Lies that NPCs tell you, Part 1

lies1

This screenshot is taken at the end of the Culling of Stratholme instance. Arthas, your group’s pet NPC in this timeline, calls out the big boss. Unfortunately, he’s constrained to use the same lines that he used in this encounter in Warcraft III, where he wasn’t accompanied by a party of Azeroth’s finest.

So he says, “We’re going to finish this right now, Mal’Ganis. Just you… and me.” And every single player who has run that instance thinks, “What am I? Chopped liver?” Then he bats at the boss ineffectually while players kill it.

lies2

This screenshot is the last boss in the Trial of the Champion 5 man instance. The Black Knight isn’t so much lying outright as suffering from the worst care of delusional thinking in the entire game.

Has anyone not seen this dialogue and thought, “Yes, of course we thought that.”

Welcome to Hotel Hard Mode

… you can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave …

I haven’t written much about raid progression recently. It’s because the good ship 25-man raiding has been drifting in the summertime signup doldrums. I think everyone is proud that we’ve been able to muster at least one raid a week and even based on that we now have three keepers down and can start to work on Mimiron. I know I am.

wow-heroes also reckons I’m the 7th best (geared) protection warrior on my server. I think it’s more likely that the others didn’t log out in their tanking gear but hey, a free compliment. I’ll take two. It’s actually more of a compliment to our raid group because I certainly didn’t do that on my own. And as far as loot goes, I’m still dancing the victory dance (don’t tell me you don’t do that too) from acquiring the Heart of Iron.

In some ways it is easier to arrange 10 man runs in the Summer, less people to worry about. In some ways it’s also harder. People just don’t take them as seriously as the 25 man runs and seem more likely to drop out at the last minute. So it’s been stressy for the organisers, I think. To know that however solid the signup list appears, you will probably have to be frantically whispering your friends list 5 minutes before raid start anyway.

We’re still working on Yogg, but to liven up the earlier parts of the instance,  we made a start on some of the easier hard modes last week.

uldach

So if you don’t know those ones, the first is a speed trash clear, the second is more of a dps burst followed by some positioning and the third is like regular Flame Leviathan but … harder?

Con-speed-atory

This is the Ulduar equivalent to the 20 minute Spider Wing clear. You have 20 minutes to clear  the three minibosses, as much trash as is in the way, and the Avatar of Freya herself. We found that the key to this was really good coordination and communication between tanks. You will be chain pulling properly (not like Naxxramas where you tend to just pull entire rooms anyway) which means that whoever is not tanking the last trash pack will be running up to mark and pull the next.

Kill order is still important here – big flower before little flowers, tree before dragon. (This is now sounding like a very zen strategy, or like an old codewar spying password. Q: the tree must die before the dragon? A: Yes, and do not forget the big flower.) With the miniboss nearest to the door (the one who casts the iron fists) we like to bounce him between tanks using ranged taunts when he has fists of iron up.

wowhead assures me that you don’t have to clear all the trash to get this achievement. We didn’t know that so we cleared everything and got it anyway. I suspect it may be more of an issue in the 25 man version. This one is especially fun for tanks, speed runs always are in my experience.

Heartbreaker

This was actually a more interesting fight than you’d think to see the videos or to read the strategy. The first big test is whether you can muster enough burst dps to get the heart down within one heart phase. You will want to single tank this one. If there are any pummelers in the first phase, someone has to move them down to where the tank can grab them.

After the heart is down, kill any remaining adds first. The boss will have aquired a bunch more health and healed back to full. His tantrums also hit a lot harder. You have to be disciplined with the gravity and light bombs (which spawn void zones and adds respectively). We had all ranged dps switch to the light sparks when they spawned.

And that’s really all there is to it. This one is quite fun for everyone except the tank – who just does the same stuff as usual. The rest of the raid get to run around, heal like crazies during the tantrums, and do some target switching when the adds spawn. Sorry tanks.

Orbital Devastation

The difficulty will depend on which towers you leave up. We’ve been going with storms and fire which puts more emphasis on people avoiding the beams of lightning and the (moving) beam of fire. It helps a lot if demolisher drivers have figured out the art of stacking pyrite, but otherwise is very straightforwards.

I still find this fight fun even on normal mode. I’m not sure if leaving towers up makes it any more fun – but it certainly doesn’t make it any less.

Hard Modes So Far?

We enjoyed tackling the hard modes this week, and I think they will become our default modes for those fights now. I’m not sure about some of the future ones – reading ahead, I’m seeing a lot of dps races in our future if we go that route. Freya with adds sounds to add some more interest to the fight though, and of course we still haven’t killed Yogg-Saron so don’t really want to spend too much time on the earlier encounters.

But it is fun to have a choice of progression fights.

I am amused to compare this with my experience in heroics this week. I don’t run many on Spinks but I did haul her out for a couple of speed runs through Old Stratholme. It was the double daily (ie. both normal and heroic versions) for two days running and we had a couple of new level 80s in guild who were very keen on the bronze drake.

So this became our private hard mode. Can we include two not-very-well-geared 80s in our 5 man and still make the timer? Oh yes we can. I think running that final gauntlet from the Town Hall to the timed boss in 4 minutes was a personal best (it may have been faster than that, I noticed 7 minutes on the clock when Epoch dropped in the Town Hall and we got to the extra boss with 3 minutes to go).

That’s two bronze drakes to go, and two very happy guildies. And I suspect I was pushing it way harder in the heroic than I did in the Freya timed run…

The Tale of One Bronze Drake

Me and my drake, out on the town

Me and my drake, out on the town

I’m sure everyone has their personal blind spot in MMOs. That one puzzle you can’t solve. That one jump you can never make first time.  That one instance run that you need but can never get anyone else to do. That one drop that doesn’t. (Don’t even start with me about tanking trinkets, they do not exist in my personal universe!)

For me, it’s been the heroic mode of Old Stratholme. If you can make it through on a particularly tight timer, you have access to an extra boss (he despawns when the timer runs out). And aside from the achievement, you are rewarded with the shiniest shiny of all — he drops a gold dragon for someone to win as a flying mount.

The Culling of Stratholme

Old Stratholme is a fantastic, story-based event style instance.

It’s located in the Caverns of Time which means that you’re being sent back in time by the Bronze Dragonflight, Quantum Leap Style, to prevent the timeline being messed up. In this, run, you and your mates get to play through one of the character defining sequences from Warcraft III. This is the point where Arthas turns away from his paladin mentor and decides grimly that the only way to save the City of Stratholme from the Scourge Plague which assails it is …. to kill everyone in it. And the voicetrack from the Warcraft III cut scene is used here too, which is a nice easter egg for people who played it.

And we get to help him. Because apparently worse things will happen if the timeline is not preserved, however much Mrs Spinks thinks aloud on every run that a swift dagger in the back would solve a lot of problems further down the line. (Note #1: She’s not one of those warriors who believes in fair fights. Note #2: You can do this on a RP server and no one minds.)

First he makes his way through the plagued parts of the city and we’re there to smack down the waves of undead scourge patrols and associated mini-bosses that can spawn at several different locations near the main entrance. So lots of running back and forth.

Then Arthas leads us through the Town Hall, where he is attacked by members of the naughty infinite dragon flight who like messing up timelines. Or at least, he would be if we weren’t there to protect him. After following him through a secret passage, we end up back on the streets and facing a gauntlet of scourge before we can get to the final confrontation with Mal’Ganis, the demon deathlord.

Arthas: I won’t allow it, Mal’Ganis! Better that these people die by my hand than serve as your slaves in death!

Morally, Blizz wimped out here. In the actual storyline, Arthas kills both plagued and unplagued residents alike. It’s his one step beyond the pale which signposts his future moral decline and plummet. Not only do we not get a chance to talk him out of it, but all the mobs we kill in Stratholme are either dragons or scourge. No burning down houses full of innocent but possibly plagued residents here the way he does in Warcraft III. So the scenario lacks the moral disquiet that it is supposed to resonate.

We also lack the Warcraft III background, where the script would have shown us that Arthas was met by a prophet on the way to Stratholme and offered an alternate choice (“If you wish to save your people, lead them across the sea …. to the West.”) which he ignores.

So although we’re told that Arthas crosses a line here, we don’t really see it. But it’s a fun instance for all that, with lots of running around and lots of dragons and zombies to fight. Plus you get to see a familiar old instance (Stratholme) as it was in the past as a thriving city.

My history with Old Stratholme

I’ve run this instance several times on heroic mode. Somehow, we’d never managed to beat the timer. There’s no special trick to it, you just have to do the same things as usual but faster. I’d seen the extra boss on a few occasions, just as he disappeared. On one memorable occasion I was even able to engage him only to die a bit later because our healer was running way behind everyone else for some reason.

Most of my friends have done the speed run. Many of them have drakes of their own. When I commented that perhaps I was the problem (not fast enough? Not crazy enough with the pulls?) they all said that wasn’t the issue.

Various reasons put forward for not beating the timer on Stratholme:

  1. You were unlucky with spawns. (You can have a lot of extra running to do if the scourge at the start insist on all spawning at opposite ends of the map).
  2. You didn’t have enough dps. Killing things faster would make more time. But I’ve known people who got their drakes with new level 80s in the group.
  3. The stars are not aligned, it just wasn’t meant to be.
  4. Maybe the NPCs just move more slowly when you’re there?
  5. Bad luck. Sod’s law.
  6. Lag. If all else fails, blame lag.

But however much people said it wasn’t my fault, it seemed to me that all the failed runs had one common factor. Me.

I wasn’t really even thinking about the timed run when we ran Stratholme last Sunday.  One of my friends recently hit 80 on his mage so we grabbed a few bored people to run him through some heroics. This was the last one we had time for before lunch, and we aced it.

Sad to say, the main thing that was different on this occasion was that we had an Unholy specced Death Knight in the group, and they have a group speed buff. The other advantage on this occasion was running with a healer who actually kept up with me.

Other than that, I pulled the gauntlet at the end very quickly when we realised we might be on track for a speed run. Warbringer (being able to charge while still in combat, one of the current prot warrior hallmarks) and a decent set of shield block gear make crazy pulls possible. The gauntlet itself consists of some static elite ghouls, lots of static non-elite skeletons, and some elite patrols of various scourge creatures. So the trick to it, if there is one, is to charge from ghoul to ghoul while still keeping an eye out for the patrols so as to be able to grab those quickly too.

In any case, I was very excited when I won the bronze drake! I’m really not a mount-obsessed player and would have been happy enough with just the achievement, but you have to admit it looks great.

I feel a bit disloyal to my old nether ray though …

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

I think my infatuation with heroics is coming to a natural end. I’ll never hate them, and we will stay on good terms. We’ve had some good fun together and I have the screenshots to prove it. (This is ironic since there is at least one that I’ve never run on heroic, but I don’t really feel much drive to either.)

But I’m not on fire any more to put groups together and run three or four in an evening. I think that white hot stage of the relationship has faded now. I’m still running them with friends/ guildies but less likely to actively organise.

Blizzard has invented achievements for each boss that encourage you to kill it faster, more smoothly, or with an unusual tweak, to provide an extra challenge. Unfortunately, I’m not really an achievement junkie.

But for me personally, I make the runs more interesting for myself by speeding things up. Again ironically, the one achievement for a speed run in an instance is one we don’t have yet (we’ve gotten to the extra boss in Stratholme a few times but not killed it inside the timer – my gut feel says it’s a dps issue but still, if there’s anything I can do to help I want to try).

You do need to know the instance pretty well to really be able to focus on speed. That means every patrol, every nook and cranny, every pull and what might be in it.

Chain Pulling

This means no downtime between pulls. As the dps are finishing off the last mob of a pull, the next set of mobs arrives. So you pull the next set while there are still things left to kill. There’s no special trick to chain pulling apart from knowing the instance well and keeping tabs on people’s mana bars to get an idea when a break may be needed. Obviously try not to get hit in the back too much when you are maneuvering.

It is generally polite to let people know you plan to chain pull but you can always just pretend it was a mistake. eg.  ‘Oops, didn’t see that patrol there, thought I’d better grab it.’ When the mobs are all dead, people will be OK about it.

The easiest way to start is to practice pulling a patrol while the group is still fighting something else. (Like I say, I sometimes apologise afterwards but I’m not actually sorry, I was just bored. Plus I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t know we could cope. )  To do this you want to:

  1. Have solid aggro on the group that is currently being fought (or at least slap a Shockwave on them while you’re pulling).
  2. Have access to an instant pull. I think all tanks do though.
  3. Be aware if the new group includes casters or any mob that needs to be pulled around a corner.
  4. Be able to count. Oh, I thought it was just a 2-man patrol will not save you when 5 mobs sprint round the corner.
  5. It isn’t necessary but can help to have some raid marks hotkeyed so that you can at least stick a mark on the one that needs to die first.

Even if you are chain pulling, pause before a boss fight (unless the instance is set up to be chain pulled, like Old Stratholme). At least long enough to check that people know the fight.

Sometimes people will respond to chain pulls by banging out some crowd control. Even if it isn’t necessary (and if it was necessary I would have marked for it), I try to respect the CC and not just ignore it. For one thing, it keeps me agile, and for the other … maybe it’s just me but it seems a bit rude to just ignore other classes abilities.

Speed is fun?

I think people do enjoy faster runs and having to think on their toes a bit, once they are familiar with an instance.

It’s just unfortunate that more fun for the tanks and dps generally means mad pulls, lots of mobs, nonstop dps and mayhem all over the place. Which is also more work for the healer. So the trick for keeping the run fun for everyone is staying in control and checking that people are OK with the speed. And pausing for mana breaks if people need them.

But seriously, when the paladin in that Nexus run yesterday spent the whole time talking about how his mana never dropped below 15k, what did he expect? Saying that to me is like a red rag to a bull! :)

Or as an old friend of mine (who was, not coincidentally, the scariest driver I have ever known) used to say, “It’s great, you won’t even notice the speed bumps if you go over them at 70MPH.”