Beyond the siege: 5.4 impressions and BlizzCon predictions

So, 5.4 has been out for about a month now, and (barring some server hiccups earlier in the patch) most people have gotten their hands on the new content.  I was on the server very shortly after it came online (I happened to be in class, I was just so impatient) and have spent a good amount of time mucking about with the patch.  I figured an impressions post is in order!

Warning:  I will be talking about some lore spoilers under the cut.  If you don’t want to see ’em, I’ll put up another warning for you to skip over them; if you’re really paranoid, maybe you should hold off on reading for a while.  You also might want to stay off the internet for a good while, and also out of trade chat, and in fact should probably lock yourself in a closet until you’ve gotten to the end of SoO.

A legendary conclusion

The main reason I wanted to get onto the servers quickly was because I really, REALLY wanted to get my cloak.  Apparently, so did basically the rest of my server, which caused the Timeless Isle to chug along as hundreds and hundreds of players all swarmed to it.

All in all, the final stage of the legendary chain is fairly swift, or at least the part that rewards you with your cloak is.  Upon teleporting to the isle after talking to Wrathion, my first order of business was to defeat the Celestials.  I honestly don’t know how the fights went, considering there were hundreds of people all swarming the Celestials and blowing them up in barely over a minute.  I died once and found that the graveyards were like those in battlegrounds, where they’ll rez you automatically every thirty seconds with full health.  I think that was a smart idea considering that you will be dying a lot from both hostile mobs and PVP-flagged players (even those of your own faction!).  Having to wait two minutes to rez after dying for the tenth time would be rather annoying.

Gathering the Timeless Coins wasn’t hard either; searching for chests, completing a couple of the intro quests, and killing mobs led me to gain the 5000 I needed in short order.  I turned in both my quests and headed back to the Vale, where I was treated to one more lovely story from Lorewalker Cho and Wrathion:  MY story.  It was a nice way to make the player feel important, to show all the work they’d done over the course of the expansion, and to point the way ahead.  Wrathion seems intent on your using your new power to trample over anything in your way, while Cho seems a little bit uneasy about that prospect.  Regardless, Wrathion gives you the Timeless Essence of the Black Dragonflight, which is then used to upgrade your cloak to legendary quality!  Congrats!

There’s one more followup quest that involves defeating Garrosh and reporting back to Wrathion, buuuut I’m not there yet.  I’ll talk about that in a little while.

One thing I was pleased to find was that upgrading my cloak from the 600 epic ended up giving me a 608 2/2 upgraded legendary cloak.  Made me glad I didn’t spend the valor to upgrade it when I got it a couple weeks before the patch!  If you’ve just gotten your epic and you’ve got some valor lying around, save it; getting the legendary cloak isn’t hard at all once you’ve gotten that far, and it’ll get upgraded to 2/2 once you use the essence to transform it.  I remember that the notion of going from a 608 epic to a 600 legendary felt weird to some, and one of the designers chimed in and said that they’d look into it, either preserving the upgrade status or just having cloaks upgrade to 2/2 when transformed.  Seems they chose the latter!

So, how is Fen-Yu, Fury of Xuen for enhance?  Let me put it this way:  HOLY SHIT WE HAVE A CLEAVE, THIS IS THE BEST

No but seriously, as a spec that has never had any form of melee ability that hits multiple targets, it feels good to just unleash a flurry of badassery.  The proc is random but frequent; Wowhead lists it as 2.7 + haste procs per minute, and with my (more mastery-oriented) reforging, I get 3.09 ppm.  It does make reforging and gemming a bit difficult; haste increases the proc chance of both the cloak and the legendary meta gem, but mastery is still a very potent secondary stat.  I’ve yet to find any definitive answers as to which stat one should be aiming for, but I figure a happy medium is to shoot for about even levels of both.  Sim it and see!

The proc is definitely great, causing you to deal 20% of your attack power in damage to up to 5 enemies in front of you every .3 seconds for 3 seconds, meaning you can hit up to 50 times your attack power in damage!  And the flurry animation is pretty neat too, with a multitude of blue claw swipes appearing in front of you as you cleave everything.  On weaker enemies, the proc is phenomenal at just flat-out destroying them; stronger enemies will have massive chunks of their health removed every time it procs (which again, is frequently!).  The jury’s still out on whether reforging to haste for more procs is smarter than aiming for mastery.

On a final note, I do wish it were possible to make the cloak effects appear on command.  They do show up from time to time, and usually quite frequently, but it would be nice for screenshots to let you do it whenever you wanted.  Very pretty though!

The Timeless Isle

5.4 is another experimental patch when it comes to creating outdoor PVE content that doesn’t involve dailies.  By and large, the experiment was a success.

The Timeless Isle is where you’ll be hanging around in the main world most of the time, and it’s almost like all the great stuff in Pandaria condensed into one island.  It’s full of mobs to kill; rares to hunt; events to participate in; bosses to down; items, pets, and mounts to collect; and secrets to uncover.  Needless to say, it’s also rather fun; it’ll very easily suck you in!

In lieu of late-expansion 5-man dungeons to run for catch-up gear, the Timeless Isle serves as your catch-up destination.  Armor tokens for every slot (excluding weapons) drop off of mobs, rares, and chests.  More frequently, the armor tokens will be relevant to your armor class; using the token will create an ilvl 496 item for that slot that suits your current spec.  Since 496 is all you need to get into SoO LFR where you can continue to gear up, it shouldn’t be hard to get close to that by grinding up tokens; after that, run ToT LFR for some weapons (after buying some Mogu Runes of Fate to get more shots at them!) and you’ll be set.  If you still want more, you can buy random armor caches for 7500 Timeless Coins; these will contain a random armor piece of a particular armor class, so it might not be that helm you’re looking for, but if you’re a gambler, go for it!  Or alternatively go farm some more.

What’s more, if you happen to stumble upon a Burden of Eternity (or buy one for 50k Timeless Coins), you can use that on a token to obtain an ilvl 535 Timeless version of the item!  That’s a bit better than the items you’ll get out of SoO LFR, and just under the Flexible ones!  Burdens are naturally hard to find, but if you get one, make sure you’re using it on the slot with the biggest upgrade!

But what about the content?  Well, if you missed grinding, get ready for a lot of it.  There’s so many rare drops and rare spawns that you’ll either be doing a lot of waiting around or a lot of wandering around!  The only new rep added, Emperor Shaohao, is a straight-up grind the likes of which we haven’t seen in ages; you can only earn rep through a single daily (rewarding 250 rep) or by killing the various Ordon yaungol on the isle (rewarding between ten and twenty rep per kill, roughly).  It’s one I definitely want to finish grinding, because at exalted you can buy the Heavenly Golden Cloud Serpent from him, which is very, VERY bright!  Plus it matches my transmog!

There’s also a lot of vanity items for you to grind, and when I say a lot, I mean DOZENS.  In addition to reintroducing some of the older, useful vanity items from 5.0 (like the Crystal of Insanity, yay 500 all-stat flask except it fades on death!), there’s a bunch of new costumes and useful items to collect, along with a bevy of new pets and a mount.  There’s even an achievement for getting them all, which might drive you insane!  Yay!

Plus, if you missed having chests in the world to loot, the Timeless Isle is loaded with them, from small simple ones to elaborate and ornate ones.  I’m still not clear if these are all one-time only deals or if you can loot some of them every week, but at the very least I know that none of them are daily.  They can contain various amounts of Timeless Coins, Lesser Charms, armor tokens, and even Burdens of Eternity!

Speaking of Lesser Charms, my god I have so many now.  I haven’t had near this many since the start of Mists when I actually did a couple dozen dailies a day for a while; I probably have even more than I did then!  I’m sitting on over thirteen hundred now, enough to last me a good six months or so.  They come from EVERYTHING:  mobs, rares, chests.  For anyone who was worried about Blizzard selling charms in-game, the Timeless Isle should remove those worries.  Spend an hour or two on the Isle and you’ll be swimming in them.

And if you wanted yet another currency to grind, why not engage in some PVP and sacrifice your fellow players to Ordos?  Purchase a Censer of Eternal Agony, use it, and become hostile to everyone (including your own faction).  Kill any flagged player you want; every kill you make earns you a Bloody Coin.  You can’t farm the same player frequently (they get a ten-minute debuff that prevents the earning of Bloody Coins from killing them), but the buff lasts for an hour or until you’re killed, so you’ve got plenty of time to rack up some coins.  Spend them on a special pet and mount, a PVP trinket, or a transformation item that gives you a chance to earn Bloody Coins from kills anywhere in the world (not 100%!).  It’s difficult to earn coins on a PVE server, so you may have to engage in some cross-realm shenanigans to farm them faster.

There’s also a few questlines to participate in as you explore.  The bronze dragon Kairoz offers up a few quests exploring the timeless nature of the island, and tasks you with gathering Epoch Stones for an hourglass so that he can examine the timeways more clearly.  You then end up using it in various locations (mostly SoO) to get a glimpse of possible futures.  There’s also the Rolo’s Riddle questline, which serves as a fair puzzle (and a difficult one too!).  Try and solve it without looking up the answers, it’s much more fun that way.  By far the best questline I’ve found is the one for the noodle cart recipes!  Upon completing the questline, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to make various noodle carts, the best of which let you sell up to +300 stat food to anyone who wants some (unfortunately you don’t get to keep the profits), making it better than even pandaren banquets!  In addition, you gain a daily scenario you can complete for two extra Ironpaw Tokens a day, so if you’ve been slacking off on getting all the rewards from pandaren cooking (like me), you can now easily earn three per day.

What about world bosses?  Well, I already mentioned the Celestials, who aren’t really all that difficult considering they’re the Sha of Anger/Nalak of the patch.  You can get loot from defeating one of them a week; you need to defeat all four to get through the legendary cloak questline, so there are people constantly around to defeat any and all of them.  As always, you’ll have your best luck doing it earlier in the week.  Ordos is available to anyone who’s obtained the legendary cloak on any of their characters, and he’s definitely a burn fight (no pun intended).  You’ve got five minutes to kill him before he wipes your raid, and he’ll be pumping out a lot of damage along the way.  Not as much as Oondasta, but a lot!  He’s definitely worth a kill for the potential Warforged loot he’ll drop.  If you’re not a normal-or-higher raider, consider using two of your Warforged Seals on a Celestial defeat and an Ordos kill, as they’ll have the best gear for you.

Does the Isle have lasting appeal?  It depends on where a player decides to stop, pretty much.  Some will take their leave once they’ve gotten enough tokens to replace any of their sub-496 items.  Some will romp around and kill and explore for weeks as they try to collect every single item and achievement they can.  It really all depends on where you feel like stopping.  Set yourself a goal to work towards and go do it.  The beauty of it is that you can play as much as you want or as little and not really be that worse off for it.  It’s all up to you!

The siege

Ah, the final tier of the expansion.  I’ve done a good bit of raiding on both LFR and flexible over the past month, and I can give some impressions on the tier so far.

Overall, I’d say the fights are…mechanically punishing, even on LFR.  I think that Blizzard might be letting their desire for more difficult content trump the stated purpose of LFR:  as casual raiding that players can complete relatively quickly on their own terms.  I’m fine with having to learn a bit for a new raid encounter, but when people want to quit after two or three wipes, it can be difficult to keep everyone on the same page.  And some of these fights are…hoo boy.  While the first wing is a pretty steady ramping up of difficulty, wing two is full of fights that people want to quit over, whether it’s people messing up on the towers on Galakras, standing in the bad on Iron Juggernaut, the absolute clusterfuck of AOE on Dark Shaman, or all the terrible that happens with Nazgrim.  Wing three is a little better overall, with Spoils being the only fight that takes some getting used to.  It also helps to, y’know, NOT have someone start the event before everyone’s ready to go.

Still, with the inclusion of flexible raiding, I was somewhat under the assumption that LFR would be able to go back to the casual, easy mode it was back during Dragon Soul.  Apparently not.  I think that if Blizzard isn’t careful, they’re going to let the mode get away from them.  Leave the mechanical difficulty to flexible and higher, and keep LFR somewhat smooth.  Determination helps, but not if the whole group quits.

One nice part about LFR this tier is that loot seems to be dropping MUCH more frequently than tiers 14 and 15.  In my LFR run this week, I scored my helm token (letting me swap to 2-piece T16 and keeping my 2-piece T15 intact), the cooldown-reduction trinket (ohhhh it’s so nice), and a new necklace; these dropped in addition to a new neck and offhand for my offspec (as well as two pairs of boots and a helm I really didn’t need!).  I think I got loot from bosses more frequently than I didn’t, which I’m not complaining about.  Someone brought this up to Ghostcrawler in a tweet, and he replied with an interesting philosophy change on Blizzard’s part:

We view LFR each tier as having a finite lifespan whether you finish your gear or not, so we might as well give you the gear.

I find that to be pretty true overall.  LFR doesn’t really make for compelling endgame if that’s your ONLY way to raid.  And once you’ve gotten all your gear upgraded to the current tier’s LFR quality, there’s no point in continuing unless you want the valor it rewards (there are easier ways, honest) or you’re a masochist.  Hell, the only things I could still upgrade in LFR this tier are shoulders, gloves, belt, and my second trinket; everything else is at or above its ilvl of 528.  Flexible will offer meatier upgrades for me, and will likely be where I go for my weekly raid fix in the coming months.

Flexible is honestly a bit more fun than LFR, if you have a relatively experienced and geared group who knows what they’re doing.  If you’re having difficulty finding flex runs on your server, I would highly recommend oQueue as an addon to try.  There are loads of cross-realm flex runs going constantly, and I haven’t had any major problems with it.  It’s a little bit crazy to start, but once you get the hang of it it’s fairly easy to use.  If you know when you’ll have the time to do a run, I would recommend using OpenRaid instead.

While I’ve only done the first wing on flex so far, it’s not too much different from LFR (I don’t know if that’s good or bad; does LFR have too many mechanics or does flex have too few?).  The only major difference was on Norushen, where we had to designate an order for people to go under, rather than the game randomly choosing people.  And we only had one wipe along the way, so everything went fairly smoothly overall.  I’m looking forward to trying it more, especially since you get 40 valor per boss, making it easier to cap if you don’t want to grind dungeons/scenarios for the umpteenth time.

SPOILER WARNING AGAIN:  I said it before, I’ll say it again.  Spoilers here until the end of this section.

While it’s not out yet on either of the difficulties I have the current capacity to do, I can devote some time to talking about the ending.  Yes, needless to say I spoiled myself as soon as the first cinematic video popped up online.  I like that the Alliance and Horde get different versions, each following the discussions of their faction leaders.  A nice touch.

One thing I was really surprised to see was Garrosh’s non-death.  To be honest, I fully expected either Garrosh to get ripped apart by Y’shaarj’s energies and be obliterated, or for some lore figure to deal the killing blow.  Usually when a villain in WoW goes too far, there’s nothing for them to do but die.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  Think of the old orcish battlecry:  lok’tar ogar, victory or death.  For an orc, death is preferable to losing.  Garrosh was kneeling there, broken and defeated, his pride in shambles.  He probably WANTED Thrall to brain him with the Doomhammer.  If he couldn’t win, he would rather die.

Varian and then Taran Zhu denied him his death in battle.  Can’t say for sure why Varian stopped him; was he intending on imprisoning Garrosh or taking him away to execute him for the Alliance?  Regardless of his plans, Taran Zhu told both of them that neither of them would be executing Garrosh, and that the former Warchief would be answering for his crimes on trial in Pandaria, leading him away in chains.

At this point, the Alliance and Horde cutscenes branch.  Varian walks back to the Alliance side of the room while Thrall heads over to the Horde rebellion.  On the Alliance side, Jaina…

Look I’m just gonna be blunt here.  Jaina’s turned into a royal bitch.  It’s like, I get it, Garrosh’s Horde utterly obliterated Theramore, destroyed your home city, killed people you cared about.  But the Horde in the room had nothing to do with it (with the possible exception of the adventurers who went in to rescue Thalen, but even then they didn’t know about the mana bomb).  Perhaps you could argue that it was through inaction on the rest of the Horde that Garrosh got away with so much, but even so, that doesn’t allow you to demonize them.  Hell, even after the events of Theramore, Jaina was apparently getting better.

To be fair, the events of 5.1 pretty much set her current mental state in motion, what with the betrayal of the Sunreavers who helped Garrosh steal the Divine Bell away.  Considering that the events of the storyline concluded without any real damage to the Alliance that I can remember (yeah, Anduin almost died, but he didn’t!), I’m not entirely sure that she was justified in going full “KILL HORDE RAR” afterwards, though.

What happened to old Jaina, peace between the factions Jaina, “if we work together we’re more powerful than we could be apart” Jaina?  Like, she’s just standing there implying to Varian that the Horde leaders who had JUST staged a successful rebellion against their corrupt Warchief are then going to turn on the Alliance and start fighting again.  And then she urges Varian to dismantle the Horde because she really, REALLY wants vengeance.  Seriously?

Fucking hell, Jaina.  Quit being a cunt.

The Horde side is at least somewhat more interesting, mostly because of the question of the next Warchief.  Thrall talks to Vol’jin, who is expecting Thrall to come back and lead the Horde once more.  Thrall will have none of it, I’m assuming because he’s still blaming himself for appointing Garrosh in the first place.  He makes the point that Vol’jin was the one holding the rest of the Horde together, through organizing the Darkspear Rebellion and leading the campaign into the depths of Orgrimmar.  Thrall says that he would be honored to have Vol’jin as his Warchief, and bows to him to signify this.

Naturally, Vol’jin feels a bit unworthy of the mantle, but after the other Horde leaders show their respect, he takes it on.  Will Vol’jin remain the Warchief in the future?  Time will tell, I suppose.  At the moment, Vol’jin speaks for the Horde.

The cutscenes merge again at this point, when Varian walks over to the Horde, flanked by some guardsmen.  He demands to speak with the Warchief only to be greeted with Vol’jin.  Comes as a bit of a surprise to Varian, but he accepts it.  Rather than dismantle the Horde like Jaina (fuck that bitch) wants, Varian instead throws down his sword.  He brings up that although Garrosh committed numerous atrocities, the fact that there were those in the Horde who would rise up against him is enough to convince him to put an end to the fighting for now.  And in case you think he’s being soft, he makes it very clear after saying this that if the Horde acts dishonorably again, he will not hesitate to bring down the fury of the Alliance.

And scene.

So what do I think about all this?  Well, Vol’jin as Warchief is gonna be interesting if it holds post-Siege.  The title has never not been held by an orc before; symbolically, it sorta implied that the Horde was for orcs, and any other races within were tolerated but not necessarily equal.  Garrosh’s idea of what Warchief meant came from the old Horde, the original orcish Horde; it’s no wonder he thought of the current Horde in the same terms.  Garrosh’s sin was pride, and it’s only fitting that the final Sha embodied that emotion.

So what happens if the position is held by a non-orc?  Is the Horde finally beginning to shed its association with its bloody past?  What will the orcs still alive who sided with Garrosh think?  Will they begrudgingly accept him, or continue to fight and stage their own rebellions?  Could Vol’jin be killed off by the end of the expansion?  I doubt that last one will come to pass; I don’t think Blizzard will take out a character that a lot of Horde players have been looking favorably on for a while now.

Will the other leaders look on Vol’jin favorably?  Each seemed to pledge their loyalty to him in the Horde cinematic, but was it just pomp?  Dialogue from the leaders after defeating Garrosh hints at their thoughts on the matter.  Vol’jin himself tells the players to stand tall, for they saved the soul of the Horde.  Baine remarks that all of them are in this together.  Thrall expresses regret at choosing Garrosh as Warchief, thinking at the time that the mantle would give him perspective; however, he remains hopeful that Vol’jin will be a better Warchief for the Horde, due to his reluctance to take the position.  Gallywix (HOLY FUCK GALLYWIX ACTUALLY APPEARED) has nothing but respect for Vol’jin after getting stabbed in the neck and still coming back to lead the rebellion; he also remarks that under Garrosh, the goblins didn’t have much security or profit, so he’s probably much happier to have a more sympathetic Warchief.  Lor’themar seems indifferent on the issue of politics (he is, after all, only reluctantly leading his people still) but thinks that Vol’jin will get the job done, adding a provision that he can keep the Horde together, his gaze drifting to Sylvanas.  The Banshee Queen herself finds that the title doesn’t suit the troll, and emphatically states she won’t take orders from one.  Still, she admires his ability to put the rebellion together and also not get killed in the process; since she’s a character terrified of death, I can understand those thoughts.  She also seems to want to test his mettle; what that means, I have no idea.  Sylvanas is the wildcard in all this, and could very well end up making things worse.

What of Horde/Alliance relations?  Will Vol’jin try to heal some of the damage that Garrosh has done, make concessions to the Alliance for Garrosh’s brash actions?  The former Warchief’s actions were somewhat justifiable by the lack of natural resources in Durotar; when you settle in a desert, you’ve gotta get your food from somewhere.  It makes sense that he’d try to expand into the fertile forests of Ashenvale to feed his army.  Perhaps Vol’jin will order a withdrawal of the Horde back to their old bases, let the night elves back into Astranaar, and work out a treaty between the two factions there.  Varian implies that he wishes to take back Gilneas from the Forsaken; will Vol’jin stop him?  He’s kinda busy dealing with holding the Horde together, and might see it as only right for the worgen to have their territory back.  Varian also mentions stationing a garrison around the ruins of Theramore and putting the pressure on Sylvanas to stop trying to expand her territory, stating that the Alliance will be more proactive and won’t allow another Hellscream to rise again.  We’ll see how much (if any) of this ends up being represented in-game; I could see the Alliance getting Gilneas back because it’s a completely abandoned zone at the moment anyway, and there have been rumors of the Alliance retaking Stromgarde.  Who knows?

Suffice it to say, though, I’m hoping that we can move beyond the Alliance/Horde conflict taking center stage.  It’s just rather boring from a lore perspective to me, just people getting angry at others and overreacting with or without a reason to, only to cause the other side to do the exact same thing and escalate until things get out of control.  It’s just so boring.  Gimme a big bad!

Prove thyself

I also tried out the Proving Grounds, and man, let me tell you, if this is what they’re expecting heroic raiders to know what to do these days, I’m really fucking glad I’m not a heroic raider anymore.

I attempted the DPS challenges (naturally) and made good progress on the bronze and silver, easily downing them without a second thought.  Gold is where things got tricky, with some waves ending up incredibly tightly tuned, such that I’d frequently get within a few percent before wiping.  One of the major difficulties is that if you need to practice one wave, you can’t just jump to it, you’ve gotta go all the way back through again and get to that point; the real difficulty in gold is getting through all of those tough waves.  I’ve not yet finished gold, but I’ll list some of the more difficult waves here for you to have a heads up before you go into it.

  • Wave 4:  This is the first wave with a large healer, and also throws in a banana-tosser, a hozen that throws bananas at you that, if they hit, reduce your chance to hit by 75%.  I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but hex the hozen, burn the healer, then go back to the hozen when it’s dead.  If you can do it without the berserking buff that spawns, save it for later.
  • Wave 5:  This wave is the first to introduce banshees, ticking bomb enemies that have to be killed within ten seconds of their spawning.  I usually use wolves here to speed up kills of the guardians, especially since they’ll automatically jump behind them when they’re using their shield ability.
  • Wave 7:  Hoo boy.  Hope you liked enemies, because you’re getting one of nearly everything:  a healer, a hozen, a guardian, a mantid, and not one, but two banshees.  CC is your friend here; get off a hex on the hozen before it runs off somewhere else, burn the healer, use amber globs to make killing banshees/guardians faster, and make sure you get one to hit the hozen before you break his hex.  Always swap to banshees when they spawn.  Another berserking buff will spawn here, but it’d be preferable to keep it for later if you can survive the wave without it.
  • Wave 8:  Every wave from here on will have a sha, an enemy that tests your ability to burn.  It spawns with a damage shield that lasts for 40 seconds, reducing its damage taken by 50%.  When it falls off, it will instead take 300% damage.  While the shield is up, deal with the mantid and don’t bother trying to use their amber globs to gain more damage; kiting the globs into the sha won’t have an effect.  When they’re dead, focus all your attacks on the sha and whittle him down as much as possible before the 20-second point; you won’t do as much damage, but every little bit helps.  At the 20-second point, all you can do is burn and pray.
  • Wave 9:  This wave fucked me up because I didn’t realize that his shield came back up after 20 seconds of being off.  Once again, CC the hozen, burn and interrupt the healer, then swap to the hozen while waiting for the sha’s shield to fall.  A banshee will spawn, so swap to it when it does.  When the shield falls, lay into the sha with everything you’ve got.
  • Wave 10:  Cooldown time.  I haven’t gotten this far yet because of wave 9.  This time you’ll face off against an even bigger sha; if you’ve got a berserking saved, be sure to use it when the sha’s shield falls.  As before, deal with other adds first; the only one at the start is a large saurok, but two banshees will spawn during the fight.  When you’re close to the 40 second mark, pick up a berserking if you’ve got one and blow all your cooldowns.  If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to get him down before the burn phase ends; if not, keep wailing on him until he goes down.

It’s definitely a challenge, and you’ll need to make use of your entire class toolkit to pull off a victory in gold.  After that, you’ve got endless mode to give a whirl; if you can get to wave 30, you’ll earn a special title:  the Proven Assailant (DPS)/Healer (heals, duh)/Defender (tank).  There’s even a feat of strength for completing a silver challenge while not in the proper spec (completing a silver heals challenge as enhance, for example)!  I’ve yet to try doing such myself, but it would sure be interesting if I could!

There’s no other rewards for the Proving Grounds apart from trying to beat your score; it’s mostly just a learning tool to help you get some practice in on a particular spec (especially heals or tank) without having to inconvenience a random group of players.  I’d say it’s a good tool, and also a good measure of how well a player can cope with a particular role; Blizzard said that a bronze player should be able to handle heroic dungeons, a silver should be good for LFR, and a gold should be just fine for flex or normal raiding.

Looking forward:  BlizzCon predictions and the tail of the expansion

As of this writing, BlizzCon is about a month and a half away.  I’ve got my virtual ticket already so I’ll be all set to kick back and watch the streams all day on Friday and Saturday (thank god I don’t have classes on Fridays!).  What are we likely to see?

Well, obviously we’ve gotta start with the WoW predictions, right?  There have been rumors and “leaks” that have various levels of credence to them, but nothing quite as definite as a leaked expansion name like we had for the past few expansions.  Yes, we’ve had a couple of filings pop up, but there’s no real indication of if those filings are legitimate, nor what they mean if they are.

Part of this is due to Blizzard’s new technique of hiding trademark filings offshore, thanks to a loophole in trademark law.  The technique is actually fairly genius in its simplicity.  Blizzard files a trademark for a game in some remote country (for example, Hearthstone’s trademark was filed for in Swaziland), preferably one without any readily available trademark database.  Seriously, go try and find an online presence for Swaziland’s trademark office; guarantee you won’t find it.  Under US trademark law, Blizzard could then wait up to six months to file for the trademark in the US, which would then get backdated to the earliest trademark filing (in Hearthstone’s case, the Swaziland one).  This allowed Blizzard to trademark the Hearthstone name in secrecy, and then keep it secret so they could reveal it at PAX East without anyone having any idea what it was ahead of time.

This is both good and bad, I think.  On the one hand, not having a leak of a name lets speculation run wild and can build up a lot of momentum in hype.  On the other, having at least SOME idea of what the expansion will be about could build even more hype, particularly if it hints at something that players are really looking forward to (return of the Legion?).  Mists of Pandaria may have made them leery of having these trademarks pop up ahead of time, due to its mixed reactions.  BC, Wrath, and Cata were all names to get people pumped up for the excitement of a new expansion, while Mists was…ehh?  Don’t get me wrong, Mists has been an outstanding expansion (especially in comparison to Cata, blugh), but a lot of people were thrown for a loop with the trademark filing.

That’s not to say we don’t know anything so far.  The heirloom weapons from Garrosh point to a possible return to ten-level expansions (thank god).  There are plenty of plot threads from Cata and Mists which have yet to be resolved, some of which will pretty much have to get addressed (purely from a logical standpoint).  Beyond that, though, there’s no real indicator of what we could expect.

So what’s my opinion on what the expansion’s going to be?  I’ve got two major possibilities, and one I think is more likely than the other.

Return of the Burning Legion

This is the one I think isn’t as likely to be the next expansion, though it surely is coming.  I just think it’s a little too soon, unless Blizzard has TWO Burning Legion expansions planned out in the pipeline.

There have been hints at this all expansion.  We got a little bit of history on the first invasion of the Legion when we learned that Pandaria was shielded from the Sundering by Shaohao’s pride.  Wrathion shows a vision of the Legion’s return, which is his impetus for gearing you up to face it.  Upon eating Lei Shen’s heart, Wrathion has another vision and cryptically speaks of rebuilding the “Final Titan.”  Unfortunately, he can’t remember it after it passes.

It’s an inevitability that the Legion will make a return.  The Burning Legion is the ultimate evil in Warcraft, a horde of pure chaos that seeks to unravel all the order that the Titans imposed on the universe.  Sargeras is, by all known accounts, the most powerful being in the entirety of the Warcraft universe.  To defeat him would pretty much be the end of the line for the Warcraft story.  If you can defeat the fallen Titan, what CAN’T you defeat?  It would also leave Blizzard in the sticky situation of trying to plan out an even greater threat to face if they wanted to make another expansion; how do you top that?

If it DOES happen, what would I want to see?  Well, we’d probably finally meet the Titans, perhaps travel to Argus to try and help the draenei retake their homeworld.  All sorts of demonic things, somewhat of a BC 2.0.  Perhaps even travel to other worlds as well?  There are more planets out there than just Azeroth, Draenor, and Argus.  Sargeras would be a logical endboss, unless of course they had another Legion expansion planned, in which case it might be something more like Kil’jaeden (for real this time).

Might we also see a return of Illidan, a redemption for his character?  It’s been hinted at (though how serious the hints are is questionable), and a Legion expansion would make sense.  Might also see a demon hunter class, which would likely be a hero class if it existed.  Could see an Outland revamp as well to bring it up to speed timeline-wise; they’ve said it’s weird to go back in time when you hit 60, but there would have to be a good reason to redo it.  Hell, it might be best to let it be; it’s already weird enough, but revamping Outland and/or Northrend would cause the timeline to get even more thoroughly jumbled up.

What do I think is more likely?

The Dark Below

Yes, the expansion trademark might be a hoax, but it’s a fitting description for what I think is more likely.  Yes, I know that we’ve basically had one and a half Old God expansions in a row (the entirety of Cata and parts of Mists), but it makes for a better escalation than jumping straight to the Legion.  After all, how can we focus on the threat of Legion invasion when we’ve still got a powerful presence right beneath our feet?  Or more accurately, beneath the waves.

Azshara’s still out there, queen of the naga.  The oceans are practically under her control, what with the nebulous fate of Neptulon post-Throne of the Tides.  Is she still subservient to the Old Gods, or does she pursue her own agenda?  What would her agenda even be, apart from global conquest?  Maybe she wants to try and summon Sargeras a second time, or maybe she’d rather just let him float in the Nether some more while she takes Azeroth for her own.

There’s also the two-expansion teases we’ve been getting about Azeroth’s deeps, of N’zoth and N’yalotha, the city of old, terrible, unnumbered crimes.  Old Gods seem to have more to do with the story of Azeroth than we were first aware of, considering that they’ve been an antagonist in every expansion (with the exception of BC, but we weren’t even on Azeroth for most of it).  Classic had C’thun, Wrath had Yogg-Saron, Cata had N’zoth to an extent (he was hinted at but never made an appearance), and Mists has Y’shaarj.  Could the next expansion be our time to kill N’zoth, the cause of the Emerald Nightmare and the madness of Deathwing?

I doubt such an expansion would be entirely underwater.  I predicted back when the Mists trademark was unearthed that the expansion to follow it would be a combined South Seas/underwater expansion, allowing Blizzard to fill in the world map with a large number of islands that we’ve not been able to explore before:  Zandalar, Tel Abim, Undermine, Kul Tiras, and others.  This would also allow for a resolution to the Zandalari storyline that’s been developing since early Cata, with a trip to Zandalar itself where (presumably) we would work to stop the troll’s homeland from sinking into the sea, hopefully putting an end to the Zandalari conflict.  Might have a troll raid in there too, because there must always be a troll raid.

In addition, I imagine there would be some good underwater zones a la Vashj’ir (still my favorite Cata zone by far), perhaps taking us to the naga’s main city of Nazjatar, as well as some even deeper underground zones filled with Old God architecture as we descend further towards Ny’alotha.  Not sure if N’zoth or Azshara would be a more suitable endboss; Azshara would be a more suitable “boxart” villain than some faceless horror, and thus would probably be a better choice.

New class or race ideas?  None that I can think of that would fit very well.  Perhaps a splinter faction of naga breaking free from Azshara’s control like the Forsaken?  Can’t decide if they’d suit Alliance or Horde more, and there’s still the issue of mounting (sidesaddle all the time?).  If they weren’t a neutral race, what would be a good racial counterpart?  I keep hearing ogres brought up as a possibility for Horde, even though I’d rather they didn’t (ogres don’t appeal to me, really!).  Also doubt they’d introduce another class so soon; we’re still working out monk balancing, so another class so quickly might not be the smartest.

Anything else?  Hell, I dunno.  This is all basically just speculation on my part, and in my opinion a South Seas/Azshara/N’zoth expansion seems fairly likely.

Hell, maybe they’ll just come out of left field and give us something we’re completely not expecting!  They did it with Pandaria, it could happen again.

Regardless of expansion theme, what do I think they should include in the next expansion?  Well…

Player housing

This seems to be a no-brainer for me.  I know Blizzard’s objections to it, that they don’t want to make more content that lets players leave the world at large, that they don’t want players to be able to sit around an instanced or phased area all day and avoid going out and doing things.  But I think that they’ve constantly misunderstood the problem, and are only this expansion making headway to solve it; hell, I’d say they pretty much HAVE solved it at this point, yet I’m not sure they’re aware of it.

The solution to the problem is simply putting engaging, interesting, and fun content out in the world, rather than have everything accessible through queues.  Queues are helpful, no doubt; I like not having to spam trade looking for a dungeon group (I accept having to do that for a heroic scenario because it takes about a minute tops).  But the reason everyone stayed in the cities for the majority of Cataclysm was because there was NOTHING to go out and do.  There were a few daily quests for various factions that you proceeded to stop caring about once you were revered or exalted with them (and more often than not forgot about entirely because tabards were more convenient), aaaaaaand…that was it.  There was no reason to go to the Cata zones if you weren’t doing dailies.

Look at what you can do on Pandaria, however.  In addition to all the dailies you can do, there’s rare mobs to hunt down, there’s a farm to tend, there’s all the dynamic stuff on the Timeless Isle, there’s world bosses to group up for and defeat.  The way to get players out into the world is to give them a reason to go there.  Sure, some people will still sit around the cities all day and wonder why the game sucks so much when all they’re doing is queueing, but these players probably won’t go out if you force them to.  Let them learn on their own; to bastardize the quote from Field of Dreams, if you put the content there, they will go.

The success of transmogrification shows that players care about customization; they like being able to make their character unique from everyone else’s (with the exception of paladins who all wear T2).  Player housing is an extension of that; ideally, it’d be a system somewhat similar to Runescape’s construction skill, whereby a player could build their own unique house layout that could grow and develop over time.  The same sort of tech could be applied to guilds, allowing members of a guild to have their own unique space to build and make their own, growing with every level and achievement the guild earns.  I’d also like to see a “neighborhood” concept, where you could take your house’s plot and put it next to your friends’, letting you have a neighborhood you could all hang out in.

Is it vanity fluff?  Yep!  But I don’t really care that it is.  The game’s got plenty of meaningful content, so why not throw in some stuff just for fun?

New character models

It’s a given it’s going to happen, and it had better happen sooner rather than later.  Let’s face it, the Classic WoW races look abysmal, especially when put side-by-side with models like the goblins, worgen, or pandaren (well, maybe not the worgen…ugh, female worgen).  Yes, they’re usually covered up by shiny glowy armor and such, but it doesn’t really solve the issue that the underlying models are pretty damn old, both in polycount and animation (and also texturing, but again, usually covered by armor).  I’ve heard from some former players that they’d come back when the new models got implemented, so it’s something that people are looking forward to.

I imagine we’re going to get our first look at the new models at BlizzCon this year; if models are 25% done, that means we can likely expect a race from each side (humans and orcs most likely; they’re the most iconic Warcraft races) to be demoed.  I’d guess that they’ll probably have two races from each side ready by the time the expansion’s ready to drop, and they’ll probably release those first, then the others later down the line.  I might be persuaded to swap my shaman back to tauren if the new model looks good; I do miss being a big beefy motherfucker (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little intended).

Alternate character progression

Path of the Titans was an interesting concept that was shelved because Blizzard didn’t want to make archaeology feel necessary for maxing out your character (a good decision considering how awful archaeology is, but I’ll save that for another post).  Still, I like alternate progression systems as a way to continue to gain power outside of gear upgrades, and maybe it’s time for another PotT-like system to enter the game.

How would it work?  Your guess is as good as mine, unfortunately.  There would be balance issues, of course; how do you balance content around a person who’s put a lot of work into their path and another who hasn’t, either due to laziness, forgetfulness, or just showing up late?  Still, it would be an interesting sort of system to make its way into the game.

Item squish

Another “it’s probably going to happen” one here.  I used to be of the “no squish” camp, but as I’ve thought about it over time, I think a squish would be a good idea.

WoW was designed to run on 32-bit machines, and because of this uses 32-bit signed integers for much of its variables; this is the reason why the gold cap used to be 214k rather than the almost one million it is now, or why boss health can’t exceed 2 billion and change, for both of these values used 32-bit signed integers, which can only go up to just over 2 billion.  And while it’s true that 64-bit machines are more common nowadays than 32-bit ones (I think), WoW has thrived off of legacy support.  Part of its success was driven by the fact it could be run on a toaster, and while the minimum requirements have gone up with every post-Wrath expansion, it can still be run on something less.

So the question is, do you turn off 32-bit support and tell people they have to upgrade if they want to keep playing, or do you rework the numbers so you don’t run into that problem, at least not for the foreseeable future?  I think that Blizzard would much rather keep the subscriptions of those still playing on older machines, hence the squish.

Yes, it’d be weird to go from 100k+ sustained DPS back down to maybe 1k, but it would just take a period of readjustment.  All I really care about is that soloing goes unaffected; if it doesn’t, then I’m just perfectly fine with it (because then I wouldn’t have to rewrite my soloing guides and say “don’t bother!”).

To be fair, I would really like to see numbers get even more out of hand, if only for the thrill of slicing and dicing old content in seconds flat.  But I do recognize the problem with numbers going that crazy.

Dance studio

Full disclosure:  I STILL don’t understand why people are upset about this.  For fuck’s sake, it was mentioned off-hand at BlizzCon 2007 or 2008 and then never brought up again.  Hell, they even say that, apart from broad strokes, anything revealed at BlizzCon should be taken with a grain of salt and should NEVER be seen as confirmed for coming to the game.

That having been said, with new models will come new, better animations, including dances.  If there were ever a time to implement additional dances, post-model update would be the right time.  Hell, a friend of mine (a girl, I might add) swapped her pandaren priest from female to male because she couldn’t stand the female dances; I empathize, because carameldansen is like, what, 6 or 7 years old at this point?

Personally, I don’t care if it ever comes.  The only reason I think it SHOULD drop in the next expansion is so that EVERYONE WILL SHUT UP ABOUT IT.

BlizzCon:  Miscellaneous predictions

So what else are we likely to see?  Naturally, more info on Diablo 3’s new expansion, Reaper of Souls; the announcement of the impending shutdown of both the gold and real-money auction houses came as somewhat of a shock to all of us, especially the more cynically-minded who figured that Blizzard was perfectly fine with prioritizing profits over gameplay (I’ll admit, I thought that a bit).  Now if they’d just allow LAN play…

Speaking of games that should have LAN play but don’t, will we hear anything on Starcraft 2’s next expansion, Legacy of the Void?  Ehh…Heart of the Swarm just released earlier this year, and if I recall, we didn’t see anything about it during BlizzCon 2010, the year that Wings of Liberty released.  Apparently, 2010 was still too early to show us anything.  2011 gave us some looks at the expansion, however.  So if we’re following that timeline, we’re probably not going to see much on LotV, if anything.  Perhaps some concepts to tease us, but I’m not going to go in expecting something substantial.

Hearthstone will probably have a panel or two to discuss it, and we might get an idea of when open beta is likely to start.  Again, not expecting a whole lot, but for a different reason; Hearthstone is a smaller game, and as such isn’t going to command the huge crowds that a game like WoW or D3 or SC2 would.  Would be real nice if Blizz would let me into the beta already; the wait is giving me flashbacks to the Mists beta.

Will we see anything new on Blizzard All-Stars?  They’ve been awfully quiet on their DOTA-clone for a while, and personally I don’t give a care.  You’ve seen one game in this “genre,” you’ve seen ’em all.  I’d say more about my feelings on the matter but we’d be here all day.

With the recent news of the Titan project being sent back to the drawing board, it’s very, VERY unlikely we’ll hear anything on that front, nor will we have any acknowledgement from the company that it even still exists.  Which is a shame, because we’ve been waiting for years for any news on the subject.  C’moooooooooon.

Anything else?  Well there’s always room for surprises, but naturally I can’t predict those.  This’ll be a big year regardless!

Wrapping things up

So it’s the tail end of the expansion, where we settle in and wait with anticipation for the next one, all while beating up the endboss a few dozen times.  And just as well, I think it’s about time to go ahead and wrap this up (considering I’ve been writing it for about three weeks now, stupid college grumble grumble).

I would like to get back to writing my Wrath soloing guide, and I know there’s still things with my first two that need updating.  I’m making no promises on either of those, but it’s something I want to do.

And of course, with BlizzCon on the way in just under a month, I’ll have a lot of writing to do then!  Apart from that, I’ll probably just write about whatever as usual!  I know, I’m great for keeping you guessing.

Until next time!

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