies.  This was used by both enhance and ele shaman to solo Firelands trash, as can be seen in numerous videos; by kiting, shocking, and nova-ing, a shaman could pull tons of trash and slowly whittle them down for epics and recipes.  I never got to because I could never use any of our guild’s lockouts (nobody would let me use theirs, and I never got to go into FL until after the trash got buffed).  The only other change of note was that Stormstrike and Unleash Wind got damage buffs to bring our damage in line with other classes.  In a nutshell, we were still playing catch-up, still getting bandages to only temporarily fix the problem.

4.2 was an improvement, but we still had a long way to go.

Patch 4.3.0, Hour of Twilight, or “i am never going to get my goddamn shoulders”

It’s a shame that Cataclysm only really took off at the end.  For me, it had a pretty good start, went downhill quick, and only climbed back to good levels of fun with patch 4.3, the last major content patch of Cataclysm.  With content added for all levels of play, 4.3 was the patch which catered to everyone, and for my part, succeeded.

First, we got our first new dungeons since 4.1!  And they’re basically the opposite of every Cata dungeon!  Hooray!  Since a large amount of the playerbase (I hesitate to say majority, for fear of people getting onto me for that) disliked the very long Cata heroics, Hour of Twilight heroics were built to be completed quickly.  Once you knew how trash and bosses worked, it was easy to get in and out in 20-30 minutes.  This worked for me, and I actually had fun going in and doing my heroics for valor.

They even had an interconnecting story, harkening back to the ICC heroics.  The dragonflights have decided to procure the Dragon Soul from the past to stop Deathwing, and they need a group of adventurers (as always) to help them.  Nozdormu first takes you to the End Time, an alternate future showing what would happen if the Hour of Twilight came to pass.  It’s a pretty gruesome sight, what with everyone being dead and Deathwing himself impaled on Wyrmrest temple.  It’s the only place he can send you, because something here is blocking him from traveling the timestreams accurately.  Turns out to be the Infinite version of Nozdormu:  Murozond.  Anagrams!  Upon defeating him (which saddens Nozdormu, knowing he’ll die here no matter what), Nozdormu sends you to the Well of Eternity during the War of the Ancients, where you have to fight your way to the Dragon Soul and make off with it.  Along the way, you encounter and defeat several major figures, such as Peroth’arn, Azshara, and Varo’then and Mannoroth.  After successfully retrieving the Dragon Soul, you’re ported to the snowy scapes of Dragonblight, where Thrall meets up with you, instructing you to escort him to Wyrmrest.  Though the Twilight’s Hammer tries to stop you, you succeed in your quest, even striking down Archbishop Benedictus, who has been revealed as the Twilight Father.  Thrall thanks you, and the story ends, to be picked up in…

Dragon Soul!  Tier 13’s one and only raid is an 8-boss affair, which deals with striking numerous blows against the forces of Deathwing, the Twilight’s Hammer, and N’Zoth, the Old God pulling the strings.  The raid is set up almost entirely linearly, with 1 boss, then 2 in either order, then 5 in a row.  Upon striking down several lieutenants of Deathwing, you make your way to the top of Wyrmrest, where the Aspects try to figure out how to use the Dragon Soul.  Kalecgos offers a suggestion:  go to the Eye of Eternity and retrieve the Focusing Iris (remember that from Wrath?).  After fighting off an ambush, you return, only to be attacked by the remnants of the Twilight dragonflight, including Ultraxion, the harbinger of the Hour of Twilight.  After Thrall strikes a blow against Deathwing, he flees to the Maelstrom, where he’ll attempt to escape to Deepholm.  A high-speed aerial chase ensues on the Alliance gunship Skyfire, where the last of the Twilight dragonriders attempt to stop you.  Then, you parachute down to Deathwing’s back where you rip off his backplates to give Thrall a better shot at downing him; upon your success, Deathwing crashes into the Maelstrom, which sets the stage for the final battle with the Destroyer.  After a crazy battle and numerous almost-cataclysms, Deathwing is destroyed, the Dragon Soul ensuring that his death can never be undone.  Then a confusing cutscene, something about the Aspects not being Aspects anymore?  Or something.

The dungeons were fun throughout, my favorite PvE content in 4.3.  All the boss fights were fun, save a couple.  I haaaaate Tyrande with a passion, and Mannoroth’s fight can drag on quite a bit.  Otherwise, the fights are fun, engaging, and just the right level of challenge.  The environments are beautiful, and I’d probably enjoy wandering these zones a bit if they didn’t have hundreds of angry beasts trying to kill me.  And of course, I’ve always been partial to Caverns of Time instances.  I do wish that War of the Ancients had ended up being a raid.  That seems like it would have been fun.  Oh well.

I found Dragon Soul to be fairly good, but was lacking in some departments.  First, the environments weren’t my cup of tea.  I guess I’m not all that fond of Dragonblight.  I also would have preferred only one “jump into an Old God minion’s stomach” boss; two was overdoing it to me.  The boss fights were challenging, but normals weren’t too bad.  I can’t speak for heroics, as I never did them (the guild falling apart has something to do with that).  I did notice that the trash was weirdly distributed, which is to say there was none after the fourth boss.  A little trash at the beginning, too much before the two stomach bosses, and one trash mob that could drop things before Hagara.  If you wanted a trash drop, it sucked to be you.  Also they went back to a token for every slot, something they hadn’t done since T8.  I don’t agree with this, because it was nice to be able to have at least your 2-set be within easy reach.  It seems to be the standard now going into Mists.  Oh well.

I was also peeved to find out that the final legendary of Cata was to be a rogue-exclusive:  the Fangs of the Father.  I was so hoping for an enhance legendary, and to see it taken from me by dirty rogues?  Ugh.

(I have a thing against rogues, which is to say FUCK COMBAT for making agility one-handed swords still exist and putting them out of my reach.  I want to wield swords, dagnibblets.  Drek’thar wields swords!  Also I hate that there are always like four daggers per tier, whereas I’m lucky to get two viable weapons.  aaaaaaaaaaaaa point is fuck rogues)

They look cool, and have a pretty neat proc:  a stacking agility buff that can randomly trigger a six-second period of nothing but finishing moves.  It’s basically concentrated rape, and I am still jealous.

But that’s not all!  For those who wanted to raid, but couldn’t find a guild to save their life, Blizzard introduced the Raid Finder!  This queue-system allows players to get put in a group with 24 randoms and tackle a toned-down version of Dragon Soul, with support for future raids guaranteed.  Offering up a lower level of gear, and a substantial Valor bonus upon completion, LFR opened up the gates of raiding to the masses.  At some point, I’ll probably talk about the various arguments for and against LFR, but for now, my stance is that LFR is a good addition to the game, allowing anyone who’s put in a bit of effort to experience raid content on their own terms.  Letting more players see content is, in my opinion, a good thing.

Red Bull gives you wiiiiiiiiiings.

For those less into raiding, 4.3 offered up a revamped Darkmoon Faire, a move which left many scratching their heads.  “But nobody does Darkmoon Faire!  What’s the point of revamping it?”  Well, that’s basically the point, no?

I found this to be one of the most fun parts of 4.3, and well worth the investment.  The revamped DMF is set on an island located “somewhere,” and offers up numerous games and activities to occupy your time.  All the games are fun, and doing them daily gives you tickets that can be exchanged for all kinds of items:  pets, mounts, replicas of the old dungeon sets, and other prizes.  In addition, turning in Darkmoon Artifacts every month offers extra tickets to those who collect them.  The island also boasts profession monthlies that can be completed for 5 free skillpoints in your chosen primary and secondary professions, as well as more tickets!  A deathmatch pit offers free-for-all PvP with rewards to the victor, similar to the Stranglethorn Arena (except less pointless).  It even has a pony for you to ride!  Can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent just running around fishing there; I love my Sea Pony!

And the surprise hit of 4.3:  transmogrification!  Finally offering up a way for players to customize how their gear looks, transmogrification swaps the appearance of one piece of gear for another, for a fee.  Like one of your class’s tier sets?  Change into it.  Want to create a custom look?  Have at it!  Feel like putting on a clown suit and steamrolling PvP?  The sky’s the limit!  To alleviate bank stress due to the influx of gear collecting, Void Storage was also added.  This 80-slot bank allows players to stash gear they like but don’t use often (say, for transmog) for a small fee.  A great relief for me, though my bank is still overflowing after filling up Void Storage.

4.3 also marked the first time enhance was actually good all expansion.  When I say good, I mean that not only were the numbers good, it was fun to play in any situation.  First, melee got a buff across the board thanks to a boost to melee attack power group buffs, such as enhance’s Unleashed Rage.  That extra power helped us stay competitive with casters, meaning raids were punished less for bringing melee.

Next, the death of spell power weapons for enhance!  Raiders in 4.2 might recall the Eye of Purification, a healer axe with a surprisingly slow weapon attack speed.  It seemed to be designed to work perfectly with enhance, giving wielders a tremendous boost to their spell power.  This led to the question:  what’s optimal for enhance?  Those who took EoP had to change their rotation to benefit from the added spell power; those who didn’t have it wondered how much better they’d be if they got it.  Blizzard decided to do away with this problem with a simple change:  enhance would no longer benefit from outside sources of spell power, but gained a slight boost to how much they obtained from their attack power.  No longer would spell power weapons be viable, only slow agility 1-handers.  A necessary fix.

Our AoE was also finally fixed to be not terrible!  When a target that has been hit by Flame Shock is then hit by Lava Lash, the shock is spread to up to four additional targets.  This means that in three seconds, a shaman can potentially throw out five Fire Novas.  To have AoE work into our rotation easily was a godsend.  Wind Shear was struck by a nerf, increasing its cooldown substantially; DPS shaman could take Reverberation to lower it to its previous cooldown, but resto would have to sacrifice a lot of throughput and Ancestral Swiftness to take it.  This change was meant to nerf resto shaman in PvP, and I believe it worked, though their healing still puts them on top for arenas.  Finally, and most importantly, Lightning Bolt got a better graphic.

…what?  It looks nice.

Overall, 4.3 was a great closing patch.  Despite a bit of a confusing end, it was still satisfying to punch Deathwing’s jaw in.  And I finally got Stood in the Fire!  Go me.

So that wraps up my Cata post-mortem.  From here on, all added content will relate more to Mists than Cata.  I figured I’d end this post with a personal retrospective, just a brief (comparatively, jesus I’ve written almost 8000 words here) anecdote on what I went through during the Cataclysm.  My real life was pretty cataclysmic there for a while.

So, without further adieu, my personal story.

DISCLAIMER:  This story is purely an anecdote, and should not be taken as a sweeping generalization about anything for any reason, such as guilds breaking apart due to Cataclysm.  I’m not saying anything other than stuff that happened SOLELY to me, and in some cases my guild.  Don’t take it any other way.  If you’re not interested in a personal anecdote that only kinda relates to WoW, skip down to the next bolded line.  It’s a long story.

By the time Cata rolled around, I was having serious problems in college.  It was for several reasons, namely that I was having second thoughts about my major; I took computer science because my brother was taking it, and I figured it could help me get into my real interest, game design.  Computer science bored me, and I wanted to take something fun.  Regardless of the reason why, my grades were nonexistent (only attending one class, having given up my other three), I wasn’t socializing with my friends, and I was spending all my time online doing one thing or another.  Mostly WoW.  I devoted so much time to my guild, and that game, trying to make a name for myself as a good player.

Later I’d realize that all that effort would be for naught.  No matter what, they’d never see me as more than a benchwarmer, a pushover who’d always do something when asked, a fifth wheel.  It sounds bad, but it’s true.

So Cata hit the week of finals, which I deigned not to go to (because let’s face it, there was nothing to be salvaged).  My scholarships were pretty much guaranteed to disappear, and to top it off, I had forgotten to sign up for classes.  I put off my advising for so long out of embarrassment of failing classes; eventually the embarrassment of not going got so high I didn’t go at all, so I never got my code to sign up.  If that sounds confusing, imagine actually thinking this all the time, and you’ll get an idea of my mental state at that time.

I tried to bury my problems in the game, burning through leveling my shaman to 85, getting through Vashj’ir and part of Deepholm with my friend before he had to go to a final; I proceeded to pass out for a few hours, then woke up and continued playing.  I had to prove I was a good raider.  I just had to.  85 hit, then it was off to dungeons, then heroics, then raids.  I went home for Christmas, pretended everything was okay, and played as much as I could.  Went on vacation for about two weeks, where I lied through my teeth to my extended family that college was going just fine.  All the while, I was wondering how long it would be until I could be back and helping with progression.

January came, and with it, my trip back to my dorm.  I still hadn’t signed up for classes, and delayed it even longer out of fear of what my adviser would say.  I just stayed in my room and worried, burying my worries in the game some more.  I could just stay here forever, right?  Just me, my room, my game.

Then about three weeks into the month, I got a knock on my door from my RA.  He told me that because I hadn’t signed up for classes, I had to vacate my dorm room; after all, dorms are for students, and I wasn’t a student.  I nodded, feeling that worry bubble up from inside me again, thanked him for letting me know, and shut my door.

I don’t really remember what happened after that.  There was a lot of crying though (I’ll admit it).  I knew that I had only one option:  call home and tell my parents the bad news.  I couldn’t stay here, I couldn’t move in with a friend, and I couldn’t stay at my brother’s apartment.  He’d tell them, of course.  I worried for a while, halfheartedly cleaning my room up a bit, then decided that I needed some help.  So I walked down the hall to my RA’s room, hesitated, then knocked.  When he answered, I said I needed someone to talk to, and he invited me in.

I had a couple questions; most importantly, how quickly did I have to get out (it was the middle of the week, so I had no idea if I could delay until the weekend).  He said the sooner the better, but definitely no more than a few days.  I explained what I had been thinking about, about if I should change schools to pursue a degree in game design, and most importantly how I’d explain that to my parents.  He told me to just be honest and straightforward, and that they’d understand.  They’re my parents, after all.  There’d probably be some disappointment, but nothing I couldn’t overcome.  And if I wanted to change schools, he told me that that was something I’d have to decide.  My college didn’t offer a game design degree, but others would.  I thanked him for the reassurances, then headed back to my room and called home (after delaying a bit more to collect myself).

My mom answered, and though I had it pretty laid out as to what I wanted to say, I ended up blurting most of it out, stumbling over my words as I felt lumps in my throat.  She didn’t say anything until I was done, and her voice was a sad, mildly angry, disappointed sound.  She wanted to know why I hadn’t brought this up before; I said I didn’t know.  She told me that they would have supported me if that’s what I wanted; I replied that I had been too scared to admit it.  After a long talk, she told me that she was going to call my dad at work, and talk over when they were coming up to get me, then call me back later when they knew when.  I thanked her, said sorry and “I love you” probably a dozen more times, then hung up.  I felt only partially relieved; the rest of me felt even worse.

They came up either the next day or the day after, I forget which.  By then my room was cleaned and most everything was packed and organized.  We had lunch, packed up my things in either their van or my car, and went to talk to the CS undergraduate head, who talked over my options with us.  Basically, he recommended I come back to campus after taking the semester off, getting an undergraduate in CS, then looking at game design for a master’s; he clarified that it was up to me, though.  If I wanted to change schools and get a game design bachelor’s, that was my call.  We thanked him and headed home.  After dinner, we had a long talk about what had happened.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at them; I could feel their disappointment burning inside me.  I felt like throwing up.

But the talk wasn’t all bad.  They told me that they weren’t disappointed in my career choice; rather, they were disappointed that I felt I couldn’t talk to them.  I still had that teenage mindset of being scared of what they thought, shame at what I figured they thought was a silly field to go into.  Yet it was the opposite entirely.  My dad offered to buy software or books to help me out, which I was sure not to take advantage of, only requesting a couple of books.  I felt like asking them for much of anything would be a bad move on my part.

So began my semester away from school.  I spent my time reading through the books and doing odd jobs around the house (mostly cleaning my room, which hadn’t been thoroughly dealt with in over a decade I was sure).  I made a point to stay away from WoW for a while, just to show my parents I was working on my internet habits.  I still gamed, but more sparingly.  And I talked with my parents more about what I wanted to do, including various college options.  In the end, I decided to go back to school to finish my CS degree, and think about a master’s in game design from another school later.

While I was away, the guild was struggling.  Raiders were beginning to not show up; some had left the server or the game entirely.  Progression was at a standstill, and eventually they had to downgrade to a 10-man guild.  By the time I was playing regularly again, there was no way I could raid.  I was just too far behind, and there was no real alternate avenue of progression for me.  Begrudgingly, I played casually for a while, waiting for my chance to be a main raider again.

I went back to school for the summer to catch up a bit on one of the CS courses I had failed, and eventually passed it; I failed calculus in the process, which caused my parents worry again.  After another long talk, I left for the fall semester, where things went marginally better.  I did flunk a class again, and dropped another when I realized I didn’t know what to do, but at least I passed my other classes.  This necessitated another talk in the winter, of course.

The guild seemed to be improving a bit; the core was solid, and I was slowly working my way back to being a raider again, filling in whenever I could.  I didn’t play too much, just enough to continue progressing.  I did my best, but unfortunately it was for naught.  The core splintered after one of our members ended up hospitalized (never caught the story there).  A couple others took this as an opportunity to leave for SWTOR, good riddance.  After another member got hacked, our guild master swapped his amazing tank to another server (the same one I mentioned who is still in control, and still takes what pennies he can scavenge from Cash Flow), leaving us with a gaping hole in our roster.  We tried to hold it together, but we had to pug every week to fill in slots.  Despite my flawless attendance, I was still benched for a new guy who pulled slightly better dps than I did, which aggravated me to no end.  Eventually, thanks to some stupid RL drama between our rogue and the de facto guild leader, the guild tore itself apart, with the rogue taking the majority of our new core to Alliance-side, and the leader dropping the guild and joining another.  Dreadnaught will never recover.

But at least I’m finally on track again.  It looks like I’ll pass all my classes this semester, the first time since my first semester I can say I’ve done so.  I do still game a lot, but not at the expense of my sleep or my studies.  And my WoW career is…well, nonexistent, apart from beta testing, but that’s due to the guild, and not myself.

All in all, I do have some regrets, but I’m glad things didn’t turn out worse than they did.

Long, long story ends here.  Thank you for reading/not reading.

So there we have it!  A long-ass post which is probably much longer than it has to be.  Whatever, it’s done.

Next time, either more about the Mists beta, or the GW2 beta, or the D3 beta, or something.  There are too many betas going on, I swear.

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