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Holding patterns


So here in the States, it’s Thanksgiving week…a time where we take trips to see family members we really don’t want to see, eat until we’d want to puke except the l-tryptophan in the turkey’s made us too sleepy to lean over the toilet, and, oh yeah, watch the Detroit Lions lose.  Again.  (In the Panzercow family’s case, this Thanksgiving week will be taken up by packing, cleaning, and moving into a new bunker across town, broken by Thanksgiving dinner at Maggiano’s.  Something tells me by Saturday, I’ll be thankful for Ben-Gay.)

A lot of raids, including The Anvil, are off this week–in our case, because we raid Thursday and Friday, taking the week off is a no-brainer.  This enforced rest is a good time to sit and think about what we’ve done in the past near-year of Wrath of the Lich King, and start planning for what’s coming over the horizon…patch 3.3 and Icecrown Citadel, the last big raid before Blizzard blows the whole thing up with Cataclysm sometime next year.

Let’s talk about Lich King raids.  In the beginning, of course, there was Naxxramas.  Yeah, Blizzard grabbed Naxxramas out of the bottom of one of those bright blue plastic recycling bins and ran it through the crusher to reform it into Wrath of the Lich King’s first raid.  But Naxx in and of itself is, I think, a fairly well-designed raid instance.  You can tell it’s an old-world vanilla WoW raid because of the amount of trash inside…overall, though, they did a pretty good job freshening it up for level 80s.

The thing that shocked people upon starting to play around in Naxxramas was how fecking easy it was, by design.  Naxxramas was proof that Blizzard wanted to make raiding accessible to far more people in WotLK, and they succeeded.  Any raid group that wasn’t made up of people who ate lots of lead-based paint as a child could walk in there and clear two wings the very first night.  Get yourself a reasonable amount of heroic dungeon or ilevel 200 crafted gear, and lrn2play, and yes, you too could stand astride Naxxramas like a colossus.  We didn’t exactly dominate the entire place in one night when we started 25-mans in there, but it didn’t take us that long.  We went from a standing stop to dropping Kel’Thuzad in something like five weeks.  In BC, with largely the same cast of characters, we spent longer than that working on Lady Vashj in Serpentshrine Cavern alone.  We never did get Kael’thas down until the 3.0 patch went in, at which point we were able to roflstomp him.  After SSC and TK, Naxxramas was a Caribbean vacation, complete with college girls (or cabana boys, if you’d prefer).

Enter Ulduar.  Ulduar was a return–somewhat–to old-school raiding.  Unlike Naxxramas, Ulduar made you work, at least a little, for your rewards.  I wrote about this a few times back in April when The Anvil started on 25-man Ulduar.  It still wasn’t SSC or TK or Hyjal or Black Temple, and nowhere close to the oh-God-kill-me-now difficulty in Sunwell Plateau.  But compared to Naxx, it was challenging.

And Ulduar itself, I think, is Blizzard’s crowning achievement in raid instances, just barely displacing Karazhan from that spot.  It’s big, it feels grand and epic.  It’s pretty.  There’s enough trash to help you make your repair bills back, and the trash will bite you if you get lazy.  And the boss fights are varied and interesting.  There’s a vehicle fight that, unlike Malygos, doesn’t suck a bowling ball through a silly straw.  There’s fights that require offtanking, fights that require tank-switching, fights that require splitting your group, fights that require mobility, fights that are straight-up tank-and-spanks…and Yogg-Saron, which is up to fifteen minutes of pure craziness on crystal meth.  And with the introduction of “hard modes,” once you’d mastered the basic content, you could start ramping up the difficulty at your own pace and ability, in order to score achievements and some extra loot.  I’m not a big fan of hard modes in general because it feels like I’m only getting half the content I would be otherwise, but even I have to admit, in Ulduar, it worked.  We’ve been raiding Ulduar for seven months and we’ve only just now been able to get XT-002’s Heartbreaker, for example…and are still working on things like Freya +2, Thorim hardmode, or (oh God the pain) Mimiron’s Firefighter.

And then, we got patch 3.2.  And we got the Icecrown County Fair…uh, Trial of the Crusader.  In which Blizzard took all the good stuff about Ulduar and threw it right out the window into a passing garbage truck.

Now, I know that 3.2 was “filler” content between Ulduar in 3.1 and Icecrown Citadel in 3.3.  To ask for a Double Stuf Oreo’s worth of filling in between those two crunchy cookies, eh, that may be a bit much.  But ToC isn’t even a real Oreo.  It’s one of those crappy store-brand versions that’s got about 0.3 mm of godawful fake-vanilla stuff in between two stale soggy wafers.

Where to start.  Well, how about…it’s one room? That’s it.  One big round room.  It might as well be a Coke machine.  Right-click human dude to insert $1.25, machine dispenses refreshing beverage…uh, pissy magmataur, two huge-ass worms, and a yeti.  (Don’t stand in the yeti.)  What’s worse?  They recycled the same frigging room for the 5-man heroic dungeon.  Art fail.

But the real screwup isn’t how it looks, it’s how it plays.  When we finally headed into ToC for the first time, we dropped the first three encounters in about 2 1/2 hours.  That’s pretty good for a first time into a raid instance.  But here’s the trick–we got loot off those three encounters that absolutely peed all over the loot we were getting out of Ulduar at the time…where we were still working on difficult fights like Thorim and Vezax.

The fights in ToC aren’t difficult.  They’re stupidly easy for the rewards that you’re given.  They’re gimmick fights…learn the gimmick, and they’re yawners.  Only Faction Champions (the ultimate broken-ass faux-PvP nerdrage fight, now nerfed down to Faction Declawed Kittens) and Anub’arak will keep you awake in normal ToC.  Pretty soon, we were sharding two-thirds of the loot we picked up in Ulduar because our core group had already blown past that tier of stuff and were picking up ilevel 239/245 things out of 10- or 25-man ToC every week.

We cleared normal ToC after four weeks of work.  That’s right, kids, we cleared a Tier 9 instance faster than we did Naxxramas.  And all that time, we were scoring ilevel 245 loot and Tier 9 badges at a feverish pace.  This wasn’t just a vending machine, it was a stuck vending machine that kept dropping cold Cokes on our feet.  We can now walk into normal ToC and clear the whole thing out in less than an hour and fifteen minutes…and get around sixteen piece of ilevel 245 loot and 15 Badges of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.  Were it not for hard modes, we wouldn’t even be going to Ulduar any more.  And even when we do get the hard modes, it’s just to say we did it.  The rewards from them simply can’t compare to what we get sleepwalking our way through ToC.  Mudflation, much?

But ToC has one final kick in the nuts to deliver.  Switch it to heroic.

Our raid group could demolish ToC normal, no sweat.  Then we walked in there on heroic and got owned. As in, couldn’t get Gormok past 35%, forget the Twin Jormungar or Icehowl.  Gormok’s Impales were landing for 40k–that was 85% of my buffed health, in one shot–near the end of the fight.  Yes, I know, you’re supposed to use a rotation similar to what the tank gets on Mimiron’s Shock Blast–Hand of Something, Pain Suppression, Shield Wall, etc.  But I am not, to put it mildly, a fan of fights that basically come down to “if the priest lags for a half-second, and the RNG hates your dodge%, you’re dead and there’s damn all you can do about it.”  That issue aside, now this is the beat-your-face-in difficulty level I expect from a Tier 9 instance that can give me ilevel 245+ stuff.

The difficulty gap between Trial of the Crusader and Trial of the Grand Crusader is the size of the Grand Canyon.  And it’s not so much because ToGC is too hard, although I’ve got issues with some of the fight designs (see Gormok above).  It’s because ToC is way, way, waaaaaay too easy for the rewards you get.

It is horrific design all around, and even though I go every week and tank it or DPS it for The Anvil, I am most heartily sick of it.  I do my job so we can get out of there faster and get on to something else that is actually fun and challenging…be it Ulduar, be it Onyxia (which still rocks my socks off), be it even Trial of the Grand Oh God Not The Face.

This leaves us, as a raid, in a holding pattern, and the strain may be starting to show.  We’re doing ToC every week to gear up for Icecrown, but it’s not like we can try hardmodes on normal ToC a la Ulduar.  We grind through our 15 badges, and then we go to the familiar confines of Ulduar to work on hardmodes, which are still actually hard to us, or Onyxia.  Every so often we take another poke at ToGC to see if we’ve ramped up our DPS and strategy for Beasts, but I don’t know how much heart we’ve got in that right now…because that will be a long grind to power through, given how hard it is, and 3.3 draws ever closer.

You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to Icecrown Citadel.  Bring it on, Arthas, I’m waiting.

4 responses

  1. Pretty much spot on. Ulduar was (so far) the top raid of Wrath.

    We clear ToC25, VoA25 and Ony25 in about 1.5 hours, but are having a lot of issues with getting enough 6k+ DPS to get past beasts in ToGC25. I think we just might squeeze it in, but then Ice Crown will be out and we’ll probably just move on to it.

    Being mostly ilvl245 geared we’ve found ToGC10 to be a good challenge. We’ve cleared ToGC10 with only 1 wipe, but that was a good night were everything just clicked. We are still challenged by ToGC10 most weeks and only clear it every second week, and usually with many wipes.

    But yeah, same raid 3-4 times in one week is pretty dull. Especially when there is only one room and 5 fights.

    *cross fingers for IC*

    Gobble gobble.

    November 23, 2009 at 18:43

  2. leah

    when ToC first came out, I kinda liked it. right now..I hate it with passion. not becasue its hard, nooo. becasue its THAT easy and becasue it dispenses loot like a demented slot machine you just won a small jackpot on. When my guild actually makes it to Ulduar, I’m ecstatic, becasue then I know we’re not just beating the same loot pinata over and over, we’re doing content for the sake of content. More often then not though nowadays, we do a main/alt split runs where we run the same place over and over and over for more coins. I’m starting to hate the fact that I have alts. Our normally reasonable officership? its like they have been completely drugged by the raid of purple. Occasionally, they stir from they epic induced fog to oh try a hard mode or finish up the content we didn’t manage to finish Before that Opium Den known as ToC opened up, but for the most part its – grind the same thing over and over, until you are blue in a face and until alts have better gear then some of the mains not in our guild and for what? We JUST finally killed Yogg the other week. not becasue we couldn’t do it before, but becasue we haven’t actually tried him in ages. this Sunday we finally got heartbreaker. We don’t even have Levi with 4 towers becasue they decided that if we wipe 2 times, we stop trying. This is the same guild who cleared BT and got past felmyst pre last major nerf.

    And I know that blaming blizzard for our issues is a cop out, but they still contributed. by making an instance far too easy and too quick to finish and giving even 10 man version the loot that pretty much makes any Ulduar rewards – 10 or 25 man obsolete, they contributed. gah accessible is one thing but puggable in normal mode on a server where only 2 guilds killed Yogg 25 so far horde side (we will not even mention hardmodes) is quite another.

    November 23, 2009 at 19:25

  3. Pingback: Rummys Blog : Dilemma

  4. Rem

    I’ll say what’s been said a hundred of times: TotC is a glorified gear reset.

    The usual response to that goes: “Yes, I know, but…”

    No. There is no “but”. This is a gear reset, period. It’s the possibility for anyone armed with basic raid skills to get into shape for ICC. It is the guarantee, that casual raiders like you, or newcomers like me (also not able to play non-stop), will have their chance to take a swing at Arthas. Without TotC (and the rest of the 3.2 “welfare”), it’d be vanilla-Naxx all over again: the peak of Blizzard’s dungeon design art, where only 0,1% of the population could hope to get past the first trash pack.

    I like .. I love your demanding that TotC was appropriately hard for the level of loot it gives, compared to Ulduar. But would you, Linedan, be “in shape” for ICC, if the implicit requirement was to have a raid harder than Ulduar more or less on farm? And would you, had I hypothetically asked you (hypothetically assuming I knew you) this summer if it’s worth switching to WoW, told me to do so, or would the answer have been more along the lines of “man, you can never catch up, go play AoC or something, come back for Cataclysm” (this is very hypothetical, since this summer you didn’t know much neither about TotC nor Cataclysm)?

    And of course it’s not the most exciting gameplay. Of course it’s recycled bosses in a frugal setting. They knew, after all, that this is merely an interactive vending machine. They knew no one would later remember their glorious days of TotC progression. They knew it’s just a shortcut everyone will be keen to forget. So, of course they didn’t put much love or creativity into it. All their genius and inspiration they’d channel into ICC, the crown jewel of this expansion and the conclusion of the story line started in WC3 – and they want to let as many interested people as possible be able to take part in it.

    Of course, if ICC turns out to be boring or not hard as nails, you’re free to come back and burn this comment and laugh at me. But until then, let’s hope this was, indeed, vision, rather than shortsightedness.

    November 24, 2009 at 11:30

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