Well, we have two down and one to go. I’ve enjoyed writing these retrospective articles, since it allows me to look back and see what I liked and didn’t like about the game as it’s progressed through time. All I know is that for the most part, World of Warcraft has become better as it’s gone on.
Today we look at the current expansion (for a little while longer, at least): Wrath of the Lich King. This time we had the benefit of going through Burning Crusade to have an idea of what the general progression of the expansion would be, as opposed to going in not knowing a thing. Sites like Wowhead and MMO-Champion were getting a ton of information off of the beta servers, and people were generally a lot more informed than before.
Some of the new features of this expansion included the Inscription profession, glyphs, the Death Knight class, Wintergrasp, and phased zones. At first some of these were a bit rocky in terms of balance issues, but gradually through the expansion it ended up being fairly well polished. After all of that happened, 4.0.1 came along and messed everything up all over again… but that’s another post.
A note: I don’t have any Alliance characters who are over level 65, so everything will be from a Horde perspective.
Leveling and Gameplay
I found Northrend to be very well laid out for leveling. The flow of zones worked out well, right from 68 to 80. The quests were varied, so it wasn’t just the “Kill # of creature X because it looked at me funny” kind all the time.
One of my favourite quests was in Borean Tundra, shortly through the quest progression in Warsong Hold. You get sent out to Garrosh’s Landing and after doing a few things there, you get to drive a demolisher and have lots of fun. Throwing flaming boulders, using a buzzsaw to mow down the undead, setting out goblin land mines, and rescuing soldiers. It was just a lot of fun from start to finish.
Different areas had different themes. Every single zone had some sort of presence of Arthas and the Scourge there, but some areas were not as much as the others. For example, in Borean Tundra you were dealing with Malygos’ insanity, but there was still a Scourge stronghold close to Dragonblight that you had to deal with. The major themes throughout the continent seemed to be Arthas, Malygos, Yogg-Saron, and their effect on the surrounding areas.
The talent trees expanded by another 10 points, and once again the top tiers were abilities that you really did want. They were key parts of any spec, and I don’t think there was a single instance where it wasn’t worth getting. However, having these very large talent trees with needing 51 points to max it out was a little bit daunting at first. This was fixed in 4.0.1, but for the majority of Wrath we were working with very big trees.
Each class received two new abilites at level 75 and 80, ranging from survivability (Warlocks’ portals) to all out extra damage (Mages’ mirror images), and everything in between. I know I was a little bit disappointed at first, but I then realized that my action bars were quite crowded as it was.
Vehicles were introduced in a variety of roles. As I mentioned before, there were some quests where you would control actual vehicles, and some where you would hop on the back of a giant – or just be grabbed by one – and control them. There were a few places where the vehicles were a key part of certain encounters, to name a few: Wintergrasp, Flame Leviathan in Ulduar, The Oculus, and the Malygos fight (among others – there were many times where you would use a vehicle while questing or in other battlegrounds).
All in all, I liked the vehicles. Some were better than others, such as the Flame Leviathan fight – using the different types of vehicles together as well as being shot onto the top of the machine to do other damage, it just had lots of fun parts to it. Malygos was a little bit annoying since it was hard to position yourself at times, and you needed an addon to see if your stack of the damage debuff was still on.
Dungeons and Raids
Wrath dungeons and raids were awesome, with very few exceptions. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed all the different places that we went: there were challenging fights that could be quite frustrating and that you gave a cheer when you finally were able to clear it; then there were fights that were so easy that you wondered why they were even there.
You wanted to go to the dungeons while leveling. The rewards that were available were worth the trip, whether it was a drop from a boss or from a quest. Along with that, the quests in the zones would build up and at times ended up in the dungeon that went along with it (The Nexus with the Coldarra quests, Drak’Tharon Keep with the Drakuru questline).
One thing that was definitely different between Burning Crusade and Wrath is that the heroic dungeons seemed to be trivialized a bit. They were the every day dungeon that people would run, and the regular ones were only used until people had enough gear to move to the heroics – which didn’t take very long. The gear requirement for a majority of them could be quested or regular dungeon drops.
A definite positive change was that people actually wanted to go to the heroics. You were rewarded with the bosses dropping emblems that you could use to purchase good gear, in which the choice of gear to get would increase in quality as the expansion went on. (As a note, the original version of this was the Badge of Justice in BC, but it wasn’t as available as the emblems of Wrath) At later points in the expansion, people would go to grind out the emblems and not even want the gear that was dropped, with the exception of disenchanting fodder.
There are people who didn’t enjoy Naxxramas, as it was technically recycled content from the end of Vanilla. Many people were not able to experience it, as it came out shortly before BC launched, and the requirements to get in were quite steep at the time. I liked Naxx, since I had never seen it before, and I thought the fights were fun. The infamous Heigan safety dance, the Four Horsemen, Loatheb, and of course Kel’Thuzad. There was a time when we did a 10-man Naxx run, and we wiped with Kel’Thuzad having less than 1000 health left – all you could hear on Ventrilo was all 10 of us groaning, yelling, and saying some choice phrases.
Available at release along with Naxx was the Obsidian Sanctum with Sartharian and his drake lieutenants, and the Eye of Eternity to kill Malygos. OS was a new concept, as it was the first experience with “hard modes” – you leave the drakes up, and Sartharian was buffed depending on how many were still there. Malygos was split into three parts: regular dragon fight, adds with a deep breath style ability, and then a vehicle fight on the backs of dragons. With just one boss and no trash, it was a new concept that was expanded on later.
The first raid patched in was Ulduar, which is my favourite raid of Wrath. The variety of fights, the architecture, the story, pretty much everything was awesome. Beginning with Flame Leviathan and learning to deal with the vehicles, then being thrown many different types of boss encounters afterwards, it was quite the experience. I remember when we would be working on a 10 man group before the 25 man group got to the bosses, learning the Mimiron fight. It was all kinds of crazy, and that was without doing Firefighter – I tell you, it was a very long time since I had felt that satisfied to kill a boss. We ended up being able to do a full clear of Ulduar-25, but unfortunately I was not there for the kill of Vezax pretty much every time it happened, so I still don’t have my full clear achievement for it. Getting a 25 man group together for it now will not be easy.
Next was the Trial of the Crusader/Champion and the Argent Tournament. The design philosophy behind them was to give you bosses with no trash, which in theory is a great idea – more loot and less downtime. The problem that I know our guild had was that sometimes you need the trash to “wake up”, in a sense. I always found it funny that we could one-shot a brand new boss sometimes, then wipe to easy trash shortly afterwards. There were a few nice fights with different mechanics in the raid, such as the Twin Val’kyr and Anub’arak, and a few boring or annoying ones like the Faction Champions. All in all, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.
Lastly was Icecrown Citadel and the ultimate showdown with Arthas, what the entire expansion has been leading up to. Apart from the fact that we had to deal with this one dungeon for over a year, I always enjoyed it. The fights were varied, the loot was nice, and the whole theme of the raid was very well done. Our guild wasn’t able to down Arthas until October, but that was also after a few months of no raiding at all. Even so, we were able to accomplish what we had hoped and then some – we’re still working through hardmodes and have 8/12 down.
Then there was the Ruby Sanctum. As a guild we only did it once, and it was definitely just a filler raid. Cataclysm was still a fair way down the line, and something was needed to keep the raiders happy. I personally had fun with it, but I’m glad that we don’t need to raid it all the time to get decent loot – especially since the best loot is from the 25 man mode.
Altogether, I can tell that Blizzard learned a lot from the raiding experience. It was time that our guild was able to get through all raids of an entire expansion, and it sure felt good. No matter what side of the casual vs hardcore raider debate you’re on, being able to complete what you want to do is always a win in my eyes.
Storyline and Zones
The storyline for Wrath was fairly straightforward with a few exceptions. The title explains it all: Wrath of the Lich King. Arthas has woken up from his cat nap and has decided to mess with the population of Azeroth just for fun. The second big storyline was that of Yogg-Saron and his corruption and gradual spread of influence from within Ulduar. The fact that people mine his fossilized blood and wear it for armour seems a bit scary, but who am I to pass judgement? The last big storyline was that of Malygos and his descent into full-blown insanity – he wants control of all the magic in the world, and wants to make sure that nobody but he and his followers can use it.
As I mentioned before, each zone had its own theme throughout. Storm Peaks had a large storyline about Thorim: how you meet him, get him out of his stupor, get him to confront Loken, and lead him into a trap where Loken drags him into Ulduar to be influenced by Yogg-Saron. Along the way you do one of the best quests in the entire game: The Drakkensryd. The first time I did it, I don’t know how many times I kept saying how awesome it was (to the point that my wife kept telling me to keep it down, as she was trying to focus on her gaming), and it was just a whole lot of fun.
Sholazar Basin is a beautiful zone, along the same lines of Un’Goro Crater: it’s a paradise within a harsh northern climate, teeming with wildlife and flora. Howling Fjord has spectacular views of the Northern Lights and a bunch of fun quests to get you introduced to Northrend. Zul’Drak is the only zone completely full of Trolls that I enjoyed – again, the questlines and story kept me hooked through the whole thing.
The biggest disappointment that I have is Crystalsong Forest. Seeing the towering trees of crystal loom over the zone is breathtaking. The only thing to do in the zone is get the lone flight path and do a daily quest for the Argent Tournament. I really wish they could have done more, but Blizzard has said that Dalaran ended up being more of a resource hog than they planned for.
The Argent Tournament was a great idea. Originally planned for Crystalsong, but because of the resources needed for all the people in the zone, it was moved to Northeast Icecrown. The purpose was to give people who didn’t like to raid an extra way of getting gear that was equivalent to early level raids and dungeons, along with other extra rewards. It took a while to get used to the jousting, but once that was figured out it was one of a few easy daily quests which was great to make over 100 gold per day (after getting the Crusader title). Plus, the home city reputation was a great addition.
One thing that I always found entertaining is that at the beginning of the Pit of Saron dungeon, there are NPCs named “Tournament Champion” who run out ahead of you and get killed right in front of you. Training those people sure was a great use of time and resources.
Wrath was fun. It’s the first time that I stuck with the same main character (and even the same talent spec) throughout, and I was glad to be part of our guild’s first runs into the new content. Throughout the whole thing, Blizzard was making improvements to the game as a whole which culminated in 4.0.1. We weren’t sure what we were getting, but after reminiscing about the past few expansions, I know we’re in good hands.
If all else fails, at least Deathwing is around now. Random destruction of zones? Sounds fun to me!