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.