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 …