The 5 most iconic Wrath achievements

With all the imminent Cataclysm excitement on the horizon, I thought this was a good time to start looking back over Wrath of the Lich King. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the plain crazy.

Let’s start with some achievements. I’ve picked out five that epitomise the Wrath experience to me. I don’t have all of them myself.

What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

This is the meta-achievement for completing lots of various holiday achievements around the year. There was a time when it included pretty much all of the holidays, but Blizzard have added a few new ones without updating this achievement (on the grounds that it would be unfair to those who picked it up later.)

The achiever is rewarded with a shiny pink dragon that is not girly at all, but is very fast. And one of the interesting sides is that even though the achievement can be completed solo – at least if you don’t mind using the dungeon finder for the instance holiday bosses – it hasn’t really got easier with gear inflation. This is because most of the holiday achievements don’t require much in the way of gear anyway.

There are other meta-achievements which reward people with shiny mounts. There is one for completing achievements in instances, and also one for the Ulduar hard modes. There was one for the Naxxramas hard modes too but it was phased out to stop people trivialising it with gear. The Undying (an achievement for beating Naxxramas without anyone in the raid group dying) however, still requires people to pay attention.

Pony Up!

Everyone loves jousting, right? Right?

This is the achievement you earn when you use 150 shiny champion’s seals from the Argent Tournament and buy your squire pet a pony, which means he (and in turn you) can access your bank and mail remotely.

Jousting and the Argent Tournament itself represented a huge amount of single player content/grind that was dropped into the game after Ulduar. It’s been contentious to say the least. I quite enjoy the jousting myself, but it’s very hard to argue that putting up a huge tournament ground was a good way for the Argent Crusade to combat the scourge in their own backyard.

And if you don’t fancy the achievement you could always spend your 150 seals on one of the fanciest flying mounts in the game, the Argent Tournament Dragonhawk. That’s if you are Horde, anyhow.

Less-Rabi

The 5 man instance achievements were the first time players encountered the notion of hard modes in WoW. Whilst some of the hard modes were very contrived, others were so trivial that people knocked out the achievement every time without even meaning to.

This is one of the tougher ones, and involves a lot of interrupting, burst dps, and a bit of luck. Or at least it did when the game went live.

But oops, I actually did it on my new DK alt this morning in a pick up group. So much for hard modes and gear inflation. Speaking of pick up groups, it wouldn’t be right to mention the 5 man instances without a shout out to Looking for Multitudes, the achievement for completing enough random groups via the dungeon finder that you have grouped with 100 different people. (i.e. fixed groups won’t count for much.) The dungeon finder has been one of the great successes of the expansion, and the achievement was there to help lure people into using it when it was first introduced. You get a pet for this one, a pug with worms or something as well as a fairly appropriate title, “The Patient.”

The Twilight Zone

Now, at the beginning of the expansion, there were raid achievements to complete in Naxxramas but they were a bit hit and miss. The raid had not originally been designed to include hard modes so the achievements mostly involved either doing the encounters in a completely wrong-faced way, or beating some timer or other.

But Sartharion was a different matter. It was the first raid encounter in Wrath that was properly designed to include hard modes that both changed how the fight played and were also bitching hard. The Twilight Zone achievement is for beating Sartharion with all three drakes up. It was also the first raid achievement that neatly showed exactly how a 10 man fight can be harder than the equivalent 25 man.

And also it showed up how overpowered both druids and DKs were as tanks at the time. Something which DKs suffered for significantly during the rest of Wrath as they were repeatedly nerfed. Druids got away relatively lightly.

As with the achievement above, people now casually romp through this one in pick up groups when Sartharion is the weekly raid. It is purely due to gear inflation.

Another very iconic raid achievement is Alone in the Darkness, which requires a raid group to beat Yogg Saron (the penultimate boss in Ulduar) without any help from the keepers. It is the hardest hard mode in Ulduar, so much so that it isn’t even included in the Ulduar meta-achievement. And it also gives a title to the realm first achiever.

A Tribute to Dedicated Insanity

This is an Argent Coliseum raid achievement, awarded to 10 man raid groups who can beat the final boss on heroic mode with no wipes at all (ie. no wipes or deaths in any of the boss fights at all.)

But what makes this one different is that it requires that no one in the raid is wearing gear obtainable from the 25 man trial of the crusader (or higher). This was intended as an achievement for strict 10 man guilds – i.e. people who only raid 10 man instances.

This was not the first attempt that Blizzard made to reward the strict 10 man guilds. There was a similar achievement for Algalon in Ulduar. But although there is some genuine admiration for the strict 10 man achievers, it’s largely seen as a sideshow to the real raiding scene. In the same way that Gevlon’s guild completed Ulduar in blue gear, it’s impressive but largely pointless. This is something that Blizzard are hoping to change in the next expansion. Also, having to fuss over everyone’s gear just in case one player had hopped into a 25 man PUG one week and forgotten to change their boots is a pain in the neck.

It would also be unfair to discuss crazy Wrath achievements without mentioning  Insane in the Membrane. This achievement actually has nothing to do with Northrend, instead requiring players to become exalted with all the most annoying and difficult factions in Vanilla WoW. But it was introduced during Wrath and – for some reason I cannot comprehend – some people did it. Congrats, I guess. It does reward the most appropriate title in the game though, “The Insane.”

Time to bring back the 40 man raids? Or what makes a good public raid anyway?

I had a chance to join a random pick up raid in STO recently. The window came up, I clicked yes to zone in and …

It was … duh duh DUH … the crystalline entity!  There were ships all over the place, no one had a clue what to do, local chat was buzzing, adds zoomed around, lots of people died. And then somehow order was slowly pulled out of chaos. People started to give useful instructions, working out how to avoid healing the entity by mistake. There were more deaths, more waves of adds, more swearing. And then finally, the crystalline entity was vanquished by the combined forces of the Federation. Hurrah! Loot for all.

Even my little low level cruiser helped a bit, or at least failed to hinder. And you know what? It was fun. Really good fun.

The conclusions I draw from this are:

  1. STO is actually a pretty fun game at its core. (I gave up for a week or two in solidarity with my husband who couldn’t play until his new computer arrived, but now it is here and settled, it’s back to the Klingon bashing.)
  2. Raiding in pick up groups can be insanely good fun. There is some genuine fun gameplay to be had.
  3. Holy shit, WoW raids would not work as cross-server PUGs the way they are currently designed.

I have seen a few people express the wish for a cross-server random raid tool in Warcraft. For this to work, cross-server raids really need to be designed differently from the current 10/25 man raid instances. The only current raids that even come close to viable for cross-server groups are VoA and Onyxia. And I want to discuss why that might be.

Firstly, current 10/25 mans are way too dependent on the tank/s and their gear. Anyone who has used the LFD tool will be familiar with the way tanks get heavily scrutinised even in random 5 man instances.

Now imagine a cross-server PUG ICC raid. What would happen is that people would drop group instantly if the tanks weren’t highly (over)geared. They would drop group if the group makeup wasn’t optimal, for whatever they considered to be optimal. They would drop group as soon any anything went wrong. They would drop group as soon as anything went right and they’d gotten their loot. They would drop group as soon as anyone told them to do anything they didn’t want to do. They wouldn’t all be using the same addons. Half of them would refuse to use flasks or other consumables.

Or in short, as soon as the raid gets remotely hard, it’s vanishingly unlikely that a cross-server PUG will have the patience to do it. Especially for people from lively servers where they have the options to organise their own PUGs where they can also inspect and vet the other players first.

But there is an answer to this.

Fun pick up raids need to be epic, they need to be large scale, they need to not be overly dependent on one or two people, and they need to have simple tactics that are easy to communicate.

So for example, in DaoC, one of the  master level raids involves players invading an enemy keep full of elite minotaur-type mobs and clearing them all out. The keep was huge. Players could use siege equipment if they wanted. There were a lot of mobs. We often zerged the place, telling people the rough kill order and which objectives they needed to capture first. It was chaos, and madness, and constant fighting. And players loved it.

The crystalline entity that I mentioned above was another fun large scale raid. It was chaos, and madness, and constant fighting. And I loved it (can’t speak for the other players!)

I suspect that key to the random raids being fun is that they’re not so heavily skill based that you need to care whether anyone else in the raid knows the tactics or is a hardcore raider. As long as you have a good mix of people, and people can obey simple instructions, the stronger players will make up for the weaker ones. And everyone will get the reward.

If WoW does choose to go this route, and make some  public raids for the cross-server random groups, maybe it is time to go back to the big 40 man raids. Make them big. Make them epic. Make them fun. Make them chaotic. Allow people to let their hair down a bit.

But absolutely do not make them hard, because that does nasty things to random group members.

How much is a buff worth?

It is a common trade-off in MMO design that players are asked to decide whether they’d prefer more damage or more utility for their character. Any talent spec scheme that lets you choose whether you’d prefer to spend points on buffs instead of on more damage is following this theme.

With tanking or healing classes, you’re simply choosing what type of utility you prefer to provide. Would you prefer better buffs, or slightly larger heals? Better raid buffs or more threat for yourself?

But with a dps class, it’s a straight up choice between more personal dps vs more raid utility. The idea of a raid buff is that the performance of the whole raid is improved by more than any detrimental effect on the buffer. So why must it feel like a penalty if someone is asked to buff? I think it’s because there’s a sense in which you are donating a gift to the raid (the buff and the dps hit) in return for your raid spot, whilst raiding alongside other people who don’t have to do that. Not only that, but due to various buffs working in different ways, some classes do genuinely get to provide buffs at very little personal cost. So it is easy to feel hard-done-by.

In Wrath-era WoW, all classes have become buffing classes because Blizzard decided to spread out the buffs. But can you really teach an old dog new tricks? Will classes that had previously been categorised as pure dps really want to give up their top slots in order to give better buffs?

Ghostcrawler had an interesting comment on this in shaman forums recently:

We want classes to have to take a hit for buffing the raid, but we don’t want it to be a gigantic one. Again, on the one hand players are eager for these buffs because it “secures them a slot!” but on the other hand, they want someone else to do the buff so they don’t have to.

This is spot on in my experience. Dps tend to complain like crazy about having to be ‘the buff bitch’, even though they’d likely complain even more if no one wanted the buff at all and it was never worth speccing for. I don’t mean every single one of them complains, but everyone who enjoys playing the damage meter exhales a private sigh when they realise that they are on buffing duty so won’t be troubling the top 5 slots.

This expansion has marked a minor role shift for dps specs in the game, towards more hybridness. If we had buffing classes, no one would complain about providing buffs because it would be their raison-d’etre. Although that would present a completely different set of issues.

How does your raid decide which member of each class should buff? Do people complain when they are asked to do it?

The Worst Storyline in Wrath

I know that a lot of players feel that storytelling is a sideshow to the main event in games; it doesn’t involve gameplay, and it’s seen as fluff to keep the punters/ fanfic writers amused. I don’t agree with this view, I think the role of storytelling in games is to make encounters feel meaningful – why else would we care about characters and avatars like Lara Croft, Sonic, sackboy, Commander Shepherd; might as well just represent the player by a  giant blue square.

But like it or not, the quality of storytelling and NPC design has a huge effect on how players respond to different parts of the game. Or in other words, the virtual reward of being able to deliver a good kicking to an NPC who people truly hate is on par with epics for a lot of people. After all, the epics will get replaced soon enough, but the storyline is a lasting memory and experience.

So, in that vein, which is the most unpopular storyline in Wrath? It’s undoubtedly the blue dragonflight – we kill an aspect (that’s like a demi-god) and no one cares. A few completists wonder whether that story was supposed to tail off, and everyone else is glad that Blizzard seems to have buried it. This is partly because of an unpopular raid fight which involved awkward vehicles, but it’s also because the writing didn’t make us care.

Piss him off by killing his consort? That was your entire plan?

malygos

I’ve had the great misfortune to play through Colderra again on an alt recently. It’s a subzone of the Borean Tundra in Northrend (ie. this is Wrath content) and although it’s not horribly painful as an experience, it’s also not a shining beacon of level design. Kill 10 x, collect 10 x, return to quest giver and be told to kill or collect x other things. And so on.

But the low point of the zone is the Keristrazsa questline. A game like Dragon Age would have nailed that storyline, because it has all the right elements. A wronged prisoner seeking righteous revenge, enlisting the PCs help, everything goes pear shaped and she ends up in a worse state than before, doomed to have her mind broken and forced to become Malygos’ new consort.

Now that really should have been good story material. But not in the hands of Blizzard writers, oh no.

What actually happens is this:

You discover the arcane prison and one of the NPCs at the local base is able to unlock it. He tells you to open the prison at your own risk. When you do so, a pretty girl who is really a dragon appears. Malygos (big bad dragon aspect who will die to countless raid groups later on) has imprisoned her – boo. We don’t entirely know why but she’s out for revenge.

You agree to help, having already been told that the blue dragonflight are the bad guys here. She has you gather some stuff so that she can lay a trap for Malygos’ consort, who you later kill on her behalf. OK, so that was kind of random revenge fantasy on the NPCs part but I guess she has been imprisoned for ages and that has to take it out of you.

Then she moves to the next stage of her plan. She has you lay out the consort’s corpse on the ground and she burns it, and calls out to the dragon aspect to come look at what she has done. Now, this really should set danger warnings  because dragon aspects are very badass. In any case, he comes out of the Nexus to mourn? (Well, he laments about the consort so he’s actually got more sympathy at this point than the NPC you’re helping.) Keristrazsa literally flies loops around him for no special reason, she doesn’t seem to want to attack. Then she lands, tells you to run away and … Malygos comes down and spirits her away to an instance. I’m not sure why being frozen in an instance is going to persuade her to be his consort. In any case, when you get to the Nexus, she’ll beg you to kill her so she can hand over some epics … or something.

It’s just that bad. It doesn’t make sense on any level, it’s confused, the characters are stupid and yeah. I got nothing. Dragons have really failed to impress. Again. Except Onyxia.